A Drop of Poison

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Eyes Everywhere

Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto. Ramen belongs to Naruto. Enough said.

This time, credit goes to Archeo Lumiere, Logos and Ordo Hereticus in SpaceBattles for Beta. This chapter wouldn't be as good without their help.

Prank Day 204

"Welcome, Hokage-sama!" the man beside the table said, bowing deeply. "I wasn't expecting your august person to come to this meeting."

The Sandaime nodded slightly. "Rise. I am still allowed, am I not?" He looked around. "Is Mitokado-san absent?"

The merchant rose. "Of course you are welcome, Hokage-sama!" He replied. "As for Mitokado-san, he tends to arrive at the last minute to these proceedings." He looked around, unsure. "Do you… have anything to bring to the council?"

Hiruzen shook his head. "No, no. I am just spectating today. After the invasion, I was much too busy to do so, and I wish to make sure that Konoha's economy is still running smoothly, regardless of the setbacks."

"Of course it is, Hokage-sama!" The man replied. He then looked to the left of the Hokage. "I suppose this is your latest secretary, Sandaime-sama?"

Sarutobi nodded. "Indeed she is. This is Tsuya, and she'll be taking notes while the meeting goes on." The village leader looked around. "Is this everyone?"

"Save Mitokado-san, yes," the council member replied.

"Seems… much smaller than I remember," the Hokage noted. "I do not see the Akamichi and Nara members, either."

"It is, Hokage-sama," the man replied, lowering his head. "The invasion hurt us all. As for our esteemed ninja members, they have unfortunately not survived the battle with Sand and Sound."

"You are planning on inducting new members, correct?" His eyes went around then room once more. "From what I remember, you barely have quorum right now."

The council member nodded. "Indeed we are. This is actually one of the points being discussed today. We have a number of candidates which are still being evaluated."

"Please forward my secretary copies of the relevant documents," the Hokage ordered. "I want to look them over before anyone is sworn in. We wouldn't an enemy agent to manage to get a hand on Konoha's finances, right."

"With pleasure, Hokage-sama," the man said with a wide smile. Hiruzen then sat down, and his conversation partner did the same, the discussion clearly over.

Mitokado arrived less than a minute later. He and Sarutobi talked for a few moments, then he took his spot as the meeting started.

The Naruto clone disguised as Tsuya noted as much as she could, which was made easy by the fact that everyone was calm and that no one talked over each other. Still, the meeting was a boring three hours long, with various council members arguing over minutiae and others clearly not caring much about what was happening. One even seemed to be sleeping behind an open ledger!

In fact, there was a nagging feeling in the back of Tsuya's mind that wouldn't go away.

Still, the meeting came to an end as the dinner hour came, and the various merchant made their way out in turn. The Hokage did the same, Tsuya right behind him, and the two returned directly to the Hokage's office.

"So, what do you think?" The Hokage asked once they were back behind the office's privacy seals.

"Is it just me or did the whole meeting seem… rehearsed?" Tsuya asked.

Sarutobi shook his head. "It's not only you," he replied. "It's been that way as far as I can remember, at least ever since your birth."

"And the guy sleeping?"

The Hokage smiled. "Does it every time, without fail." His face then turned serious. "I want you to go over all the documents you have here, along with the ones in this scroll." He pointed to a metre-high scroll that had been placed beside the man's desk. "It contains copies of all the documents I received from the merchant council. I do not know if they are simply incompetent or are actually going against Konoha laws, but it is clear there is something not right here. Since you're already investigating what happened to Ichiraku, and since this is probably connected, I'm putting you in charge of this. With what Jiraya's been teaching you, you should be able to get to the bottom of this, and you can put more trusted eyes on this than I could ever find."

"Hai, Hokage-sama!" Tsuya said, saluting.

"Dismissed then," Sarutobi said with a nod and a smile. "Godspeed on your search, genin."

Prank Day 206

As was usually the case during the evenings, Naruto, Ariko and Muremaru were underground in the Urahara Tunnels, training. Sure, they had clones above pretending to be them (or being them, as the case were), but the originals where down here trying new things away from prying eyes.

As was said during the last meeting of those in the know, Muremaru's task was all about doing techniques seallessly.

And, as it turned out, this wasn't something easily done.

At first, he'd tried to go at it alone, as Naruto clones often did, but after a few days without results, he'd enlisted Iruka's help in managing such a thing.

While the chuunin had never mastered such a thing, he knew how it was performed from his own time as a genin.

And it was all chakra control. One controlled his inner energies the same way the had seals did, only without doing them.

Easier said than done.

The thing was, while the clones were (for some reason) better at chakra control than the real Naruto was, they were still pants at it. They had visible proof with their various attempts at a normal bunshin; they still needed more than six clones at the time to have real valid ones.

There were chakra control exercises, true, but by now the ones the Naruto clones knew they could do by heart, and weren't getting much out of them. Gaara has actually added one to the list recently, one that was practised in Suna, that allowed someone to walk over sand (or earth, or pretty much anything else) without leaving tracks. There were actually a few dozen clones practising kenjutsu using the method, and being forced to start their katas over if they left any trace behind.

Muremaru, however, wasn't doing that, or another version of the exercise.

He was training the Kawarimi.

The Kawarimi was, outside possibly the shadow clone, the technique they knew the best. The reason for that was simple: there were, at any time, dozens of kage bunshin warping around the elemental nations using this technique.

This familiarity was one of the reason why he'd selected it.

The other reason was its enormous potential once mastered. As Naruto had said to Konohamaru and his group, the Replacement technique was a very efficient dodging method, and with shadow clone being as solid as they were, dodging was something they needed to do a lot of.

Not that he'd been advancing much.

The male clone had tried various things during the past week and a half, all without success. As such, he'd taken a page from Naruto's book, and started going at it the completely opposite way.

He was doing the hand seals, all of them instead of simply the last one, and doing so as slow as he possibly could and still succeed.

It was already helping quite a bit, since doing it slowly made the changes he forced on his chakra only more evident. It wasn't something that he could really describe, as he could not find valid words to express what he felt his chakra doing, but he could still track it and feel it.

And, hopefully, replicate it.

It took him a good two hours to have the pattern down, during which Naruto and Ariko behind him summoned three rabbits he'd never heard of. He forced himself to ignore that, and focused on his own work.

Managing to transform his chakra properly to perform the technique took another hour, and that was when going at the slowest possible speed. Even there, taking two minutes a hit, it would be useful, as it already was something better than all the rope escape tricks they'd been taught at the academy.

And, most of all, the Naruto clones were very good at getting incremental improvement out of practise.

Muremaru moved to an emptier region of the Urahara basement, leaving Naruto and the bunnies behind, and summoned as many shadow clones as he could once there. There was an instant nod between them, and they turned to improving their Kawarimi.

It might be two minutes now, but they'd shave that down in time. That's what they were best at.

Prank Day 209

Jinei was a man on a mission.

Konoha normally had dozens of clones running around under different disguises, and Ichiraku burning down had only increased their numbers. All of the merchant network's suppliers and customers were under watch, and that even in Leaf village.

That was how they'd learned that Ichiraku Teuchi, one of Naruto's precious people, was out in the streets, looking for work.

On one hand, that didn't surprise Naruto; Teuchi certainly couldn't work at Ichiraku until it was rebuilt. But the man was clearly having issues, if his face was any indication. He'd already done a dozen different restaurants, and judging by his actions he wasn't having much luck there.

Now, while Naruto wanted to help (as himself), he couldn't really officially offer the man a job. Sure, he had money to spare, even with the amounts he was pouring into running Konoha's merchant council into the ground, but Teuchi would never accept it from him.

From a fellow businessman, however, as an investment…

Jinei stopped before the restaurant in front of him. It wasn't one he (or any other Naruto clone) had even been to, but the okonomiyaki place was, from what he understood, a respectable one. No reason to be rude and go inside.

Not when waiting gave the same results. Teuchi came out before ten minutes were done, and it was clear he still hadn't found anything. He had a face Naruto knew well, the mix of tired resignation and hard-headed perseverance he'd put forward for a long time before he'd passed the academy. "Good day, Ichiraku-san,"

"Good day, Gisei-san," the man replied. "I'm sorry to say, but I have to get going. I have a lot of other places to…"

Jinei stopped him with a raised hand. "Correct me if I am wrong, Ichiraku-san, but I heard you were looking for a job."

The ramen chef straightened. "I am."

"Would you be open to working with me?" The clone asked.

"You… you have a restaurant?" Teuchi replied, surprised. "That's the first I've heard about it."

Jinei shook his head. "I don't," he quickly countered. "I would be hiring you for your other talents."

"Which are?" Teuchi asked.

"Walk with me, if you will," Jinei answered. "We should discuss things in a more private environment."

Teuchi simply nodded and followed.

The two talked of less serious subjects on the way, if the state of Ichiraku ramen could be defined that way. It seemed the ramen chef did not have much luck with getting the necessary loan to get his business going again, mainly because he was currently out of work. Which was the reason why he was hitting the streets for a job.

Jinei led Teuchi to the back room of the Kureneko shop, where a half-dozen other people were waiting. They were all Naruto clones, not that Teuchi had any idea of that, but they were all bunshin assigned to the merchant network in Konoha, or working in related fields. Each introduced himself in turn, though Jinei was the one who introduce his (supposed) wife, after which everybody took a seat.

"You still haven't told me what you would hire me for," Teuchi pointed out to Jinei.

The clone simply nodded. "I, along with everyone in this room, are planning on breaking the monopoly that the Konoha Merchant Council are trying to get."

Teuchi's eyes widened, and he looked around, only to see grim faces answering him. The clones didn't need to act for that; the simple idea that someone would ham Ichiraku ramen was an anathema to them.

"As much as I agree with the idea," Teuchi replied. "I don't see what a ryo-less chef could do to help."

"We need someone from Konoha," Niko replied from his spot at the table. "We need someone who knows the people, the businesses, the culture. Everyone else around this table…" He waved his hands. "Are too recently arrived in Konoha to do the work. We need someone who can be the face of this project, someone Konoha knows and respect. And we think you can be that man."

"And… you have to money for such an undertaking?" Teuchi asked, unsure. "A project like this one might take years to see to fruition, and could cost billions of ryo! You have that kind of money?"

Ichiko, who was the third of the original merchant clones in charge of Konoha, was the one to answer. "Money is no object, not now. Not when there are people dead because of this."

Teuchi moved back in surprise. "People dead… you mean that there have been assassinations because of this?"

Everyone else nodded sadly.

Jinei rose. "We are being very serious with this. We have the means and the will; now we simply need the people. And you're at the head of the list of those that can help."

"Why me?" he asked.

"You're a long-time Konoha citizen," Jinei explained, "and you know how the businesses work. You have contacts that can help, and you know who's dangerous. Moreover, you need a job, and with what the Kohona Merchant Council did to your business, I'm sure you have no love for them."

"Are… are you sure it was them?" Teuchi asked with a small voice.

Jinei shook his head. "One hundred percent sure? No," he replied. "But the timing is pretty indicative, as it was for all the other events. One is luck, twice is coincidence, but there times is enemy action. And we are long passed three separated events. We simply have no concrete proof, or we'd be going to the Hokage with this."

Teuchi was silent for a moment. "And… my shop?"

"As a gesture of good faith, we'll finance the repairs of Ichiraku ramen. Either than or buying you a new place to work from, equipment and all. If Ichiraku ramen was a thorn in the council's side, we want it to stay."

"Could… could I have this in writing?" the ramen chef asked.

Jinei nodded, and brought out the necessary papers. There was the requisite arguing over terms and salaries, but not much, as the Naruto clones had no issue with paying Teuchi as much as he wanted, and weren't trying to get one over him.

The man read the final version twice, then signed the three copies at the bottom. The contracts then went around collecting the remaining signature from the other clones.

"Welcome aboard, Ichiraku-san," Niko said.

The man shook his head. "If we're going to be working together, call me Teuchi. I'd be much more happy with that."

Ichiko and Jinei nodded. "The same for me. Welcome to the network," the latter said.

"Glad to be here."

Prank Day 209

Natagama was the clone now in charge of tracking Tsunade. That wasn't the only thing he did, as he also hit the casinos for money along with his target, but that was his main job.

And it wasn't as easy as it might seem.

The first two days had gone well. He'd switched disguises and identities a dozen times over the days, alternating between male and female, and Tsunade hadn't seemed to be getting any hint. Then, one night while halfway drunk, she'd turned around and blanched.

And she was gone the next minute.

It was sheer luck that Natagama had managed to catch on her trail, even with all the clones he'd produced. She was clearly going more for speed than for stealth, going directly toward her next target without deviating. That actually allowed the clones to preempt her there, and to keep watch without being to suspicious. There, she returned to her usual routine, with casinos in the day and bars in the night.

Then, three days later, she did the very same.

This time, Natagama was sure his clone group wasn't the one who'd sparked her escape. None of them had even been within sight of her, preferring to keep away and observe from farther. Still, she ran out in the middle of the night, her apprentice and her pet pig right behind her.

This time, the group had been ready, and they'd had people in every city with a hundred miles that had either a casino or a place to take bets.

The group had been thinking about approaching her and talking things over, but that now seemed a pipe dream. She clearly had more issues than the group had expected. Still they'd keep watching.

Maybe they'd learn more by doing so.

Prank Day 211

Originally, the Naruto clones hadn't infiltrated Konoha as they had the other cities in their path. That hadn't seen it as useful: the real Naruto was living there without the need for any disguise or trickery, and they already had numerous clone legally into the town. Further infiltration was seen as pretty pointless, with the numbers they already had access to.

Then Ichiraku burned down, and everything changed.

There was one thing that became certain: they had enemies in Konoha itself, and they needed information about their foes. One of the primary targets was the company that Teuchi had dealt with for insurance, as the timing made it pretty evident that there was something wrong happening there.

It took barely a week before the kage bunshin managed to get someone inside.

The company had already been recruiting, since they were somehow growing regardless of the invasion, and the network sent clones there under different guises and histories until one finally got in. It wasn't in any important position or anywhere with power, basically being a gopher for more important people, but it was perfect for what the Narutos wanted.

Gophers had access to the archives, since they came and went with documents, and often worked long hours after the place was closed and the bosses were gone.

Regardless of how it was when the leaders of the company were present, the atmosphere relaxed quite a bit once the lower-ranked staff were the only people remaining. And, with everyone in a hurry to leave, the Naruto clone in the building had no difficulty been the last there. He'd made sure to work at half speed just to have work remaining on purpose, simply to have a reason to stay behind before hitting the bars with the rest of the group.

Between Nanabo-oh's genjutsu, dozens of shadow clones copying documents and an easy access to the sewers, the group had copies of every documents the company had on site.

Going through them all wasn't the job of a few hours, but against that the Naruto clones could do what they did best, that is throw numbers at it. And that's what they did, with hundreds of bunshin down in the Urahara basement going over everything sheet by sheet.

Ichiraku's former contract was quickly found and analyzed. He'd been with that company for years, and his last insurance request was dated two weeks after Naruto's own birth. Just the date would have been enough; it was clear what had caused him to go to his insurance company.

Nothing outside of that.

He'd had regular inspections twice a year, with notices going long in the past. Outside of small details here and there, nothing jumped out as a warning flag.

Then, two days before Naruto's birthday, the company had been bought out.

So far, every active account had their contracts cancelled pending inspection. There were piles of reports just from that, with two dozen clones going through them meticulously. Teuchi actually had an inspection planned a couple of days after the exam.

Which was cancelled two days after the invasion happened.

There was nothing after that. No request for another inspection, no other paper trail.

It was as if Teuchi's account had fallen into the cracks.

At least, it would, if it wasn't one of many accounts facing the same issue. There were dozens of people like Teuchi, some still unharmed, others having fallen during the invasion. Teuchi was actually the only one the Naruto clones could find that had something happen afterward.

And there was something else there, something that they needed better eyes on, just to be sure.

Prank Day 212

"That's not just me seeing things, right?" The Naruto clone asked.

Jiraiya shook his head. "No, it's not just you," he growled. "The timing's pretty indicative. As are the other details. They had advance notice, I could bet my hand on it."

By now, they had read enough that they had a good general view of the last few months, from the moment the insurance company changed hands until now.

And it was clear that said company knew beforehand that the invasion was coming.

The person who'd bought the company had all contracts cancelled pending a new inspection, and started doing said inspections the very next day.

But only with council businesses.

"Are you sure those…" he pointed to the pile on the side, containing the inspections made pre-invasion, "are all merchant council businesses?"

Jiraiya fixed him with a blank look. "I'm Konoha's spymaster, and this is my job. I might not have your wide-spread network, but the village I know like my left foot."

The clone raised his hands. "Withdrawn."

Doing all those inspections in a little more than four weeks meant overtime, which was pretty easy to track in all the paperwork. It wasn't anything surprising, not with the cancellation of all contracts.

It was, however, when it stopped, three days before the third exam.

Normally, the inspections should have continued, as the company hadn't yet gone through every cancelled account, but it stopped nonetheless. What inspections were already scheduled (those not under the council's umbrella, this time) each got postponed a week or two due to what was clearly bogus reasons.

And there were a good number of paid vacation days to those newly arrived in the company's leadership. Like they were going out of the village for something.

"Is it enough to have the Hokage bring ninja in?" the first clone asked.

Jiraiya shook his head sadly. "Not yet, no. A Yamanaka might be able to get us more, but this doesn't fall under treason yet, which would be the only reason where the Hokage might allow it."

"That's not treason?!" the bunshin asked.

"No," he said with a shake of his head. "They didn't work against the Hokage's rule, and there is nothing here that proves that they helped its enemies. And there is no law forcing civilians to report this kind of information to the Hokage."

"Why's that?"

"Because civilians aren't ninjas," he explained. "They aren't trained in looking out for what to report, which means they can't be blamed when they fail to do so. And, if it is really someone in the Konoha hierarchy that is working against the village, they might actually have been following what they expected were valid orders."

The clones scowled. "Now what?"

"You still have documents to go through?" The clones nodded. "Then continue with that. If they're really working against Konoha interests, you'll either manage to go down the chain until you find the source, or find something they can actually be prosecuted for."

He then smiled. "Or, they'll make a mistake you can pick up on, and we'll have them. Make sure I'm present whenever you storm whatever place they're working from; I want my pound of flesh, also."

The clone saluted. "Hai, hai, sensei!"

Prank Day 215

"I will be going out of in the city today, Tora-san," The Gin lord said with a smile. "Please have a small escort force prepared to accompany me through the city."

After their first, Tora had had many nighttime discussion with Shippou, as she expected to be called then. They'd talked of all kinds of subjects save the city's issues, which were reserved for the day.

Because of that, Tora now knew the Gin lord better than most. She wasn't close to breaking, as he'd first feared, but still felt the pressure. She'd sworn along with the rest of her family, on her father's deathbed, that they'd keep the city and the family proud and honorable, and she'd done her best to do so when it was her time on the throne.

Still, that was the first he heard about her going out of the compound. It would be the first time she'd done so ever since he'd been in San no Kuni.

Tora bowed. "May I ask why, Gin-sama?"

"You may," the girl answered. "Today is Founding Day and, as tradition dictates, I will be going around the city, then visiting my ancestor's graves. Please prepare the men as such."

Tora scowled, his face hidden by his position. One thing he'd learned from the night discussions was that Shippou was very traditional, as she'd not been raised with much knowledge on how to rule. Instead, she followed how things had been done before, hoping that this would be enough.

He also knew that he wouldn't be able to dissuade her.

"I will have the men ready," Tora answered. He'd have more than her guard; this was the perfect setup for an assassination, and one that could be planned beforehand with ease. He'd have people all over the place, in disguise or not.

He then turned, and left the Lord's room, going directly to the place that was given to the group to use as barracks.

"So, what's up?" Hyō asked as soon as he came in, noting the clone's face.

"Gin-sama's going in the city today, and you're all part of the guard force," he exclaimed.

Everyone scowled, then nodded. "You want members at every corner, I suppose," Kūgā asked.

Tora simply nodded. "Yes. Raion, light a fire under the Kuroneko; I want to have spies over every roof and a new check of all the Yakuza buildings. I don't have to tell you, but this is the perfect ambush scenario."

Everyone nodded.

"Hyō, you've been watching people practising, right?" Said clone confirmed. "I want the twenty best we have, and at least half of them warm bodies." He looked at everyone in the eyes. "I need people who can take hits, not an entire group who could be taken out by lucky strikes."

"Hai, taicho," Hyō replied, instantly running out. The rest of the group wasn't far behind.

They had work to do.

As was usual in Gin, the streets were empty when Shippou and her entourage finally stepped out of her mansion. Surprisingly, however, it didn't stay that way, as slowly and surely the people came out to look and see their Lord among the commoners. She stopped here and there, talking to people and refering them by name, and slowly but surely the tension bled out of the atmosphere. Where, yesterday, people were scared and tense, now there were smiles and cheers.

Still, the Torasen keep a firm guard over the young lord. Nobody stepped within ten meters of Shipppou, and both Tora and Raion were ever-present shadows at her side. Still, this didn't affect the rising atmosphere. On the contrary, the samurai received many deep bows and thanks from numerous civilians.

It was nice to see that the Torasen were actually appreciated, after all the work that was done.

By the time the sun came down and the group reached Gin-cho's main graveyard, there were now dozens of civilians following with a good number of extra samurai providing protection. They split here and there toward different gravesites, each family going to their own ancestor's graves. They then started talking, as if they were explaining what had happened in the past year.

So, that's what this holiday was about, Tora noted.

It was easy to see where Shippou was going. In the middle of the graveyard, there was a sizable silver mausoleum that stood higher than anything else in the place.

Seems not all Gin members agreed that everyone is equal before the Shinigami, Tora thought silently.

Shippou stopped a dozen meters before the mausoleum, then turned to her guard. "I will be going alone from here on," she exclaimed. "Please wait for my return."

Raion stepped forward. "Are you sure you do not want a guard inside? There may be enemies hidden in wait."

Both Shippou and her retainers smiled. "Then, try to reach the mausoleum, Raion-san. If you manage to reach it, I will be glad to have your company as I go meet my ancestors."

The smiles around him clearly indicated something was up, but he did as ordered nonetheless. He'd barely walked a couple of meter more that he was stopped suddenly, and couldn't go an inch forward.

"A barrier!" he exclaimed.

"Indeed," said, Getsuko, who had been with them the whole way. "A couple of generations ago, there was an issue with graverobbers looting the fallen lords' resting place. There lived a wandering monk in the village then, and he put a barrier around the site, keeping those not members of the lord's family from entering."

Tora nodded, then thought for a moment. "How are the Gin members buried then? I mean, if only they can enter, it means…" he started, then noticed the current lord's face. "My apologies, Gin-sama. I spoke without thinking."

The sadness was evident in Shippou's face. "You do not need to excuse yourself, Tora-san, as you are correct. I have had to bury members of my family myself in this place, and sometimes I was alone in doing so."

There was a moment of silence as everyone digested that. "How long will you be, Gin-sama?" Kūgā said, changing the subject.

"I should not be more than thirty minutes, Kūgā-san," the lord responded. "You may go until then."

The samurai clones looked among themselves, then nodded. "We will remain here until you come out, Gin-sama," Tora replied, talking for everyone. "It is a samurai's job to wait patiently for his master, after all."

Shippou smiled at that. "Truly, I am well-served. I will be seeing the Torasen once more soon, then." She then walked forward alone, and went unstopped past where Raion had been immobilized. She then disappeared down the stairs themselves.

The four Torasen sat in the grass before the mausoleum, and waited. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed.

By then the last shards of the sunset were slowly disappearing, and the dark was reclaiming the cemetery. Many of the civilians had gone back to their home, the holiday done, but some still remained to watch the Gin Lord return.

But she did not.

Still, the Torasen remained calm. There might not be a way to tell time inside the tomb, and Shippou might have simply had more to tell.

But when an hour had finally passed, and the dark had fully claimed the cemetery, Tora had to admit something had gone wrong. Maybe it was something benign, like the young girl falling asleep, or maybe she'd slipped and fell, and could rise back up.

But there were other, darker possibilities.

With a few hand signs, Tora had the cemetery cleaned out. Some of the civilians grumbled at that, but the samurai paid them no mind. Their job was the Lord's security, and this might very well be an attempt on her.

Ten minutes later, the place was empty, save for members of the Torasen. Only clone members too, as they would have to show some of the skills they'd hidden.

Now, it was time to stop being a samurai, and to be a ninja once more.

I tried my best to have it done yesterday, but having 30 people at a family meeting was much too much for me, and sapped all my energy.

So, again, a day late. I still caught up three days compared to December, and I'm getting used to my new schedule. There shouldn't be anything pushing the February chapter behind, with the holidays done.

Next chapter is currently named Rescue, and will be there on February 1st if I have anything to say about it.

Anyway, as always, thank you all for reading, and have a happy new year and a good month of January.