This work of fiction is inspired by characters and screenplay of Tokyo Movie Shinsha's (TMS) animated TV series "Cat's Eye", which in turn is based on the work of Tsukasa Hojo. All copyrights are retained by their respective holders. Comments, feedback and corrections are welcome! Thanks to Sven Tewens and Merle Globisch for proof-reading.
© 1999 by Alessio Sapora
"And this is our most recent lost battle."
To emphasize his point, Toshio Utsumi clapped his right hand on the wall, partially obscuring a painting of a meaningless Japanese landscape. Unfortunately, the painting itself had been much less meaningless in the past few days.
Trapped in the projector light, the detective's hand made the trees and clouds come alive, an odd movement in the darkened office of the Inunari police headquarter. Few noticed, intent as they were upon listening to another one of their colleague's useless tirades.
"He should have become a priest instead of a detective", Toshio's chief muttered under his breath. Assistant inspector Mitsuko Asatani nodded, and noticed with pleasure that this exchange had not passed unnoticed by the person in question.
Toshio stiffened. But instead of arguing –which was what he usually did–, he banged his flat hand into the wall a few more times, as if his intention was to flatten the projected trees and hills. Had the projector's image been a window to another world, he might have succeeded.
"I am not saying this because I want to repeat myself", he said in a tone the audience knew well. He was not angry, not really, but on the very verge of it. So this looked like if they were going to have some fun after all.
"What I want to emphasize is that we are getting into the same routine! We wait for Cat's Eye's business card –how nice it is to be notified of an immanent theft!-, then we simply stand around and let them get what they want! And that's it! I wouldn't believe this if I weren’t working here!"
The chief stood up and stabbed a finger at Toshio. "Utsumi! I know very well why we have all kinds of problems! It is because a certain detective is very likely to spoil every chance to get a hold upon these criminals! You are hopeless!"
He had been screaming these last words, and Toshio watched as his face turned a very peculiar dark red.
One day he'll simply drop over, he thought.
"Chief, it is important for us to quickly change the way things are going-"
"I am going to change your job situation very quickly if you don't shut up and behave yourself!"
Exasperated, the detective replied, "Don't you understand! It is no wonder we never achieve anything substantial if we are only reacting to every single move of Cat's Eye! We have to act, on our own initiative, or else we'll be chasing these thieves for the rest of our lives."
Asatani intervened. "Utsumi, all you said was very interesting, but words don't help in this case."
Letting his breath calm down, the chief nodded in agreement. "What we need is action."
Toshio smiled disarmingly. "That's exactly what I meant. And I am going to explain you what my intention is. Next photograph, please!"
The landscape painting disappeared in the dark and was replaced by a quite dated police file picture that showed a tired, old face. Very tired, and very old.
Curiosity hushed the few whispered discussions that had been going on during the last minutes. For one glorious moment, all heads turned towards Utsumi, waiting for his next words.
"Masaharu Ichihara. I am sure none of you ever heard of him before. Nevertheless he will be the most important figure on our next move!"
* * *
"Good afternoon, ladies!"
With a melodic ringing, the bell announced the arrival of a new customer in the Cat's Eye café. Hitomi Kisugi looked up, not surprised to see her fiancé enter. He usually came over for a coffee or two after a long day's work at the police station across the street. "Hello, Toshio! Aren't you a little late today?"
"Glory to the world's most successful detective!" Hitomi's little sister prompted.
"Ai, would you please shut up?" Rui gave her a half-amused smile. Sometimes it was hard to play the role of a serious, old sister, especially when Ai was around.
Toshio didn't seem to mind, anyway. He had already taken possess of his usual bar stool in front of the counter, and only had eyes for Hitomi, watching her intently as she poured and handed him a cup of the renowned Cat's Eye coffee.
"Well, yes, our meeting took a little longer than planned." He shrugged. "Mainly because this hypocrite of my boss and that witch kept on interrupting me all the time."
"Witch?" Hitomi raised her eyebrows.
"Asatani, of course. Assistant inspector and witch," Ai helped out. She grinned. "I just love the way you call her."
Hitomi ignored her. "Toshio, she is your colleague!"
"Now look who's talking. Hasn't she been harassing you, too?"
Hitomi tilted her head. "I agree that her fixed idea of me being one of the Cat's Eye group is unnerving. But that doesn't give you the right to name her that way!"
"My, aren't we a little irascible today?" Toshio murmured.
Ai leaned over his shoulder. "She is just unhappy because her prince did not grant her a single kiss. Hey, do you know it's cute when you turn red?"
A wet towel hit her in the face, nearly causing Toshio to spill his coffee. "Fetch me a new one, you little brat," Hitomi instructed.
Acting as if deeply offended, Ai grabbed the towel and went out through the rear door, not without mimicking Toshio's voice, saying "My, aren't we a little irascible today?"
Hitomi stifled a sigh. She could not be as straightforward as she wanted to be. Toshio surely would not have liked the cause of her nervousness. Nor would he have liked its implications. She was worried about what had happened a few days ago.
Looking at him closely, as he turned around to watch Ai leave the room, Hitomi imagined –not for the first time– what life would be like if he knew the Kisugis' ominous secret. If he knew that he was handed yet another coffee cup by his enemy. If he knew that the sign outside the café, Cat's Eye, described most accurately who was living in this house.
For just one fraction of a second, she was tempted to disclose it all.
Why on earth did I want to get engaged to this man? she thought. Then she swallowed hard, and managed to produce a little, if weak, smile. This was not lost on her sister.
"You'd never guess she'll be turning seventeen tomorrow," Rui moaned, in an attempt to lighten Hitomi's mood.
"Who, Ai? Oh, will she?" Toshio grinned. "I'll probably have to get her something, otherwise she'll never accept me as her brother-in-law."
Hitomi looked up at this odd hint. Her fiancé had always been very firm in declaring that their marriage was postponed until he closed the Cat's Eye case. Which was just as well. The last thing she could afford right now was having a policeman sticking his nose into her affairs.
"Well then," Toshio said and took a sip, noticing with delight that he had caught Hitomi's interest. "This time it's over for the Cats."
Rui raised an eyebrow and tried to sound ironic. "Yet again?"
He waved a hand, as if brushing away her words, and said, "I, and I alone, managed to find a trace that will lead us to Cat's Eye. I, Toshio Utsumi, will be the one to close the most prominent police case in Japanese history." He emphasized his words by hitting his chest with his fist.
Men are all alike, Hitomi thought. No, she corrected herself, this one beats them all.
"And what makes you think so?" Rui asked, sounding intrigued, which was the best way to get any information out of Toshio. Always showing off, always predictable.
"I managed to trace some of the stolen paintings back to their former owner."
Taken off guard, Hitomi gasped, and Rui was visibly fighting with herself to keep her composure.
"Former... owner?" Hitomi repeated.
"Yes. One of the strange things is that Cat's Eye did steal most of the artworks from people who, let's face it, were more or less criminals. We've had to arrest quite a few of them." He emptied his cup. "And these were seldom the rightful owners."
"It wasn't easy to interview all these big bosses, but I persevered. As some of them wanted to shorten their holiday on state expenses by a few years, I finally managed to follow a link to an art dealer. Very notorious guy, as far as illegal trade is concerned. And that's where I'll be starting."
Rui released her breath. So did Hitomi. He hadn't figured out that most of the stolen art objects had once belonged to the Kisugis' father. Their father, Michael Heinz, was the reason behind their desperate thefts. Gathering every piece of his collection gave the sisters a small hope to find him, somehow, someday.
Rui smiled warmly. "We certainly wish you good luck!"
Toshio bowed in acknowledgement. "Thank you. I will not deceive you. You know that I won't marry your sister before I close the Cat's Eye case."
He left some change on the counter. "I'll have to fetch some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a hard day. Bye, sweetheart!" Waving to Hitomi, he left.
"Sweetheart?" Hitomi sounded disgusted.
* * *
"Masaharu Ichihara." Keisuke Nagaishi bent forward and handed Rui a faded photograph that left no doubt under which circumstances it had been taken. From a police file, no doubt, and definitely an old one.
Ai couldn't help but wonder how Mr Nagaishi managed to obtain any required information they asked him for. He had already been an old family friend before her birth, and their trust was mutual, but sometimes she had an ambiguous feeling about this man who seemed to know everything.
"We don't know him, do we?" Hitomi asked.
Nagaishi shook his head. "No. And I do have to confess that I am quite astonished that Mr Utsumi could actually trace him."
"So did you", Ai blurted.
He smiled and let his gaze drift across the Kisugis' living room. "Yes. Because it is much more easy to find a piece of information somebody already uncovered. I wouldn't have been able to collect any data, had he not left some traces."
Hitomi smiled. "You see, he is a good detective, after all."
"Oh dear, what have we done to deserve such a sister," Ai groaned, burying the head in her hands.
"Go on," Rui urged Mr Nagaishi to proceed.
"He is a retired criminal. He has been dealing with just about everything which is illegal, and was a regular visitor in various jails across Japan. He is now old and weary, and runs a small art gallery a few miles outside Kawasaki."
"Art gallery, huh?" Ai sounded skeptical.
"It really is. Since the mid-seventies, there is nothing illegal about him anymore, although I would presume that some of the exposed artworks are leftovers from his... previous career. Which is about all I know."
"That's already something. So where are we to start?" Hitomi asked.
"Your turn, little sister," Rui said. "Toshio will be heading off to Kawasaki tomorrow, and you will join him. There is a nice gallery waiting for you."
"I want to come, too!" Ai complained. "Hitomi will be much too distracted anyway flirting around with her detective!"
Before Hitomi could object, her older sister nodded. "That is a good idea. After all, you will need to have a look at the museum's security installations. In the meantime, I'll be discussing our next steps with Mr Nagaishi."
Ai grinned and formed a "V" with her fingers.
* * *
The small red Honda came to a halt short of the entrance to a building that looked more like a countryside holiday bungalow. And maybe that was exactly what it was meant to be.
Ai got out of the car and stretched herself. Like a cat, she thought in amusement. "Toshio, if you weren't so incompetent as a detective, you'd have a higher salary and could get a bigger car."
"If he had more money, he'd spend it all on cigarettes and drinks", Hitomi rectified.
Toshio looked miserable. "I'm sorry. I really didn't think about refueling. I've had a hard week and-"
Hitomi didn't even listen anymore. She wasn't angry at all about the fact that Toshio was forced to ask her for some spare change in order to enable them to continue their journey. What she disliked was being reminded of the fact that Toshio was a policeman after all, and that the week had been hard indeed. For both of them.
She let her thoughts wander while she followed Toshio and her sister to the building. Three days ago, Cat's Eye had put their hands on "Summer Breeze", one of their father's earlier works. While the theft had gone smoothly, the same could not be said of the hot car pursuit Toshio had forced them to endure. Eventually, a sharp right turn in the small city streets had gotten them rid of their pursuers by involving Toshio in a nasty accident.
Thinking back still made her shudder. She remembered the feeling of emptiness that had overcome her as she had been standing alone in the middle of the street, looking back to the corner where Toshio and his colleagues had lost control of the car and collided with a traffic light. The view of the destroyed car wreckage had thrown her into her deepest moments of apprehension.
She risked a glance at him as they reached the entrance. She wouldn't be able to cope with the loss of Toshio, that she knew. And it made things worse that they couldn't talk about it, as he simply had reported that he had been involved in what he called "a minor accident". Maybe this was true, as nobody had gotten seriously hurt. Still, Hitomi began to understand how difficult it was –and had been all along– to bear having a partner that close, yet so far away.
"Mr Utsumi, welcome to my modest gallery." The old man, whom Hitomi instantly recognized as Masaharu Ichihara, was standing on the front porch, watching them as they took the last steps to meet him. "And who do we have here?"
"Mr Ichihara, permit me to present my fiancée, Hitomi Kisugi, and her sister, Ai."
Hitomi observed that no sign of recognition crossed the man's face. Obviously he had not heard their names before. Or maybe then he was a gifted actor.
"Please, do come inside," Ichihara invited. Without any sign of hostility, he added, "And you will have to tell me what reason there is for the police to question me after all these years. I'm an old man, and I am curious."
They entered the building and followed Ichihara through a door on the left. Hitomi deducted that the right wing had to be his private quarters.
"This looks wonderful, Mr Ichihara", she said. And she meant it. The left wing was one big white room, filled with bright, warm light that cascaded through the huge windows and highlighted every single one of the about two dozen paintings exposed.
"I'll have a look, if I may," Ai suggested.
"By all means, do so." He smiled, obviously pleased, and gestured towards a few armchairs that were arranged in the middle of the room. "I suggest that we have a comfortable discussion."
Hitomi tried not to look too interested as she followed the conversation.
* * *
"It was very inconsiderate of you to make such a fuss about this painting", Hitomi repeated angrily. "We had Toshio with us, for heaven's sake!"
Ai looked desperate. "But this came so... unexpectedly. It definitely was one of Father's last paintings. Maybe even the last," she added, looking more miserable than ever.
"Hitomi, you can't blame her for being surprised," Rui tried to appease. "And Toshio was so intent on listening to Ichihara that he probably didn't even notice."
"He did notice," she insisted. "I only hope that he'll think Ai simply liked that painting. We have to be grateful that our father didn't sign that one, or else we'd have Toshio digging out his Heinz theory again! This would have been too much of a coincidence for him. You remember what a pain it was dissuading Toshio from trying to find a link between Heinz and Cat's Eye!"
"You overestimate him, as always," Ai sourly pointed out.
Hitomi slammed her hands on the kitchen table. Before they could start arguing, Rui interrupted them. "You are absolutely positive that the painting was similar to this postcard our father sent us from the U.S.?"
Her moist eyes didn't even look at the card. She nodded.
Rui considered. "It is the painting he had planned to finish for your birth. This postcard was the first draft he sent us. I remember our mother being a little sad that he had to be abroad for his exposition." She looked up. "We always thought the painting had never existed, or at least had remained unfinished. This is consternating."
Hitomi agreed. "The painting could provide us with a few more hints. Hints we didn't get from Ichihara."
"What did the old man tell you?"
"Not much. Of course, officially he doesn't remember where he got all of his paintings from. Only after Toshio had reassured him that he was looking for somebody else, he gave us a few colleagues' names, under the strict request that his name should not be mentioned. Mr Nagaishi is currently checking these tracks."
Ai set up a very determined expression. "We must get our painting back. Fate wanted us to find this painting for my birthday."
Rui handed Hitomi a Cat's Eye business card and smiled. "She's chosen her present. Looks like we have no options. Off you go!"
* * *
Lost in thoughts, Toshio had been watching the shadows move across the parking lot, cast by wandering clouds which in vain tried to dim the moonlight.
Mitsuko Asatani's sarcastic comment ended the blessed silence that, for a while, had been laying outside the Ichihara art gallery. "A very nice coincidence that Cat's Eye is going to hit where you accompanied your fiancée just a few days ago."
Toshio gave his colleague a dirty look. "Why don't you arrest me? Maybe I'm Cat's Eye, and have been fooling you all along."
"Unlikely, due to your highly developed sense for unprofessional behaviour."
Toshio grunted and turned his back on her. She was a pain all right, but what bothered him quite more was the absolute hopelessness of trying to defend something which was virtually undefendable.
The building, for starters. No alarm system, except a decrepit model that was older than most of the paintings it was meant to protect. Big windows. Huge, to be precise. Not lockable, of course. And the fragile glass was an invitation for burglars. In fact, he wondered why nothing had been stolen before. But then again, the artworks weren't really valuable. Or so he had thought until he had received the latest notification by Cat's Eye.
To make matters worse, nobody had a clue about which piece of artwork Cat's Eye was interested in. As far as he could see, they might even want to steal the armchairs. Having announced the theft of "Love" left the police helpless, as even Masaharu Ichihara did not know the artists and names of every single painting. Which was probably due to the fact that he had obtained them through some dark connections.
Among the five paintings the gallery owner could not define, Toshio had nothing but a small hint that the painting might be the one Ai had been so interested in. Odd, that.
"'Love' in Japanese would be 'Ai'."
"What?" Asatani asked.
"Nothing. I was just thinking aloud."
He was not an art expert. He didn't even remotely like most of the paintings he'd seen. Still, the permanent confrontation with Cat's Eye had left him with something like an ability to recognize patterns, styles, and feelings in artworks he had not been able to distinguish before.
And something in the small painting had unsettled him. Although it was unsigned, he believed to know the artist. Heinz. Or, at least, very close. He had suspected before that many of the paintings stolen by Cat's Eye had been his. He couldn't make heads or tails of it, however.
But, after all, he could be wrong. The Cats could be trying to mislead him. And he didn't want to risk spoiling the whole operation. He was going to try to defend the whole collection, even if it looked hopeless.
A short glance at his watch told him that two minutes separated them from yet another challenge. Restlessly he waited for the seconds to pass, while he directed his steps towards the building. He didn't have a clue about where Cat's Eye would be going to hit first.
"This is no picnic, Ai." Rui gave her little sister a stern look.
"But didn't you see that there is virtually no danger for us? This alarm system is nothing but a bad joke. And I bet that it is switched off. Otherwise it would have given a dozen of false alarms already, with so many people moving around inside the gallery. Getting in is a picnic."
Rui shook her head. "That, exactly, is the problem. The room is crammed with people. I would have expected a few more of them to wait outside. We'll have a hard time trying to get Hitomi out once she's in."
Lowering the binocular, she nodded at last. "Hitomi is in position. Let's begin."
Ai opened her canvas bag and produced a small-scale bazooka. Lifting it on her shoulder, she grinned. "Maybe we should start dispersing the crowd."
"Try not to hurt anyone," Rui remembered her.
"Not even the witch?" she asked innocently, and fired.
The instant he heard the shattering glass, Toshio knew what had happened. He should have guessed. The room was far too easy to oversee for Cat's Eye's taste. Nobody would have dared to challenge twenty-four policemen in a big, well-lit room.
He rushed inside and almost immediately bumped into a police officer who was trying to leave the building. Thick, grey smoke poured out of the door to the main room, making it completely impossible to tell friend from foe.
Stepping back, Toshio cursed. Rapidly he considered his options.
Running inside was out of the question. Waiting outside was hopeless, as Cat's Eye could enter and leave the building through the windows on every side of the building. He couldn't be everywhere at the same time.
He cursed again, choosing a less polite expression this time. "Run to the rear," he instructed the police officer he had nearly overrun. "I'll check the front."
Toshio ran back to the parking lot, scanning the windows he passed. One window pane was partially broken, but not enough to have been caused by a person trying to get through. The damage was more likely due to the impact of the smoke grenade.
"Have you seen them yet?" he shouted to Asatani, who was staring at the woods, standing on the other side of the parking lot.
"The projectile came from there," she replied.
"Forget that! They're long gone. Having us running off into the woods is just what they want!"
He stopped and looked back. Still no movement in front of the house. A few policemen stumbled outside, coughing. Still unable to speak, one of them raised his hand and waved towards the back of the house.
"They're trying to get out from the rear! You run that way," Asatani shouted and headed off to the building's left side. Toshio hurried in the other direction. He snatched the walkie-talkie from his belt, nailed down the 'speak' switch and yelled, "They're coming to the rear! Try to stop them!"
The instant before he got the reply he realized something was wrong. How could a police officer have noticed anything in that dense smoke? And why did he run out through the front door instead of trying to stop the thieves?
"Nobody here, detective," came the response, followed by an electrostatic hiss. "The windows are untouched, and nothing is moving."
Toshio dropped the walkie-talkie, spun around, and ran. He reached the parking lot in time to see a police car disappear down the road. He didn't have to guess who was driving this car. Nor was he surprised when he noticed two motionless officers lying beside the flat tires of the remaining police cars.
The chief came down the front porch, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. "Utsumi, what the hell are you doing standing around? Do something!"
Instead of answering, the detective reached through the police car's open side window and grabbed the microphone. "This is Utsumi. Bring the 'copter! Cat's Eye managed to get away!"
* * *
"We did it!" Ai cheered, clenching her fists. "I told you this had to be easy!"
Rui smiled. "As long as Toshio didn't forget to refuel his police car." She braked, steered, shifted gears and finally accelerated downhill.
With a look at Hitomi, Ai said, "That uniform really suits you. Maybe you could start a second career as a police officer."
Hitomi laughed. "Over my dead body, sister!"
Ai grinned. "Did anyone notice you entering through the roof?"
Before Hitomi could answer, Rui interrupted. "Sorry for spoiling your party, but it is not over yet." With a worried look in the rear-view mirror, she added, "We have company."
Puzzled, Ai looked back, and shrieked. "A helicopter?! How on earth... where did they get one so fast?"
"It must have been there all along, and we missed it," Hitomi mused. "I told you not to underestimate Toshio."
"Oh, give me a break!"
"I cannot drop any lower, detective. The trees are too close, and it is too dark."
Although he hardly understood what the pilot had been saying due to the rotors' incessant noise, Toshio nodded. "It will suffice. Try to close up."
For an instant, he thought about using his weapon. Then he reconsidered. At a breathtaking speed, and without headlights, the fugitive police car was driving past the trees that lined the road. This pursuit was dangerous enough already, and he'd had his share of car accidents.
They wouldn't get far anyway. His colleagues from Kawasaki would need only a few minutes to block the access road. Only five miles were separating Cat's Eye from being history.
"What the...?" Toshio and the pilot saw the brake lights in the same instant. The helicopter slowed down, losing sight of the car for an instant. The pilot turned his machine around, its headlights cutting through the dark.
"They're driving off into the woods!"
"I should have seen this coming", the detective said through clenched teeth. "Let me get to the ground, and notify the others."
Ai screamed as Rui abruptly plunged the car into darkness.
"Are you trying to kill us?" Hitomi gasped, desperately clinging to her seat.
"Any better ideas? We cannot lead Toshio straight to our appointment with Mr Nagaishi! Hold on, we'll be leaving the car in a second!" Rui nailed down the brakes, trying to avoid the barely visible trees that suddenly emerged out of the darkness.
She nearly managed.
Despite the low remaining speed, the impact was rough. Something hit the car with an incredible strength, lifting it up and slamming it on the ground again. A thick branch hit the roof, shattering the windscreen. Small glass pieces flew at them and covered the interior.
Slowly, Hitomi opened her eyes. With a shaking voice, she said, "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
"I'm sorry, sisters. This wasn't really planned."
With some effort, Hitomi pushed the door open. "Never mind. We must get moving! Toshio will be here anytime! Not to mention his colleagues."
As fast as possible, they scrambled out of the car. Only after taking a few steps into the darkness, Hitomi realized Ai was dragging her left leg, avoiding to put any weight on it. Noticing her stare, the little sister smiled reassuringly. "My ankle", she said in a tone of apology.
"We can't afford losing any time", Rui urged. "I'll carry you."
Hitomi considered. "That's nonsense. They'll catch us in a minute."
"Not if you lure them another way. Just keep them off our back."
"All right." She started handing the painting to Rui, who shook her head.
"I have enough weight to carry already." Ignoring the indignation her statement had caused, she added, "You'll be faster than Toshio. You've always been."
With Ai on her back, Rui turned around and headed for cover.
Restlessly, Hitomi waited for them to disappear. She felt uneasy having to wait for the enemy, and hoped her sisters would be long gone before the police came into sight, thus making any diversion superfluous.
Angry with himself for not having taken a flashlight with him, Toshio rushed through the dimness only a forest at night could produce. He found it impossible to see past his nose, but the noise had been evident enough. If he just could avoid running into every second tree, he might even have a chance to reach Cat's Eye before they got away.
But they'd get away anyhow. They always did.
He nearly ran past the police car without realizing it.
Ironically, the car had collided with one of the last trees that separated the impenetrable forest underbrush from what looked like a small clearing. This incident was unusual for Cat's Eye who, Toshio thought, regularly seemed to get the better of him.
It took him a few moments to notice a movement on the other side of the clearing. Or maybe then the long run had left him too exhausted. Everything was moving.
So was the shape that had been standing at arm's length from him.
He nearly jumped when the shadow turned and headed back into the forest. Precious moments passed before he regained his composure.
"Uh – hold it right there, Cat's Eye! You're under arrest!"
He did not bother waiting for a reply. As he started running after his rival, Toshio could not help but wonder why he had been repeating the same, useless phrase throughout the past years. He could as well have shouted "Hitomi, I love you!" Even this would probably have triggered a more substantial reaction.
Concentrate. Do not let your thoughts drift off, he admonished himself. Think of something.
He had his gun. But who was he to shoot somebody in the back? Especially if, as Toshio had to admit, Cat's Eye never had shown any signs of deep enmity towards him. They definitely could have killed him a dozen times already. Instead, in one way or the other, he even had received some kind of help when stuck in uncomfortable situations.
Yes, Cat's Eye had been of some help. But he was a policeman, after all. And his duty was to catch these thieves, even if only for the satisfaction of seeing the Chief and Asatani being speechless. What they rarely were.
Was he gaining ground? He couldn't see well at all, but hoped that the fugitive would be fighting with the same problems. With cat's eyes, however, you never knew!
The instant her left foot came down on a root, Hitomi realized her mistake. A sharp pain rushed through her leg, paused at the knee, and finally exploded in her head. She cried out –or did she?– and fell, the painting tumbling out of reach.
A triumphant shout called her to memory that Toshio had been too close not to notice. She had chosen the worst possible moment to trip. Curses!
She tried to get up, supporting her weight against the tree, but almost instantly fell to the ground again as the injured leg gave way underneath her.
And then, suddenly, Toshio emerged out of the shadows.
Crawling backwards, she fumbled for a Cat's Eye business card in her pocket. She didn't like having to resort to the cards' sharp edges, as they could be deadly if handled inaccurately. And in this situation she definitely wouldn't be able to aim properly. Still, what else could she do?
He seemed to hesitate. Standing only a few steps in front of her, he silently observed his rival, the classical handcuffs dangling from his right hand.
The immanent threat of discovery made Hitomi seize the chance. Her leg would not allow her to get away swiftly. Knocking the detective down was the only way to escape.
With an audible hiss, the business card headed for Toshio and, as she had hoped, he ducked to avoid getting hit. Which was exactly what Hitomi had been waiting for.
Putting all the strength in her right leg, she jumped forward and braced herself for the impact.
Somehow, he must have sensed her coming. The blow aimed at his neck missed. Still, the momentum kept her going until she literally flew into his arms. Both tumbled to the ground.
This time, she did not catch Toshio off guard. While trying to wrestle free, and before she could react, his hand reached out to grab her. What he had been aiming at she didn't know, but he suddenly must have found himself with a handful of rather female softness.
"How dare you...!"
Enraged and without really thinking about what she was doing, she rammed her elbow backwards.
* * *
"Detective! Are you all right?"
He groaned. Not because he really felt all that bad, but he figured that there wasn't much else to be said anyway. And, as his memory slowly came back, he actually did feel like groaning.
Yet again, Cat's Eye got away.
As his blurred vision cleared, giving way to the worried face of Asatani, he wished he hadn't opened his eyes. She was about the second last person he wanted to see right now.
The last person he wanted to see bent over him.
"You are the most hopeless policeman on earth! How could you let them escape again! You are fired! I am going to devolve your salary to charity until you-"
Abruptly, the chief broke off. He reached inside his jacket and produced a small flask. Without bothering to count or sort them, he poured a selection of various coloured pills into his palm and gulped them down in an instant.
Then he took a deep breath and resumed.
Toshio plugged his fingers in his ears and tried to ignore the cascade of saliva droplets that emanated from his superior's wide open mouth. Closing his eyes, he waited for the tirade to pass.
As more and more flickering torchlights drew nearer, and the unnerving voice slowly subsided, Asatani's voice cut in, shouting, "Sir! Look what we’ve found!"
Unplugging his ears, the miserable detective turned around, imitating the chief's expression of disbelief as he recognized what the assistant inspector had just picked up.
With a bitter edge, Asatani added, "Looks like Cat's Eye had to leave the booty behind."
The chief cleared his throat and started patting the detective's back. "Well done, Utsumi! Putting into practice what you learned from me is at last getting us somewhere!"
Too tired to argue, Toshio just kept staring at the painting.
Why? he thought.
* * *
"Ai, please! It was way too dark to see where I dropped it! And Toshio's backup was closing in."
"You are getting old, Hitomi! There was a time when you would have gotten away swiftly. Now even Toshio causes you problems. I just can't believe this!" Deeply offended, Ai crossed her arms and turned her head the other way.
Hitomi gasped for breath. "What do you mean with 'even Toshio'?"
She felt Rui's hand on her shoulder and restrained herself. At times, she could not stand her little sister, especially as far as her relationship with Toshio was concerned. And she was as stubborn as only a sixteen-year old could be. Or seventeen, for all that mattered. Exasperated, Hitomi got up and left the table.
"What have I done to deserve such a sister?" she murmured.
Rui rose, too, and smiled. "That would have been Ai's line."
Ai rested her chin on her fist. "It simply isn't fair. It's my birthday, and I've really been looking forward to having this painting hanging in my room."
"Well, that would have been out of the question anyway," Hitomi stated, turning around to face her. "Or have you also been looking forward to Toshio asking what the hell the painting is doing on the wall above your bed?"
"That's your boyfriend all right," came Ai's hostile reply. "Peeping into my room!"
Quickly, Rui stepped between them. "Don't worry, Ai. We have had to draw back before, and still were always successful in the end."
Ai didn't reply and looked out the Cat's Eye café front window, uninterested. Saturday was well on its way, and little traffic disturbed the foliage in the sidewalk trees. Few people walked in the late morning sun, aimless wanderers, or so she thought.
One wanderer wasn't aimless.
Producing their usual harmonics, the chimes at the café's entrance accompanied a new customer's entrance.
"Hello, Toshio! Not in a hurry, as usual?" Hitomi asked, furtively glancing at her wristwatch. "I thought you were on duty this weekend."
The detective smiled and waved his hand nonchalantly. "Nah. I was given the day off. Yesterday's success must have appeased my boss."
Taking the last few steps that separated him from the counter, he sighed. "Sort of. We managed to get the painting back." As Hitomi started to get him a cup, Toshio made a negative gesture. "No coffee today, please."
She was startled to see him sit down very slowly. Nor did she miss his expression.
"Are you all right?" She asked, a worried look crossing her face.
He nodded, then shook his head. "After last night, I don't feel like going for aerobics, that's for sure. You really should take care of my injuries," he proposed, leaning closer.
At her skeptical expression, he recoiled. "Oh, all right! There was a clash between me and a cat. I fought valiantly, but got her elbow in my stomach as I was going to arrest her."
Hitomi tried not to blush under Rui's accusing stare. Sometimes, she could be a pain. On one hand, she never stopped complaining about the folly of falling in love with a policeman. On the other, not a single day passed without Rui worrying about their relationship. Well, this time she would have to wait. Everything would be explained to her – later.
Ai looked up, interested. "She hit you? What did you do?"
Toshio put up an extremely neutral expression. "Nothing."
Hitomi was ready to intervene, but Ai kept quiet. This time.
After an instant of waiting, Toshio raised his eyebrows. Puzzled, he looked at Hitomi, then at his fiancée's little sister, concluding, "You must be afraid of getting old. Or why don't you feel like celebrating?"
"We are celebrating", she answered. The cake in front of her remained barely touched.
"Well then, happy birthday. Maybe this will cheer you up a little."
None of the sisters had paid any attention to the small, paper-wrapped rectangular object Toshio had been carrying and was now handing to Ai.
"I haven't had time to wrap it up properly," he apologized.
"Hey, thanks! At least there's somebody who did not forget my birthday present!" Ignoring her sisters' shocked expression, Ai got up, took the package and began unwrapping it, laughing. "But I understand that this is a bribe to keep me off your back when you'll be going to marry into our family."
Hitomi smiled. Her sister was back to normal.
Ai ripped away the last sheet, and froze. Her smile died. Staring in front of her, with widened eyes, she started to tremble.
Worried, Rui stepped close. "What's the matter, Ai? Is something wrong?" Reaching out, she cast a glance at what her sister was holding in her hands.
Hitomi followed her example and gasped. "But this is..."
With an immense effort, Ai looked up from the painting, meeting Toshio's gaze.
A little puzzled from the sisters' reaction, Toshio said, "You remember, don't you? You liked that painting very much. It's called 'Love'. And it is actually the painting Cat's Eye were after."
"How did you..." Her voice trailed off.
"A funny story. Masaharu Ichihara, the gallery owner, was quite taken aback by Cat's Eye's attack yesterday. He's an old man, after all, and infinitely worried that his collection might suffer any damage. As he realized that this painting was the actual target, he decided to get rid of it out of fear that it would lead to other attacks."
Rui leaned against the counter. Hitomi shook her head in amazement.
Toshio shrugged. "He wasn't very fond of it anyway. Probably just a minor leftover from his previous illegal activities. When I realized what his intention was, I volunteered to take it over."
A little hesitant, and still holding the painting, Ai asked, "You mean... this is really my present? No kidding?"
"Of course it is." He gave her a little wink. "But keep quiet about it if you want to avoid being visited by Cat's Eye at night."
Slowly, Hitomi regained her composure, which was hard due to the unexpected appearance of the lost artwork – and the fact that her little sister was now clinging to Toshio's neck, placing a firm kiss on his cheek.
"Don't worry, Hitomi, I'll leave him to you," Ai laughed as she noted her sister's expression.
"We have to talk", Hitomi told her in a voice she knew all too well.
Visit the unofficial Cat's Eye home page at http://www.kolumbus.fi/sapora/catseye.html
Written in 1999. Last update: 07 Jun 2007 (new url)