I have to say ookini to EvanescentAmethyst, who by thinking outside the box when she posted her latest chapter of "Back to Back," let me figure out how I could get this online and posted!

"I still say you should have gotten credit for solving the case," I declared. I was sprawled out on our sitting room couch with my feet propped up on one arm of the sofa in a way that would have appalled my mother...or my deportment teacher, or the landlady, come to think of it. While the Times had been sedate in their coverage, the Star had been a bit more susceptible to drama. "Scotland Yard Smashes Smuggling Ring" was splashed across the top half of the front page. Kanzaki was lauded throughout the article as having led the heroic investigation that netted the head of the ring that had been using Vamberry and Son as the front for moving thousands of pounds' worth of contraband into the country. "All Mr. Smug did was to follow your directions."

"Now, Natsuki, Reito did more than that. After all, he was the one who went through the books at Vamberry and Son to identify the suspect transactions. And he and his men examined the warehouse carefully to determine precisely what the smugglers had removed, including the difficult work of finding what had genuinely been taken instead of apparently taken, since the smugglers moved things around, like that cask at the murder site." Shizuru sipped her tea.

"Yeah, because you told him to, and a squad of constables can do grunt work a lot easier than you can alone." And because she was a lazy person who'd always get someone else to do that work--if she could trust them to do it right in her place.

"Don't those hard-working police officers deserve praise, then? That evidence was what led to so many arrests and drove the various confessions."

"'Thanks to the inspired efforts of Chief Inspector Reito Kanzaki, the machinations of the criminals in disguising their acts as a common crime of violence were thwarted,'" I read out a particularly choice bit. "Shizuru, how can you sit there with that smile on your face while everything you did runs to his credit?"

"I'm flattered that Natsuki thinks so highly of my work that she springs to my defense."

"No teasing until I've had my first cup of coffee, damn it," I grunted.

"Oh, very well. I knew that Reito would claim the credit because it is part of our arrangement, and I can hardly complain about terms that I agreed to in advance."

"There's a big difference between 'can't complain' and 'happy,' Shizuru."

"True, but I have reason to be happy. For one thing, Reito delivered his cheque and it cleared the bank."

I was about to protest that I'd never heard of a police detective paying an amateur to solve a case, when I realized that I was wrong on two counts. On the one hand, it was rather absurd to expect a professional private inquiry agent to work on a case for no credit and no payment. On the other, in one of the world's most famous detective stories, Poe's "The Purloined Letter," the Prefect of Police had paid Dupin, and paid handsomely, for his solution to the case. Shizuru found enough to tease me about without me handing her engraved invitations.

"So, does the article name the leader of the smugglers? How did Natsuki do in deducing the truth?"

She smiled at me from her armchair and took another drink of her tea.

"Natsuki, as you know very well, didn't have a clue."

Shizuru shook her head.

"But that isn't true. The clues were all there. It was just a matter of drawing the correct conclusions."

"Which obviously I'm not great at. So would you mind walking me through it?"

"Ara, if Natsuki wishes. I've already explained about the clue of the bloodstained casks, which lead to the discovery that a large scale operation had taken place."

"Hey, I said it was smuggling," I said defensively. "You told me I was getting ahead of myself."

"Not about that. About Vamberry's keys. They could have been taken either because the criminals needed them to open the loading dock, or because the criminals wanted to disguise the fact that they did not need them. Clark and MacLeod had keys of their own. Arthur Vamberry did not, but might reasonably have taken an opportunity to have his father's key copied, so he could fit with either group. Fulke, of course, did not have his own key.

"If the crime was theft," she continued, "Fulke was the obvious suspect. As the 'inside man' he could open the side door to let the thieves in, and the hours he spent alone in the warehouse gave him ample opportunity to identify the most valuable things to steal. Vamberry, we could assume, visited the warehouse unexpectedly and had to be killed. His keys, though, gave the thieves the chance to use the loading dock and take more. It's a complete scenario, as Natsuki herself suggested."

"But you didn't buy it."

"What good would it do thieves to move goods around to conceal what was stolen? That firmly established that the crime was not a one-time act, and strongly implied that the origin of those goods was something the criminals wanted to conceal."

"They could just have been hiding evidence that there was a robbery."

Shizuru shook her head sadly.

"What?" I protested.

"Natsuki, they didn't bother to hide evidence of a murder. If they wanted to conceal that anything had happened at all, they'd have removed Vamberry's body as well."

Damn. That really was stupid of me to miss.

"It was just distantly possible," she continued, "that there was a scheme of long-term pilfering in place, but Arthur Vamberry denied this when he said that there were no unusual losses and that the business was doing well. He could have been lying, but Reito's examination of the records bore him out, and I was already well convinced that it was true."


"Let us consider the facts. We assume that some kind of criminal scheme is being operated out of the Vamberry warehouse, be it smuggling or theft. This demands the connivance of workers at the warehouse in some capacity. We learned that the activities take place at night. That means that Fulke, the watchman, was either part of the scheme or bribed to stay silent."

I groaned, getting it at last.

"Fulke was put in place by Clark," I said. "It wasn't an act of charity to keep him on; he bought the man's loyalty with kindness. On the one hand Fulke would be out on the street, a cripple in need of work, and on the other there's Clark offering a job, security, and probably a little extra on the side. And smuggling's not like theft; grab somebody off the street and they probably wouldn't even figure it's morally a crime, since they're only stealing from the tax man, whom everybody hates."

"Even though every good thing the government does requires tax revenue to operate," Shizuru noted. "Though, of course, so does the waste and misery. It's hard to convince an ordinary citizen who sees their money draining away that the benefits they gain directly and indirectly from, say, well-maintained roads that enable thriving trade supporting a healthy economy and everyone's livelihood, are greater in value than what they pay in taxes."

"You'd have a job of it just to convince me of something like that." I folded the Star over, tossed it on the coffee table, and sat up. If we were going to drag economic theory into this, then I needed caffeine to keep me awake and I hated drinking while lying down. I reached for my cup as Shizuru chuckled.

"But Natsuki illustrates my point precisely! Under the circumstances it would have been very easy for Clark to recruit Fulke. It would only have been a matter of letting men come in at night and remove contraband concealed in among otherwise legitimate orders, a false bottom in a crate under packed wine bottles, a waterproof bag inside a cask of brandy, or the like. The ostensible contents of each shipment were all present and properly accounted for by manifest, and under the label of a requested firm with decades of history."

She pursed her lips thoughtfully.

"In a way, the scheme was even more clever than I gave it credit for. Reito found out that instead of simply taking goods out, they actually replaced them. A crate containing sixteen bottles of wine with a false bottom would be replaced in the warehouse by an otherwise identical crate containing identical wine. In this way, MacLeod and the day workers would never notice anything amiss with the warehouse inventory. The night of the murder, of course, they had to act without such preparations since they weren't given time, which let Reito find more evidence than he otherwise might have."

"So that was it? You figured Fulke had to be guilty and he led back to Clark?"

"That was the starting point. What Vamberry and Clark told us about the financial health of the company confirmed it."

"That Clark's investments were making more money?"

"Indeed. It wasn't that his capital had let the firm turn things around or that market conditions had changed. Vamberry's deals were still losing money, but the profits from the smuggling enterprise were being run back through the business to justify their existence."

This was one that I did understand. A big problem with any illegal operation was figuring out a way to hide the fact that you'd suddenly come into large sums of money. Clark had run a chunk of his smuggling profits back through Vamberry and Son to "launder" them, justifying his growing wealth. It had, as a side effect, brought prosperity to his innocent partner, whose respectable but weak business provided perfect cover for the crime.

"Until Vamberry grew too curious," Shizuru said, continuing from her last words and, ironically, my thoughts as well. "Of course, Clark told a complete farrago of lies about the subject of their argument. Vamberry probably was intending to bring his son into the firm, but they were actually arguing about the fact that Vamberry had finally realized that something wasn't adding up in the business."

"How did you deduce that?"

She blinked at me.

"I didn't. It was in his confession." She pointed at the paper.

"You read it already?"

"Natsuki is a sleepyhead; she should not stay up so late at night if she wants to be the first to read the morning papers."

"More likely all that tea keeps you up without sleep all day."

"Perhaps," she agreed without changing her smile one bit.

"So do you believe it?"


"The part about Fulke being the one to kill Vamberry. For myself, I figure he's just trying to weasel out of a trip to the gallows."

"Perhaps," she said again.

"Wait, Shizuru, you believe him?"

"Do you remember what the beggar said? A man arrived alone--that would be either Vamberry or Clark. The wagon came later. It's possible that Vamberry arrived, and was killed by Fulke when he started to poke around. Though lame, Fulke was a strong worker, and he had a suitable weapon at hand at all times in his cane, which was a leaded stick in case of thieves. On the other hand, Clark might have gotten there earlier, or have specifically ordered the murder. At the very least, he'll do a long stretch of prison time."

"It's better than Fulke got." According to the story in the Star, he'd been knifed by one of the smugglers and tossed into the Thames so he couldn't talk to the police. Since he'd been the one man the police were guaranteed to want to speak with, the precaution made sense enough. Or maybe the paper was just making up stories and Fulke had run off. Hard to prove murder without a body, and if one of the smugglers had told that story it wasn't likely to be the one who actually put the knife into him, but an accusation from someone else seeking leniency. Nothing like honor among thieves. "Damn, that just bugs me," I decided after thinking all that through.

"Oh? What does?" Shizuru asked, recognizing that there was a gap between my complaint and the last thing I'd said before it.

"Fulke. Not knowing. Is he off running somewhere, trying to stay one jump ahead of the law? Or is he cowering in some dockside cellar, hiding out? Or getting nibbled on by the fish in the river after all? The case is closed, but we don't have the answers!"

Shizuru giggled, politely covering her lips with her hand.

"Natsuki, that really does happen more often than not. It isn't possible to completely reconstruct everything in any but the most limited cases."

"Well, it should be," I declared with a complete lack of logic.

"Ara, I will try to do better for Natsuki in the future."

"You know, if we're still here when Christmas rolls around, I'm going to get you some second-person pronouns as a gift. Why don't you just call me 'you'?"

"Because Natsuki is very cute when I tease her!"

Cute. Puppies are cute. Fluffy bunnies and baby chicks are cute. I'm a lot of things, some of which don't go well in polite company, but cute? Not bloody likely. God, I hoped not, at least. Cute.

Maybe because she could see how damn mortified I was, she gave me one. Or two, depending on how I was counting.

"Was there anything else about the case that you would like me to explain?"

I shook my head.

"No, I think I've pretty well got it. But thank you for spelling it out at last." As a riddle, I'd failed miserably at solving it, and even after the solution came out in the papers I'd have had it gnawing at the back of my head for the next week without knowing how Shizuru had managed it.

She shook her head.

"No, I...enjoyed it. To show someone else what I do and share my work with them. So, ookini, Natsuki."

"Okay knee? What does that mean?" Yeah, okay, that kind of blew the moment, but I really didn't know what she'd just said.

And...I wasn't sure how comfortable I was with the idea. I didn't have a lot of friends, and none of them that I could really call close.

"Ookini. It means, thank you."

"What language is that?"

"Japanese, of course."

My Japanese is horrible. My mother mostly used English with me while I was growing up in Germany, and while I've kept up my German even after coming here, my Japanese is basically only good enough for ordering off the untranslated side of menus. Even so, I thought I knew something as basic as "thank you."

My confusion obviously showed, because Shizuru smiled at me.

"My mother is from Kyoto, so when she taught me her native language, she did so in that dialect. English is my fourth language, so I backslide sometimes."

"Oh, I see." Then I blinked. "Wait, how many languages do you speak?"

"Five. Italian, Japanese, French, English, and Russian. Father was a diplomat, so he knew many languages, and always praised the value of learning more."

"I guess you took his advice."

"Oh, yes. It's proven very useful in my line of work."

"I can see how that would be."

"Perhaps if I need to translate from German, Natsuki could help me? If she did not find this time assisting me to be troublesome...?"

"N-no, it's all right." Wait--how had she known that I spoke German? I had to start paying more attention. Now that I knew what Shizuru was capable of, my secrets were more at risk than I'd even thought when I'd first met her. A stray word or two and the whole story might unfold for her.

Though a little voice whispered insistently to me: would that necessarily be a bad thing?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A/N: Like so many other writers of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, I drew the idea of this story (as I did for my own Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century fanfic, "The Disappearance of the Cutter Alicia") from the undeveloped cases Watson refers to offhandedly in various tales. "Vamberry the wine merchant" was referenced in "The Musgrave Ritual."

I had to admit that I was worried at first that this story did not include a dramatic confrontation between Shizuru and the killer. Unfortunately, the nature of the crime as I'd laid it out meant that to find the necessary evidence, it would be necessary to root through the warehouse contents, shipping manifests, and company financial records: grunt work done by the police before any arrests are made. And Reito would hardly allow Shizuru to be "in on the kill" after all that police work. I console myself with the knowledge that such endings are not unknown in the Canon, after all: "The Five Orange Pips," "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge," "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb," "The 'Gloria Scott,'" and "The Resident Patient" among them. Still, just because it works for Conan Doyle doesn't necessarily mean it works for me, so don't expect it to become a pattern in future stories in this series.

Extra thanks must go to my wife, Tarma Hartley, who served as beta reader for this story. Thanks, honey!

I like the fact that in this story, I can include the bits of Shizuru's Kyoto-ben which the fandom typically leaves untranslated...since the characters are actually speaking English, not Japanese, when she says a word in Japanese, it would naturally be narrated as what she actually said.

One thing I don't like that I couldn't include a cool action scene for Natsuki! We'll just have to change that next time, when a clue to Natsuki's past and a haunting apparition driving a retired military man to lunacy take the pair to Dartmoor...