Part 12: In Which We Are Posted to the Back of Beyond

Chapter 116: Finding Connections

I dreamed about Ray Charles last night, he took me flying in the air. Showed my own spider webs, said, "Honey, you had best take care. The world is made of spider webs. The threads are stuck to me and you. Be careful what you're wishing for, 'cause when you gain you just might lose."

~ Joan Osborne,
"Spider Web"

It was late afternoon when Eyebrows left. Too late to get anything else done. Sun had already arranged for an armorer to come to the house tomorrow morning to repair Toni's armor. We tossed around a few ideas, including tracing Ashidaka's movements the night he was killed, probably back to the Licensed Quarter on the island. Nothing was more than half-hearted, but they did lead us back to the scrolls. Tonight, they were interested.

And that's how we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening. Dinner, a reasonable amount of sake, and discussions about the scrolls. I drank several cups of tea to wet my throat, I did so much reading.

The discussion ranged far and wide, but it centered around Memoirs of an Opium Eater. This infamous little book has taken Nippon by storm. Everyone was reading it and gossiping about it at Winter Court. Our copy, however, has names.

Miyara Shonagon was the young lady who wrote it. It's a collection of her personal observations of people and events. She starts out naive and idealistic, but of course, she died of an overdose of opium shortly after her last entry, last winter. As seen through her own words, she behaved erratically and her opinions vacillated with her drinking and opium use.

Still, she socialized with just about everyone who was someone, and her experiences speak volumes about the state of Ryoko Owari Toshi.

Why would someone kill Ashidaka? The most obvious reason is because of his duties as the Emerald Magistrate. He was enforcing a law that someone didn't want him to. Mistaken identity was very unlikely: he was in his own carriage. Toni said thoughtfully that he was coming from the direction of the island, or just from the Merchants Quarter. Perhaps the first is more likely, and easier to check up on, too -- since any appointment in the Merchant's Quarter would have been personal and kept quiet.

So, what could someone be doing here that would be a real problem to an Emerald Magistrate? We're in Ryoko Owari. Anything is likely here, and the packet gives several reasons: ninja (or at least thieves called ninjas by fools), bandits, opium, take your pick of these and more. Toni's plan is straight-forward: Just keep sticking our noses into things until we're attacked. Sooner or later we're bound to tick off whoever killed Ashidaka. As a plan it leaves something to be desired, but since we have no idea what's going on, it seems likely to happen whether we plan it to or not. I couldn't help laughing: it was more or less what we always do anyway.

Next morning at breakfast, Furedu appeared with more appointments. First, Jorege was here, and Toni had several questions for him about the accounts. He seems to have some basic understanding of such things. More importantly, Ashidaka's widow expected a call from us later this afternoon, and Bayushi Korechika in the afternoon. I asked for more information on him.

Furedu explained that he's the leader of the Bayushi family here in Ryoko Owari. A very powerful man in this city. He said, "it could be argued that Bayushi is the second most powerful man in the city, after the governor." I doubt he'll have much patience with someone claiming to be a Bayushi's assistant with no papers to back that up and with no knowledge of the man at all. Once again, I've walked all over Power. One might wonder what terrible crimes I committed last time around that I so consistantly find myself in trouble.

Toni wondered, "So, if you're Bayushi and learn that it's rumoured that the next Magistrate will be a Bayushi, would you perhaps rush that along a little?"

Toni suspects everyone and sees corruption and bad faith everywhere. More, though, it's damned strange that the Emerald Champion would send a Bayushi here as a magistrate, which Toni also voiced. As Asako Kinto pointed out, nobody would send a Scorpion to police a Scorpion city.

There's a reason, of course. Pressure, politics, or perhaps the Emerald Champion himself is corrupt. Toni mused, "And who supplies his opium?" Gods, I hope he's wrong, but there's certainly something going on.

Toni spoke with Jorege briefly. He had a bunch of questions that he went over during breakfast, but the thought of accounts and credits and debits and such made my head spin.

Toni and Jorege danced around the transportation of opium, both legal and illegal. Jorege insisted he knew nothing about the illegal stuff, but he did give us useful information about the legal opium trade. There are only three legal exporters: Shosuro Hyobu, the governor; Bayushi Korechika, which gave me a cold chill; and Soshi Seryoku, a name I haven't heard yet. One representative of each of the three families that head Scorpion, of course. They've split up Nippon into three sectors and each supplies his sector with legal medicinal opium. Nothing was said aloud, but we all assume they each supply their sectors with plenty of illegal opium as well.

A veritable nest of Scorpions, which I have fallen into headfirst. Or was pushed into headfirst.

Shosuro supplies the Imperial Capital, and I confirmed Toni's question about the Emerald Champion's residence. He does spend a great deal of time in the capital, of course, but he also travels a great deal. Still, it's a possible connection that, if true, is more difficulty heaped on the situation.

Toni also determined that none of those in arrears in their imperial taxes stand out in any way.

Once Jorege left, we dressed for our morning meeting, where we were representing the Emerald Magistrate. Toni's armor was ready for him, of course. He wondered what our approach to the widow should be. All business, I decided. Offer condolences and move on with investigating her husband's murder.

She welcomed us into her house, showing us to an impersonal room. I introduced all of us and offered condolences for her husband's untimely death. She was still in mourning and was solemn, never smiling, but any emotions she might be feeling were not on display.

"We are investigating your husband's murder," I explained after the preliminaries were taken care of.

"Thank you." Her light bow put her face in shadow, but I heard a hint of gratitude in her voice.

"Do you know of any enemies he had, anything he was particularly concerned about? Or maybe you can tell me what matters kept him busiest in the weeks and months before his death?"

"He was an honorable and pragmatic man. His only enemies were," she paused, and then said carefully, "He was very careful not to make an enemy of someone he couldn't beat." That seemed a sound strategy.

She suggested, thought didn't say directly, that the Emerald Champion believed that he was efficiently and appropriately carrying out the business of the Magistrate. The local opium cartels believed he was honorable and pragmatic. He believed in order more than law: as long as the city was quiet on the surface, all was fine. As long as there weren't running battles in the streets, and as long as the only people getting hurt were those who were hurting themselves, then there were no problems.

Standard operating procedure, really. Just taken to extremes by Scorpions.

"Certainly, the governor and Bayushi Korechika and Ide held no grudges against him." Ide ... that was another new name. But she continued, "As to what he was working on ... I know he was concerned about a ronin gang led by the ronin Fade. And there have been repeated stories and reports of a gang of ninja operating in this city. He, as I'm sure you all do, didn't believe they were actual Ninja. Just people acting like ninja, or maybe it's overactive imagination attributing actions to ninjas that are taken by others."

"I'm new to this city, as you know, and I don't know many people here. I wonder, who is this Ide you mentioned?"

"Ide Baranato. He leads the Ide family here in Ryoko Owari. He is not the official head of the clan. There's another, older man, but he is very elderly, so Ide Baranato is effectively the clan leader here."

Almost in unison, Toni and I aked who in particular Ashidaka carefully didn't make enemies of.

She mentioned no-one we couldn't have guessed: the governor, the other two leaders of the three opium cartels, Ide.

I paused, having run out of questions. Fibi had been quiet, as she usually is, and she had indicated that Ashidaka's widow spoke only the truth to us. But in the pause, she stepped forward and asked her own questions.

"Did Ashidaka seem worried in any way shortly before he was killed?"


"He behaved exactly in the same manner as he always did?"


Those were the only questions, and it seemed we were finished.



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