Tanigaki had anticipated being flushed out.
Before the last snow, he’d taken down the journal pages and maps and packed them into an escape bag. Hyakunosuke was grateful the Matagi had packed one for him, filled with rice, a water bladder, and a ration tin.
They fled Ibaraki on foot, along the northern rail line.
Nomads with a destination, the hike reminded him of their time in Hokkaido. Chilly mornings were spent in Tanigaki’s arms sleeping until late afternoon. At sunset, they woke and dined on fresh kills before traveling under cover of night.
On days when sleep wouldn’t come, love was made until it did, with Tanigaki offering his ass with a promise that doing so wasn’t an act designed to stroke Hyakunosuke’s ego.
Twelve nights brought them to Tsugaru, and the Matagi was unwilling to spend what little cash they carried on a passenger boat.
They stowed away on a kitamaebune bound for Otaru, hiding within a packed cargo hold. The shared space was barely big enough for them to exist without touching.
Anxiety plagued Hyakunosuke; it was a cargo hold like this that Tanigaki employed when returning him to Tsurumi. When Tanigaki noticed his unease, he claimed an intense disliked for the open sea. His fabricated fears were medicated with affection until attempts at intimacy were dulled by their unkempt hygiene.
Rough conditions, a lack of fresh air, and the constant dark of the hold soon rekindled headaches. Each took a turn soothing the other with calculated fingers to the brow, just as they had in Ibaraki.
The very act of laying hands on the Matagi in a non-sexual way comforted Hyakunosuke; incapable of love, he found himself in unfamiliar territory.
Acclimating to the Matagi’s casual violence proved easy. While in the trenches, his red-faced anger came with blustering and the occasional tear. Now, Tanigaki’s brutality came with little warning and often without a hint of emotion.
A normal man might’ve chafed at the Matagi’s newfound brand of sane aggression, but Hyakunosuke felt oddly comforted by it.
They jumped ship in the harbor where the waters of early-Spring chilled them to the bone. Onshore, Tanigaki built a fire, and they huddled beside it until warm enough to visit a crowded midtown market.
Stuck wearing peasant rags, Hyakunosuke coveted the western suits of the men around him. Suddenly, Tanigaki began shadowing a man. Lost in the crowd, he spotted the Matagi’s hair amidst a sea of hats and watched him enter a public toilet.
At the curtained doorway, Hyakunosuke heard a fist strike flesh; inside, a man lay unconscious at Tanigaki’s feet.
“What are you doing, Yuusaku?”
“Strip him down,” Tanigaki eyed the curtain. “It took me a while to find a man with your build, brother, so please, let’s not get caught,”
He eagerly helped strip the man of his three-piece suit.
The leather dress shoes were a perfect fit; the poor bastard even owned a monocle. Desperate to change, Hyakunosuke pulled at the strings of his soiled monpe.
“Don’t dress here,” Tanigaki snapped. “We need to bathe,”
He agreed, “I saw steam rising two blocks east,”
“This man is loaded with cash,” smiling, Tanigaki presented a fistful of banknotes. “I need clothes too, then we’ll visit the baths,”
“Why not visit a tailor,” he asked. “Get yourself some modern clothes,”
Tanigaki frowned, “I don’t like wearing yōfuku,”
“You don’t mind me wearing them,” he said.
Tanigaki leaned in and kissed him.
“I like the way it looks on you,”
Far from their crime, Hyakunosuke insisted on one of the many seamstresses with a tacked list of prices in her window; women working piecemeal never asked questions, unlike their male counterparts.
After procuring a pair of black hakama and a large kimono jacket, they visited the busy sentō and scrubbed each other down. Tanigaki shaved him clean with a newly purchased straight razor before using its blade to neaten the beard lining his jaw.
Outside the baths, they encountered a street barber, and Hyakunosuke gave in to the Matagi’s pleas to get his hair trimmed. When the barber asked about his missing eye, Tanigaki relayed a witty tale about a hunting gun that backfired.
Now that they blended with every other man on the street, Tanigaki decided to tap into the remainder of their stolen funds.
“Taking the Teshio is a bad idea,”
Tanigaki stood before the posted train schedule, “If the line has reached Shibetsu, that’s as close as we can get to the burned-out kotan near Onnenai,”
“We should hike and horseback it,”
“Shit,” Tanigaki said. “The Teshio Line runs through Shibetsu all the way to someplace called Kaminayoro,”
“Kaminayoro?” he reviewed the board with him. “They’re extending it to Onnenai, they must’ve have found that kotan by now, Yuusaku,”
Tanigaki nodded, “We need to be sure,”
“Dammit, Yuusaku,” he snapped. “The only place to board the Teshio is at Asahikawa station,”
Tanigaki faced him, “We don’t have a choice,”
“We can find another mode of transport,”
“We don’t have the kind of time,” Tanigaki countered.
“Asahikawa is the eye of the storm, Yuusaku,”
“I know it’s risky,” said Tanigaki. “Even this place is risky,”
Enlisted soldiers were standard fixtures after the Emperor took control of the rails. A uniformed man worked the ticket counter while others walked the platform, checking bags and helping women climb into train cars.
“No shit,” Hyakunosuke eyeballed the platform. “The route between Otaru and Asahikawa is one of the busiest in Hokkaido,”
“We need to be there when they find the gold, brother,” Tanigaki whispered. “Tsurumi won’t take it back to Asahikawa,”
He nodded, “How will we know where they transport it unless we’re scouting from the trees,”
“Exactly,” Tanigaki said. “All we need do is lay low, watch their every move, and then make a grab when the time is right,”
“How do you plan to board without coming face to face with a uniform?” he asked.
Tanigaki pointed his head at the barefoot boy just a few feet away. No more than twelve with a shorn head to combat lice, he prowled the ticket depot for a pocket to pick.
“Where’s your mom?” the Matagi asked, startling the boy.
After a beat, the boy looked him up and down.
“I don’t know, bent over a toilet, somewhere,”
“Don’t be so disrespectful,” Tanigaki thumped the boy’s head. “She feeds you working those tricks, doesn’t she?”
The boy frowned, “You want me to get her for you?”
Tanigaki knelt to his level and held up a five yen note. The boy’s eyes expanded when Tanigaki held up a ten-yen note in his other hand.
“You take this and get me two first-class tickets as far as this train goes,” he pushed the five at him before waving the ten-note past his eyes. “You do that, you get this,”
“I’ll get my mom!” the boy darted away.
Hyakunosuke shook his head.
“He’s not coming back, Yuusaku,”
“He’ll be back,” said Tanigaki. “His mom will get the tickets,”
“If he even has a mother,” he countered.
“He’s the son of a whore,” said Tanigaki. “Even after she’s dead, he’ll always have a mother,”
The boy rushed back with a young woman trailing him. Hair unkempt like her kimono, the paint on her lips was worn though her white face paint was pristine.
“Hello there,” she smiled, her teeth dark blue.
Tanigaki smiled back, “Where’re my tickets?”
“Five more,” she held up a spread hand. “Convenience fee,”
Tanigaki handed her the ten and pulled out five single notes. Hyakunosuke snatched the tickets from her while Tanigaki got an arm around her and kissed her cheek.
They pushed through a crowd gathering to enter the third-class cars and walked around the single-file line of workmen and their families waiting to board second-class. There was no line at the train’s only first-class carriage.
“What day is it?” asked Hyakunosuke.
“It’s Sunday,” Tanigaki grinned.
Clever bastard. First-class compartments were typically packed with Europeans during the week, or Japanese wealthy enough to consider themselves their equals. Sunday was a holy day to most round eyes, a time for organized home activities with invited Japanese peers.
The passenger contained wood floors that shined and cushioned seats deep enough to compensate for women wearing bustles. Two couples sat near the front, one of them employed a young nanny to mind their baby. Hyakunosuke settled into a window seat and found the cushions to be harder than they appeared.
Anything was better than the forest floor.
After the elderly attendant punched their tickets, Tanigaki fell into the aisle seat, pushing Hyakunosuke closer to the window. He then thrust a hand into his bag and brought out something wrapped in cloth.
“Your grandfather kept many books,” he said. “This one’s pages were worn, so I salvaged it for you,”
Hyakunosuke gazed at the book on his lap.
“I didn’t know your grandfather knew Russian,” Tanigaki added. “Why would an educated man like him be rice farming? Was he shunned as a pervert after marrying-?”
“—those weren’t his books,” Hyakunosuke fanned through the pages with his thumb. “They belonged to my grandma. Her mother was a half-Russian, from Sakhalin,”
“What’s this one about?” the Matagi asked.
“It’s called Yevgeniy Onegin. It’s written to be an epic poem, about what my grandma called a líshniy chelovék,” he replied. “Onegin’s from a wealthy background, but he’s bored with life, so he goes from one shallow experience to the next,”
“He lives it up to do to avoid being like everyone else,” said Tanigaki. “Like all those men Byron wrote about,”
“Yes, Yuusaku,” he smiled. “Just like a Byron character,”
“What’s his vice?” asked Tanigaki. “They all have at least one,”
“Onegin plays at being many different people,” he gazed out the window. “He hates who really is, or what he thinks he is, so he’s constantly performing,”
“No one sees the real him,” Tanigaki mused. “There are advantages to that,”
“He rejects love completely until he experiences it for the first time,” he studied Tanigaki’s profile. “It’s too late for him, though. He never gets the one he wants because he failed to act when the opportunity first presented itself,”
“There’s a part of my brain that knows what this says,” Tanigaki touched the Cyrillic text. “I keep staring at it just hoping it will suddenly make sense,”
“My grandma taught me to read it,” he said, smiling. “She never taught my mother,”
“Your grandmother was a round-eye, wasn’t she?” Tanigaki asked. “That’s why your grandfather got hold of her so young?”
“She passed for normal,” he explained, head shaking. “But her mom didn’t,”
“The minka in Ibaraki,” Tanigaki said. “It was a tenant’s house,”
“My grandpa’s family was on the wrong side of the revolution, harboring foreigners when surrounded by isolationists,” he said. “When the fighting ended, his rice fields belonged to a man loyal to the new cause,”
“A serf in the noble house he grew up in, no wonder he drank,” said Tanigaki.
“She made bad choices as a child, that’s what my grandma always said when apologizing for my mother,” he slipped the book into his bag. “Then she would brag about my grandpa coming from a samurai family,”
“Her way of apologizing for him, too,” Tanigaki mused.
“Exactly,” he laughed, his hand on the Matagi’s.
Tanigaki laced his fingers into Hyakunosuke’s.
“Did she at least have light eyes?”
“Her father’s eyes were brown,” he shook his head. “Just like our father’s,”
“Your father, not mine,”
“There’s no shame in having a bit of Satsuma in you,”
“You’re the only bit Satsuma that’s getting inside of me,”
“Thank you,” Hyakunosuke whispered. “For bringing one of her books,”
Tanigaki kissed the back of his hand.
“Get some sleep,”
“What about you?” he asked.
Tanigaki smirked, “I’ll sleep when we’re alone,”
The train car rocked gently, lulling Hyakunosuke to sleep.
In dreams, his grandma’s voice lingered.
Beregi sebya, mal’chik, i nikogda ne vlyublyaysya.
Guard yourself, boy, never fall in love.
No matter what his memories conjured, her cruelest advice was welcomed over the rancid and bleeding pall of his brother.
Hyakunosuke woke to find the train sitting in a station, their passenger car empty, and a slumbering Tanigaki on his shoulder.
“Are you moving on from Asahikawa?” the elderly attendant whispered as not to disturb the Matagi.
“Where’s the Teshio Line boarding?”
“On Sundays,” said the attendant. “This train continues on the Teshio, to Kaminayoro,”
“May I pay for our passage here, Sir?”
“Of course,” the attendant said. “Two yen, and twenty-four sen, please,”
Hyakunosuke handed him three single bills.
“Keep the remainder, Sir, thank you.”
Tanigaki mumbled, “Be still, brother,”
“My brother would sleep through a coal mine collapse,” the attendant chuckled, handing the punched tickets back. “Enjoy the rest of your journey,”
Hyakunosuke tipped his head to the attendant but lowered it when a well-dressed couple boarded with a Warrant Officer in tow. Every second the train sat in Asahikawa station brought him undue stress.
After many agonizing moments, the officer bid the couple a farewell and exited the car. Tension brought a headache and reminded him his throat was dry.
Cheek pressed to the Matagi’s hair, he drifted back to sleep.
Yuusaku sat in the V between Tanigaki’s legs and sobbed. Hat in hand, Tanigaki brought it up to shield the Second Lieutenant’s crying face, masking their kiss.
Gun in hand, he aimed and pulled the trigger.
No noise came from his rifle, but smoke curled from the hole in the hat.
Face sprayed with blood, a naked Tanigaki fell back onto the mud, overcome by hysterical laughter.
Hat fallen, Yuusaku’s mutilated face confronted him and spoke in his grandma’s voice: Ty urodlivyy mal’chik-
—Hyakunosuke opened his eyes to the strong odor of anise. “Chew with your mouth closed, Yuusaku,”
“We stopped at Shibetsu, I got some Buffalo Rope,” a long black string dangled from Tanigaki’s lips. “It’s black licorice from America,”
“My mouth tastes like shit,” he grabbed a piece and began chewing on the rubbery confection. “How long was I out?”
“The entire time I was gone,” said Tanigaki.
Hyakunosuke stared at him, “You left the train?”
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Tanigaki stared back. “You haven’t slept right in weeks,”
The train now moved through the waning night, and they were no longer alone. A smartly-dressed European in white sat three seats away, mahogany cane matching the color of his vest and hat.
Every few moments, he turned and fixed his gaze on Tanigaki; it was a look Hyakunosuke knew well. When Tanigaki started kissing him, Hyakunosuke eagerly played his part, leaning back and letting the large Matagi mount his lap.
Hands and hungry mouths met as he rolled the jacket down Tanigaki’s broad shoulders, freeing his arms and revealing that shapely backside.
Blue eyes watched them without a hint of shame.
“Just roll him,” Hyakunosuke whispered, finding disagreement in Tanigaki’s gaze. “You’re not whoring yourself out, Yuusaku,”
Tanigaki softened, “It would be easier-”
“—I don’t give a shit,” he growled quietly. “No more whoring,”
Tanigaki purred through half-lidded eyes.
“Are you jealous?”
“No,” said Hyakunosuke. “I’m in love,”
Tanigaki kissed him deeply before rising from his lap.
“You know what to do, big brother,” smiling, he strolled to the water closet, touching the man’s shoulder casually as he passed.
Hyakunosuke slid into the seat behind the man.
“Are you a speaker of Japanese?”
The man hesitated, “Yes, I am.”
“He’s a fine cut of meat, isn’t he?” beads of sweat dotted the back of the man’s neck. “He likes you, he’s waiting for you,”
The man trained an eager eye before rising from his seat.
“Now, now,” Hyakunosuke brought up two fingers and rubbed them to his thumb. “Meat like that has a price in Japan,”
“Of course,” the man sputtered, pulling out his billfold.
After pushing out a few five yen notes and setting them on the seat, he produced an additional ten yen note and tossed it at Hyakunosuke.
“I don’t wish to have company,”
Hyakunosuke forced a smile.
“I’ll make sure no one interrupts,”
Hyakunosuke snatched the money from the floor and anticipated landing a kick to the man’s balls once Tanigaki rendered him unconscious.
The man reached the water closet door, but instead of opening it, he quickly exited the train car.
“Ogata Hyakunosuke!” he jumped up to find Warrant Officer Kikuda standing at the opposite end of the carriage, gun trained.
A gunshot rang out from inside the water closet.
“I couldn’t believe what Tsurumi told me,” said Kikuda. “But here you are, and there’s Tanigaki,”
“Quit talking and pull the trigger,” he goaded.
“That’s a pretty piece of glass you got in that eye,” Kikuda drew back the hammer. “I’m going to add it to my collection of things found while tying up loose ends,”
Tanigaki’s voice shouted ‘DROP,’ and Hyakunosuke fell to his knees. Kikuda dove behind a seat as Tanigaki unloaded a volley of bullets from the pistols he now carried.
“You Matagi son of a bitch!” Kikuda growled. “I never should’ve taught you dual shot!”
Tanigaki put himself in front of Hyakunosuke, “Brother, move!”
Kikuda shouted, “Do it now!”
The train lurched, hurling Hyakunosuke over the dead body of Superior Private Usami; blood trickled from the hole in his forehead, and the moles dotting his cheeks contained crude stick figures beneath them. Outside, the train screeched to a halt as Tanigaki walked backward, firing both weapons.
Hyakunosuke jumped onto the grass and took off as uniforms came from both sides. Guns spent, Tanigaki tossed them.
“Yuusaku, the trees!” he shouted, running for his life.
“Don’t look back, brother, just go!” Tanigaki huffed, sprinting after him.
“Tanigaki Matagi!” a familiar voice shouted.
Hyakunosuke turned to find Tanigaki tackled to the ground, an Ainu on top of him.
“Yuusaku!” a bullet struck the tree beside him, sending shards of bark upon the back of his neck.
Kikuda marched toward him, gun up and firing, giving Hyakunosuke no choice but to flee.
Tanigaki had been taken to the Kaikōsha in Asahikawa.
They kept him imprisoned in the only room without windows, a file storage office on the top floor. For twenty days and nineteen nights, Hyakunosuke watched from a position just one block south.
The men standing guard purposely kept irregular hours, disabling his ability to pinpoint an accurate time to approach.
Tsurumi wouldn’t stop until he deprogrammed Tanigaki, and his first attempts came in the form of soldiers from the 27th; former comrades from the Matagi’s tondenhei days.
The week after, he brought in the Ainu woman, Inkarmat. She arrived with an infant on her back and came out later on the arm of Private Ariko; the Matagi had been replaced.
Yesterday, Hijikata showed up with his followers in tow; Tanigaki had been right predicting an alliance. The convict doctor, Ienaga, was among them, along with that Ainu from Akam, Kirawus.
Hyakunosuke followed when the Ainu, and another of Hijikata’s lackeys, Kantarou, left Takesu to visit downtown.
“They’ve had him locked in that room for near a month,” Kantarou said as they walked.
“I was there when they brought in his lady and that baby,” said Kirawus. “He keeps saying we’re all part of some cover life he lived while working for the army,”
Kantarou shook his head, “Sad son of a bitch,”
“They’ve kept him awake for days,” said Kirawus. “No man deserves that,”
“Ushiyama didn’t like it either,” Kantarou said.
“I feel sorry for the bear cub,” Kirawus added. “I hope they get through to him,”
Hyakunosuke slipped back into the crowd when they entered a brothel.
A horse-drawn trolley slowed to a stop at the curb, and inside he spotted a red shoulder panel. A young Private hopped off and stepped onto the sidewalk.
Hyakunosuke came up alongside, coughing violently.
“Are you all right, sir?” when the Private took his arm, he fell onto him, hacking with his head down.
After steering them into an alleyway, he surveyed the narrow passage for witnesses.
“Let me get you some help,” said the Private.
Hyakunosuke drove a fist into his sternum and then bounced his head off the brick wall. He hastily stripped off the unconscious Private’s pants and jacket and with the cap on his head, emerged from the alley.
He fell in behind a rowdy group of Superior Private’s as they crossed the street toward the front gate. After the group passed with no interference from the First-Year standing watch, Hyakunosuke lingered by the horses with his eye on the building’s pillared front door canopy.
Just inside the foyer stood First Lieutenant Tsurumi.
The elder officer kept a permanent room on the top floor of the Kaikōsha, with a large window that overlooked the Superior Private’s barracks.
Hyakunosuke recalled many nights responding to that slick bastard’s signal, a lone candle in the window with one curtain panel drawn.
One of those nights, Tanigaki had been invited, but he failed to appear after Tamai commandeered him for guard duty. It was a missed prospect that burned in his gut; things would’ve been different if the Matagi showed up that night.
Hyakunosuke would’ve solicited the Ani native right there on his knees without Tsurumi realizing it was happening. Their sexual relationship would’ve evolved, and together, they’d have searched for the gold.
A vehicle pulled up to the door with Sergeant Tsukishima driving and Sugimoto in the front seat. Asirpa climbed out the back, and the three exchanged words before she opened the back door.
Out stepped the old woman from the Kotan, not much taller than the little girl holding her hand. They strode onto the portico, their eyes taking in the strange world around them.
After many moments Tsukishima returned and shared a cigarette with Sugimoto. Not long after that, Asirpa charged out onto the steps.
“He remembered Huci!” she shouted. “He knew Osoma and started remembering things about you, me, Cikapasi, and everyone!”
Laughing, Sugimoto held her tight.
“He started crying!” she exclaimed. “Tanigaki-nispa was crying, just like he used to!”
Gutted by the scene, Hyakunosuke retreated.
The gate loomed ahead, and the path to it was clouded a comforting breath on his ear, that wet tongue on his lips, and a smile that faded the world to black.
Happiness vanished in the blink of an eye, the only eye he had left. Ty dolzhen byl pozabotit’sya o tom, chtoby ne vlyubit’sya, mal’chik.
“That’s him, he’s the one!” the beaten Private stood there with a soldier under each arm. “That’s my uniform!”
“Ogata!” Sugimoto screamed.
A bullet struck the concrete at his feet.
Tsukishima shouted, “Seize him!”
He shoved the beaten Private, toppling the men carrying him, and fled through the gates. Shouts followed as dozens of determined men armed with batons rushed out after him.
Down the street, glass rained down from a merchant’s window shattered by another of Sugimoto’s bullets. He raced into an alley with footfalls closing in from every direction. Cries echoed from the rooftops as basement windows came to life from switched on lights.
“I got him!” Ariko’s thick body leaned out a window with a rifle aimed.
Adrenaline kept him one step ahead, and out of the alley, he slipped into a clutch of pedestrians; no soldier would fire into a crowd of civilians.
A bullet struck the streetlamp above, bringing the pedestrians to their knees.
“I’m sending him your way!” cried Kirawus.
Hyakunosuke took off in the opposite direction, but that damned Ainu came close to striking him again. Desperate, he jumped a high fence to a backyard and sheltered within its hanging sheets.
A train whistle sounded off in the distance, a ten-minute departure warning. Hyakunosuke snatched some damp clothes from the line and quickly redressed. Calm, he walked toward the station only to find uniformed men rounding the corner to confront a group of last-minute boarders.
A portly man clad in a tailored western suit was given clearance to exit the station, and when he crossed the street, Hyakunosuke fell in behind him.
Suitcase in one hand and a string-tied box in the other, the man walked four blocks to a quiet street of townhomes. At the paneled door of a machiya, he kicked off his shoes, and that’s when Hyakunosuke jumped him from behind.
In the foyer, he forced the man onto his belly and clutching his chin, grabbed his crown, and with a tug, ended his life.
Winded from his work, he slid the panel door closed and pulled the western shades down over the windows. Teeth chattering, he ventured into the kitchen and helped himself to some water from the kitchen sink.
The airy voice of a woman called from above; the dead man’s name was Daichi. Hyakunosuke took a knife from the cutting block and crept up the stairs.
The moment she entered the hall, he wrapped an arm around her neck and jabbed it into her lower back. He couldn’t stop himself, driving the blade long after her screams died with her.
Unable to continue, he let her body slide onto the floor. Pungent blood soaked his thigh and made the knife too slick to hold.
“Babushka, pozhaluysta, pomogi mne!” he dropped to his knees. “I never asked you for anything, please!”
Behind him, the door creaked, parting only an inch.
Inside a naked bulb hung low from a thick cord, and twisting it brought light to dozens of headless dress-forms each clad in a colorful kimono.
The woman was a geisha, her vanity cluttered with application sponges and brushes caked with liquid liner. Beyond an open castor of pasty white powder were three neatly combed wigs on headstands.
Hyakunosuke sat down and studied his face in her mirror.