Chapter Three: Trouble comes onto his doorstep

Kazuho and Shinrou had came upon the string of houses, after spending a while just walking through the streets to find it. As they finally reached, both of them were sure to ask for better directions next time. Although there were signs to this place, which did help since the landlord had been looking for tenants to stay. As he hosted merchants, which meant that he was always in need of one and thus had a permanent sign to tell where he was located.

“It could look worse.” The houses were in decent shape, although none looked spacious. It was something that the houses here in Okiban and also around the country were built to. The lack of land had made it important to build higher and use lesser space. Something even the Shogun palace followed, with many in awe of height. Where many noted that in terms of space to some countries, it would only be the castle of a minor nobleman.

“How may I help you?” A man stood before them, clear that he was the owner of the place. And from how he had came to them, identifying as visitors.

“We’re looking for a place to buy.” He had kept his tone light, cheery even. As though he was keen on finding a nice place to stay, and to the man meant that he might not be able to afford it.or he might not know just how much it cost to have one.

“There’s a couple of houses which are open for buyers.”

He leads them inside, avoiding all of the closest and the smallest houses. Bringing them to the largest house in the market, Kazuho knew that this was the strategy. He was unlikely to part with those houses since most rented them, as those houses were within their budget for the duration of their stay. This was largely unused, too big to be for many to rent. And perhaps only the occasional merchant who might stay. All the while assessing correctly that many couldn’t afford to buy the house.

But not for him. He knew that this was the best way he could have taken the best deal, and he was not someone who had enough money to throw around letting others raise the price as they wished. But he did like having more space than others. And this house was the biggest amongst all that was seen.

He entered inside the place. It was rather big, having found the place to fit in a garden. He had stepped into the main hall, but took the chance to explore further. Looking around him to notice the rooms, there were many of them. But much smaller than the first. There was no futons in those rooms, until the last revealed all of them stacked neatly.

It wasn’t too big, but neither had it been to small. He didn’t need a lot of space, just somewhere quiet. The garden was a perk that he could enjoy. “So, are you going to buy it?” Shinrou asked.

Despite all, he still held the decision since he was the one buying. “It’s fine, it is spacious but it does not have anything too fancy.” Which meant that it was a perfect location for their plans. The landlord had given them the privacy to take a look inside, perhaps guessing that it was best for them to take a look themselves rather than anything.

It was simple enough and did not need to have someone to introduce them to the house. It was rather bare without any furnishings. It was airly normal for it to be so. He could simply pick out the furniture he preferred and get it for a better price than if he asked for it.

As they stepped out, the man had waited for them to take the chance to look. “How much is the price?”

“For the house, around 5000 yen.” A fair price according to the market. But for impoverished merchants, this was out of their league. He gave a smug smirk, as though expecting them to be unable to afford it. “You can rent it instead, or maybe you can find cheaper houses to rent from me.”

Renting was something that would benefit him more than buying it. It was true, and he could benefit from it however he had wanted as he still owned the place. The same could not be said if they bought it.

“I’ll take it.” The man blinked at his words. “I said I’ll take it.”

He had taken out a set of paper, which was a checkbook. “Is there any ink to be used?” The man nodded, grumbling before allowing them to grab some. It was a sale, and he had offered. If it had been anyone else, they would have been unable to pay. But since it was him, he could.

He had dabbed it into the ink, and wrote out the sum along with his name before signing it at last. Knowing that it had belonged to him. When he was done and after the check dried, he passed it to the man. The man looked at the sum, and knew that he had been taken advantage of as well. Even as he grumbled, heading to his office to grab some of the things he would need to hand to them.

There was no case to be made, this was a fair market price for a small house like this. He may have wanted to profit, but he did not want to get too much in trouble with the law should it come. And it did seem so, with how he accepted it. Not even trying to push up the price. Times were hard here, and a bad reputation would have meant the end for them.

“Are you sure that will work?” Shinrou asked in skepticism, the first time he had been using it here. “I remember the laws about how this. It seems a little doubtful.”

“I converted some of my assets over to this name, and thus it would work.” He had sent someone over to do some of the tests, and it had not failed for them. Thus it meant that the transfer had been mostly successful.

The landlord accepted the paper and handed them the deed. Before going off to the bank to have it cashed in. Even as Shinrou went off to find Masami and Yuki and invite them to stay in the house. And that he would still need to find furniture, and tables if he did not want to be writing on the ground.

Tables existed for good reason, especially when ink could stain clothes and required time to dry. He made a note that it will be the first thing he buy, as he had a surplus of ink and paper on his own. It was not a long wait for them to arrive, where they had came in looking around.

“It looks empty.” Yuki mentioned at how there was nothing here. As she was standing at the front, while seeing quite a garden but only a couple of small rooms. She stepped further inside, even as Kazuho remained in the main hall seated. He had seen it, and to be honest he had lived in smaller houses before.

When she was done she came back. Yuki asked, “and is this really a big house?”

“Yes it is. Land here is scarce, and you know that we sleep on the floor as compared to a bed.” And that even those beds were often expensive. As it was padded, both the cover and the mattress had been so. She has experienced it too, without much complaint either.

“Why don’t you lay the futon on the ground?”

“You’re going to attract mites and mold might grow. It’s a must to keep it away from the ground.” Masami explained. And why no matter how hard it was most people kept it. It was expensive to have them, and they required careful maintenance.

That shut her up. “But is this really a bigger house?”

“It is bigger than my own expectations.” It was that of a slightly bigger variation of a standard house. With the rooms on the side, and the middle as a garden. Instead of walkways with paths to many rooms, there were a couple at the side. Most would admit that it could fit perhaps three to four people. And there were six rooms.

As Masami went off to clean up the place, all the while finding a room for herself. Kazuho did not have much preference, but knew that there would be two extras. He would likely use one as a guest room while the other to him could be used as a study and allow them to talk. They didn’t really need a teahouse, since he was not really versed in the customs. And he was not going to have many visitors over in the first place.

Yuki had got up as well, finding her own room at the end of it. Before Kazuho followed, knowing where he was going to be sleeping. The first room on the left and the next would be a study. Masami had come out of the other end, with Shinrou opposite him. He had taken out the futon and folded it. The only time to bring it out was when they were asleep.

He had grabbed some of his papers over into the study, even as he would liked some bookshelves. And made another note to get them. Before putting them on the floor, with the brushes, quills and ink mostly laid out on the floor. He had kept the maps on the floor first.

“Kazuho, there’s someone at the door. Shinrou is seeing to him but he says to get you.” Masami told him, as he got up knowing that this was serious. Shinrou would never call upon him unless it was important. At the door, he saw the man again.

“What’s the meaning of this?” He passed the check to Kazuho. Who took the chance to look at it, which was nothing more than a wrongly sized piece of paper with scribbles. The sum was not even spelled out. “I was showing this to the bank, and they laughed at me.”

Kazuho wondered whether this had been a trick by him, it was possible he might want to extort more from them. But it was too early to tell, he would need to test him a little more to figure it out.

“It definitely isn’t mine.” He took out the stack of paper he used. The paper was more rectangular than this, and the top had been filled with details which allowed him to easily fill it in. Something which wasn’t present on the paper. Even the quality was different, his book was filled with smooth paper while this was much rougher.

“But this can’t be possible.” Instead of biting back, he was bewildered. Kazuho could make the guess that he really was telling the truth.

“How did you get there?” Shinrou asked. This was a city in which many walked, and it was not unusual for even merchants like them to walk around with large sums of money.

“I walked there. Through a shortcut, which was an easier route to the banks. Although I avoid it because it isn’t safe.”

“And you walked through it with 5000 yen in your pocket?” If it wasn’t safe, then there was no point in him walking through the street instead of taking a safer, longer route. Kazuho raised his eyebrow, it was not a wonder why his money was stolen. And explained why he had lost his cash. The rule to most merchants was to avoid such places in favor of safer routes.

“Yes. But I didn’t see anyone reaching into my pockets.” Kazuho shook his own head, seeing as he wasn’t really paying attention at all. And also came the issue of where he had placed them. Even if they could not avoid such a route, the best was to place it high up where it would be noticeable.

“You clearly don’t know thieves. Did anyone bump into you while you were there?”

“Yes, but he was a young boy.” Which didn’t matter, since these were hard times. Many children needed to work, or find some way for their family to survive. Sometimes their parents having fallen ill, or needed the money for school. And to many, those had been the perfect targets to train into thieves. Their hands were small which made reaching in and taking out easy. Not to mention that they were easily underestimated.

“And this can be done by a young boy with access to paper and ink. It’s just scribbles and most of them can read to some extent.” To what extent was debated but it was a certainty that most of them could read.

“Guess I would have to report it to the authorities.” The man sighed. “I have got to be down on my luck.”

Shinrou tried to keep himself from laughing, since one of it had been trying to get them to rent instead of buy, with no intention to sell any of his smaller houses. While the other had been idiocy for lack of better word. Or that the thought of not making a good profit had really gotten to him.

Kazuho was far less so, he knew just how much would be displayed if they got involved. Gossip would spread all over the city, and people would know of them. Which to Kazuho was the last thing he needed, it had not been worth the time to go through all the legal proceedings. He had better things to do than that.

But the only possible idea he had in his head was to suggest finding him himself.

“How about I try to find the boy?” Even if this may see him as suspicious, he was making an offering and it could be framed in such a way. But he was sure that it would be accepted. He was reluctant, as seen by how he had come back instead of heading straight to the shogunate to launch a complaint.

“How are you going to find him?”

“Give me a description and I’ll do what I can.” It was almost bizarre for him to do so, even as the man raised an eyebrow at such a proposition. “Look, I don’t want to find any trouble. This would save both me and you time. If I can’t find him I’ll write you another check.”

He nodded. It was an acceptable deal for him; he would rather deal with this privately than have all of it out in the open. “He wasn’t particularly very tall, I kept it in my lower pocket. So maybe around my shoulder.” And the man wasn’t of great height either, Shinrou being taller by him by quite a bit.

Which allowed him to grab it without noticing. That made a lot of sense. “He had black hair, dressed rather poorly.” And that was all they could, not even a sketch.

“Can you draw?” Kazuho passed him the paper. Since that description would have gotten them nowhere. He had taken the brush, trying to draw.

“He sure is cooperative.”

“It’s a rule to avoid them looking too heavily into their business. I mean he did almost try to trick us.” Shinrou nodded, understanding that they were people who wanted to avoid that as much as possible.

“Won’t he think the same of us?”

“He benefits from something like this too. I even offered compensation.”

“Which to you would still be literally nothing.” He shot him a look. Preferring not to talk about his finances as much as he was here, if anyone were to really total his wealth, he would be counted as having enough money to live comfortably for a lifetime. Several lifetimes was also a possibility.

Even as the man returned him the paper with a rough sketch. A rough sketch was an understatement, as the boy’s eyes were too big, there was nothing defining. And Kazuho knew that he would be in for a long search. And that his only good clue had been the check he issued.

“I clearly hoped too much.”

“Indeed.” Shinrou agreed.

Kazuho asked. “What is the name again?”

“The street along the twentieth district.” Since they did not name anything here at all, and split them into districts.

“Tell me when you have something.” The man took the chance to leave. Kazuho sighed, placing it into his sleeves. He knew for the full fact what this would have meant, it was starting out with no clues and having to find most of them yourself.

Even as Masami came out, knowing that it was better to hide while they were here. Since both of them had came without them. And thus it was better to do so.

“So, we’re going to be looking for a thief?” They both nodded at her question. “And the drawing is even worse than Shinrou’s art.”

“Does that mean we’re allowed to leave?” Yuki had been trying for a long while to get out of the house and this could be the reason. And honestly it didn’t really matter since they would be spending a lot of it trying to figure it out as Yuki saw whatever sights she had wanted to see.

“Since we have this, why don’t we go out now?”

“I’ll stay behind, in case he comes back.”

Kazuho and Masami gave a nod as Yuki ran inside to grab her parasol. After which they both left.