A/N: This is the second in my proposed alternate universe series of fics, following "Elementary, My Dear Natsuki." I'd like to thank all of you who read that fic and commented and apparently decided that it didn't completely suck! I tried to reply to most of you, but to everybody else (including the anonymous reviewers), thank you all for the reviews, alerts, and faves!
Thanks also to my friend RadiantBeam, for helping me through some nasty writers' block that ambushed me in Chapter Three of this story. You wouldn't be reading this fic without her. Love also must be given to my own Natsuki, my wife, known here as "Tarma Hartley," who served as general sounding board for this entire series and this story specifically, being peppered with ideas and concepts and ShizNat until her ears hurt. You can show her your thanks by reading her fics, if you happen to like yaoi too.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
More than one head swiveled to look at me when I walked into the Ten Bells. It wasn't because I was female, because a good half of the clientele were women, nearly all drawn from Whitechapel's finest collection of dollymops and streetwalkers. It wasn't my age, since lots of them were younger than nineteen. It wasn't that I was pretty, as several of the girls were more eye-catching that me, especially since I never touched paints or powders to emphasize things. It might have been the exotic "foreign" nature of my looks, since I'd inherited my long, straight blue-black hair and pale complexion from my Japanese mother but my definitely occidental green eyes from my German father. Even so, the East End was a stew of races and nationalities, so such features weren't entirely out of place.
No, the probable fact was that it was my attire that had caught their attention. From the waist down I could have passed for an American cowboy: rugged denim "blue jeans" and leather boots weren't fashionable anywhere in London but were damn practical. For the rest I had on a plain white shirt, a black jacket, and gloves. I had not gone so fully Wild West as to strap a six-gun to my hip, but then again I didn't need to; the two .32 Smith and Wesson Safety Hammerless revolvers in the chamois cross-draw holsters specially sewn into the jacket seemed to be enough firepower to my mind. Though there was a knife in the right boot-top, if it came to that.
So I got some looks and even a few leers. One guy actually made an anatomically explicit invitation, though, so I took the trouble to fix him with what my friend Mai had dubbed the Kuga Death Glare. He went pale, gulped, then turned away and yelled for the barmaid to bring him another gin, no doubt to replace the effects of the several I'd scared off him.
With that settled I walked over to the bar, tossed down a florin, and asked for a whiskey. I knew better than to trust anything actually served at the bar there; if I wanted water I'd have stayed at home. The bartender, an ex-prizefighter who'd had a chunk of his right ear bitten off in the ring once, broke the seal on a bottle of halfway decent Irish and poured with a not totally ungenerous hand. I took the glass and strolled towards the back of the room.
I'd spotted him the instant I'd walked in, seated at a back table nursing a beer. He had a thin, oval face, stubble-dusted cheeks and a protruding nose, and while his clothes were cheap they were also clean, which set him apart from ninety percent of the other patrons--including the aging, half-drunk prostitute who was hanging on his arm, insistently trying to round up business. After about fifteen seconds or so she caught on that his eyes were looking somewhere else than the overabundant cleavage she appeared to be trying to wrap around his biceps and turned to see what had her prospective client's attention. That left her looking me full in the face. She vanished from the pub in under two seconds.
"Thanks," the man said, apparently meaning it. "When it's a matter of money, some people never take no for an answer."
I sat down and tossed off half the whiskey. I wasn't a particularly heavy drinker, but at least I didn't choke and spit up like the first time I'd tried that in front of him three years ago. The memory made my ears burn.
"Glad to help, Porlock," I said. "Still, you have to expect that kind of thing when you pick someplace like this to meet."
"It has atmosphere."
"Cigarette smoke, spilled liquor, vomit, and far too many people in desperate need of a bath. I think 'miasma' says it better than 'atmosphere.'"
"I mean the history of it, Kuga. Ten years ago that might have been Cathy Eddowes or Mary Kelly you chased off."
Porlock had always had a fascination for old, notorious crimes. I should have guessed he'd work his way around to the Ripper eventually.
"Maybe, but I didn't come here for the ghost of Saucy Jack."
"No, I suppose not. You're chasing another ghost altogether."
"Your message said you had something for me," I reminded him. He nodded and sipped his beer as if to wet a dry throat.
"I found a guy," he said. "The first whisper I've had of anything on that business you wanted me to dig into. A former crewman on the Dutch steamship Friesland."
I felt my heart all but skip a beat, but I kept it from showing on my face. I was glad of the gloves, though, as they kept it from being obvious that my hand had tightened on my glass.
"There have been a lot of sailors on that ship, I'd imagine," I said offhandedly, and took a sip.
"Not that many," Porlock countered, "who served on a certain particular voyage from Hamburg to Liverpool fourteen years ago. Even fewer who left the Friesland immediately after that voyage. And how many, do you think, not only left service on the steamer but also gave up the sea entirely to take up residence in a nice little country cottage?"
My eyes widened slightly.
"See why I thought you'd be interested?"
I slipped an envelope from my inside jacket pocket and laid it flat on the table. He picked ut up, broke the seal, and noted the folded bank-notes inside. Like a magician, Porlock made the envelope vanish and produced one of his own, which he handed to me.
"That's the name, some details of the fellow's history, and most importantly his current address. Take care of yourself, Kuga. Dartmoor's a dangerous place for city folks like you and me."
"You may be chasing ghosts, but he's hiding out in the middle of them."
The cab ride from Whitechapel back to Baker Street wasn't nearly long enough to calm the fire Porlock's news had lit in my belly. Finally, after so many years, something, something real and tangible that I could hold on to. Why would this crewman up and quit if there hadn't been something wrong on that voyage? And to give up the sea? And where had he gotten the money from to oh so conveniently build or buy his cottage? That implied not merely knowledge, but guilty knowledge, the kind I was looking for. It would have been an unspeakable coincidence if it was over some other matter entirely.
I'd always been convinced that murder had been done aboard that ship, but this was the first time I'd had something in my grasp other than my faith in my memories--the memories of a child of five, and of events not clearly seen.
Now I had something tangible, an actual name, a living human being. Someone at whom I could point years of loss and hatred at, and maybe at long last find some kind of resolution.
Unable to wait, as soon as I'd paid off the jarvey I tore open Porlock's envelope and committed the details to memory. Michael West was, to all appearances, an ordinary, even mundane man. He'd started as an able-bodied seaman and had worked on two other ships before the Friesland, all with the same company, and had worked his way up to become purser. He was so ordinary that the unusual circumstances of his retirement stood out even more. I memorized the name, the address, and the thumbnail description Porlock had provided. As always, I'd gotten my money's worth when dealing with him, even though he'd gouged me on the price. My financial reserves weren't what they had once been, now that my father had decided he wasn't going to continue supporting his mistress's child past her nineteenth birthday, but for this...
Yeah, this was worth spending it on.
I let myself into the house with my latch-key, locked the door behind myself, and all but skipped up the stairs, letting myself into my rooms.
"Ara, ara, Natsuki is back very late."
My fellow-lodger Shizuru Viola was kneeling on the sitting-room floor in a traditional seiza position that made my knees ache just to look at. Shizuru's features betrayed little trace of the Japanese side of her ancestry: brown hair so light in shade as to be nearly a honey-blonde, a brush of olive in her complexion, eyes that were an unmistakable red hue, and a curve of bust and hip more abundant than found in most Asian women. Yet she was much more comfortable with the actual culture, as witnessed by the fact that I found her dressed as she so often was around the house, in a full kimono, and having just completed the tea ceremony.
"I'm glad that you're all right. I know that Natsuki can take care of herself, but a tavern in Whitechapel can be a very dangerous place."
"Like you said, Shizuru, I can take care of myself. Wait a minute; how did you know that I'd been to Whitechapel?"
She pointed at my lower legs.
"Natsuki's jeans are splashed with yellow clay. They are presently having the pavement up in Church Street, and that clay is particular to the area. No cabbie would drive through Whitechapel on the way to somewhere less dangerous, so I can only assume that it was Natsuki's destination."
"And the tavern?"
"You might want to clean your boots. You've been stepping in spilled beer and"--she wrinkled her nose--"the smell has accompanied you home."
This was the problem with living with Shizuru. She was an idiosyncratic person--witness, for example, the way she addressed me in the third person, because she thought my reaction was "cute," though at least she'd backed off on it a little so she wouldn't have to torture her sentences quite so much as she once had--and had made an equally idiosyncratic profession for herself. She was a private consulting detective, an expert whom other inquiry agents as well as the official force turned to when baffled by a case, or referred clients on to when the problems were beyond their scope.
Her method was that which she'd just demonstrated for me: the observation of various details and the ability to apply her encyclopedic knowledge to them to logically deduce (or induce) conclusions. She operated so quickly that the process was almost intuitive, but unlike intuition she was fully aware of every step in the chain.
I'd seen Shizuru put her methods into practice first-hand when she'd invited me along on one of her cases, the Vamberry murder that made such a splash in the press six weeks ago. For some reason she seemed to enjoy having me accompany her as a kind of sounding board and captive audience while she worked, and I'd found myself dragged along thanks to one creative excuse or another on several other occasions: the Lauriston Gardens business, where religion and revenge became hopelessly intertwined; thwarting the nauseating medical experiments of Lowenstein; and the Norbury affair, in which a domestic farce had nearly led to tragedy. Each time I'd had a chance to watch her display her powers of reasoning.
Despite her eccentricities, Shizuru had proven a pleasant enough person to share rooms with. The problem was, I wasn't exactly inclined to discuss this business with her and, well, privacy can be a tricky thing when you lodge with someone who can tell your life history from your shirt cuffs.
No, I wasn't being fair. Of course Shizuru knew more about me than I'd told or wanted to tell, but she never tried to force confidences out of me or press me for details on some point. The truth of the matter was that Shizuru respected my boundaries a lot better than some of my other so-called friends. She made overtures now and again, but they were all about sharing experiences, like when she invited me on her cases, than through talk, the way some women tried to force intimacy on a near-stranger.
That was probably why a lone wolf like me had so easily become accustomed to sharing living space with someone so different as Shizuru. She never asked that I be anything but myself.
"Sorry," I muttered.
"It's nothing." I wasn't going to explain, even if something made me feel like I had to apologize. "Look, Shizuru, I'm going to have to go away for a while."
Proving my point, she didn't ask me where or why.
"Will you be back soon?"
"I don't know. I could be gone for a few days."
"I see." She sipped from her cup, a traditional Japanese one which meant green tea. "I will miss having Natsuki here," she added with a little pout.
"Sorry about that." Wait, why was I apologizing that time?
"I'm sure that it can't be helped, though. I hope that Natsuki has a successful trip."
"I hope so," I said, feeling the pulse of excitement renew itself, making my stomach tremble as with stage fright. I walked over to the desk, fetched down the Bradshaw's, and looked up the train connections I would need. I copied the information down on a memorandum pad, tore off the sheet and stuck it in my pocket, and replaced the volume. Then, deciding that something else needed to be said, I turned back to my companion and added, "Thanks, Shizuru. I mean it."
She smiled at me, the calm, serene smile that went with the tea ceremony or when she wished to calm an agitated client, but said no more. Maybe there really wasn't anything left to say.
Recognizing that sleep wouldn't come easily, I packed that night. Porlock's papers I tossed into the fire, knowing that Shizuru would be curious but wouldn't ask, and that waiting for her to go to sleep would be pointless. Sometimes I wondered if she actually did sleep, or if all that tea just keeps her awake for day and night alike.
As for myself, I slept as fitfully as I'd known I would. When I finally dropped off I was tormented by dreams that weren't dreams at all, but memories. They were memories exaggerated and twisted, though, with leering faces and screams, and swirling water like a thousand clawing hands. I needed no help from the alarm-clock to rise and dress in clothes of similar pattern to yesterday's. I added a nicely embroidered vest in black and red and wore a cloak rather than the jacket, though, to lend a hint of greater formality, and since I'd packed my revolvers I used another American trick, clipping a derringer to the other end of my watch-chain. Ironically, this weapon was chambered for .41 ammunition, much heavier than my usual guns, though of course holding only a single shot. I snatched up my Gladstone, bid farewell to Shizuru and our landlady, and was soon on my way to Paddington Station. The morning train of the Great Western Railway would take me to Plymouth, and connections there and in Yelverton would at last bring me to Princetown, and from there to Dartmoor.
I reached the station and purchased my ticket in plenty of time and was soon settled on the cushions of a first-class smoker. It was a gray, bleak November day, carrying the chill of the coming winter, so that the match-flame as I lit my cigarette shed welcome warmth across my cheek. Though my demeanor impresses some people as "cold" or "frosty," I'm actually a summer person, weather-wise. Maybe it's because I was born in August.
The compartment door swung open, announcing that I'd have company for the first leg of my trip. I was already scowling at the intrusion when a familiar voice changed my assumption.
"Ara, ara. I had hoped to arrive before Natsuki started smoking."
"Yes," she said, smiling impishly, but I was in no mood for teasing.
"Damn it, Shizuru, you followed me! What the hell are you doing here, prying into my private business?" The train started to move, the first jerk of motion punctuating my accusation. I was really furious with her at this breach of our friendship.
Her face fell, like a puppy that was getting scolded without cause.
"Kannin na, Natsuki," she said, slipping into the Kyoto dialect of Japanese that sometimes sprinkled her casual speech. This one meant "I'm sorry" or "forgive me" or something like that, I thought. "I admit that I knew you were traveling by this train, and I thought that as I would be going this way in any case, it would be pleasant to have your company. I didn't think of how you would see it, so please forgive me for forcing my company on you."
I looked at her curiously. There was real hurt in her expression, glittering in her crimson eyes.
Fifteen seconds ago I had been furious at her, and now I felt sorry, of all things. It didn't make sense at all, how she could crawl under my skin like that.
"You said that you were going this way anyway?"
"I have a case. The letter came yesterday, posted from the village of Aldington, about five miles from Princetown on the moors. Natsuki went out on her own affairs for most of the day, so I didn't have time to tell you about it, and you'd already left this morning by the time I woke or else I'd have offered to travel together."
"But I never told you where I was going."
"You wrote the train times down last night," she said apologetically. "Natsuki writes a very firm hand. I saw the impressions on the pad when I was writing instructions for Mrs. Hudson."
"Oh." Damn, I repeated to myself. She was right enough about my handwriting; the phrase "bold scrawl" covered it thoroughly. Someone with Shizuru's observational skills could hardly miss the deep scores I'd have left on the next sheet. She had noticed, and had joined me in this compartment in the hope of some friendly company, and I'd responded by all but biting her head off and accusing her of prying into my affairs.
I felt like a heel, lower than dirt.
"Shizuru, I...I didn't mean...oh, damn it, I'm lousy at this, but I'm really sorry."
It was a pathetic attempt at an apology, but it got through somehow. Shizuru's face lit up at once, eyes shining.
"Then, Natsuki doesn't mind my company?"
"No, though you might mind Natsuki's," I made a weak joke at her third-person habit. "She's feeling a little crabby today, as you can tell."
It's probably the cigarette smoke," Shizuru said.
"Hey, it was here before you were."
The conductor stopped by to punch our tickets, and before long we were well out of London, winding our way west through the countryside.
"Whatever happened last night in Whitechapel obviously has you badly on edge, Natsuki," Shizuru said as I stubbed out the cigarette, fumbled with another, then gave it up and slipped the case back in my hip pocket. "Is there anything I can do?"
I shook my head.
"I'm sorry. It's...it's something I need to handle on my own, that's all. It's personal, and--"
She shook her head.
"Natsuki does not need to say any more," she said, and dropped the subject completely.
"Can you tell me about your case?" I asked. Maybe I wanted to balance things out, to give her the chance to tell me to butt out of her affairs, but she didn't say that.
"This is confidential, so I trust that you won't repeat anything to anyone else?"
"I know that I can trust Natsuki, but it was important to say it." She took a letter from under her rich purple traveling cloak and handed it to me. "I would appreciate your opinion."
I unfolded the letter; it was written on fancy cream-colored stationery in a neat, feminine hand, the kind my teachers had tried to make me learn before I started skipping out on seminary entirely.
My Dear Miss Viola,
I write to you in the desperate hope that you can help our family. My poor father is plagued by horrible visitations! Edward believes that he is going mad, but I am certain that there is more to it. If you wire when your train will arrive in Princetown, I can have the carriage waiting for you to bring you to Warburton Grange.
Please, you must lay this devilish woman to rest before she takes my father with her!
Yours in need,
"It sounds like something out of Mrs. Radcliffe," I said. "She doesn't identify the 'devilish woman' or who Edward is or what it is that makes him think her father is losing his mind."
"Miss Warburton is a very scared woman."
"Her home is Warburton Grange and she apparently lives with her father, so it is unlikely that she married into the Warburton family."
"Oh." I could see what she meant--now that she'd explained it. "I agree about her being scared; you can see how her hand shakes in the second half of the letter. And there's one phrase in here I don't like."
"'Lay to rest'?"
"Yeah. This is something right out of a Gothic novel."
"Natsuki is afraid of ghosts?"
"No way. Seances and spirits are all just a load of bunk," I said. I knew well enough that the dead didn't need to roam the halls clattering chains to haunt the living. Shizuru just sighed.
"Natsuki has no romance in her soul," she teased, making me blush.
"It's not that. It's just..." I stopped, wondering why I was about to say what I was going to say. In the stories I read, if I waited even one day to act on Porlock's tip, I would find Michael West dead, unable to tell me anything. But that was just a literary cliche and...damn it, the hurt I'd seen on Shizuru's face nagged at me even now. "Would you like me to come with you? I don't know if I can be of much help, but if there's a ghost and a madman out in some lonely house on the moors..."
She brightened at once, giving me a sunny smile.
"Your company would be most welcome. But what about your own errand?"
"It can wait a few days if it has to," I said with an assurance I didn't feel. Was I letting a once-in-a-lifetime chance slip away? And why the hell did I feel so guilty over Shizuru anyway? It wasn't like I owed her anything.
"Then I'd be pleased to accept. Whatever horrors the moor holds, we'll face them together."
I had no idea then how literal she was really being.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A/N: Natsuki's firearms are perfectly real period weapons; I suspect that if Shizuru ever finds out that Natsuki's .32s are nicknamed "Lemon Squeezers" that the teasing will go on for hours. "Fred Porlock," as many of you probably already know, is the name of Sherlock Holmes's secret contact/informer within the Moriarty organization (as seen in The Valley of Fear), so I figured that name would be good for Yamada to have here. I'm only somewhat confident in the railway connections mentioned, but I think they're accurate.
And for those intrigued by the cases that Natsuki refers to in passing and wish that they could read them, well, you can--sort of. Since I'm using the offhand references from the original Sherlock Holmes stories for the plots of this series (as I mentioned in one of the author's notes for "Elementary, My Dear Natsuki"), I decided to get appallingly cutesey and use the actual Holmes cases for Natsuki's references. These three are, in the order Natsuki mentions them, A Study in Scarlet, "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," and "The Yellow Face." One of those omnipresent Internet cookies for you if you noticed that on your own!
"Mrs. Radcliffe" refers to the author of the first (or second, if you count Walpole's The Castle of Otranto) "Gothic" novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which pretty well kicked off an entire genre of "horrid" literature in the early 1800s.