Cutting from the Daily Telegraph

kept by Natsuki Kuga

The Park Lane Mystery Solved!

Consulting Detective Returns to Solve Adair Murder!

October XX, 1899: The murder of the Honorable Ronald Adair in his study in Park Lane, which so alarmed the people of London, was solved last night with the arrest of Miya Clochette, 17, of Mile End. Details are sketchy at this juncture, but it is believed that Miss Clochette was contracted to commit this murder for hire by a woman named Tomoe Marguerite.

Police were alerted to the possibility of the murderess's guilt by the well-known "consulting detective," Shizuru Viola, who returned to London after a six-month absence to provide Scotland Yard with key information in this matter. Miss Viola declined to be interviewed for this article, but the Telegraph has learned that it was she who identified both murderess and client for the police.

As befits hardened criminals who would commit such a shocking murder, the depraved young women did not meekly submit to arrest but resisted with violence. One Scotland Yard officer was wounded by gunfire from Miss Clochette and Miss Viola's associate Miss Natsuki Kuga was stabbed, forcing the latter to shoot Miss Marguerite in self-defense. Displaying particularly notable courage and determination was Inspector Lady Haruka Armitage, who captured Miss Clochette despite not carrying a weapon herself. Perhaps shamed by this example of stalwart English womanhood, it is reported that Miss Clochette has made a full confession of her crimes, thus bringing to a close within twenty-four hours what had seemed to be an impenetrable mystery...

~X X X~

"But the dog did nothing in the night-time. Period. End quote. New line. Quote. That was the curious incident. Period. End—"

"Wait, what? The dog did nothing and that was meaningful?"

"Yes, it was."

"It just laid there asleep or something? Because it was drugged?"

"No, the dog wasn't drugged. It just didn't do anything."

"So how is that supposed to be a clue?"

"You should let Natsuki finish the story and you will find out."

"Gaah!"

Juliet St. Vlas nearly leapt out of her chair in surprise; she'd been so intent on the discussion that she hadn't heard Shizuru open the door or walk up behind her.

"I'm sorry, Miss Zhang; I didn't realize that you didn't hear me," Shizuru teased.

"Yeah, I'll bet," Nao groused. Juliet insisted on calling herself "Nao Zhang," even though she had no Chinese in her at all. Irish was more likely, given the light skin, green eyes, and bright red hair which she kept clipped short and close to her skull for the ease of donning different wigs.

"Is this the Wessex Cup case you are discussing?" Shizuru carried on breezily. "It must be, if you were talking about the dog in the night-time."

"We're not discussing it; I'm writing it up as a story. Or at least as close as I can with this thing." I pointed to the shoulder sling that kept my right arm in place. I'd been lucky that Tomoe's knife had struck from the side, missing any of the major blood vessels in the shoulder, and really lucky that she hadn't used a gun, which might have shattered bone and crippled my arm even if I lived. "I don't see what the big deal is. I've got enough scars as it is; one more isn't going to hurt anything, so I'd rather have a few extra days' use of my arm."

The only reason the doctor had it immobilized was to keep me from tearing out my stitches, which basically meant the difference between "big ugly scar" and "almost ladylike little white line." It wasn't as if it was going to affect the mobility of the arm either way. Though I suppose having it heal cleanly was worth something, not to mention that it would be over and done with faster.

"So Miss Zhang is acting as your secretary, then?"

"Yeah, I need the practice at taking shorthand and typing in a real situation," Nao said.

"You are learning a new profession, then?"

"I'm becoming a productive member of the community," Nao said sarcastically.

"Spy is a step up from blackmailer," I noted.

Shizuru frowned.

"Ah, then your training in secretarial skills is in order that you can successfully fill such a position and thereby gain access to files, private communications, and so on?"

"Very good. You should be a detective!"

"Feeling catty, Nao?"

"Thinking about typing up that scene about the horse race. Seriously, Kuga, don't you have any idea how these things work? The Colonel would have been warned off the track a half-dozen times for some of the things you claim went on."

I shrugged—not a good plan with a shoulder wound—and said, "Dramatic license. This is about telling an exciting story, not giving a point-by-point report of the case."

Nao rolled her eyes.

"If you say so."

"I am sure that it will be very entertaining and extremely inaccurate, just like all of Natsuki's stories."

"Whose side are you on?"

"Why, yours, of course. I am always supportive of my beloved Natsuki's literary efforts." She walked over and pressed a quick kiss to my lips before I could react.

"Shizuru," I muttered, embarrassed, and waved my hand weakly towards Nao.

"Oh, please, Kuga," Nao said dryly. "I grew up in a high-class brothel, remember? I remember one night when we had a party with four M.P.s, two cabinet ministers, a foreign ambassador, a bevy of dancing girls, hot wax, leather restraints, some rather inventive clockwork devices and one extremely surprised goat. A pair of lesbians doesn't even get my attention."

"Exactly," Shizuru said happily. "And I enjoy showing how I feel about my Natsuki when I can, especially as I cannot do so before others most of the time."

My Natsuki, I thought. The phrase made me feel a little warmer inside whenever she used it. Even though it had been ten days since her return, part of me still couldn't quite believe that Shizuru was really there, alive and back in my life, or that I'd not only regained everything I'd thought I'd lost, but so much more besides.

Of course, it would probably take about six years for me to get comfortable saying something like that to Mai or Mrs. Hudson. Nao was right out.

"Shizuru..."

"On the other hand, if you're going to be all billing and cooing, I think now is my time to leave before I'm forced to throw cold water on you or something. Same time tomorrow, Kuga?"

"I thought you intended to skip a day?"

"I was, but that damn dog is going to bother me until I get an answer." She stood and slipped her pencil and notepad into her reticule. "And it had better be a good one if you're going to keep me dangling like this."

"You could always figure it out yourself if you don't want to wait," I shot back. "As Shizuru said, it was quite elementary."

I should have known Shizuru wouldn't let that pass.

"Now, I seem to recall that Natsuki's exact words were, 'And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?'"

"I wasn't at my best, running around the moor while still injured."

"Your brain is not in your shoulder," Nao pointed out, "though I can see why you'd have trouble finding it."

"Not that you have personal experience with using one to know," I shot back.

"Ah, the lovestruck puppy can bite!"

Shizuru broke up into a fit of laughter.

"You two are so cute!"

Nao and I shared a look of complete sympathy.

"Take care of her, Kuga; I think she's losing it."

"It's probably that she's gone an hour without tea. Can you show yourself out?"

"Of course. And you're probably right; I'll ask Mrs. Hudson to send some up."

The door clicked shut behind her.

"Miss Zhang is an interesting person," Shizuru said. "She is, I think, very much like Natsuki had the world been harsher to you."

Nao and Shizuru had an odd relationship. It was because of Shizuru's investigation that Nao's mother had been hanged for multiple counts of murder. On the other hand, that same investigation had revealed that Nao's mother was Nao's mother and that rather than having cast Nao off at birth she had always been looking after her and trying to protect her as best she could. It was that knowledge which was allowing the red-haired girl to get over some of the bitterness that had taken root in Nao's soul and let her edges soften a bit.

"I think that's enough about Nao for one day," I said, answering both Shizuru's statement and my own thoughts. "How did things go with Armitage?"

"Quite well. She believes that Miss Clochette will avoid hanging for killing Ronald Adair, given her age, the fact that she freely confessed, and the evidence of Mr. Adair's letters that it was a plan of suicide."

"I'm glad. She's guilty of the act, but she was really just a pawn of Tomoe's. I feel sorry for her more than anything else. I doubt she ever really understood what Tomoe was after."

Shizuru nodded.

"I find it hard to take a charitable view of her, given that she freely participated in a scheme to attack your reputation and ultimately your life, but it is clear that she was a young woman of weak character who had submitted to a stronger will, rather than a truly evil or malicious person."

"How is Chrysant doing?" I ask. She'd been even luckier than I had; the bullet had passed cleanly through the fleshy part of her outer thigh without hitting bone, making her major concern keeping the wound clean and free from infection while it healed.

"According to the Inspector, she is doing well, although surprisingly she is proving to be a very bad patient."

"Really? That surprises me, too."

"It turns out, it seems, that she is the sort of woman who cannot bear forced inactivity. She wishes to be out of her bed, assisting the Inspector in her duties at Scotland Yard, at the very least in the office. It is shaping up to be quite the battle of wills between Miss Chrysant's desire to serve and Inspector Armitage's desire to make sure Miss Chrysant is fully healed before resuming her duties."

I chortled.

"That ought to be a fun argument. Armitage yelling, blustering, and issuing decrees while Chrysant quietly but stubbornly pleads. Personally, my money is on Armitage."

Shizuru smiled at me.

"Oh, I don't know. It would not do to underestimate the will of a detective's companion. You would not now be mangling the events of the Wessex Cup had you remained quietly at home."

"As if wild horses could keep me away from what looked like it would be the first decent story base I've had in weeks. Or trained domestic horses, since that's what we were after."

The news of Shizuru's return to practice and her involvement in the solution of the Adair murder had splashed her name all over the papers, and when a dramatic criminal case had come on its heels, it was not long before the involved parties had come to her door requesting aid. She'd tried to demur for my sake, but I could tell that she was aching to tackle the matter. Since there was nothing wrong with my legs, I'd insisted that my shoulder could heal as well in the country as in London. The end result had been perfect: Shizuru had savored the case to its conclusion, the client was happy, my shoulder was none the worse for wear, I had a new story, and our bank account (Our! Now that was a change in and of itself for me to get used to.) had gained some much-needed relief from the grateful stable-owner's fee.

That was rather a nice turn of events, since the Adair case, while full of emotional rewards, had been quite lacking in material compensation. Under the circumstances, I hadn't even sent Armitage the bill I'd threatened her with, so I'd been taken aback when she paid it anyway at my standard rate for a day's work. The Countess of Maynooth had written a handsome letter of apology. The more sordid details had been kept out of the papers, but Armitage had been obliged to deliver the plain truth as she knew it to the family, and Adair's mother had been forced to accept the kind of man her younger son had been.

I'd accepted the apology, as I have something of a soft spot for parents who love and want to protect their children—admittedly, an easier stance to take after she'd admitted she was wrong and wasn't spitting insults in my face. Besides, the Countess had managed to lose two children at once, as the single paragraph in the society column about Lady Hilda Adair "convalescing in the country following the tragedy of her brother's slaying" was apparently shorthand for "she requires a keeper after her complete mental breakdown." I had some suspicions about the causes for that, none of which I liked to think about for too long.

Nonetheless, I was glad to leave it all behind me. I'd never been able to properly separate the past from the present before, but now things were different. Now all my past sorrows had been wrapped up, maybe not neatly and prettily in a Christmas-paper package, but at least so that I owed them no further obligation. I didn't know what would happen with Shizuru and I going forward, but as long as I'd gone and found myself in a fairy tale, the least I could do was to try for happily-ever-after.

"Natsuki, is something wrong?"

"What? No? Why?" I babbled, jolted out of my reverie.

"You were sitting there quietly for several minutes, staring off without really looking at anything, and you had the strangest little smile on your face."

I chuckled.

"It's nothing much, really."

Shizuru pouted.

"You won't tell me? Ikezu."

"Calling me a meanie isn't going to help, you know."

"I'm supposed to be absolutely honest with my lover, though, aren't I?"

I gave up and laughed.

"I just can't win against you, can I?"

She smiled back, then leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

"For a lesson well learned."

I turned to face her.

"Though, Shizuru, there's still a lesson you seem to still be working on."

She blinked in surprise.

"What is that?"

I slipped my good arm around her waist and pulled her against me, capturing her lips with my own, kissing her warmly and firmly.

"That is how you reward your sweetheart with a kiss."

Amazingly, it was her cheeks that took on a faint blush.

"I...see. I shall have to pay close attention to this lesson in the future."

"It's elementary, my dear Shizuru."

~X X X~

A/N: I'm sure most of you instantly recognized the story Natsuki is dictating to Nao as being "Silver Blaze." (If you didn't recognize it, please note that it's in the public domain and available on the Internet—you're only a quick Google away from reading one of the classic mystery stories.) Nao's comments about the inaccuracy of the horse-racing scenes, by the way, are quite true; Conan Doyle definitely Did Not Do The Research in this matter.

Nao's "real" last name (St. Vlas) obviously comes from the name of Yukariko's CHILD (which is just "Vulas" in the official release...), but in this context—as would have been revealed in "You Know My Methods, Natsuki," it's the name of the church orphanage where she was left.

Finally, I'd like to thank all of you, the readers, who have stayed with me through the course of this project. I've had a lot of fun working on this braided novel and its one-shots, and I hope that you yourselves have enjoyed it as well. I'd especially like to thank those of you who have been consistent reviewers, as I've never before written anything which so consistently received intelligent, analytical feedback, and in which so many people were able to identify and pick up on the subtler hints, allusions and foreshadowing that I was trying to give along the way. Thank you all so much; you're completely awesome! Several other reviewers have given me the greatest compliment I can imagine; as I've tried to say in the replies to such reviews, those of you who have read these stories and decided because of them to go try out the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle have flattered me beyond measure. Again, thank you all very much for reading, and I hope to see you again!