The first of them she meets is the samurai.
He’s waiting for her in the little garden out front, right beside the sandbox where the previous day’s castle has already begun to collapse. He sits up a little when she stumbles into the yard - a twitch of muscle so fractional she might have missed it, if not for a glint in the eye.
Toshiko stops, stares.
“There is no cause for alarm,” he tells her, which is a somewhat short-sighted thing to say to a child too young to know the concept of fear.
The man is perched atop the plastic boulder, textured to appear as granite, that hides their security system. Unsightly, her mother had called it. But you can never be too careful. Toshiko remembers the day her father brought it home; she watched him kneel in the grass to install it just beneath their persimmon tree.
“Is it real?”
The corners of Goemon’s mouth quirk upward - unless it’s a trick of the light. He doesn’t need to ask what she means by it.
“Very real.” His hand drifts to the scabbard tucked neatly at his side. “As real as can be.”
At six-and-a-half, Toshiko has lead fortunate-enough a life to be unacquainted with panic, distrust. The only strangers who come by the house come bearing mail, deliveries, grocery bags, baked goods gifted by friendly neighbors: a herring casserole on Wednesday, a steaming loaf of savory bread the following morning. She wonders if Goemon has a parcel and receipt for her to sign - she’s not supposed to, but she can ape her mother’s signature to the satisfaction of most delivery services.
“That’s technically fraud, you know,” is what her father said when he found the two of them at the kitchen table a week beforehand: mother and daughter, instructor and student bent over a lined notepad, blue ink running into the grooves of their finger pads. “Do you want our daughter to grow up a criminal?”
“You’re too uptight, Koichi. She needs to be able to accept packages if I’m out of the house on errands.”
Toshiko watched her father stubb his cigarette out in the ashtray with enough force to uproot a pine. “You’re right, I suppose.” Next, he will hang his hat and coat on the rack, one after the other, and he will sit down and tell her, in immaculate detail, what happened at the precinct today. There is a rhythm to Toshiko’s life - a steady heartbeat. Things, people, events: each of them fitting neatly into their allocated slots in the filing cabinet of experience.
And now there is a samurai in her front yard, watching her with a mix of mild curiosity and what could be drowsiness. She wonders how long he’s been sitting there, and why.
“You can’t report a crime here,” she suggests helpfully. “You have to go to the station to do that.”
The samurai practically chokes on his own saliva.
“What’s so funny?”
Goemon shakes his head. “I came here to speak to the inspector.”
The persimmon tree is only a sapling, but already it’s starting to show signs of bearing fruit one day. Tiny white blossoms peek out between the crevices of green buds.
“He’s not here right now.” Toshiko repeats the words she has rehearsed in case of situations like this one. “I can take a message.”
The samurai regards her stoically. “That won’t do. Lupin instructed me to deliver the message in person.”
Toshiko sniffs. Lupin. He exists only as a hazy spectre at the periphery of her mind, complete with cartoonishly villainous eyebrows and a forked blue goblin tongue. He is the reason her father will be transferring in the coming months, from the stuffy backoffices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to a shinier change-of-pace, courtesy of Interpol. Lupin is the reason her father bought a videocamera last weekend and instructed her mother, in soft tones on the landing, that she would need to start recording Toshiko’s piano recitals and school stageplays - the implicit “For when I won’t be able to make it” goes unspoken but understood.
Toshiko wipes her nose with the back of her hand, nonchalant. Lupin will factor more largely in her consciousness in the years to come, but for now he is a poltergeist, an anomaly, nothing more. She tosses her backpack at the foot of the persimmon tree and assumes a sitting position in the sandbox.
The morning air is humid and sticky, like honey, and is partially responsible for the collapse of the castle’s southward-facing side. Toshiko sits back, pink plastic trowel in hand, and takes stock of the damage.
“Hm?” He cracks one eye open, as if she has interrupted his meditation. Meditation is the word adults use when they need an excuse to take a nap, and Toshiko is having none of it.
“If you’re going to rest in our yard, you can at least make yourself useful.”
Goemon opens both eyes now, and turns to look at her with scathing vacancy - the only visible sign that he is taken-aback.
Minutes pass. Toshiko hums a tune she learnt on the recorder in music class, plump hands working away to shape moats and walls and turrets. Goemon observes in silence, brows knit together as he considers the architectural merits of damp sand.
“Your fortifications,” he says stiffly, after a long moment. “The structural integrity is compromised.”
Toshiko blinks, uncomprehending.
“That wall there. It needs reinforcing. I would also,” he adds, “recommend a portcullis.”
And he crouches obligingly to demonstrate.
Goemon is not familiar with the limitations of sand as an adhesive, but he offers his stilted advice all the same. With a tapering index finger, he outlines where the moat should be expanded to in order to account for rain tomorrow, drought the day after. If he has questions about why she isn’t in school on a Tuesday morning, he does not voice them - only solemnly cuts away a piece of tree bark for her to use as a drawbridge, and does not say a word.
By the time the samurai stands, the sun has climbed directly overhead. He straightens, dusts grains of sand from his hakama.
“I must be going.”
Toshiko pouts, tosses her shovel at his feet, crosses her arms. All of a sudden, she desperately wants him to stay - this stranger dressed like he walked straight out of one of her folktale picture books, the ones with bright illustrations in primary colors, telling of knights and battles and enchantments.
The samurai shrugs, wide-brimmed takuhatsugasa hat shedding straw onto the ground. “I will contact the inspector later. There are things that need attending to.”
“What sort of things?” Toshiko demands. Her six-year-old brain cannot fathom a more important or honorable pursuit than attending to the sandcastle. She tries to think furiously of a matter more pressing, and fails.
“There are people waiting for me.”
Toshiko cocks her head to the side, listening for these people, whoever they are, and detects nothing. “Your family, you mean?” Idly, she wonders what sort of people might be waiting for this man, what kind of place he might go home to. Do fairytale warriors even have families? She finds it difficult to imagine someone who carries a real sword sitting down to have dinner with a mother and father - in her mind, cardboard cut-outs of her own parents - at the end of the day.
But the question must have offended him, because the samurai looks, for the first time that day, as if he might be sick. A strange expression has washed over his face, a look that could be affection, or maybe nausea.
“Yes,” he says. “Something like that."
. . .
The next one she meets is the gunman.
She is ten, and her mother has given up on recording her piano recitals. The video camera sits unused on the bathroom shelf now, rubbing elbows with tubes of toothpaste and jars of bath salts, collecting dust beside the dried-out husk of a sponge and the occasional rubber duck.
When he is away, the detective makes short, frequent phone calls. Toshiko stays up past bedtime, awaiting the expensive sound of a telephone ringing from the opposite side of the globe, awaiting the voice on the other end of the line, breathless and excited. The calls are strictly and generously scheduled, but that schedule is haphazardly adhered-to. Her mother makes a game of it: stands over the stove in her floral pajamas, stirring hot cocoa while Toshiko completes her homework at the kotatsu.
They watch spaghetti westerns while they wait. That way, even when the promised calls don’t come (urgent police business, Zenigata is terribly sorry), there’s a reward at the end of a long night. Sweets and cheap Hollywood violence. Toshiko’s mother peels tangerines on the couch. On the screen, men with faces like leather face-off against the backdrop of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. Toshiko watches, rapt, the missed call from a thrice-secured Interpol phone line all but forgotten.
And so it’s no surprise that when she finds the gunman on her doorstep, she regards him with nothing short of wide-eyed wonder.
Jigen does not lean so much as slouch against the clapboard porch, and the Magnum in his hand seems for a moment to breathe in the midday gloom. He tips his hat when he sees her approaching, and his voice is gravel when he speaks - just like a real gunslinger’s ought to sound.
“Is the detective around?”
Toshiko shakes her head. Her father is halfway around the world, fighting crime and delivering justice and forgetting to call home afterwards.
“Damn.” Jigen lifts the brim of his hat with the Magnum’s barrel, and scratches at the back of his head with the heel of the gun before tucking it into his jacket. “Came all this way for nothing.”
Toshiko narrows her eyes, tries to pull on a facial expression worthy of a Sergio Leone close-up. “What’s it to you?”
It has just occurred to her that a wanted criminal is standing on her threshold, that a practiced killer is looking for her father, and that neither of these things bode well. If it comes to a fight, Toshiko thinks she might beat him. Her ten-year-old confidence assures her of this; she’s at the top of her class in afterschool self-defense. She’s seen a gun before, a real one, and she’s watched Once Upon A Time In The West enough to qualify as the world’s leading tumbleweed expert.
But the gunman makes no move to apprehend her, only chews noncommittally on the end of an unlit cigarette. “What’s with that face? Relax. I’m not actually looking for your pops, I’m looking for a friend of mine. He’s gone clean off the grid. Got me wondering if the old man had something to do with it.”
Toshiko’s grip tightens on the glass neck of the empty milk bottle she was taking out to the recycling bins at the end of the street, when she was interrupted by this strange, pointy-looking man. He reminds her of a raccoon, or an unusually bristly possum.
“Friend? You mean that Lupin guy?” If the thief is missing, her father has nothing to do with it, she’s sure. He doesn’t approve of capital punishment, and would drop dead before resorting to underhanded means. If Zenigata had caught Lupin, he would have done so loudly and legally and, in all likelihood, on national television.
Jigen’s hat shifts, and Toshiko takes it as a nod.
“No, sorry.” She doesn’t know what else to say. “He’s not here.”
She thinks absently of the bulletin board that hangs above her bed, plastered-over with postcards from Marseille, Naples, Tangier. If Lupin turns up dead in a ditch somewhere, it means her father can come home at long last, doesn’t it? The thought is so welcome it burns, and Toshiko places it carefully in a box at the back of her mind.
The gunslinger pushes off the wall, and she expects he’s going to leave, but instead he sits down on the concrete genkan and reaches a casual arm into his jacket.
“No, really, I don’t know anything!” Toshiko flinches, brandishes the empty milk bottle like a blunt-force weapon, as if it could do anything to stop a flying bullet.
Jigen lets out a low chuckle and withdraws his arm. In his hand is a disposable polyethylene lighter, like the ones Toshiko’s seen at convenience stores and gas stations. She watches him light up and slip the object back into his breast pocket, cool as a cucumber.
I should call the police, Toshiko muses. The thought is followed by a swift pang of embarrassment when she remembers that the Zenigatas are the police, and how would it look if a policeman’s daughter couldn’t hold her nerve?
In a semblance of self-compromise, Toshiko decides to demonstrate her resolve by ignoring the gunman completely, and takes the milk bottle out to the recycling. The day is a blistering one - hot enough to send up ripples from the tarmac driveway, hot enough to wilt the persimmons where they hang heavy and unharvested in the boughs of the little tree.
When she returns from her two-minute errand, the gunman has not moved. If anything, he looks like he’s made himself more comfortable, stretching out horizontally on the top step of the genkan, hands folded behind his head and fedora perched lazily on his brow to block out the sunlight.
“Oy.” Toshiko stands over him. “We aren’t running a hotel.”
The gunman doesn’t acknowledge her at all. Perhaps he’s plotting his next move. Or wondering where his friend has got off to. Growing bored, Toshiko sits down at the foot of the steps.
“So what’s it like to shoot somebody?” She asks, chin-in-hand.
The gunslinger lets out a hoarse laugh, so raspy that Toshiko fears he might have inhaled his cigarette. “You usually begin conversations this way?”
“Dunno.” She looks at him with thinly-veiled suspicion. “Do you usually take a nap on other people’s front porches? Honestly! This isn’t your couch.”
Jigen raises an eyebrow. As far as he’s concerned, any surface can be a couch if you’re prepared to make some small sacrifices. It’s a challenge he’s willing to accept. He slumps lower and turns on his side, head pillowed atop a crooked elbow. Toshiko watches a trail of smoke drift out from under the brim of his hat.
“Hey. Gunslinger-san. Are you still awake?”
“Don’t throw a fit just yet. I’ll leave when the sun gets a little lower.”
Oh. Belatedly, she realizes it is awfully hot, and the thought of walking back through the neighborhood without so much as an umbrella to keep the heat at bay is an intimidating one at best. Should she fetch him a glass of water? It’s only polite, the least a well-bred host could do...but no. This man belongs in a jail cell, she reminds herself. He is certainly not entitled to their water. The only thing he’s entitled to is a pair of handcuffs and a life sentence.
Toshiko kicks at loose turf, tapping out a rhythm with her shoes.
“Listen, kid, can you quit that? You’re driving me nuts.”
“I can quit if you tell me what it’s like to shoot somebody.”
Jigen pulls himself slouchingly upright again. “Damn,” he mutters. “Didn’t your parents ever teach you not to talk to strangers?”
“You’re not a stranger.” She puts her tongue out, indignant. “You’re the gunman. My dad told me about you.”
Jigen sighs. “Is that right? Well then, I assume he also told you what happened to the last guy who wouldn’t let me take a nap. Looked like swiss cheese after.”
Toshiko draws back unthinkingly. “You’re lying,” she says, but she isn’t so sure.
Jigen falters, looking slightly miffed at having frightened her so easily. “Good grief,” he says, stooping to his feet. “Your porch isn’t too comfy anyhow.”
He pats his trousers in search of something - a card, perhaps? Do hired guns carry business cards? Toshiko tries to picture what Jigen’s might say: FASTEST DRAW IN THE WEST, WORLD’S NO.1 MARKSMAN, SPECIAL OFFER TODAY ONLY, CALL NOW AND GET ONE EXTRA DEAD PERSON FREE-OF-CHARGE. What font would it be printed in, and on what quality of cardstock? She watches the gunslinger come up empty-handed, regardless.
“Ach, well.” Jigen grinds the butt of his cigarette into an ashen smudge beneath his boot. “I reckon your old man knows how to find us.” He saunters down the front walkway, and turns at the gate. “Tell him I rang, will you? We could use all the help we can get.”
Toshiko nods, eyes shut tight against the glaring sun. I’m sorry about your friend, she wants to tell him, but her father didn’t raise a liar.
. . .
Nothing prepares her for Fujiko Mine - but, to Toshiko’s credit, nothing prepares anyone for Fujiko Mine.
At twelve, Toshiko is precocious for her age, according to her teachers. Driven and focused are the words they use most often. Less frequently, phrases like obsessive work ethic and compulsion, and sometimes issues with authority are tossed around. After all, no child is perfect.
The persimmon tree in the front yard is dying, but it’s been dying for a while now. Her mother must have stopped watering it.
The postcards that once occupied Toshiko’s bulletin board have been replaced with calendars and student council memorandums and sheet music. Necessary things, she says to herself as she flicks the postcards into the dustbin one by one. Practical things.
The esteemed detective inspector has recently arrived home from a seven-month assignment, bearing cheap gifts and bad news. He has been suspended from active duty (something to do with a fruitless and overzealous car chase that did irreparable damage to a historic Algerian landmark), and his suitcase is packed full of apologies in the form of airport souvenirs: lacquered Russian nesting dolls and brass keychains and useless wind-up toys that Toshiko has long since outgrown.
She watches the recycling bin at the end of the street creak under the weight of empty liquor bottles, green glass shining like an oil slick, and knows the Zenigata household is the sole contributor to this particular mess.
When evening breaks over the house, it brings an autumn chill along with it, dragging their sleepy Tokyo suburb kicking and screaming into the next season. Toshiko is fetching a blanket from the linen cupboard when she hears the unmistakable creak of a floorboard in the room above. Odd, considering her mother is away at work and her father is busy drinking himself beneath a table at the nearest dive bar. Odd doesn’t begin to cover it.
Toshiko wiggles into a pair of indoor slippers to muffle her footsteps, and ascends the staircase one step at a time. At the top of the landing, she lets her hand close slowly around the handle of the aluminum baseball bat she keeps tucked in the corner for special occasions.
The creaking noise is joined by the sound of papers being carefully and methodically shuffled, and is coming from her parents’ bedroom. Toshiko peers around the doorframe just in time to catch sight of a shadow standing over one of the lightweight steel filing cabinets that line the far wall.
Years ago the samurai cut a striking figure, even on his knees in Toshiko’s childhood sandbox. The gunslinger, when he’d visited, had shuffled his drooping frame in and out of her vision like a particularly evasive piece of furniture. But this?
This silhouette is different.
“You really shouldn’t sneak up on people,” the woman says without bothering to turn around. “It’s terribly rude.”
Toshiko steps into the room, wondering if Fujiko can hear her heartbeat hammering in her chest, or the sound of her fingers shaking where they clutch the metal bat.
“This is breaking and entering,” she says through gritted teeth. “You’re under arrest.”
The woman turns to look at her now, expression placid and inquiring. Toshiko’s never seen such impeccably-drawn lip liner before; the sight of it nearly takes her breath away.
“Oh dear. Law enforcement officials are getting younger and younger these days, aren’t they?” Fujiko purses her lips. “You can’t arrest me.” She goes back to rummaging through the filing cabinet.
“I can too.” Toshiko sticks out her chin, hopes it makes her look stronger. “This is a citizen’s arrest.”
“Oh? That’s one I haven’t heard before. Do you mind explaining it to me?”
Toshiko opens her mouth and closes it again. How exactly does a citizen’s arrest work? In a fleeting moment of absurd horror, she realizes she hasn’t a clue.
“Did Lupin send you?” she says quickly, hoping the deflection has gone undetected and knowing full well it has not.
At that, Fujiko throws her head back and laughs. Soft curls tumble down her back.
“Would it put you at ease if I said yes?”
Toshiko bristles. “Ease?! My house is being robbed!”
“I don’t work for Lupin.” Fujiko casts her an effortless smile. “Even you ought to know that.”
She turns her attention back to the filing cabinet, and Toshiko can’t help but stand on her tiptoes, trying to get a glance at what the woman is after.
“I’m looking for a very specific file,” Fujiko muses aloud. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard your father mention a diamond known colloquially as the Rose of Santorini?” She spreads her thumb and forefinger to indicate the approximate size of an impossibly large gemstone.
“Never heard of it.”
Fujiko looks heartbroken. “What a pity! Koichi always seemed like the kind of man who brings his work home with him.”
Don’t call my father by his first name.
Fujiko’s hair stirs in the draft from the window she probably climbed through. The fall breeze sends the curtains rippling, and Toshiko spares a second to watch the sunset flash radioactive orange tones across the distant skyline.
Fujiko is beautiful, sure - but so are lots of women. There’s nothing special about a symmetrical face, or a cupid’s bow mouth, or an hourglass figure. But there’s something in the way she uses her voice, Toshiko realizes in a moment of astounding clarity that she will grow out of once she hits her teenage years. Fujiko Mine has a spectacular talent for making others feel listened to like never before.
Toshiko wonders if she’ll ever learn how to do that, and then promptly chokes on the thought. She raises her bat once more.
“I’m calling the police,” she announces, and stomps downstairs to dial up the local precinct, fingernails catching on the rotating disc of their aging landline phone.
By the time the cops arrive, Fujiko Mine is long gone - but that should come as no surprise.
. . .
When she finally meets the man himself, she is fourteen and it is raining in the garden.
Cardboard boxes, duct-taped at the seams, are piled high under the awning of the front porch. Tomorrow morning they will be shoved into a moving van and shipped to a small town in Kitakyushu, where her mother has a new job lined up. The bones of what used to be a persimmon tree tremble under the weight of the falling rain.
The AC system has stopped working again, forcing Toshiko to take her French homework outside, chased by the midsummer heat that persists even well into the night. She’s running for student body president this semester, and has no hope of winning the election if her opponent discovers her grades have slipped. Now she sits on the porch swing, wrestling with the imperfect tense, the futur antérieur, the conditional. The streetlamp across the way flickers; moths circle, buzzing. The rain beats out a steady humdrum pattern on the road beyond the garden wall.
Toshiko nearly jumps out of her own skin. How long has he been standing there? The man steps into the circle of light cast by the sickly fluorescent bare bulb affixed above the door.
She’s seen his picture a thousand times before, of course - on the news, on wanted posters, in manila folders on her father’s desk. Still, he falls just short of her expectations, built like a Q-tip with a face like a baboon.
“Whoops, did I scare you? I didn’t mean it, honest! Don’t look at me like that.”
He raps his knuckles against the wooden porch swing for dramatic effect.
“You don’t have to do that,” Toshiko says, exhausted before the conversation has even begun.
She pinches the bridge of her nose, irritated. “Say ‘knock knock’ and actually knock. It’s totally inefficient.”
Lupin grins owlishly. “You sound just like Pops. You two really are related, huh!”
“Don’t say that!” she snaps, and the thief falls still and silent. Sighing, Toshiko hunches over her homework again, curling in on herself.
After an eerie minute of silence, he comes to sit beside her on the bench; his added weight sets the whole ensemble swinging, and Toshiko doesn’t have the energy to tell him off.
Toshiko leans back, twirling her mechanical pencil. “French. I hate it. I should have signed up for Italian or English or something.”
The thief’s face breaks into an ear-splitting smile, at once infectious and inviting. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? I’m fluent, you know! Here, let me see--”
Of course I know you’re fluent, Toshiko thinks bitterly. I know everything about you. All that information, all those useless facts spoon-fed to her as she grew up, completely unsolicited. She has only just met the man, yet she feels that she’s known him for a lifetime - and she has, in a way. Is it the same for him? She does not allow herself to wonder. Does her father talk about her day in and day out, does he tell Lupin about the daughter he left behind? Does Lupin know everything about her, too? This is an ugly train of thought, one with no satisfactory destination. She wishes she could purge Arsène Lupin III from her memory, from her life.
But he has taken the sheet of paper from her before she can voice a protest.
“Ah, okay. I see where you’ve gotten mixed up here,” he says, as if tutoring the child of his sworn enemy is the most natural thing in the world to him - natural as swimming, natural as breathing.
Toshiko is so shocked by the man’s behavior that she forgets her anger; she can only sit and listen and pay close attention to the fluttering gestures he makes with his hands, to the reedy rounded edges of the French consonants, every syllable a bright mark in the dim night.
“See here, this is the-- hm, what's it called again? The subjunctive? It's used to negate certainty. Nous conduisions, yes, that’s right, perfect!”
Hope in most languages expresses a measure of doubt, he explains, but hope in French is certain.
“But that doesn’t make sense.” Toshiko bounces her leg in agitation, all traces of former caution thrown to the wind. “Why would you use phrasing that implies certainty when speaking about something that you wish to happen but can’t guarantee?”
The thief buries his hands in his pockets. “Gee, I’m not sure. I guess it’s a philosophical thing.”
He is an imperfect tutor, to say the least.
The gaps in his knowledge are the grammar-shaped holes usually associated with early-age language acquisition: learning to speak by hearing others speak does little to teach grammatical rules. Instead, an understanding of syntax is absorbed as if by magic. In the end, he can tell her what’s right and what’s wrong (nous pensons que), but he can’t explain why or how, and his spelling is deplorable. Lupin doesn’t know the imperatif, can’t identify an auxiliary verb to save his life, but he stumbles his merry way through her homework all the same. It is enough.
“Est-ce que tu as une carte?” He insists on teaching her the most useless phrases, vowing that she’ll have need of them sooner or later. “Repeat after me.”
“Est-ce que tu as une carte?”
“Great, now you say ‘je me suis perdu dans tes yeux’. Hey, your pronunciation isn’t half bad! I tried to teach Jigen that one - you wouldn’t believe the fight he put up.”
Lupin is a breathtaking conversationalist - he reminds her of Fujiko, in that regard. Endlessly expressive, he hangs on to every word said to him, every question posed. Toshiko almost gets it then, almost understands why her father dropped everything to chase this man to hell and back again...
Toshiko sympathizes for a split second, then feels sick to her stomach. A sudden wave of anger washes over her, fierce and uncompromising, and she pushes her homework off to one side.
“I don’t want to practice anymore.”
Lupin watches her blankly. “Alright, yeah. Whatever you say.”
He stands, stretches. Toshiko hears the joints pop.
“What’d you come here for anyway?” she inquires darkly, when she realizes he’s set to leave without so much as a backward glance.
Lupin frowns slightly, as if he’s weighing something internally. “I came to talk to Pops, but--” he jerks his chin in the direction of the stacked cardboard boxes, “--something tells me I’m not going to find him here, am I?”
Stupid. Of course you’re not. Inspector Zenigata doesn’t live here anymore. He has not lived there in over a year, and he will not live there again. Toshiko opens her mouth to speak, thinks I’m going to say it out loud, but the comment chokes off into a grating laugh.
Lupin’s expression is unfathomable, but his tone is clipped and light when he waves a hand in her direction and says “I’ll leave you alone now,” and, “so long!”
Too late, Toshiko thinks. You should have left us alone to begin with.
But the thief is gone, vanished into the blinding nighttime cicada scream, and he does not trouble her again. At least, not in person.