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 question.
    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 them.
    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 the House.
    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 meeting.

    "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.