Tales of the Sea Bitch (33)


    About three hours after lunch, Kakita Kabe arrived.  He was the former head of the house guard, a Crane like the previous magistrate, reputed to be who Naritoki used to get rumors or street information.
    Toni went to meet him and bring him to Miwa.  She in turn summoned us to the audience in the court area.
    Kabe entered and bowed appropriately, then stated his name.
    Miwa introduced herself as acting for the Emerald Magistrate.  She said she understood he acted as head of the household guard for Naritoki.
    He said that yes, he had that honor.
    Miwa went into sideways Nippon questions, probing for his reactions to her asking questions.  She did say that since Naritoki died suddenly, there was no smooth transition, and went on to dance around the point that she wanted to find out what the heck was going on.
    His attitude was clearly that he wanted to be helpful, although his initial reaction was quite the opposite, especially when Miwa described herself as "acting" Imperial Magistrate.  Even us foreigners could tell he had warmed to her, despite his obvious resentment when he arrived.
    The next thing she tried to find out was whether he was worth hiring back again, and if he was trustworthy enough for it too.  I noticed Miwa glance over at Phoebe every now and again to catch the signals as she relayed what her spirits told her.
    Miwa asked him if he collected information for Naritoki when he was working for him.  He answered that with a straightforward and open, "Yes."  On the other hand, he declined to do the same for the new Emerald Magistrate, not as politely as he'd wanted.  Still, it wasn't an outright no, mostly because it wasn't clear why he felt that way.
    Miwa asked him in a very roundabout way, and found out that he knew that the actual Emerald Magistrate wasn't here, and was a Scorpion, and was unknown to him.  She then asked if he would be willing to serve in that capacity for her personally.
    Yes, he said, if he could be released from his current Master.
    Furede had already told Miwa that Kabe was working in the house where Naritoki's widow was staying.  Most likely the widow had influenced her host to say that he could work in that house.  That would of course have been a large drop in status compared with his earlier job as head of the house guard, and while the widow had status of her own, she was not the rising star that Miwa might be.  He was essentially nobody in the new house, just there to be there, without any real duties.  Doing actual work for Miwa would be much better.
    Toni whispered something to Miwa, presumably about the prospect of making that switch happen for him.  He then asked Kabe how many house guards were here when he was in charge.  I didn't catch the number myself, but from Toni's face it was obviously a whole lot more than we had now.  He went on to ask if there were any local Phoenix that were qualified to be hired too.
    Kabe did know of a few, but there were not many Phoenix in this city.  There were not enough to man these walls, but he would contact them or give their names if Miwa wanted.
    Miwa asked him to contact them.  This was of course something he could do before being released from his current service.
    The whole atmosphere was a lot more relaxed now, and Toni felt it was time to ask about reputed ninja activity over the last few months.,
    Kabe smiled, but his answer was serious.  He had not heard of any "ninja" activity in the past few months.
    I said to Miwa in Imperial that perhaps it was a coincidence that ninja activity stopped when the old magistrate died?
    Toni asked Kabe that on the night Naritoki had been murdered, did he have any idea where the magistrate might have been?  We had guessed the Licensed Quarter, but did not know for sure.
    Kabe confirmed that he had been returning from the Licensed Quarter.
    Toni said we had been planning ot look into hte Licensed Quarter, and asked if Kabe had a suggestion for somewhere that might yield answers about the murder.
    Kabe said he did not know if it would yield pertinant information, but he believed that Naritoki favored the House of Foreign Stories.
    I laughed out loud at that.  "Sounds like my kind of place," I said.
    Kabe seemed uncomfortable at my reaction.
    Toni ignored me.  He asked Kabe if he had a personal theory for who and why the magistrate was murdered.
    Kabe thought fror a few moments, then said no.  In a somewhat uncharacteristic letting down of his guard, he stated his opinion.  He could not imagine anyone would have the balls to kill the Emerald Magistrate.  He started to wonder aloud why the Emerald Champion had not more... and then remembered himself and shut up.
    I grinned broadly and looked at Miwa.  Everyone ignored me.
    Neither Toni nor Miwa had any other questions.  Everyone thanked each other for their time, and Kabe left.

    After, Toni told Miwa that the danger was probably greater to us than to hte actual Emerald Magistrate.  A larger house staff should be arranged relatively soon, he said.
    Miwa agreed.  She resolved to tell Kabe's current master that she would be obliged if he released him.  Doing that in person would be the best way to do it.
    Asking Furede about Ashidaka Michitaka -- the lord whose house the widow was staying in, and Kabe's current master -- revealed that he was an atypical Crane.  He was large, boisterous, and plain speaking, and obviously Furede didn't think much of him.  He was cousin to Naritoki and took advantage of that, and after his death he had diminished greatly in influence but not bluster.
    Miwa told Furede that she intended to hire Kakita Kabe away from him.
    Furede said that while he didn't know about bushi and fighting, that he had always found Kakita to be a good and honorable man.
    Miwa told Furede that she needed an appointment with Ashidaka Michitaka as soon as was convenient.  Presumably that would be the next day.

    That evening would be our trip to the Licensed Quarter.  Apparently the correct dress for this would be our finest Kimonos.  I was sure Phoebe would be delighted with that, and dress up for the occasion with her beads and bangles and jingles.  We would be taking our swords, but would of course surrender them at the entrance.  Toni would be wearing leather armor -- I couldn't imagine him without some sort of armor.