Taking Care of Business

The dark room glowed a little from the orange ember of the opium pipe. Gentle bubbles percolated through the hookah. Kimme chewed on the mouthpiece, the smoke hung in her mouth, and she exhaled a rolling circle of smoke.

Tapping the mouthpiece against her teeth, she shook her head, “It is very simple, I am completely legitimate, and making profit, I do not need to short any shipments.” Kimme spoke to the two shadowy figures across the low table. “The possibility of profit is amazing, we can take our time to rebuild a more, less visible market,” she paused for a small puff, “and do it right.” She ignited a tiny paper in the bowl and lit a tiny oil lamp. The Yobanjin lamp changed the dark to a yellow light.

One of the figures leaned forward, a man with short cropped hair, and took a pipe from the hookah. “What if this new Taisa is not as agreeable? We may never get a better chance.” he spoke with a slow hiss at the end of the sentence. Kimme still shook her head. The second figure leaned forward and set down a thick tea cup, almost a bowl. As he leaned foward a long pony tail fell forward that he quickly snatched before it fell across the oil lamp’s flame. “Kirihashi 切橋, you should be more patient, Kimme knows a good thing. It may be the only good thing Hikozaemon ever did right,” the man gesturing no thank you to Kimme’s offer of the pipe.

A clatter behind them made the two men jump. A few moments later a cat wandered quickly under the table and out again on an errand only the cat knew. Kimme chuckled and opened a tiny jeweled box with more opium. Kirihashi turned back, he had drawn a small knife, his hand shook, ever so slightly. “Please put that away, I am trying to present a reputable appearance, be a ‘legitimate’ merchant,” Kimme grinned and shifted where she knelt, “It is nice to not feel like I need to always look over my shoulder.” The two men settled back, the one named Kirihashi glanced backwards occasionally.

Kimme stared at Kirihashi and closed the jeweled box. She took the pipe from his hand and slipped a large tea cup to him, “Let us talk a bit before any more,” and she returned the jeweled box to her sleeve. “Strangely enough, the Lady who has set these arrangements seems interested in the rumor mill. She is a Scorpion, very proper, sort of a clean cut, spoiled brat to me. But Scorpion always pay for information, and she pays well.” Kimme set a gold koku on the table. Both the men leaned forward, a ponytail crackled as it swept through the flame of the lamp.

Kimme quickly returned the koku to her sleeve and tapped her fingertips together, “Bararou, 茨郎, be more careful,” Kimme said as the man grabbed his ponytail. “And that is what I need, careful partners. You two are not the only ones in town.”

Kirihashi stabbed his knife into the table, “Not the only two, but there are not many, the Dragon army did little questioning, I almost prayed to see a Kitsuki. Togashi’s men took no chances. Maybe a change of scenery is…Ise Zumi dont kill Heimin…unless.” There was a tense quiet around the table as they all stared at the oil lamp. The flame wavered causing the stares to break free from the yellow light.

Kimme sipped at her tea, “And again another reason we go a little more south and look to the west for opportunity,” she let that sink in. Bararou shifted uncomfortably, “West may not be as welcome a place, or as profitable. But information is all over to be bought and sold, that I know for certain.” Kirihashi glanced at the knife in the table and at his partner, sipped his tea. “Kirihashi?” Kimme questioned.

The man was sweating, “I can get arms from the battlefields, and I can see which smiths are around to repair and fill orders,” he lowered his voice, ”Yobanjin may want some tidbits and they may trade in information, nothing to the west but…” and both men said in unison “Unicorn!” and they smiled at each other.

Bararou grinned and wrung his hands, “They are crafty traders but they are filled with information, if that Scorpion will pay for that. And Unicorn always have gaijin trinkets, Yobanjin goods could be sold to a new market,” His demeanor became all business, fingers working an invisible abacus. “That would be very good profit.” The man’s teeth shined in the yellow lamp light.

Kimme smiled, “Let’s work on legitimate concerns please but put some ears out for any information.” Kimme sipped at the tea, “Maybe if anyone is interested in the Dragon who is marrying a Scorpion, maybe wet their lips.” She paused mindfully "Oh, if anyone asks about a young child they came back from the wilderness with. Maybe tease them with that. These may bring in a little money” Kimme added casually.

Kirihashi stood abruptly and drew the knife from the table, “Fine, we will see what the wind tells us. Necklace traders and rumormongers don’t have Samurai wanting to cut their heads off for looting” and he walked toward the door. Bararou rose more calmly and bowed to Kimme, “Or what we can tell the wind. Thank you Kimme,” the door thudded shut making Bararou wince,” for your hospitality.” He bowed again. Another thump from outside made Bararou smile awkwardly. “Information can’t hurt that much?” He walked to the door, slid it open and bowed back to Kimme one last time.

The wet streak across his face surprised him almost as much as the large ball that flew past his face and landed on the table. The hookah was knocked over. The ball was Kirihashi’s head, his knife driven to the hilt up under his chin. Kimme stood in abject horror, the head was soaked in water, and blood drained from the neck. In the dim light through the door she saw Kirihashi’s body half in the alley drain.

Bararou never made a sound as his ponytail was wrapped around his opened mouth and pulled tight into his collar. A knee to his coccyx lurched him inside. He was driven to his knees by a black clad figure whose face was completely covered. Bararou had a short sword to his throat and his chest arched outward. His wide eyes looked at Kimme not knowing what to do.

Kimme was in shock. She turned her sleeve pocket out dropping the jeweled box, the koku and a small pretty knife onto the table. A line of blood, Kirihashi’s blood, drew a line across her from head to hip. Her mouth could not make a sound, but it moved to try. The black clad figure spoke with a raspy, almost insect like voice, “We don’t waaaant these things, money means nothing. Some of ussss have been…reallocated, and now have been tasked to watch over some things for our Lady. She does not care if you make money, but information will not be sold. Thissss is forbidden. Collected, yessss, sssold no” The black figure went silent, Bararou whimpered from the floor.

Kimme shook in terror, her mouth still unable to make a sound. “Do you understand ussss?” the black figure hissed. Kimme’s jaw moved but there was no air to make words. “Understand us!??” the black figure pressed the man forward some, the small sword drew a line of blood on his neck. “Yes!” Kimme croaked out. “Good, and do not tell the Lady you have…talked…with us, she is not to know of our…help” the figure stood unmoved. “And one lassssst thing, if you hear anything or anyone asking about the child, you will put two lamps in your window at night.” Kimme slowly nodded then shook her head very fast. “And if you ever ssssay another word about the child…”

A Black clad arm grasped Bararou’s head and using the torso for leverage the figure quickly stepped to the man’s side. He twitched and the breaking sound was all too clear. A small noise came from Bararou but nothing more, and the Black clad figure stood at the table.

Kimme buried her face in her hands, trying not to scream, trying not to look. She heard Bararou’s body slump to the floor. Years in the black market had given her a strong stomach, or so she thought. She felt ill and there was an acrid taste in the back of her throat.

Drawing air through the fabric of her sleeve, she dared to look again. The lamp had been extinguished and the black clad figure was gone. The head was gone and so was Bararou’s body. She may have heard a splash, she didn’t know and didn’t care. She slumped down on the couch and cried.

Two alleys away, Shosuro Kaito stepped into a bag of sawdust and removed her shoes. The black clothes, the ones from the street sweeper, she carefully turned inside out and rolled into a bag. She went a block over again and knelt by a stream, cleaning her blades, drying them with another cloth. She tied the bags into a colorful cloth with a fancy knotted bow. Up one more alley and she lit a lantern, then walked out into the main street.

She minced to the gate of the Taisa’s temporary house and grinned at the ashigaru guards, who snapped to attention as she walked by. She almost skipped through the gate, “I love shopping,” Kaito said to herself in passing. The guards settled as she passed. She jumped back out through the gate, her fan open covering her face. One guard almost fell over, the other stood rigid at attention. She closed her fan, and placed it under the stumbling guard’s chin. She turned his chin to look at the other Ashigaru’s rigid form. The fan lightly tapped him on the nose, “I am in a good mood after clothes shopping, so I will forget I saw this, I suggest you do too,” and Kaito drifted quietly into the gate. The silence was broken by the breaking wind of the rigid Ashigaru.

Kaito slipped into the house unnoticed. “I wonder what I should wear to meet with the Kitsuki Sensei?” she pondered as she danced to her room.

Taking Care of Business

L5R : Jade Winds ednoria