The next morning, Bookworm Hienrichs managed to wake up fairly early, despite her fatigue. As she quietly got dressed in her militia uniform, she listened intently, but didn’t hear any indications that Mariah was awake. ‘Just as well,’ she thought as she tiptoed downstairs. ‘She’ll need rest more than I, after that dip.’
She went first to the storeroom and drew back the sheet that covered the body, looking for anything she and Mariah had missed in their perusal last night. After a few moments, though, she shook her head and replaced the sheet. No new revelations–for now, at least. She had a quick breakfast of toast and tea in the kitchen, then grabbed a scarf on her way out the door, winding it around her neck as she walked.
A few moments of hurried walking brought her back to the canal, and the edge of the open water. In the growing light of the morning, she studied the area carefully, looking for any clues that night had hidden. There was no blood, though, nor any signs of a struggle, beyond the struggle she and Mariah had had in bringing the body back to the surface. Book finally sat back on her heels, and stared at the row of brownstone houses in front of her. “I can ask,” she said to herself, “but I doubt anyone heard anything. I don’t think he was killed here.”
Brushing the snow off of her knees, Bookworm stood and crossed the canal. She hurried around the side of the brownstones and approached the first one. She knew Miss Hermit had recently moved into this house, though she’d not yet had occasion to visit. She walked up the steps to the front door, musing on the strange circumstances that had brought her here, and knocked. After a moment, she heard Miss Hermit ask, “Who is there, please?”
“Miss Hermit? It’s Miss Hienrichs. Do you have a few moments?”
“Of course. Allow me to unlock the door.”
When the door opened, Bookworm stepped inside quickly, shaking the chill off as she entered the warm front room. She froze, though, when she saw the katana in Miss Hermit’s hand.
“First, please, a question,” Miss Hermit said. “Who took over your body and got you drunk?”
Bookworm coughed a bit in surprise, and shot her friend a puzzled look. “It was Mac. Why do you ask?”
“Thank you.” Miss Hermit replaced the katana in its sheath on her back. “I have had to take extra precautions of late.”
Bookworm felt a bit of a sinking feeling in her stomach, but said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Is it anything with which I can help?”
“Thank you for offering, but no. I have taken care of the immediate problem and I sent letters back home asking for instruction. It is an internal matter relating to clan and the Temple, I am thinking.”
“I see,” Bookworm replied with a nod.
Miss Hermit looked her over. “This must be an official visit. I see you are in uniform.”
Bookworm nodded again. “I am hoping that you can help me with something.”
“How may I help you?”
With a sigh, Bookworm launched into her explanation. “Last night, in the canal behind these brownstones, I found a body. With Mariah’s help, we managed to drag it out, and brought it to my house. I’m hoping you could come and take a look at it. There are some…points you may be able to help us with.”
A flicker of surprise crossed Miss Hermit’s face, before she schooled her expression. “Why…of course. I am always willing to assist in the search for truth.” Bookworm smiled in relief. “Last night, you say?” Miss Hermit questioned.
“Yes.” Book smiled wryly. “I say found, but that isn’t quite the case.”
Miss Hermit peered at her closely. “Your talent manifested?”
Bookworm frowned a bit. “Well, if by that, you mean the man’s ghost found me at home and led me to his body…then yes.”
“My dear Miss Hienrichs,” Miss Hermit said with a smile, “what you and I have is a talent given by the Kami. It is a gift not lightly given by them.” She paused. “So, a male ghost led you. How long was the body floating on the surface, do you think?”
“It was actually still sunken.”
Miss Hermit frowned. “I think you need to take me to the body, Book.”
She led the way out, then let Bookworm take the lead around the side of the house. They paused on the bridge over the canal, looking into the dark waters below. “The body was here,” Bookworm said, pointing down, “lying on the bottom of the canal.”
“You brought it to the surface?”
“Mariah went in with a rope, and together we hauled it out.” She glanced over at Miss Hermit. “Did you happen to hear anything out here last night? Any strange cries or anything of the sort?”
“Not here…at least.”
Bookworm nodded. “I didn’t think so, but I thought I should ask to be sure. There’s no blood on the ice. He was probably killed elsewhere and carried here.”
“Where is the body now?”
“In our storeroom. Follow me.”
Book hurried across a snowy, empty lot, leading Miss Hermit on the most direct route to her new home. Together, they hurried around to the back door, which opened into the storeroom, where a table was covered with a sheet lumped over something the size and shape of a human. Bookworm drew the sheet off the table, exposing the body to daylight.
Bookworm jumped at Miss Hermit’s emphatic reaction. “Do you recognize him?”
“Book…your word of honor…nothing goes further than the walls of this room!”
She held Miss Hermit’s intent gaze, the sinking feeling in her stomach returned ten-fold. This was Miss Hermit’s handiwork–she was sure of that now. The question was, what were the circumstances? She considered the matter a moment, doing her best to put their friendship aside. But she still felt that she should give the woman the benefit of the doubt. Finally, she nodded. “I will be silent.”
Miss Hermit looked at the body. “Piece of trash. Where are you hiding?” She sighed heavily. “This is what is left after I do a job, dear. I was attacked in my own home by this fool. That is why his throat is cut open so deep.”
Bookworm let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. Killing in self-defense was never a good situation, but she had, in those few seconds, been imaging far worse. This, at least, was…understandable.
“The extra cuts in the chest were to keep him from floating to the surface. The usual thing we do back home.” She glanced back at the body. “I see the wiggyfish had started the job. Pity they weren’t more hungry.” She looked back at Bookworm. “Ready for some more of the truth, or have you heard enough?”
Bookworm shook her head, though not in negation of Miss Hermit’s question. “I wish you’d come to me right away. A case of self-defense, I can certainly understand. But your method of…disposing of the problem–“
“Is what the clan does with internal matters,” Miss Hermit said, then laughed softly. “Mac has been tearing Babbage apart looking for his ghost.”
“Before you ask, no, I haven’t seen the ghost since that first time. And while this may be an internal matter in your home country…well, this isn’t Japan.” Bookworm smiled a bit to try to take some of the sting out of her comment.
“I understand, given your position,” Miss Hermit replied. “But when someone is coming at you with a sword, with intent to kill, one does not take a moment to ponder the legal issues.”
Bookworm inhaled, then let her breath out. That hadn’t been what she’d meant, but she decided now was not the time to argue the issue. Instead, she nodded silently when Miss Hermit went on to ask, “Are you ready for the rest of this fool’s story?”
Miss Hermit held up the dead man’s left hand. “See the little finger?”
“Yes, Mariah and I noticed that last night.”
“It shows that he was connected to a gangster organization back in Nihon called the Yakuza. He did something to offend a boss, and this is the way they say ‘sorry.’ Cute method, and very effective. The cut weakens the grip on the sword. The other clue is the full upper body tattoo. It supposedly lends them power and swordcraft.”
“Ahh. We were wondering about that.”
“In this case, it also provides clues to which part of the Yakuza he belonged to.” She suddenly slapped the head of the corpse. “See what bragging got you, fool?” Bookworm kept silent, though she was surprised–even a bit shocked–at seeing this different side of her friend.
“In any case, Miss Hienrichs, you have the body of a samurai lying on your table. He was connected to the Yakuza, and they are after me for some reason I do not have a clue about. Hence the fastest pigeons I own were sent home with the news.”
Book let out her breath in a soundless whistle. “I’ve heard…bits and pieces about samurai and Yakuza–probably mostly wrong. But it sounds as if they’re as dangerous as rumor paints them.”
“They are without fear, and deadly with a sword. If he had not been maimed, that might have been me on the table. He was good…very, very good.”
Bookworm frowned consideringly at the corpse, then looked back at Miss Hermit. “Do you think others will come?”
“It all depends. He could have been sent as a warning. They knew his sword work would be sloppy, and perhaps they were willing to give him up.” Bookworm felt a bit chilled at such callousness.
“On the other hand,” Miss Hermit continued, “I am sure they saw the pigeons. They would know that I still live. The bottom line is…how made are they at me?”
“A good question,” Book said grimly. “What do you plan to do?”
“I plan to wait for instruction from home, but I will join in the search for the ghost. I never had one hide so well from me before.”
“Hmmm. Yes, I can imagine his ghost would have information, if you can convince him to speak.”
“By the way, did he mention his name?”
Bookworm shook her head. “He did try to speak to me, but I couldn’t make anything out.”
Miss Hermit turned to the body again. “Fool, you might as well reveal yourself to me. You know I have agents searching for you who never sleep.” She paused, then looked at Bookworm. “What do you plan to do with your fishing trophy?”
“We’ll bury him–quietly, but legally.” She smiled wryly.
“Is the ground soft enough to dig, or will you have to burn a fire over the grave site first?”
“I’m sure we’ll have to do the latter. It hasn’t really warmed up yet.” Bookworm sighed.
“Thought so. I think I will get a spirit house ready to go. They worked well enough for us when we needed to confine the ghosts at your house. Which means I need a small piece…” With that, she unsheathed her katana and cut the rest of the little finger off with a measured blow. “You won’t be needing it anymore now, will you, fool?”
Bookworm did her best to keep an impassive face, though inwardly she quailed a bit at the measured violence. She watched as Miss Hermit picked up the man’s head by the chin and stared into the dead, empty eyes. “Until you speak your name to me, I name you Ahou, and cursed to my clan and Temple!”
“I’ll find someone to make a coffin,” Bookworm said, thankful that she could detect no tremor in her voice. “He’ll just need the measurements, thankfully–Mariah and I can take care of the rest.”
Miss Hermit let the head drop to the table with a thud. “Do with him what you will. I have no need for the body. It is the spirit which I hunt now.” She paused. “If Ahou returns, you know how to call out to Mac?”
“I think so,” Bookworm replied. “I’ll also keep an ear out for any other newly-arrived Oriental strangers.”
“This is a dark business, Book,” Miss Hermit said grimly. “Stay away as much as you can. I am praying that Father and the senior monk can help me figure this out.”
Bookworm nodded. “I’ll respect your wishes. But do let me know if there’s any way I can help.”
She let Miss Hermit out the back door, then turned back to regard the body for a moment. Finally, she shook herself all over, and exited the storeroom through the other door, which led into the kitchen and dining room area. There, she found Mariah, evidently just finishing her breakfast.
“Was that Miss Hermit who just left?” she asked.
“And did you learn anything from her?”
“Much. But it’s confidential…and dangerous.”
“Hmmm.” Mariah eyed her measuringly. “What will you do?”
“For now, make arrangements to have him buried quietly. I think I can keep my Militia report vague enough to prevent questions.” She placed her foot on the first stair leading up to the bedrooms, then turned back. “Mariah, can you spread the word in the right places that I’d appreciate it if I was informed about any Oriental-looking strangers?”
Mariah nodded. “Will that appreciation be…monetary?”
“Yes, it will,” Bookworm replied with a chuckle. She hurried upstairs to grab a tape measure, then went back to the storeroom. A few minutes later, scribbled measurements in hand, she hurried out on her grim errands.