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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cheri - Part 6

Part 6

“So hot!” Chèri complained to herself as she sat in the shade of her garden. Her life had fallen into a pattern as spring turned to summer. She picked up hours as she could in the Outer Palace, taught at the temple 2 days a week, and maintained Kiki’s accounts at least one day a week so that they didn’t get as messy as they inevitably did when she didn’t work on them for a while.
Then, there was the day of rest. The one day each week that no one was supposed to work. The majority of commoners still worked, but all the Officials in the Outer Palace were grateful to go home and see their families. Too often, Officials got caught up working on reports or projects that had them working late, or even several days straight, so it was the one rule they refused to bend; they didn’t work on the day of rest!
Reiki took advantage of this fact, and insisted that Chèri come visit him. He originally asked her to come visit him every day after she finished work, but compromised when she insisted that it was far more necessary for her to cook at the temple. Now that she found herself with a bit of spare time – no department could risk letting her have too many hours – and a tiny bit of extra money, she had taken to buying some food each day, and cooking it for the children who stayed at the temple.
Plus, to be honest, visiting Reiki was an emotional workout. She’d feel excited, confused, frustrated, happy, sad, tempted, and resolved each time she saw him. The variety of emotions was not only exhausting, but it also hurt. She was ready to break up with him for good just to avoid the tangle of feeling, but that thought hurt most of all.
Chèri opened her cloth fan, and attempted to cool her head. “Why does it always have to be so hot on my birthday?”
There was no one around to hear her, so naturally, she didn’t receive a reply. Birthdays were not considered important in the Empire, and she spent several minutes wondering why. In the foreign Kingdom, they had make a cake and fawned all over her.
A cake…
Chèri sat up abruptly. Rather than mope around feeling sorry for herself, she should do something productive. I’ll go bake a cake at the temple!
Her spirits finally returned, she raced to the market to buy some supplies. Afterwards, she lugged them to the temple, and laughed when the children saw her. They all squealed and shouted her name.
She hugged them each, and recruited their help carrying the things she’d brought to the kitchen. The older girls all volunteered to help her cook, despite not knowing what she planned to make. Chèri agreed with a grin.
Soon everyone was covered in flour, and the younger children were running around underfoot figuring out just how many places they could leave a handprint. Chèri wanted to protest the waste, but knew that even the temple children needed to have unrestricted fun every once in a while. A while later, they all practically held their breath as they waited for the cake to bake.
“Lady Chèri?” A priestess gained her attention. “Could you sort through the collection box and enter the amount in our ledger?”
“No problem!” Chèri agreed with a grin. Knowing that she’d need to keep an eye on the children and the cake, she brought the box into the kitchen with her.
One of the younger girls wanted to sit on her lap as she worked. She heard Chèri count, and practiced her own budding skills. This caused Chèri to miss her count a couple of times, and drew attention from the other kids.
“Wow! That’s a lot of money!” A boy remarked, and Chèri responded with a sad smile. There was enough to maybe feed the temple residents for a week.
“That’s not a lot, stupid!” An older girl laughed.
“More than I’ve ever seen!” The boy defended.
Chèri decided to distract them. She located a small balance-style scale. “There are three types of money in the Empire; copper coins, silver coins, and gold coins. All of them are minted by the government, and are stamped with the official seal on them. Every coin has a hole in it for easy carrying on a string, and is stamped with a unique pattern to identify it as belonging to the Empire. The minting process is very precise. Therefore, each coin will weigh exactly the same as the others like it, see?”
She placed one copper coin on each side of the scales. They wobbled up and down for a moment, then evened out. “Perfectly balanced.”
“Show us again!” A younger girl demanded excitedly. Chèri complied by placing one silver coin on each side. Once again, they balanced after a couple of moments.
“Last time,” Chèri stated preemptively when others opened their mouths to beg for more. She placed a golden coin on each side. They wobbled for a moment, then came to a stop. Chèri frowned.
“Hmm… strange…” She murmured. One coin was higher than the other. The difference was slight, but enough to cause concern. She took the lighter one off the scale, and replaced it with the only other gold coin in the box. It balanced. Chèri set it aside, and dug out a gold coin from her purse – the only one she had. It also balanced.
“High Priest!” One of the boys babbled happily. “We’re learning about money, and one of the gold coins doesn’t balance!”
Chèri looked up, “It’s true… Watch.” She explained how she had weighed all the coins, and even one of her own, but this one didn’t match. Even the High Priest frowned in concern.
“May I borrow this coin?” Chèri asked, holding out the odd coin as she pocketed her own.
“Yes, I think you may be the only one who can have it looked at in case there’s something wrong with it,” the High Priest agreed.
Chèri bowed in thanks, and then handed the collection box to him. She told him the total, and he went to go enter it into their ledger. Meanwhile, the cake was done. It had been made with overly ripe bananas, and smelled far too delicious for anyone to wait to eat.
Chèri cut it into squares, and then they slathered their pieces with butter. Everyone in the temple soon migrated to the kitchen to investigate the divine smell, and she was grateful she had made a large cake! An hour later, someone thought to wonder what the special occasion was.
“That’s a secret!” Chèri replied with a mysterious grin, and then left the temple, but not before packing a few servings of the cake into a basket to bring with her.
“Chèri!” Kiki greeted happily a half an hour later. “What brings you here? You just went over my accounts two days ago!”
“I have a strange request; may I play with the money in your vault?” Chèri inquired with an overly innocent grin.
“Um… I suppose so,” Kiki answered hesitantly. She completely trusted Chèri, but even so, anyone would be suspicious when asked like that.
“Excellent! Have someone bring us some tea, and I’ll give you a bit of cake,” Chèri offered.
Kiki immediately agreed, did so, and then led Chèri to her vault. The maid knew to bring the tea to them there. Chèri set the basket aside to wait for the tea, and studied the coins intently. They all looked normal.
Locating a scale, which was used to count money quickly by weighing stacks of money against each other, she scooped up a handful of gold coins. There were enough of them in the vault to make Chèri reconsider working for Kiki! She pushed that thought to the back of her head, and set one coin on each side of the scale.
Kiki watched her with confused interest, and waved the maid away after she brought them their tea. “Is something wrong?”
Chèri bit her lip in thought. “Earlier, I was weighing coins as a lesson in the temple, and I found this.” She pulled the odd one out of her pocket, and weighed it against one of Kiki’s coins. The odd one still weighed less.
“I see…” Kiki murmured with a frown.
Chèri got busy weighing all the gold coins in the vault one at a time. An hour later, she had finished, and found 20 odd ones out of more than 200, so less than 10 percent were different, but that was still a much larger amount than Chèri had expected.
Kiki was astonished. “Could they be a faulty batch that escaped inspection?” She wondered, hoping it were that simple.
Chèri shrugged. “May I borrow these?”
Kiki had to give her request some serious thought. 20 gold coins was a significant amount of money, and almost no one could afford to just give that amount away lightly! Still, she did trust Chèri, and so nodded.
“Good!” Chèri grabbed a blank scroll from a shelf in the vault – kept there for when the current scroll tallying deposits and withdrawals ran out. She quickly dipped a brush in the inkpot on a small table, and wrote: Borrowed from Madam Kiki, 20 “odd” gold coins. Then, she held it out for Kiki to sign.
“I’m going to bring these to the Money Guild. If it really is just a simple matter of something gone wrong in the minting, they should know of it,” Chèri explained as she wrote down that she also had one coin borrowed from the temple. She’d have to remember to have the High Priest sign for it later.
Kiki smiled. “I hope you figure this out soon, and thank you for this fabulous cake!”
Chèri grinned, and then looked at the floor in shame. “I know it’s no big deal, but it’s my birthday, and I just wanted it to be special somehow.”
Kiki appeared to melt, and pulled Chèri into her arms for a hug. “Every girl just wants to feel special some of the time! There’s nothing wrong with that!”
Chèri was so happy that she gave Kiki a tiny peck on the lips, and then buried her face against Kiki’s houmongi. “Thanks for understanding!”
Kiki laughed, and stroked Chèri’s back. “No problem. That’s what I’m here for. Now go… solve your mystery!”
Chèri nodded, picked up her basket, tucked the string carrying the golden coins in it, and followed Kiki out of the vault. Kiki firmly relocked it before escorting her friend out of the house. It was getting to be evening, and occasionally a patron arrived early. Kiki didn’t want to risk the patron’s mistaking Chèri as one of the girls that worked here.
As they approached the main entryway – arm in arm – a thought occurred to Kiki. “Are you planning to attend the party hosted by the Sapphire clan?”
Chèri shook her head. “No! I don’t like attending those fussy events. The chance of ruining one of my best houmongis is much too great! Besides… what would I do there?”
“Flirt with men, of course! I should not be your only lover,” Kiki purred impishly.
Chèri laughed, and decided that two could play at this game. “Whoever said you were?”
Kiki traced Chèri’s cheek with one finger, effectively stopping them both in the middle of the entryway. Kiki’s job was to entice people, and she loved having one friend that she could flirt with who knew that she was just playing, and didn’t take her seriously. Someone cleared their throat.
“General Sapphire!” Kiki exclaimed in delight. “And friends.”
Chèri groaned softly when she realized that Reiki had caught her acting inappropriately, again! This subtle sound was just loud enough for Kiki to hear, and she decided to attend to her friend before her favorite customer.
“Chèri, it was a pleasure to see you again. I eagerly await your return,” Kiki purred suggestively, despite referring to Chèri’s mystery.
Chèri shook her head with an amused smile. “I’m sure you’ll be seeing me again real soon. Until then,” she placed her right fist in her left palm, and bowed lightly.
“Enjoy your birthday,” Kiki said as she bowed in return.
Chèri had to force herself not to run out the door, and took a moment to bow respectfully to Reiki, Ran, and Ko. She smiled, and murmured a greeting/farewell. “General Sapphire, cousin… Reiki…”
 She ignored Kiki’s curious look, and quickly walked to the door. Her heart was racing, and she had to reassure herself that the situation wasn’t too bad. Kiki hadn’t been kissing her after all.
Reiki watched her leave with faint frown. “You two finish your errand. I need to have a word with Chèri,” Reiki stated, and moved to follow her.
“My Lord,” Kiki dared to risk offending a potential customer. “Chèri is a dear friend of mine. She’s not one of the girls that work here, and I would appreciate it if you did not follow her with ill intentions.”
Reiki stiffened in offense, but realized that they had never told Kiki who he was so she had no way of knowing that he was the Emperor and that his intentions were honorable. “She’s a dear friend of mine too,” he stated, and rushed off.
Kiki cast Ran a look of deep concern. Ran smiled at her reassuringly. “They really are friends. If you don’t believe me, ask her cousin here.” Ran tapped Ko on the chest.
“Oh…” Kiki murmured, realizing that Chèri had actually addressed him as her cousin and the other one by name. “I see…” Reiki, hmm… It wasn’t a terribly common name, but there were a few of them. Kiki shook her curiosity off, and led Ran and Ko to the parlor to discuss a couple more details for the upcoming party.
In the courtyard, Reiki raced to catch up with Chèri, who was running pretty fast herself. “Chèri! Wait!”
Chèri realized that she would only end up making a big scene if she tried to out run him, so she stopped 10 feet inside the front gate. She turned to face him, and blurted out the thing she thought he wanted to know the most. “It’s not true!”
Reiki was baffled. “It’s not your birthday?”
Chèri blushed. “Yes, that is true… I meant it’s not true that… never mind.”
Reiki smiled and took her hand in his. “I’m glad to hear that, but I’ve already decided to trust you. I figure that it’s only fair since you trust me.”
Chèri was inordinately pleased to hear that, though a small part of her panicked. Him trusting her meant that she now had the power to hurt and betray him if she wasn’t careful. It was one more knot in the tie binding her to him despite her desire to be free. She brushed all the troubling thoughts aside, and smiled.
“Have a piece of cake,” she offered, thrusting a piece from her basket into his hands.
“Mmm,” he moaned as he ate it. He walked beside her as she continued on her way. With him “in disguise” – so to speak – he was free to roam the town with her. Not many nobles or other people who might recognize him ever came to this part of town – aside from visiting the pleasure houses, but they usually arrived later on.
Chèri strolled towards her destination, enjoying the comfortable silence between them. To be honest, she found it hard to stop thinking about him long enough to think of something to say. His presence was making her heart race.
Reiki was having a similar predicament. Only he also felt like an idiot for not knowing that it was her birthday. It’s true that birthdays were not considered important in the Empire, except for the Emperor’s, and sometimes that of the Imperial family. If he had his way, she would be his wife, and therefore her birthday would be important. He wanted to get her a gift, but he knew she hated anyone spending money on her.
They arrived at the Money Guild, and Reiki realized that he had no idea where they were or why. He decided to keep his mouth shut, and listen. He found out so much when he simply listened to others talk.
“Can I help you?” A clerk asked. Chèri smiled at him.
“I’m Shurin Ruby, an Official working in the Outer Palace,” she introduced herself, and showed him her proof that she was telling the truth. “Is there a manager I can speak to?”
One happened to be within earshot, and stepped forward hastily. “Of course, right this way!” He gestured for her to follow him into a small room reserved for meetings with clients.
Reiki followed curiously, and listened as they exchanged pleasantries for a few moments. The manager offered her tea, and she offered him a bit of cake in return. Finally, they got down to business.
“What brings you here today?” The manager asked.
“I’m simply curious; is there any reason that a coin might weigh a lesser amount than all the others?” Chèri asked with a smile.
“No… I can’t think of any. All coins are minted to demanding specifications,” the manager assured her.
“And there couldn’t possibly be a batch that was flawed?” Chèri pressed.
“No, all the newly minted coins are tested rigorously to ensure that they are all the same,” the manager replied with a concerned frown.
Chèri was quiet for a moment. “I was afraid of that. This morning, as I was teaching the children of the temple a lesson in money, I noticed something odd.” She withdrew the two gold coins she had in her pocket. “One of these weighs less than all the others did.”
The manager looked highly upset, but managed to suppress it so that he didn’t take it out on her. “I’m sure there must be some mistake!” He quickly located a set of scales, and tested the coins. Sure enough, one weighed perceptibly less. He inspected it carefully.
Chèri decided to continue. “After realizing that something was wrong, I went to the only person who I know that has a large amount of money, and she graciously agreed to let me look through her vault. I found these.” Chèri withdrew the string full of coins from her basket, and placed them on the table.
The manager gaped at the coins in disbelief. “And they’re all…?”
“Yes,” Chèri confirmed with a nod.
“Counterfeit…” the manager whispered, and Reiki instinctively realized that he hadn’t intended to say that out loud. Reiki was also suppressing a look of shock at the situation. His face was perfectly blank, despite his desire to call Chèri a genius, and squeeze her tight!
“I need to have these coins inspected,” the manager finally stated.
“Will that take long? I need to bring them to the Department of Investigations,” Chèri informed him so that he wouldn’t think he could simply keep all the coins and leave her empty handed.
The manager looked torn, and it was obvious that he had planned to send Chèri away empty handed so that he could claim discovery and be rewarded by the guild. He sighed. “Wait here a moment.”
Chèri watched him leave, and then turned to Reiki. “I’m sorry that you thought we were going on a date, and I ended up dragging you to work with me.”
Reiki smiled. “Honestly, I still think of this as a date. Besides, this way, I learn about this all important matter first hand rather than through some report that could take days or weeks to be brought to my attention.”
Chèri wanted to ask how long the report about the art had taken to reach him, but was prevented by the abrupt return of the manager. He led an older man into the room, and pointed at the coins on the desk. The manager opted to sit as the older man worked.
He had gray hairs mixed in with his black ones, and looked to be in his 60’s. Chèri watched him as he weighed one of the odd coins in his hand, and then bit it. This made her frown in puzzlement.
“It’s made with real gold,” he murmured aloud, and Chèri dug out the scroll from her basket. She used the brush and pot of ink sitting on the table to take notes.
“It’s definitely not the right weight though. The engraving is accurate, and my guess is that the inner core is made from something else… but they did a good job making these look real. For a more detailed analysis, I’ll need to melt one of these down and –”
Chèri shook her head. “I’m sorry, but not one of these. My friend had well over 200 gold coins in her vault, and I found 20 odd ones. If she had that many, then certainly the Money Guild has a few of them already.”
Both men felt their eyes bulge as they realized her implication. Not only was there counterfeiting going on, but it was pervasive enough to be a serious problem! The manager was tempted to overreact, but the older man held up a hand to calm him.
“We must keep this quiet. If people found out that there was counterfeiting going on, they would lose trust in the Money Guild, pull their money out, and demand that we exchange any fakes ones for real ones.”
The manager nodded in agreement. Chèri slowly nodded as well.
“The government would also look incompetent, and I’m certain that the Department of Investigations would prefer that we not alert the culprit that we suspect anything. We need to catch him unaware,” she stated, and then quickly suppressed a thought. She couldn’t afford to think about that now.
“We’ve grown complacent,” the older man growled. “There was a time that not a single coin was placed in the vault uninspected. There hasn’t been anything like this in so long that we seem to have forgotten the possibility!”
“I agree,” the manager sighed.
Chèri got to her feet. “I think I’ll take my leave for now, unless you gentlemen would like our help sorting through your coins?”
They both shook their heads, which Chèri anticipated. “In that case, I’ll return tomorrow to find out how many you discover. I’ll need the information for my report.”
The men exchanged concerned glances. They weren’t entirely sure that an Official – even one from the Department of Investigations – was entitled to know that kind of information. Chèri firmly held their gazes.
“I deeply appreciate your co-operation, but this is a serious matter! If I need to, I will get the Minister of Investigations to send in a whole team of investigators to demand answers,” Chèri insisted.
They exchanged another uncertain glance.
Chèri sighed. “This is counterfeiting! My boss would have no trouble bringing this matter before the Emperor and getting a written command for you to comply! Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just give me the little bit of information I need to know for my report? Otherwise… it looks like you’re hiding something.”
Both men slumped in defeat, and agreed.
Chèri placed her fist in her palm, and bowed to them. “Thank you. I’ll return tomorrow afternoon.”
They bowed to her in return, and waited for her to gather her things and leave. Reiki was biting his lip to keep from spilling what was on his mind. He sincerely wished that he had half her ability to talk others into complying!
Once they were outside and a good block away, Reiki finally couldn’t hold it anymore. “That was amazing! The way you just walked right in there and got them to do exactly what you wanted! When you mentioned getting a written command from the Emperor, I just about roared in agreement!”
Chèri laughed. “Thank you for remaining silent. At that moment, I thought for sure you were about to tell me that I couldn’t actually do that, and make me lose my bluff.”
“It’s no bluff,” Reiki assured her. “This really is the type of thing that could escalate all the way to me. Counterfeiting is serious!” Reiki whispered that last bit.
“I know!” Chèri agreed.
Reiki suddenly looked depressed. “This never happened when my father was Emperor.”
Chèri placed a hand on his arm sympathetically, and quietly said, “I’m sure it will just take some time before everyone sees what a good Emperor you are.”
Reiki growled softly. “I try, but I honestly don’t think I am doing any good!”
There wasn’t anything Chèri could say since she had no idea what went on during his council meetings. Her temporary hours in any department that needed her rather suggested that things were not progressing as she would like them to, but she could tell that Reiki really was doing his best. He just didn’t seem to have the confidence to boldly state what he wanted, and insist that it happened.
“Come on, I’ll make dinner for us,” she offered. “Unless you need to get back to the palace.”
Reiki grinned. “Surprisingly, I’ve gotten through all the paperwork from the last meeting, and the next one is still a couple days away, so it seems that I have some free time.”
Chèri stopped walking abruptly. “I can’t spend too much time with you. I’m going to be busy tomorrow, and –”
“I understand.”

㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝

Reiki had nothing to do the next day. He spent all morning thinking about the counterfeit coins, and then realized that he had no idea why he couldn’t help! Just like he had silently watched as Chèri worked yesterday, there was no reason he couldn’t do so today. Besides, he was dying to know what she found out!
He decided to bring Ran and Ko with him just in case there was trouble, and then dressed in his “street clothes.” His body guards also dressed down so they didn’t call attention to themselves. Soon, they were on their way to find Chèri.

㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝㆝

Chèri decided to wear a pretty houmongi. It was not one of her best – which were all expensive and she didn’t want to risk ruining them. Instead, she wore the reasonably priced houmongi of an average woman, only this one had some decorative touches that made her smile. As Kiki often said, sometimes a girl just wants to feel special!
Her father was already at work, so she had no need to make him lunch, which meant that she could run her errand and have lunch at the same time! If she was lucky, she may even get to eat for free! This thought made her giddy, and she twirled a long golden and bejeweled pin around her hair with no regard for how it looked when she was done.
She left her house, and rushed to her destination without actually running, which was not appropriate for how she was dressed. Besides… it was too hot to run! Ah… There he is…
Chèri closed the distance between them, and bowed respectfully. “I need to speak to you about something important, and… confidential,” she informed him quietly.
Bo smiled at her. “Chèri, my love!” He pulled her onto his lap, and whispered in her ear. “How confidential? Mildly that we may talk out here? Or highly so we should find somewhere private?”
“I think it would definitely be better if we were alone,” Chèri informed him, playing along by caressing his ear with one of her fingers.
“I’m always watched by someone or other, so we should make this appear to be…” He murmured, lightly licking her neck.
“I know,” Chèri nodded. “Last time we appeared to be shopping, but I don’t think that will work this time.”
Bo chuckled. “You know, I have a boyfriend that would be insanely jealous right now.”
Chèri laughed. “In a way, you could say that I do too.”
“Care for something to eat first, or should we get straight down to business?” Bo asked louder since there was no need to whisper.
“Eat first!” Chèri grinned.
“I figured as much,” Bo stated, and patted her rear to encourage her to sit in her own seat. She allowed this because she didn’t want to ruin the wrong idea that they were giving his watchers. She waved to the owner of the food cart to bring her whatever he was cooking.
While she waited, she surreptitiously withdrew one of the fake coins from the sleeve in her pocket, and hiding it, and reached over to take hold of Bo’s hand. He gave her a flirty look, and squeezed her hand. The shop owner arrived just then, and broke up their tender moment.
Chèri dug into her food vigorously, and Bo fiddled with the coin in his hand. His hand was in his lap just long enough to look like he had retrieved something from his pocket. “What’s this?”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about, and no, you can’t keep it,” she stated with a grin.
He flapped at hand at her as if to say, a gentleman never takes money from a lady! He leisurely finished his plate of fried noodles as she devoured hers. He shook his head lightly in amusement.
“You sure can eat,” he remarked.
Chèri shrugged as if to say, hey! I’m hungry!
Soon enough, they were finished, and Bo tossed money on the table to pay for their lunch. None of the coins were gold, so he didn’t have to worry about spending the one she’d given him by accident. He offered her his arm, which was a gesture that not even married couples in the Empire did very often. It rather implied intimacy.
Chèri knew it was all a part of the act she’d started, so she had no choice but to play along, though the implication did make her hesitate. She slipped her arm through his, and allowed him to lead the way. He was busy trying to figure out where to bring her for a private chat. None of his safe houses would work – she wouldn’t be safe if seen going into them – and he doubted that she had a convenient place for them to talk in private.
“We could go to my house,” Chèri suggested. “No one’s home, though my father might show up at any time.”
“No… I don’t want this to look like I’m serious about you,” Bo declined reasonably.
“We could go to Kiki’s,” Chèri suggested. They were both talking softly to avoid being overheard.
Bo grinned at her impishly. “I think Kiki’s place might be a little too tempting!”
Chèri laughed. She bit her lip in thought for a moment. “I know… there’s a private meeting room at the Inn.”
“True…” Bo agreed as he wondered why he hadn’t thought of this himself. He paused in their stroll to buy her a red rose from a flower seller. He brushed it along her cheek as he presented it to her. “I’ve just signaled my boys that I’m going to be occupied for a while, just in case they haven’t figured that out by all our subtle hints!” He whispered sarcastically.
She grinned, but suppressed the laughter that bubbled inside her. Pretending to flirt is so much fun! She shivered when she remembered that Reiki would want to murder one of them if he saw her now, and suppressed the urge to look around nervously.
They entered the Inn, and requested to use the private meeting room. The woman on duty immediately quoted a price, and then showed them to the room when they paid. The meeting room was on the second floor, but had a window so that they could watch people walk by – not that they bothered to look outside. They were far too preoccupied.
Chèri placed the string of coins on the table with a thunk. “That coin I gave you and all of these are counterfeit. I’m here to ask you if this is an approved crime.”
Bo cast her a shrewd look. “And if it is?”
“I figure I owe you a favor,” Chèri shrugged, mentally crossing her fingers.
“I see…” Bo took a deep breath, then sighed. “No, this is not an approved crime. I would not be stupid enough to risk my position as big boss on something that’s guaranteed to get me killed when it’s discovered.”
Chèri had been staring him directly in the eyes, but now she slumped into her chair. “Damn! I was hoping you’d tell me it is an approved crime!”
Bo snorted. “You want me to be executed!”
“No! It’s just that if it was you, I might have some success in making a deal to get you to stop. I haven’t actually reported this to my boss yet, so I could have thrown him off the trail long enough for you to escape. Now, I have to figure out who is behind this,” she sighed in frustration.
“Actually I don’t have to, but if I don’t, Minister Hong will just assign it to someone else and ask me to wait patiently at home while it’s solved,” she added.
Bo regarded her with an expression of deep amusement. “You do realize that you just offered to help me cover up a crime?”
“No,” Chèri clarified. “I offered to protect you in exchange for fixing a crime.”
Bo picked up the string of coins, and tested the weight in his hands. He nodded when they weighed less than a string that size should have. “This is serious.”
“I know,” Chèri agreed. “But you can’t tell anyone! Chances are that whoever is behind this will find out if you say even a word about this!”
Bo nodded, a grave expression on his face. “Don’t worry, before I do anything at all, I plan to sort through my own money. I need to know how much counterfeit coin is in my vault. Meet me again tomorrow, and I’ll let you know.”
Chèri nodded, and held out her hand for the coins. He returned them all, even the one she had given him earlier. He’d kept it in a separate pocket in order to know for certain which it was.
“I won’t say anything, but I’ll keep my ears open. You might be surprised to know just how much I can find out by listening to my men talk. Especially, when they don’t know I’m listening,” Bo informed her.
Chèri nodded, and allowed him to escort her out of the building. They stood out front holding hands for a moment before he kissed her goodbye. “Until next time.”
Chèri smiled. “I look forward to it.”
Bo whispered in her ear. “You make this too easy to pretend! If I weren’t so devoted to my man…” He left the rest unsaid, and Chèri covered a blush with her sleeve. He grinned, and walked in the direct of the food cart.
Chèri’s house was in the opposite direction, as was the Money Guild, so she decided to go there next. After all, she had promised to return this afternoon. She bit her lip as she thought about everything Bo had said. She was fairly certain he told her the truth, but she couldn’t completely trust him just yet. If he has lied to me, I won’t be so protective a second time!
“Seriously, who is that man?”
“Reiki!” Chèri gasped, one hand clutching her rapidly beating heart. “I – uh – I” She stammered. Ran and Ko were glaring at her.
Reiki smiled. “I said I would trust you, remember. Besides, I saw you talking to him through the window, and realized that you two weren’t doing what it looked like.”
Chèri sighed in relief, and then dropped the hand over her heart. “He’s a friend, and that’s all I can tell you.”
“A friend who helps you collect fake artworks and can be trusted to know about this little problem,” Reiki stated.
“Yes…” Chèri agreed vaguely.
Reiki sighed, and then shrugged. “Fine, I won’t make you tell me.”
“Thank you!” Chèri blurted out gratefully.
Reiki smirked. “On one condition.” He grabbed her hand, and linked her arm through his. “If you can walk like this with him, then you can walk like this with me.”
Chèri forced a smile. Walking like this had been easy with him because I knew we were both playing! This is real! However, he was being so understanding that she didn’t resist.
A half an hour later, she pulled her arm free, and squared her shoulders. They were about to enter the Money Guild, and she needed all the determination that she could muster. Ran held out the door for her; it was a habit to do so for the Emperor and pretty much every woman he knew anyway.
“Official Ruby!” The manager greeted with a forced smile. He was not the manager in charge of the Guild, nor was he the manager in charge of this particular office. He was simply one step higher than the average employee, and the pressure of dealing with this was starting to wear on him. “Follow me please.”
Chèri instinctively knew that he was concerned about making a scene in front of all the people doing business, so she followed with a gracious smile. He brought her into the same small room as yesterday, and she found three other men waiting for them – one of which was the older man. She smiled, and bowed respectfully to each of them. They frowned in concern at her companions.
“I am Shurin Ruby, and I am an Official working in the Outer Palace. With me, I have Ran Sapphire, and Ko Ruby. They also work in the Palace. Lastly, this man is a consultant that I am partnering with. You can call him Kyo,” Chèri explained, showing her proof to them and letting them inspect the small wooden token carefully. They gave each other looks of defeat when they couldn’t find anything wrong with her credentials. This was one instance where being famous as the only female official actually came in handy!
They offered her and her companions tea and exchanged a few pleasantries before getting down to business. “Official Ruby, we are not comfortable disclosing this information, but we have discovered that approximately 10 percent of the gold coins in our vault are fake,” the most richly dressed of the men informed her.
Chèri pulled out her scroll, and borrowed the brush and ink pot once more. She wrote this information down, and then asked for specific numbers. They very reluctantly parted with the information, and then signed her scroll when she asked them to. She rolled up her scroll, and tucked it away.
“I imagine that you would like to assign someone to work on this case as well, but I highly suggest that you do not do anything with the counterfeit coin until someone else from the Department of Investigations comes to discuss what to do with it. I plan to submit my report tomorrow evening, and I’m certain that Minister Hong will want this taken care of right away,” Chèri explained with a bow.
Ran cleared his throat. “However, with something of this magnitude, I’m certain that Minister Hong will convene an impromptu council meeting with the Emperor and other Ministers to discuss what to do. It may take some time for a decision to be reached and a plan implemented. Please be patient.”
The men all sighed, but nodded in compliance.
“Thank you for your cooperation,” Chèri said with one respectful bow to the room in general. They returned her bow, and she turned to leave. She opted not to waste time pointing out their rudeness to her companions, since doing so in public would only cause a scene, but she could tell that the Money Guild managers were not pleased that her companions omitted their bows.
She waited until they were down the street a bit. “I thank you, General Sapphire, for your helpful assistance, but this is why it is not a good idea for you to follow me around when I work,” she directed this last part at Reiki, and even jabbed him in the chest with her finger. “So long as you are pretending to be someone else, you have to play the part, which includes bowing when expected!”
Reiki blushed. “Oops!”
“I just hope that they think all Officials from the palace are rude… which…” Chèri bobbed her head side to side as if to indicate that the statement held some truth, but opted not to finish her sentence.
Reiki rolled his eyes, but also chose not to say anything. A thought occurred to him, and he pulled on his hair lightly. “This means that I’m going to have to come up with a plan! I think I need to return to the palace now!”
Ran and Ko each patted him sympathetically, both deeply grateful that they weren’t the Emperor. Reiki was about to freak out over his impending council meeting, when a new thought occurred to him.
“Wait… Why aren’t you submitting the report until tomorrow evening?” He asked curiously. “You have all the information you need, don’t you?”
Chèri blushed lightly. “True, I have enough information, but I am waiting for just a bit more in case it makes a difference.”
“I see…” Reiki murmured, fairly certain that she referred to her mystery friend. He grabbed her abruptly, and kissed her before she could react in any way. They were fairly close to her house, and if she could think, she’d be afraid someone she knew might see them. “I’ll leave you here for now so that you can work on your report. I need to think about the situation anyway. I look forward to reading your report!”
            It took a moment for Chèri’s brain to process his sentence, but then she nodded in acceptance. She hastily bowed to cover a blush, and murmured, “Until I see you again.”

Go To Part 7 

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