After a deadly terrorist attack in Tokyo, Detective Sergeant Mariko Oshiro urges her commanding officers to arrest an insane zealot who was just released from police custody. When her pleas fall on deaf ears, she loses her temper and then her badge.
Armed with only her cunning and her famed Inazuma blade, Mariko must work outside the system to stop the terrorist. But going rogue draws the attention of the Wind—an underground syndicate that has controlled Japanese politics for centuries, using mystical relics to achieve their nefarious ends.
Now, Mariko is left with a perilous choice: join an illicit insurgency to thwart a deadly villain, or remain true to the law. Either way, she cannot escape her sword’s curse. As sure as the blade will bring her to victory, it also promises to destroy her…
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ALSO BY STEVE BEIN
In memory of Jay Lake
JAPANESE PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
Spoiler alert: you’re going to find a lot of Japanese words in this book. Three general rules tell you most of what you need to know about how to pronounce them:
1. The first syllable usually gets the emphasis (so it’s DAI-go-ro, not Dai-GO-ro).
2. Consonants are almost always pronounced just like English consonants.
3. Vowels are almost always pronounced just like Hawaiian vowels.
Yes, I know, you probably know about as much Hawaiian as you do Japanese, but the words you do know cover most of the bases: if you can pronounce aloha, hula, Waikiki, and KingKamehameha, you’ve got your vowels. Barring that, if you took a Romance language in high school, you’re good to go. Or, if you prefer lists and tables:
a as in father
ae as in taekwondo
ai as in aisle
ao as in cacao
e as in ballet
ei as in neighbor
i as in machine
o as in open
u as in super
There are two vowel sounds we don’t have in English: o and u. Just ignore them. My Japanese teachers would slap me on the wrist for saying that, but unless you’re studying Japanese yourself, the difference between the short vowels (o and u) and the long vowels (o and u) is so subtle that you might not even hear it. The reason I include the long vowels in my books is that spelling errors make me squirm.
As for consonants, g is always a hard g (like gum, not gym) and almost everything else is just like you’d pronounce it in English. There’s one well-known exception: Japanese people learning English often have a hard time distinguishing L’s from R’s. The reason for this is that there is neither an L sound nor an R sound in Japanese. The ri of Mariko is somewhere between ree, lee, and dee. The choice to Romanize with an r was more or less arbitrary, and it actually had more to do with Portuguese than with English. (If linguistic history had gone just a little further in that direction, this could have been a book about Marico Oxiro, not Mariko Oshiro.)
Finally, for those who want to know not just how to pronounce the Japanese words but also what they mean, you’ll find a glossary toward the end of this book. If you have trouble keeping all the Japanese names straight, poke around my website (www.philosofiction.com) to find a list of characters showing who’s related to whom.
HEISEI ERA, THE YEAR 22
Mariko would never forget where she was when she heard the news.
She wasn’t all that likely to forget that afternoon anyway. It wasn’t every day that she met with the top brass. She saw her commanding officer, Lieutenant Sakakibara, almost daily, but this was her first meeting with his superior, Captain Kusama. And since Sakakibara was also in attendance, things were about to get either very good or very, very bad.
There were only so many reasons a captain called one of his sergeants into his office, especially with a lieutenant in tow. She might be promoted to head up a special detail. On the other hand, they might advise her to seek a legal counsel in advance of an IAD investigation. Her partner, Han, had recently endured such an investigation, and come out the other side stripped of his detective’s rank. He and Mariko worked closely together, and he’d strayed outside the lines; was she implicated too?
Maybe, but the captain was smiling when he opened the door. Kusama Shuichi was one of those men who only grew more handsome with age. His hair wasn’t thinning, he paid a lot of money for his haircuts, and he kept his office and his uniform as immaculately as he kept his hair. He’d earned an office on the top floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the heart of the city. His desk was polished teak, twice as big as it needed to be, and empty but for his phone and a sleek black laptop. Others might have arranged the desk to face the windows, but Kusama’s desk was perpendicular to them, so that both he and his visitors could admire the view. Mariko didn’t miss this detail, and neither did she miss the subtext: either Kusama was unusually considerate of his visitors or else he wanted to make sure they knew how important he was. Mariko couldn’t say which.
“Detective Sergeant Oshiro,” Kusama said, “Lieutenant Sakakibara, so very good of you to come. Would you like something to drink?”
“Coffee for me, nothing for her,” Sakakibara said, his tone characteristically gruff. “She won’t be staying long enough to get thirsty.”
Mariko swallowed. Was that good or bad? With Sakakibara it was so hard to tell. A line of vertical furrows creased his bushy black eyebrows, but he always looked like that. On this particular afternoon he was especially enigmatic, because even he couldn’t help but take in the view. He crossed the room in three long strides and looked out across the city he’d sworn to protect. Mariko wished she could see his reflection in the window. She was more interested in reading his face than enjoying the Tokyo skyline.
“Captain Kusama,” she said, “thank you so much for putting us into your schedule at such short notice. I know you must be a busy man.”
“Think nothing of it,” Kusama said. “It’s my duty to be available to those under my command. To be honest, I had already planned on calling you in to my office. Imagine my surprise when I came in this morning and my secretary told me you’d requested a meeting! I suppose you want to speak to me about the Joko Daishi case, neh?”
Mariko gulped. “I wasn’t aware you were following my work, sir.”
“You? Of course. You were our media darling for a time. Oh, do relax, Sergeant. This isn’t a military tribunal.”
Mariko breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you said that, sir.” He waved toward a chair in front of his sprawling desk and Mariko sat. “Begging your pardon, sir, but it’s not easy for me to relax when it comes to Joko Daishi. He’s dangerous.”
“And due for release today. I assume that’s why you asked to meet with me.”
Kusama nodded. “I’m afraid what’s done is done.”
“Sir, you’ve got to do something. This guy isn’t just an ordinary perp. Better to think of him as a cult leader.”
Captain Kusama sat forward in his seat. “I think you’ll want to watch your tone with me, Sergeant. I don’t take orders from my subordinates.” His smile soured. “I’ve read your reports, and frankly, I think ‘cult leader’ underestimates how dangerous this man is. ‘Terrorist mastermind’ is the description I’d have chosen—but perhaps you’re aware that I was the one who orchestrated the public relations campaign that kept any mention of terrorism out of the press.”
Mariko winced. She hadn’t known of Kusama’s involvement, but she supposed she understood the logic behind his decision. It was damn cold logic, though. Koji Makoto, known better by his self-appointed religious title, Joko Daishi, sent a massive bomb into the Tokyo subway system. Mariko and Han spearheaded the manhunt for him, and were always a step behind. Then Mariko ended up on a subway platform with Joko Daishi’s lieutenant seconds before he detonated the device. Mariko put a bullet in his brain and saved the lives of fifty-two civilians, but the department had quashed any mention of the explosives. Better for the press to report a police shooting than a major terrorist threat thwarted at the last instant.
It might have been good PR for the department, but it destroyed Mariko’s reputation. She could have been the hero, but since no one knew of the bomb, instead she became the hot-blooded cop who gunned down an unarmed man. Even at the time, Mariko thought it was the right decision to quash any mention of the bomb, however much that decision stung. Now that she sat across from the man who had made that decision, she felt that sting again.
“You do understand,” Kusama said, resting back in his chair, “it pained me to see you dragged through the mud like that. Even if I had no sympathy for my officers, from a public relations standpoint you were a godsend. The first woman in the department to make sergeant. The first woman to make detective. The go-getter cop with an addict for a sister, working your way up to Narcotics so you could save your family. The stories write themselves.”
Now the sting jabbed Mariko in the heart, the lungs, the gut. “How do you know about my sister?”
“I know everything about you, Detective Sergeant Oshiro. Maintaining this department’s good reputation is what I do for a living. It’s why I got the office with the best view. It’s why I wear captain’s stripes, and it’s why I’m concerned any time one of my officers takes a life. So yes, I know your sister has been in and out of rehab. I know you placed ninth in your division in last year’s Yokohama triathlon. I know your English is flawless, and I’d hoped to use that fact to our advantage with our city’s gaijin population. But that was before you shot Akahata Daisuke in the forehead. Bomb or no bomb, cult or no cult, that’s not the way we do things here.”
“Sir, it’s not like I had a hell of a lot of choice—”
“Tone, Oshiro-san. This is your second warning. Watch it.”
Mariko swallowed. “Yes, sir.” She put her hands in her lap and balled them into fists, trying to keep them below Kusama’s sightline so he couldn’t see her whitening knuckles.
It didn’t work. “May I see your right hand, Sergeant?”
He gave a little smile as if to say, indulge me, and motioned toward her hand with his own. Mariko felt awkward but she had no choice: she placed her maimed right hand on the desktop.
It was still ugly to her, though she’d had a few months to get used to it. The last thing she expected was for him to reach across the desk and pull it a little closer. His skin was soft, softer than hers. That was a detail Mariko would rather not know about a commanding officer. She certainly didn’t want him feeling the kenjutsu calluses on her tomboy hands. She didn’t become a cop because she was fond of intimacy.
“I’d heard you lost your trigger finger,” Kusama said, “but you’ve still got a little nub of it, haven’t you?”
Mariko felt her ears and cheeks grow hot. “Yes, sir.”
“You shot Akahata left-handed?”
“Yes, sir.” Her breath fluttered in her throat.
“But when you stabbed Fuchida Shuzo, it was with the right hand, wasn’t it?”
It wasn’t a question. The incident with Fuchida was the one that first put Mariko in the spotlight. A crazed yakuza butcher with a sword was enough to make the news by himself. So when Mariko was forced into a sword fight with Fuchida, when he maimed her hand and stabbed her through the gut, when she stabbed him through the lungs in return, when both of them flatlined and the paramedics brought Mariko back . . . well, Kusama must have been delighted. She wondered whether he was the one responsible for the headline SAMURAI SHOWDOWN, which had led every major news program for days.
Mariko, the samurai cop. Mariko, the narc with the junkie sister. Mariko, the woman in a man’s world, fighting tooth and nail to get what she wanted. She could have been the crown jewel of the TMPD—a thing of beauty, in Kusama’s mind, glamorizing his beloved department. But a thing of beauty was still a thing.
He released her hand and sat back in his chair. “You do understand,” he said, “I had such high hopes for you. But what can I do with you now that you’ve killed two suspects?”
“Zero suspects,” Sakakibara said. They were the first words he’d spoken since he’d entered the room.
“Excuse me?” said Kusama.
“Oshiro never once fired a shot at a suspect. She did kill two perpetrators. In the line of duty. Acting in both cases in self-defense and the defense of innocents.”
Kusama inclined his head. “True enough. But in the public eye, there’s very little difference.”
In the public eye I’d still be a hero, Mariko thought, if only you made different choices about what the public eye was allowed to see. But Sakakibara had a different point to make. “Maybe not in the public eye, Captain, but in this office there ought to be a hell of a lot of difference. You want to kick her ass, you go right ahead. But do it because she gets lippy, not because she did her damn job.”
Mariko wanted to jump out of her chair and give him a high five. She made a vow to discover his favorite brand of cigar and smuggle a few into one of his desk drawers.
Captain Kusama wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. “Your lieutenant makes a good point,” he told her. “But the fact remains: you were once of great use to me, and now you’re a facial scar I have to figure out how to cover up.”
“Do what you have to do,” Mariko said. Seeing Kusama’s hardened glare she immediately subdued her tone. She remembered her two warnings. “I beg your pardon, sir. What I meant to say is, I think my record shows I’m willing to make sacrifices for the team. If I have to take another hit to keep the department looking good, that’s fine—but that’s not really what I came here to talk to you about. Joko Daishi’s due to be released today, sir, and I have to ask you not to let that happen.”
Kusama shrugged. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
“With all due respect, sir, you’re a captain in the TMPD. There’s very little you can’t do.”
That earned her a tiny smile. “You’re learning, Sergeant. Flattery will get you farther than belligerence. And you’re right: I’ve spent a career building the right connections. I’ve tapped every last one of them to keep this Joko Daishi in custody as long as possible. You might have done me the service of presuming I’d do exactly that, but you’re not one to assume the best of your superiors, are you? You may think of me as a bureaucrat, but I assure you, Oshiro-san, I am a policeman first.”
Mariko nodded, duly reprimanded. He shouldn’t have had to remind her to respect the badge. Loyalty to the force had to count for something, even if some members of the force cared more about image than results.
Kusama gave her a chastising look, and softened it when he saw she’d gotten the point. “You said it yourself, Sergeant: this man has a cult of personality. He also runs a terrorist cell with dozens of zealots who will do whatever he asks. One of them has pled guilty to every charge your suspect is facing, and that means we have no argument to hold him without bail.”
Mariko felt her face flush. She heard a ringing in her ears that threatened to drown out the world. It was just as she’d feared: Joko Daishi wielded too much influence to stay in prison. His cult, the Divine Wind, had all the power of a yakuza clan. He had a lawyer slicker than Teflon, a network of illicit connections that probably included moles within the police department and the DA’s office, and a string of volunteers who would take the fall for him no matter what the legal system threw at him. That was to say nothing of fanatics like Akahata Daisuke, who were willing to become suicide bombers at Joko Daishi’s command.
There was one last recourse Mariko could think of to keep the cult leader from reclaiming the power she’d stripped from him when she brought him down. “Sir, he has a mask,” she said. “Very old, something you’d be more likely to see in a museum. He believes he gets divine power from it.”
“Yes, the devil mask. I saw photos of it in his case file. You impounded it as evidence, neh?”
“We did. He had everything he needed to carry out the subway bombing well before we were onto him. He didn’t pull the trigger on it because he was waiting for a holy day in his cult, their equivalent of New Year’s, except they call this the Year of the Demon. He stole the mask right before the celebration—and by ‘celebration,’ I mean bombing that subway station. That was just the beginning, sir. We’ve investigated every lead we have on the Divine Wind, and assuming our lab guys did their estimating right, we’ve seized about half of the cult’s explosives.”
Kusama gave an appreciative nod. “I’m impressed.”
“It’s not good enough, sir. Joko Daishi intends to burn this city to the ground. He says the Divine Wind will deliver the Purging Fire. It’s a holy quest for him. He believes the mask gives him divine sanction.”
Kusama gave her a quizzical frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He thinks he can’t be killed, so long as he holds the mask.”
“Ah. As I recall, you tested that theory.”
Mariko could only nod in affirmation. She’d ripped Joko Daishi off his motorcycle at a hundred kilometers an hour, yet somehow he’d walked away from it. Mariko didn’t like to believe in magic, but she’d seen some things that just weren’t natural. The only other word to use was supernatural.
But in this case, it didn’t matter if the mask was magical. It only mattered that Joko Daishi believed in it. “Sir, the mask is legally his property, and his lawyer is going to argue that it was material evidence only in the case we had against Joko Daishi. Since he’s got a proxy to take the fall, his lawyer is going to try to have the mask released to Joko Daishi as soon as he gets out. Please trust me, sir: you’ve got to keep that mask out of his hands. He’s at his most dangerous—”
“Spare your breath, Sergeant. He’s already got it.”
Mariko couldn’t keep herself in her seat. “What?”
“I told you from the beginning: there’s nothing more I can do. We released him this morning, mask and all. And don’t you look at me like that. Do you think I want a terrorist loose in my city? Of course not. My hands are tied.”
“With due respect, sir—”
Now Kusama was on his feet as well. “Due respect is exactly what you owe me, Oshiro-san, and you should count yourself lucky that I gave you two warnings to that effect already. You are insubordinate, obstinate, and now that I’ve met you myself, I see you’re clearly prone to outbursts.”
“Sir, that’s just not true—”
“And now you interrupt me? Stand at attention, Oshiro.”
Mariko snapped to attention, instantly silent. She risked a quick glance at Sakakibara, who closed his eyes and shook his head. It was a tiny movement, almost imperceptible, but it communicated massive, soul-crushing disappointment.
Kusama walked out from behind his desk, stood face-to-face with Mariko, and removed her sergeant’s pin.
It hit her like a bullet in the gut. She felt like she should want to cry, like that should have been an urge to repress, but there was only a hollowness instead. He might as well have pulled out one of her lungs.
In the most casual act of cruelty, Kusama set the pin down on the edge of his desk, facing her, right where she could reach it. It reflected in the polished teak: a tiny plate of gilded copper, with a cluster of leaves in the center and triple bars on either side.
Kusama walked back around to the other side and took his seat. “Sit down,” he said. “Let’s talk like civilized adults.”
Mariko looked over at Lieutenant Sakakibara, who still stood at the window with his arms folded across his chest. He gave her a tiny nod toward the chair. His face was as stern as ever, as inscrutable as ever; she couldn’t tell whose side he was on.
She had no alternative but to drop herself back in her seat. She started to speak in her own defense, then thought better of it and shut her mouth.
“You see?” said Kusama. “You can behave yourself.”
He shifted in his seat and adjusted his tie. So softly that she could hardly hear him, he said, “I don’t care for raising my voice, Oshiro-san. It’s unbecoming. So are these little tantrums of yours. I find you to be moody, temperamental, and far too aggressive for this line of work. I wouldn’t be surprised if you killed those two men only after your emotions got the better of you.”
And now it all comes out, Mariko thought. He’s a misogynist, pure and simple. Yes, she’d blown her top with him. Yes, she shouldn’t have. But if Sakakibara had been in Mariko’s shoes, forced to kill in self-defense, no one would ever have called his emotions into question. He would have done his duty, period. And if Sakakibara had made the same argument Mariko had about Joko Daishi, using the same words and the same tone, Kusama would never have called him moody or temperamental. Assertive, perhaps, but for men of Kusama’s generation, women weren’t afforded the luxury of being assertive. Their vocabulary for “assertive woman” was “bitch.”
Mariko had no safe way to react. If she objected, she’d only become more of a bitch in Kusama’s eyes. If she remained silent, she’d be a docile bitch who accepted her punishment. Her best option was to remove herself from the situation before she dug herself any deeper, but getting up and walking out was, once again, typical of a petulant bitch.
She squared her shoulders, sat back in her chair, and pressed her lips shut. Strong but not assertive. Her sergeant’s bars stared back at her, along with their doppelganger reflected in the wood.
“You’ve killed two men in the line of duty,” Kusama said. “So far this year, that’s two more than the rest of the department combined. Now you tell me what I’m supposed to do with that.”
Mariko said nothing; she only made a face as if she were thinking carefully about the question. That wasn’t bitchy. In truth she only had thoughts for her stripped sergeant’s tag. It was hard to believe such a little thing could be so heavy, so laden with meaning.
“Ah,” he said, “so you do understand.” He’d misinterpreted her silence, but Mariko wasn’t going to correct him. “You’ve given me reason enough to put you behind a desk for the rest of your career. Don’t think I won’t. I can suffocate you with this job. I can make you spend your days dreaming of some prince on a white horse to marry you and whisk you away from all of this.”
That was something else he’d never have said to Sakakibara. Still Mariko said nothing.
“I had such high hopes for you,” Kusama went on. “It’s a shame that so many people saw you shoot Akahata. If only you’d found some other solution, there might have been a better way to spin this.”
“I’m backing her play on this one,” Sakakibara said. “If you’re facing someone packing his own bodyweight in high explosives, you don’t spend a lot of time looking for ‘other solutions.’”
Mariko wanted to say the same thing, though her language wouldn’t have been quite so polite. She didn’t care for being the damsel in distress, and Sakakibara wasn’t much of a shining knight, but so long as she was banned from speaking in her own defense, it came as a great relief when he dipped his shield in front of her to ward off an attack.
“I appreciate your lieutenant’s point,” Kusama said. “But you understand what I mean. If only it had been your partner to shoot Akahata, all of this would have been so much easier.”
Mariko nodded, though in truth the more rational choice was to strangle him. Did he think she wanted to be the one to take a life? She’d have been perfectly content to switch places. Even Han would have preferred it; he wasn’t vexed by the moral problems that kept Mariko up at night. Besides, only blind luck had put Mariko on the scene instead of Han. Had the coin flip landed the other way, the headline would have been that Han shot first and asked questions later, and no one would ever have known that Mariko was involved. Instead it was the other way around: Han still enjoyed his anonymity, and Mariko was the one who went to sleep thinking of that gunshot echoing off the tunnel walls.
“As it stands,” Kusama said, “my hands are tied. We operate within a system, Detective Oshiro, and the rules of that system are designed to protect the public without trampling anyone’s civil rights. If the rules are flexible, they can’t do what they were created to do. So as much as I might like to, I cannot bend the rules. It’s not for lack of will; it’s for lack of muscle. The rules themselves are too sturdy.”
Or petrified, Mariko thought. But the truth was more complex than Kusama made it out to be. On the street, law enforcement had more to do with creative thinking than rote memorization. Even a simple traffic stop was never simple. Sometimes you let the driver off with a warning. Other times you looked for any excuse that would allow you to search the vehicle. Some drivers struck you as innocent and out of their depth; others were hiding something and both of you knew it. You might have reasonable suspicion in both cases, but that didn’t make the cases the same.
In Joko Daishi’s case, Mariko had logged a week’s worth of overtime helping the DA’s office dig up charges to level against him. No doubt he had followers willing to plead guilty to all of them. But there was at least one charge that left no wiggle room. “Captain, this man tried to run me down with a motorcycle. The last time I checked, that’s attempted murder.”
Kusama gave her a parental glare, warning her about her tone. Mariko lowered her gaze, softened her voice, and went on. “You’re good police, sir. I know you’re not the type to let this slide. Never mind that it was me. The guy tried to kill a cop. Please tell me that still means something in this town. Tell me we can hold him without bail.”
Kusama shook his head. Mariko opened her mouth, but Sakakibara cut her off before she could say something to get herself suspended. “His lawyer’s pushing for involuntary manslaughter,” he said. “Says his client was high on psychedelics at the time. Says he didn’t see you standing in front of him.”
Mariko was happy to direct her frustration at someone else—someone who wouldn’t threaten to strip her of her detective’s rank as well. “Sir, that’s bullshit.”
“It sure as hell is.”
“Can’t we just tell the DA not to push for manslaughter? Let’s call it aggravated assault and add the narcotics charge to it. He’s admitting he was high at the time, neh?”
Sakakibara snorted in disgust. “The damn lawyer claims his client didn’t take the drugs willingly. Says it was a part of a religious ceremony. The MDA was forced on him.”
“So what, it’s a normal part of church for these people to force-feed drugs to their priest?”
“That’s the story, yeah.”
Mariko wished she had a bokken in hand and something to smash with it. She managed to keep herself from hammer-fisting Kusama’s desk, choosing to hit her own thigh instead. “So no narcotics charges, a big fat no on the attempted murder, and another prime suspect on all the terrorism and conspiracy charges?”
“Looks like it.”
“And since Joko Daishi has no record—”
“Involuntary manslaughter isn’t enough to hold him without bail. Yeah.”
Mariko slammed her fist on her thigh again, then remembered what Kusama would infer about her violent tendencies. That made her angry enough to want to hit something again, but this time she managed to bottle it up—barely. Swiveling to face Kusama, she said, “Please, Captain, you’ve got to do something. I’m telling you, if this guy isn’t Tokyo’s number one security threat, I don’t know who is.”
“I want you to listen to me very carefully,” Kusama said, his voice low and cold. “You and I operate within a system. So does the district attorney who pressed to hold our perpetrator without bail. So does the judge who said that wasn’t warranted for a suspect with no priors. He’s not wrong, by the way. If it had been some kid driving drunk who almost hit you, they’d have released him on bail too.”
Mariko could hardly sit still. Her rage writhed like an animal trapped inside her skin. “Sir,” she said, keeping her voice as quiet and cold as Kusama’s, “if the drunk kid deliberately aimed the car at me, I think we’d keep him locked up for as long as we could hold him.”
“Yes. And we kept Koji-san as long as we possibly could, and then some. I’m told the bail was astronomical, but as you said, he has people willing to make extraordinary sacrifices on his behalf. He was released this morning, and his mask with him.”
“Then something awful is going to happen,” Mariko said, “and I hope to hell I don’t have to say I told you so.”
Kusama glared at her, inhaling like he was about to breathe fire. But just at that moment, his phone rang. “Please excuse me,” he said. He donned a smile the way Mariko put on lipstick: it wasn’t a part of him, just something he wore to make the right impression. He wore the smile in his voice too, and transformed seamlessly from pissed-off CO to genteel public relations rep. Whoever was on the other end of the phone could never guess that he was ready to eat Mariko alive.
But whatever he heard over the phone made his face go green. His eyes turned to those big, beautiful windows, as if he might catch sight of whatever it was that made him sick to his stomach.
He hung up the phone without a word. Looking at Mariko and Sakakibara, he said, “There’s been an incident. Haneda Airport. We need to go.”
At long last, Koji Makoto was reunited with his father. This time they would not easily be parted.
They sat together at a writing desk in the home of Makoto’s lawyer, friend, and worshipper, Hamaya Jiro. It was a tidy desk in a tidy two-floor condominium in a high-rise Meguro apartment complex. The second floor of the condo was not supposed to exist. There was only one entrance, a stairway from below, though on the upper floor there was a false door. There were also neighbors up there who, had they been ordinary tenants, would have wondered why no one ever came or went from the apartment between them. But they were not ordinary neighbors; they were Makoto’s worshippers and concubines, nuns of the Divine Wind. Neither was Hamaya’s apartment ordinary. It concealed the hidden staircase that led upstairs to Makoto’s sanctum sanctorum. None of this was in the building’s floor plan.
The sanctuary upstairs was for worship. Since listening to his father was not worship, Makoto sat at the writing desk in the study downstairs, hunched over his notebook and scribbling furiously. His father looked at him, mute because they did not speak in words.
Makoto didn’t take his time with his father for granted. Sooner or later the law would separate them, perhaps permanently. Before that happened Makoto wanted to record every last drop of wisdom. His father never commanded him, never prescribed what to do. Rather, he dared Makoto to go further, to think on a grander scale, to express the truth in ways Makoto hadn’t dreamed possible. That was why they would be separated: because his father’s vision was so grand. That was also why the condominium was not leased in Hamaya’s name, and why it was not the only one of its kind, and why Makoto and his father never stayed at one address for more than a couple of nights: because otherwise it would be far too easy for law enforcement to track them.
There was no doubting that the law would come, for Makoto’s sermon at the airport would unsettle them beyond words. Of course that was the object of the sermon. Being settled was an obstacle to their enlightenment, and Makoto’s calling was to enlighten all beings. But Makoto had many more sermons to deliver before his time was up, and that meant he had to stay clear of the police, at least for a little while.
News of his sermon at the airport had already reached the television. Makoto could not watch it with the sound on, for without exception the reporters only reacted with delusion and fear. Even the wordless cameramen were deluded. They chose to film all the tear-streaked, fear-stricken faces, not the smoke rising from the hollowed terminal. Why could they not see the truth? Fright was the reaction of the undisciplined mind, the mind that wanted reality to be other than what it was. Why broadcast such a senseless emotion when they could film something like smoke? Evanescence was truth; fear of it was sickness.
Makoto had learned that long before he was reunited with his father, but he could talk about the truth with his father in a way that no one else could comprehend. Even now he wrote with all the urgency of a medic performing CPR, trying to record everything his father was telling him before it was too late. “One thousand,” Makoto said. “Three hundred. Four.” He scribbled the numbers in kanji, drew them in big numerals, repeated them aloud. He did not yet know what they meant.
He and his father were so dissimilar. Makoto had long, flowing hair; his father was bald. Makoto had a thick black beard; his father had no lower jaw from which to grow a beard. Makoto was a man of flesh; his father had iron skin, iron horns, iron fangs. Yet their commonalities were uncanny. Makoto was possessed of second sight; his father was clairvoyant. Makoto was the only one who could hear his father, and his father would speak to no one but Makoto.
“One thousand three hundred four,” his father told him. Makoto wrote it down again. Was it an address? A date? A code? He didn’t know, but he knew his father could not be rushed. Makoto would have to be patient—no easy thing, given the success of his sermon at the airport. He wanted to do more, to say more, to deliver the light and the truth to as many as could hear it. It broke his heart to see so many people in fetters. But his father spoke only when he had a mind to, so Makoto had to wait.
He heard a knock behind him, but then his father was speaking again and Makoto could not answer the door. “Rope,” his father said. “Razor. Children.”
“Yes, children,” Makoto said, and proceeded to sketch them in his notebook.
“Daishi-sama,” Hamaya Jiro said softly. “Your disciples have come to call.”
“Not disciples,” Makoto said. He’d seen these men before their arrival. His father had too.
He picked up his father and pressed him to his face. They were a perfect fit for each other. His father’s rust-brown fangs nestled into Makoto’s wiry beard; the interior curves of his iron cranium were precisely the size and shape of Makoto’s forehead. The two of them perceived the world through the very same eyes.
Footfalls and creaking floorboards tracked the passage of a small group through the apartment. They followed Hamaya upstairs, through the meditation room, and into the small audience chamber behind it. Makoto bound his father to his face with leather thongs, then ascended the stairs, meditating on every step and every breath. He smelled warm candle wax and incense, and enjoyed the reflection of flickering flames on the serene white walls. From a closet he retrieved his vestments: a heavy yellow mantle to don over the thin white robes he already wore; a long, thick stole crosshatched yellow over white; eight beaded bracelets on his wrists. With these, Koji Makoto became Joko Daishi, Great Teacher of the Purging Fire.
When he entered the audience chamber, he found four men waiting on their knees. As soon as Makoto stepped into view, they immediately prostrated themselves. “Praise be to Joko Daishi,” they all said.
“And may the light shine upon you. Tell me why you have come.”
“We saw what you did at the airport,” said one.
“It was so . . . profound,” said another.
“We came because we want to be a part of whatever comes next,” said a third.
“You are all liars,” Makoto said. “Better to cut out your tongue than to lie to one who hears the voices of demons.”
He stepped closer to them, his hands at heart center, his eyes downcast. He noticed an ink stain on the cuff of his white robe, and made a mental note to scrub it out before it set. His father told him all four men were armed, and showed him where they wore their pistols. “You have no faith,” he told them. “Your paymasters decided I have crossed a line I ought not to have crossed. They lack vision. Now they have decided to remind me there is no place the Wind cannot reach. But who knows that better than I?”
The false acolytes exchanged glances, perhaps hoping for a cue to act. “Ah,” Makoto said. “You were not told I am of the Wind? You were told, perhaps, that I do not know the Wind exists? Rest easy, my sons. I know the breast from which you suckle. I was once a cub like you. And those of the same family should not fight among themselves.”
They shifted on their knees. One of them seemed relieved. The others were harder to read, but Makoto’s father could read their minds. They were ready now to hear the truth.
“I have transcended the Wind,” Makoto told them. “I am become the light, the brightest fire. Behold, now, the teaching of Joko Daishi.”
He kicked the first man in the face, snapping his spine, killing him instantly.
The other three reacted with the speed and assurance of pack hunters. The closest of them dove straight in, attempting a takedown, as the other two jumped to their feet. Makoto simply hopped over the man shooting the takedown, using him as a stepping-stone. With his left palm Makoto trapped the third gunman’s elbow against his chest before he could completely draw his pistol.
The fourth gunman was smarter, and tried to increase the distance between his target and himself. But the audience chamber was small; there was nowhere to go. Makoto pushed the third man into the fourth, driving them into the corner.
The third gunman’s right arm was still stuck in a cross-body draw, and pinned across his centerline as it was, he could not move it until Makoto let it go. The fourth gunman was trapped behind him, face mashed against the wall, unable to bring his weapon to bear.
The second gunman, the one who had attempted the takedown, looked up to see Makoto immobilizing two trained Wind assassins with only his left hand. Perhaps the man also noted Makoto’s adamantine stance, perfected through decades of kung fu, tai chi, aikijujutsu . . . but no. These were young men, no older than thirty. Young men no longer had the taste for martial art. That required discipline, and that was sadly lacking in this generation. They would just as soon assassinate through one of their video games.
The second gunman gaped at him, then scrambled for his pistol. “Draw that weapon and you shall die on your knees,” said Makoto. “I would rather have you sit and listen.”
The two pinned men struggled, but Makoto’s stance was strong and his ki was stronger; their combined efforts only managed to make the beads of his bracelets rattle a bit. “Your paymasters lack vision,” Makoto said, “or else they would see the wisdom in my sermon this afternoon. They lack vision, or else they would have known they cannot kill me. It is not yet my time.”
He reached into the third gunman’s jacket—the one who was caught in mid-draw—and relieved him of a sleek automatic pistol fitted with a long, matte black silencer. “Weapons such as this are of no use against me,” he said. “I have foreseen the manner of my death. I shall die by the sword.”
He buried the silencer’s muzzle in the belly of the third gunman and fired three times. The assassins trapped against the wall twitched and grew still. He removed his left palm and both of them slumped to the floor.
“Do not feel ashamed,” he told the only remaining gunman. “An assassin does not come into his prime until his fortieth birthday. You still have so much to learn.”
His father glimpsed movement in the other room, a faint presence glowing through the very walls. Makoto’s face broke out in a smile. “Oh, very good. You’re not bunglers after all; you’re a distraction.”
He put a bullet in the young man’s eye, and bent down to retrieve a second pistol from one of the dead assassins. A fusillade of bullets ripped through the wall where his head had been just a millisecond before.
“I told your companions already,” he called. “Your weapons are of no use against me.”
The newcomer was professional enough not to answer. He was also professional enough to stop shooting. He’d probably fired his first shots only as counterfire to Makoto’s, and now that Makoto had stopped shooting, so had he. This one was better trained than the last four.
Makoto looked into the next room, heedless for his safety because he knew he could not die. His father would protect him. His destiny would protect him. In the mouth of the stairwell, on the far side of the meditation room, a nondescript man in nondescript clothes aimed a silenced automatic pistol at Makoto’s center body mass. He did not fire—nor did he need to, or so he must have thought. There was but one way out of this room, and Makoto was three or four strides away, more than far enough for the assassin to gun him down.
“What have you done to Hamaya-san?” Makoto asked.
“He’ll live,” said the assassin.
“So that you can question him later?”
“How did you find me here?”
“There is no place the Wind cannot reach.”
Makoto smiled and took a step forward. “Your bullets cannot harm me.”
The muzzle flashed. A sledgehammer struck Makoto in the chest, slamming him backward. He put a crater in the drywall behind him. His body wanted to fold in on itself, to fall to the ground, but Makoto would not indulge it. Pain and death were insignificant. Fear of them was powerful, but in and of themselves they were just states of being. He pressed his shoulder blades against the wall to stabilize himself, then stood up to his full height.
The assassin cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “Body armor? You?” He smirked. “O ye of little faith.” He took aim at Makoto’s throat and pulled the trigger.
The shot went wide, but only because something grabbed the assassin’s ankle and pulled. Hamaya. He’d recovered from whatever the assassin had done to him. It was a feeble effort—the assassin kicked his foot free almost instantly—but an instant was all Makoto needed.
The assassin fired a third round and a fourth, but Makoto got his shot off first. His assailant grunted and dropped to the floor with a bullet in his hip. The double-tap meant for Makoto’s skull cracked two holes in the crown molding instead.
Makoto strode forward, firing alternately from each pistol. One shot obliterated the assassin’s right hand. The next shattered his shin, where to his credit the man was reaching for a little double-barreled derringer in an ankle holster. Makoto allowed the assassin to draw his derringer, take aim, and fire.
The first bullet hit him in the belly, well off center. It felt like a white-hot knife in his gut. Makoto staggered back, then resumed his forward stride. “I told you before,” he said. “I have foreseen the hour of my death. It is not yet at hand.”
The assassin’s eyes widened. Blood bloomed like a red poppy blossom across the belly of Makoto’s white robes. It joined the first wound, which seeped through the stole and the over-robe just over his heart. “No,” he grunted through gritted teeth. “No armor—”
“None. I have no need of it. You cannot kill me, for I am the light. What use are bullets against a being of light?”
The man pointed the gun at Makoto’s face—at his father—and pulled desperately at the trigger.
The derringer’s second shot was a misfire.
Makoto laid down his weapons, knelt beside the man who tried to kill him, and took him by the hand. With a sympathetic smile he raised the double-barreled mouth of the derringer to his lips. He kissed the muzzle as if he were planting a kiss on a baby’s forehead, then laid the weapon back on its owner’s chest.
The assassin stared at him in awe. One tear rolled down his cheek. Makoto nodded and smiled. The man had seen the truth.
A misfire was a dangerous thing. Sometimes they never went off. Sometimes they did, and there was no telling when. It might well have fired just as Makoto was kissing it. The bullet might still go off, but now it was resting on the assassin’s chest, aimed at the underside of his chin. More to the point, the kiss was a tiny testament to the power of Joko Daishi. Two bullets had struck him. Both should have been fatal. Their combined effect was to slow him a little. A third round should have killed him but simply refused to fire.
“You are rationalizing,” said Makoto. “You are thinking about the caliber of your little palm pistol. You are wondering whether my priestly vestments are thick enough to serve as a bulletproof vest of sorts. Neh, my child? You seek reasons. Answers. These are the fetters of rationality.”
The assassin shook his head. “You’re insane.”
“Ah. Perhaps as insane as your paymasters insist, neh? Perhaps I am so deranged that in my delusions I can fail to perceive even my own pain. How, you are asking yourself, how does he still live? But I have told you already: your bullets cannot kill me. This is not my appointed hour.”
He pressed the derringer to the assassin’s chest and willed heat into his hand. Ki began to flow. “Fear not,” he said. “It comes soon, my son.”
When the misfired bullet went off, it filled the narrow stairwell with thunder.
Makoto reclaimed the two silenced automatics, handed one of them to Hamaya, and helped his lawyer and worshipper descend the stairs. “We must go,” he said.
Even as he said it, the condo’s front door flew open. This time it was not assassins; it was the concubine-nuns of Joko Daishi, eight of them, all dressed in diaphanous white. They flooded the room in a panic, except for one. One of them was calm.
“Daishi-sama, Daishi-sama,” the women wailed, paling at the sight of his blood. They cloyed to him like iron filings to a magnet. Except for one.
She had a derringer exactly like the assassin’s upstairs. The.22 Magnum round popped like a firecracker when she fired it into Hamaya’s shoulder. His pistol cartwheeled across the floor. As he fell, the concubines flew into a panic. Some ran. Some shrieked and froze stiff. Some threw themselves over Makoto’s body to shield him.
The traitorous woman took aim at Makoto’s father.
“Your weapon cannot harm me,” he said.
“I believe you,” she said, and she pulled the trigger.
Makoto’s world went dark. He could not hear his father’s voice anymore.
Mariko didn’t know how Tokyo International Airport came to be known simply as Haneda. She’d never actually been there, despite the fact that she’d flown in and out of the city dozens of times. She’d spent much of her childhood in Illinois, and had flown back home to see her grandparents twice a year like clockwork. But all the flights to Chicago originated out of Narita, some sixty kilometers to the northeast, so while Mariko knew Narita like the back of her hand, her first impression of Haneda was as an oily, gritty, bombed-out shell.
The centerpiece of Haneda’s Terminal 2 was a rotunda of shining blue-green glass, an iconic background dressing in any number of movies and TV shows. Now every pane was blown out, leaving only a lattice of steel window frames twisted like chicken wire. It was a gaping wound four stories tall, leaking greasy black smoke into the bright blue sky. The sight of it froze the breath in her lungs. Seeing it made it real. Tears welled in her eyes, and the only reason she forced them back was that she didn’t want Captain Kusama or Lieutenant Sakakibara to know she could be vulnerable.
She’d come in the same patrol car as Kusama and Sakakibara, plus four other officers crammed in cheek by jowl. By the time they arrived, it seemed every squad car in Tokyo was already there. Ambulances too, and fire engines, and private airport security vehicles, all forming a stroboscopic chaos of flickering lights. No one was directing traffic—everyone present had something more important to do—so between the emergency vehicles and the TV news vans, the road labeled DEPARTURES was so congested that Kusama’s squad was frozen like an insect in amber. Mariko couldn’t stand it anymore; she got out of the car and just ran the rest of the way.
As she passed by a news correspondent she overheard the woman confirming the death toll at forty. Perhaps that should have stopped Mariko in her tracks, but it didn’t. There was nothing she could do to help the dead. Somewhere there were people she could help. She was going to find them and help them, and that was all there was to it.
When she finally reached the bomb site, she was surprised by what impressed itself most deeply on her mind. Streaks of blood didn’t register for her—or rather, they did, but they didn’t strike her as out of place. Neither did the miasma of blue diesel smoke that choked her, or the rasping background chatter of walkie-talkies. Those things were normal in her line of work.
No, what drew Mariko’s attention was the abnormal. The thin layer of grit that made every footstep crunch as if on ice-encrusted snow. The bitter film clinging to the roof of her mouth—probably halon from all the exploded fire extinguishers. Here and there she saw something totally incongruous: a shoe, a can of coffee, an itinerary printed from someone’s inkjet printer. These things were completely pristine, though everything around them was in ruins. How had they come to be there? Clearly they weren’t thrown by the blast, or they’d be dusty, burned, blood-spattered, just like everything else. They didn’t fit, yet there they were.
Her senses captured all of these details, but her mind still hadn’t caught up. Her city was under attack. Someone had bombed her city. Her city, and now it wasn’t hers anymore. It was like someone had slashed her face with a knife and now she didn’t recognize herself in the mirror. Everything was familiar, yet everything was different.
She accidentally met the gaze of a wizened old man sitting silently on a suitcase, holding a wadded T-shirt to the side of his head. Blood matted his hair. On any other day, a silver-haired grandfather with a bleeding head wound would have been the sole focus of everyone in sight. Today he was just waiting where someone told him to wait.
Something about him struck Mariko as odd. She stopped where she stood, unwilling to go farther until she sorted it out, because maybe the whatever-it-was would require her attention. As Mariko stood watching him, she saw a grown woman being carried like a child, both of her legs striped with blood. She saw someone lying flat on his back with six people huddled around him—maybe family, maybe strangers. Nine or ten meters beyond him, a small horde of travelers and airline personnel had formed a sort of spontaneous rugby scrum, putting their shoulders into an ambulance whose driver had attempted to cross the terminal lobby, only to set off a fault line in the floor and get his vehicle trapped.
Mariko finally figured out what was so odd: none of these people were bystanders. The crowd that inevitably formed whenever there was a house fire or a downtown car wreck hadn’t formed here. These were average civilians, not gawking but forming teams and getting down to business. That’s what was strange about the old man with the head wound: he was alone, doing his part to aid in the relief work, without a mob of rubberneckers surrounding him. His part wasn’t much; he only had to keep pressure on a wound. But he was doing his part.
Mariko wondered how long she’d been standing there, staring. Only a few seconds. She’d scarcely crossed the threshold into the lobby and already she felt so overwhelmed she feared she might drown. This was so much bigger than anything she’d been trained to handle. But no one had trained any of these civilians either. If they didn’t have time for gawking, neither did she.
She made it two steps into the terminal when the whole world went to hell.
One moment she was on her feet. The next she was airborne, then flat on her back. Her head spun. She couldn’t hear. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t breathe.
It took a few seconds to realize she wasn’t blind. A cloud of white had enveloped her, leaving nothing else for her to see. Mariko smelled smoke and dust and blood. Another explosion. What else could it have been? It had knocked the wind out of her, and now that she was gasping for air it shoved its gritty, smoky fingers down her throat.
For a while she could concentrate on nothing other than getting her breath under control. Mercifully, the cloud began to dissipate almost immediately. By the time Mariko was breathing normally, the smoke had risen, the dust had settled, and she could see again. A ringing still flooded her ears. She felt a constant rumble, and knew instinctively that she should have been able to hear it. She couldn’t. She was deaf but for a high-pitched ringing cloying in her ears. Whatever it was, the rumbling pressed against her back and it was very warm.
Still punch-drunk, she tried to roll herself to her feet. Instead she fell about a meter and landed on her hands and knees. She’d thought she was lying on the ground. Now the world sorted itself out: the explosion had thrown her onto the hood of a squad car. The engine was still running; that explained the warm rumbling she’d felt. It also explained why the back of her head hurt so much: she’d left a skull-sized depression of spider-webbed glass in the squad car’s windshield.
Now that she’d had a chance to register her injuries, everything else in her body spoke up. Her back was a cacophony of pain. Every muscle hurt like hell. The backs of her arms too; she guessed she’d probably performed a breakfall on the hood of the squad. The TMPD’s aikido instructors would reprimand her for forgetting to tuck her chin.
Once she was on her feet the world slowed its spinning. She made her way toward the terminal, staggering across the five-meter expanse of rubble between her and the blown-out doors. Inside, the ambulance was a black, flaming skeleton of its former self. Of the people who had been pushing it, nothing recognizable remained.
A car bomb, she thought. She’d only seen images before, on the news or in gangster movies. Now, standing amid the wreckage, she recognized this for what it was: a double bombing. She’d heard of the tactic—always in some far-flung country, never in Japan, but it made sense in its own warped, sadistic way: the first explosion drew all the first responders and the second one blew them to bits. After that, everyone on-site would have to wonder if a third bomb was about to go off.
Mariko looked for the old man with the head wound. He was dead too, laid out flat and staring at the ceiling. At least he seemed to have died peacefully. Closer to the bomb, victims were hit so hard that it was impossible to tell where one body ended and the next began. The mere sight of them made Mariko throw up.
The taste of vomit was no better than the taste of halon. Mariko had the absurd thought that she could really use a drink of water to wash her mouth out. She dismissed it, ashamed of her selfishness. The ringing in her ears had subsided somewhat, and now she could hear someone screaming for help.
Mariko headed in that direction. More than once she tripped over the scattered debris. She’d left the apartment in her dress uniform this morning, nervous about her appointment with Captain Kusama but certain that she’d make her best first impression if she showed up in her Class A’s. Now her jacket was torn, her slacks were bloodstained, and she hadn’t the faintest idea what had become of her cap. In this environment her polished leather oxfords were about as useful as a pair of stilts.
She didn’t dare go barefoot—too much broken glass for that—but she had half a mind to go rooting through all the scattered suitcases until she found a more rugged pair of shoes. Was that an absurd thought too? Or was she finally thinking practically? She couldn’t say for sure.
At last she found the person who was yelling for help. He was pinned under the tangled remains of what used to be a clock tower of sorts. It was a decorative metal frame six meters high, with a clock and a big sign on top indicating the location of the security gate. The car bomb had taken out the base of the tower, and now the top half lay across the back of a man barely old enough to drink. He was on all fours, muscles quivering as they strained against the weight of the sculpture. A little girl huddled under him as if her father was her turtle shell.
The man looked up at Mariko with terror-stricken bloodshot eyes. Tears striped his cheeks. “I can get out. I can get out, but I can’t—I can’t—”
“You can’t get your daughter out with you,” Mariko said. “It’s okay. I’ve got her.”
Mariko pulled the girl out from under him, and once it was clear the man could slide himself free of the wreckage, she congratulated the girl for not leaving her daddy alone when he was in danger. “You two get out of here now,” she said. “If you see anyone on the way, tell them to get clear of the building too.”
The only intelligent thing to do was to follow those two outside, and then put as much distance as possible between herself and the terminal. Mariko knew Joko Daishi’s mind. A third bomb was exactly his style. But the only reason she knew his mind was that she hadn’t put a bullet through it when she had the chance. Now a lot of people were dead and a lot more were injured, all because Mariko didn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. If there was a third bomb, she was damn sure she’d get as many people clear of the blast as possible.
She watched these two go and saw a couple of cops on the street waving them to hurry outside. Once the man and his daughter were clear, the cops kept on waving. Finally Mariko got it through her thick skull that they were waving at her. It was as she suspected: everyone was worried about the possibility of another explosion.
She could see them shouting but couldn’t make out the words over the ringing in her ears. Their body language was clear enough, but Mariko put a hand to one ear and shook her head, pretending she didn’t understand them. Then she went deeper into the destruction, looking for anyone she could help—looking, in fact, for any way to ease her aching conscience.
An airport terminal was mostly wide-open spaces, but the relief effort ate them up one by one. Now there were rubble fields and there were places commandeered to serve some other function. The whole north side of the terminal had become a makeshift morgue. The body bags hadn’t come yet. Unwilling to leave the dead simply lying in the dust, someone had scrounged up a few boxes of little fleece blankets, the ones the airlines gave passengers for free. Now the north end was pixelated with rectangles of red and blue, much too cheery for the gruesome reality they concealed.
Mariko hadn’t been up that way in hours. There were more important things to do than stand and stare and cry. She’d been assisting paramedics, slinging debris, moving the wounded, and most recently—because she was too damn tired to do anything else—directing supplies. A steady stream of trucks now flowed in from the city, carrying everything from tarps to trauma surgeons. Since all the main roads to the airport were jam-packed, some high-ranking disaster management expert in the Self Defense Force had rerouted everything onto the airstrip and up through the departure/arrival gates. From there it was herding cats. Everything had to get to its proper place and none of it arrived in any logical order. Mariko was one of the cat-herders.
When she saw the boxes marked CORONER GRADE VINYL BAGS, she knew where they had to go. The image of all those red and blue blankets had never fully escaped her. She rolled up in one of those electric airport carts, ready to tell the guys carrying the boxes to hop aboard, and had to brake before running smack into another vehicle. She was surprised to see she recognized the driver.
Mariko hardly recognized her former partner. The electric cart wasn’t his style, but more jarring was the regulation haircut he’d been subjected to when he was reassigned from Narcotics to general patrol. Working undercover had been the only reason he was allowed to grow his hair out and keep his sideburns in the seventies. And of course his hair wasn’t just shorter; it was white now, too, as was Mariko’s—as were their shoulders, the tops of their shoes, and every other horizontal surface in the blown-out terminal. Gypsum, pulverized cement, fire extinguisher propellant, cigarette ashes from the scores of relief workers, all stirred up in a bitter, chalky concatenation that billowed up with every footstep. Mariko couldn’t see it in the air, but it coagulated on her skin as soon as she worked up a sweat. She’d given up trying to wash it off.
Han was wearing the same gritty mask, with a powdered wig to match. Even so, she could see how tired he was. Like hers, his mask was cracked in places. Every time he’d pinched his eyes shut to rub at them, every time he’d frowned or winced, wrinkles had formed, channeling away the sweat and dust and leaving little flesh-colored creases behind. Mariko knew she looked the same: weary and ready to crumble.
“Women drivers,” he said, shaking his head in mock disgust. “Who lost his mind long enough to give you the keys to that thing?”
Mariko couldn’t help but smile. Her white mask crackled in new places, and she realized this was the first time she’d smiled since arriving at Haneda. Not that there had been much cause for mirth.
“You look like hell,” he said. “Wild guess: you haven’t taken a break since you’ve been here, have you?”
“You want to grab something to eat? I hear they set up a breakfast buffet in the food court.”
“Breakfast . . . ?” That didn’t add up. “Han, what time is it?”
“Six in the morning?” Mariko sagged in her seat. “No wonder I’m tired.”
“Come on, let’s eat. Someone else can get these body bags where they need to be. I’ve been avoiding the north end anyway.”
Mariko nodded. She and Han had always thought along similar lines. That was one of the things she liked best about him.
He insisted on driving, not because he had to be the man in their relationship but because she was teetering on the brink of exhaustion. There weren’t many guys in the department who treated her like just another cop, guys who could be friends without also thinking of her as a little sister or a nice piece of ass. Mariko slumped in her padded seat, grateful that she’d crossed paths with him and no one else.
At the food court, Mariko gorged herself on greasy American food, a childhood staple. Prior to that moment, she’d never fully grasped what the Americans meant by “comfort food.” Then the first salty McDonald’s French fry broke crisply between her teeth and something deep inside of her got permission to relax. She gobbled down an entire packet of fries before turning to anything remotely healthy. Han waited until she had a bowlful of rice in her belly before he offered the real delight: a little glass bottle of Chivas Regal. Mariko could have kissed him. “Where’d you get that?”
“Are you kidding? All the airport cops are on disaster detail. Those duty-free shops are wide open for looting.”
“Seriously?” She punched him in the arm. “You could lose your badge for that!”
“Ow!” He laughed at her and rubbed where she’d punched him. “You make it too easy. I got it from a manager of one of the shops. She was just giving them away. Said it was the least she could do.”
“You’re an asshole, you know that?”
“Guilty as charged.”
“And that manager deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. She’s a humanitarian if ever there was one.” Mariko took a swig. It was heaven. “When did you get out here?”
“I came as soon as I heard. Took me three hours. The whole city’s on lockdown.”
“You heard a death toll?”
Han closed his eyes and nodded. “By the time I got here they were saying eighty. Then ninety. Last I heard, maybe an hour ago, it was a hundred and twelve.”
The number hit her like a punch in the mouth. She couldn’t speak. Han’s eyes pinched tight and he pressed a fist to his lips. Mariko could see he was trying not to cry. Apropos of nothing, he said, “Your mom called me.”
“I’ve still got her in my phone. From when we were partners, just in case—well, you know.”
“Yeah.” Mariko fished her phone out of her pocket. It was a mangled mess, probably crushed when she put her thigh into moving something heavy. She didn’t even remember it happening. “She okay?”
“I guess. Worried sick. Said she heard from you around midnight but not since. I told her you were all right.”
“How about you?”
“Me?” Han sniffled. “Yeah, sure, I’m fine.”
He was lying. Both of them knew it, and both of them knew why. No one was fine. The whole damn city was turned upside down and Mariko felt like she was hanging on by her fingernails. The only way to hold on was to not think about what she was feeling. Han was the same way.
So he changed the subject. “They’re saying two bombs.”
“I know. The second one went off in my face.”
He looked at her probingly, as if he could diagnose wounds on sight. “I’m okay,” she said. “I mean, not okay okay. I’m beat to shit and my ears are still ringing, but that’s the worst of it. I don’t suppose you happened to overhear anything from the bomb squad.”
“Nope. But I know what you’re thinking. Hexamine.”
Mariko’s skin went cold. She and Han shared the same suspicion: if the Divine Wind was responsible for this attack, they’d likely have used the same explosives used by Joko Daishi’s lieutenant, Akahata. One of the key ingredients in Akahata’s bomb was a chemical known as hexamine. If analysts found traces of it in the blast residue here, it would go a long way to corroborating Mariko and Han’s theory. But what Mariko had never thought of before, and what now had her heart racing, was that if Akahata had managed to detonate his bomb—if Mariko hadn’t stopped him a split second before he hit the trigger—that subway platform would have looked a lot like this terminal. So would Mariko. There wouldn’t have been enough left of her even to identify her through dental records.
The thought that she’d come so close to death—and a death as violent as this—gave her goose bumps and made her stomach lurch. Now just sitting here made her feel guilty. It was a stupid reason to cry, but only now did she find herself crying. She’d made it. A hundred and twelve people hadn’t, and she had. She’d never been at serious risk here. She’d faced a far greater risk facing Akahata. That was when she should have cried. But she hadn’t, and now she was, and she felt like a little girl but she couldn’t help herself.
No. As soon as the thought struck her, she refused to accept it. She turned off the waterworks. “Goddamn it,” she said, accidentally reverting to English. “I’m just tired. Give me another—” She switched back to Japanese. “Give me another swig of that Chivas.”
It wasn’t healthy, medicating herself like this, but she needed to put a little fire in her belly to keep herself from total collapse. As long as she kept working, she’d been able to suppress her exhaustion, but now that she’d stopped, she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. If her mother had been there, she’d have said it was perfectly natural; if fourteen hours of hard labor wasn’t a good excuse for a nap, nothing was. But Yamada-sensei, her late kenjutsu instructor, would have told her exhaustion of the body leads to clarity of the mind. He’d have reminded her that it was only when her arms were so tired she could hardly hold her sword that she learned her best technique. This was no coincidence; it was because she couldn’t use physical strength that her technique had to be perfect.
Similarly, it was because she’d been working her ass off for fourteen hours straight that she could now sit in a Zen-like state of calm. Six o’clock in the morning, she thought. On a Wednesday. The bomb went off on a Tuesday afternoon, and notably not on a Sunday, the busiest flying day of the week. This attack wasn’t meant to run up a body count; it was meant to deliver a message.
Akahata’s attempt at bombing the subway was supposed to send the same message. And Mariko realized that if Kusama buried the Divine Wind’s involvement in the Haneda bombing the same way he covered up their connection to Akahata, he’d be playing right into Joko Daishi’s hands. Mariko couldn’t stand aside and let that happen.
“Han, have you seen Captain Kusama?”
“Hell, everyone’s seen him. He made himself the media point man on this thing.”
“Don’t write him off. He’s doing a good job. You should hear him play those reporters. For hours he had all of them saying ‘explosion,’ not ‘bombing’—”
“Because explosions aren’t necessarily attacks,” Mariko said. “They can be accidental.”
“Smart, neh? Controlling public perception from the get-go. Now he’s saying ‘bombing’ and so are they.”
“Yeah, but I’ll bet you ten thousand yen he’s not telling the whole truth. Has he mentioned Joko Daishi by name?”
“No. But we’ve got a lot of evidence to collect before we jump to that conclusion.”
Mariko gave him a stern look. “Come on. You’re sure too.”
“Yeah. I guess I am.” One hand scratched his cheek where his sideburn used to be. “But I don’t get how he could have ordered this from prison.”
“He didn’t have to. We let him go this morning.” She told him all about her meeting with Captain Kusama, and about Joko Daishi’s release along with his mask. “Han, I think I know how he picked his targets. I need to talk to the captain—and I could use your help in explaining things to him. Every time I open my mouth around him, I just piss him off.”
“You? Piss off a CO? No way.”
He chuckled and offered her a hand. She didn’t mind letting him help her to her feet; she was more tired than she’d ever been. So much the better, she thought. If she didn’t have the emotional energy to explode at Kusama, she couldn’t get herself suspended.
Finding Captain Kusama was easy; they just had to look for the reporters. Mariko spotted CNN and BBC in the herd now, and Deutsche Welle, and a host of other gaijin correspondents as well. They and their Japanese counterparts formed a tight semicircle around Kusama, out on the sidewalk just outside what used to be the main entrance to Terminal 2—Ground Zero, everyone was calling it now. There really wasn’t a better name for it. Kusama had chosen his backdrop well, and not because the dramatic background would emphasize his own importance. The floodlights from the cameras killed all the shadows and made everything around him seem unnaturally white. There would be no lurid, high-contrast images of Ground Zero beaming back to all those foreign news networks. Even under attack, Japan would appear neat and orderly.
Mariko found Lieutenant Sakakibara not far from where she found Kusama, and though he and the captain had arrived in the same car, they looked like they’d come from different planets. Kusama was energetic in front of the cameras. Somehow he’d even kept his uniform immaculate. Sakakibara was as pale as a ghost, dusted head to toe just like Han and Mariko. He’d rolled up his sleeves, and red teardrops stood out all up and down his forearms. Mariko didn’t ask how he’d spent the night, but whatever he’d been up to, he’d sustained dozens of tiny lacerations doing it.
He sat in the lee of a disaster management truck the National Police Agency had parked where the terminal doors used to be, a giant Mercedes Unimog painted in stripes of blue and white. Sakakibara sat on one of the big, knobby tires, elbows on his knees, his head and hands dangling toward the floor like heavy fruit from thin branches. “A little pick-me-up, sir?” Han said. He proffered a little bottle of vodka he’d stowed in his pocket.
Sakakibara unfolded himself and stood up to his full height, which was considerable. “Bribing a peace officer is a serious crime, Buzz Cut. I’m confiscating this as evidence.”
Sakakibara rarely called anyone by their real names. He assigned nicknames on the fly and never bothered to explain them. The name Han was a Sakakibara creation; Han’s real name was Watanabe, but just as his Han Solo hairstyle had earned him one nickname, his new regulation haircut now earned him another. Mariko wondered what Sakakibara called himself. Sonny Chiba, for his thick black hair that sat on his head like a helmet? Yao Ming, for his height? Mariko would put a vote in for Grumpy Hardass if she had a say. It was probably a good thing that she didn’t.
“Hell, Frodo, you look about as good as I do,” he said. It had taken Mariko a while to figure out her own moniker. The hobbit part was easy—she was short—but the nickname really turned on Mariko’s missing finger.
“Thank you, sir. You sure know how to make a gal feel good about herself.”
“Don’t get cute. In fact, turn around and go back where you came from. I know why you’re here.”
“You’ve got a pet theory about who staged this attack. You’re thinking it’s only a matter of time before the boys in the bomb squad come back with chemical signatures for hexamine. When they do, it’ll prove you were right all along. And for some reason you got it in your little hobbit head that if His Eminence hears all of this, he’ll be oh so very proud of you and he’ll give you your sergeant’s tags back.”
Mariko blinked. She tried to rebut but had some trouble opening her mouth. In fact, her reaction would have been exactly the same if she were a cartoon character and a stick of cartoon dynamite blew up in her face.
“Holy shit,” Han said. “Mariko, you got demoted?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mariko said, finding her voice again. “Lost my temper with Kusama.”
Now Han was dumbstruck. She could see the wheels working in his head. He’d lost his detective’s rank during a case they’d worked together, when she served not only as his partner but also his shift sergeant. This was Japan; guilt by association was the law. For Han, the only question was why she hadn’t told him already that his own misconduct had damaged her career.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It had nothing to do with you—”
“And it doesn’t fucking matter, even if it did,” Sakakibara said, as polite as ever. “Look around, both of you. You and I are standing in a bomb crater. That means everything has changed. Everything. So today is not the day I lose one of my sergeants because she’s got a discipline problem.”
He stabbed her in the shoulder with a long, callused finger. “Don’t misunderstand me, Frodo. On any other day, you’d get what you had coming. But today the TMPD needs every detail sergeant it can find, and that means that if you keep your damn mouth shut, maybe I can save your career. Understand?”
Mariko nodded and bowed. “Thank you, sir.”
“And you, Buzz, I’m going to shoot for getting you reassigned to detectives again. But listen to me: if you ever stray outside the lines again, I swear to you, I’ll mount you as a ramming prow on my car.”
Han nodded, chastened. Losing his assignment in Narcotics was a mistake he’d always regret, and one Mariko figured he’d never recover from. Then again, she supposed it was only fair that the TMPD reshuffle the deck in the light of a major terrorist attack.
A sudden shift in background noise drew Mariko’s attention. A gaggle of voices all shouted at once, their tone insistent, not inquisitive. It could only be that last burst of reporters’ questions as someone called a press conference to a close.
Sakakibara caught it too. “All right, here comes His Majesty,” he said. “Both of you, just shut the hell up and let me do my job.”
Captain Kusama became a different man as soon as he got out of sight of the cameras. His cheerfulness and vigor were just a masquerade for the press; once he joined Sakakibara behind the big, blocky Unimog, his shoulders slumped and he breathed as if he’d just come up for air. He didn’t have a word to spare for anyone until he got a cigarette in his mouth.
“Detective Oshiro,” he said, eyeing her up and down. Suddenly she was self-conscious about the state of her uniform. She couldn’t even guess where she’d left her jacket and cap. “You’ve been hard at it, haven’t you?”
“Good for you. I’ll see to it that a reporter gets to you for a couple of quotes. I know just the one, a very sympathetic woman from NHK. She’ll make you look good.”
Mariko didn’t know how to take that. All the makeup in the world couldn’t make her look pretty. Then she realized Kusama only had thoughts for repairing her smeared reputation. All she could think of to say was, “Thank you, sir.”
“Think nothing of it. Listen, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been giving press updates every half hour all night long. These ten-minute catnaps in between aren’t doing the trick anymore; I’ve got to find a place to sleep. Lieutenant, you look like you mean business. Let’s make this brief, shall we?”
“Absolutely,” Sakakibara said. “Two things, sir. First, I want Buzz Lightyear and Woody here to be reinstated at their former rank.”
Kusama studied Mariko and Han with a critical eye. “If I’m not mistaken, Officer Watanabe faced an internal review board and was lucky to come away with his skin. Got a covert informant killed, as I recall.”
“I did, sir,” said Han.
Kusama nodded, apparently appreciative of Han’s forthright confession. “And I can’t see how Detective Oshiro could be any less temperamental today than she was yesterday afternoon.”
“Sir, I apologize—”
Sakakibara cut her off. “They’re both smart cops. We’re going to want every good head we’ve got assigned to this Haneda detail. We’ll need detectives, and we need sergeants for them to report to. It streamlines everything if you reinstate these two; they already know the job.”
Kusama sighed. “All right. If I weren’t this tired, I’d fight you on it, but damn you, I am this tired.” He fished in his pocket and produced a gold-and-silver pin. Mariko’s sergeant’s tag. Mariko hadn’t realized he’d picked it up as they’d left his office. He looked at it, resting in his soft-skinned palm, then looked up at Sakakibara. “You do understand I’m doing this against my better judgment.”
“Mine too, sir. These two are a royal pain in the ass.”
“You’re the one who’s answerable for their mistakes, is that clear?”
Sakakibara fixed his eyes on Han and Mariko. His glare could have melted steel. “Crystal clear. Isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” Han and Mariko said in unison.
“Done,” said Kusama, stifling a yawn. “Your second item?”
“I could use an update like the ones you’re giving the press,” Sakakibara said. “I wouldn’t say we’re all in the dark about what happened, but we sure as hell aren’t in the light yet, either.”
Kusama craned his head to peek through the crack between the Unimog’s cab and its trailer. He didn’t seem to like what he saw—too many microphones, perhaps—because he motioned for his three subordinates to follow him. He led them deeper into the airport, past where the security checkpoint used to be, back among the darkened storefronts.
“We have very little to go on,” he said. “I’ve announced early reports that Jemaah Islamiyah has claimed responsibility, and that investigations are under way to verify those reports.”
“Sir,” Mariko said, “begging your pardon, but this isn’t the work of Islamist extremists. This was the Divine Wind.”
Kusama sighed, this time out of exasperation, not exhaustion. “I wasn’t aware we had any women on the bomb squad.”
“And I thought we agreed that you were going to shut the hell up,” Sakakibara said.
Mariko bowed, and kept her gaze fixed on her captain’s feet. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It’s just—well, I don’t need to be on the bomb squad to know how Joko Daishi thinks.”
“Aha,” Kusama said. “Do enlighten us.”
“Joko Daishi means ‘Great Teacher of the Purging Fire,’ neh? This guy sees society as being impure, and he wants to burn away all our sins. He thinks comfort and stability are obstacles to enlightenment.”
“I remember the file.”
“Well, that’s why he detonated his bombs outside the security gates.”
“Explain,” said Kusama.
“He’s telling us safety is an illusion. The security screens are supposed to make flying safer, neh? But they don’t—at least not according to Joko Daishi. They just create a bottleneck. They give him a target.”
Kusama looked at her over the top of his smoking cigarette. “Then why not bomb the checkout line at a grocery store? Isn’t that a bottleneck?”
“It is, sir. But the purpose of the cashier isn’t to keep us safe. Look, back in the sixties, the bottleneck was right at the airplane’s door. A crowd of hundreds turns into a single file, neh?”
“So with fifty years of hindsight, fifty years of new technology, all we’ve managed to do is move the bottleneck. Now it’s the next stage after the ticketing counter. Thousands of people on dozens of flights, all lining up nice and neat.”
Kusama puffed on his cigarette. “You’re saying detonating the bomb outside the security gate sent a message. It says there’s no security at all.”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Mm-hm. And why couldn’t Jemaah Islamiyah or al-Qaeda send the same message?”
“They could, but they didn’t. You said that you’ve announced they claimed responsibility, not that they did. They haven’t, have they, sir? You said that just to appease those reporters.”
Sakakibara growled like a bear. “Frodo, do yourself a favor—”
“It’s all right, Lieutenant.” Kusama waved him off. “Sergeant Oshiro, you of all people ought to understand why I haven’t mentioned Joko Daishi to the press. Tell me, did you approve of it when I did the same thing with the Divine Wind’s subway bombing?”
“Yes, sir.” Mariko hoped all the dust caked to her face would keep him from seeing her blush.
“Yet you were the only one to suffer the consequences. Why approve of denying the Divine Wind’s involvement in that case but disapprove of it here?”
“Because the subway story could be contained. This one can’t. It’s too big, sir, and when the truth leaks out, Joko Daishi will say the people can’t trust their police department. His goal is to erode the pillars of our society. We’re one of those pillars, sir. If we compromise ourselves, we make ourselves an easy meal.”
That got Kusama’s hackles up. He stepped up in her face, and since he was a good fifteen centimeters taller than she was, when he locked eyes with her he was staring down at her. “You will not question my loyalty to the TMPD.” He waved his hand in her face as he spoke, jabbing her sergeant’s badge at her like an angry schoolmaster’s ruler.
Mariko cast her gaze to the floor. “Terribly sorry, sir. That wasn’t my intent. It’s just—”
“Frodo, goddamn it, keep your mouth shut.”
“I’ll have her speak her mind, Lieutenant.” Kusama didn’t bother looking in Sakakibara’s direction; he kept his eyes fixed on Mariko. She could feel him staring holes into her head. “Sergeant, I don’t care for subordinates questioning my judgment, still less when they do it in front of other officers, and especially when they don’t provide a single scrap of evidence to back up their claims. Why should I believe—no, why should I even entertain the notion that your beloved Joko Daishi is responsible for this attack?”
“Occam’s razor and sheer optimism, sir.” Mariko swallowed. “We released a terrorist mastermind from prison this morning. A few hours later, the bombs went off. So either this is Joko Daishi’s work or else we’ve got two mad bombers running around Tokyo, and no leads on either one of them.”
“It’s a little too convenient, isn’t it? You’re obsessed with this man. You are by your own assessment our best expert on him.”
“Not just me, sir. Me and Han. Um, Watanabe, sir.”
“Just so. And lo and behold, you and Officer Watanabe come to me looking to get off my shit list by claiming it was your guy who orchestrated this attack. That doesn’t sound contrived to you?”
“Sir, we let him go. Against my advisement. Because I knew something like this would happen. If it’s contrived, it sure as hell wasn’t contrived by me.”
“That’s enough!” Kusama’s cigarette breath hit her in the face. “Is respect a foreign concept to you? Do you even listen to the words coming out of your mouth? I’ve got to hand it to you, Detective: I never thought I’d demote one of my sergeants twice in twenty-four hours.”
Excerpted from "Disciple of the Wind"
Copyright © 2016 Steve Bein.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I haven't had a chance to read it yet since I'm still waiting for my copy to come , but I love this series. It's a great read and it's amazing how he infuses Japanese history with an action packed tale. It's a lot different from other books out today and like I said great read~ Looking forward to more books by him~