Author: DezoPenguin PM
An EMDN side-story. When a client interrupts the dinner hour at Baker Street, it leads Shizuru and Natsuki to a jewel robbery, and to some new discoveries about one another.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Friendship - Natsuki K. & Shizuru F. - Words: 12,414 - Reviews: 24 - Favs: 48 - Follows: 3 - Published: 02-25-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5774600
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This one-shot takes place between "Elementary, My Dear Natsuki" and "Come, Natsuki, The Game is Afoot," closer to the latter than the former. Hopefully, the readers of this series that have been seeking a little more action will enjoy the homage to the recent movie.
~ I ~
Mrs. Hudson, the red-haired landlady of the Baker Street lodgings I shared with Shizuru Viola, set the dinner tray down on the table with a bang.
"Now listen here!" she snapped at the recumbent form of the consulting detective. "You didn't touch your breakfast, you ignored luncheon, and the only thing you took at tea was tea! I'm tired of having leftover food sent back down, Shizuru Viola."
"Ara, that is very wasteful. Perhaps you should not bring me food that I did not request?" Shizuru said lazily.
"Don't take that tone with me, missy. A spry young thing of seventeen"—she patted her chest—"can miss a meal or two, but you can't just shrug things off. You can't be bothered to eat properly when you do have a case, and half the time you're too out of sorts to when you don't."
She turned to me.
"Hey, I eat my share!" I protested.
"I know. Make sure she does too, Natsuki."
She spun on her heel and stalked out.
"I don't suppose you have any suggestions as to how?" I muttered at the Scotswoman's wake. I was starting to feel hungry, though, so I set my book aside and went over to see what we had. Pork chops, boiled potatoes, green peas, fresh yeast rolls, and a tossed salad with mayonnaise on the side made up most of the menu.
"Oh, hey, she heated up the rest of those gyoza Mai sent over last night, too," I said, lifting the last cover off the plate of steaming dumplings.
"You can have them, Natsuki; I'm not hungry."
"A woman cannot live by tea alone. Besides, you heard Mrs. Hudson. If you keep on starving yourself, it's going to be my head that rolls. Do you want me to face the shillelagh alone?"
"That's Irish, Natsuki, and I don't believe that Mrs. Hudson would take her ire out on you literally."
"Don't be so sure. She's a woman who takes her cooking very seriously. I think she takes it as a personal insult when you snub her."
"Oh, yes." I transferred food to my plate, determined that at least one of us should do justice to Mrs. Hudson's efforts. It was nearly half past nine, after all, and the Bohemian hours had me more than ready. "We all have our little vanities."
"Ara? Natsuki is vain about something?"
"You can't catch me out so easily."
"And you believe me to be vain."
My grin became a laugh.
"Don't be ridiculous, Shizuru." The food would be cold by the time I listed them all.
She sat up, rising from the sofa in a graceful movement that didn't so much as stir the folds of her kimono.
"Well, then, I suppose that I mustn't add artistic petulance to my list of faults."
"Try the chops," I advised unrepentantly. The best way to deal with a cantankerous Shizuru was not to back down. She was about to reply, but the ferocious jangling of the doorbell interrupted her remark.
"Ah! That will be for me, I think. I recognize the signs," she said. Her eyes sparkled like burgundy in a fine crystal.
"A client? At this hour?"
"Like a doctor, the consulting detective must be prepared to deal with problems at any hour. Crime does not keep to a convenient schedule."
I took up knife and fork and assaulted the food. From downstairs, I heard the door open, and then the clatter of Mrs. Hudson's feet on the stairs and her knock on the door.
"There's a young woman to see you, Miss Viola," Mrs. Hudson said.
Shizuru's usual smile settled into place on her features.
"Do show her in, Mrs. Hudson."
"I had a feeling you'd say that." Our landlady stepped aside and a young brunette girl rushed into the room.
"Oh, Miss Viola! You have to help us, please!" she exclaimed.
Shizuru clasped the girl's trembling hands between hers, gently stroking her thumbs over the back of the girl's knuckles in a soft gesture, like she was gentling a horse.
"Please, calm yourself. You are safe here, miss. Now, come, be seated, have a bracing cup of tea, and then you can tell me what brings a lady's maid from the City to my door one step ahead of the police to seek aid for her fiance."
The girl stared in amazement at Shizuru, allowing herself to be steered to a chair where she perched on the edge like a frightened bird ready to take flight.
"But this is wonderful, Miss Viola! You are right in every particular. Is it some kind of magic?"
"The only magic at 221B is the magic of the human mind," my friend explained even as she picked up the teapot and poured a cup with the same fastidiousness as if she'd been hosting a party of duchesses. "Milk and sugar, Miss—?"
"Soir, miss, Akane Soir. One lump, if you please, and milk."
Shizuru prepared the tea to the girl's request, got another cup for himself, and went to sit across from her.
"Miss Soir, then. Now, as I was saying, the style of your dress clearly places you in domestic service; the fabric and stitching are of good quality but the color and cut are uncommonly drab. This is the clothing of a woman who deliberately effaces herself before others, to wit, a servant. However, as I said, the quality is good, so you are clearly of the upper rank belowstairs. Your fingertips show the marks of the needle—indeed, you should really take care not to prick yourself quite so often while daydreaming of your beloved—rather than the pen, so I dismissed the idea of a governess or secretary-companion and settled upon a lady's maid."
She sipped her tea delicately, then continued.
"You are still clutching the stub of your Underground ticket between your fingers; I noticed it at once when I took your hands and that gave me your point of origin. Your agitation speaks for itself, as does the fact you left without donning gloves so your situation was most urgent. You spoke of aiding 'us,' and your left ring finger shows a white mark where a ring has recently been worn. A wedding band you would not remove and therefore I postulated an engagement ring, with a setting prone to catch on fabric so that you remove it during work. But please go on, Miss Soir. I'm well aware you wish me to test my wits on something more significant."
She sipped tea again, giving the girl a chance to find her tongue. Outside, the blustery autumn wind picked up and rattled our front windows.
"You're right about everything, Miss Viola, just as I'd heard. Please, you must put your powers to use to save Kazu! They've arrested him, and he didn't steal it, he didn't! He just couldn't have!"
"Please, begin at the beginning, Miss Soir. 'Kazu' is your fiance?"
The girl gulped at her tea, then nodded.
"I'll...I'll try. Kazu is Kazuya Krauszek. He works as the valet for Mr. Jasper Arnold of Hightower Place, the financier. I started work there a year ago as the lady's maid for Mrs. Arnold."
"You're quite young for such a responsibility," Shizuru noted. I couldn't disagree; she didn't even look as old as my nineteen years.
"I try my very best," Miss Soir said, "but...Mrs. Arnold is inclined to be a bit economical in household matters." Meaning that a penny-pincher could get a girl in her first post as lady's maid much cheaper than it would cost her for a more experienced woman. "Kazu and I met during the course of our duties and," she said, blushing prettily, "we fell in love. He's kind and handsome and brave and caring and—but you don't want to hear all that, I suppose."
"It's plain that you love him very much and that you want to help him."
"Well, this evening Mr. and Mrs. Arnold had a dinner engagement for six o' clock at Simpson's with some of Mr. Arnold's associates. They returned home at a quarter past eight, and as soon as Mr. Arnold returned to his bedroom to change he let out a great bellow. The Wortham Collar had been stolen!"
"The Wortham Collar? So, Von Hesse decided to sell it at last."
"You've heard of the Collar, Miss Viola?"
"If it's the one I'm thinking of, four rows of diamonds with an egg-shaped sapphire as its centerpiece, commissioned in 1737 by Sir Conall Wortham for his wife Alice, whose blue eyes were said to have captivated all London in her debut Season. There were two attempts to steal it, both failures that ended with the thief on the gallows, which gave rise to a story that it brought misfortune to any but its rightful owner. It was sold in 1873 by Sir Vincent Wortham to pay off his debts to Konrad Von Hesse, the Prussian steel mangate."
"That's amazing! I don't know the history, but it's exactly as Kazu described it."
"Shizuru can give you the history of nearly every famous piece of jewelry in Europe," I spoke up for the first time since the client had arrived.
"They are the devil's pet baits," Shizuru said. "Nearly every precious gem has a history of crime surrounding it, so they naturally fall within my professional purview. So, please tell me why it was Mr. Arnold who noticed the loss and not Mrs. Arnold? Was he holding it as a pledge?"
Miss Soir shook her head.
"No, miss; he had purchased it a week ago as a birthday present for his wife through Vanderbilt, the Hatton Garden jeweler. Until he could give it to her, he kept it locked in his bureau drawer with his own jewelry. That's how Kazu saw it; Mrs. Arnold had him get out his emerald stickpin two nights ago when the master and mistress went to the opera, and Kazu noticed the case in the drawer."
"And, one presumes, Mr. Arnold noticed him noticing, which led to suspicion falling on your fiance," Shizuru concluded.
"But surely by now word has spread all through the servants' hall, and probably to half the neighborhood by now," I put in, aware of how fast interesting gossip traveled, but Miss Soir shook her head.
"No, Miss," she said. "The only person Kazu told was me, and I didn't tell anyone at all." Her face fell. "That just makes the case all the blacker against Kazu, you see. He knew about the necklace, and he had a key."
"That does look bad. On the other hand, your Mr. Arnold knew that Mr. Krauszek had the knowledge and access and did not move the jewel to a safer location. That suggests a significant degree of trust, and in my experience hard-nosed City men do not extend such trust without good reason, which speaks well for your fiance's elemental honesty."
"Kazu would never steal, never!" Miss Soir assured us ardently.
"It gives one at least a glimmer of hope." Shizuru set aside her now-empty teacup, stood, and extended a hand to the girl. "Come, you must return to Hightower Place so that your trip here is not misconstrued as a flight from justice, and I need to examine the scene first-hand." She glanced in my direction. "Now that Natsuki has fed her body, would she care to feed her mind as well?"
I'd anticipated the invitation; Shizuru liked to have me with her on her cases for some reason, as assistant and sounding-board and audience. That was why I'd made sure to spend my time productively polishing off as much of supper as possible while Miss Soir was giving Shizuru the details.
"Glad to," I said, rising from the table. Miss Soir looked at me in surprise.
"My associate, Miss Natsuki Kuga," Shizuru introduced me, as if that was what had caught her client's attention. I suspected that it had more to do with the fact that the table and dangling tablecloth had concealed my lower body before then, and the lady's maid of a respectable, well-to-do household wasn't used to seeing women wearing close-fitting trousers. I picked up my jacket, which was cut vaguely along the lines of a masculine hunting pattern and more importantly was tailored for the concealment of a pair of .32 revolvers in inside pockets.
"Nice to meet you," I said, putting on the jacket and a thin pair of gloves. I then reinforced the impression I gave of being an outrageous Bohemian by not bothering with a hat and leaving my hair long and loose down my back. Putting a hand on the girl's elbow, I steered her towards the door. "Don't worry, Miss Soir. Shizuru will find out who stole the collar. Your fiance's in safe hands."
I don't know if she found my assurances particularly reassuring, but Shizuru let the slightest flicker of surprise show. What? It's not like I've ever questioned her professional skill. Sometimes, she was still a mystery to me, such as how she seemed to conjure a four-wheeler out of thin air the moment we reached the curb without even making a gesture. She let our client supply the street address for Hightower Place and we were on our way.
~ II ~
Hightower Place was well-named. Although the building was not large in terms of its "footprint" in an equally small lot, it reared three stories high beneath a steep-gabled roof no doubt sheltering an attic tall enough to be a story of its own. The lot was small, surrounded by a high brick wall pierced with wrought-iron gates in the main street and out the back into a kind of close or cul-de-sac, convenient for tradesmen's deliveries. Several trees dotted the yard, all with their leaves fallen so that their branches were like skeleton fingers clawing up at the house. The fallen leaves speckled the lawn but had been swept clear of the flagstone path leading from the front gate to the house.
Our knock was answered by a footman in bottle-green livery, but there was a constable on duty in the foyer as well.
"Pardon me, ladies, but I'll have to ask your business here."
"I'm Shizuru Viola, the consulting detective, this is my associate Natsuki Kuga, and this is my client, Miss Soir, who is Mrs. Arnold's lady's maid."
"Akane Soir! The Inspector'd thought you'd done a scarper—er, I mean—"
"We know what you meant, Constable. If you'll let the Inspector know that his fugitive is not, in fact, a fugitive, we would like to speak with him."
"I know he'll want to speak with you, too. Wait right here; I'll go and get him." He went through a door and I heard the clomping of his boots going up a flight of stairs.
"So, come back ter face the music, 'ave yer?" the footman taunted. "Mebbe yer an' Mr. Krauszek as kin share a cell, all lover-like." Miss Soir quivered, and I fixed the brat with my best glare, the one that causes mouthy little mealworms to fight for bladder control. He went sort of greenish-white, mumbled an apology, and shut up.
"Well done, Natsuki," Shizuru murmured just loudly enough for me to hear, and I felt myself blush faintly.
"S-so, we're not going to run into that smug pretty-boy Kanzaki, are we?" I grumbled to cover up my momentary upset.
"Natsuki does not like Scotland Yard's preeminent inspector?"
"I don't dislike him, not really. He just...makes my skin crawl."
"Shall I let Reito know that Natsuki likes him in that flesh-creeping way?" Shizuru teased. Since her energy was restored by the case, she was definitely getting her own back for my efforts at dinner. I sighed heavily.
"I just don't like men," I said, "when they put so much work into their image."
"Ah, I see. Well, no, it shan't be Inspector Kanzaki that we deal with today. The Metropolitan Police's jurisdiction covers all of London except the City, which has its own force, the City of London Police."
"Oh, well, that's good at least."
"Perhaps or perhaps not. It all depends on—" She was interrupted by the tramp of feet descending the stairs. The door was flung open and a thin-faced man with a neatly clipped moustache and wearing an ulster draped over his shoulders came into the foyer. He had a smile on his face, which I hoped was a good sign.
"Miss Shizuru Viola, as I live and breathe! I have to say, the moment I learned what was stolen, I thought at once that this would be the kind of case to catch your interest, and here you are."
"You flatter me, Inspector Gallagher. How is little Sara?"
Gallagher grinned toothily.
"Still trying to decide whether to be Sara Gallagher, Lady Detective or Sara Gallagher, Lady Reporter. The missus still hopes she'll find something more ladylike but I don't see that happening, even if Sara's still only twelve with plenty of time to change her mind. No, she's her father's daughter, all right." He was obviously as proud as could be for his child. "And I'm sure it'll just keep her enthusiasm up when I tell her tomorrow how you caught our fugitive before we even knew you were on the case."
Miss Soir flinched at the word "fugitive" and made a little squeaking sound.
"Oh? Why were you seeking her?" Shizuru asked.
"Well, by all accounts Krauszek didn't leave the house and we haven't turned up where he hid the collar, and we've been pretty thorough about it, let me tell you." He ran his left thumb along the length of his moustache. "Given how his fiancee lit out of here at the first sign of the police, we felt that it was a fairly logical deduction that she'd taken the haul with her."
"Logical, yes, but only if you accept the premise that Kazuya Krauszek is the thief. You see, Inspector, I didn't catch Miss Soir; she came to me as a client."
"I see," Gallagher mused. "That does throw a new light on matters, doesn't it? Though it's not surprising that his sweetheart would want to help him. And come to it, it wouldn't be the first time you were hired by a criminal trying to cover his tracks."
"You heard about the Amberley case, then?"
"Word gets around—including how you saw through his lies and found the evidence to prove two murders." Gallagher turned his head towards Miss Soir, his eyes narrowing. "Something our lovebirds should keep in mind."
"Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it!" burst from the girl's lips like a kettle boiling over. "Kazu isn't a thief! He isn't, he isn't! He could never do something like that!" She would have flung herself at the Inspector, but Shizuru interposed herself between them, preventing her client from doing something foolish.
"Well, if Shizuru's going to prove that, she'll need to look at the evidence, won't she?" I spoke up, figuring that the best way to defuse any further tension was to move things along.
"A very good point, Natsuki. I presume there would be no problem with that, Inspector Gallagher?"
"None at all. If you can turn up anything we missed, I'll be glad of the help." He turned to me and extended a hand. "Miss Kuga, I presume?"
"Word does get around," I said, accepting the handshake.
"Did you want to talk to Krauszek first, or see the room where it happened?"
"The scene of the crime first, please. The physical evidence should give me a better idea of what questions I might want to ask."
"All right, then. Come with me."
"I want to see Kazu!" Miss Soir spoke up. "He must be worried sick!"
Gallagher looked at her for a long moment.
"I can't see what it would hurt. He's in here."
We went through the door from the foyer into the main hall, and he opened the door across from the stairs. Apart from another constable, the room's only occupant was a handsome young man, a little on the thin side with curling brown hair.
"Akane, are you all right? They didn't hurt you, did they?" was the first thing out of his mouth, which immediately raised Krauszek several notches in my opinion. Miss Soir darted through the door and into his arms, and they were soon cooing reassurances at one another.
"Wilkins, make sure they both stay here," Gallagher ordered.
"Now, if you'd come with me, Miss Viola, Miss Kuga, we can leave your lovebirds settled while you see if you can find a reason for me not to arrest one or both of them."
"It makes my teeth ache, watching them," I muttered.
"You aren't sympathetic towards lovers in trouble, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked.
"I just don't want to have to watch them," I said. It was embarrassing, watching someone put their intimate feelings on public display—and worse, realizing that if I ever had a lover, I'd probably be just as bad.
"Natsuki's ears are burning," Shizuru said sotto voce. "Does she wish she had so ardent a gentleman follower?"
"I-idiot! Why would I want something like that?"
She giggled lightly, obviously pleased to have gotten to me.
Apparently missing the byplay or politely ignoring it, the inspector stopped at the landing one flight up and took us down the hall, where he opened the door into a well-appointed gentleman's bedroom. The furniture was heavy, with dark wood and brass fittings, and I had a feeling that it was expensive. The central drawer of the bureau had been pulled out; like the two flanking it, it was mounted with a lock.
"This is the drawer where the necklace was kept," Gallagher said, touching it lightly. "It was not forced or pried open, and there were no signs of tampering with the lock."
"Which, no doubt, supported your suspicion of Kazuya Krauszek," Shizuru said.
"The key was still in his possession," Gallagher confirmed. "According to Mr. Arnold, it was the only key besides his own."
"Did he explain why he gave that key to his valet?"
"I wondered about that myself—a bit too ready-made a suspect, that made. He explained that it was because in dressing Mr. Arnold, Krauszek was the one who needed to get out and put away Mr. Arnold's jewelry. Simply put, it was a matter of pure laziness, and if you'd met Mr. Arnold you'd understand at once that it was completely in character."
I chuckled at Gallagher's joke.
"I see." Shizuru looked around the room from where she stood, pressing a knuckle to her lips in a thoughtful mien. "Natsuki, if you were a stranger here, looking for valuables, where would you look first?"
"You mean, if I didn't know any better?"
"Well, then, I'd start..." I paused, considering my answer. It was harder to think about it than I'd expected, given my awareness of where the householder actually kept his valuables. Still, after a few moments, I pointed to the chest that stood at the foot of the bed. "There."
"Oh? And why is that?"
"It's the most secure place, unless there's a hidden safe somewhere, so I'd expect it to be where the best goods were."
"Thank you, Natsuki; you confirm my thoughts precisely." She took a pocket lens from her kimono sleeve and went over to the chest, then crouched and made a minute examination. "Inspector Gallagher, did you examine this chest?"
"We had Mr. Arnold open it, to make sure the Wortham Collar hadn't been stashed inside—or simply misplaced. Why, did we miss something?"
"Yes, indeed. There are fresh scratches on this lock from where someone picked or tried to pick it recently. Since one of the telling points of evidence against Mr. Krauszek was that he knew where the collar was kept, I'm sure you'll agree that he had no reason to be tampering here."
"Let me see that." She handed him the lens and he crouched to see for himself. "You're right about the scratches," he admitted. "They are fresh. But I remind you that there weren't any marks like this on the drawer where the necklace was actually kept."
I spoke up to answer even before Shizuru could.
"There wouldn't have to be. The chest lock is at least functional, but a skeleton key could have the bureau drawers open as fast as you could do it with the real key, and as cleanly."
"She's quite right, Inspector."
"I know," Gallagher said. "The chest, though, was still found locked. Mr. Arnold had to unlock it with the key to check if anything was missing from there. So if someone tried to pick it first, they either failed—which doesn't agree with the idea of a well-prepared outsider professionally equipped with skeleton keys—or they took the trouble to re-lock it afterwards."
"Then how do you explain these scratches, Inspector?" Shizuru challenged him.
"Perhaps Krauszek made them for the purpose of creating a false impression. One doesn't have to be able to pick a lock to make scratches around a keyhole."
She digested Gallagher's theory.
"Consider this, too," he went on. "The Wortham Collar was the only item taken, despite there being other valuables in the same drawer: a couple of good stickpins, diamond cuff links, a gold watch inlaid with ivory, over a thousand pounds' worth in all. Yes, the collar is worth fifty thousand at the least, but a cracksman wouldn't just leave the swag behind. An amateur, though, might—he has the added problem of hiding his loot, and might not know how to find a proper fence to dispose of the odds and ends. That points to an inside job."
"I see. Well, I certainly can't contradict that out of hand. By the way, I presume that nothing was missing from the chest, either?"
"No, nothing. Mr. Arnold uses it to contain certain valuable financial papers and business documentation."
"No doubt some of which would be worth a great deal of money, either by possession or merely through knowledge of their contents. Nevertheless, Mr. Jasper Arnold is not a Rothschild or a Searrs, so I daresay we can consider the idea of someone stealing the Wortham Collar as a blind to conceal business espionage a remote possibility at best."
"It looks bad for Krauszek," I remarked. "It's too bad; I'd have sworn the girl was sincere."
"Oh, I'm quite sure she is. She loves Mr. Krauszek and is truly worried about him," Shizuru said. "Whether she believes him innocent and is right, believes him innocent and is wrong, or is his accomplice in the crime and merely fears that rightful justice will fall on him remains an open question. The problem for us is to establish which." She paused, thinking. "The police have Krauszek in custody already. If he is guilty, then all there is left is to recover the jewel, which can likely be done through the usual investigative channels. So. Let us assume the opposite for purposes of argument. Mr. Krauszek did not take the collar. Therefore someone else did. Who? Miss Soir, who also knew Mr. Arnold had it and where he kept it? Unlikely. Were she the sole guilty party, she would have been unlikely to come to me and, in light of her love for the valet, would also not likely steal the jewel in a way that would be probable to implicate him. It would not be impossible, but as I said, unlikely."
"Another one of the servants, then?" I suggested, thinking as I did of the offensive footman.
"Again unlikely. If we are to believe Miss Soir's testimony that she and Mr. Krauszek did not gossip about the Wortham Collar, then the other servants would not know it was there. If a thieving servant chose the very time when an unusually valuable item was present, it would be a rare coincidence. And if it was a random theft not directed at the collar, then why not take the rest of what was there? No, I think not."
"Wouldn't the same arguments apply to an outside job?"
"Only superficially, Natsuki. A professional thief has other sources of information, no matter how quiet people try to keep a jewelry transaction. That would also answer another question."
"Why the thief didn't take anything but the collar. That all but demands the conclusion that the collar, specifically, was the goal of the theft. If it was an outside job, that strongly suggests that the thief was sent for it, specifically. Natsuki, do you know what usually happens to unique pieces of jewelry when they are stolen?"
"The thief, or the fence, breaks them up and sells the stones individually, so it isn't immediately obvious that what's being sold is the proceeds of a particular crime. If necessary, individual gems will even be re-cut, usually in Amsterdam or Brussels. It reduces the value of the jewelry, but most thieves prefer that to being pinched by the police."
"That's exactly right. The one circumstance where that would not be probable is if the criminals had a specific buyer prepared in advance of the crime. In that case, they'd be able to realize the jewelry's full value with little risk. This is most likely in the case of a piece with some historical significance, where unscrupulous collectors would be interested. In that case, an outsider might have stolen the collar as a specific, commissioned theft. With a chance to receive the jewel's full value, a thief might pass up a few relatively minor items for the chance to make the crime look like an insider's work."
"That's a very pretty theory," Gallagher cut in, "and it certainly would brighten things for the lovebirds, but so far it is just a theory, without anything to prove it."
"You're quite right, Inspector, which takes us to the next step. Natsuki, from which side would you approach the building?"
"Oi! Why do you keep asking me how a burglar would think?"
Her smile never wavered.
"I believed that Natsuki would have a good idea of how someone in this position would think." After a half-second's pause—just long enough to be intentional—she added, "You do read all those crime and detective novels, after all, where they explore the mentality of crime from beginning to end."
I glared at her, a fruitless exercise since she was utterly impervious to it. That little pause made me sure, though, that she was aware of my misspent youth, the years when I was supposed to be in a girls' seminary and was instead developing the skills and contacts I would need to hunt down the bastards who'd killed my mother. No easy task, that, for a teenaged female from the right side of the tracks (if the wrong side of the blanket).
I'd never told Shizuru any of this, not directly, but I supposed that it didn't take a genius at observation and deduction to come to certain conclusions about me, and I'd been sharing lodgings with Shizuru for months, now.
I ran my hand through my hair, thinking over her original question.
"It's hard to say. The good thing, from a housebreaker's point of view, is that this is the City, not the West End. People going about after dark wouldn't be remembered as strange by everyone who sees them, if anyone. I'm going to say the back, though. If a carriage was needed, it could be concealed as a drayman's wagon or some such. The thieves could park it in such a way as it would look like it would be a delivery to some other house no matter who might see it. So, probably the close out back. The risk would be that by not waiting until the household was abed, the servants would likely be at the rear of the house and might see an intruder out the window."
Shizuru turned to Inspector Gallagher.
"Do the Arnolds keep a dog?"
"Yes, they do, a big brute of a mastiff. And yes, Miss Viola, he is turned loose in the yard each night—but not when Mr. and Mrs. Arnold are out of the house, for obvious reasons."
"So in this case, an outside thief would be better suited to strike early in the evening."
"Plus, the valuables are all here in Mr. Arnold's bedroom," I added. "Obviously someone would be smart to break in when he was out, if they expected to have to force locks and carry out a search."
"Very good, Natsuki. You see, this begins to look more and more plausible. But let us see if we can see some indication of how the thief might have gotten in."
She led the way back downstairs and from there to the rear of the townhouse.
"Not the servants' quarters, I think, where the greatest number of people would be found. Perhaps a back hall of some kind?" She looked curiously at Gallagher.
"This way." He took us through a side door into a short hallway, then into another hall that ran along the side of the house. I peeked out one of the three windows that pierced its length. It wasn't actually at the back of the house, per se, but at the side, facing the next house, which might actually have been even better for secrecy. "The kitchens are though there, at the far end, while the dining room is through this side door," Gallagher pointed out.
"But, by taking the corridor we just came through, someone could gain direct access to the main hall and the stairs. And these windows are not barred."
"They are always kept locked, though, according to the butler and housekeeper," the inspector countered.
"Well, let us just see."
Shizuru stepped to the first window and tried to open it, but it wouldn't budge. She turned the hasp, then tried again and it rose, but with a loud squeal of wood on wood. A moment later, the kitchen door opened, and a plump, gray-haired woman in a cook's apron came out.
"What's all this, then?"
"We're trying an experiment," Gallagher reassured her. "It's quite all right."
She shot me a suspicious glance, which I didn't mind in and of itself given that I was an unusually-dressed stranger, but would have preferred if she'd done the same for Shizuru. A lavender kimono was as unusual as black trousers, wasn't it?
"If you say so, Inspector," the cook said dubiously, and returned to the kitchen. Shizuru slid the window back down and locked it.
"Ara, ara, but that was an object lesson," she remarked. "Even had this window been unlocked, a stealthy entry would have been difficult at best. I wonder if the others are the same?"
I stepped to the center window and tried it, receiving two surprises. For one, rather than being held shut, the sash slid upwards, and for the second, it did so quietly and easily.
"What the—?" I brushed my fingers over the groove where the sash fitted and my gloved fingertips came away dusted with white powder. I held my hand out to Shizuru. "Someone's dusted this window with French chalk to make it open silently."
We smiled at one another, knowing what that meant, then looked over at Gallagher. He ran his thumb along his moustache again.
"Well, now, this changes things, doesn't it?"
"You might ask the servants if there have been any workmen or delivery people in the house in the past couple of days. This would have to be done in advance, and the thieves would need some ostensible purpose for gaining entry." Shizuru came over next to me, lowered the sash, and checked the latch. "Here, too, the lock has been crimped up so that even when closed it does not hold the window in place."
The inspector sighed.
"I'll ask at once. If it turns out that someone was here, then there'll be no reason to hold Krauszek any longer. That'll make your client happy, at least, though it puts the rest of us back as square one."
Shizuru's deduction proved correct, as they usually did. A few casual questions revealed that on the previous day, two clerical gentlemen had paid a call collecting subscriptions for charity. One of them, it turned out, had needed to use the necessary, while the other remained speaking to Mrs. Arnold in the drawing room.
"The damned cheek of the fellows! Why, my wife gave them twenty pounds!" Following the outburst, Jasper Arnold—a burly, red-faced fellow with ginger muttonchops—glanced apologetically at Shizuru. "Pardon my language, Miss Viola. I'm just so angry at having been taking in. They've made complete fools of us!"
To his credit, Arnold had made Krauszek a handsome apology at once when the new discoveries were explained to him. There were plenty of people who'd have sooner lost an arm than apologize to a servant. He'd even gone to the extra step of volunteering to pay Shizuru's fee for Miss Soir, so I had no trouble overlooking his—to my mind—completely justifiable choler.
"I'd have almost preferred the boy be guilty," he went on. "At least then you'd have the miscreant and recovering the collar would be all but assured. Now, though, it could be anywhere, vanished into the depths of the criminal classes!"
"At least we're on the right track now, sir," Gallagher tried to placate him. "Thanks to Miss Viola, we haven't been distracted by their tricks for more than a few hours. They tried to deceive us, you know, re-locking the chest in your bedroom, closing the window they came and left through, making sure not to leave a mess in the bedroom. All of it done to trick you and the police into thinking the crime was an inside job. We aren't fooled any more, though, and will be on their track straightaway. And as the matter concerns, as you say, the 'criminal classes,' it means that there will be the usual crop of informers, blowers, and the like to turn on their fellows for a bit of the ready."
"One place to start," Shizuru observed, "would be with the fences who cater to the collector's trade. As we discussed, this is more than likely a theft designed to procure the Wortham Collar intact for itself, and that would involve a much more exclusive circle."
"Quite right, quite right," Gallagher murmured.
"Send round your bill in the morning, Miss Viola," Arnold contributed. "I'll see you're paid promptly."
"I appreciate it."
"A professional job of work deserves businesslike treatment, I say. If you could put those same wits that cleared Krauszek to work on finding my wife's jewels, I'd be much obliged."
"In this case, Mr. Arnold, I believe the tenacity and the capacity for legwork of the official force would be more valuable than the skills of the private agent. Nonetheless, should I hear anything, I shall of course let you know."
Arnold's face fell, but he seemed to accept what Shizuru was saying. We took our leave, and after being stopped for a round of tearful gratitude from Shizuru's client with the addition of the heartfelt thanks of her fiance, we found ourselves seated in a hansom cab clattering its way back towards Baker Street.
"Are you really satisfied to leave things like this?" I asked.
"The case is concluded to our client's satisfaction. Her fiance, and herself by implication, are cleared of the crime, and will not even suffer for it by having to find a new position."
"Yes, but...it's not really finished, is it? I mean, the thieves haven't been caught and the Wortham Collar hasn't been recovered."
"Those are jobs better handled by a professional police force, with dozens of men able to devote the necessary time. The problem is no longer one for observation and deduction, but instead one for exhaustive legwork. I could make inquiries of my own, but those efforts would not be any more effective than those of the Inspector and his men. Indeed, my informers and theirs might even be the same people." The gaslights lining the streets flashed across her face as we passed them, alternately casting her in light and shadow. "It is as we encountered with the Vamberry case; there are roles in criminal investigation best accomplished by the official police."
As she'd said, we'd encountered this before on the Vamberry murder case, where Shizuru had identified the criminals but stepped aside and let Scotland Yard do the work of combing through financial records and shipping documents to uncover the proof needed to convict them in court. She took her role as a consultant seriously, and did not like to overstep herself.
"Wouldn't you rather recover the collar yourself, though?" I asked.
"Of course." She gave me a curious look. "Where are you going with this, Natsuki? You seem to have something specific in mind."
"Well, it's just...I happen to know someone who knows about most of the illegal traffic in objets d'art in this city."
"Indeed?" Her interest was clearly piqued. "Natsuki has such a contact?"
"Yeah. Obviously he'd be unhappy if I sent Gallagher and his bobbies down to ask him about stolen goods, but like you always say, you're a private agent, not limited by the oaths of the official force."
"And Natsuki would be willing to arrange a meeting with this person?"
"Well...yeah, why not?"
She looked at me for a long time, her face utterly enigmatic. Then, she seemingly came to a decision and rapped on the cab roof.
The trapdoor flipped open.
"We shan't be going to Baker Street after all."
"Where to, then?"
Shizuru smiled at me.
"I am in your hands, Natsuki."
~ III ~
If the wrinkling of her nose in distaste was a clue, Shizuru might have regretted putting her trust in me so far as this rendezvous went. I wasn't sure precisely what it was that had offended her; there were simply too many possibilities to be sure. The crushing press of sweaty, unwashed bodies jammed into too small a space, the sour smell of spilled beer mingling with the odors of urine and vomit, and the din of shouting, screaming humanity, alternately cheering and cursing as their preferences and wagers demanded. The smells of the nearby river, too, wove their way through the room, adding their tang to the mix. It most emphatically was not a place which suited my elegant companion.
The interior of the building was divided into three levels. The highest was the balcony, where the press wasn't so bad and the more well-off patrons gathered, including quite a few toffs. We were on the middle level, with the "bar" (planks laid across a couple of barrels) and the bulk of the crowd. The lowest part was in the center of the room, a sunken pit with wooden rails to keep the crowd from interfering, the wooden floor strewn with sawdust to soak up sweat and spilled blood.
Much of the time, Charlie Bart's functioned as a rat pit, where terriers and similar dogs were set on packs of rats, with bets laid on how many rodents the dog could catch and shake the life out of in a set time. On other occasions, though, the pit fights weren't between animals but as an illegal mill. The game was on that night, with two burly men pounding away at each other, bare-knuckled and stripped to the waist, I recognized one of them as "Hook" Halcott, a journeyman prizefighter, while I had no idea of the other's identity.
"Natsuki has an...interesting range of acquaintances," Shizuru remarked as we pushed through the crowd towards the balcony stairs. We were by no means the only women present, and while a good half of them were likely there to practice their trade rather than for the entertainment they howled as loudly as all the rest when a particularly good blow was struck or a body crashed into the boards.
"Informers, black-marketers, pit-fight promoters, consulting detectives..." I murmured. The pitch of the crowd rose as Halcott's opponent began to land blows with greater and greater frequency, and we were jostled more often; I reached back and took Shizuru's hand so that we wouldn't be separated, and led the way up the rickety, bare wood steps to the second floor. As we got to the top, a loud roar burst from the crowd, mingled cheers and groans, and I turned to see "Hook" Halcott sprawled face-down in the sawdust, his opponent pumping his bloodied fists in the air.
I hadn't been in the place for over a year, but the man I was looking for was right where I expected him to be. Of course, it helped that Charles Bartholomew owned and ran the place. Charlie Bart was a big, square-jawed man with a broad nose and salt-and-pepper moustache and muttonchops that bristled even more than Jasper Arnold's had. He looked like he could have been one of his own fighters and his popular history said that he'd been a dockworker, then a boxer, before putting his headpiece to work on the management side of things.
"Kuga!" his voice boomed out as we drew near. "What's this? Have you decided to come back to the ring at last?"
"Ara, Natsuki used to fight in this place?" Shizuru sounded genuinely surprised. "Pit fighter" wasn't exactly on the usual list of career choices for young women, even adventurous ones.
It had been good practice, though. In the pit I'd go up against men who definitely wanted to beat me for real—seriously, no one wants to get their rump kicked by someone half their size, and my being female just made it worse—but didn't want to actually kill me or do too much serious bodily harm the way, say, a bar brawl would provide. Training and sparring are all well and good, but sooner or later you have to try those skills out against a genuine opponent or you won't be sure if you can depend on them.
"Oi, Charlie!" I called back. He had a little table for himself and a couple of "associates" (read: thugs) nearby, and was dressed in a well-tailored dark suit that made him look better than even some of the toffs.
Fighting here had also given me a chance to make more than a few contacts as well, to know the people like Charlie who knew what was what in the underworld.
"And no, I'm not here to fight," I said, pulling Shizuru up to Charlie's table. "I'm here to help out my friend here." I dropped her hand, then jerked a thumb in her direction. "Charlie, meet Shizuru Viola. Shizuru, this is Charlie Bart. He runs this place."
"Viola...Viola..." Charlie mused. "That's familiar. Ha!" He snapped his fingers loudly. "I know you! The lady detective, right? Don't tell me you've gone 'nark' on us, Kuga."
"The paying customer is always right, Charlie, and in this case Shizuru's client is paying to get the Wortham Collar back. How much embarrassment and general annoyance this ends up causing people, well, that depends on them. 'No questions asked' goes out the window if they force us to do the asking, after all."
Charlie arched one bushy eyebrow. Downstairs in the pit, a couple of staff dragged Halcott out of the ring while two new fighters were coming in to take their places.
"The Wortham Collar. Nice piece, that."
Charlie, you see, had done well enough out of pit fights and illegal gambling to invest in another line of talent management. He brokered deals between people with talent to sell and other people in need of that talent. Need a crib cracked? Charlie could set you up with six first-rate cracksmen. In that line, he kept his fingers on the pulse of big jobs going down. If, as Shizuru suspected, someone had hired professional thieves to steal the collar from Arnold, Charlie might well know about it. Heck, he might even have been the man who set it up for the buyer.
"Very nice," I agreed. "Nice enough that somebody doesn't want to break it up and lose the value. That's a specialized job."
The smile vanished from Charlie's face; he leaned forward with interest glittering in his eyes.
"And just how would you be knowing that, hmm?"
I pointed to Shizuru.
"She spent half an hour at the crime scene and says so. I've never known her to be wrong about that sort of thing."
Charlie glanced over at her suspiciously. Shizuru met his scrutiny with her usual serene aplomb.
"It was quite an elementary deduction," she said calmly.
Charlie's eyes came back to me.
"And you think that I have some kind of information?"
It was Shizuru who answered.
"Natsuki suggested that through your knowledge of the underworld, you might be aware of the kind of people who might deal with such things."
"You're a funny one. I like your friend, Kuga. So you just want a causal chat about the kind of people who'd handle jobs like that, and if it coincidentally turned out to be the ones you were looking for..." He shrugged.
"But then again, there's another point: I'm a busy man with a business to run." The smack of flesh on flesh and the yells and screeches of the crowd told me that the next fight had started. "Talking to you, educating you on the way these deals work takes my time away from that. I'm a friendly sort of gent, but friendship runs both ways, if you catch my drift."
"I presume you have some suggestions?" I said dryly, crossing my arms over my chest. I never liked to make the opening offer in negotiations, preferring to get a look into the other person's head.
"As a matter of fact, I do. It turns out that I'm short a fighter this evening, on account of the Birmingham Bruiser having come down with the flu and being in no condition to get out of bed. When I saw you coming up to me, Kuga, it was like the clouds parted and a gift from above shone down."
I stared at him incredulously.
"That's what you want? Having me perform for you like a prize cockerel?"
"I don't think that Natsuki is very cockerel-like," Shizuru said, not helping matters.
"Having you out there will juice the betting, which as I take my percentage off the tip puts money directly into my pockets. Plus, it'll stir up the crowd and keep the money flowing for the rest of the evening."
He was actually making sense. He'd actually make more off me that way than any amount of cash I could pull out. Knowing him, he'd also make a fair bit on side bets—and if I won, he'd also save himself having to pay out the fight purse, too. A favor for a favor played better, besides; he hadn't been kidding about the "friendship runs both ways" part. To the rough code of the underworld, one was a matter of business, while an informer's cash payment stank of betrayal.
Besides, I had no idea how much money Shizuru had, but as we'd met when she was looking for someone to go in on the rent of the Baker Street rooms we now shared, I guessed it wasn't the kind of wealth that could produce substantial bribes at the drop of a hat. Nor was I wealthy enough to pitch in with cash payments to help solve her cases.
Yeah, this I could do.
"Very well, I will do it."
I blinked. I'd opened my mouth to answer, but it was Shizuru who'd spoken faster than I could.
"W-what?" I ended up babbling.
Charlie, for his part, didn't look particularly impressed by the offer.
"I asked Kuga, not you."
"It is my case," she explained politely while I was trying to get my mind to start working again. "Therefore, if there are to be any favors done in exchange for your assistance, they should be done by me. Natsuki was merely kind enough to introduce me to someone who might be able to help, no more."
The promoter's scowl was so deep it made his eyebrows come together to look like one solid bar across his face.
"Tell me another one. That's a fighting pit down there. You think I'm gonna put a lady out there?"
"Natsuki is every inch a lady," Shizuru snapped back. A little misguided there, but I supposed there had to be someone out there who thought that.
"Seriously, Shizuru, I'll do it. There's no reason for you—"
"There is every reason," she rounded on me, "as I explained. I am not going to ask you to participate in an illegal prizefight for the sake of my investigation."
"That is final, Natsuki," she said in exactly the same tone as my governess had used to when I'd driven her to the breaking point. Shizuru turned back to Charlie. "Now, I realize that Natsuki presents a known quantity for you Mr...it must be Mr. Bartholomew...but from your point of view there is no difference. The novelty of a female in the pit is what will excite the crowd, as you could not have specifically advertised Natsuki's presence here tonight. You will be as well-off financially as if it were Natsuki rather than myself."
"Yeah, maybe so. And maybe not. See, I know what Kuga can give me, how skilled she is. The whole idea only works if you put up a good fight. You step in and get beat down in two seconds and I could have a riot on my hands."
That was true enough. A one-sided brawl wasn't to anybody's liking unless the victor was a real crowd favorite, and there might even be a bit of old-style chivalry coming into play where a man beating a woman wasn't most people's idea of entertainment.
Shizuru's smile widened just a touch.
"I assure you, Mr. Bartholomew, that you need have no worries on that score."
Charlie actually thought it over, rapping his knuckles idly on the table in time with the stamping feet of the crowd as he did. I didn't wait for him to get through; I grabbed Shizuru's arm and pulled her away—or at least I tried to. She'd braced herself and was doing a good job of keeping me from pulling her away.
"Damn it, Shizuru, do you really think I'm just going to let this happen?"
She didn't argue, she didn't plead, she didn't demand—none of the things she'd done so far. Instead, she pouted at me, not actually crying but looking as if she was about to burst into tears at any moment.
"Doesn't Natsuki trust me?" she whimpered.
It did one thing perfectly: it took me so flatfooted that I went slack, my hand slipping from her arm, my jaw sagging open like the village idiot's. Somebody here had lost their wits, I was sure of that much. The whole idea of her acting like her feelings had been hurt was ridiculous. Didn't trust her? What the hell was that supposed to mean, anyway?
It hit me like a ton of bricks, in a way it probably wouldn't have if she hadn't been putting on that ridiculous act. She wasn't intending to step into that pit out of some quixotic sense of duty to me. Shizuru had some kind of plan. I didn't know what, but the point of that absurd pout was to tell me that she was quite capable of choosing her words and actions.
Did I want to let my friend Shizuru take Charlie Bart's offer in my place, knowing what the experience was like? No. But did I trust Shizuru Viola, the consulting detective, to know what she was doing in pursuit of the solution of a case? Just as obviously yes, I did.
"Fine, all right, go get yourself beat to a pulp," I gave in with bad grace.
"All right, then," Charlie concluded, as if he'd been patiently waiting for the end of our byplay to speak up, or even as if he'd been watching it to help him make up his mind. "You can have your chance. Don't expect anything from me if you let me down, though."
"That is, of course, understood."
I can't remember being more nervous watching a fight. Charlie had given orders for Shizuru's bout to be up next and she'd gone to get ready, leaving me to stand and wait as the current brawl worked its way through to the end. Watching was slow torture; I wavered back and forth between wanting it to just get over and done with so we could settle the matter, and wanting it to go on forever so the moment would never come. I ended up getting the first as the bigger fighter, though staggered by several punches and bleeding from a cut forehead and broken nose, used his size to ram his opponent into the boards, keeping him pinned there with body weight, and raised a clubbing right hand up and down repeatedly. When it finally became clear that only his body was keeping his opponent upright, he staggered back and fell weakly to his knees, but the other man just slumped to the pit floor, unmoving.
I really could have done without the lesson in how much size matters in a fight.
The barker started talking up the next fight almost at once, saying that they were presenting "something special." Shizuru's opponent entered the ring first; I didn't know him and missed his name in the rush of nerves. He was around thirty, with a head shaved to peach fuzz to keep his opponents from hair-pulling. I put his weight at roughly one hundred and eighty pounds; his bare torso was muscular but also burly, starting to run to fat.
A hush fell over the crowd as Shizuru was introduced. They didn't know what to make of her, this stately woman in foreign dress stepping into an arena of brutal violence that appeared completely at odds with her appearance. I noticed that she'd done something with her kimono, probably to increase her freedom of movement. That enheartened me a little; her awareness of the point suggested some sense of what she was doing.
Unlike the audience, Shizuru's foe had a very specific reaction to her, a snarl and an angry growl. I knew that look from the first couple of fights I'd been in; Peach Fuzz knew that he was the butt of a joke, but not quite what the joke was. Was he being set up to embarrass himself through winning? Through losing? Or just by being made to look like a clown in a parody of a fight? He didn't know which but he did know that he was angry, and that he had a target to vent that anger on with his fists.
The bell rang, and he advanced on Shizuru, his stance showing that he knew something of boxing. My heart was in my throat as he flicked jabs at her, using his superior reach. Shizuru wove, dodging with apparent ease, moving lightly over the floor, her own hands up in a guard position although I didn't recognize the stance. Her masklike smile was back in place, disguising her intentions.
Then, suddenly, there was the smack of flesh on flesh as Peach Fuzz's fist connected with the side of Shizuru's face. I was just about to yelp when, all of a sudden, her left leg scythed out in a low kick, connecting to the side of her opponent's knee. His leg buckled, and he found himself shifting his balance to his left leg so as not to fall. His left foot, though, was placed on a patch of wet sawdust, which skidded out from under his shoe.
Did she plan that? I asked myself. Had she let herself take a punch so as to be able to insure she could cleanly land a counterattack? And after maneuvering him so that he was in a spot with bad footing? It looked more and more likely as, taking advantage of his lack of balance, she grabbed his arm and wrenched it in a savage-looking joint lock while insuring he crashed to the boards. Peach Fuzz grunted in pain but bucked, using his size and strength to try and force her off. She knew he'd succeed and released early rather than let him knock her away, then drove her knee into his face as he started to rise up. The sickening crunch of his nose breaking reached all the way up to my ears, and the crowd let out a roar.
Shizuru didn't let up, though, clapping the heels of her hands against his ears, disrupting his sense of balance. He dropped back to his hands and knees, and she drove her elbow down into the back of his neck. He fell prone again, and she grabbed his arm once more, torquing it up. Peach Fuzz screamed, and Shizuru said something which I couldn't hear. I got the gist of it, though, because in the next moment the man was shouting that he quit. Shizuru let his arm drop, and without so much as changing expression walked out of the ring.
I let out my breath with a woosh, barely aware that I'd been holding it. The entire exchange had lasted less than a minute. The crowd was stunned, not sure whether to cheer the winner or jeer the fallen foe, then burst into a combination of hoots and groans as the results of the betting sunk in, good or bad.
"She might even be in your league," Charlie Bart remarked. "Well, I can't complain that she didn't hold up her end. You might try Magpie Tom Fletcher; he's usually up Soho way but tonight he's right over there."
Charlie pointed, identifying a short, wiry man in a check coat and bowler hat, a dusting of dark stubble on his cheeks. I committed the face to memory, which was easy because he was unfortunately looking up at us and got an excellent look at Charlie pointing him out. He reacted about how one would expect a jewel thief would react to being identified; he turned and bolted.
"Bloody hell!" I swore. Shizuru was nowhere near him and probably didn't even know that she should be looking, and if he got out who knew how long he could hide. I wasn't anywhere near the stairs, so I did the only thing I could think of; I dashed to the front of the balcony, grabbed the rail, swung myself over, and dropped. Luckily, I didn't crash down on anybody and since I let myself hang at full extension before letting go my boots only had to travel five feet before they hit the floor. I flexed my knees to take the shock, and started after Magpie Tom, pushing through the crowd towards him.
I'd saved a lot of time by jumping, but even so, I realized almost at once that he had too much of a lead. I crashed hard off someone's shoulder, then came out in an aisle, a good thirty feet away from him but with, momentarily, a clear line of sight. My right hand dipped into my coat and came out wrapped around the butt of a Smith and Wesson Safety Hammerless. The "lemon squeezer" barked, and Magpie Tom's bowler popped off his head when the bullet pierced its crown.
Not surprisingly, he stopped in his tracks. Pretty much everybody did, actually. Gunfire will do that.
"Don't move, Tommy, or next time it's a leg," I announced into the silence. "Not a lot of timbertoes in the second-story game."
"I don't think it will be necessary to go that far, Natsuki."
I flinched at Shizuru's voice, not realizing until she spoke that she'd reached my side, but at least didn't do anything as embarrassing (and hazardous) as accidentally squeezing off another shot.
"Not if he's smart."
We took Fletcher out of Charlie Bart's, where Shizuru conjured up another cab; since we were on the docks and it was past eleven she actually had to make a little gesture with her hand. We bundled the thief into the cab, where Shizuru talked reasonably, explaining what he'd done and how, while I glared a lot. For his part, he kept poking his fingertips through the new holes in his hat and by the time we reached the headquarters of the City of London Police he was ready to tell Inspector Gallagher all about how the gang he worked with had been hired by the jeweler, Vanderbilt, to steal the collar. Apparently, the gem broker had a bit of a sideline in arranging thefts; since it's hard to keep a transaction secret from the man who puts it together he had an excellent knowledge of vulnerable targets. I'd have liked if Fletcher had had the Wortham Collar on him—if nothing else, I'd have liked to see the thing—but one would have had to be considerably more idiotic than Magpie Tom to carry around the haul while out on a post-crime carouse. Still, Gallagher would have a nice packet of arrests when all was said and done, and it was a ringing professional success for Shizuru.
"You never mentioned that you could fight," I said as we stepped out into the cool night air.
"You never told me that you were a pit fighter," she pointed out. Her smile called attention to the bruise developing at the corner of her mouth. "I only knew that Natsuki was skilled with firearms."
"Sometimes you want people alive," I said. "That's the problem with guns. They're not ideal for anything but killing or threatening to kill."
"Natsuki is quite correct."
She didn't pretend to misunderstand.
"While I lived with my family in Italy, I studied at swordplay, knife-fighting, and baritsu."
"I don't know that last one."
"An obscure Japanese martial art distantly related to judo," Shizuru explained. "I've continued training after moving to England, of course, and added singlestick play."
"You train here?"
"Yes, there is a master of baritsu in Limehouse, in the same street as your friend Mai's restaurant; that was in fact how I found it. Indeed, as it was Miss Tokiha who introduced us, it is therefore indirectly the practice of the martial arts that I owe my meeting Natsuki."
"Yeah, I guess I see what you mean." I suppose we'd both found out a little bit more about each other today. It felt kind of nice, I realized. "And now I know that I don't need to worry if you get jumped by a thug."
"Natsuki would not rush to my rescue?"
"Well, not if there was someone on hand to lay side bets with."
"Ikezu," she pouted.
I grinned. If she was calling me a meanie, then I had might as well push my luck.
"Oh, by the way," I added, "you shouldn't have mentioned Mai's to me."
"Yeah, it reminded me that we still haven't gotten you fed yet. Come on; Garnier's Cafe doesn't close until well past midnight."
"Natsuki ikezu!" Shizuru wailed, but followed along unhesitatingly after me nonetheless.
~ Fin ~
A/N: Bonus points go to any reader who realized who was playing the role of Mrs. Hudson before this story. Points will be deducted, however, from anybody who doesn't have it now.
The term "Bohemian" (in the sense of "bohemianism") is nineteenth-century slang for the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, generally associated with the artistic set. Sherlock Holmes often was described in this way.
Kazu-kun's name, on the other hand, gave me fits. Online research suggests his last name in My-Otome is "Krau-xsek," which is utterly impossible for a Victorian setting, and I didn't want to give him an entirely Japanese name because I didn't want him to actually be Japanese (unlike, say, Reito, Mai, and Mikoto in this series). So I brought it together into "Krauszek," which is close to the original, but I have no idea if it's a functional name in any language. Usually I have to apologize for my potential mangling of Chinese ("The Serpent's Egg") or Japanese ("Kannazuki no Shimai") in creating character names—one reason I oh so envy professional authors with professional editing staffs!—but this will be the first time I have to apologize to pretty much all of Eastern Europe for my ignorance!
Shizuru's opinion of jewels is adapted from Sherlock Holmes's (naturally enough) in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Observant readers will have noted the bit in the same paragraph where she talks about the financier holding jewelry as a pledge and immediately caught the allusion to "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet."
A "blower" is Victorian criminal slang for an informer. A "cracksman" or a "yeggman" both refer to either a burglar generally or a safecracker in specific. A "toff" is a man of the upper classes, particularly one who goes slumming. A "mill" is a boxing match.
As usual, references to Shizuru's cases that are not part of the stories are taken from actual Sherlock Holmes stories. The Amberley case referenced is from "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman."
The martial art baritsu, described as "the Japanese system of wrestling" in "The Adventure of the Empty House," doesn't exist. It has been suggested that what Conan Doyle meant was Bartitsu, a system of self-defense introduced by Edward William Barton-Wright. There's an interesting Wikipedia article on the subject. Intriguingly, though, Holmes could not possibly have actually been practicing Bartitsu in its formal form, because it was created in 1898 and "The Final Problem" (the story in which he actually employs this martial art) takes place in 1891; "The Adventure of the Empty House" takes place in 1894. However, "The Adventure of the Empty House" was published in 1903, further muddying the waters. On the other hand, this story takes place in the autumn of 1898, so theoretically Shizuru could have known Bartitsu. However, I have preserved the enigmatic baritsu, basically so that I can describe her combat moves any way I please, since I have zero practical knowledge of martial arts and attempting to describe any particular style of fighting would result in even more embarrassing mistakes than I already make!
(Ironically, when I was looking up the publication date for "The Adventure of the Empty House" for this footnote, I discovered that the BBC had extended my favorite Sherlock Holmes series—the radio productions featuring Clive Merison as Holmes—with a "Further Adventures" series of new adventures, which said adventures were available for purchase. Who says writing fanfiction can't be a personally rewarding experience?)
Yes, Natsuki's .32 S&W Safety Hammerless revolvers are genuinely nicknamed "lemon squeezers" due to their grip safety.
A "timbertoe" is a man with a wooden leg; those of you who read The Sign of Four already know that, of course.
And last but not least, Holmes aficionados among you (you know you're out there!) have already spotted my inspiration for this story from the reference to the case of "Vanderbilt and the itinerant yeggman" from "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire."