Tales of the Sea Bitch (36)
On to the next day... about an hour after breakfast,
Son called for Miwa. He had a very worried look on his face and
several pieces of paper in his hand. We soon found out what the
problem was -- it was the bill from the House of Foreign Stories, he
said, and ran out of words. "It's for 33 koku, ma'am," he
said. That's 33 large gold coins. That's a lot.
Miwa just kind of shrugged, as if to say "So what?"
Son pointed out gently that we didn't have 33 koku.
I suggested a couple of us go get a job there and
work it off.
Miwa gave me a look. Apparently that was not
acceptable. And not practical.
Of course the main point was that it would put a
real cramp in the plans to hire warriors and staff. It would take
a while to raise the money, but it could be done if we didn't spend any.
So, I said, I guess a trip back there was out of the
Interestingly enough the bill was the long glowing
letter thanking Miwa for our patronage, and the actual cost was almost
an afterthought at the end. Polite, but not ambiguous.
Unfortunately, it wasn't itemized. I'd have loved to see who
spent the most. My guess was Toni.
And then it was off to Ide Baranato's in the
afternoon. Ide was a reasonably wealthy man, like all the people
we'd visited so far of course.
To look at him you would guess he was a polite
generous older gentleman, and that seemed to be the case. We were
served good tea in pleasant surroundings.
We'd been briefed, of course. His older son,
the darling of him and the town, was scheduled for a storybook wedding,
and ended up dead from an opium overdose in the other main house in the
Licensed Quarter. That had to some degree destroyed him, or at
least changed his overall mood. While indeed polite and generous,
he had this quality of sadness and mourning about him.
Ide said that Naritoki was an honorable man in a
difficult situation. He said that he was good for the city and
did good work in most areas. He wished he had more success
against the cartels, but understood that a man in his position could
only do a limited amount, given the cartels.
Miwa asked him if he knew what Naritoki was most
focussed on right before he was killed.
Ide didn't know about his daily activities, of
course, but he did figure from his actions that he seemed to be most
concerned about the ninja problem and the bandits. He is curious
why he didn't bring in the Imperial Army, request the Emerald Champion
support him with troops, and take care of the problem once and for
all. He thought the whole ninja thing wouldn't even rate the
attention of an Emerald Magistrate, except that this "legend of the
ninja" had grown as a joke blown out of all proportion. Ide was
sure it was common criminals pretending to be or attributed as ninjas,
and it was just now a sick joke all over the city. Anything that
happened now was all ninjas.
Miwa asked Ide about the three big players in town,
what he thought of them.
Ide was a lot more passionate about that than the
other subject. He called them "the cartels." Self-righteous
and intense, almost fanatical in his despise of the opium cartels and
the effects of opium on the city, the country, the people, the economy,
there was nothing good about opium or those involved with it in any way.
Miwa then asked if there were any other hidden
powers in the city, or if those three cartels were it.
In a roundabout way, he said that the cartels were
not necessarily the top of the heap, but it wasn't any hidden
power. The forces of good and honor hadn't been defeated in the
city, they still existed and still struggled against the corruption
that was the cartels.
As Miwa carefully prompted further, Ide
responded. About the governor, he didn't say anything we didn't
know or suspect already. She was powerful because she was the
governor of the city, and everyone across the empire depending on the
continued existence of this city. She could call on favors or
help from people who might otherwise hate her, just because their
interests were in the city continuing and not falling apart. Even
so, she didn't dominate the other cartels and wasn't more powerful than
As for Naritoki's death, Ide said that it was a sad
thing that he was assassinated -- that he died was sad, terrible that
he was assassinated. He had heard two theories. One was
that Korichika (who we met a few days ago) thought that Naritoki had
allied with Hyubu against him. The other was that Naritoki's own
brother was tired of playing second fiddle and killed him in a fit of
jealousy. Ide's opinion, however, was that it was
Korichika. He had the power and the resources and balls to do
such a thing. As far as actual evidence, though, he had
nothing. He was genuinely sorry for that.
Miwa then asked Ide's personal opinion of
Korichika. Ide said not to let his polite sophistication fool
her, he was the most violent and dangerous man in the city, and
possibly in all of Nippon. While he was not prone to acts of
personal violence -- though certainly capable of it -- his style was
much more to slowly take your family, your clan, and your house apart
while you watch it crumble, and let you die of grief and loneliness.
I should point out that matched Miwa's own opinion
very closely indeed.
Then Soshi Seiryoku. While Korichika cared
very intensely about and loved his family, Soshi cared about nothing
and no-one. She would kill you without caring, and would burn
down the city and her own empire if it suited her whim. She was a
sociopath and as a result it was impossible to say what drove her.
Miwa carefully, without mentioning his name, asked
about the person who supposedly would be the new Emerald
Magistrate. He knew who Miwa was aiming at, but didn't know a lot
himself. He believed the Emerald Champion put great stock in
Bayushi Yojiro. He said, perhaps too casually, that it was
unfortunate for the city that the Emerald Champion thought to assign
him with a ... special project. Then he asked if Miwa knew when
he might be taking up his regular duties.
Now Miwa had no idea of what that special project
might be, of course -- none of us did. She tried very carefully
to ask about it without revealing that.
He said, with much less obscurity than Miwa, that he
was unaware of the details of the special project and so could not
really help her there. She could tell by the way he was speaking
that his knowledge of the existence of the special project wasn't as
great as he implied earlier, and that he was perhaps attempting to
confirm a rumor by pretending it was fact and guaging her
reaction. He would now be convinced that the project existed.
Of course the official story was that Bayushi was
off caring for his sick mother, but Ide wasn't aware of any health
issues in his family.
Now Ide asked some questions himself. It had
been clear from his attitude that he already considered Miwa to be the
Emerald Magistrate, or an Emerald Magistrate. He asked about the
investigation into Naritoki's death, about which Miwa was fairly
non-committal. She did say that she believed Naritoki did or was
about to do something which threatened one of the cartels and so they
took him out. As to which cartel, that would depend on what he
was doing right before he died, which she did not yet know.
Ide said that if there was anything he could do to
bring the cartel or cartels responsible to justice, then she should
call on him. He mentions that after Naritoki's death has been a
continuance, or perhaps an increase, in the activity of the "ninja" and
he wondered if she'd had made any progress on that front.
Miwa told him the truth, that she had not.
He said that they had become an annoyance to the
legitimate merchants of the city, and again if he could help to call on
her, and he would consider it a personal favor if she would step up her
efforts on that. He added that Fade and his bandits continue to
be an annoyance to Unicorn caravans, and again if he could help to call
on him. He would also consider it a favor if that was on her list
of priorities too.
And with that, our visit was over. The usual
formalities, then we left.
So who was really in charge of the Unicorn
clan? Word on the street was that Shinjo had become old and
crusty, and while his word was still officially the law in the Unicorn
clan of this area, Ide was better for the clan and everyone knew
it. So they went to Ide when they wanted something done, and he
got it done one way or another. If Shinjo wanted to pull rank he
could, but day to day Ide managed the clan business in this area.
Ide would be the one to take over the clan when Shinjo died, over
Shinjo's son, who might well not like the idea. I considered it a
compliment to Ide that Shinjo and his son were still alive. In
this city -- Unicorn or Scorpion or whatever -- that was unusual.
Soon after we returned, it was George's turn to have
a word with Miwa, in private. Miwa called Toni along too, and I
found out about it later.
This was a matter of particular concern with George,
and he understood that when he had particular concerns, he should speak
in terms his master understood. So he spoke in the terms of
politics, not accounting.
He understood that Miwa would like to put off paying
a particular bill to the House of Foreign Stories. He paused,
then when Miwa said nothing, he continued. He felt that this
might put her in a dangerous position with regard to tax
collection. If the owner of the House of Foreign Stories were to
let it be known that she were in arrears -- hadn't yet paid, he
corrects himself -- it would make it much more difficult for various
merchants to pay their taxes, thus making it harder for her to pay off
the same bill. That gave the proprietor of the House of Foreign
Stories a good bit of leverage over her.
At that point he caught himself having perhaps
stepped over the line of advice, and not knowing what else to do, bowed.
Suddenly it became apparent why Magda was so willing
to turn over the diary ahead of Miwa concluding her side of the
bargain. It might also be why she was so helpful while we were at
Miwa asked George who Naritoki sponsored --
merchants, whatever, a way to get money through a protection racket --
and who held them now.
George said he would provide her with the
information she requested. Naritoki did not have extensive
sponsorships in the city, but did have some. If he did not know
offhand who now sponsored them, he would find that information shortly.
Miwa asked Toni and George to discuss other ways of
making money, and after a long time Toni told her the answer.
First, she could simply not pay the bill in the hope or expectation
that Magda or their patron would not take unkindly to it. It
probably wasn't enough to get the patron upset about it. The
alternative would be to find a business which was -- or could be made
to be -- in arrears on their taxes and put the screws to them.
You'd have to pick them carefully to make sure you didn't offend anyone
important or dangerous, but it could be done. Or they could come
to some deal and pay it off over time.
Toni was clear. We couldn't hire more
warriors, and we couldn't pay the ones we had. So they might
leave, and we might have none. They might not leave if they liked
it here, at least they had room and board, but it wasn't good.
Miwa agreed that not paying our men was not an
option. She asked how long it would take to collect that money.
Toni and George looked at each other. Toni
said that was impossible to know, as it was a matter of choosing the
right targets and convincing them to pay.
Miwa decided that for now we would put off
paying. George should find the ripe targets, and we'd work the
other side of the protection racket, getting back Naritoki's targets.
The question was whether to go after a lot of small
targets, or a few big ones. Both had their pros and cons which
were boring and I'm not going to bother to tell you about. Trust
me, you don't want to know. I'll just tell you that Miwa picked
the large targets, and leave it at that.
After George left, but while Toni and Miwa were
still there, Toni said it was unlikely that Magda would say anything
given she wanted something from us. As long as we followed
through, she wouldn't care about the bill.
Meanwhile, I'd come up with my solution to the money
problem. I told the others when Miwa when she came back from the
"All right. You've been thinking about this
the wrong way. You have a band of gaijin here, think gaijin
solutions. And I've got one. Yeah, I'll keep it simple so
even our friends from the Empire can understand.
"OK, you know about pirates, right? Pirates
steal treasure. Gold, money, stuff. I was the daughter of a
noble family, and we were pretty rich. Well, stinking rich by
most of your standards. We had gold, money and stuff. Know
what Sea Elves do? We perform the public service of removing
pirates. Remove the pirates and what's left over? Their
gold, money and stuff.
"Let's be Sea Elves. We'll take out Fade and
his bandits and get rich and popular at the same time."
Miwa assigned me as project manager for that, and to
come up with a plan. And I had no budget to work with.
I suggested we find their hide out, and take them
out one by one with One Shots. Miwa seemed to like that idea.
She may have thought I was crazy and fobbing me off
with no chance of getting it done, but she should be more
careful. I'd have her plan for her and she'd be stuck with it.
Still more this afternoon. A packet arrived
for Miwa, and it turned out to contain Naritoki's journal. Lots
of personal details in it, real personal details if you know what I
mean, but surely there would be something of use. Lucky Miwa, she
gets to be the one to read it. Perhaps we could talk her into
reading it aloud while the rest of us filled up on sake. She
actually was willing to read it to us, and I was certainly going to
listen. At least until it proved boring, if it did.