Finding the former Hitokiri Battousai to be nothing like they expected, the Mizuki clan decides to form an alliance with Kenshin and help him return to Tokyo by train. In return, Kenshin agrees to help Mizuki Takeo and his detectives determine if the police chief is corrupt or not by acting as bait at the train station. One way or another, he'll be on the train home come tomorrow.
Mizuki Michio: tea-shop owner and co-okashira of the Osaka Oniwabanshu
Mizuki Takeo: police officer, twin of Michio and co-okashira
Yoshida: Kenshin's old wartime friend (a character from my story Descent into Madness)
Eiko: Yoshida's wife
Nakahira Masayoshi: Kaoru's uncle, older brother of her father, who has been trying to defraud Kaoru
Me: Wish I held the copyright. Watsuke: He's glad he holds the copyright! Viz, Jump, Sony, and all the other copyright holders: Okay, they're not the evil empire. After all, they let us write fan fiction with out having to pay royalties!
Learning to Live Again
It was dark and overcast when the Green and Black Tea boat slipped into the canal for its evening deliveries, but with lights glowing in the buildings all along the canals and every boat sporting a torch at the helm, the city and its waterways looked like one long, glowing necklace of jewels.
Kenshin bundled up against the bitter chill that had set in and was thankful for the wig he was wearing, for it helped keep his head warm. He was surprised at the number of commercial boats out at this hour making final deliveries—over two dozen, he was sure. Mizuki was right. Their boat fit right in, except for one minor point—the tea boat was nearly twice the size of the other canal boats. Not only that, the boat had oarlocks. Canal boats were all propelled by long poles, not oars. One of the boatmen saw him fingering an oarlock and guessed the question forming in his head. "It's for sailing in the bay," the man explained. "Too deep there for a pole."
Kenshin nodded a relaxed thanks. Since that strange meeting with the entire Mizuki clan, he found himself much less on edge around these secretive onmitsu. A few hours ago, even an hour ago, he would have been mentally arming himself against possible hostile actions from these men, who belonged to a clan still angry at the outcome of the Bakumatsu. Now, though, he felt reasonably confident that he had nothing to fear on that account, no matter what their own personal opinion might be about him. Still, it left him feeling rather uncomfortable to have to stow his sakabatou and travel bag under the floorboards of the boat. Of course, they couldn't risk having it found if anyone tried to search the boat, and he was quite proficient at kempo, but still...
And so, the boat sailed along from stop to stop, with Kenshin helping unload the wooden crates as would any ordinary warehouseman. They all kept an eye out for police or yakuza as they made their way through the maze of canals, but other than one police patrol that took one look at the name on the boat and waved them off, no one tried to stop them. All in all, it made for an unexpectedly calm evening.
Finally, after nearly an hour of deliveries, the boat sailed past the end of the northernmost canal and entered a narrow channel that let out into the bay. The helmsman laid down his pole and walked back to handle the rudder, the two rear boatman slipped the oars into the oarlocks, and the boat started gliding swiftly towards the open water.
"No yakuza," Kenshin said softly.
The onmitsu said nothing, but Kenshin noted subtle signals between them. "You are surprised, too, then," he added.
"Aa," allowed the helmsman. "Yakuza rarely make a threat without following through."
They sailed on in silence, closing the distance to the joint Army-Navy base in less than thirty minutes and encountering no other vessels the entire way. As they neared, Kenshin took off the hanten and wig as ordered and placed them in the one remaining crate. Then he pulled his travel bag from the small hidden compartment. That's when he realized that he still had the police badge he had promised to return. He slipped it into his sleeve pocket. Surely, one of the onmitsu, or failing that, someone from Military Intelligence, could return it for him.
The boat soon bumped softly against the dock, causing two sentries to come running down the wooden pier, rifles at the ready. As the helmsman slipped the boat's rope around a pole, one of the sentries yelled out, "Halt! Who goes there!"
The helmsman backed away a few steps from the coil of rope and called out, "Delivery for Unit 34-135."
The sentries stopped dead in their tracks and looked at each other. Unit 34-135? Wasn't that the code name for the Army's secret police? One of the men slowly approached the boat, his rifle pointed directly at the helmsman. "How do you know about Unit 34-135?" he asked menacingly.
The helmsman started to reach into his hanten to pull out the letter Yoshida had provided for the trip, but the sentry cocked his rifle. "Stop right there," the sentry warned. He motioned to his comrade to approach the boat.
The helmsman held out his hands to show his peaceful intentions, but Kenshin and the other two onmitsu silently prepared to defend themselves.
"I have a letter for Unit 34-135 in my pocket explaining the delivery," the helmsman said. He stared directly into the sentry's eyes as he did so, practically inviting the man to shoot him, unarmed as he was. Then he slowly went back to drawing out the envelope from his pocket. The second sentry, who now stood just inches from the helmsman, reached out and grabbed it, then ran back to his comrade part-way down the pier. The first sentry grabbed the letter while the second cocked and aimed his own rifle at the boat. As the sentry read the letter, his eyes widened. It said:
"From Captain Yoshida Genzaburo, Unit 34-135:
"This boat brings a high-value visitor who is to be delivered to Colonel Hara's office immediately. Demand the day's password from the boat's crew. This will assure both you and Colonel Hara that the crew are who they say they are." A hand-drawn version of Unit 34-135's special crest appeared at the end. Not the official stamped seal, but still, the crest was there, signifying the letter's authenticity. The sentry did as instructed and barked out, "Password!"
"Oshorokoma," the helmsman barked back.
The first sentry lowered his gun, then turned to look at the guard house at the other end of the pier. Hadn't there been some kind of message about a possible unusual delivery tonight? He nudged his companion and said, "Keep an eye on them. I've got to go back to the guard house," then ran as fast as he could back down the pier. If they had blown some high-level maneuver, they'd be scrubbing floors for the next three weeks!
Sure enough, there was the information—a sheet that had been hastily delivered to them about two hours ago. He had barely glanced at it when it arrived. After all, nothing important ever happened at this guard post, and no one ever made deliveries to the tradesman's dock this late in the day, so how important could it have been? Oops.
It had come from the harbormaster himself. "A commercial boat may be landing with a high-value delivery," the message read. "The man they bring is to be treated with all the deference due to a high-ranking military officer. Notify me at once of his arrival." Crap! And here they were pointing rifles at the guy!
The sentry ran back down the pier, pushed the other sentry's rifle down, quickly whispered in his comrade's ear, then smartly saluted the helmsman in the Western fashion. "Oh, great lord, he said, "we are expecting you!"
The helmsman smirked. "Not me—him," and he pointed towards Kenshin.
The sentry squinted in the darkness and finally found Kenshin, partially obscured behind the much larger helmsman. Was this a boy, the sentry wondered, until Kenshin walked to the front of the boat and stepped up onto the pier. That's when the sentry noticed the rather old-fashioned clothing and the bag with the well-worn sword hilt sticking out the top. The two sentries saluted again, but really? This was the high-ranking visitor? "If you would come with us," the second sentry said as he started leading the way up to the guard house.
Kenshin, however, first turned back to the boat and held out the police badge. "If I could impose upon you to return this to the Osaka Police Department for me?" he said.
"It will be done," the helmsman replied.
"And my deepest thanks to you and your clan for taking care of me."
The three onmitsu bowed deeply. Then the helmsman slipped the rope and pushed the boat silently back into the bay.
Kenshin turned now to follow the sentries to the little guard house. As he walked inside, the first sentry said, "Wait here while I inform the harbormaster of your arrival." Then the man took off at a run down a path that wound around the shoreline.
Meanwhile, the second sentry started stirring the fire in the little brazier that served as the hut's heater. "Some tea for you perhaps?" the man said.
"Yes, thanks, that would be nice," Kenshin replied.
He stood by the window that looked out over the military base, thinking how military bases had certainly changed dramatically in the past ten years, when his eye caught sight of a newspaper lying on the hut's little table. "Famed Swordsman Saves Kidnapped Couple!" the headline screamed. Kenshin groaned inwardly, then forced himself to read on.
"Famed Tokyo swordsman Himura Kenshin saved the chief accountant of Osaka's Municipal Registry Office and his wife from yakuza kidnappers today..." The article went on to chronicle the fight outside the registry office and the discovery of the defeated Mamushi Gang members at Nakahira's house. It ended with the comment that the "famed swordsman" had just recently captured several train robbers on the Tokyo-Osaka train. Kenshin was surprised—no mention of the Hitokiri Battousai. He had no doubt he had the Mizuki family to thank for that. How had Mizuki Michio put it earlier? He'd 'tweak the fabric of Osaka' to help Kenshin out? This must have been one of the threads he pulled.
The sentry, meanwhile, had been busy brewing tea and was starting to hand a cup of it to Kenshin when he noticed Kenshin reading the newspaper. A hint of recognition came over him, for he himself had just read that newspaper account. Swordsmen were a rare thing these days, but this man in front of him had a well-used sword with him. He slowly put two and two together and said, "That's you they're talking about in the paper, isn't it."
Kenshin reached out and took the tea from the sentry's hand. "Yes."
The sentry glanced back at the paper, for he remembered something else. Hadn't the article also said the swordsman had captured train robbers the other day? But he remembered reading about that just this morning in the early edition, and hadn't that article said that someone else—the swordsman whose name parents used to scare their children—had captured those robbers? Unless... "You're not the same person who caught the train robbers, are you?"
Kenshin steeled himself. "Yes."
The sentry blanched. "Then you're..." The man felt a sudden wave of fear. "Then you're that Hitokiri Battousai, aren't you," he whispered.
Kenshin sighed and said, "No, Himura Kenshin, de gozaro yo," and he turned back to look out the window facing the base.
The sentry sat down shakily. Himura Kenshin? Hitokiri Battousai? It had to be the same man! Red hair, cross-shaped scar on the cheek—he'd bet his last sen that if he took that bandage off their visitor's cheek, that's what he find. It was all just like the legends said except this man was pretty short, and most of the stories made the hitokiri out to be a lot bigger. He didn't know what to think. Was he in the same tiny room with a notorious hitokiri? This man seemed totally harmless, but then wouldn't any hitokiri want to seem harmless until it was time to strike, sort of like a poisonous snake before it bites? Hell, the Army didn't pay him enough for this kind of danger! He fingered his sidearm like a security blanket, then tiptoed out the door to stand outside.
The first sentry came running down the path moments later, and the second sentry lost no time telling him who their so-called high-value visitor was.
"Wow, really?" the first sentry exclaimed enthusiastically. "I gotta see this for myself before the secret police show up to get him!" and he quickly opened the door to the guard house.
Kenshin turned to acknowledge him with a small bow, then returned to looking out the window, hoping this sentry would also decide to stay outside. His shoulder, the one recovering from last month's bullet wound, was aching from the day's exertions, and he was in no mood right now to deal with another gawker. Instead, the sentry sidled up to the brazier to warm his hands and, of course, gawk. The old rurouni habits kicking in, Kenshin took an empty teacup from the table, poured some tea, and held it out to the man with a smile, saying, "Would you like some? It's really quite good."
The sentry's mouth fell open. Tea from Japan's most feared swordsman? Wow! He couldn't wait to tell his buddies back at the barracks about this! Of course, the harbormaster had just warned him not to breathe a word of this man's presence to anyone on pain of court martial, but who could resist this story? He bowed deeply and accepted the tea, his eyes huge with hero worship. Kenshin cringed inwardly, then returned to looking out the window.
Another ten minutes of awkwardness passed before a coach pulled up at the guardhouse. Within seconds, a lieutenant and two corporals, all with Military Police armbands, burst in, pulling along the sentry who had stayed outside. The lieutenant whipped out a paper and barked, "Privates, you are hereby assigned to Unit 34-135 for the next 24 hours, and you will be billeted there for the night. You leave immediately with us."
The two sentries, flabbergasted, looked at each other in horror. "Unit 34-135?" one of them finally gasped. "But we've done nothing...!"
"That's an order!" the lieutenant snapped. "The presence of this man must be kept secret from the entire base. Therefore, you will remain at Unit 34-135 until further notice to prevent any word of this from coming out! Corporals, take their places."
Only then did the lieutenant turn to Kenshin. Giving him a formal military bow, he handed him a hooded black cloak. "Honored guest," he said, "if you would be so kind as to put this on?" Then he hustled the two sentries out to the coach. Kenshin quickly swept the cloak around him, tied the hood tight, then grabbed his travel bag and followed them out. The sentries were sent up top with the driver, but the lieutenant held open the door to the coach for Kenshin. In a voice only Kenshin could hear, he said, "Colonel Hara awaits you inside."
The lieutenant needn't have told him, for Kenshin could sense the presence of an unusual ki within the coach—not quite military, but not quite civilian, either.
"Himura-dono, I am Colonel Hara," the man in the far corner of the coach said quietly. "You've already met Lieutenant Abe. We don't have much time if we're to get you on a boat out of here tonight."
Kenshin bowed and settled onto the seat facing the colonel and the lieutenant. "Colonel, things have changed since Yoshida-kun came to you this afternoon."
The coach had just started rolling, but at these words the colonel suddenly leaned his head out and shouted, "Halt!" Turning back to Kenshin, he said, "Captain Yoshida was instructed to come back if you decided not to leave by boat this evening. When he didn't return within two hours, the base commandant went ahead and ordered a troop ship to be readied for midnight."
Kenshin bowed as low as he could while seated. "Sessha deeply apologizes for the great inconvenience this causes both you and the entire military base. It is indeed inexcusable." Then, raising his head, he added, "However, Yoshida-kun found out when he returned to the Mizuki's warehouse from his meeting with you that Mizuki-dono knows he still has active ties to the military. I believe he may have had a well-founded fear that he would be followed when leaving the Mizuki's tea shop."
"What?" the colonel hissed in a covered voice. This was dangerous news. The only way the Mizukis could know that would be through an informant. Had they managed to infiltrate the Army's most secretive service? Or was it the Military Police commander's office? Couldn't be the base commandant's office, could it? For those were the only ones who knew of Yoshida's current role as spy. He quickly leaned his head out the coach window again and yelled, "To my office!", then said, "We need to talk."
Within minutes, they arrived at the headquarters of the military police, but the coach didn't stop at the front door. Instead, it went around back to what looked like a servants' entrance. The lieutenant quickly hustled the two sentries inside through the unmarked door before opening the coach door for Kenshin and the colonel.
Immediately upon entering the building, Kenshin could see this was clearly the headquarters for Military Intelligence. On the walls of the long hallway leading to the colonel's office were maps of the city, the prefecture, and the country. Colored tacks with little identifying flags marked the location of foreign military bases and businesses. "This is our nerve center," the colonel commented as he saw Kenshin glancing at the maps.
In the colonel's office, the maps became even more specific, with charts that looked almost like family trees radiating out from different names. Kenshin saw one containing Yoshida's name, a complicated map that seemed to encompass more than a dozen foreign-sounding names, though from what country Kenshin could not tell.
"Very few civilians get to see these," the colonel said, waving an arm at the charts. "Then again, you're not exactly an ordinary civilian, are you."
Kenshin was about to demur, but the colonel went on. "No sense denying that you are a person of interest to the government. There's a reason they turned to you for help last summer to stop Shishio Makoto, just like there's a reason they're having me help you right now. In fact, I figure there's a reason they turned to you for help guarding that gold shipment the other day, though for the life of me I don't understand what that could be or what that has to do with this Municipal Registry bureaucrat that got caught up in things today. Perhaps you could enlighten me."
It was not a request.
Kenshin took a deep breath, then said, "Sessha deeply regrets what happened today. It was not his intention at all," and he told in generalities how friends of friends had warned him of Nakahira Masayoshi's efforts to defraud Kaoru, that these efforts had already included attempted murder and now might lead to a forced adoption. He acknowledged the government's interest in knowing his whereabouts, which was why he visited Chief Uramura before leaving town. "In short, Colonel, Chief Uramura knew sessha had no money to take even the boat to Osaka, and he claimed to be unable to provide me with papers allowing me to carry my sakabatou on the Tokaido Road to Osaka, so he asked if this one would be willing to join an armed guard on the Tokyo-Osaka train. Frankly, sessha wanted to say no, but let's just say he made a compelling reason for me to say yes." At the colonel's skeptical look, Kenshin added, "Really."
The colonel started bouncing his fingers against each other as he stared at Kenshin. The man was not a master of reading ki, Kenshin could tell, but he had a feeling his response was being weighed carefully by a very astute mind.
Indeed, the colonel was weighing everything Kenshin said against what he knew of the day's events plus several sets of information Kenshin knew nothing about, and still, nothing made sense. The colonel could count on one hand, indeed one finger, how many times that had happened in his five years at this job, and it left him extremely unsettled. Where was the common thread in everything that happened? There had to be one. Then it came to him. He leaned forward, eyes narrowed, and said, "These 'friends' you talk about, the ones who gave you the warning, they are part of an Oniwabanshu network, aren't they. The Mizukis, they're still Oniwabanshu, aren't they."
"Surely you've known that for a long time."
The finger-bouncing started up again. "You give us too much credit, Himura-dono. We're only human; the Oniwabanshu in their heyday were somewhat more than that."
The finger-bouncing stopped and the colonel leaned forward again. "I'll be honest here. We've had virtually no success in confirming whether the Mizuki family still considered themselves Oniwabanshu after the losses they sustained when Osaka Castle fell. All we've known for sure is that part of the family went into the tea business, one of them joined the police force, and all of them are suspicious. I can't tell you how often we get hints that they're still involved in things. We just don't know how or why, and without knowing that, there's no way to judge if they pose a threat to the country. That's why we've been so eager to get someone in on the inside. Now I'm wondering if it's not our spy playing them, but them playing us through our spy. Do you understand the implications if they did indeed somehow know that Captain Yoshida still works for us? Only a handful of men at the highest echelons of this base know what he does. I can only conclude that one of them must have been compromised by the Oniwabanshu, and that unquestionably is a serious threat to national security."
Kenshin lowered his head. He felt like he had somehow been flung into a particularly sticky spider's web, except he could not be sure whether it was the Mizukis or the military who had entrapped him. Time was of the essence, however, especially in light of the helmsman's comment about the yakuza never promising something they didn't plan to do. If things didn't seem right to those experienced onmitsu, then something definitely was amiss. He decided it was time to reveal a little of what he had learned about the Mizukis over the past day.
"Colonel, perhaps I can put your mind a bit at ease," he started, purposely dropping the 'sessha.' "Yes, the Mizukis are still active Oniwabanshu. Further, they made it quite clear to me that they will never make their peace with the new government. However, as Mizuki Michio explicitly told me, their family has merely moved their allegiance from the shogun's military ruler of Osaka to the city of Osaka itself. They now consider themselves the protectors of this city, and in that capacity, they indicated to me this evening that they might be open to a very limited collaboration with you. In fact, you might say the change in plans I wish to suggest is a first step towards such a collaboration."
The finger-bouncing stopped. He stared hard at Kenshin in disbelief. "You just told me my captain could not report back to me tonight because of concerns about the Mizukis. I don't call that a prelude to collaboration."
"Yes, well, that is true," Kenshin allowed. "Of course, they were just as disturbed when they found out Yoshida-kun knew they were Oniwabanshu. In fact, I was more than a little worried they might act rashly to prevent him from telling anyone else, but..."
"You mean you thought they would kill him for that? That's not any kind of collaboration I've ever heard of, either!"
"But I pointed out that you and they have the same goal," Kenshin continued, "namely, the safety of Osaka. That's when Mizuki-dono allowed that perhaps he was in possession of information of interest to both him and you concerning something in the gaijin community. And I personally vouched for Yoshida-kun's ability to keep secrets. As I told them, I probably wouldn't be alive today if that weren't the case. I now believe they will use him as their conduit to you. Meanwhile, you know about Captain Mizuki's suspicions concerning the police chief, correct?"
"Yes, but what has that got to do with anything? We're a military intelligence unit, not the military police. We deal strictly with monitoring the foreign military bases and businesses and embassies. The police chief? Outside our jurisdiction."
"Mizuki Takeo, the police detective, believes the reason the police chief is pursuing me is because I have upset an elaborate scheme whereby the various crime families pay the police chief in return for guaranteed territories and the promise that the police will not interfere. Captain Mizuki bases this on evidence uncovered by the work his brother, Mizuki Michio, hired Yoshida-kun to do regarding my friend's problem with Masayoshi Nakahira."
The colonel shook his head incredulously. "Now my head is spinning. Say that again?"
"It really doesn't matter," Kenshin said quickly. "The key point is this: Captain Mizuki believes he can either prove or disprove all of this by dangling me as bait. The police chief is apparently under intense pressure from the mayor and the head of the Central Bank not to arrest me, but if what Captain Mizuki thinks is true, the chief will also be under extreme pressure from the yakuza to arrest or, better yet, kill me. The captain believes if I agree to show up at the train station a few hours early, when it's empty of passengers, and if he tells the chief he's got information that I'll be there early, then the chief will either do the right thing and arrest me there, or more likely, send the yakuza to kill me. Of course, the only way the yakuza would know when I'd be there would be through the police chief, thereby proving his guilt. Captain Mizuki impressed upon me that it was important to have a small army escort to prevent an arrest or, if it's the yakuza, to witness that they attacked me, not the other way around."
"And you believe that if I agree to this, further collaboration would follow?"
"Yes—very limited, but yes."
The finger-bouncing started up again.
"Colonel, I should also tell you that one of the Oniwabanshu boatmen expressed concern that something did not feel right on our trip to the base. He didn't say exactly what, but it had to do with the fact that we ran into absolutely no yakuza on the way over, despite their threat to turn the city inside out to find me. Hardly any police out searching for me, either, come to think of it. I don't know if it's because Captain Mizuki is already implementing the plan or it's something else, but I am concerned."
Another minute of finger-bouncing went by. Finally, the colonel said, "There is a small cadre of Military Police officers whom we trust enough to work with. Ten should do it. We'll meet tomorrow at breakfast and work out the details. You're on." He rang the bell on his desk, bringing in his lieutenant. "Lieutenant, take our guest to the spare room; I'll bunk here in my office tonight. Himura-dono, breakfast will be at 7:30 with the men who will accompany us. Someone will come to fetch you. I guess we'll find out tomorrow if you're right about the Mizukis."
Kenshin bowed low, then followed the lieutenant to his room.
'Spare' was a very apt description of the room—hardly big enough for the chest that held the folded futon and bedding plus the space to lay the futon out—but that was fine with Kenshin. He was dog-tired, and at this point a tiny closet would have sufficed. He waited graciously as the lieutenant laid out the futon and several blankets, but he didn't even bother to get undressed—he just fell into bed, though careful as always to have his sakabatou near to hand. It had been an overly long day, what with that tense breakfast with the Mizuki twins, poring over all those documents at Yoshida's house, the two battles...he wanted to marry Karou!...tomorrow he'd be heading home... he had a home!... and then he was asleep.
It was the dreamless sleep of the exhausted, and it would have continued that way until morning if it weren't for a sudden little niggling at the back of his mind. Something's wrong, something's going on, it was trying to tell him! He tried to sleep on, but that little warning signal kept getting stronger and stronger. Suddenly, the sound of running footsteps in the hallway shot him out of bed just as a banging began at the door frame. He had the shoji open even before the second knock, causing the soldier outside to almost fall into the room. It was one of the sentries who had been brought with him last night to Military Intelligence headquarters.
"Himura-dono, emergency!" the breathless sentry shouted. "The colonel needs you right away!"
"What's happened?" Kenshin asked at practically the same time.
"The police chief! He's been assassinated! Police headquarters is under siege! Come right away!"
Kenshin didn't hesitate. He ran down the hall after the sentry to the colonel's office. A glance out the window showed it wasn't even dawn yet.
As he entered the room, the colonel interrupted buttoning up his uniform to hold out a paper. "Read it," the colonel ordered. "It's a copy of the telegram the base commandant just received."
Kenshin grabbed it and read, "Police chief assassinated. HQ under siege. 100 of them, 18 of us. Send help. Bring Himura." The telegram was signed simply, "Mizuki."
"The commandant is mobilizing 150 men as we speak," the colonel continued as he quickly finished dressing. "He's ordered me to leave immediately with a small detail of men as an advance scouting party. Your knowledge of the situation..."
Before he could even finish the sentence, Kenshin was already halfway down the hall to his room. He quickly pulled off the monpei he had been wearing and changed into his hakama, threw on his second kimono for extra warmth as well as his haori, stuffed the monpei in his travel bag, then slung the bag on his back and placed his sakabatou in his obi. In less than a minute, he was back in the colonel's office, ready to go. The man had barely had time to register the fact that Kenshin had left the room.
"I'm taking the 10 men I was planning to use today, plus you," the colonel said as he herded Kenshin towards the door. "We'll meet them at the stables. We leave the base in five minutes."
"Stables?" Kenshin said in surprise as they started running out of the building. "I thought everything was by boat!"
"It's low tide," the colonel explained in huffs as they ran towards the stables. "There's a sort of land bridge across part of the bay we can use at low tide. We'll be downtown in 15 minutes if we ride at top speed."
"And the troops?"
"Thirty to forty."
Thirty to forty minutes? In a battle, even five minutes could be an eternity. And 100 men against 18? What hope was there? Although with Mizuki obviously on the scene, it would probably be more like having 28 men, but still...
Already, several men were on their horses ready to go, with the rest either saddling up or running in. The colonel grabbed the private manning the stable and ordered, "Saddle up two more horses, and get this man a pair of boots!"
Within minutes, everyone, including the colonel and Kenshin, were on their way. It had been years since Kenshin had been on a horse, and though he did know how to ride, he found himself hanging on for dear life as they galloped out of the base and across the bay. He was glad the colonel had thought to get him some boots—he never would have managed to stay in the saddle with just zori on his feet!
True to the colonel's prediction, they reached the neighborhood of police headquarters in less than fifteen minutes, but they did not ride right up to the building. Instead, the colonel stopped them two blocks short. In the distance could be heard the sounds of a terrible, earth-shaking pounding. "You, you, and you," the colonel ordered, "get close, don't be seen, and report back on what's going on!"
Within minutes, his scouting party was back. "There's over a hundred of them," their leader reported, "and someone the size of a sumo wrestler is slinging a ball and chain trying to smash down one of the walls surrounding the front door. They've also cut down a telegraph poll. Looks like they plan to use it as a battering ram once that wall is down. I give 'em five minutes, ten tops, before they've got that wall demolished."
A telegraph poll down? Damn, thought the colonel, that meant communications with the outside world were cut. And less than ten minutes before they break down the door? The police must have concocted some kind of barricade inside to make a battering ram necessary, but he couldn't imagine any makeshift barricade that could withstand a battering ram. It would still be another fifteen minutes or so before reinforcements would arrive...
"Leave this to me," Kenshin said as he pulled the black monpei from his travel bag. He began winding it around his hair as a kind of head covering, then pulled off the boots and started pulling up his hakama to his knees the way the laborers in Tokyo had done to him several days ago.
"What the hell are you doing?" asked the astonished colonel.
"Blending in," Kenshin answered as he hurriedly plastered a bandage over his cross-shaped scar and slung his bag over his back. "I'm the reason this is happening, and now I'm going to stop them. Anyway, you need intelligence, and I'm the only one not in uniform!" And with that, he was off at top speed to join the mob.
"Come back here! I can't let you do that!" the colonel shouted after him, but to no avail. He watched helplessly as Kenshin disappeared around a corner.
Stop them? How the hell was one man going to stop a raging mob of armed yakuza? Of course, the man in question was considered to be the country's most dangerous swordsman, and anyone who could survive what he heard had happened in the defeat of Shishio Makoto maybe could survive a mob of angry men, but a hundred of them?
"Colonel, our orders!" The voice of one of the three men from the scouting party broke into the colonel's thoughts, bringing him back to the present.
"You three, follow him and report back to me!" the colonel shouted. "And don't get seen!" To the rest of the men, he barked out, "Cover all the intersections in this area! No one gets in or out, understand?"
Now all he could do was wait for the rest of the troops to show up and hope that Kenshin could deliver on his promise.
onmitsu: ninja spy
Bakumatsu: the Japanese civil war
kempo: martial arts using hands and feet as opposed to weapons
hanten: the worker's version of a haori.
oshorokoma: it doesn't really matter, but it means Hokkaido spotted trout
monpei: pants worn by workers and farmers
haori: a hip- or thigh-length kimono-like jacket, often padded for warmth
Author's Note: My most abject apologies for taking two years to update this story. What can I say? Life intruded. I'll try to do better getting out the next chapter!
As for this chapter, a firm handshake and a pat on the back to the reader who figures out how I came up with the name "Unit 34-135." And, as always, many thanks to "older woman," author of the inestimable "Ichirizuka" for catching my typos and improving my prose (if you haven't read her story yet, you should).