The Invisible English Man
I surveyed the harbor this morning but I have yet to see a sign of the invisible Englishman. Then again, could I have? The man is invisible.
The concubines selling their wares on the docks smelled worse than the cartons of fish being sold by the fisherman just beyond them. It was hard to tell which was which. All the while, sailors passed back and forth along the wharf, some drunk, some looking to get drunk, and some taking their chances with the reeking concubines. A life at sea is a hard life, indeed.
There is always plenty to observe around a wharf and activity was heightened enough that I did not have time to wonder why the Shogunate gave me this assignment. The HMS Morrison had only been sunk less than three months prior and the Englishman was probably still sneaking around on shore and according to my sources, causing no end of mischief.
Scanning the harbor I noticed that an oddly large group of ship captains standing together outside the yakai. I approached and ordered some ramen, leaning against the wooden panels of the shop.
Count Kaishu was addressing fellow officers, “The shipment will be coming in from the north, so we must make sure the cargo is stored in the starboard side of the left flanking ship. The embargo treaty will be in place for a long while yet, but the business he provides is…”
“Kaishu-san, there’s someone listening,” he was cut off by another officer, standing on the fringe of the group.
Although I was staring down into my ramen, Kaishu’s eyes locked into my head. I suddenly heard a rough English voice talking directly behind me. I turned but there was no one there, only the wall of the yakai. I turned back and tried to glance up at Count Kaishu and he was inexplicably smiling at me.
Through a teeth clenched smile, he spoke to his fellow officers, “Let us return to our ships, where the walls do not have ears. We can speak there in peace.”
As the officers all moved away from me, I discarded my ramen bowl and considered how I might best continue my investigation. All I knew for certain was that the case would be best picked up at night, where I could better blend in to my surroundings.
The Shogunate embargo has been breached. Count Kaishu is part of the treason, and may be its leader. Investigation is ongoing.
I have had to be particularly careful to avoid crossing the authority of the ship captains and their crews. Tonight, the back has seemed easier to access but I needed to buy a few tools to gain entry.
I was nearly silent as I pulled myself up over the back of the ship and landed on padded feet. My first goal was to investigate the cargo discussed by Kaishu so I could determine the source of his breaking of the embargo. To better mask my presence on the ship, I doused the lamps on the main deck before heading down to the cargo hold.
There was no mistaking the abundance of opium plants that had taken over the entirety of the holding area. I quietly closed the door of the hold so I could better inspect the plants. It was clear that the traitor was risking his life to bring drugs from abroad to the mainland. If he succeeded, the riches would allow him to leave the life of a sea man, but if I succeed in getting the evidence in the right hands, well, he would be leaving the sea-faring life in that case as well, but for a very different destination.
Without prior warning, I once again heard the same heavily accented British voice speaking right next to my ear, as if he stood over my shoulder, but that was impossible as there was quite obviously no one in the room. While alarmed, I wondered if it was just my mind playing tricks on me as there was no plausible explanation. For the record, I have never indulged in opium.
Taking a deep breath with the intent of completing my investigation, I noticed that the hold door was open, even though I remember having closed it and did not hear the latch open. Before I could blink, Captain Kaishu was standing in front of me with the same smile he had on his face when staring at me earlier. I felt myself falling to the floor as the world around me went suddenly black.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Chika grew impatient. “So what happened to him then?”
“Well, the journal was passed around ranks as a curiosity as it clearly contained lunacy,” Hachiro answered.
He watched in silence as the barman stopped in front of him to pour another drink.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I woke in a room covered in weird linens and décor that was clearly foreign, although that is not, in itself, an uncommon thing to see in a port town. Someone was in the room with me.
A voice addressed me, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
I shook my head.
“Is there anything I can provide you with?” Considering what I remembered from before this sleep, my host’s graciousness was surprising.
“I would like an explanation about what is happening,” I finally replied.
“It is quite simple, tei. Your curiosity was imposing upon my business, so I had you incapacitated. All things considered, you are lucky to be in your present state, as some of my friends were perfectly happy to take you for a swim.”
All the while this conversation was occurring, I was scanning the room for the source of the voice. It seemed to be emerging from the walls, if not my imagination.
“You need not continue to search for me. I am right here.” A man dressed head to toe in white clothing emerged from a corner in the room that I had not noticed. Either that, or the room’s geometry was changing as he spoke. Maybe my concept of space and time had been flawed and I had it all wrong to begin with. Either way, the reports of the invisible man were true, if exaggerated. If I could get my report back to the Shogunate, the whole city would go up in flames.
Sensing my thoughts, the man in white continued, “before you put in your report that I am not invisible…” he was gone again. “You may be interested to know that I have come across an amazing talisman from an artist in the course of my travels and whenever I want, I can blend seamlessly into whatever is behind me. The artist told me that he had used to be a monk”
Having seen him, I was no more comfortable in talking to him than I was before. Nevertheless, I exclaimed, “So you really have the power of invisibility?”
“To the effect that you can understand it, yes,” as he turned his shoulder towards me, I could now see half of his body was covered in his white suit, “but it does have its limitations.”
Picking up on his earlier threat, I asked, “So why haven’t you killed me?”
“We both know that the Shogunate knows that you have come here and why you are here and I would not want you to disappear as that would bring their army upon me and disrupt my affairs far beyond your meddling ever could.”
“So what do you plan to do now? It seems that whether you kill me or whether you let me go, you must know that you will be found out.”
He was calmer than I expected given what seemed to be his predicament. “There are two options that I have for you.” The man in white was letting me look into his eyes, which were alarmingly blue and self-assured. “If you refuse, then I will frame you. If you accept, you will be a rich man.”
I hesitated, then inquired, “What are the options?”
“You can work for me, serving as my informant inside the Shogunate or you can hand over a false report.”
The options did not make sense. “Are you saying you will let me give over information that would expose you?”
“Why would you do that? What do you have to gain?”
He turned his body again and disappeared. “How can they catch me if they can’t see me?”
The wall shimmered and his face appeared before me once more.
I did not hesitate at all in letting him know my choice. “I refuse.”
He bent his hat in my direction and chuckled deeply, “So be it. Have fun.”
He disappeared once more and I was standing alone in the room. After groping the walls to ensure that he was no longer there, I opened the door and stepped out into nothing. In near panic, I fell to the muddy ground. Thankfully, it was not a long fall and the landing was soft. Looking back up, I saw that I had fallen from a tree and that I was still in Akita with the village laid out in front of me.
Returning to the harbor to reconnect with my quarry, I could find no sign of Count Kaishu or any of his crew or ship. I searched for several more days until I realized that this was the second option given me by the invisible Englishman. No matter how strange it was, I needed to make my report.
The Invisible Englishman is real. All suspects moved on to an unknown destination. Akita is now empty of traitors.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Chika finished his drink in one long drain and looked his companion in the eyes. “So what happened to him?”
Hachiro selected his words carefully. “He was locked up for a year in an insane asylum. There were some in the Shogunate who pushed for his execution, but they relented. He had been too good of a spy in the past and they thought that he had cracked because he had been pushed too hard.”
The Shuten Doji was drunk and laughing to herself as she watched the invisible man smile from across the bar.
“Invisible, he says? I know a story that sounds a lot like that. It might just be in here.”