Jigen Daisuke drowned the white rage that flooded his veins with shot after cheap shot of whiskey. He was in Clearwater, Florida in early March, when the air was still cool enough to be comfortable in his suit and fedora. He didn’t notice the weather though, or the college girls on spring break or the music that was decidedly not his taste. The headline in the newspaper that greeted him that morning kept slipping into his mind.
Thief Arsene Lupin III Strikes Again.
He swallowed another slug of liquor, willing the burn to let him to forget.
Six weeks ago, Arsene Lupin III died.
No one believed it at first. It was another job, and a stupid one too. A music box made of amber and gold was the target. It was worthless by itself, but Lupin kept insisting that it was a piece of a puzzle—a puzzle that would make them a fortune.
Other criminals agreed with Lupin. There was a mafia connection, Jigen knew. He recognized those tactics.
He was too slow.
He was too far away to help when Lupin fell into Boston’s frigid waterways, too preoccupied to fish his best friend and partner of many years out of the river.
No body was found. Just a tattered and muddy red jacket with a bullet hole going through the left shoulder.
A stupid way to end. Lupin didn’t even leave them a pretty corpse to bury, like he’d promised.
The three of them, Jigen, Fujiko, and Goemon, split up not long after. Fujiko was strangely calm when she left. Goemon…his departing declaration fizzled in the air long after he was gone.
Jigen found another job. Protection work made him easy money for minimal effort, and he got the side benefit of shooting people once in a while. It was what brought him to Florida in the first place, which suited him fine. Leave the late season snow to the permanent residents, not those passing through.
That was when he saw the headline. That was when he read the article, detailing that this was the second heist in two weeks, the first happening a month after the fateful day in late January. That was when he knew an anger deeper than he’d known for a very long time. If the man in the headline really was Lupin, he’d better have a good reason for not calling Jigen or any of the others. He’d better damn well have a good reason.
The night drew forward.
“Hey, man. Are you okay to go home?”
Jigen pulled the brim of his hat lower. “I’m fine,” He grumbled to the stranger, “Now go away.”
The stranger didn’t leave. Jigen caught a glimpse of green when he glanced sideways. “With that many drinks? You don’t seem that fine.”
The stranger bowed to get a better view. “You’re not fine, are you Jigen-chan?”
Jigen leapt out of his chair at the appellation, and bent the stranger in a choke hold over the bar. “Only one man calls me that.”
He got a good look at the stranger’s face. Wide brown eyes stared up at him behind wide framed glasses, startled and afraid. ”L-lupin?” Jigen asked, half to himself in disbelief.
Impossible. Closer inspection proved the man to be different. His hair, though similar in color to that of the departed thief, was an unruly, disheveled mess. There was also stubble on his chin—something Lupin would never tolerate in himself.
A quick check proved to Jigen that the other man wasn’t armed.
If Jigen noticed people staring at them, he didn’t acknowledge it. “Who are you,” he growled at the man, “and how do you know that name?”
“P-paul Sernine!,” The man gasped. “And what name? I just said that you didn’t look like you were okay, man.”
“Paul Sernine…” That was acceptable.
Jigen released the stranger. Paul gasped and choked as he recovered. It was too his credit that he didn’t complain.
Jigen returned to his whiskey. “You should go,” he said, none too kindly.
“With due respect…no.”
Jigen looked over at Paul who, though pale from oxygen deprivation, had an oddly familiar look of determination in his eyes. “I couldn’t call myself human if I left a depressed guy like you alone for the night.”
Depressed? That was new.
Jigen chuckled into his whiskey. “Haaah. I guess you have a point there.”
The two sat in companionable silence for the rest of the evening, soaking in the oddly bouncy music that tried to break through the bleak mood.
Jigen drank until his world went black.
His head was pounding when he awoke, and for a moment he considered shooting all six bullets in his magnum at the obnoxiously bright sun. He didn’t want to waste bullets, though.
Jigen didn’t know where he was. He was lying on an old couch with red reupholstered cushions in a room that was decidedly not the one he was paying for. The blanket that was draped over him was too plaid and too shabby, and the overall style of the living room (there was a tv; it had to be a living room) was too barren—and obviously lacking a woman’s touch.
It also felt too new.
He pulled out a cigarette as he stood, thinking that maybe that would clear his head as he found a way out. It was pulled from his lips before he even had a chance to light it.
Paul Sernine, the man from the night prior, brushed passed the gunman on his way to the porch. “No smoking in here,” he said mildly, “it breaks the rules on my lease.”
A sports drink was tossed to Jigen before he could respond. It was blue.
“You’ll want that. It has vitamins, electrolytes…good stuff. Yeah.”
Jigen looked from the bottle to the man. With his mind clear, he can see where he had made his mistake last night. Although he had lanky limbs and features similar to Lupin’s, Jigen also knew that the thief was pretty plain looking overall. If it weren’t for his taste in bright clothing and his ego, Jigen was pretty sure that Lupin wouldn’t be noticed. The biggest difference was in character.
There was no guile in the stranger he met last night. There was no mischief in his eyes. He seemed instead to be like those wide eyed college grads, whose hopes and dreams for the future had yet to be shattered by the grim fist of reality.
Given the state of his living quarters, Jigen assumed that the stranger also had a poorly paying job and loans that were far heavier than he realized.
What a poor, stupid guy.
“Paul,” Jigen said as he donned his hat. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Hm? Like I told you last night, I couldn’t call myself human if I left a depressed guy like you alone.” The serious puppy face Paul had turned into a sheepish grin. “Besides, I didn’t want to have it on my conscience if I caught wind of a guy dying on some of the nearby hotel staff overnight because the poor sap had a few too many shots.”
“I see.” Jigen set the sports drink aside. “Since you’ve ‘adopted’ me, you don’t happen to have any food around, do you?”
“Do canned ravioli and instant noodles count?”
Jigen sighed as he watched the man dash off into the kitchen and start throwing open cupboards. He didn’t know why he even bothered.
“What time is it?” Jigen asked, not seeing a clock anywhere.
“Ah—“ Paul dug himself out of the mess he was making. “Noon-forty-three.”
Noon-forty-three? “Wait. It’s that late already?”
A can of ravioli slammed onto the counter. “You have a date?”
Jigen remembered the article that led him to being in Paul’s apartment in the first place. Somehow, a note from the thief ended up in the hands of the journalists publishing. “I’ll be taking the diamond pendant that’s being kept at the Fort Harrison Hotel at midnight, Sunday. –Lupin III”
“Yeah, actually. I do.”
If smashing in the face of the Lupin in the headlines with the butt of his magnum was a date.
Paul pulled himself from the wreckage he made and leaned back against the counter, idly spinning the can of ravioli around with his hand. The silence lasted too long, it made Jigen uncomfortable. The gunman watched as the stranger adjusted his glasses. “This…’date.’ Does it have anything to do with the headlines yesterday, Mr. Daisuke Jigen?”
Jigen’s frown deepened. “How do you know that name?” The demand, though soft, was rougher than Jigen intended.
Paul was unphased. “It’s a matter of public record, Mr. Jigen. The ICPO has the pictures and basic information of you and your colleagues posted on their website. There’s also a number to call if any of the criminals posted are spotted.”
“…And are you going to call?” Jigen kept his hand near his magnum, just in case.
Paul turned around, a sheepish grin on his face. “Nah. I’m a freelance reporter with a minor in criminal psych…and I kind of became a fan after reading through the case files a couple of years ago.”
Jigen’s assumption had been correct, then. Mountain of debt, with a job that was too crappy to pay it off. He pulled his hat down. “Tch. You need better taste in your idols.”
A little giggle erupted from the man. “Haaah. I guess you’re right. Mom and Dad always did say I was stupid like that. I end up liking the bad guys more than the good guys in movies. But…you and your friends don’t seem like you’re all that bad.”
“Just because we don’t ‘seem all that bad’ doesn’t mean that we’re not.” Jigen muttered darkly. The adoration of a ‘fan’ wasn’t what Jigen wanted to deal with first thing in the morning, especially with a hangover clouding his judgment. “Keep your ravioli, kid,” Jigen said.
“Hey, where are you going?” Paul asked, scrambling after the gunman, his avalanche of pans and cans left strewn on the floor.
“To get food,” Jigen said. “Real food, not this canned crap you have here.”
He opened the door, but caught sight of the man visibly deflating in a reflection on the window. Jigen sighed, knowing he was going to regret this later. “You coming?”
“So, what are you going to do?”
It was a casual question asked between bites of a greasy fast food hamburger. The two men stood at the end of Pier 60, idly leaning on the barrier and watching college kids skim the waves below. Jigen, enjoying his first cigarette since the night before, didn’t bother to ask for clarification.
He paused for a long moment before answering Paul. “…why do you want to know?”
Another sheepish smile. “Academic curiosity?”
Good enough. Jigen decided to flip the tables. “Well, why don’t you tell me what you think, Mr. Criminal Psych?”
Paul gave him a wide eyed, stupid look, as if he were asking ‘who, me?’ Jigen doffed his hat and silently nodded.
Paul took another bite of his burger.
“The note said midnight Sunday, right? At least, that’s what was published in the newspaper. But…that would technically make it Monday, right? So…maybe the intent was to strike at 12:00 AM on Sunday…which would mean that something is happening tonight. Right?”
Jigen had those same thoughts. Whoever the person was, Lupin or some imitator, the thought process was too easy to figure out. Almost no leaps in logic were necessary to make the connection. “What else do you think?”
Picking the reporter’s brain might prove useful later.
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
“Tch.” This wasn’t a quid pro quo.
It was Zero Sum.
“Okay, okay.” Paul raised his hand in an open palmed declaration of surrender. “That diamond mentioned in the note…I don’t know what it is, but there’s been a lot of people coming into town lately. A high profile magician is holding a stunt next week at the beach. Maybe one of the people has a lot of money or something? Enough to afford some really fancy looking jewelry?
“But why wear it here? This is just a beach town. There aren’t any special, fancy places that warrant diamonds.” Paul gave a lopsided shrug and took another bite of his burger. “Without more info, I have no idea.”
Jigen could second that thought. “Tell me more about this magician,” He said.
Paul blinked at him. “I don’t see what that has to do with this, but okay…
“Let’s see. I think she’s a local performer who calls herself ‘The Wizard’ on stage. No one around here knows her real identity-- she, ah, wears a mask. She is a street side performer who usually hops around the region to where big events are happening, although she favors Clearwater Beach on Saturday nights, from what I hear. She was here last week, anyway.”
Another lopsided shrug. “I don’t see why it’s important,” Paul said. He finished his burger.
“And the stunt?”
Jigen frowned around his cigarette, quietly willing himself not to snap at the man. The look of wide eyed, innocent stupidity was the only reason Jigen didn’t just leave it at that. That, and a feeling deep in his gut which he was certain he couldn’t trust. “The stunt that this ‘wizard’ is doing next week,” He said, picking his words carefully. His head still hurt, and the fast food had done nothing to make him feel better. At least he could smoke.
“Oh!” Paul laughed at himself. “Of course! Guess I was kinda dumb there, huh?”
A stern look from Jigen calmed the man down.
“Right. On track. There’s this building on the beach, a really old hotel, and it’s due to be demolished next week. The Wizard is just the latest in a long line of performers, and they’ve made Clearwater their base for the last three generations. She pulled some strings, and the city is allowing the building’s destruction to happen on her terms.
“Apparently she’s going to risk life and limb to get out of the building as it falls down around her. Sounds like a dangerous stunt to me, but at least the locals are enjoying the profits, right?”
It wasn’t Jigen’s place to make commentary about the local economy, but even he could tell that much of the infrastructure in the region hadn’t had any major development since the 70s. It was only noticeable outside of the metropolitan areas, which Jigen had become familiar with over the last week.
“Right.” Paul tossed his wrapper away. “For a guy who’s so quiet, you certainly have a lot of questions,” He said.
“Sometimes it’s better to ask than to just talk for the sake of talking.”
Paul looked away, processing those words. “Huh,” he said, absently rubbing his shoulder as he thought. “I guess you have a point there.” A quick smile, “the quiet ones usually do.”
Jigen let out a short hum, noncommittally. He was listening. “…hey.”
Paul glanced over, questions in his eyes.
“Did you hurt your shoulder recently?” Jigen had noticed the man favoring it throughout the day. A half hearted shift in position here, an absent minded touch there. It was enough to spark a curiosity.
“Ah…” Paul leaned back, and reached for his own pack of cigarettes with a bitter smile on his face. “I plead the fifth.”
Another noncommittal grunt. Jigen quietly made a note not to use Zero Sum as a conversational tactic in the future.
Night still fell quickly in March. Although the temperature had been warming steadily over the last week, there was still enough of a chill on the sea breeze that Jigen was glad to have his jacket. He settled himself deeper into the driver’s seat of the Fiat 500, lit another cigarette, and waited.
It was at 10:30pm that Jigen noticed activity. A police car discreetly parked alongside of the Fort Harrison Hotel, and a pair of fully uniformed officers entered. Jigen was morbidly satisfied that the police had thought of the same thing that Mr. Criminal Psych had. He had only been there an hour and a half himself, having finally managed to ditch Paul Sernine back at the beach-- the man talked too much for Jigen’s taste, and it didn’t help that he was feeling less sociable than usual.
Jigen almost thought nothing of it until he saw another car arrive separately, about twenty minutes later. A man stepped out of the car, and Jigen pulled the brim of his hat downward, burrowed further into the seat when he recognized the man.
It was Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the ICPO. No wonder the local police were on top of this. The bullheaded detective probably heard of the first incident and, after pulling as many strings as was absolutely necessary, hopped on the first flight he found and arrived as soon as he could.
Even at the distance Jigen had parked at, fully a block away, he could tell that Zenigata was fuming. The detective disappeared inside the building, followed by a small entourage of uniformed and plainclothes officers. Jigen huffed and settled back to enjoy the light breeze through the open windows as he observed all of this. At the very least, some of his work might be done for him.
The entire squad plus Zenigata was escorted out.
Jigen puffed thoughtfully on his cigarette. So much for that plan.
Over the course of the next hour he saw the police steadily gathering around the building—although it seemed like they weren’t allowed to enter, there were apparently no rules about them hanging around the premises. The operation was obvious: they wanted to prevent anyone from entering or exiting the hotel. If a breech were made, it wouldn’t be without notice.
The tense quiet shattered at 11:47. A fire alarm went off within the hotel. Jigen took advantage of the ensuing crush of people exiting the building. The high pitched electronic screech was enough to make even the steadiest of minds jump, and people rush without a prior announcement of a drill. No one noticed the cool gunman sidestep the throng and discreetly enter.
Jigen didn’t know what he was looking for, exactly, but his gut told him that he would know it when he saw it. His primary goal was to catch this fake Lupin or, failing that, take care of the man himself. He wasn’t a vengeful man. But, you don’t fuck with his friends, living or dead. Even the dead deserve their respect, after all.
He waited for the rush in the halls to ebb before he slinked in. If there were cameras, if they noticed him, he didn’t care. He would deal with the consequences as they occurred.
A hand reached out and grabbed his arm—in seconds Jigen had his magnum drawn, ready to fire… at the wide eyed, dumb face that belonged to Paul Sernine.
“Jesus,” Jigen breathed, “What the hell are you doing here, Criminal Psych?” He withdrew, holstering his revolver.
Paul breathed. “I remembered something I forgot to tell you,” he said. “Stupid, I know. I should have just let you go…”
“Spill it,” Jigen ordred shortly. He wasn’t so stupid that he didn’t notice Paul dressed like the hotel’s other inhabitants, and clean shaven for the first time since they met. Maybe scruffy wasn’t his style after all.
“…Did you see the bridge that connected this building with the one across the street?”
Jigen had. He pointedly stared at the man instead of affirming or denying.
“Heh. Right. That’s a big center for some that religion or whatever that’s become popular lately among the celebrities. What was it called, Scientia Libere or something? It’s some kind of HQ. I don’t know if it’s regional, national, or not.
“I feel kind of stupid for forgetting that.”
“So,” Jigen said, “you risked life and limb to get in here to tell me that, even though you knew something was going to be happening?” The guy really was stupid.
“I pulled the alarm,” Paul said meekly, “and, if it’s a weapon you’re concerned about…” He discreetly patted his side, indicating his piece. “It’s legal to carry one concealed in Florida as long as you have valid license.”
Jigen sighed. There was nothing he could do for the man. Let him get killed, if that was his plan. “Thanks,” He said, “but don’t expect me to help you if you get in trouble.”
The man gave him a shit-eating smile. “I won’t!” He hiked a heavy looking tote bag onto his uninjured shoulder. Jigen was curious, but realized that he really didn’t want to know what Paul felt was necessary enough to drag around while being a tag-along on an interruption mission.
Jigen took point. Even with as helpful as Paul was trying to be, he was still like a puppy that loved being underfoot. Even though he said he had a gun, Jigen didn’t know his skill level or comfort with it. He didn’t want to rely on a goofy stranger in a firefight.
They barely made any progress when the power went out.
Jigen cursed under his breath. “Criminal Psych. Do you know anything else about this place?”
There was a nervous laugh in response. “Nope. Sorry. I don’t make it a point to understand cults.”
Another curse. Maybe he should just push the man out the window himself. Jigen chose to breath instead. “Follow me,” he ordered shortly, “and don’t wander off.”
Not that Jigen would know if the man did. The carpets in the hotel were better than the mass production berber that had become commonplace in recent decades. The man also stepped so lightly that it was surprising, especially considering his foolish nature and cargo.
There were other things to worry about. Jigen heard it before he saw it—and he didn’t need to see it at all. Hearing Zenigata’s booming voice above the din of voices both outside of and within the building was all that Jigen needed to know. The local police squad that the Inspector worked with was storming the building.
Jigen saw something that Zenigata, the police and their vigilant search didn’t see.
One of their own had broken away.
The person was furtive, but not enough. He didn’t even bother looking for anyone else in the hallway as he divested himself of his hat and police jacket. The familiar silhouette was all Jigen needed to see.
Magnum was drawn and aimed for the second time in five minutes. “Lupin!” Jigen barked, loud enough for the man to hear. There was a click as he readied his gun.
The copycat stopped, and turned around. Even with just the streetlights filtering in through the windows, Jigen saw that grin. The man reached into the pockets of his jacket, and Jigen’s spine stiffened in anticipation of what was to come. “
There was an explosion, and blinding light. It was a flash bomb, a diversion. Jigen’s vision took too many seconds too long to clear. The copycat Lupin was gone by the time he could see again.
Jigen swore. He looked around the space for his companion. Nothing. Paul Sernine disappeared too.
No choice but to give chase to the slippery bastard. He would worry about the goofball later.
Jigen dashed off into the darkness, straining his ears and following instinct alone. He knew his partner better than anyone else could claim, knew the thief’s habits and tricks. His instincts drove him toward the stairwell, upward.
Instincts rarely proved themselves wrong.
They crossed paths again on the top level, eleven stories above the ground, in one of the penthouse suits that must have been rented to the wealthiest of the hotel’s patrons back when it was first built in 1920s. Magnum was aimed at its target. Only their heavy breathing and the cold click of steel filled the silence.
The thief was smart enough to lift his hands into the air without Jigen needing to order it. The gunman chuckled at the thought. “At least you’re that smart,” he growled. “Now…who are you, really? I’d like to know the name of the man who is trying to steal my best friend’s identity.”
The man slowly turned to face Jigen. A flicker caught the gunman’s eye—the Lupin copycat already had the jewel in question, and wasn’t even attempting to hide it. The man made a face, like he didn’t understand Jigen, and shrugged. The hands, held up in surrender, suddenly tossed the jewel.
It was a second, but enough of a distraction. In the time it took for Jigen to catch the jewel, the thief had drawn a gun, ready and aimed.
Neither of them had a chance to fire.
There was another sound, the creaking of an old door, and a flurry of fabric and bodies. A tote bag was thrown mercilessly at the copycat with an anticlimactic thump. The copy fell, a heap of clothes on top of him.
“You know,” a familiar voice said, “you have pretty good style, for a two-bit performer and impressionist, but I have to say…red is just so passé anymore!” There was an undertone of amusement at this declaration, and a man stepped out of the closet.
His jacket was different, his hair was obviously slicked back, and his hands trembled on the semiautomatic he carried, but there was no mistaking who it was.
Arsene Lupin III ran a hand over his head, as if fastidiously making sure that his hair stayed in place. “I think black is more in style anymore,” He said, with an open theatrical gesture that drew attention to his own attire. Indeed, he was wearing a black sport jacket instead of the familiar red. “But, that’s not to say that you have bad taste. You’re just obviously out of date, my dear.”
“Lupin,” Jigen spoke up, his revolver still aimed at the copy but his eyes on the man who just didn’t want to shut up. “Be honest. Is that really you?”
The thief laid eyes on him, and the smile that grew was full of mischief. “Jigen-chan,” he drawled, “It’s been a while.”