Chapter 27: That Shapeshifter, Inquiring
She turned to Nobuyuki. ’Speak,’ she commanded, taking the report she had received from him out of her kimono. She waved it in front of him. ‘Make sure not to contradict yourself.’
Nobuyuki nodded instinctively and began to give a stammering account of the case.
The first victim had been Katashi Tomio, one of three nightwatchmen stationed at Dejima one night, more than a month ago. The morning guard had come to relieve them of their duties but Tomio did not return to the barracks after making his rounds.
The two other nightwatchmen went in search of him and found his headless body slumped on the ground along the Dejima street that he was patrolling. Doshin1lower-ranked samurai who were police officers that needed to have contact with commoners and conduct on-the-ground investigations were summoned to investigate the scene and control the crowd.
When the eta2social class of untouchables with occupations seen as kegare—defilement—like executioners, undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, tanners came to take the body away, the doshin discovered that besides his head, Tomio’s katana was also missing.
Thus, Nobuyuki instructed the doshin to search for a kataki-uchi3blood-revenge killing where a samurai could avenge the death of his direct family member by killing the perpetrator in a duel permit and investigate anyone who might have held a grudge against Katashi Tomio.
The Katashi family were adopted by a branch family of the Shimazu clan who ruled over Satsuma domain, which was the connection that allowed Tomio become a nightwatchman in charge of patrolling one of Nagasaki’s highly-restricted trading areas.
Ultimately, the investigation was long and fruitless. It had been ascertained from the start that the crime was not committed by a foreigner, because the manner in which Tomio had been killed resembled kataki-uchi, which was a samurai custom.
The doshin appointed to the case were stumped and Nobuyuki was beginning to reconsider the possibility that it was done by a well-informed foreigner when another murder took place.
This time, the victim was another nightwatchman named Uehara Matsuki. He was in charge of patrolling the central district of Nagasaki City. Just like Tomio, his head and katana were missing from the scene of the crime, presumably taken away by the culprit.
‘The Uehara family is the branch family that adopted the Katashi family,’ Nobuyuki explained, ‘so we thought for sure that the murders were kataki-uchi. And sure enough, the doshin discovered that a kataki-uchi permit had been acquired for these two men in Shimabara.’
A silence fell over the room after Nobuyuki had finished speaking. The yoriki4higher-ranked samurai who served as police officials under the bugyō awkwardly shifted his feet.
Why did it seem as though he had recited the contents of the doshin’s report he copied? Why wasn’t there anything else he could add?
Cold sweat began to form along his forehead and temples. ‘I-It was a simple, open-and-shut case,’ he added hastily. ‘We didn’t find anything unusual in our investigations.’
The Imperial Commissioner’s lips were quirked up at the corners in amusement, but he didn’t say a word, so Nobuyuki had no way of knowing if he was satisfied with this account of the case.
The young bugyō, on the other hand, had a look of blatant displeasure on her face.
The report had not mentioned that the first murder took place in Dejima. Thus, Rin had assumed that Katashi Tomio patrolled Dejima as a nightwatchman, got off duty and then, was killed in Nagasaki on his way back.
Dejima wasn’t a place anyone could enter if they wanted to. Only people with an approved token from the Magistrate’s Office were allowed inside. In the same way, only foreigners with the shogun’s approval were allowed to venture beyond its tightly-guarded gates.
‘Did it never occur to you that a kataki-uchi duel typically would not have taken place during a nightwatchman’s rounds, especially if that nightwatchman was stationed in a restricted area like Dejima?’
‘That…’ Nobuyuki was stumped. He truly hadn’t considered that. He had only thought it would mean more work for him if he reported that Tomio’s death took place at Dejima, so he had worded his report to make it vague on purpose.
To him, the location of the kataki-uchi didn’t matter because it’s not as if you would invite that person somewhere else if you wanted to pick a fight with them, would you? That would only give them a chance to run away.
‘I thought challenging him to a duel was already very good etiquette,’ he mumbled under his breath.
Nobuyuki had dealt with many cases where the avenger hadn’t challenged the victim to a duel or bothered to obtain a permit before bashing the other person’s head in or stabbing them unawares, so he didn’t think too deeply about the location of Tomio’s death.
But Rin’s temper flared when she heard his response. The report in her hands turned into a ball of waste paper. She threw it at him and spat, ‘Maybe so, but the person who filed the kataki-uchi permit you speak of doesn’t exist! That means this case is not a kataki-uchi at all!’
The crumpled report bounced off Nobuyuki’s protruding belly and tumbled to the floor.
‘Rewrite the report! Properly this time!’
Spinning on her heel, she turned to glare at the three doshin who were trying to shrink into the shadows behind their yoriki.
‘As for the three of you,’ Rin said, ‘I want to know more about two victims. What are their daily habits and relationships with other samurai?’
The doshin didn’t dare to speak, each more more terrified than the next, to face the wrath of the young bugyō.
Finally, one of them spoke, ‘Katashi Tomio and Uehara Matsuki were both extremely fastidious about their duties. They are both in their late twenties but unmarried, yet they rarely went to teahouses for entertainment on their days off. The other samurai frequently teased them for this. But they were generally well-liked and respected for their good-natured personalities…’
He paused, worried that this was not what the young bugyō wanted to hear.
Rin gestured impatiently for him to continue.
Gaining confidence from this gesture of approval, he continued more confidently, ‘Although both of them came from the same family, they had different groups of friends because one of them was a nightwatchman while the other was on the dawn patrol.’
At this point, Yuzuru, who had been silent this whole time, suddenly asked, ‘Was there a lot of blood at the scene of the crime?’
The doshin who had been speaking, tensed up, his eyes darting between the young samurai who spoke and the temperamental young bugyō who had an intimidating look on her face.
Rin blinked her eyes innocently. ‘Answer him,’ she ordered.
The doshin trio looked at each other, unsure of what constitutes “a lot of blood”.
Yuzuru urged, ‘Everyone thought this was a case of kataki-uchi, right? Aside from the fact that the victims were beheaded, was it because there was a lot of blood left on the scene from the culprit’s duel with the victim?’
’N-No,’ the first doshin responded with a shake of his head. ‘Except for where the victim had been beheaded, there were no other bloodstains at the scene of the crime.’
The second doshin added, ’We didn’t think there was a duel when we first saw the body. It looked more like a one-sided slaughter. But both the head and the katana were taken away, if it wasn’t a kataki-uchi, why did the culprit make it look like one?’
A samurai’s katana was unique to its user and would only incriminate the person who took it.
The murderer had been clever enough to sneak into Dejima to make his kill, so unless he was purposefully making the victim’s death look like a kataki-uchi, taking the victim’s head and katana would only make it hard for him to proclaim his innocence.
A search had been carried out to look for Tomio’s head and katana after the doshin suspected that the death was a kataki-uchi.
‘We found the heads and katanas of both victims buried in the graveyard outside the city.’
Further questioning proved that there was indeed a feud between the Akamitsu clan and the Uehara family over the unfortunate death of one of their male heirs. After that, they easily found a kataki-uchi permit registered by a man named Akamitsu Kazuhiro.
Thus, the case was closed.
Rin frowned when she heard this, because now she understood why Nobuyuki had skimmed over the details of the case in his report.
It was unnecessarily complicated for a case with such obvious motives.
She turned her intense gaze to the Imperial Commissioner with a doubtful expression on her face. ‘You are certain that this Akamitsu Kazuhiro doesn’t exist?’
Commissioner Inoue pretended to be insulted by this question. ’Are you doubting the shogun’s people?’
Commissioner Inoue pretended to be insulted by this question. ’Of course. Are you doubting the shogun’s people?’
The young mistress curled her lip and gestured at the doshin in front of her. ‘These men are also the shogun’s people. Why are you doubting them?’
Her eyes narrowed.
‘Is it because they’re loyal to me?’
The Imperial Commissioner smiled drily. ‘Lord Terazawa is thinking too much.’