2nd Place - 2009 Samurai Fiction Contest
Genre: Crossover (Dragnet) / Pulp Fiction
From the Reminiscences of Furudai Keijô (Jô), Edo Yoriki, 1850-1868, later retired with rank of Junsabucho (Police Sergeant) in the Imperial Tokyo Police in 1879.
The story you are about to read is true—in part. Some of the names have been changed or fabricated wholesale to protect the illusion of reality.
This is the city: Edo, province of Kanto, island of Honshu-- the largest city in all the Japanese islands. Close to a million samurai, nobles, and commoners inhabit this city in an ever-changing pattern of constant movement. As I speak, it is easily the largest city in the world. But it is a city in flux. On November 9, 1867, the 15th Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned his post and authority to the emperor, agreeing to be the instrument for carrying out imperial orders. The Tokugawa Shogunate had officially ended.
While the Shogun was no more, his retainers and subretainers, commoner officials, all those people who keep this metropolis running smoothly, were still required to carry out the mandates with which they had been charged. In this city of nearly one million, there are only about 300 police officers to keep them in line. I’m one of ‘em. I work here. I’m a yoriki.
It was December 23, 1867; it was seasonably cold in Edo. We were working the night watch out of the southern machi bugyô’s office at Hatchobori. The boss is Abe Kintaro; my partner is Gannin Biru. My name’s Furudai. A series of random vandalism incidents had been happening all over Edo; markets trashed, buildings being burned, men failing to pay the Yoshiwara courtesans. All in all, it might be typical for a big city, except for rumors that had floated around our offices for weeks—that we could expect worse doings from Satsuma domain, who was already causing a lot of trouble for the Shogunate, or what was left of it.
“I tell you, Jô. A nice manju and hot tea really hit the spot on a cold night on duty. You want one?” Biru was always pushing food or eating it. “Cute girl named O-tsu selling ‘em at a soba stand just a couple blocks from here…I can get you one if you want it. See, it’s shaped like a mushroom.”
“Biru, aren’t you on a diet?”
“Well...you don’t see me eating more than one, do you?”
“If I were you, Biru, I’d worry more about your hair than your food.”
“Whaddya mean, Jôō?”
“Your topknot is slipping.” Biru dropped the half-eaten sweet almost directly into his teacup, his hands flying to catch his slowly falling topknot.
“How long you had that glue you’re
“Only a couple years,” Biru was concentrating on centering the well-waxed but not-so-well glued hairpiece on his head with his left hand while fishing out the soggy manju from his teacup with the right. “You know, sometimes I wish I could be carefree like the ronin who let their topknots swing loose in the wind.”
“Your problem, Biru, is that you don’t have a proper topknot, so you have to glue on a fake one. “
“The wind’d take it clean off.”
“But Jô, tradition says I have the right to wear the topknot as a member of the samurai class. Somewhere along the line, the “right” became an “obligation.” So I have to glue one on as a matter of decorum. They don’t tell you in school what to do when you go bald and can’t grow the topknot you’re entitled to as part of your lineal heritage. Only then does your old mother bring out the ancestral hair glue and tell you about your father’s collection of topknot hairpieces, blow the dust off and bequeath them to the ‘lucky’ son. Surely someone in your family has gone through this before.”
“I guess I’m just lucky, Biru. All I inherited was my father’s collection of racy ukiyo prints and a tendency not to be able to hold my sake. Here, let me help you, while things are slow.”
I carefully positioned the false topknot at the back of Biru’s head and slathered on the glue so thick it glistened in the light of the chochin lantern. I was still holding it there ten minutes later when the trouble started.
Hour of the Dog: A doshin runner approached us with information that shots had been fired into the residence of Shonai domain. His partner and several others were in pursuit of the culprits, while he had rushed to report the incident to us.
The doshin leaned his jitte against the inner doorframe and bowed quickly. He remained standing, although he was obviously winded and bent over somewhat.
“Officers, there was a small group of five or six men who looked like ronin. They fired guns into the residence of Shonai. Stirred up a hornet’s nest if you ask me. There must have been fifteen men ran out of the place after them. My partner has followed them; they ran south. Furudai-dono, isn’t it?” the breathless doshin gasped while trying to maintain a position of decorum.
“Have a seat, and tell us the story. Your name, doshin?”
“Yamaguchi Toramitsu, honorable Yoriki-san. My partner’s Mori Akinosuke. I told him to meet me here with prisoners if he caught them or information if he didn’t. He took about ten men with him, some doshin, some local residents who were nearby.”
The man, who was well into his forties, was sweating despite the coolness of the evening breeze and the lack of any sort of heating beyond a small brazier in the office. Biru made hot tea over the low glow of the brazier, and Yamaguchi began his story.
“We were on our rounds near the palace, around Hitotsubashi, a short distance from the Shonai house, when a frightened merchant approached us, obviously shaken up by something that scared him for his life. He said that someone had shot at him as he was peddling his wares in front of the Shonai residence. He fell to the ground and waited for more shots and took off as soon as he realized they were aiming at the house and not at him. He told us he saw three men with rifles; they had unkempt hair in topknots. There were also several others who carried two swords. Unfortunately there was nothing in his story to tell us if they were ronin or in the employ of a domain, but they were most likely of samurai class from their description.”
“My partner ran in the direction of the Shonai residence and I don’t know if he managed to catch the culprits, but they had a big head start on him. I expect problems, though, as there were likely some of those rough Shinchogumi fellows along with the regular Shonai men. Like ronin gangs. We’ve got ‘em; the shishi have got ‘em. Edo is turning into a gangland turf.”
Shinchogumi. Oh goody. I had enough trouble with them back in ’63; I guess they had to go somewhere. I don’t imagine they’ve gotten any easier to deal with now than they were back then. And they were supposed to be on our side. Yamaguchi continued.
“Oh yes, I told the merchant to report here to make a statement to you fellows, but he insisted he couldn’t leave his cart at the scene for that long. It was kind of a large cart, so he said he’d bring himself, the cart and all to your office as soon as he could. I’d expect him in maybe 10-15 minutes; he’s very old and kind of slow.”
A few moments later, a harried doshin appeared at the door and entered without ceremony.
“I could not catch them, but I saw where they most likely went. They are from Satsuma; or at least, they disappeared into the Mita Satsuma residence. I chased ‘em down through Shiba and saw the Shonai men gathered at the Mita yashiki; they dispersed quickly enough when we got there, but there could be trouble later. Of course, I could not follow the culprits inside. They’re starting. The Shonai men complied with our requests to disperse, so I thought it best we withdraw and report. But they were fuming, and they may come back. I personally wouldn’t blame them.”
“They’re starting.” Mori was referring to the pervasive rumors floating around Edo. Satsuma was going to attack the Shogunate. They were going to burn Edo Castle to the ground. They would wreak havoc in the city in order to force Yoshinobu to make a move that would weaken his position and give Satsuma a reason to move in with its new Imperial troops to utterly depose the Tokugawa by force. The city had been in turmoil ever since Yoshinobu had announced his retirement in early November, but we had all been assured the Tokugawa would hold together and retain influence in the new government. We did our best to keep the streets clear and peaceful as we had always done. But something would have to give. Shonai, as a known staunch Shogunal ally and designated sponsor of the high-profile Shinchogumi, who had wrought their own form of chaos in the city, was a natural target. Plus, their yashiki bordered on Edo Castle. The threat implied was obvious.
Biru and I dismissed Mori and Yamaguchi after obtaining their reports, but told them to take up their rounds again at Hitotsubashi and keep Edo Castle under close surveillance for safety. Biru and I took up the questioning of the merchant, who told us his name was Saburo. He looked like he had been young back in Ieyasu’s time. No wonder Yamaguchi said he’d be slow. He must have been at least 80 and had absolutely no hair anywhere on his head, except for a small, assymetrical beard that barely covered his craggy chin. He didn’t have eyebrows but did have maybe three teeth. It was kind of creepy, really, when I remember it.
He said he had been paid to go to the Shonai house and sell his wares; he was instructed to sing his loudest pitch-song, so that as many Shonai retainers as possible would come out to investigate. He was calmer after a cup of tea, and he told us the story from the beginning.
“You see, there was this fellow, looks like a monkey. Called himself Saru. Ain’t that appropriate? He approaches me on my rounds just outside the Masukaya (that’s in the Shiba district) and flashes a gold ryo in my face. It got my attention, of course. I figured he wanted to buy something. Turns out he was buying me. He told me where to go and when, then went back into the Masukaya; I didn’t think much about why he hired me until I saw him at the Shonai house with a gun.”
“Did he fire the gun at the house?” Biru asked.
“Well, I think he did, but if he did, he’s a rotten shot. Because the shots mostly hit the stone base beside the gate. The guys with him seemed better with their guns; I think they were all ronin. They had that look, anyway.”
“Did they hit anyone at the complex?”
“I don’t think so,” Saburo shook his head. “ But them Shonai men sure came piling out after ‘em. I didn’t see Saru after that, but the rest of ‘em took off down towards the Shiba area or in that general direction. South or southeast. I wasn’t sure what to do, but rather than stay in the line of fire, so to speak, I ran to find the nearest doshin, which thankfully didn’t take me that long. Two or three doshin and a bunch of townsmen ran off in the direction I pointed. One of the doshin mentioned Satsuma; I been hearin’ that Satsuma was gonna cause chaos. I just didn’t think I would be in the middle of it. I told the one fat doshin about it, since he didn’t look like he was gonna be runnin’ after ‘em in his shape. He said to come here. Sorry it took me so long. You see, I got precious wares I don’t want to leave in the street. I even got Somaware, see? Double-walled, keeps your tea hot longer than those cups you got there. And lovely Soma horse on the side, see?”
I didn’t want to take the time to tell him we had already busted the fake Somaware dealer in the city last week and his so-called “Somaware” was no more than two teacups cemented together and that it wouldn’t hold up to boiled water. We let Saburo push his cart up against the office front for safety. Katsu Shichiroma, a junior doshin just reporting for duty, said he’d keep an eye on it while we went to investigate Saburo’s information. Saburo, of course, had to go along, so the pace was slow.
“Where we going, honorable yoriki-san?” Saburo was kind of wheezing. “You know I’m old and can’t keep up with you young men.”
“We’re going to the Masukaya, see if your pal Saru keeps regular hours. You’re gonna point him out to us.” I was not relishing the long walk in the middle of Edo nightlife. The Shiba-Ura fishermen were generally temperate types, but, as Shiba was a bustling port district, the taverns were many and altercations a regular occurrence. People were generally deferential to Tokugawa officials, but they always acted furtive when they saw the triple hollyhock. It took me years to figure out what was mere skittishness and fear of authority and what I should peg as actual wrongdoing. Edo folk, especially in the bar districts and port areas, weren’t trusting types. Occasionally, we’d stumble onto a drunken belligerent who would take the Tokugawa crest for a convenient target. Every time we went out like this, we had to keep our eyes wide open. It was a habit by now after 18 years service as yoriki.
Biru and I followed the merchant’s directions until we came to a small alley behind a row of shops that were closing up. These shops were a short distance southward from Daimyo Avenue at Shibaguchi and would be frequented not only by the samurai on Edo duty but by townsmen, ronin, and traveling merchants, such as our ancient guide. This is about the demographic we expected to see inside the Masukaya. I pulled aside the noren; it was darkly lit inside by maybe three oil lamps inside large paper-lined frames. The name “Masukaya” appeared on all of them and on the hanging paper lantern outside the shop, but it was executed in a delicate style of brushwork and all in kana. That was oddity number one. It took me no time at all to figure out which one was Masuka. She was dressed in a sparkling headdress, almost like a maiko, only she was obviously way too old to be a geisha in training. Perhaps this explained the delicate script…The cocked hip and easy grip on a long pipe, along with the fact that she was the only lady in there not serving guests –I walked up to her. She was taller than me.
“You Masuka? This your place?”
She nodded slowly, a sly smile spreading over her face.
“You’re cops, aren’t you? I can tell that stiff walk from a mile away.” Masuka’s voice was almost a falsetto, an unsteady mix of high and low, intermixed with a large dose of gravel from years of smoking. “I’m Masuka Mikayo; I serve everyone, as you can see. Welcome, honorable Doshin-san.”
“Oooh!” Masuka swanned a bit, swiveling her non-existent hips in the tightly wrapped and gaudy kimono. “So sorry, Yoriki-san!” She made an exaggerated bow that stopped when her upper rib cage hit the wall of her thick, bright orange obi. She stood back up gracefully.
A collection of motley types sat in various lazy seiza poses at low tables, tucked legs shoved into small spaces. Ronin drank with merchants; samurai with commoners. We didn’t see any hinin, but then again, we didn’t expect to.
“You on duty, or can I serve you officers?” Masuka never stopped moving her arms; she seemed to have a complex series of coded hand gestures that her several serving women were quick to interpret. With a graceful turn of her left wrist, she brought her heavily made up (and somewhat smudged) eyes to rest on mine. I couldn’t figure it, but there seemed to be something slightly wrong about Masuka. Strange face, voice didn’t match it, not to mention I didn’t recall anyone named Masuka being licensed to run a hostess joint in this area. But none of this would get me the answers I needed. I made a gesture of my own, and the old merchant Saburo, his head lowered, entered, ducking the noren.
“You remember this fellow, Masuka? He was right outside of here yesterday, he said, talking to a ronin he called ‘Saru’ who went into this establishment. You know this Saru?”
Masuka’s eyes rolled a little. Her sweat-smudged bedroom eyes swept the room as her perfectly coiffed head tilted upwards to reveal a rather too-strong chin and a hint of stubble around the Adam’s apple. That’s it…I filed away for later—Masuka must have been either a retired onnagata or just someone who liked to dress in women’s clothes.
“Yeah, honorable Yoriki-san. I know him,” Masuka darted a glance sideways, into the hidden far inside corner of the room, barely visible in the inadequate oil-lamplight. I couldn’t tell if she was confirming to us that he was there or sending him a subtle signal. I made a mental note and shifted to block a possible exit attempt by the shadowy figure that sat in the very back of the nearly invisible depths of the room.
“He’s my ex. Ex-almost-husband. We had a disagreement and we never actually made it to being man and wife, you see.”
“I wonder why,” I quipped. I could guess, actually. Saru probably had expected a woman and had gotten a large and unpleasant surprise. I filed it away and turned to the corner, where the man had gotten up and was straightening his kimono, slightly shifting his swords into a comfortable (was it aggressive?) position. I nodded to Biru. We were ready. Although our swords remained firmly sheathed in this cramped environment, we had both had plenty of training in iai and were ready to draw if Saru made even a slightly forward move.
At that moment, the onnagata-wannabe Masuka tossed his/her head smartly and piped up in that unnatural falsetto, “Oh Saru, honey, come over here a minute…” It looked like “she” was willing to work with us. Let’s hope he is.
Saru stood motionless in the corner; Biru and I were between him and the only exit. He froze like a grotesque tokonoma painting and stared. I figured it was time to go to him. I had to hand it to him; at least he didn’t try to run, and he didn’t move his hands near his swords. He knew he was at a disadvantage and simply accepted his fate. He stood up and bowed to us. It was clear why he was called “Saru.” His rather large but too close-set eyes surveyed our official kimono; he decided to play it straight.
“How can I be of service to you officers?” I noticed his sharp slightly angry glance at Masuka; clearly there was a story there. But we had one of our own to unravel.
“We need some information; I understand you hired this merchant to sell his wares in front of the Shonai house tonight.” I had to wave old Saburo to come closer, as he clearly wanted no part of the proceedings. But he also knew he had to cooperate with the authorities if he wanted to continue to peddle his wares legally in the city of Edo.
“You hired this man to draw out the men at the Shonai house under the pretense of a merchant trying to sell goods. Then, when possible customers emerged from the compound, you fired shots. Not just you but several men. I want their names and clan affiliations. If I don’t find out from you, we have more officers who are tracking them, and we will find out just the same. Then you’ll be lumped in as one of ‘em, unless you help us now.”
The story you have read is true—some of it, anyway. Consulting provided by former Edo machi bugyô Yamaguchi Naoki.