Chapter: 27
Tou liang huan zhu
(Replace the beams with rotten timber)

"Married!" Saotome Genma cursed under his breath
with a fluency that had amazed people in bars and flop-
houses on three continents. "Snotty little bastard thinks he can
pull one over on his old man." Barely showing the effects of
two liters of cheap sake, the big man slouched down the
narrow lane of 'Piss Alley', a collection of ramshackle huts
and restaurants that had been built along Shomben Yokocho
after a fire had gutted the place.

"Think you're bettern' me?" Hawking a blob of
phlegm at a well dressed sallaryman just leaving Shinjuku
station he felt better seeing the man's look of horrified
disgust. Almost he turned left, toward the Shinjuku Park
shanty-town that he was using as his temporary headquarters.
Instead he went east, irresistibly drawn toward Kabukicho.

Streams of neon-light ripped the hot humid darkness
apart, and the air was filled with the sights, sounds and smells
of almost half a million people crammed into a space the size
of two soccer fields. Mama-san's leaned out of doors,
offering jaded sallarymen an opportunity to spank simulated
school girls in simulated classrooms or fondle pretty young
housewives while standing in a crowded reproduction
subway-car.

Cut-throat mahjong rooms feuded bitterly with
upstart pachinko parlors, and both provided a united front
against the gaijin poker. 'Tea' houses offered watered beer,
hot sake and conversation with beautiful hostesses, who were
grandmothers without their makeup, for a cover charge that
was not quite obscene. It was a sign of more civilized times
than only about half of them still resorted to the use of
aluminum baseball bats to encourage customers and
discourage competition.

Narrow, twisting alleys, slick with vomit and smelling
of fear, sex and sake, led to dark mysterious depths where
male and female and genders yet undefined, did things that
would have frightened Caligula and given Kraft-Ebbing
nightmares.

Taking a deep breath, Genma let it out with the
satisfied sigh of a man coming home. Plucking a cigarette
from the mouth of a young woman he took a puff, then
frowned in disgust. "Don't buy such cheap tobacco." He
snapped, glaring at the woman as he tossed the unsatisfactory
cigarette at her feet. His good mood slightly spoiled by her
thoughtlessness Genma headed for a sake shop to fortify
himself, then remembered he was broke.

Hands in pockets, he leaned against a tobacco shop,
frowning in thought. He didn't really feel like running a scam,
since a really good one took time. Like all true artists, Genma
was a slave to his craft and the thought of an ill planned
confidence game was abhorrent. Any boob could steal candy
from a baby; Saotome Genma took the baby and the mother
as well. It was that skill that made him a legend in the
underworld of sixty-four countries and provided the basis for
outstanding warrants in sixty-three. Though Genma suspected
that once a certain 'John Doe' recovered consciousness in a
Sumatra hospital, if he ever did, that number would increase
by one.

He could, he mused, pushing off from the wall and
sauntering down the street, simply walk in and take what he
wanted. And while it took a certain skill to terrify a shop
owner to the point of physical collapse, without actually
leaving evidence of a crime, that still didn't feel satisfactory.
Truth to tell, he missed Ranma. He'd gotten used to having
the boy around, of seeing the puppy-like devotion in his eyes.
Though, come to think of it, there'd been less puppy and
more the look of the wolf lately.

Genma chuckled a little, remembering how much fun
it had been to slap the boy around for some mistake, without
_quite_ breaking his spirit. That sort of thing took _real_ skill,
he thought with a warm glow of self-pride, and was what
made Ranma what he was today.

It was getting harder though. His brow furrowed in
worry. And this latest bit, getting married without discussing
it with him first. The boy was starting to grow up. Pretty soon
he would be a man, Genma thought with a twinge of
nostalgia, recalling Ranma as a baby. He was so cute - - it
was ridiculously easy to sell him over and over again.

Genma sighed, knowing that time didn't stand still.
Soon Ranma would be a man, and his father's equal. No,
Genma could see the signs, Ranma would surpass him. Which
meant this was the last con they would work together. He'd
miss him, Genma thought, but he had survived this long by
never leaving anything to chance.

*****
*****

Nabiki felt the blood drain from her face as she looked
over the papers she'd found hidden in her father's room

"Nabiki? Are you alright?" Kasumi resisted an urge to
call the doctor, since she knew Nabiki hated being fussed
over.

"I'm fine," Nabiki lied, "just a little tired." She stuffed
the papers in her bookbag and smiled wryly at Kasumi. "I
guess I over did it again today."

"I know you hate being sick," her sister placed a
casual hand on her shoulder, feeling her pulse without being
obvious about it, "but you need to give your body a chance to
heal."

"I'm going to take a nap now. Call me when dinner is
ready." Nabiki clumped her way up the stairs in her walker,
wondering about the kami, karma and coincidence. If Kunou
hadn't put her in the hospital, she wouldn't be in a walker. If
not for the walker, she wouldn't have put a pitcher of water in
her room, to keep her from having to go to the kitchen for a
drink. And, if she hadn't drunk the pitcher of water, she
wouldn't have had to pee really bad the night before. And
then, she wouldn't have seen Ranma sneak into her father's
room. She wondered what he would have done if he'd noticed
the door of her room was open a crack?

It was actually a very clever hiding place, rolled up
and stuffed down a coat sleeve, and she wondered why he
hadn't simply gone into the room in broad daylight? It would
certainly have attracted less attention than sneaking around at
night, even if he hadn't thought anyone was up. Perhaps he'd
been sneaky so long, he simply didn't know any other way to
be.

She sat on her bed with a thump that made the springs
squeak, then settled against the pillows. The doujou belonged
to Ranma. Technically she supposed it had belonged to him
since he'd married Akane. The only way to avoid ruinous
taxes was to give property as a wedding gift. But she hadn't
realized Souun had made out the papers ahead of time. Nabiki
felt a cold lump grow in her stomach . . .or had he? Souun
was missing and Ranma was hiding things he didn't need to
hide. The doujou was _supposed_ to belong to him. Why was
he hiding these papers in her fathers room?

Or . . . Nabiki sat up, her heart pounding. He wasn't
_hiding_ them, he was _returning_ them, back where he
found them! She fell back against the pillows. But why? A
stabbing pain began to grow behind her eyes. Dammit, she
couldn't think, she couldn't even go to the bathroom without
getting exhausted. Pulling open the drawer she fumbled
around until she found the cell-phone Kasumi had insisted on
getting for her when she left the hospital. Punching in a
number she knew by heart she listened to it ring, hating to ask
for help - -

"Hello, uhhh . . . Sir Gawain?"

From a lunatic.

"Oh, Sorry. Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of The
Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon.
Uhhhh . . . I need some help."

On the other hand, Kodachi was crazy, but she wasn't
stupid.

"What do you know about inheritance laws and real
estate?"

Besides, when you're obscenely wealthy, you can buy
all the brains you need.

"Yes, I do think it was terrible that King Philip burned
you at the stake for heresy."

Or at least rent them.

*****
*****

"Reverend Grandmother," Favoring his right side the
young man prostrated himself with a little difficulty, "I have
the watcher's reports."

'Reverend Grandmother', who appeared to be no
more than fifteen or sixteen years old, held up a hand for
silence, continuing to speak into the telephone, her fluent
Russian tinged with a slight Muscovite accent.

"Yes . . .yes of course Pytor Eduardovich Shavyrin, I
understand. We were embarrassed also - - " she yanked the
phone from her ear, holding it at arms length until the stream
of Russian invective ran down. "I'm sorry you feel that way
Pytor Eduardovich. We wish only for the most friendly
relations with our Russian com - - " she grimaced at another
blast, but listened patiently, sighing when the phone was
angrily slammed down at the other end.

"Bad news?" the prostrate boy asked.

"Moscow seems to hold _us_ responsible for this
entire debacle," she replied, grinning wryly. "I suppose that it
_is_ difficult for them to admit that fat middle-aged alcoholic
managed to rip off the KGB . . .," she paused frowning, "No,
they've changed their alphabet to something friendlier and
more progressive. No matter," she shrugged, the action doing
things to her chest that showed the _real_ importance of
Fourier's equations on wave motion. "They're demanding
reparations and are threatening military force if we don't
comply."

The boy came off the floor with a gasp of outrage.
"What! Beijing will never allow - - "

"They already have," 'Grandmother' waved a fax in
front of him. "It's not official yet, but the 'Party' is also not
pleased with our fat friend." She paused again, frowning in
thought. "I sometimes wonder if there is some truth to the
rumor that he is really a demon or god in disguise. It's hard to
believe a mere mortal could cause this much trouble." She
twisted at the waist, sighing in pleasure as she stretched
muscles cramped from too much sitting. "The upshot is that
we should expect at least an Air-Born Infantry company to
pay us a 'visit', perhaps with some armor and light artillery."

"I will send an alert instantly," the boy reached for the
phone, his voice quivering with outrage. "We will defend our
sacred ground to the last drop of our blood!"

"Sacred ground my left ovary!" She lightly tapped the
back of his hand and the phone dropped from his nerveless
hand. "_This_ is why men are unsuited to rule." she sniffed,
"you do all your thinking below the waist. Which," she
smiled, the action making her soft pretty features look
adorably evil, " is why _we_ will do what we have done for
centuries."

She took the phone and punched a series of numbers,
waiting only two rings before it was picked up on the other
end. Checking to make sure the scrambler was engaged, she
began speaking.

"The Rus are going to pay us a visit. In about a week,
but possibly longer. You know the state of their air
transport." She laughed at something the other said. "Well,
for goddess sake, make sure there's a Russian speaker on the
radio and try to keep the poor idiots from flying into a
mountain." Another pause. "Vodka. Yes, I think it tastes like
furniture polish remover too, but they like it. And I believe we
can let some of the youngsters help, but no one under
fourteen if they send Spetznaz. They're too rough unless
you're experienced . . .yes. Yes, that's a good idea. But make
damned sure you have written permission from their mothers
before you let any of the boys help. I know the Rus like pretty
boys, but I'd rather fight a pitched battle with bamboo spears
against tanks, than some mother who's precious has had his
virtue sullied."

The other spoke at length, as 'Grandmother' listened.
"Okay, that covers drinking and wenching. Don't forget
looting, they always like looting. Better order some more
stuff, you know the kind of things . . .ancient hand carved
idols, illuminated manuscripts, gold, jewels. If Hong Kong
can't fill the order quickly, try the Philippines, They do some
good work, especially on the jewel encrusted idols. You can't
tell it's synthetic without a laboratory. And they'll extend
credit. I think that covers it. Just make sure the huts _burn_
when they torch them. Nothing frustrates a man bent on
pillaging and raping, than not having some fires burning." She
gave a bark of laughter, "well, other than that." She spoke a
moment longer, then hung up the phone, to see the young
man looking at her, eyes dark with disapproval.

"Okay boy, let it out."

"How _could_ you!" There was anguish mixed with
disbelief and anger. "To . . .to let our honor be sullied like
that. It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
We're a proud, free people . . ."

"Grandmother' listened patiently, until he began to
wind down. "Sit boy," Her voice brooked no argument and he
dropped obediently to a spot by her feet. She noted his barely
suppressed defiance and had a momentary fantasy of taming
him to heel, but shook it off. Despite recent changes, she was
too old for that sort of nonsense. There was a tingling
warmth in her midsection as she felt the heat radiating from
the seated boy and her body called her brain a liar.

"I've been in wars - - because I was too slow or stupid
to get out of the way in time. I remember the 'Pan Asian Co
Prosperity sphere', Chiang, Mao and the "Long March",
Korea and Viet Nam, French _and_ American versions. There
is no honor in war, just cold, fear, boredom, hunger and the
chance to die miserably or live crippled.

"I'm not afraid to die!" Came the angry response.

"I know you aren't," She ruffled his hair gently, "but I
_am_ afraid. Afraid enough for both of us." His defiant glare
died under her gentle smile and he felt an embarrassing
tightening in his groin. The tip of her tongue darted out,
moistening her lips and he got light headed. "There are better
uses for pretty boys, than manuring the fields with their
blood," she trailed the tip of a finger along the top of his leg,
"much better things."

*Ha!* She thought, gleefully as his face blazed like a
sunset. *Dream about that, sonny.*

"The Council of Mothers isn't interested in dying with
honor," she went on more seriously. "We concentrate on
survival. _If_," she stressed the word, "survival depended on
fighting, we would fight. But it would be to the last drop of
_their_ blood, not ours!" He nodded soberly and she
continued.

"A few cheap trinkets and our 'virtue' are a lot
cheaper than fighting a war we can't win. Our youngsters
have a few weeks of fun playing with the Rus, and in nine
months we have some new blood." She grinned gleefully
"Besides, my great grand daughter would have my hide if
anything happened to you." As the young man's face
brightened, she slipped him the 'knife'. "One of her few
pleasures in life is making you miserable."

*****
*****

"We're being followed," Ukyou said casually as he
pushed Nabiki toward home.

"Who is it," Nabiki asked quietly, fingering the cell
phone in her pocket. Not that anyone could actually respond
in time to help, but it made her feel like she was doing
something useful.

"I don't . . ." Ukyou paused, then continued, a note of
strain in his voice. "I think I need to get my eyes checked."

"What!" Nabiki hissed, trying not to look like she was
looking around.

"I could have sworn I just saw a Yamabushi in the
trees."

"Yama . . .?"

"I know, I know," Ukyou said hastily, "but it looked
just like the Warrior Monks you see in the Samurai movies."

"Ahhh, crap," Nabiki muttered, "not him again."

"Friend of yours?" Ukyou unobtrusively unsnapped
the safety strap on his uber-spatula.

"Kasumi," Nabiki ignored Ukyou, speaking rapidly
into her phone," Hi, let me speak to Kodachi."

*****
*****

"Reverend Grandmother," the young man was moving
more easily now, after a few weeks of the Reverend
Grandmother's expert care, "here are the reports from the
watchers."

"How do you do that?" Reverend Grandmother asked.

"Do . . do what?" the boy looked confused.

"Manage to be so perfectly correct, yet project that
subtle tone of sarcasm?"

"I . . .I . . ." he stuttered like a two-stroke engine with
leaky valves.

"Never mind," she pinched the bridge of her nose,
leaning back in her overstuffed swivel chair. "Just give me the
condensed version."

"Uhhh . . . yes. The Wild-Horse is . . .uhhh . . .he and
the Storm Cloud of Heaven's Way . . ."

"You don't have to keep translating their names," She
said tiredly, wondering sometimes if this sudden nostalgia for
the 'golden age' among the youth was really so harmless. "I
won't shrivel up and die if I hear a few words of Japanese."

"Uhhhh . . . Ranma," he grimaced as if tasting
something nasty, "and Tendou Akane are still . . .uhhh . . ." he
blushed, stammering, "they are . . ."

"He's drilling her like Exxon on the North Slope?"
She snorted, "What else is new? They're newlyweds and his
. . . physical ability has always been impressive." She waved a
dismissive hand. "He has never been that important, except as
a source of information. What of the father?"

"The fat . . .uhhh . . .Sotome Genma is still in the . . .
uhhhh . . .entertainment district."

"Drunk as usual?"

"Ummm," He flipped through the thick report. "No.
There is no report of him being drunk, or even drinking in the
past day or two."

"Not drunk?" She shook her head. "I don't like that. If
he's sober, without his son to dry him out, he's got something
in the works. What else?"

"The scouts report that they can take him anytime."
He looked hopefully at her.

"No one is to approach Genma. No one!" She
repeated grimly. "I'll have no more of my sisters crippled or
disgraced. The fault is mine, for underestimating him in the
first place" The boy shivered slightly at her tone, "and when
the time comes, I will deal with him." She waved a dismissive
hand. "Besides, we can't risk damaging him until we have
recovered what he stole. And he wouldn't be hanging around
Japan if he had it in his possession."

"But, he _must_ have it!" The boy protested.

"No, he is clever. And paranoid. He could never trust
that much loot to a bank, and the artifacts were too bulky to
carry for long. So he must have converted it all to something
liquid _and_ easily portable. Which means it can't be currency
or gold. And he wouldn't want it on him while we were so
close behind, but the old bastard doesn't have anyone he can
trust, except maybe his son. And _he_ doesn't have it . . ."

"He _sold_ our treasures!" he gasped, horrified at the
sacrilege.

"Of course!" she snapped, angry at his stupidity, then
softened, realizing she was taking her frustrations out on him.
But three hours on the phone trying to explain, diplomatically,
why half a company of Russian light infantry were remaining
with the Amazon's, rather than returning to Russia, had taxed
her patience.

She'd _been_ in Moscow in the winter, when burning
Panzer's had been the only source of heat. She didn't blame
those boys for wanting to stay where it was warm. _Very_
warm if some of the things she'd heard were true. They'd
have to see about recruiting a new ObGyn. Assuming they
could afford one.

"Genma isn't interested in our history or culture." She
answered, finally. "We need him to tell us where he sold our
things. And we need the cash to buy them back, if we can.
She glared at him, "But most of all, we need the _cash_,
because, thanks to my stupidity our nation is now flat, busted
broke! And Genma is the _only_ person on earth who knows
where our treasury is, or even what he converted it to."

"Is it really that bad?"

"Remember the stories I used to tell about Stalingrad
during the siege?"

"Making bread out of sawdust and soap? And diesel
oil rat stew?"

"If we don't get back what Genma stole, come winter
we're all going to wish we were eating that well."

*************************************************

 

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