The fortune-teller’s daughter arrived at Asahikawa at age two, a testament to how long her father was missing.
No one expected her mother to carry full term after being stuck in the gut at Abashiri. The kotan midwives called her Daikuso, a fitting first name for a half-sisam of twelve pounds.
A late talker, her voice awakened in the presence of her newly found father. She babbled incessantly, repeating words and mimicking hand gestures; her very existence led Tokushirou to pine for memories unattained.
Guilt was a comrade long thought dead, but it nagged at him now despite their conversations never being pleasant. Yes, it had been foolish to marry a local woman, impregnate her, and put her in harm’s way; the same level of foolishness repeated when he put Private Tanigaki in harm’s way.
Those first days after his recall, the young Akita native wouldn’t hold his child. He remained distant from the Ainu woman, Inkarmat, but he went through the motions, convincing everyone who cared that his road to recovery was assured.
Doubts lingered within Tokushirou, so he arranged a visit to the widow Hanazawa. Misgivings were realized when the Matagi emerged for their trip wearing a Second Lieutenant’s uniform.
Tsukishima remained stone; no man maintained a front quite like Hajime. He saluted young Tanigaki before opening the carriage door for his ride to Sapporo.
Hanazawa’s home changed drastically since his death. European windows brightened the interior, and opulent rugs replaced tatami as quickly as a tapered shirtwaist replaced his widow’s kimono.
Tanigaki had entered the foyer with eyes hungry for anything familiar, but when the domestic servant asked his name, confusion marked his brow.
Superior Private Ogata invested a great deal of time weaving a web of lies so intricate that Tokushirou couldn’t help but be impressed.
The widow Hanazawa had come bustling down the stairs, delighted to see the young man who’d risked his life to save her son’s corpse from the battlefield.
She’d greeted him with open arms and called him by the name his real mother gave him: Genji.
Dazed, the Matagi had stepped into her embrace. Composed, he’d joined her in the sitting room for tea and with hat in hand, confronted the funerary image of the real Yuusaku Hanazawa.
A tear had run down his cheek, sadness the widow mistook as grief for her son. Together they’d knelt before Yuusaku’s shrine, holding hands and weeping; one for a lost child, the other for a lost soul.
Back at the Kaikōsha, the Matagi returned that uniform to the dispensary and now donned Ainu clothes given to him by Kirawus. He’d even accompanied Sugimoto, the child, and the convict, Shiraishi, in returning Huci and her granddaughter back to Otaru.
“There’s been no sign of Ogata leaving by train, horse-traffic, or migrant walk,” Tsukishima entered the parlor, closing the door behind him. “It’s been three weeks, Sir,”
“He remains in Asahikawa,” said Tokushirou. “A door to door search will flush out our Mister Ogata,”
Outside his window, the Matagi carried his sleeping daughter back inside. There was clearly no intimacy with the fortune teller, but that hadn’t stopped him from bonding with his child.
“Use every available man on this base, but,” he added. “Keep our trusted guards in Kushiro,”
“You think Hijikata will make a move on the gold?” Tsukishima asked.
“There’s more gold there than we anticipated,” he undid his jacket button and sat on the couch. “I don’t expect a man like that to rely on my guidance much longer,”
Tsukishima pulled at the collar of his shirt. Western attire suited most men, but Hajime wasn’t most men.
“Tanigaki went to the baths with you last night?”
“Yes, he did, Sir,”
“Has he spoken of our missing Mister Ogata?”
“Certain subjects are off-limits, Sir,”
Before the conversation could continue, Tanigaki pushed through the door with a tea tray in his hand.
“Forgive me, I didn’t know you were in a meeting,”
“No, please, come in,” Tokushirou took the tray from him and placed it on the table between the couches. “We’re finished, aren’t we, Sergeant?”
“Won’t you stay, Hajime?” Tanigaki asked. “Its pekoe, from that British colony on the continent,”
Tsukishima smiled warmly, “I’ve things to do, perhaps another time,”
Tokushirou grinned at the Matagi once they were alone, “Our Tsukishima doesn’t express happiness very often,”
“I wanted to thank him,” he sat and poured their tea. “I bathe nightly, and he’s been so accommodating, going with me when I’m sure he just wants to turn in for the day,”
Tokushirou took the cup and saucer handed to him, “Finding out his preference in European tea was shrewd,”
“I asked the kitchen mistress,” he grinned. “You’ve all been so kind to me,”
Tokushirou sipped his tea before returning it to the table, “I feel as if I’m responsible for you to a degree,”
“A large degree,” he said, cup in hand. “You’re mostly responsible for my current situation,”
Tokushirou found innocent eyes.
One. Two. Three.
“If you hadn’t told the Sergeant to enlist me in bringing Ogata back,” the Matagi sipped his tea. “I wouldn’t have been on that ship,”
Tokushirou sat back.
Four. Five. Six.
“I haven’t told anyone about the telegram,” he set down his cup and stood. “I’m not angry at you, Mister, uh-”
Tokushirou uncrossed his legs.
Seven. Eight. Nine.
“Forgive me, Sir,” he said quickly. “I don’t consider myself a soldier anymore. May I address you as a gentleman and not a superior officer?”
Tokushirou pushed out a laugh.
“Of course, Mister Tanigaki,”
“Thank you, Mister Tsurumi,” he bowed slightly before his eyes set upon something. “You have a gramophone?”
“It belongs to the Kaikōsha,” Tokushirou watched him finger the machine’s scalloped horn. “The records are in the bin beneath,”
Tanigaki retrieved the box of discs and flipped through them. Creasing his brow, he said, “Every army man is a Wagnerite,”
“You know western music?” Tokushirou asked.
Tanigaki regarded him with a smile and a nod.
“Wagner isn’t my favorite of the German Romantics,” he put the box back in place. “I don’t like hearing orchestral pieces on these, they switch out the cellos for tubas and use Stroh violins,”
“Yes, they do, Mister Tanigaki, yes, they do,” Tokushirou said. “Tell me, where does a mountain boy discover classical music?”
“Behind every hick-Matagi is a refined woman,” he returned to the couch, smiling. “My mother owned a violin. She bought it from one of the first Austrian merchants to visit Akita.”
“Fascinating,” said Tokushirou.
“She played it when I was little,” he paused then, his lip quivering. “I can hear her playing, sometimes I hear her voice,” his eyes pooled with water. “But I can’t remember her face,”
Tokushirou moved onto the cushion beside him and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. Suddenly, the Matagi tipped over and pressed his face to Tokushirou’s neck.
After a few moments of sobbing, he collected himself and wiped his eyes with the back of his shirtsleeves.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “All I do is cry anymore,”
“You’ve been through quite an ordeal,” said Tokushirou. “It’s to be expected,”
“I just lied to you, Mister Tsurumi,” he said. “I don’t dislike Wagner completely. The Ring of the Nibelung, I heard a recording when I lived in Kosaka, it’s a singing song play,”
Relief washed over Tokushirou, “An operatic?”
“Is that what they’re are called?” he asked.
Tokushirou began to relax, “There are four operas in the Der Ring des Nibelungen,”
“I don’t speak German, but an actor friend explained the words to me as it played. My favorite is the Valkyrie,” without being asked, he refreshed their tea. “The stories in the Ring remind me of the myths back home. Goddesses of the mountain, their love, and their tragedies,”
“This actor friend was a kabuki man from Kosaka?”
“When you were searching for me,” Tanigaki regarded him with mischievous eyes. “Did you meet them?”
“They were rather fond of you, mister Tanigaki,”
“I’m fond of everyone,” he brought the cup to his lips. “But you knew that about me,”
“You and I are alike in that respect,”
“Yuusaku wasn’t,” he returned his cup to the saucer.
One. Two. Three. Four.
“After visiting with Misses Hanazawa,” he added. “I remembered his voice, voices are always the first thing that comes,”
“I didn’t consider how difficult that visit would be,”
“I needed it,” he said quickly. “If you hadn’t shown me the truth, I’d still be clinging to the lies,”
Tokushirou put a hand upon Tanigaki’s knee.
“What do you remember about Yuusaku?”
“He took me to a shop in town,” he said. “The man sold phonographs and Yuusaku, he liked Debussy-”
“—Nocturnes, if I recall,”
“There’s a listening booth in the back where we stood inside and listened,” he hesitated. “He told you about it, that’s why you came to me, wasn’t it?”
Tokushirou withdrew his hand.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
“I’m not angry. You manipulate people, Mister Tsurumi, it’s what you do,” he said, agreeable. “You promised not to use me against him, you just wanted me to convince him to join you after the war against his father-”
“—I recall our conversation Mister Tanigaki,”
“Tell me,” he took hold of Tokushirou’s hand and brought it back on his leg. “Which of the kagema in Kosaka was your favorite?”
Tokushirou chuckled, “There were many,”
“I enjoyed Namio the most,”
“The young man with no wisdom teeth,”
“It made for an interesting fit,”
“Oh, Mister Tanigaki,” Tokushirou laughed. “You and I are more alike than I realized,”
“I enjoy people that like to have fun,”
“I’m not the handsome man I once was,” said Tokushirou. “Yet the one named Yasuyuki was rather generous with his affections,”
“Yuki’s brother didn’t like me,” he pouted. “I intimidated him,”
“That’s to be expected as you share the same build,”
“I always invited him to stay when the clothes began falling off,” he said flippantly. “It’s more fun when everyone wants everyone,”
“Indeed, it is, Mister Tanigaki,”
“It bothers me that you think you’re no longer handsome,” he handed Tokushirou a fresh cup. “You’re as handsome as ever, Mister Tsurumi, just in a different way,”
“That’s polite of you to say,”
“I need to stop this charade,” he declared.
Tokushirou’s froze as the Matagi stood.
One. Two. Three. Four.
“I’ve been using you to raise my mood,” he confessed. “Forgive me for that, but I’m trying to work up the courage to speak with Inkarmat today,”
“You may speak to me about anything,” Tokushirou set down his cup. “You’re not my ward, there’s no need to be guarded for my sake,”
Tanigaki glanced the window.
“I’ve burdened you enough,”
“It’s as you stated,” said Tokushirou. “I played a part in your current situation, and thus I make myself available to you as a friend, Genjirou,”
“I’m not staying with her, Mister Tsurumi,” he blurted. “There’s a part of me that knows her, but I don’t feel for her, not the way she deserves,”
“Forgive my invasion of privacy,” Tokushirou said. “But have you and-”
“—I’ve not touched her, nor do I intend too,” Tanigaki’s eyes met his. “I took Daiku today, do you know why?”
Tokushirou shook his head.
“Inkarmat should spend time with Rikimatsu,” the Matagi spoke without a hint of anger. “He’s been there for her, and I think it’s best to encourage it,”
Tsukishima had ordered the Ainu soldier to seduce a then-pregnant Inkarmat, another foolish mistake on his part, thrusting a lonely young man into the arms of a vulnerable woman.
“I was preparing our tea in the kitchen when I found her crying on the porch,” Tanigaki looked into his eyes. “His superior gave him new orders today, assigning him somewhere else,”
“And she feels obligated to remain here, for you?”
“Inkarmat says she can’t take my daughter from me,” he said. “I need her to understand, I’m not what’s best for that child,”
“Rikimatsu’s been a good father to her,” he said, pacing the floor. “And he’s been there for Inkarmat. I won’t stand in the way of what’s best for her or her mother,”
Tokushirou walked to him.
“I don’t envy your enterprise,”
Tanigaki nodded, “If I’m not down for dinner later-”
“—I’ll inform the staff,” said Tokushirou, hand on his shoulder.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Mister Tsurumi,” he said. “I want you to know that,”
The door opened, and Tsukishima entered.
“Have a good day,” Tanigaki bowed before exiting.
“Sergeant,” said Tokushirou. “Where have we assigned Private Ariko?”
Tsukishima closed the door behind him, “I recalled two men from Kushiro, replaced them with Ariko. Is this a problem, Sir?”
“Not at all,” said Tokushirou. “Inform our Ariko that he should take the fortune teller and her child with him,”
“Sir?” Tsukishima said. “I think keeping Tanigaki here is the best-”
“—Tanigaki will remain,” Tokushirou poured the Sargeant some tea and handed it to him. “The woman and the child will depart, under Ariko’s supervision,”
Tsukishima gave a curt nod, “Understood, Sir,”
Chaos was about to engulf the Imperial Army.
Hijikata took possession of his share of the gold and began enlisting a cadre of fighters. These trained battalions would be planted throughout Hokkaido’s coastal towns, and within the year, attack the garrison’s at Muroran, Akkeshi, and Nemuro.
Assurances were made that the 7th Division would remain neutral during the ronin’s rebellion; former tondenhei would return to farming poppies, while the local unskilled would staff the first of many planned munition’s factories.
Tokushirou descended the stairs of the Kaikōsha.
Gone was the daily chatter, cigarette smoke, and the tapping of boots. Every officer that frequented these halls was now in the field, carrying out plans within plans.
The Matagi was on the portico, bathing his toddling child. She latched onto his muscular arm and stood in the center of a steel trough while her dotting father rinsed the soap from her shoulders with a large ladle.
Tokushirou joined them with a dry yukata.
“Say hello to Mister Tsurumi,” said the Matagi, taking the yukata offered to him.
The bushy-browed child wiggled her fingers in Tokushirou’s direction.
“We had an accident during our nap,” he bundled the child tightly and lifted her from the trough. “We took our sheets to the Misses Ukio, and she’s going to make them all clean,”
The little girl nodded, “Keen,”
Tokushirou dabbed the girl’s nose dry with his kerchief, “I wasn’t aware mother and child were paying us a visit,”
“It’s just us today,” said the Matagi. “Inkarmat’s joining a new kotan and asked me to mind her until she’s settled,”
“I wasn’t aware you visited Inkarmat,” Tokushirou said. “Remind me, where did our good Sergeant send Private Ariko?”
“I’ve no idea,” the Matagi took them into the kitchen. “She’s setting up house, but she won’t say where. I assumed Ariko’s on a secret mission,”
Tokushirou sighed with relief.
“May I ask you something, Genjirou?”
“You can ask me anything,”
“Do you intend to return home to Akita?”
“Meeting my brother,” the Matagi hesitated. “It hasn’t put me off returning home,”
The reunion of brothers-Tanigaki hadn’t gone well.
Elder brother remained justifiably resentful having to bury both parents in his younger sibling’s absence. He married into a family of no means with only their father’s home to call his own.
Tanigaki had said little in his defense.
Unlike his meeting with widow Hanazawa, there’d been no tears shed. He’d excused himself from the dining room and returned with monies given to him earlier in the week by Tokushirou to procure new clothes.
The elder brother had eagerly taken the cash.
“I’m glad to hear this,” said Tokushirou. “I was concerned when you left the premises afterward,”
Tanigaki had abandoned Tokushirou’s company following his brother’s departure. Instead of walking to the base, he’d ventured to the administrative annex.
Unable to secure an extra man to shadow the Matagi, Tokushirou was forced to follow up with the clerk himself.
“I visited the pension office, pulled my brother-in-law’s Kenkichi’s severance file,” the child staggered over the kitchen planks, little hands set upon the cabinet face for balance. “His pension is earmarked for my mother, they don’t know she’s dead,”
“You told me he’d been part of the Second Division,”
“He left her the deed to his land,” Tanigaki was a clever man. “I’m going to claim it, return to Ani, and rebuild their home,”
“That’s a sound enterprise,” Tokushirou hesitated. “Did you also retrieve the files of Ogata Hyakunosuke?”
“No, ma’am,” Tanigaki quickly stepped up when the child began climbing the pan racks. “You’re too strong for your own good, misses,”
Caught in her father’s arms, she displayed a sour expression.
“Let’s find something to do that doesn’t involve rooms with sharp and heavy things in them,” Tanigaki turned and smiled. “Do you want to join us, Mister Tsurumi?”
“I’d enjoy that, thank you,” he fell in behind them. “Please, call me Tokushirou,”
After his father’s seppuku, he was a common man.
There were two kinds of common men, mother always said, those who build roads and those who walk them.
Treading the roads of others extracted a heavy toll, and the irony wasn’t lost on Tokushirou that those walking his stretch of road paid dearly for their journey.
The train ticket on his desk brought solace; Tanigaki would be exiting his path.
“Tokushirou?” naked, but for a sky-blue yukata and a pair of white socks, Tanigaki carried his sleeping child to the couch, leaving a fragrant trail in his wake.
“I’ve something for you, Genjirou,” he retrieved a bottle of liquor from the ice pail.
“For me?” the Matagi gently laid her on the couch.
“Given your fondness for black licorice,” he set two shot glasses upon the table and uncorked the bottle. “I procured some Sambuca Manzi,”
“I’ve never heard of it,” he said, eyes bright.
“It’s an Italian spirit,” Tokushirou filled the tiny cups. “Best served cold,”
Tanigaki sniffed it before tipping some back.
“Oh,” he inhaled deeply. “That’s delicious,”
Tokushirou did the same, savoring the sweet burn in his chest, “It clears the sinuses,”
“Pour me another,” he whispered, his glass back on the table.
The scent of anise filled the space between them as he spoke of his long-term plans back once back in Ani.
“I have a question, Toku-kun,” he refilled their glasses. “Where is everyone? The officers have been gone for two weeks,”
He forced a smile, “They’re searching for Mister Ogata,”
“Oh,” Tanigaki deflated. “What about the lesser men?”
“The rest are on a personal mission,” he turned his glass over when Tanigaki tried to refill it. “Along with Private Ariko,”
“I’m prying,” he filled his own glass and then emptied it. “I got scared, I thought Russia might’ve invaded,”
“If that were the case, I wouldn’t be here,” he said, one leg over the other. “And you’re allowed to pry. Ask me anything you wish, Genjirou,”
“Do you think it’s selfish of me to go home to Ani?” the Matagi moved onto the couch beside him and pointed his head the sleeping tot. “To not be with Inkarmat and Daiku?”
A dark brown nipple amidst a shallow layer of hair appeared in the opening the yukata, “Young man, there’s nothing selfish about doing what’s best for oneself,”
Pensive, Tanigaki leaned to and kissed his cheek. “Forgive me,” his cheeks ashen. “You’ve done so much for me, and I don’t know how to thank you,”
“As the imminent leader of Hokkaido,” he put a hand on the Matagi’s naked knee. “It would be irresponsible of me to take advantage,”
“I’m going to back Akita,” Tanigaki flashed an ornery grin. “I don’t qualify as one of your subjects, Lord Tsurumi,”
“That’s a reality I considered,” his hand moved over the rough hairs of his muscular thigh and grazed his genitals. “You’re certainly the most endowed of my potential conquests,”
“I’ll put Daiku to bed,” Tanigaki leaned in for another kiss. “Then I’ll show you my appreciation,”
Tokushirou reached for the back of his neck, eager to pull the willing man onto him until something pricked his leg.
“Damn!” he snapped, standing.
“What’s wrong?” Tanigaki reached for him.
“Something bit me,” he ran an exploratory hand along the back of his leg.
“Oh no, you too!” Tanigaki snatched up a loose upholstery tack up from the couch cushion. “Yesterday, one of these got me in the room across the hall,”
“European furniture,” he groused.
“I’m sorry,” Tanigaki laughed. “I know it’s not funny, but-”
“—Oh, but it is, Genjirou,” he smiled. “Perhaps fate is telling me that this avenue isn’t one we should take,”
Suddenly, his knees folded and fell onto the couch. The tingling of pins and needles in his legs gave way to a stifling heaviness.
Tanigaki knelt before him.
“Feeling it now, aren’t you, Sir?” Remain calm.
Tanigaki hurried to the door and locked it.
“The doctors here pay no attention to who comes and goes,” he said coldly, closing the shutters on the room windows. “There was a catalog of medicines in one office, I can’t believe how inexpensive it is to order a few tablets of curare,”
Count them all. Count each one you see.
One. Two. Three.
“Crushing to powder and cooking to fluid was tricky,” Tanigaki reached under the gramophone stand and retrieved some neatly folded clothes. “But I knew how to do it from watching the nurses in Kosaka. Now you know why I was always making tea. I needed to melt enough for one dose,”
Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.
“Pricks are easy to disguise if you know how,” Tanigaki held up a hand, and between his fingers was the upholstery pin and a tiny syringe. “The paralysis is gradual. Arms and legs first, then your ability to speak,”
Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.
“The spine is like a ladder,” Tanigaki pulled off the yukata and began dressing. “But nothing on it climbs straight up or down,”
The child didn’t rouse when her father sat on the couch beside her.
“First real memory I had of you, in Ibaraki,” brown shirt buttoned, he put his arms through the holes of a green tapered vest. “Was your nasty face saying that it needed me. I needed to be needed, Sir, you have no idea how much I needed to be needed. It makes what I’m doing now, so very hard,”
Twenty. Twenty-One. Twenty-two.
“You inspire fear in your enemies, but you’re so full of love,” Tanigaki sat beside him and pulled on a pair of dark brown trousers. “Love and hate are born of the same passion that drives us all, I guess,” he rose to his feet and stepped into a pair of shoes.
Thirty-Three. Thirty-Four. Thirty-Fi….
“Oh, you’re leaking again,” Tanigaki grabbed a napkin from the table and dabbed gently at his cheek. “Your conscience, your anger, your joy, all those juices gush out when you count higher than thirty, don’t they?”
“All that passion has to go somewhere, but you won’t let it be love. Love compromises you,” pity filled Tanigaki’s eyes. “I was like you, a dog with a bone. I wouldn’t rest until someone paid for hurting me.”
Tanigaki straddled his lap.
“It’s good you kept Tsukishima around,” he whispered against his lips. “A man that wouldn’t act against a paternal figure,”
“You must’ve been extraordinary before this,” Tanigaki removed the porcelain plate from his head. “It’s pulsing so hard, but you’re not angry, are you?”
Tanigaki brought his palms to Tokushirou’s ears and held his head.
“I learned so much about the brain in Kosaka,” his baritone soothed as his thumb pressed the soft spot upon Tokushirou’s brow. “Manual stimulation can kill a man, or bring about a pleasurable death,”
Rage and desire merged as he lost track of the bullets.
“Ohhh!” Tanigaki cooed as orgasmic flashes brought tears to Tokushirou’s eyes. “That’s so nice, isn’t it, Sir?”
Suddenly, each breath became more laborious than the last—put your lips on me, Matagi, please—can not breathe...
“The curare’s reached your diaphragm,” Tanigaki detached from him, disappointed. “It’s time to say goodbye, Sir,”
The door burst open and in rushed Private Ariko.
“Not another step,” Tanigaki remained calm, Tokushirou’s sidearm in his grasp and aimed the sleeping child. “Did you bring what I asked?”
“Your lackey just took off with the horse and cart,” Ariko growled.
“That was his job,” said Tanigaki. “Yours was to bring me the amount I asked for. Did you do it, Rikimatsu?”
Inkarmat fell in behind Ariko, “Please, Genji!”
“Quiet down,” Tanigaki said. “You’ll wake her,”
“I brought what you asked for, filled both trunks,” Ariko said. “Why are you doing this, Genji?”
“I’m not your Genjiro,” said Tanigaki. “Inkarmat, get over here and pick her up. We’re going to walk outside,” he pointed the gun at Ariko. “I know Kikuda’s lurking the rooftops like a falcon. If he takes one shot at me, I shoot them both,”
Inkarmat stared down at Tokushirou.
“I'll drop them on the roadside when...” Tanigaki’s voice began to fade.
Tokushirou lay in the grass, staring up at the sun.
His baby girl made her way through the high blades, head wobbling, and arms determined. She came upon him and pulled herself onto his neck, her toothless mouth drooling as it clamped down on his chin.