Dust motes sparkled in the air of the warehouse, courtesy of a slanting ray of sunlight through its gapped wooden walls.
Mistress Misaki whisked her matcha powder carefully, three times to the left, before adding steaming hot water. The figure in the corner slouched in aggressive annoyance; he knew how to hold his cards, but he sure wasn't happy when he had to.
"Will you join me?" Misaki asked quietly.
Lynch took the bowl with both hands, nodding ever so slightly. Only the broad brim of his hat revealed the motion at all. He slurped noisily at the bowl, and wiped his lips on his sleeve. "Needs some whiskey."
She smiled, a pained smile, visible only in the pinching of her nose; for she wore her ceremonial veil, as she did all the times that Lynch spoke to her in her role as Misaki. The corners of her eyes never moved. "One presumes you have heard of the disturbance near Madame Maker's shop."
"One presumes correctly." Lynch had lost two good fighters in the fire, not to mention half a shipment. Packets from a shipment of Brilliance were scattered all over the town; it was good for business, but problematic in the short term.
"One also presumes that an honest businessman would be concerned about the results of such a disturbance."
"One figures out a way to profit from such occurrences," Lynch said with a sigh. "Any chance I could interest you in getting to the point, Mistress? I'm losing money standing here, and so are you."
Misaki stared out the doorway for a long, calculated time, long enough that the tavern owner began to tap one toe. She turned to him, the same pained smile showing. "It is uncommon for the Torakage to work with outsiders."
"I'm not too keen on getting their help myself, but they do have a way with getting around," Lynch said. "In fact, I--"
A knock at the door disturbed them both; a looming presence, his bald head bowed to fit under the door's sill. "Begging your pardon, masters, but a feller's here to see you both."
"Ah, Mr. Graves," Lynch said. "We were just talking about you."
"You was?" the big man asked, with a hint of curiosity. As usual his true emotions were covered by the mask of imbecility he wore, a mask borne so adroitly that even his insightful employer doubted his true nature.
"Yes," Lynch said. "And bring that...friend of yours, too. It'd be good for him to get out of the Honeypot from time to time."
"Sure, boss, but what do I do with this guy? He's got a sword. It's big."
Misaki made a small motion, and a piece of shadow detached itself from the ceiling, revealing itself as a slight figure in a crimson keikogi. The figure put a hand on the giant's shoulder, casually, the way a mother might touch a sleeping child; at the touch Mr. Graves spun, but yielded his spot.
"Ichiro will show him in," Misaki said quietly. "You may leave us."
The big man nodded and resumed his post out front, idly whittling at a toothpick the size of a steak knife. He knew better than to cross the Mistress of the Ten Thunders.
The new figure was tall, and narrow in the shoulders, with a weary face. He squinted into the darkness with his left hand on his hip, where hung a flat-bladed schlagger. He bowed, a formal bow with hands at his sides, before proceeding.
Misaki wondered idly if the demonstration of respect were not, instead, an opportunity to let his eyes adjust.
"Who's this guy?" Lynch asked, the note of derision in his voice covering a deeper concern: for this was clearly a gentleman of some puissance, and despite his spies Jakob Lynch had no idea who he might be.
"An acquaintance who may be interested in a mutually beneficial arrangement," Misaki said.
"I don't work with strangers," Lynch growled. "It's bad luck."
"I think you'll find this gentleman has already suffered more than his share. Additionally, no request was made."
"Phew. For a minute I thought you were going to tell me I had to bring him along."
Misaki held her smile a long while.
"Aww, hell, that is what you mean, ain't it?" Lynch cursed, but quietly, for despite all appearances, he had a healthy respect for Misaki's ability to make his life unpleasant. "Fine. It's gonna cost you extra, though. I'll need a third shipment this month, and at ten percent off. Now, what d'you want, mister?"
The lone figure nodded slowly. "I have only one goal," he said quietly, in a voice faintly tinged with an accent Lynch couldn't identify. One of Ortega's boys? No, the accent didn't sound quite right for that lot.
"Assistance toward your goal may become available, should our own needs be met," Misaki said.
The swordsman seemed unmoved by this, so Lynch spoke up. "That means if you do good we'll see what we can do for you. Got any tricks other than that steel of yours?"
"I do," the man said.
"Great," Lynch barked. "Another one. I'm going to go get drunk. Better than listening to all these half-sentences."
Misaki smiled as he left; a real smile. The fire had been a small price to pay for flushing out the rat in the distribution chain. Now that she had her finger on the source of the trouble, she had no intention of letting the slippery cheat escape intact...