Date: April 2, 2011
When the ruler of an entire nation is murdered and the question of who was the culprit is causing civil war, you need a top-notch detective to investigate. Saito Jon steps up to fill that role.
"Broken Memories Pt. 3: Gumshoe"
Daimyou's Castle [Land of Grass]
The Land of Grass was not a friendly place to travel for the average person anymore. Caught up in a civil war that was beginning to reach the boiling point, unknown citizens traipsing about tended to be accosted, questioned, and sometimes detained or, in not-that-rare circumstances, executed by the two opposing armies: Daimyo Nagaro in the north, and General Ourimo in the south. Arriving at the capital palace of the Land of Grass provided little more than mixed suspicion and hostility as a welcome, even for one bearing the official travel authorization of a visiting dignitary.
Takahiro Nagaro had not seem pleased by the prospect of allowing a foreign shinobi to investigate the cause of his late uncle's death. This was likely due to the fact that not a single Grass-nin could be found in the palace, despite the new Daimyo having called for their mobilization and service. The shinobi of this land apparently cited that they had other duties to attend to, leaving Nagaro with only his regular forces to oppose the threat in the south. And with the whole world watching the events unfolding in his country with hungry eyes, it made the new despot understandably nervous to have potential enemies in his main bastion.
And yet he was not willing to risk alienating, nor angering, Kumogakure and another country by refusing their request. Though he had seemed annoyed, even angered, he had given Jon permission to conduct his investigation, 'so long as it does not interfere with the guard's palace duties and is resolved quickly.' This had come after swearing that he had nothing to do with his father's, Shuichi's brother, plot to assassinate the previous Daimyo, and his suspicions that the entire thing was being orchestrated by the General himself.
Thus we arrive at the current situation. Though officially a 'guest', Jon was escorted by four samurai as if he were a prisoner, was allowed to go nowhere without them as long as he remained on palace grounds, and was ordered to restrict his investigation to the wing of the palace where Shuichi had been murdered. The four samurai, the new guard captain, and a maid were all gathered in the outer chambers of the former daimyo's rooms. Nagaro had selected new quarters for himself, forgoing the use of his late uncle's, having had this one refurbished for a few of his favorite concubines. Said consorts were out for the now, leaving the chambers to the six of them.
The room was decorated in varying shades of red, most of them at, or close to, pale pink. Plush cushions in tiers, expensive low tables, and ornate artwork hanging on the walls. A pair of double doors leads out into the halls and the rest of the royal wing, while another pair of double doors, notably less sturdy, lead further into the suite.
"Sir." The captain, a man is his mid-forties, bearing the rugged looks and posture of a seasoned warrior the years were only just beginning to show on, bows as Jon is led into the chamber. "I am Himotoro Hito, Captain of his Lordship's guard. I was present during the questioning of the men on duty on… that night. Mime-san here," He gestures towards the teenaged maid, who bows quickly and nervously. "Was the one who cleaned up after the, er, 'mess'. I thought you might have questions for her, as well."
Politics and intrigue. Working 'for' a self-serving, paranoid aristocrat. Being treated as a borderline intruder. Knowing that if you do find evidence against the current ruler, you'll instantly become a target, and if you don't, you'll likely solidify his undeserved reign. What could motivate Jon to face all of these troubles in a country not his own? The knowledge that it could end a civil war, that's what. As important as his sleuthing work is at ordinary times, this is the sort of situation about which they say, 'For such a time as this, I was placed on the earth.'
Jon returns the bow to the captain. "Good to make your acquaintance, Himotoro-san. I'm sure I'll be relying on you a lot in this investigation." Jon turns his attention to the maid next. "Hello, Mime-san. I'm Saito Jon, and this is Scruvo. Don't pay him any mind." Scruvo turns his head away indignantly. "Huh, goin' straight to makin' me th'bad cop, I see. Dunno why, you're a natural at it." :P Jon pulls out his notepad and pencil. "To start with, Mime-san, I'd like you to tell me everything you can remember about the incident. Talk about whatever comes to mind first, whether it was that night or before it or after it."
The guard captain, all four escorting samurai, and likely Jon himself all turn to look at the young maid, and she all but visibly wilts under the scrutiny. A small, mousy woman, she likely had plenty to be nervous about as she was probably near the very bottom of the food chain here in the palace, likely only outclassing the stableboys who slept outside next to the horses. She turns red from the bottom of her throat to the tips of her ears, her eyes downcast on the floor, licking her lips nervously and glancing from side to side as if she were thinking of running away.
"Um… Um…" She seems to wilt further as the captain frowns, but glances at him as she clears her throat. When he gives her a quick jerk of a nod, she continues, still not looking at Jon, but at the floor. "I-I found the body, Saito-sama. He was on the bed. His e-expression it was… was…" The woman covers her face. "H-He must have been in horrible pain be… before the end. I-I screamed." Her hands come down. "And the guards came in…"
She takes a deep, healing breath, as if stealing herself further against the horror of that discovery. "When his b-body was removed, I-I cleaned his bed. There was a lot of-of moisture. Damp, smelly. Like sweat. And… and… it had been there a while. A-All night. It w-was like nothing I've ever seen. There was so much of it, h-he had to be in pain f-for hours, but no one ever came to help him!"
Jon writes down what Mime says carefully, noting the details of her expression and voice. He doesn't detect anything unusual about it right now, but it's amazing how such nuances can become important later. "I see. Was there anything unusual about the position he was lying in, or the state of the bed? Besides being sweaty, I mean." "Take y'time, lass," Scruvo remarks. "Ain't like any of us 'ave anythin' more important t'do with our time than find th'murderer of th'blinkin' Daimyo, right?" ;) Jon chuckles inwardly, wondering if anybody would dare disagree with that assessment, casually stated though it was. "What can you tell me about what was turned up in the initial investigation?" John asks aside to the captain.
The young woman nods as the bird tells her to remain calm, though she kind of flinches when he speaks, as if he were doing so with the voice of Hell itself. She takes several more deep breathes, her eyes glued to the floor at Jon's feet. "H-He was sideways, a-and his arms were up. Like… this?" She holds her arms up over her head. Here, the captain intervenes.
"The initial investigators believe that he was moved after death."
The young woman just nods vigorously as she licks her lips. "T-The sheets were sticky? Gross-feeling. Um… um… they were rumpled, all like…" She scribbles her fingers together. "…wrinkly. Like someone was moving around a lot o-on it? A-A lot of poison does that s-sometimes, I'm told. T-To people."
The captain reaches to his belt, pulling out a small vial. This he holds out for Jon. "We determined that he was poisoned with some sort of highly-advanced toxin that he ingested. We doubt the cooks did it, so someone had to convince or force him to drink the liquid. We found this vial in Lord Takahiro Nagamu's room when we searched it following questioning the posted guards. Whatever toxin killed Lord Takahiro was also present in this vial." He shakes his head. "Near as can be told by an apothecary, it's natural, not manmade. It bears some similarities to insect venom, but is quite unlike anything he'd ever come across before. When a minute dose was adiministered to a rodent, it took almost an hour to die, and seemed to be in excruciating pain. Lord Shuichi was given a much larger dose."
Jon nods slowly. The pieces seem to fit so far. Venom killing in such a way is believable, especially seeing as it's been tested on a rat, and it would be difficult to make it look like it happened that way without actually doing it. But it does seem unecessarily theatrical. Why kill in such an obvious, traceable fashion? And if you were going to do so, would you really be so foolish as to keep the poison supply? Framing seems much more likely.
"In order to create that kind of scenario, the Daimyo's death must have taken a while," Jon remarks. "What's known about people's movements around this room that night?"
Mime seems grateful to be able to blend into the background, out of the center of attention as the questions now turn towards the guard captain. She slowly, almost imperceptibly slinks a little distance away, doing her best to stand next to a piece of furniture and look like she was of no further use. Of course, she wasn't about to leave without being dismissed.
Hito scratches at his chin as he considers the question for a moment. "We questioned everyone on guard that night, especially the guards stationed right outside these doors. In the early evening, Mime," he gestures towards the background-maid. "Was sent out of the Daimyo's quarters for the night and told to deliver a message to Lady Ryoko. Lord Takahiro, that is, the late Lord Takahiro, requested her company for the evening."
He gives another shrug. "But she never showed. Frail, that one. Took ill a lot from her exhaustion on stage. Instead, they said Lord Nagamu left his rooms and came to see the Daimyo. Stayed for several hours, and then left. That makes him the last one to see him alive."
The captain shakes his head. "Other than that, it was reported as being quiet as a mouse all night. Er, until the morning, that is. The guards outside somehow claim they never heard a sound. I personally believe they must have been part of Nagamu's conspiracy." Hito lowers his voice. "You shoulda seen his face. No way a man goes through pain like that for that long and doesn't make a noise. But we found marks on his wrists and ankles. We suspect he may have been tied down and gagged. Still… these walls aren't that thick. Someone should have heard something. They were either in on it, or derelict in their duties."
That is rather odd, Jon notes. Regardless of who administered that poison, it should have been very difficult to tie the Daimyo to the bed and gag him without making some sort of noise. Not to mention, absolute silence should have been strange to the guards. If that's a cover story for cooperating with the murderer or falling asleep at their post, it's not a very good one. "Where are these guards now?" Jon inquires. "I think I'd like to speak to them."
"Uh…" For once, it's the captain who seems a bit put off! He rubs the back of his neck a bit sheepishly as he unapologetictly shrugs his shoulders. "Same place as all of the other guards who've failed in their duty."
For a moment, it seems he's not going to elaborate, but then he continues. "After Nagamu, and most of the royal family involved in the conspiracy, were gathered up and executed, every samurai on duty in the palace that night was ordered to commit seppuku." A pause. "I'm just glad Nagaro let them die with some honor, even if some of them deserved none of it."
Hito grabs the belt at his waist, scowling. "Every one of them are dead, by the new daimyo's orders. When a warrior fails so completely in his duty, there is only one way he can redeem himself: with his life. I took all of their testemonies and can speak for them in this life. But asking them new questions is quite impossible. Unless you can communicate with the dead." He narrows his eyes, glancing towards Scruvo. "…You can't, can you?"
Oi. Samurai. -.-; "Nnnno, that's a little beyond my capability," Jon mutters. Great, eliminate half the potential witnesses in a murder case, wonderful idea. Jon inhales deeply. "Okay…when they told you that they hadn't heard anything…were you questioning both of them at the same time? How exactly did their responses match up? Did they seem odd in any way?"
The samurai captain shrugs. "I questioned them both at the same time, yes. That's when I became suspicious of them. Their story, eh… Nagamu wasn't an overly-strong man. He would have had difficulty tying Lord Takahiro up while he was awake. They said he didn't bring any weapons with him, and there was nothing in the room that was used to strike the Daimyo. According to their report, he announced himself, went inside, they heard nothing, not even shouting or so much as a bump. Then he walks out calm as you please and goes right back to his room."
"They swear they weren't accomplices, but… I have my suspicions they played a hand in the silencing and binding of Lord Takahiro. They seemed a bit confused when I asked for details, like they were trying real hard to remember. …Or to make something up. Coupla liars, if you ask me. Liars and treasonous dogs. Seppuku was too good for them."
"But beyond their impossible story, no, nothing strange. 'Least not until those damned ninja came in and kidnapped Lady Ryoko. Up to me I'd have a whole battalion go and make them answer for it. But his Lordship doesn't want to give the shinobi cause to join that bastard Ourimo. It seems a pretty clear-cut scheme. Nagamu and his family off Takahiro to put himself on the throne, but they were found out and dealt with. Now… we have his Lordship, last known living Takahiro."
Jon makes a mental note to suggest a basic course in police procedures for the security personnel of this place. "I'm pretty sure they'd have come up with a different story if they were trying to protect Nagamu," Jon remarks. "If they were really so unimaginative that saying they didn't hear anything was the best they could come up with, they wouldn't have bothered saying Nagamu was there at all." Jon ponders for a moment. "What about other people who were around that night? People who weren't ordered to commit seppuku?" Jon glances over to the maid. "Memi-san, how clearly do you remember what you were doing that night, aside from what you've already told us?"
"Maybe you're right." The guardsman shrugs his shoulders blankly. "Doesn't matter now. The evidence is as clear and overwhelming now as it was then. The investigation has been completed and the guilty punished." Hito's frown deepens. Clearly, like all 'cops', he didn't like having his investigations reopened and questioned. Soldiers and samurai tended to get territorial like that.
"The palace staff were all in bed by that time. Some of the night staff were cleaning, but none were in the royal wing aside from the guards. They all said the same thing: the only ones they saw were Mime-san," he gestures at the girl. "And Nagamu."
The young woman is already shaking her head before Jon has finished his question, though she keeps her eyes notably downcast and turned away. "N-Not very well, sir. I-It was just like any other night. I left Lord Takahiro's room after cleaning the chamber pots, a-and he ordered me to ask Ryo- Ah, Lady Ryoko to c-come to his room. I s-spoke to her. S-She seemed well… She said she'd go, but… I-I guess she never did."
Jon nods slowly again, then puts away his notebook. "I'm about to do something which you may find a little disorienting," Jon announces, calmly and unhurriedly performing a few handseals. "Please bear with me, it's just something that helps me think." Jon completes his handseals, and the room's pinks and reds fade into shades of grey. Somehow or other, Jon's vest is replaced by a long trenchcoat, the guards are dressed in snazzy suits, and the shadow of a slowly rotating fan plays across the wall. ~It was a tough case, one of the toughest I'd run across in quite a while,~ comes Jon's voice, although Jon himself is simply pacing around with a thoughtful look on his face. ~Not because there was any question about what happened, no, that had been established before I ever arrived. The real question, which hung in the air like a bad cologne, was how to squash the slanders against my client for good.~
At least, that's how it appears to Hito and the other guards. Jon glances at his crow companion. "Scruvo, keep an eye on them, would you?" Scruvo hops off Jon's shoulder and onto a nearby dresser while Jon moves closer to Mime. "They're in another world now, Mime-san," Jon murmurs. "We don't have a whole lot of time, so I really need you to be honest with me. How do you know Ryoko?"
The guards look at each other, and then to Jon, their hands inching towards the dual swords at their waists, as if anticipating having to cut the Kumogakure male down if he makes any sudden movements. Even the samurai captain looks suspicious, though as the illusion begins to unfold, each of them relaxes. Nothing seemed to be amiss, he had simply changed clothing and made a few… aesthetic changes. They aren't even looking at the real Jon and Mime any longer.
The maid, however, looks uncertain, between Jon and the guards. The guards. Jon. The gaurds. Jon. She wets her lips nervously, trying to look anywhere but at any of the men in the room. "S-She's the- was the Daimyo's consort, sir. The Precious Consort, set above all others. She's very kind a-and very talented, by a-all accounts. I've never gotten to see her perform…"
She shifts from foot to foot for a moment. "But she's v-very, very nice to everyone in the palace. W-When she wasn't having m-me do… things…" Again her pale skin reddens and her eyes get a bit watery, but she shakes her head. "O-Or she was. I-I hear the shinobi-sama's, t-the ones from Kusagakure, they took her."
Jon thinks carefully. This case doesn't add up the way the loyal home guard wants it to. Something's missing, and the biggest loose end that looks remotely pursuable (thanks to samurai concepts of honor :P) is this Lady Ryoko. Maybe she's just what she's purported to be, or maybe there's something more. That maybe is all Jon has to go on now. "All right, thank you Mime-san," Jon says. "I'm going to see if I can talk to the people at Kusagakure and make certain she's being treated well. Is there anything else you can tell me about her? The smallest things may help."
Meanwhile, Scruvo croons to the guards to enhance the illusion they're under. "Times like this'n, I always thought back to th'case o' th'Maltese Crow, an' th'blinkin' merry-go-round it wos solvin' that capah…"
"Um… Um… I-I don't know…" The young maid looks around uncertain, perhaps afraid, or perhaps simply not knowing anything more. She wasn't used to being the center of attention from so many people! "S-She had visitors sometimes… I know everyone in the palace, but I-I didn't know them. …The other maids might be h-help more. H-Her quarters have b-been given away. H-His Lordship didn't care f-for her like L-Lord Takahiko did… I-I dunno if anything of hers is l-left…"
She bites her lip painfully, looking towards the guards. They, however, are still caught up in the illusion that has been cast over them, watching the illusory Jon stroll about the room self-narrating. Finally, she looks towards the shinobi male, meeting his eyes for a mere split second, before dropping them again.
"P-Please, she was so nice u-usually… I-I don't want to cause trouble…" Her voice lowers to almost the barest of inaudible whispers. "She… S-She wasn't… f-faithful. R-Really, that's all I know."
Jon tilts his head slightly. Conceptually, this is no big surprise; the sort of person who'd be willing to sell her body to an elderly rich man (who himself has multiple such girls in his service) shouldn't be expected to have strong principles. Knowing specifics about it, however, could be useful. "You can trust me, Mime-san," Jon says. "I'm here to catch the bad guys, not hurt anybody who hasn't done anything wrong. How do you know that?"
"I-I-" The teenaged maid looks fearfully for a moment towards the entranced guards, before her eyes return to the floor and she shakes her head. "I-If you tell anyone I t-told you, I-I'll say I didn't…"
"Those visitors, she… I-I could hear them sometimes. N-Nobody notices the nobodies. W-We're just like f-furniture." The stammering girl stops for a moment to gulp loudly, as if her throat were trying to constrict, wiping her slim hands on her apron as if they had suddenly become incredibly sweaty and slick. "S-Sometimes she did things with… with the m-maids. I-I know b-because I changed her sheets. I service t-this whole wing, I w-was in her room a l-lot."
Those slim, ginger fingers twist together uncertainly. "B-But she was good to e-everyone most of the time… I-I mean everyone h-has their b-bad moods, r-right?"
Bad moods? This is starting to go beyond the realm of universal traits for call girls. Not all the way to rare, maybe, but still… "Yes…yes, everybody does have bad moods. When I'm in a bad mood, sometimes I'll go do a workout on a training dummy, or just have a cup of tea. What do you think Lady Ryoko did when she was in a bad mood?"
Shifting from foot-to-foot, the young Mime continues to look increasingly uncomfortable as the other men in the room continue to stare, and even begin to converse, with a figure only they could see. Her shoulders hunch momentarily around her ears in an immitation of a shrug, as if she really didn't want to answer the question. But she eventually does.
"J-Just what most of the women do… She b-broke things… Threw things… S-She… normal stuff!" Looking almost pleading, despite not quite meeting Jon's eyes, though she's at least elevated her gaze from the floor to his chest, the maid is practically squirming on the spot. Finally, she covers her face with both hands. "She… w-whipped once. I-I didn't do a-anything wrong, I-I swear, she j-just… just seemed to l-like it."
"She d-did those things to…" An earnest glance towards the genjutsu'd guards. "L-Lord Taka- I-I really can't say! P-Please, I don't want to t-talk about that a-anymore!"
Hoooo boy. It's hard to say for certain if all this ties into the murder, but clearly this Lady Ryoko is no ordinary call girl if she managed to get away with that sort of behavior. Especially if the Daimyo was sometimes the victim of it. Either she was one heck of a manipulator, or she had ninja-like capabilities. Maybe both. Jon smiles ruefully. "Okay, Mime-san. I think you've told me enough. Y'know…I have a wife, and she's a very passionate, physical person. When she gets upset, she'll shout, pound things, maybe even break something every once in a rare while, by accident…but she'd never hurt anybody who didn't deserve it, let alone take pleasure in whipping. That's not normal."
~I knew that my colleagues had given me some valuable insights,~ the Noir!Jon narrates. ~What I needed now was some time to fit all the pieces together. Once it was all locked in place, it would form an impenetrable shield for my client's reputation — a shield called Truth.~ The illusion fades, with Jon standing just where the guards would expect him to be. "Thanks for all your help, gentlemen," Jon says. "I wouldn't mind buying you all a round of drinks if you'd care for it. Once you're off-duty, of course. Shall we be off?" Scruvo resumes his perch on Jon's shoulder and gives Mime a wink. "Chin up, lass, it'll all turn out right. Nevah met a case Johnny-boy couldn't wrap up with a happy liddle bow on top." ;)
The made seems to relax quite a bit once she's no longer required to describe the illicit antics of the late Daimyo and his favored consort. She practically wilts as she breathes a sigh of relief, taking a few steps backwards, bowing, then bowing again as the genjutsu comes undone.
The samurai snap out of it, the illusion fading around them to reveal the real Jon, a few of them blinking sleepily as if coming out of a daze. It's the captain that recovers first, coughing into his fist. "Ah, of course, Saito-san. These men will take you wherever you need to go." He motions towards the door, and the four men close ranks around the Kumogakure shinobi to lead him out of the room. Once they are gone, Mime and Hito are left alone.
He barely glances at the girl before heading out of the room. She was a nobody, after all. And nobodies were invisible.