Daughter of the Sword
A Novel of the Fated Blades
Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.
But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.
The sword in Fuchida Shuzo’s bed was the oldest known of her kind, and he loved listening to her song.
A tachi in the shinogi–zukuri style, she was forged by the great master Inazuma. She lay now on Fuchida’s bed, nestled in his black silk sheets and framed in a rectangle of sunlight. The arch of her back was as graceful as any woman’s. Small waves ran the length of her blade, no bigger than clover petals, never wavering more than a centimeter from her razor edge. When he lay this close to her, Fuchida could see the grain of her forging, faint silver lines like wood grain in her shinogi–ji, the flat surface between her edge and curving spine. A train rattled by on the Marunouchi Line, distant enough that he could barely hear it, close enough that it drowned out the subtle ring his thumbnail made when he traced it along her ridge. The early evening rush of Tokyo traffic murmured through the open bedroom window, spoiling any chance of hearing her song.
He rose, careful not to disturb her, and walked naked to the window to close it. Beyond the glass stretched the crazed labyrinth of Shinjuku, a werewolf in urban form, biding its time until nightfall to unleash its full madness. Businesses stacked three and four high wallpapered their steel–and–glass faces with signs of neon and animated LEDs: pachinko parlors and noodle shops, nightclubs and strip clubs, Nova language schools and Sumitomo cash machines, shot bars and smartphone dealers. And somewhere beyond all that, there was a second Inazuma. Fuchida had spent fifteen years searching for it, and at last it was within reach. He could go and claim it at any moment. A voice deep within him cried out for it. He needed to get it now.
He silenced the voice through sheer force of will. This was no time to start indulging impatience. He knew where that road would lead. Better to close the window and close off his longing for the second sword.
The air blowing in was cool at this height, twenty–two stories above the street, and the heavy scent of moisture promised evening rain. Fuchida slid the window shut, watching his reflection shift in the glass. In this light he could see only his darkest parts: long black hair, eyes like black coffee, shadows under his pectoral muscles. The blues and blacks and purples of his tattoos traced a random spiderwebbing pattern down to the black triangle of pubic hair. There were darker parts to him, features not visible to those outside the window. Throats sliced open, women beaten, enemies buried in the concrete foundations of high–rises and public schools. Dark desires and darker deeds did not reflect in glass.
He looked down at his tattoos. Dragons and spiders crawled up his arms. A fiery buddha dominated his chest, sword and vajra in hand. The dragons and buddhas shed tears, every teardrop marking a kill. There were so many now that he’d lost count. He insisted on the traditional method for every tattoo, grateful for the discipline the hooks and hammers had drilled into him. With the second Inazuma so close, he needed every bit of that discipline not to rush out and grab it. It was said that the Inazuma blades changed the course of history. There was no telling what Fuchida could do with two of them.
For all the years he’d spent hunting the second sword, even Fuchida himself hadn’t known exactly how he would use it. Gut instinct had long assured him that with two Inazumas he could carve out his place in history, but it was only a few weeks ago that he finally understood how. It could only be fate: after fifteen years of searching, nothing; then, as soon as he discovered how to make his mark on the world, the second blade suddenly revealed itself to him. He and the swords were meant to be together. It could be no other way. He slipped back into bed with his beloved. She was beautiful beyond description. If not for that second sword, he felt he could lose hours just trying to put a name to her colors. The gleaming gray of her shinogi–ji might be called gunmetal today, but she was already a hundred and fifty years old by the time the Mongols first brought guns to Japanese shores. The pale silver of her tempering had no name at all; it was to be found only in the lining of clouds, and only then when the sun struck at just the right angle. She seemed to glow with her own light. No sonnet had ever described colors so pure; no love song had ever been sung of a woman more beautiful. The thought of lying with two such beauties was enough to make his heart race.
He’d taken to sleeping with her years ago, but couldn’t remember how long it had been since they’d started sleeping naked together. He did remember that he’d first done it as another way to test himself. Her blade was so sharp that if he dropped a tissue over her, its own weight would be enough to cut it in two. A bad roll in his sleep would push her deep into his flesh. Even if she did not kill him, there was hardly anywhere she could cut that would not spoil his tattoos. And he had no doubt that she would kill him if he gave her the opportunity. She’d killed men before, dozens of them. Ancient samurai had slain hundreds on her edge, but that was true of any number of swords. The beauty in Fuchida’s bed had a will of her own, and a murderous will at that. It was said that she’d killed any who professed to own her. It was said no man could master her. Fuchida Shuzo was the first to prove the legend wrong.
And soon he would forge a legend of his own. Two Inazumas. No one had ever owned two before. Even Master Inazuma himself had never been in the presence of two of his own blades; it was said that he forged but one at a time, devoting himself to it as a priest devoted himself to his god. All Fuchida had to do to claim his place in immortality was to claim the second sword.
And now that sword was so close that it was all Fuchida could do to stay in bed listening to his beautiful singer. With two fingers he caressed the whole length of her, his fingertips drawing a keening note from her as they ran along her tempering. His desire for her was no less for wanting the other sword. It was so close. The woman who owned it was only across town. She was a policewoman, an unlikely owner for such a treasure, and tracking the sword to her had been considerably harder than Fuchida could have imagined. Fifteen years, and now the sword was within his grasp. His breath quickened at the thought.
But he would not indulge that crying voice in his mind. It pleaded with him: he needed to get out of bed, get dressed, get the sword now. Fuchida silenced it. He would be disciplined about this. He would spend a final night alone with his blade, one last night with his exquisite beauty before he brought another into their home.
Killing the policewoman could wait until tomorrow.
It was exactly the opposite of a well–designed sting. Detective Sergeant Oshiro Mariko cursed herself for taking it, cursed Lieutenant Hashimoto for retiring, and cursed the new LT for taking a perfectly good plan and blowing it right to hell.
Mariko would have preferred to stake out the suspect’s apartment. There were only so many exits to cover in an apartment building, only so many places a perp could run. That was especially true in the kind of building a low–rent Tokyo pusher could afford to live in, and this Bumps Ryota was definitely low–rent. Mariko could see him now, reflected in the window of the okonomiyakirestaurant right in front of her nose. Even from this distance, she thought he walked as if his feet did not touch the ground. He held his arms close to his chest, one palm flat against his cheek as if trying to restrain a nervous tic or muscular spasm.
She should have said no. Hell, she’d tried to say no. She’d wanted to walk away as soon as the good plan hit the toilet. But something had drawn her back to this one, and it wasn’t just some vague sense of loyalty to Lieutenant Hashimoto. Her mother would have said that when a person feels compelled, that meant something was meant to be, but Mariko didn’t believe in all that destiny crap. She was a detective: she believed what the evidence supported believing. So with all the evidence pointing to a first–class fiasco, why hadn’t she said no? What made this case special?
Bumps paced to and fro around a low flower planter centered in one of the main intersections of the open–air mall. Nothing special about him. Nothing special about this place either. A framework of I–beams instead of walls, the beams painted the same pale blue as the bottom of a swimming pool. Mounted above them was a roof of translucent Plexiglas domes, giant versions of those eggs that pantyhose used to come in. Suspended below the huge half eggs were ranks upon ranks of glowing fluorescent tubes, giving everything below not one shadow but a host of thin overlapping ones. Bumps couldn’t have chosen a better place to be staked out by the police if he’d tried. No one on Mariko’s team would give even a moment’s thought to drawing down on him in a public mall. But Bumps’s position was better still, smack in the middle of a four–way intersection peppered with shoppers and a million little alleyways between all the shops. Even with a battalion Mariko couldn’t have put a man on every possible escape route, and with only two other officers for her sting, she couldn’t even cover the four cardinal directions. It was almost as if Bumps Ryota and this new Lieutenant Ko were on the same side.
Mariko’s okonomiyaki shop was on the southeast corner of the intersection. She smelled hoisin sauce and frying shrimp from within, and saw Bumps’s skinny little reflection pacing back and forth in the foreground of her own. Short spikes crowned her image in the plate glass—her hair was still wet from the rain outside—and her eyes looked strained and tired. As well they might, she told herself, given the worst sting operation of all time, but she nipped that thought right in the bud. She already got too little respect from the men on her team; there was no point in undermining her authority further by undermining herself.
She had a patrolman named Mishima about ten meters down the west corridor, sitting on a bench with a couple of shopping bags and looking for all the world like a tired, fat man waiting for his wife. In the north corridor she’d placed Toyoda in a sunglasses shop—a natural fit, since she’d never seen him without a pair of sunglasses propped in his close–cropped hair. Twenty meters past Toyoda the mall opened onto a dark street, traffic hissing by on the wet asphalt. Mariko had to trust Toyoda’s background as a soccer fullback would help him defend that corridor, because if Bumps got to the open street, catching him would become a whole new kind of nightmare. Every neon sign in this mall would linger as sunspots in her officers’ eyes, and a half–blind chase in traffic wasn’t Mariko’s idea of a winning strategy.
Again she cursed Hashimoto for retiring. Why couldn’t he have left one week later? She cursed herself too for not sticking with the original plan, even if that meant taking whatever crap Lieutenant Ko might have for her afterward. Better to turn her back on the whole operation than to try to do it half–assed.
Why hadn’t she just turned and walked? Her usual answer wouldn’t cut it this time. Yes, she had to prove herself to her commander, but she knew that would be true for the rest of her career. Yes, first impressions were important, but that was all the more reason not to take this assignment; it was as if Lieutenant Ko was setting her up for failure. And she’d gone along with it anyway. Why? For the umpteenth time she looked to her reflection for an answer: why did she feel compelled to take this sting?
“Sergeant, this is Two,” said Toyoda’s deep voice in Mariko’s Bluetooth. “I have a possible approaching the suspect now.”
Yet another flaw in the operation, Mariko thought. At ten minutes to ten, there were so few shoppers left that you could take a good guess at which ones were looking to score a hit. Bumps, in turn, could guess that the three people who never wandered more than a few paces from their positions might have been, oh, say, cops. And if a buyer didn’t come within the next ten minutes, the onlypeople left in the mall would be Bumps and Mariko’s team.
But Mariko managed to keep a lid on all such lamentations. Instead she said, “Come on, Two. A description might be helpful, don’t you think?”
“Tight little number. Orange hair. Fuck–me pumps.”
“Oh, I got her,” said Mishima. “Yeah, that’s real nice.”
“I don’t suppose I could bother you two to be professional, could I? ” Mariko winced as soon as she said it. These guys had been salivating over the air all night, but pissing them off now wouldn’t do any good. She needed them sharp.
“Possible has reached the suspect,” said Toyoda.
Mariko reached into the purse slung across her torso and withdrew a compact—one she never used except in circumstances like these. Flicking it open with a stubby thumbnail, she used it to look over her shoulder. There was the perp, talking to….Oh no. Saori.
Just like that, everything fell into a lower and hotter level of hell. Bumps would be done with his transaction in thirty seconds or less. Pull the trigger on the sting too early and he wouldn’t be guilty of anything. Pull it too late and she’d have no choice but to arrest him and Saori. Within her thirty–second window, she had another window of one, maybe two seconds where she could nail Bumps Ryota and still let Saori walk.
There was the other option too. She could choose not to pull the trigger at all. Let them go. Tell Ko his plan was a pooch screw from the get–go, then set up a new sting on Bumps and another buyer. Or just let Saori walk and then hit Bumps, hoping he was carrying enough to nail him on intent to distribute.
“On your toes, boys,” she said into the Bluetooth. “We go on my signal.”
Saori and Bumps were still talking. Saori’s hair was longer than Mariko remembered, dyed peroxide orange. Bumps had long hair too, shoulder length, straight pressed, and tawny like a lion’s. Both were bone skinny, their clothes hanging off them like sails from a mast in dead air. Their image in Mariko’s hand mirror trembled. It was hard to tell if either had passed anything to the other.
“What are we waiting for, Sergeant?”
“Zip it, Three. We don’t have a bust if he doesn’t sell her anything.”
There. Had their hands touched? In the trembling mirror it was hard to tell. Mariko turned around to get a better look. Bumps was definitely putting something into his jacket pocket. What about Saori? Mariko could only see her back. Saori’s hands were in front of her belly, her skeletally skinny elbows winging out on either side.
“Hell with it,” Mariko muttered. Then full volume, “Move, move, move!”
Bumps Ryota locked eyes with her. They were jumpy, his eyes, but despite the fact that he was amped, he froze in place for one full second before he bolted.
One second was enough time for Mariko to clear the heavy Taser from her belt line, not enough time to close within firing range. Bumps took off like a rabbit on speed.
Toyoda was on an intercept course with him. Mishima bore down on Saori, just on the fringe of Mariko’s peripheral vision. Bumps juked right and put a bench between himself and Toyoda. Instead of vaulting it, Toyoda went around. That was all the breakaway Bumps needed.
Mariko bounded over the bench, dashing past Toyoda and not sparing the breath to call him a jackass. She wasn’t going to catch Bumps. Five more strides and he’d be out of the dry neon mouth of the mall and into the slick, busy darkness of the streets.
Whether out of inspiration or desperation, Mariko couldn’t say, but she chucked the Taser. It wheeled end over end, almost in slow motion, and Mariko was sure she hadn’t put enough into the throw. The thing was heavy; it wasn’t going to make it. But then it hit Bumps in the base of the neck. He stutter–stepped, stumbled, regained his footing. It was enough.
Like so many others in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, Mariko had taken the department’s aikido course. In the heat of the moment, she couldn’t remember a single technique. She grabbed a fistful of Bumps’s stiff, tawny hair. Bumps kept running. She stopped.
In the next instant Bumps was on his ass. “Stay down,” Mariko said, panting, fumbling for her cuffs with her shaky, sweaty left hand.
One of those newer–model Toyotas hissed by, the kind that looked like a pregnant roller skate. A raindrop thwacked heavily on Mariko’s scalp. She felt it roll through the forest of her choppy hair, tracing a cold line down the back of her head toward the collar of her blouse. Overhead, the low–hanging clouds glowed white, the way they could only do in a city the size of Tokyo. Every building in sight was the same height, nine or ten stories before disappearing into the haze. The sole exception was the mall, with its roof like rows and rows of mannequin tits, the drumming of fat, heavy raindrops beating against them, loud as a low–flying 747 that wouldn’t leave Mariko’s airspace.
Bumps was still wheezing, his eyes pinched shut and all his yellow teeth visible, when Mishima and Toyoda approached with a handcuffed Saori. The sunglasses in Toyoda’s black hair were off–kilter, and Mishima had his tie undone, his jacket slung over one shoulder. A crowd of bystanders formed a wide semicircle, centered on Mariko as if choreographed that way, their formation stopping at the border between wet and dry pavement.
“Is it true?” said Toyoda. “Is she your sister?”
Mariko looked up at the glowing sky and the domes of Plexiglas. Rain pounded the mall’s roof, not half as loud as Mariko’s thundering heart. “Give her to me,” Mariko said.
“Wait!” Bumps said as Mariko passed him off. “I’m useful to you! I got information!”
“Sure you do,” said Mariko, then nodded for Mishima and Toyoda to leave. Both men stood their ground, their gazes flicking between Mariko and Saori. “That guy you’re holding is a suspect,” Mariko said. “Customarily we take them down to post and book them.”
Mishima’s chubby face sank, and Toyoda gave Mariko the evil eye, but at last they did as they were told. Mariko shook her head. She didn’t know what it would take to earn these boys’ respect, but apparently running down a fleeing perp single–handedly wasn’t sufficient.
“Miko,” Saori said, “you have to get me out of this.” Her teeth were like her pusher’s, gray where they were not yellow. She’d lost weight since Mariko had seen her last; her cheeks seemed hollow, her lips thin like an old woman’s. Her face was flushed, but not with shame; Mariko could only see indignance there.
“I don’t know how to help you anymore, Saori.”
The sallow face hardened. “Are you kidding? What are you doing, staking me out now? Those guys came out of nowhere.”
“Well, that makes one thing that’s gone right tonight.” Mariko’s laugh sounded forced even to her. “Shit, Saori, if you had any idea how bad this thing went down, you’d know how bad you’re tweaking.”
“I’m not tweaking.”
Mariko took Saori by the joint between the cuffs and gave her a gentle shove in the direction the other two had taken Bumps Ryota, toward the pair of squads they had waiting in the mall’s shipping dock. She hated being put in this position. Ever since Saori had started using, all Mariko had ever wanted to do was help. Saori was the reason she’d put in for Narcotics in the first place: to bust the shitheads who would sell to her sister, yes, but also to try to get an understanding of addiction itself. The only understanding she’d gleaned so far was that an addict had to hit rock bottom before recovery. Was getting arrested by her own sister rock bottom enough? Was Mariko helping at all? She couldn’t be sure.
As she ushered Saori along, she found the mall had become a breeding ground for shoppers, mostly high school girls still in uniform; their numbers seemed to have tripled in the last minute or so. Text messages had summoned them like a wizard’s incantation, exorcising them from every corner of the mall and drawing them all to this one place. Gawking faces passed judgment from every direction, and at least a dozen cell phones had their tiny black bug eyes trained on the fabulous Oshiro sisters. Within the hour every teenager in Tokyo would have received the image from a friend.
Saori fussed at her cuffs, twisting her bone–thin arms. “You know what, Miko? This is bullshit. You want to stake me out, fine. Just don’t lie about it. Be the overprotective bitch you’ve always been; just come right out and say it.”
“We were staking your pusher. It’s not my fault you came to buy tonight.”
“Whatever. I’m not even carrying.”
Mariko stopped. “Is that true?”
“Saori, did the other officers find anything on you?”
Mariko rolled her eyes. She didn’t know why she bothered asking questions anymore; when she was using, Saori would lie to anyone about anything. The only question now was, would she pat Saori down in front of the high schoolers and their phones, or could she find a quieter place?
The quieter place was on the opposite side of a tan steel service door, in a long yellow hallway whose fluorescent tube lights hummed and droned and flickered. As Mariko patted down Saori’s ribs and back and belly, the question she really wanted to ask was, Why are you making me do this? Tomorrow’s conversation with their mother was sure to be a hoot. Now that conversation would have to include Big Sister Miko picking on Poor Little Saori by searching her for contraband. No matter how bad things got, Saori always found a way to make them worse.
But this time, thankfully, she was clean. Mariko had to run her fingers over Saori’s underwear to make sure, and she wanted to smack Saori for putting her in a position to have to grope her own sister, but Mariko had pulled the trigger just right. They had Bumps and, owing as much to sheer luck as good judgment, they didn’t have anything on Saori.
“Do you have any idea how lucky you are?” Mariko said, pushing a brown service door open and ushering Saori through it. A vicious diatribe from Saori echoed throughout the long, narrow hallway, mostly in Japanese but with the choicest words in English. It had always been Saori’s favorite language for cursing. Mariko didn’t listen to a word of it. She was still thinking about fate. She’d had no way of knowing Saori was buying from Bumps, and yet she’d felt drawn to this case—and now, lo and behold, she was perfectly placed to save her family a lot of shame and grief. Mom would have said it was meant to be. Mariko still didn’t buy it, but neither could she deny the compulsion she’d felt.
She walked to the end of the hall, pushing Saori along in front of her. When she reached the door at the far end, she opened it and took Saori into the mall’s shipping and receiving room. It was a cavernous space, with undressed lightbulbs dangling from a ceiling high enough to admit a tractor–trailer. Two squads were parked in the loading dock just outside the huge open door. Bumps was already inside the nearest one. Mishima and Toyoda leaned against the driver’s–side doors, smoking, the lightbulbs gleaming like a string of stars in the sunglasses atop Toyoda’s head.
“Which one of you searched this suspect?” Mariko said.
Mishima and Toyoda looked at each other.
“Damn it, guys, you have to have a reason to put handcuffs on somebody.” She fished for her key, and with a few clicks Saori was rubbing her red, unshackled wrists together.
“Mishima,” Mariko said, pointing at Bumps in the backseat, “take him back to post and process him. Toyoda, go with him. By the time I get there, I want to see a report on my desk explaining why you weren’t in position to take down our suspect and why you left me without backup in running him down.”
Toyoda scowled at her as if she’d called his mother a whore. “Come on, Oshiro, there were only three of us. I had to leave somebody without backup.”
“That’s Detective Oshiro, and yes, you could have left Mishima without backup. Instead, you chose to help him cuff a woman who wasn’t fleeing, a woman who ultimately can’t even be charged with anything—”
“A woman who’s your sister.”
“That’s beside the point. You showed bad judgment tonight—all night long, as far as I’m concerned—and I’m giving you a chance to write down your side of it before I talk to Lieutenant Ko about your suspension. So give me a heartfelt ’thank you’ and get the hell out of here.”
Toyoda’s scowl deepened. “What about her?” he said.
Mariko turned to look Saori in the eye. Quietly, somberly, she said, “I’m taking her to detox. Again. Unless she wants to face charges of conspiracy to traffic narcotics.”
The charge would never stick, but Saori didn’t have to know that. She looked at Mariko, then at the floor. “Fine,” Saori said, “let’s go.”
Tomorrow’s conversation with their mother was looking better and better all the time.
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