Chapter 96: Half an Answer
The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.
Fibi wandered off for the afternoon, and I don't know where Grieg disappeared to. Meili and I tried not to make more guesses: every time we came up with another theory it became more outlandish. After staring at each other and making several aborted attempts at conversation, she left, too.
Alone, it was easy to distract myself. I gathered the Miyara swords I carry and kept myself busy out by a stream near the inn for a long time. Then a bath and fresh clothes.
There's really only one more thing to do today: send the men to the Pine house to find out if Rika was in or out that night. Meili, Fibi, and I ate dinner at the Golden Peony and waited for the men to return with whatever they discovered.
Meili did have another interesting theory: what if one of the men visiting for the festival had brought an assassin in place of his wife? That assassin would have had to disguise herself for the night as Rika and sent up the drugged wine ahead of time. Her disguise would get her past the guards, but not by Takashi. I didn't say anything, but really, why an assassin disguised as a wife? A simpler solution would be that one of the wives was also the assassin.
Or daughters. I haven't brought up the matter of the marriage alliance to the others yet. I wish I knew something about Miyara Katsuda's daughter.
At last, the men returned from the Pine and told us the little they'd discovered. One small note of probably no importance was that none of the saw or spoke to Rika: she was otherwise engaged tonight.
Toni spoke primarily with the proprietor of the Pine, Kumiko. From her, he got a sideways confirmation of Rika's relationship with Takashi. Of course it's nothing she would openly discuss. He even asked her directly if Rika was at the castle the night of the murder, but Kumiko certainly didn't answer that.
He did discover one important thing: Kumiko herself bought Rika years ago when she was still a small child. One more theory shot down: Rika was not an assassin masquerading temporarily as a geisha. She was truly a geisha who was also, perhaps, an assassin.
Peter had a little more luck with his geisha, who was not as circumspect as Kumiko. She freely admitted that Rika and Takashi have an understanding. They'd been involved for some eight months or so. She said once Takashi had Rika, he never looked at another.
According to Fibi's vision of the haircomb, it had to be someone of higher station dressed as Rika, now we that Rika is exactly herself. On the other hand, Kumiko bought her as a child and knew nothing about where she originally came from. I suppose it's possible that Rika was of higher station before having been sold as a geisha. But that's really reaching and it seems unlikely. I didn't bother to mention that thought: it sounds mighty melodramatic.
Motive. If Rika, why? All I can come up with is jealousy over a possible marriage of Takashi to another, which seems a little lightweight. If someone disguised as Rika, who and why?
Meili asked what if Takashi actually drugged Rika? He could then either have gone directly to his father's room, or remained hidden and slithered through the ceiling. Well, that's certainly possible. I wondered to myself what would happen if I directly asked Takashi if he killed his father. What would Fibi tell me about his statement? More than that, though; if it were Takashi, what about the hair comb and its impression? I could think of a reason Rika might pretend to be more than she is that was wholly unrelated to the murder. And the comb was hidden; it might have been there before the murder. Or even after, since we found it days afterwards.
The assassin might have brought his own sword, or used what was available: Tsume Retsu's or Tsume Takashi's. I said that Fibi needed to divine the swords. She paled a little, but acquiesced without an argument.
Meili asked what would happen if Tsume Takashi were the assassin. That depends on so much. But I tried to explain the general what-if scenario. First, someone would have to care enough to accuse him openly. The accusation would go before Tsume's lord, who is Daimyo Crane. His decision would be entirely political. In this, we know that Tsume Retsu was not in Crane's favor. If Tsume Takashi convinced Crane that he would be better than his father, Crane would be likely to ignore the matter, unless other political situations caused trouble. For instance, if the Emperor took an interest and was annoyed with Tsume Takashi. Also, either party could take the matter directly to the Emperor at any time.
I didn't spell it out, but if Tsume Takashi were responsible for his father's death, it's likely that nothing would be made of it.
Meili wondered if Daimyo Crane actually had Tsume Takashi arrange for his father's death. If Crane wanted Tsume Retsu dead, there were simpler ways he could have arranged it. Meili said perhaps he did it this way to test Tsume Takashi's loyalty.
At any rate, leaving aside motivations, our base assumption is that either Tsume Takashi or Rika (or another pretending to be Rika) is the assassin.
During a lull in the conversation, Fibi said quietly, her eyes not focused on anything or anyone particular, "I wonder if Tsume Retsu would tell us who killed him." All of us stared at her, and she came back to herself with a start. Meili said, "Do you think the spirits could tell you?"
"Tsume Retsu is a spirit now. I could, maybe, talk to him directly. If he's willing."
After more silence as we digested that possibility, she asked what we do with our dead. I told her we burn them and scatter their ashes wherever they wished, or wherever convenient. The remains aren't of any importance, since the dead's soul has moved on. We commune with our dead in our family shrines.
She smiled and said the best place for her to try to reach the late Tsume was where he died.
After insulting Tsume Takashi last night, I wasn't thrilled about having to go back for more. Of course, we were going to anyway, to have Fibi inspect the swords. In any case, I think he'll ignore the matter as long as I do. His patience is wearing thin and I'm going to have to come up with answers soon, but I think he will give us what we ask this time. And perhaps this time will give us the answers we need.
And so, first thing tomorrow, we return to the castle. Fibi can speak to Tsume Retsu, and also the swords if necessary.
Breakfast was quick; we all wanted to see what Fibi would come up with. At the gate, my simple statement that I wished to see the scene of the murder again was enough. We were escorted through, handed from one set of guards to the next at each checkpoint, until we were left in a waiting room.
He let us wait for half an hour. A small insult, and a clear indication that he was unhappy with me. It was fine for him to make Miyara Miwa wait. His right. But in doing so he made Miyara wait: a clear insult. Tit for tat, I supposed. One small prick to the pride for another. And in the interest of the greater mission, I let it slide. It was far too minor to escalate and risk a more serious breach. Our hope was that Tsume Takashi would prove more peaceful than his father. What point, then, in provoking him to action against us for something so petty?
After that half-hour spent quietly in the waiting room, the Tsume arrived, unsmiling, and welcomed us. And asked what I wanted. I told him we wished to visit the scene of the murder one more time.
"It hasn't changed since you were last there."
"No, but what we are looking for has." My utterly true statement left him little to say. He looked at me for a moment, then gestured us to follow him.
A quick glance was enough to tell that indeed, nothing seemed to have changed since we were last here.
Fibi immediately sat on the floor, right on top of the bloodstain. Even faded as it was, I shivered. We would have to waste time enough, however long that was to be, for Fibi to do her thing. Speak with the dead, I hoped. She's a foreigner, and even strange for a foreigner. If she can reach and speak with a dead Nipponese lord, she is far more powerful than any Shinto priest I have ever met.
And if she can't, then she can still speak to the swords. If I can convince Tsume Takashi to let her do so. That would be a tough conversation. I motioned everyone to look around the room, and I followed suit. As I looked around pointlessly, inspecting minute details of the room, I considered that possible conversation.
Tsume Takashi now wore his father's swords, and his own would be down in the crowded armoury somewhere. I would have to convince the man, who regarded me with little friendly feeling, to first allow Fibi to hold his swords and meditate over them, and then perhaps take us to the armoury and give us his previous set of swords and allow her to do the same. He already seemed to actively dislike Fibi and Meili at dinner before I annoyed him.
I prayed to the fates to allow Fibi access to Tsume Retsu's spirit.
Tsume Takashi stood in the doorway watching us all waste time. He kept looking at Fibi, no doubt wondering just what she was doing. Meili had sat in front of her, and waited and watched for Fibi to return.
Eventually, she did. She stood and stretched, and said, "Well that went well." She looked straight at Tsume Takashi, who stood only a few feet away, and said, "Your father told me to tell you he is with you."
He looked about as surprised as I felt, but I also felt triumph. She'd succeeded!
"You've spoken with father?" He asked.
"And he told you that?"
"Did he seem happy?" He was concerned for his father's happiness? Thus far, he had shown only dislike for his father.
Fibi considered that question for a moment. "He seemed content, yes."
"Did he tell you who killed him?"
Tsume Takashi waited for her to tell him who. It was too late to stop her.
But she didn't, to my surprise. She made him wait for a few moments and then said demurely, "I am sorry, but I feel I must speak with the investigating magistrate before telling you."
Tsume Takashi looked at me and said, "OK."
Fibi turned to me and said, almost in a formal report, "I believe we have found everything here there is to find."
Ah, just what I wanted to hear from her. But I wanted to hear it before deciding what Tsume Takashi needed to know. This is a Miyara investigation, not a Tsume one. I do not report to him. So I turned to him and asked him, "May I speak privately with Fibi, or should we leave for now and come back later?" I carefully didn't give him the choice of staying here and listening. That was it: he could allow us privacy, or he could watch us leave the castle with our information.
Tsume Takashi said, "You can have the room," and turned and left, closing the door behind him. The nightengale floor announced his departure. I would have preferred him to make us leave instead, but this would work as well. And we would still be here if there was anything else here we needed to look at, although Fibi seemed to think not.
Fibi told us everything Tsume Retsu told her. For she had, indeed, found him and spoke with him. He was far friendlier and more helpful than I believed possible, considering who he was when alive. I would have suspected him of being another spirit masquerading as Tsume Retsu, but Fibi said the spirits told her definitively that he was Tsume Retsu.
He said right out that "the geisha my son is seeing" killed him. She brought her own sword, and he said she was "not unskilled". He admitted he allowed her so close to him because it simply didn't occur to an old, tired man that a geisha would carry a sword to kill him and be able to use it. He was certain it was the geisha and not someone else, and he said his son was not involved. And then he asked her to tell his son "I am with him".
"So Tsume Retsu at least believed it was actually Rika who killed him. It still might not have been, but he believed it was so." Fibi nodded agreement. Speaking what one believes to be true does not make it true if it is actually false.
Meili said, "If that was the case, then someone trained her for this."
"If we are honest with Tsume Takashi, I wonder what he will tell us about that night?" Would he tell us what really happened? Does he know? Would he cover for her?
"Probably nothing: he was drugged. And we still don't know who killed Tsume Retsu."
"No. Will he believe it was Rika or will he believe it was someone else?"
"I think we need to find that out. His reaction could depend on that."
"Depend on what?"
"On whether she killed him or somebody else did. Somebody trained her."
"Or it was someone else."
"Possibly. Fibi said Tsume Retsu was sure." Meili turned to Fibi, turning her statement into a question.
Fibi said carefully, "Yes, he was sure, but that does not mean that he was not mistaken. He truly believed it was the geisha his son was seeing."
"We can't answer who killed him," Meili said, "and if we tell him Rika did it, our options for questioning her reduce dramatically, if he reacts first."
I considered options. "If we don't tell him now, we're going to have to close this out quickly. We can try speaking directly to Rika, since FIbi can tell whether she speaks the truth or not." I glanced at her, and she nodded agreement. "That's really the only lead we have. If it's someone else, we don't know which direction to go in right now."
"It seems pretty clear we have to question Rika next." Meili stated.
She was right. "That is the next thing we do." Whether Rika was the assassin or another in her place; whether someone outside sent her or Tsume Takashi did. We had to question Rika now. I briefly considered telling Fibi to pay close attention while I asked Tsume Takashi straight out whether he was responsible for his father's death. But I put that away. I didn't feel like being taken down in a pointless battle today, thus failing my mission.
I thought aloud, "Of course, now we need to leave Tsume Takashi's castle, without telling him who killed his father.
Meili had the answer. She reminded us what he had told us. "We know who his father thought he saw. We know who struck the blow, but we don't know who killed him." And, of course, Tsume Takashi had told us clearly that he wasn't concerned with who struck the blow physically, but who had caused it to happen. That we did not know.