Tales of the Sea Bitch (23)


    Bayushi Yojiro was the magistrate that Miwa was to be assisting in Ryoko Owari.  I wondered if he had any idea what was behind this posting, or whether Miwa was just shoved here to be out of her family's hair for a while.  Perhaps we'd be as much of a surprise to him as this posting was to Miwa.
    Toni was an optimist and figured we would be going there to fix problems, but I knew we were the problem and sent here to be fixed.  Iruko wasn't with us anymore, which was a big clue.

    Eventually we arrived in town.  Why we had to spend all that time on a horse and cart when there was a perfectly good river network we could have sailed on is something only the Nipponese would know.
    Ryoko Owari was a large bustling city.  The name meant Journey's End.  It was very much like any port city, all the dens of so-called vice hidden behind a transparent facade of dignity.  Apparently it supplied the opium for the whole country.  Now why the country needed that much for the legal medicinal purposes I don't know -- yeah, right -- but selling it if you weren't a certain temple was technically illegal, as were forms outside the normal prescription concoction.
    Now this kind of city I knew.  I also knew enough to know that since I stood out, I'd better watch myself.  Sure, there were more foreigners here, but I knew that wasn't going to provide cover in the town like this.

    We arrived early in the day, and Miwa headed straight for the noble quarter to find the magistrate's office.  For a while we'd be stuck with the noble side of the town, a dangerous association as I thought.  But no doubt everyone else thought it safer.
    The magistrate's office was a house, a pretty large one although by far not the grandest.  It did, however, have a fairly subtle defensive layout that perhaps made it the most fortified building aside from the governor's palace.  The gates were closed.
    Tony hammered on the doors.  After a really long time, there was an answer.  Unusually it was not a low rank samurai or even a head servant, but a young woman who bowed low to us.  She said nothing, waiting for Miwa to speak first.
    Miwa said she was here to see Bayushi Yojiro.
    The woman invited us in, past the solid door into an outer courtyard.  This was like the fortified castles, laid out as a killing zone.  But the garden and ornaments belied its practical uses, even if the plants were a bit past their prime.
    She asked us to wait, then left and bolted the door behind her.
    After an inappropriately long time, an older gentleman -- again, not samurai, but more likely to be head of household staff -- came rushing in.  Clearly he'd just pulled on appropriate clothing.  He bowed very low and asked how he might help us.
    Miwa said, again, she was here to see Bayushi Yojiro.
    He apologized and said we'd been directed to the wrong house.  This was the magistrate's house.
    I laughed out loud as Miwa asked where the magistrate was.
    He spent a lot of words saying he was sorry, but magistrate Ashidaka Naritoki had been dead for several months now.
    MIwa asked if there was an acting magistrate.
    Not to his knowledge, there wasn't.  He didn't actually say that, he apologized mostly, but he only took care of the house.
    Grieg looked very confused.  I told him not to worry.  I said, "I feel much more comfortable here."  I grinned broadly.

    I should add a word here about magistrates.  These weren't people who throw you guys in jail every other night, not like here at all.  Magistrates in Nippon had authority over anything involve foreigners, the shadow lands or shadow land magic, and anything directly affecting the emperor.  That can cover a lot of stuff, but also doesn't cover a lot of stuff.  Petty crimes?  Not their problem.

    Most of the group looked confused.  Worried, not yet.  Phoebe of course was looking at the flowers, not concerned at all.  Me, I was just amused by this whole mess-up.
    Of course magistrate business was magistrate business.  If one died, you'd have to wait until word got back to the Emerald Magistrate, in charge of the whole organization, which might not take too long.  Then he'd do something.
    All we knew here was this guy didn't know what was going on, and that really wasn't all that surprising.  Not to me, anyway.  Miwa seemed pretty confused by the whole thing.
    Miwa asked him if he knew Bayushi's name, and the guy didn't.
    We left.

    Now MIwa was asking for Bayushi by name at the gate guard of the noble quarter.  He had no idea who that person might be, never heard of him.  So then she asked him who the current magistrate was.
    He said he didn't believe a new one had been assigned yet.  He believed this city was a very safe place and not really in need of a magistrate.  Of course they welcomed the Emperor's presence here, but considered it much more of an honorary roll.
    Yep.  Old one got offed, new one too scared to take up the post.  "What's the confusion here?"

    Toni and I agreed on what to do next.  Red Dragon Inn, he said, there's always one of those -- I said The Mermaid was always a good bet.  But here, who knew?  Maybe there's Golden Peony.
    But then perhaps, I said, we should take over the magistrate's house.  After all, Miwa had the posting here, she had a right to be there.  Just because there isn't a magistrate doesn't invalidate her posting as assistant.
    Of course another option would have been to impose on whatever prominent Phoenix might be here in the city.  That seemed a little temporary to me.  I liked the idea of busting in and taking over a hunk of the magistrate's place.
    The other option would be for Miwa to pull rank and insist on staying with the governor.  But she was leaning to my idea.  I did think it suited her style more.

    Back we went to the magistrate's house.
    The older gentleman had opened the door this time, but more put together.  Miwa said she was the assistant to the magistrate, and she was here to move in. He went off, presumably to make some arrangements.
    At one point, a younger man, 20's, clearly samurai, looked out of a window at us with puzzlement and then stepped back.
    Toni started shifting nervously, readying for combat.  I gave him a nod and followed his lead.  My bow was ready.
    The servant didn't come back though the servant's door, but the young man, a bushi Crane, opened the main door and stood there blocking the way with his hand on his hilt.  He clearly was not inviting us in.
    He introduced himself with his name, no title.
    Miwa introduced herself as Miyara Miwa, assistant to the magistrate.
    There was a flicker of surprise or uncertainty, but then he composed himself and said that Ashidaka had been dead two months and it was unlikely that she was his assistant.
    Toni made a half-step to address the insult, but caught himself and waited.
    Miwa said she had been appointed to the new magistrate, who apparently had not yet arrived.  She was clearly not going to take no for an answer.
    He paused for a long time, a good half a minute, then bowed.  He asked her the name of her master.
    Miwa told him Bayushi Yojiro.
    He bowed again, said he was unaware that a new magistrate had been assigned, and was standing on the memory of Ashidaka.  He said he was an assistant to Ashidaka for several years.  He barked some orders into the main courtyard beyond him, and a few servants started bustling around.  He asked Miwa if she would like him to show her to her room.

    Miwa's room was not large, but really nice.  The magistrate clearly lived well, very well.  Her room had a desk, a bed, all that usual stuff.
    Along the way, the samurai said that Naratoki never had a large staff, and that he was all that remained of that.  He mentioned that the household had been running low on funds, so a lot of the staff had left.  He asked her when she expected the new magistrate to arrive.
    Miwa had of course expected him to be already here.
    The man found that surprising too, of course.

    As for us, there were other rooms.  Toni told Sun to work with the servants here to figure it all out.  We'd have to double up, but then that's what Phoebe and I would be doing anyway.
    Once the samurai came back, Toni asked him how his master died.  He was murdered, as we'd assumed, but the murder had not been investigated.
    The man said that the investigation of the murder of an Emerald Magistrate was way above his pay grade.  After our experiences, we knew exactly what he meant.  Heck, he'd probably not live past the first visit to question someone.
    Toni, however, said he wished it was above his.
    Me, I saw no reason for it.
    Grieg asked if I cared.
    No, I didn't, and that's what I told him.
    Did I want him wandering around to perhaps kill another assistant or his staff, asked Grieg?
    We weren't the old magistrate, I said, it wasn't our job to make the same mistakes or make the same enemies.
    Toni considered that the murder of a magistrate was just shy of murder of the Emperor, and therefore our business.
    He had a point.  I had to grudgingly accept that.  Great.  I'd rather deal with dockside roughs than organized crimelords, but I guess that was it for us.
    Speaking to Toni, I thought the first thing we needed to do was gently figure out what deals the old magistrate had, and to keep them up rather than stirring waters.  We wnat the old allies on our side, and at least that way we're not building stuff up from scratch.  Formal crime is based on relationships, let's try and hold up the ones the old magistrate had, at least.  I thought it was probably Toni's area to cover, but he could call on me for whatever he needed.  As I said, I was comfortable on the docks if that's what he wanted.

    Phoebe and I had a room, I supported Toni and Grieg sharing one by bringing up that Toni could send the poiter around from their room if he needed anything.  Seemed to work, because that was how they ended up.  I gave Grieg a private grin.  Peter could have his own room.

    Once we were to ourselves, Toni brought up several issues with Miwa.  First he asked about sending out communications, whether by letter or by magic, to let people know what was going on here.  Then he brought up what I'd suggested, taking up the old magistrate's relationships.  Then he asked about whether to keep up with the story of this new guy was the magistrate.
    Miwa said that for the moment we'd assume he was on his way, and stick to that story.
    I mentioned it might be unwise to launch an investigation into the death of the old magistrate.  No reason for us to step on toes yet.  I asked if we really cared who actually killed the magistrate or not?  Truth was so fluid here, we didn't have to go find out what really happened yet.
    Grieg insisted he had a sense of justice and was a  bit outraged at the idea, but I caught Miwa giving a slight nod even though she didn't say much.
    Miwa did need to send a message, though by traditional means.  She wanted Grieg here just in case she needed him.  So for the time she would be the magistrate's assistant and act for him here.

    Time to take on the old magistrate's dealings...
    When questioned, the samurai told Miwa that he was not in charge of the money, and gave her the name of the man who was.  He wasn't sure where he was now, since he was one of the ones who had left.  The man had been the one to keep all the records, although whether the records were here or not was unknown.
    The man's office was here in the outermost rooms of the magistrate himself.  There were cabinets that had probably contained records -- and still might have contained them -- but they were locked and the key unknown.
    Toni gave me a look and asked if I knew anything about those locks, but I had to tell him I was not the person to help with that.
    There was a writing desk with just some writing materials, no drawers.  There were two seating areas, one set up superior to the others, and one set up with all chairs at the same level.
    Toni asked the samurai where and how the master was murdered.  The man told us, and when Toni asked said he did have a family.  His wife had left here a month or so ago, and was still in the city.  Obviously the magistrate's personal possessions had been removed too.
    Phoebe asked the samurai how long the magistrate had been in that post, and was told it had been several years.  While the rest of our group moved around looking for something useful, she sat down at the desk and looked for something useful from her spirits.  Apparently -- as she would tell us later -- no particularly emotional events happened here, but the man who sat at this desk for many years was a man with a finely developed sense of appearances, mixed with a sense of stability, predictability, and healthy dose of realism.
    The samurai asked if Miwa would like him to find the record keeper to come and talk to her.  Since we knew that might reveal where the key might be, how the money was collected, where the money might be and so on, of course we agreed.
    He then asked if he might set up some appointments to visit with various people in town, including a social call with the late magistrate's wife, and perhaps an appointment with the governor, and a social call on a few other important people in town.
    He mentioned no Phoenix clan family names.  Toni quietly told Miwa that was who she needed to talk to first.
    The samurai said he could set that up too.  In what order and how quickly would she like to see them?
    Miwa consented to all of this.  This was exactly what we needed.  I agreed with Toni -- Phoenix first -- but Miwa wanted to see the records man first of all and then the Phoenix.  After that, the others as convenient, spread out over the next week or so.

    As for how the old magistrate was murdered, well, I'll tell you that next time.