Having been appointed by Shiba Yuri to assist with the investigation into the death of Yoritomo Ogura, Shiba Tetsujin-no Sodona met with Isawa Kenji to review the facts of the investigation to date.
Though he concealed it well, Tetsujin could tell that Isawa Kenji was not happy about having a novice brought into his investigation; and Tetsujin suspected that the magistrate did not appreciate Shiba Yuri’s interference either. Nonetheless, Kenji dutifully gave a report on what had been assertained thus far, "The one armed ronin, Keiko testifies that she met withDaidoji Mizue at “Shinsei’s Rest” bath house the day before he was killed, where Mizue offered her a sum of koku to eliminate the Mantis Captain. Several witnesses at the bath house confirmed seeing the two converse and your own testimony confirmed that the two were in the bath house without you or her yojimbo to verify what was discussed. Keiko states that she refused the dishonorable offer, and went back to tell her associates, two ronin by the name of Tanitsu and Fuji, of the offer. Later that night, many witnesses testified to hearing the Crane involved in a very public argument with Yoritomo Ogura, who was seen stumbling out of the front of the inn, but was not seen returning. Keiko states that about that time, she awoke, and realized that her associates had slipped out of the tenement they share. She states that she feared that they had decided to accept the offer that she had declined. She headed toward the Laughing Cat, and states that she came across her associates assaulting the Mantis captain. According to Keiko, she attacked from behind, and was able to kill the two ronin, but it was already too late to save Yoritomo Ogura, his wounds were too great, so she immediately came to report what had happened."
“Mizue’s testimony did not vary much from Keiko’s except in that she states the subject of their conversation was a favor of a much less nefarious nature. Mizue asserts that she hired the ronin to acquire an exotic statue for her.Yasuki Genji was supposed to be securing the item, but indicated he would need more time. Mizue stated that she knew she needed to leave to continue her pilgrimage and after asking around was told that Keiko was a reliable hireling who would be able to ensure delivery of the item once it was acquired.’
“It is worth noting that there is one other suspect, although the testimony against him is not as sound. Yoritomo Ogura’s brother, Yoritomo Ito, claims that a Crab by the name of Yasuki Genji is responsible for the death. He claims that the Crab has been trying to get Ogura to sell some gaijin artifact for some time, and that he sent two hirelings,Hiruma Nokatsu and Shinjo Lily to coerce the item from them by force. The hirelings apparently did not know what they were supposed to be collecting, and Ogura was able to send them back to their employer without the statue.’
“Several witnesses from the docks confirm that the Crab and the Unicorn were involved in an altercation with Ogura yesterday. Their own testimony verifies this account.”
Tetsujin took all of this in for consideration. “What do you believe is the most likely scenario, Isawa Kenji-sama?”
Kenji responded sternly, “I suspect that the Yasuki being involved is far more likely than the Crane, but it is irrelevant. The testimony is not great enough to overcome the word of a samurai, even if she is only Ronin, Keiko’s word is far more direct than the Mantis’ suppositions. If I were to render judgement now, I would have to judge against Daidoji Mizue, at which point she would doubtless petition for a trial by combat. If I were confident her yojimbo would win, I would simply leave at that and be done – but even though she has only one arm, Keiko is far more experienced than Mizue’s yojimbo and she her reputation among the local merchants is well deserved. I cannot be confident of the outcome.”
“So we need to acquire testimony strong enough to overturn the word of the ronin?” Tetsujin asked.
“Where would you have me begin?”
“Go and talk to the Mantis. They seemed reluctant to share more details with me about the altercation with the Crab and Unicorn, and more-so would not go into their relationship with Yasuki Genji. Perhaps if we can get more information on his motive, we might find other witnesses to strengthen the case against him. It is possible they will be more willing to talk to you.”
Dutifully, Shiba Tetsujin went to the docks, where the Mantis Kobune was docked. He found two samurai present, both were dressed only in hakama. One wore two kama at his belt, with a daisho resting negligently on a crate nearby, upon which he was unconsciously carving with a knife. The second, bore no katana at all, but had a wakizashi in his obi. That one was unconsciously stringing and un-stringing his bow. At the approach of the Phoenix, the two lept to their feet, and put their hands to their weapons as if ready to be attacked.
Testsujin approached, and bowed humbly, hands away from his own weapon to show he meant no threat, “Forgive me, Mantis-sans. I come on behalf of Isawa Kenji-sama. I would like to ask you a few questions, if you would be so kind.”
Relaxing only slightly, the one with the kamas stepped forward, “I am Yoritomo Ito, this is Tsuruchi Koji. Unless you have come to tell me that Yasuki Genji has been arrested for the murder of my brother, than I have nothing more to say. I have already told the magistrate what happened.”
“Ah, yes, I apologize. We just need some more testimony to help establish the facts of the murder. I, understand that Genji was after some, item, from Ogura-san. If perhaps, we knew what exactly the item was, it might help us to build out case.”
“It was some gaijin statue. Ogura found it in a temple in the Colonies.” Ito gestured with his hands indicating that the item was about 18 inches tall, but approximately 8 inches wide. “It was some strange gaijin ‘god’ or something, with a couple faces, and multiple arms and some weapons and such. Whatever it was, it was worth a pretty penny, with all the people who wanted it.”
“There were more than just Genji, interested in the statue?”
“Sure, Genji, the Crane.”
“You know, the one they arrested. She didn’t have the coin for the statue so she was trying to pay for it by…other…means.” The Yoritomo made a rude gesture and laughed crudely at his companion."
Tetsujin politely ignored the Mantis crudeness, “A lot of interest indeed. What is the statue’s significance?”
Ito responded haughtily, “I don’t know, I don’t waste time with silly gaijin superstitions.”
At the same time, almost inaudibly behind Ito, the archer breathed, “Vishnu…”
Tetsujin plumbed the depths of his incredible memory, but try as he might, he could not place any meaning to the strange gaijin word.
“Ogura knew that the Crab wanted it bad enough to pay more. His goons tried to force it out of us, but my brother took their money and sent them home without it. He already had half of his money, so he might as well cough up the rest or he’d pay all that for nothing. Little did we know that the stinking Yasuki would apparently rather kill him than pay a fair price!”
Tetsujin noted at this that the Tsuruchi’s face seemed to indicate he did not agree with this last statement, but the archer decided not to interject.
“Please, forgive me. I am off-track – but I could not help but notice your fine yumi my friend. I have often heard of the prowess of the Tsuruchi archers, but have never had the occasion to see one in action. Would you be willing to give a demonstration?”
Yoritomo Ito jumped at the opportunity, “A wager!”
Tetsujin happy to see that his bait was being accepted, agreed. “Certainly, a wager. I should like to see something spectacular, but I’m not sure what would be a fair sum.”
Ito sized the Phoenix up and proposed, “Two koku!”
“Ah, well for two koku, it would have to be a fine demonstration indeed. I have heard that some archers prove their skill by shooting fruit off of a man’s head. I have here, an apple. Do you practice such things?”
The Tsuruchi seemed non-committal, but Ito gladly spoke on his behalf, “Ha! That’s child’s play for him.”
“Ah, well then we will have to make it more of a challenge – perhaps, moving? What if you were to go out on the water in a boat, and…throw it up in the air? Ah, perhaps that would be too much…”
“He can do it. The surest money we’ve gotten this whole trip.”
Yoritomo Ito looked considerably happier than he had during the entire meeting as he went off to row out onto the river.
As Tsuruchi Koji strung his bow and began to guage the wind, Tetsujin took the chance to interview him without his companion present. “So, it seems a close thing with the Unicorn and the Crab the other day…A good thing it did not come to bloodshed. They must have wanted the statue very badly…”
Koji looked nervous as he waited for his companion to row out a fair distance. Finding no polite excuse not to respond, he replied, “I do not think they even knew what they were after, or else they would not have left so easily. Besides, I got the impression Yasuki Genji didn’t even want the thing for himself, he was just trying to get it to provide to the Crane in exchange for a favor.” With a single fluid motion, Tsuruchi Koji drew and fired. Shiba Tetsujin turned and barely saw the apple he had given Yoritomo Ito hang in the air for a moment, thrown aloft from the rocking boat. The apple was little more than a dot in the distance, but Koji’s arrow caught it dead center nonetheless and both dropped to the water with a splash."
Truly, a tremendous shot.’ Tetsujin replied a bit in awe. “Two koku well spent. Do you fancy the idea of a chance at more for yourself, or do you relish the idea of seeing if your friend will share half?”
“He will share.”
“Very well, then I leave the money with you, and leave in peace. Thank you for your assistance.” The Phoenix yojimbo dropped two coins in the outstretched palm of the Mantis and returned to the magistrate’s office.
“…and so, I believe that the statue is the key to the motive, and to discovering the true culprit behind the death of Yoritomo Ogura. Have you any idea of the meaning of the word, “Vishnu” Isawa Kenji-sama?"
“Vishnu…’ Isawa Kenji thought for a moment,”yes, it is the name of a gaijin ‘god’ from the former Ivory Kingdoms. A sort of counterpart to Kali-Ma, I believe."
“A good talisman than…hmmm. I should like to investigate Yasuki Genji’s interest in this item further. I believe that we should enlist the aid of Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu. I feel that they are merely acting as his dupes in this, and we may be able to use them to solicit more information without Genji’s guard – much as you did with the Mantis and myself. Shinsei says, “two can accomplish what one cannot.”
“I doubt that the little teacher had those two in mind. I have interviewed them, they do not seem they type to be ‘investigators’ to me.”
“Nor shall they to Yasuki Genji.”
“Very well. I will release them under your responsibility than.”
“Thank you, magistrate-sama.”
Upon their return to the The Laughing Cat, Shinjo Lily was presented with a letter. The letter was folded in the shape of a dark cloud, and opened up to reveal a poem. The young woman’s eyes widened in a look of abject terror and she quickly stuffed the letter into her obi without a word as to the missive’s contents.
The odd pair took a seat to wait for further instructions from the magistrate as they had been instructed. It was not long before they were joined by a very happy Yasuki Genji coming down from his rooms. “Ah, my friends! I am so happy to see you here. I know that when last we spoke, I indicated that our affairs were all settled – but alas, I fear I must ask one more small favor. You see, it seems that our friend, Yoritomo Ogura forgot to include the primary item which I had sent you to retrieve. This of course, is not your fault, and I’m sure it was merely an oversight on his part, but I am ever so afraid that I have a very tight schedule to meet, and I simply do not have the occasion to return and correct it. Since you already know where to find him, would you mind terribly going over there, and retrieving the missing item?”
The Hiruma warrior grunted noncommittally and took a sip from his cup, grimacing at the lack of sake. Shinjo Lily stood and bowed. “Ah, Yasuki Genji-san. I am sorry to say, as much as it would please us to assist you after having done us such kindness, we are unable to comply for more reasons than you may suppose. It seems I have the grave misfortune of being the first to advise you that Yoritomo Ogura-san was found dead this morning. It is rumored to be murder, and due to a slight…mis-understanding at the docks yesterday, Hiruma Nokatsu and I have been asked to remain here until the investigation has been completed.”
Yasuki Genji, looked visibly shaken at the news, and took a moment to compose himself behind his fan. When he spoke again, it was with a hint of sadness in his voice, “I am most sorry to hear of this unpleasant news. I will see what can be done to get the two of you released once more. You have been of such help to me, I am sure that you had nothing to do with this unseemly event. To even suggest it is a travesty. I will of course, find another avenue to retrieve the item. Thank you for your kind offer.” With that, the Crab Trader bowed, and returned up the stairs to his room.
When Shiba Tetsujin arrived at the inn a few hours later, he found the scarred Crab and the diminutive Battle Maiden nursing cold cups of tea and looking extremely tired of sitting in the inn’s common room. The rest of the patrons were giving the glowering Hiruma a wide orbit of ‘personal space’.
“Excuse me, Hiruma-san…Shinjo-san. Might I have a word?”
Nokatsu eyed his companion wordlessly, and Lily stood, and bowed, responding cheerily, “Of course, Phoenix-san. How may I be of assistance? Is there any word on the investigation?”
“Well, we are certainly looking into it, and it is for that reason that I have come. I need to ask you a few questions about the events that transpired when you met with Yoritomo Ogura yesterday.”
Hiruma Nokatsu sat lightly in his chair, casting occasional wide-eyed glances between the Phoenix investigator, his companion, and the door, as Lily proceeded to provide a detailed account of the events that had transpired between the two of them and the Mantis the previous day."
“I see. Thank you very much, Shinjo Lily-san,” Shiba Tetsujin bowed in gratitude. “That does shed some light on things. Forgive me, but I would like to ask you and your friend to do a favor for us.”
“Yes. We would like you speak to Yasuki Genji. It seems that there is a certain statuette that may be a key component in the investigation. I believe that may have been what he was trying to get you to collect for him. We should like a clearer understanding of Yasuki Genji’s interest in the item. It is possible that Yoritomo Ogura-san may have been killed for possession of it. As someone who has worked for him once, perhaps he might be willing to divulge to you the secret of its value.”
“Ah, what a coincidence! Yasuki Genji-san just asked us a short while ago if we might be willing to return to see Yoritomo Ogura and retrieve something that was left out of the shipment. He seemed surprised to hear that Ogura-san had been killed. We told him that we could not go as we are held here.”
“Excellent, if you please. Go to him and tell him you have been released and would be happy to run his errand for him. See if you can get a clear description of the item you are supposed to retrieve, to ensure that it is not accidentally left behind again.”
With that, the Phoenix dismissed his young new accomplices head dutifully toward Genji’s chambers, and he headed off toward the docks to speak to the two Mantis Clansmen once again.
In the rooms of Yasuki Genji, the Trader was thrilled to hear that his associates would be able to run his errand for him. He happily described a statuette, exactly meeting the description the Mantis had given Tetsujin. Genji provided the Hiruma and the Shinjo with another coin purse, and instructed them to return to the docks and speak to Ogura’s brother, Yoritomo Ito regarding the sale of the item. He indicated that he was in the midst of preparations to leave the city, as his travel papers were due to expire, and arranged to meet them at the warehouse he was renting in the merchant district.
While Nokatsu and Lily were meeting with Genji, Shiba Tetsujin unexpectedly met with the objects of his own search, coming up the lane toward him, a couple blocks away from the inn. The two were walking quickly, weapons at the ready, and the normal crowds of the street were making haste to clear the way before them. Pretending not to have noticed, Tetsujin casually placed himself in their path, and excused himself as they nearly ran him over.
“Ah, Yoritomo Ito-san. Tsuruchi Koji-san. How fortuitous to meet you here. I was just on may way to speak with you.”
Habitually, Koji took a couple of steps back and to the side to ensure a clear shot, and Ito’s hands rested on the hilts of his kamas. “Stand aside Shiba-san. This outrage has gone on far long enough. It’s not enough that the Crab cur killed my brother, now he has stolen the statuette. I demand justice!”
“Please, my friends, consider you actions! We have no testimony to support these accusations. Think! If Genji-san truly has taken the statuette, than this is our chance to get justice for your brother. I will go, and search his things now. If he has the statuette we will have proof that he is guilty, and I have no doubt you will be granted what you seek. If he does not have it…you will only harm yourself with baseless incrimination. I urge you to go and report the theft of this item to the magistrate. I will go right now and speak to Genji-san.”
Slowly, Ito took a deep breath and exhaled. “I will do as you say, Phoenix. But I will have justice for my brother.” His hands eased away from his weapons, and the two proceeded in the direction of the magistrate’s office as directed.
Quickly, Tetsujin went back and met with Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu, who confirmed that Genji had given them additional coin, and a description of the item to complete the purchase of the statuette from Ito. They briefly discussed the ramifications of why the trader might still be trying to buy something he was being accused of having stolen, but decided to pursue what leads they had while they still had the chance, and went to the warehouse where they had been directed to meet with the Yasuki.
It wasn’t long before Genji arrived, with a wagon full of the goods that Crab and Unicorn had acquired for him earlier, and two hulking Crab body guards.
“Ah, my friends! I had not hoped to see you again so soon! Were you able to acquire the item already?”
Tetsujin, bowed and interceded. “Please, forgive me the interruption, Yasuki Genji-san. I am Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona. It seems, that Yoritomo Ito-san no longer has the item you seek. Perhaps it was inadvertently included in the shipment you received yesterday?”
“I don’t see how, my men and I searched the shipment thoroughly, but I would certainly welcome you to look for yourself. I suppose it is possible that we missed something…”
After a thorough search of the contents of the wagon, and the warehouse, no sign of the Ivory Kingdoms idol was found.
“Thank you for your cooperation. Do you perhaps know anyone else, who may have had an interest in the item?”
“Ah, well yes. The Unicorn trader, Ide Chung was also interested. That is why I was having so much trouble getting my hands on it. Yoritomo Ogura-san insisted that the Unicorn kept bidding me up. I found it very unlikely. I have dealt with Chung-san before, and there is no way he would pay such a large sum. That is why I was confident Ogura would accept my offer when I sent these two yesterday. I felt when he saw the money in hand he would give up his ridiculous posturing.”
“Ide Chung. I see.” Tetsujin reviewed his memories and confirmed having seen the portly merchant meeting with Daidoji Mizue earlier in the week. “Do you know where I might find him?”
“Well, he has a warehouse just across the way there.” Yasuki Genji pointed. “But I fear it will do you no good. He left town early this morning. I believe he was headed for Scorpion lands in the hopes of selling some paper, and stone from the colonies.”
When the three investigators returned to The Laughing Cat, there was a message waiting for Shiba Tetsujin. It read, “If you get to the point where you have no other solution, meet me at the Golden Carp.” The letter was written on nondescript paper, in practiced nondescript calligraphy. There was no explanation or name. An inquiry with the hostess, revealed that The Golden Carp was a noodle house, a few blocks north in the market district. As it was time for lunch anyway, the three decided to see if the Golden Carp had good food.
It seemed that the group was expected and the lovely young hostess showed them to a table near the back, blocked from view by the rest of the restaurant by shoji screens. A server brought them some tea and miso soup while their noodles were prepared.
From the next booth over, concealed behind a shoji screen, a gender-neutral voice intoned. “It seems your friends have found themselves in a difficult situation. It is possible I may know some credible witnesses that could bear testimony to the Crane’s innocence. All you need do is speak the words, ‘make it so’ and everything shall be arranged.”
The trio weighed heavily the price of their honor against the cost of possible failure and criminal charges, as they tried to complete the rest of their meal very careful not to say ‘make it so’ during any of their conversation. For the most part, they simply ate in silence.
After lunch, Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona, Hiruma Nokatsu, Shino Lily, and Daidoji Mizue walked the inner courtyard and garden of the inn together. Mizue had called in some favors, and been released from the magistrate’s office and was now under house arrest back in her room. She was now allowed to walk under Tetsujin’s supervision.
“Daidoji Mizue-san. We have reason to believe that the death of Yoritomo Ogura-san, may be related to a statuette, which it appears that you had wanted to purchase. Please, what, may I ask, was your interest in this item?”
At the mention of Yoritomo Ogura, the plump little Crane paused for a moment, and pretended to admire a flower, while hiding her distress. She responded, once she had suitable regained her composure. “The statuette? I can’t imagine that it would be important enough to kill Ogura-san for. I only wanted it for my lord, Daidoji Sokazawa-sama. You may recall from his estate in Nikesake, he has a taste for such exotic pieces of art.”
“And what of Yasuki Genji. Why might he have been interested in the item?”
“I don’t believe he was – other than to get it for me. He wanted to trade for a future favor. He sometimes comes into competition with Daidoji sponsored merchants, or needs to travel from Crane ports, or across Crane lands. A word from my lord at an opportune time could make a big difference in his dealings.”
“I see. What of Ide Chung? Why might he have had an interest in the item?”
“Chung-san? I can’t imagine that he would. He doesn’t deal in arts, and he could get a much better deal on gaijin artifacts from the colonies from his own suppliers.”
“Can you think of anyone else that might have wanted to purchase that item?”
“No. The price Ogura-san was asking was ludicrous. He could not find anyone who would rightfully pay it. That is why he had to remain in town as long as he did…perhaps I flattered myself to believe there might have been…other reasons, and that he was deliberately asking too much so that he might remain.”
“Forgive my intrusion. Thank you for your assistance.”
The night passed slowly and with little sleep for Shiba Tetsujin and Shinjo Lily. Nokatsu slept heavily as always. From time to time, Tetsujin overheard the soft crying of Mizue in the next room.
In the morning, they spent hours pouring over the details and discussing possible explanations and leads, but they could not escape the feeling that they were somehow missing an important piece. Finally, Shinjo Lily remembered that a Shugenja could ask the spirits a question, and that perhaps the spirits at the scene of the murder could provide some additional insight into what they were missing.
With the reluctant Crab and Phoenix in tow, the little battle maiden quickly stalked off to the magistrate’s office to ask Isawa Kenji to inquire of the earth spirits for them.
“As it so happens, I did ask the earth spirits what had transpired the first night. Retrieving a scroll from a nearby alcove, he read, ‘One human spilled the blood of another human with steel, then a heavy human arrived with two other humans. The four spilled more blood and two left in different directions.’ I will … remind … you, that according to law, the testimony of spirits does not hold weight. It can not be used to render judgement, but serves much like Kitsuki ‘evidence’ as possible direction to further inquiry.” Isawa Kenji made eye contact with Shiba Tetsujin only for a moment. “It does not determine the guilt or innocence of anyone without further testimony.”
Shiba Tetsujin-no-Sodona, found he had a sudden, and irresistible craving for Golden Carp noodles, made just so.
In remarkably short order, Daidoji Mizue was released of all charges, as a certain Shosuro Kumiko, who had caught word of the Crane’s predicament came forward and testified that she had been present at the bathhouse when the Crane had had her conversation with Keiko, and confirmed Mizue’s account of that conversation. The ronin was promptly turned over to the torturers to be questioned until she confessed to murdering Yoritomo Ogura, and attempting to frame the Crane to protect herself.
The next morning, Shinjo Lily and Hiruma Nokatsu prepared to accompany Yasuki Genji on his journey to Nikesake. Tetsujin was likewise on his way to the northwest gate, to escort Mizue and Hojatsu back to the same city, having found it necessary to cut short their pilgrimage on account of a letter indicating that Mizue’s father was in poor health. A new poster, tacked to the side of a building caught Tetsujin’s eye. The garishly painted advertisement was a grand notification, that the beautiful and talented Yoko could now be seen exclusively at The Blooming Rose.