Mariko Kobe wasn’t from Prince Edward Island. She was from Osaka, except she wasn’t. She had lived in the big city but was from a small village on the coast of Wakayama prefecture, near the Nachi Falls. The land in all directions was Japan’s fruit kingdom. It was where plums, kiwifruit, and persimmon were cultivated. It was mountainous in parts. The place was more-or-less a peninsula. There were massive ancient cedars on the hillsides that day and night refreshed the fresh air.
Nature-worship and Shinto were on all sides of the hillsides. It was known as the “holy ground where the gods dwell.” The spirits of the departed, so long as they were devout, were believed to inhabit the forest. Mariko had never bumped into a spirit and didn’t want to. She wasn’t devout, but there was no sense in taking chances.
Her grandfathers had both been farmers, her father was a farmer, and her brothers were all growing up to be farmers. She was the last child, a mistake they called her, and the only girl, which was another mistake. She was the only one of the family who ever left the village for greener pastures. Her mother dropped a dozen when she told her she was moving to Osaka and enrolling in college. Her father flew into a rage and forbade her to go. He kept his eyes on her and locked her up at night, but in the end, there was no stopping her.
Her home was on the Kii Peninsula. The capital of the prefecture was the whereabouts of Wakayama Castle, set on top of a hilltop with city views. There are more than one hundred temples scattered among the peaks of Mount Kōya, where Shingon Buddhism is headquartered. All the rooms of her home except the kitchen and common room were tiny. Everybody had their own futons on the floor. All the doors were sliding doors.
Mariko’s family and everybody she knew were conservative and hard-working. She was hard-working but not conservative. Her father ruled the roost. His word was law. He had served in the Imperial Army during World War Two, seeing ferocious combat during his tour of duty during the last year of the war, and somehow miraculously surviving. Most of the men in his infantry regiment had either been killed or committed suicide. By the time his time came he was too sick to do anything. He was captured by riflemen escorting flamethrower troops and brought back to life in a U. S. Army field hospital. After that, although he had no use for Americans, he always bit his tongue whenever they were being talked about. He never said a bad word about the western ocean people.
He was a hard man, and the back of his hand was as hard as the rest of him. He hit her mother whenever he thought it was necessary or when simply lost his temper. Once Mariko grew up and was in her teens, he did the same to her. She never got used to it, although she learned what worked and didn’t work and he hit her less often the older she got. The last time he hit her, three sharp slaps to the face, was when she told him she was leaving home. “No, you’re not,” he said, his face in her face. After that she knew for sure she was leaving and never coming back.
She left early one morning without saying goodbye to anybody. She walked to the train station in a fog and bought a one-way ticket to Osaka. The train went past the Wakayama Castle on its way north. By then the fog had lifted. She turned her head and watched the castle get smaller and smaller until it disappeared behind her.
She attended Baika Women’s University which was set on a small hill in the north of Osaka prefecture. The school started up in 1878. She liked the way the grounds smelled, plum and cherry blossoms and Chinese hibiscuses. It was a Christian-based school, but she didn’t let it bother her. She read the Bible when she had to and threw it away after she graduated. “It is full of nonsense,” she told her friends. She studied English and by the time she was done could have moved to Kansas and made herself understood.
During her senior year she read “Anne of Green Gables” in one of her classes. She loved the book, especially the plucky heroine, and found communion with the lay of the land. The summer after she graduated, taking a month off from everything, she read all of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books featuring the redheaded girl. She discovered Anne was big in Japan. It hadn’t been that way before World War Two. Almost nobody in the country knew anything about the book until the day Loretta Shaw left the island nation in 1939.
Loretta was a grammar school teacher in New Brunswick when she signed up with the Missionary Society of the Church of England of Canada and was sent to Japan. She taught at a school for girls in Osaka. She became head of reading and writing at the Christian Literature Society of Japan. She thought books were windows on the world. She looked through them day and night.
Hanako Muraoka was from a hard-luck family of tea merchants. She left home at ten and went to a school in Tokyo founded by the Methodist Church of Canada. Her parents didn’t know anything about John Wesley but were glad to see her go. It meant one less mouth to feed and less talk about foreign beliefs. The neighbors had been talking and they didn’t like the gossip. Hanako got an English-based education. She married a man who operated a printing company, but it went bust after the Kanto earthquake in 1923. Everybody was too busy rebuilding to read a word of anything.
When Loretta and Hanako met at the Christian Literature Society of Japan in the early 1930s, they hit it off and started the magazine “Children of Light” together. Hanako hosted a radio show as well, explaining current events to kids. She was known as Aunty Radio. The year World War Two officially blew current events all to hell Loretta gave Hanako a copy of “Anne of Green Gables” and went back to Canada. After Nippon attacked Pearl Harbor the Methodist missionaries in Japan all left the country, too. During the war Hanako secretly translated “Anne of Green Gables.” She made sure nobody knew what she was doing. It would have meant prison since her countrymen and the gaijin were at each other’s throats.
After the war Hanako convinced a publisher to take a chance on Anne. When the book was published in 1952 it was called “The Red-Haired Anne.” It was a runaway best seller in no time flat. A native college professor said, “Japanese women admire Anne Shirley’s feistiness as an antidote to the passivity instilled in them.” Anne knew her way around passivity. Many Nip gals liked that.
The book was distributed to Japanese libraries run by the U. S. State Department. In the 1970s, it was added to the country’s school curriculum. In 1986 the national obsession with Anne grew some more with the broadcast of Kevin Sullivan’s TV mini-series. A businessman with a brainstorm imported a boatload of potatoes from Prince Edward Island, believing that since they came from Anne’s Land, they would sell like hot cakes. They sold like hot cakes.
Mariko was working two part-time dead-end jobs after graduation when she got the chance to be the last-minute fill-in translator for a tour group going to Prince Edward Island to see ‘Anne’s Land’ for themselves. At the end of her second go-around, she redeemed the flight back half of her airline ticket and stayed in Charlottetown. She found a room in a boarding house and a job as a waitress. She met Flynn Murphy, Conor’s younger brother, at a downtown pool hall.
One nine ball in the corner pocket led to another, and when Flynn asked if she would move to North Rustico, to move in with him at what was Sandy’s Surfside Inn, and help him restore it, she said, “Yes, I do. Just don’t think of me as a geisha girl.”
“Geisha girl?” Flynn asked. “What’s that?”
She was filleting haddock at the kitchen table at Sandy’s when the Montreal killers burst into the house. It was raining. What was left of Hurricane Dean was all around them. The side door opened then slammed shut, there were angry voices, a grunt, and a thud. The two killers walked into the kitchen. They both had guns in their hands. The man looked at her. The woman kept her eyes on the living room.
“You watch her,” Louise said. “I’ll deal with what’s left of the dumbass in the living room.” What she meant was the living room was going to become the dying room if Conor didn’t tell her what she wanted to know once he came to. She had pistol-whipped him. He had been on the sofa watching the news about the storm on TV. He was just coming back from the inky darkness at the bottom of the well.
“Is there anybody else in the house?” Jules asked, his gun casual as a lollipop. Mariko shook her head side to side without saying a word. Flynn was at the hardware store in town. The haddock she had been filleting lay quiet as a mouse on the kitchen table. When she was a girl Mariko shucked oysters and gutted fish at home. Those were some of her daily chores. She got good at it. She could snap open an oyster in no time flat, with or with a dishtowel. She hardly ever poked her off hand, rarely drawing blood.
The Montreal killers Louise and Jules lived within blocks of each other in the city’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, but never saw each other unless it was related to their work. They fought like cats and dogs whenever they were together. It was an uneasy peace between them the rest of the time. But when it came to business, they were all business.
Jules sat down opposite Mariko. The back of his hand lay on the table and the gun lay there like a lazy hunk of baloney, like it didn’t have a care in the world. “Put that knife in the sink,” he said. The pot of clam chowder on the stove simmered. Mariko always liked the smell of chowder. When the man turned his head, glancing at a sound in the living room, Mariko in a flash lifted her fish knife and drove it into the man’s open palm. The force of the thrust drove the knife through his hand and nearly a half inch into the wood table top. Blood gushed out of the wound and the man jumped, still stuck to the table, his chair and the table going sideways and taking him with it. The gun went flying and skittered across the floor. Mariko grabbed for it.
“I’ll kill you, you fucking chink bitch,” the man roared, crazed, spit flying, not believing what had happened, getting to his feet, grabbing for her with his free hand.
Mariko shot twice at Jules, pointblank, at his face, the gun head high, one bullet whizzing harmlessly through an earlobe, the other bullet hitting his right eye, and exploding out the back of his head. Bits of his brain and shards of his skull were catapulted into the soup in the pot on the stove top. Jules went backwards, his legs like an Ice Capades comic trying to get a grip on ice. When he toppled over, he took the kitchen table with him, one of its legs breaking.
“What the hell is happening in there,” Louise yelled from the living room.
From Mariko’s point-of-view it was all happening in slow motion. She watched the table leg crack and splinter. She watched the dead on his feet Quebecois man lurch and stumble and crash to the floor, the table going to pieces under him. Louise lunged into the kitchen. She fired her gun at Mariko. The bullets went past her head. She watched them go by. She could hear them hiss. Mariko raised the gun in her hand and pulled the trigger. There was an explosion. The bullet buried itself in the door jamb. Louise jumped back. Mariko pulled the trigger again and there was another explosion. The bullet flew into the ceiling. Jerking away, Louise shot blindly into the kitchen, bullets going every which way. She ran out of bullets and ran out of the house.
Conor stumbled into the kitchen. Jules was dead on the floor, his head half gone, oozing a puddle of blood. Mariko had backed up to a wall, her back to it. Her outstretched arm still had the killer’s gun in its hand. Conor lowered Mariko’s arm and put the gun on a windowsill.
“Are you all right?” he asked looking her over. She looked all right. Mariko shook her head from side to side. “The soup is ruined,” she lamented.
“Call 911,” Conor said and turned to go.
“Where are you going?” Mariko asked.
“I’m going after the she wolf.”
“No, don’t go, wait for the police.”
“You wait here for them. I’ll be back soon.”
“She could be anywhere, where you won’t see her,” Mariko said. “She’ll see you coming. Don’t go.”
“I know where she’s going,” Conor said. “Stay here.”
Conor knew whoever the hell she was wasn’t going anywhere on the ferry. He knew she knew she would never get off the island that way. There was only one way for her to go and there was only one way of doing it. He walked into the dining room, opened a drawer, and lifted his great-great-grandfather’s Beaumont-Adams handgun out. There was a moldy cardboard box of shells. The percussion revolver held five rounds. He pushed five cartridges into the cylinder. He was only going to need one of them, but the bullets were old, and he thought it best to load the gun to the gills in case there was a misfire.
Snaps watched Conor run out of the house, like he had watched a madwoman run out of the house a minute earlier. He had seen her and some man skulking around earlier and then sneaking into the house. He was laying on his stomach in old hay in the loft of the barn and meant to stay there. He didn’t like the rain, or the gunshots, or everyone running around like there was something out to get them.
Conor ran to his Buick GNX. He wasn’t altogether steady. His head hurt. The gash across his forehead was still bleeding, but he had made a headband with a handkerchief and none of it was getting in his eyes. The car came to life, and he drove towards the harbor. He was sure the woman was going to try to steal a lobster boat and try to get back to Montreal upstream on the St. Lawrence River. He knew some of the fishermen never took their keys out of the ignition and all Louise had to do was find one of those boats. Once she was out on open water in the rain and overcast she would be nearly impossible to find.
He drove up then down Church Hill Rd., took a left at Harbourview Dr., and stopped at the North Rustico Harbor. There were 40-some lobster boats. The boats were being lashed by the rain and wind but were lashed tight and not going anywhere calamitous. Conor parked in front of Doiron Fisheries, got out of the car, and stuck the gun between skin and the waistband of his pants.
He hadn’t gone a dozen steps before he was soaked to the skin. He hadn’t crept up to more than a half dozen boats before he saw who he was after. Louise was hunched over fiddling at the console inside the open cabin. She pressed the start button. The engine of the lobster boat she was stealing turned over. She tossed the lines aside. Conor waited until her back was turned again before he noiselessly hopped into the back of the boat. He stayed behind a stack of blue bins. Louse looked over her shoulder repeatedly. Conor stayed where he was. The boat was out of the harbor and on the open ocean in less than five minutes.
When Flynn Murphy got back from the hardware store, he parked and walked into the house, glad to get out of the rain. Snaps watched him approvingly. Here was somebody who didn’t seem to have gone crazy. When he heard Mariko crying, and Flynn running back outside and racing away in his car, he realized he was wrong. Everybody on Murphy’s Cove had gone crazy. He curled up, wrapping his tail around him, and called it a day.