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Fifteen

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“You’re a Matagi, huh?”

Tanigaki Genjirou envisioned tomorrow first at the age of ten. He touched his mother’s pregnant belly, saw the number five, and insisted the baby would come in five days. She thanked him with a hug and called him her little seer.

“No, Mister Nihei,” mother stopped speaking to him after predicting the day his little sister would die. “My grandfather and father are Matagi, I left Akita when I turned seventeen,”

“That suit doesn’t hide those muscles, boy,”

Genji laughed, “I manage a gym to pay my bills,”

“That way you see numbers,” that gravelly voice boomed. “Why the hell aren’t you rich yet?”

“It wouldn’t be right, Mister Nihei,”

“You’re one those honest boys,” old Nihei chuckled, prompting snickers from the suited men standing against the wall. “Is that why you agreed to this shit?”

“My wife brought insult-”

“—I’d never hurt Inkarmat,” Nihei tapped the table gently. “She’s got a great rack and makes me feel like a man. I guess that why you married her,”

“I wish to make amends, Mister Nihei,”

“These palm readers are territorial,” Nihei shook his head. “My son in law’s out for blood, but you coming here today assures me she won’t be working his side of the street again,”

“Yes, Mister Nihei,” he cleared his throat. “I’ll need a ticket with today’s date on it,”

“Ogata,” Nihei puffed on his cigar. “Give the man what he needs,”

A man stepped up and cast a shadow on the table.

Smooth pale skin and trimmed nails slipped into view with a white slip of paper caught between two fingers; a blue watermark beneath a set of digitized black numbers. He grasped it between his thumb and forefinger—and then the room vanished.

<em>Cold tightened his naked skin and snow numbed his bare feet. The wind rocked the hanging shimenawa, rustling its dangling prayer strips like leaves. There was no moonlight, but memory tightened his grip around the hilt of the tantō.</em>

“We can’t go, Genjirou,” his breath brought warmth. “This war, it’s not right,”

Nothing was right until his blade was buried deep.

“What’s wrong with you, boy?” Nihei demanded.

Genji stared boldly at the man holding the ticket.

The man from his vision stood before him now, older, sinister, with an identical scar on each cheek and one working eye.

“It’s my face, obayun,” his deep tenor invited desire.

“Ogata Hyakunosuke’s a hard man to look at,” Nihei teased, inciting the others to laugh. “Broke his jaw once and was laid up with rods pinning his mouth shut for weeks,”

Shaken, Genji took the ticket and set it upon the table.

“Should I tell him how I lost the eye, obayun?” asked Ogata.

“No,” Nihei said. “Step back and let him do his thing,”

But Genji couldn’t do his thing.

No matter how hard he focused on the paper, its numbers, and that faded blue background, nothing materialized in his thoughts. Hand upon the ticket, he focused every ounce of cognition he could muster.

It should’ve come clear to him.

Numbers conjured by an algorithm of random sequences, the denomination of the bill used to purchase it, the exact moment it was printed—it all should’ve flashed in his mind like a memory.

“May I have a pencil, please?” lying was his only way out.

Ten minutes later he sprinted through midtown Otaru with a phone to his ear.

Inkarmat asked first where he was, but the answer was that he failed. How was it possible, she demanded, he never failed at predicting horses and sports scores!

Genji didn’t explain that touching the man Ogata brought on a dream that stunted his ability to save her. He ordered her to drain their bank accounts and take Cikapasi, their foster son, and flee to Hakodate.

I love you, Genji, and I’m sorry—those were her last words.

Uptown at dusk, Ogata appeared across the street.

Driven by instinct, Genji joined the herd of homebound pedestrians and moved safely in their ranks, an outlet mall provided a means to escape. Out the exit door, he crossed the street to the train station.

Frantic, he kept checking his bank balance on the phone app. He moved into the line boarding the train and reflected in the sliding door window was one-eyed Ogata, hands in his pockets at the back of the line.

He slipped away before boarding and up on the streets, moved north. Uptown was quiet after six, if the bastard came for him, no one would get hurt when he fought back.

Despair set in as Genji turned onto the boulevard and saw that black silk shirt and white dress pants on the arch of the pedestrian ramp.

By nightfall, the Lotto 6 was drawn.

Genji boarded the first bus that stopped and smiled in relief when the man Ogata jogged along in time to miss it.

He checked the banking app one last time; account no longer serviceable.

Inkarmat and Cikapasi were safe.

He exited the bus in Hagigaoka and in the distance, a train pulled into the mainline station. The bus slowly moved on and revealed the Ebetsu Jinja across the street. Fifteen minutes, fifteen lifetimes, fifteen ways to die—fifteen flashed quickly behind his eyes.

He ascended the stone stairs, passed under the first towering torii. There were no visitors this late, nor were there any cars in the groundskeeper’s lot. The second clutch of stairs felt too familiar.

Through the second torii came the courtyard from his vision; the shrine doors were the same, but today, no prayers swayed from the hemp rope.

“I should’ve just come here first,” Ogata stood beside him. “We always end up here, Tanigaki,”

Genji stepped away, “You’re going to have to kill me,”

“I said those words to you before,” fingers glided over the hair above his ear. “Those exact words, I said them here on these stones,”

“I remember,” Genji whispered.

“We found each other again, in Otaru, but neither one of us ended up with that little Ainu’s girl’s gold,” Ogata kept his attention on the shrine doors. “The day they opened this shrine, that’s when confronted each other, Taishō Four,”

“It was winter of ’43,” Genji shook his head. “We were released from university because of conscription. You were a final year, I was a first, and neither us wanted to go to Manchuria,”

“I don’t remember that Tanigaki,” he said. “I wonder how many times we’ve come to this place, and died-”

“—You mean killed each other?”

Ogata set that eye upon him.

“I know what you taste like, Tanigaki,”

Genji lowered his gaze, “Your nipples are darker than mine,”

“You’ve got hair everywhere except on your ass,” said Ogata, smiling. “And your back,”

“We don’t have to die here,” said Genji.

“Let you walk away, Tanigaki?” Ogata asked. “I don’t know if I can do that,”

“They don’t have to know that you let me go,” he said.

Ogata stepped to him, “I don’t want to let you go, Tanigaki,”

Tobacco flavored lips touched his own as firm hands found his hips. Echoes of past passions erased the world around them until visions of the violence that always followed seeped in like a bad smell.

His desire wasn’t enough to stop him from pulling the trigger. A muffled pop followed by Ogata grunting, his one good eye enraged and leaking with sadness.

“I’m sorry,” Genji sobbed, a snubnose pistol in hand.

Ogata brought up the Desert Eagle and took aim as he fell to his knees.

“Fifteen,” he choked through blood-stained teeth.

The blast came with gut-punch that knocked Genji onto his back.

Fifteen, the number of the bus. Fifteen minutes talking of the past. Fifteen seconds before Tanigaki Genjirou’s life ended again at the hands of Ogata Hyakunosuke.

**