Actions

Work Header

From the Mixed-up Files of Aiba Masaki, (Amateur) Detective

Chapter Text

As our unexpected guest bit out the words “Lady Riisa Kazunari” with her disdain for my accusation quite evident, Holmes decided to do his part to improve the situation by hissing at me ferociously from the sofa and leaping—claws out—to attach himself to my (Italian) leather shoes. Luckily, Aiba was at my side in a moment, snatching the beast up with a muttered "Bad kitty!" before falling into a deep bow before our guest, Holmes still struggling in his arms. “My dear lady, of course. Please excuse my companion, I assure you his mistake is one of a most understandable though improbable nature. Please, take a seat. I am so happy to see your ladyship looking so well,” he continued after Her Ladyship had settled herself gingerly on the orange monster of a sofa and we had re-seated ourselves.

My head was positively boiling over with confusion, not only from the sudden entrance of a lady whom—to borrow from Dr. Sigmund Freud—could most appropriately be described as the döppelganger of my hat thief, but also from the sudden attack by Holmes, and by Aiba’s apparent familiarity with a member of the peerage. Aiba was currently petting Holmes so firmly that the unhappy animal’s head looked in danger of being crushed, and the cat and Lady Riisa wore almost identical expressions of displeasure.

“I can assure you, Aiba, that I am far from well. Surely your handsome valet informed you that I am in considerable distress?”

“Yes, my lady. Be assured that I am only too anxious to assist you.” I suspect that Aiba was attempting to look simultaneously concerned and trustworthy, but I am afraid that my friend only looked merely giddy at the prospect of a mystery in need of his powers of deduction.

Her Ladyship seemed to share some of my own doubts, as her perfect posture sagged and she began removing her gloves with a sigh. “What I have to tell you, sir, is of an exceedingly private nature…and I am afraid I have not been introduced…?” Her Ladyship looked askance at me with one exquisitely raised bow. Unfortunately, I was glowering under her scrutiny, still unable to resolve to my satisfaction the matter of her resemblance to the thief.

“Of course!” Aiba cried, startling Holmes out of his lap (luckily, the beast merely sulked over to the sofa and began quietly shredding Lady Riisa’s hem). “Forgive me, your lady. This is my new tenant and professional consultant, Dr. Matsumoto Jun, a distinguished physician and lately a heroic soldier among her Majesty’s forces in the Sudan. I would trust him with my life, and he can certainly assist your ladyship in resolving any difficulty you may have encountered.”

The reader will probably sympathize with my shock and (frankly) horror at being introduced as Aiba’s “professional consultant,” as well as my dismay at being incorrectly named as one of her Majesty’s soldiers. “I’m afraid my friend has been too hasty with his praise, my ladyship, I….”

It was then, of course, that Watson reappeared from the kitchen where he enjoyed conversing with Ohno. The horrible bird was apparently under the delusion that my head would make an excellent nesting spot. The rest of my response was lost under Aiba’s shushing, the parrot’s squawking, and Lady Riisa’s (rather rude, I might note) peals of laughter.

By the time Aiba had secured Watson back in his cage, Her Ladyship was collapsed on the sofa in a most undignified manner, wiping tears of amusement from her eyes. Now, her gaze sparkled with mirth as she addressed us. “Well, your new tenant is certainly popular, isn’t he? He does seem to have the look of a doctor, if a rather dangerous animal magnetism, so I shall trust your judgment in this case, Aiba. Indeed, I am rather relieved to find that you have acquired some assistance in your new pursuit.”

Apparently, Aiba’s acquaintance with Lady Riisa was a long-standing one; I decided to let the misunderstanding stand in the interest of learning more about this strange relationship. In any case, before I could speak, Ohno appeared seemingly out of nowhere at Her Ladyship’s side, offering a cup of aromatic tea, “Would your ladyship care for tea?” he inquired smoothly.

Her Ladyship accepted the cup with a gracious nod in the direction of the valet, “I’m pleased that at least one of your tenants, Aiba, has some knowledge of how to treat a lady.”

To have one’s manners compared unfavorably to those of a nose-picking valet is really more than a gentleman can stand for, but before I could flare up, Aiba cut in with equal smoothness, “Be assured, my lady, that the doctor is usually a paragon of gentlemanly behavior. His unfortunate mistake has its origin in your own brother’s outrageous behavior. I witnessed it myself last night—the poor doctor fell victim to one of your brother’s pranks and had his top hat stolen by Nino outside the Houses.”

So the low thief was in reality a peer of the realm! I was astonished by such treachery (though pleased by my ability to detect a note of falsehood in his assumed cockney accent). Lady Riisa’s expression grew anxious as Aiba recounted the tale, and she was nearly on the edge of her seat by its end, immediately demanding, “You have seen my brother? You saw Nino?”

“Last evening, your ladyship.”

“Evening? Not at night?”

“No your ladyship, it must have been half past six when I last saw Nino.”

Lady Riisa flopped back on to the sofa with another sigh, reaching for her teacup. “That is of no help then,” she muttered grumpily, kicking her right heel against the sofa leg in a very unladylike manner.

Aiba leaned forward, his voice low, and in a moment all pretense between them seemed to disappear. “What is it, Riisa? What trouble are you in? Or is it Nino again?”

Her face assumed a serious expression. “I am in trouble, Aiba. Last night, I lost the most precious jewel in my family’s collection.” She took another sip of her tea. “And I believe I may have lost my brother as well.” She took another tiny sip from the cup.

I watched anxiously for the detective’s reaction to this interesting news; however, he seemed to be frozen to the spot, his face assuming a look I would usually diagnose as a symptom of constipation. “Excuse me for a moment, your ladyship,” he finally managed, “but I must consult with my assistant in the hall for a few minutes. Pardon me.”

Her ladyship looked as stunned as I felt as Aiba grabbed my hand, pulling me from the room, down the short hallway and into the kitchen, where Ohno sat, engaged in drawing patterns in the flour spread out on the table. Aiba ignored his presence completely.

“My dear Jun,” Aiba whispered, grabbing my shoulders, his face the picture of anxiety, “my dear Jun, this is a mystery. A real one. A missing jewel. You will agree that the possibilities for investigation are endless. I have dreamt of this moment almost since the start of my career…yet now…” he directed his gaze away from my befuddled expression, “now I fear that I may bungle the case.” Dropping his hands from my shoulders suddenly, as though just noting their position, he rubbed at his elbow with a light laugh, assuming a smile that failed to reach his eyes, “I am sorry to bother you, my dear fellow. But you may have noted…you may have noted that I’m actually a bit clumsy occasionally…and…I do have my doubts…not always, you know, but sometimes…I have my doubts about my deductive reasoning…”

My first thought was that he did well to doubt his abilities. My second thought was to wonder why in the world he was seeking my opinion on the matter. But I found myself replying thoughtlessly to his appeal, seizing his shoulders and giving him a firm shake, “Come man. None of this. Pull yourself together.” Aiba’s gaze met mine as his mouth fell open, his utter astonishment evident, “Did you not read me and my entire history as easily as a railway novel at the club last night? Did you not rescue my top hat from the most desperate villainy? Have you not read A Study in Scarlett fifty times over? You know what to do, detective, only you must stop this dithering and think. Come, what would the great Holmes do in such a situation?”

As I spoke, Aiba’s mouth gradually closed and his face assumed a thoughtful expression. Then his eyes began to glow with excitement, “He would ask the client to explain the details of the case. He would question them. He would inquire as to why they sought out his help. Then he would ponder and take action.” By the end of his reflections, Aiba’s cheerful smile had returned, and this time his eyes gave truthful evidence of his happiness. As weak as I was to encourage his foolish delusions of a life as an amateur detective, the reader will have to forgive me when I state that, at that moment, I thought a single smile of Aiba’s worth a hundred of Lady Riisa’s lost gems (or lost brothers).

“Good.” I nodded. “An excellent plan. Then let us return to her ladyship.” Closing our interview with a companionable handshake, we made haste to hear Her Ladyship’s tale.

 

*

 

“The jewel was given to me by my uncle, an officer who served in India during the Mutiny. It is a Hindu jewel, taken from a temple. It is a large diamond and tremendously heavy, nearly sixty carats. It is set in a necklace but can hardly be worn except on the most special occasions. Since receiving it on my twenty-first birthday, I have kept it in the safe in my brother’s, Nino’s, room.”

“Why do you keep it in your brother’s safe, my lady?”

“He has the strongest and safest one in the house, and as no one but himself possesses the combination, I can always be assured of its safety. I trust him implicitly, of course. He is hardly at home nowadays, it is true, but even that only renders the jewel safer, I thought.”

“So how did you discover it missing from the safe?”

“We had the most extraordinary evening at home last night. Nino has not been home for several weeks, but he suddenly appeared at the door around eleven—he said he had been at the opera, if I recall.”

“How was he dressed?” I interjected.

Her Ladyship looked at me wonderingly. “Why, in the attire of a gentlemen, of course, sir,” she responded coolly.

“But can you be more specific? Did he wear a top hat, for example?”

Her Ladyship and Aiba exchanged a look, and I felt rather offended by Aiba’s apologetic half-smile directed towards Her Ladyship. “When I saw him, he wore evening dress, shoes, and a silk top hat. There was a handkerchief in his pocket. That is all I can recall,” she offered icily. I nodded sulkily in response.

“Ahem,” she delivered a quite pathetic imitation of a cough, “To continue. I was in the midst of a large evening party when I was called to the backdoor. The house was filled with important guests, most of them his colleagues from the House of Lords, as well as several MPs.”

I choked on my tea, drawing out another hiss from Holmes and some excited flapping from Watson in the corner. “The House of Lords? Your brother serves in parliament?” I gasped, wiping my mouth as Aiba pounded my back.

Her Ladyship appeared ready to scream with frustration. “I can only withstand so many slights on the reputation of my family, sir. I am shocked to meet with someone so ill-informed of our empire’s political system, not to mention its system of peerage. Yes, my brother, Lord Ninomiya Kazunari, naturally attends the House of Lords.”

“Please forgive him, my lady,” Aiba hurried to apologize, “he’s been in Africa, you know. No English papers there!” Both Lady Riisa and I turned to him with a glare at his blatant falsehood.

“Er…yes…continuing…did he give any explanation for his sudden appearance?”

“He merely said that he was tired and would like to stop at home that night. It was not unusual. I asked him if he would like to join us, but he declined, saying he was coming down with a cold and would take himself to bed immediately. He requested that I not inform anyone of his presence. I am used to my brother’s eccentric comings-and-goings by now, Aiba,” she slipped into familiarity as she continued her tale, “The party continued, and most of our guests left, with the exception of a few who were planning to stay the night, including my fiancée, Lord Akanishi. We all went to bed around two in the morning, I think. I passed a peaceful night. In the morning, a little before lunch, I tried the door to my brother’s chamber, hoping to find him in, as I wished to wear my necklace this evening and needed him to remove it from the safe. The door was locked, so I was sure he was still inside.”

“Why would you think that, my lady?”

“Nino always keeps the door to his chamber locked quite securely—another of his eccentricities, and another reason why I believed the necklace would be safe in his possession. The door only locks from the inside, and he has the only key, so if the door is locked, I assume that he must be inside.”

“And what time was that?” Aiba interrupted again.

“Eleven, I should think. But no matter how persistently I knocked, he would not respond. I questioned the servants and the footmen, and none of them had seen him leave the house that morning. I started to grow quite frantic at the thought that he might have taken ill in the night—you know he is extremely prone to sickness, Aiba. Feeling that something was wrong, I told Jin—excuse me, Lord Akanishi—of my troubles, and he proposed that we break down the door. While my fiancée and I watched, two footman were able to break through. But my brother was not inside. The safe was open, and the necklace gone. A window was open, however.”

“So it is a locked-room mystery,” a mild voice observed out of nowhere, making Lady Riisa nearly jump out of her seat as we all turned to gape open-mouthed at Ohno’s sudden apparition beside the sofa with a tray of lavender cookies.

“And what did you think upon encountering such a scene, my lady?” Aiba inquired gently after a look of astonishment in his valet’s direction.

Lady Riisa’s face assumed a fretful pallor as she responded quietly, “I thought someone had entered through the window, threatened my brother in order to force him to open the safe, and then absconded with the jewel and my brother.”

“And what did the police think, my lady?” Aiba inquired even more gently.

Lady Riisa stiffened. “That my brother had stolen the jewel himself and fled out the window.”

“Why did they think that, Riisa?”

“Because the windows to his room—all the house windows—also lock and open only from the inside, and none of the glass was broken or removed. They also said it would be next to impossible for a man to carry another man against his will down the small drainpipe or down a rope—his room is on the fourth story. They also helpfully pointed out that only my brother is known to possess the key to his room—which could not be found after a search of the house and the guest’s possessions—and only he possesses the combination to his safe,” she concluded softly, looking at her lavender cookie with a listless expression before dropping it morosely into her tea and setting the cup down.

“But why would your brother steal his own family’s diamond?” I inquired, thinking that the only possible solution was that her brother—this “Nino”—possessed some sort of mania that compelled him to a life of theft.

Lady Riisa scowled. “My brother’s inherited baronetcy, doctor, is what I believe is popularly known as “land rich and cash poor.” My father wasted much of our family’s ready cash, and my brother appears to be no different, “racking up”—in the colorful expression of the police inspector—extensive debts that he has little chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. I believe that absurd inspector from Scotland Yard suspected a financial motive,” she finished dryly.

I privately felt the police inspector’s suspicion a rather good one. I was impressed by Aiba’s honest inquiry, “And why would you consult me, Riisa? You know I have little…or rather, no…experience with a case of such importance.”

Riisa poked at the lavender cookie in her tea for a few moments before letting out something between a huff and a sigh, banging her feet against the sofa again and sending Holmes scurrying out from under her dress. “The reason I have visited your absurd establishment and allowed your beastly cat to tear up the skirt of my second-best evening dress is because…I think you are the only detective in London who would believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that my brother is not the thief.”

“I am confused, my lady,” I could not resist interrupting, “Do you wish the detective to find your jewel, or to find your brother?”

Lady Riisa responded with a small smile (her first), “Whichever comes first. I am no detective, but I suspect that one might lead to the other.”

Aiba rose to his feet and assumed a position of—if the reader will pardon the expression—excessive uprightness before the fire. “If that is the case, my dear lady, then you have most certainly come to the right detective.”

“Amateur detective,” I muttered into my teacup.

Aiba made a great sweep of his hand, a gesture Holmes, her Ladyship, Watson, and I followed with curiosity. “I hereby pledge my absolute faith in your brother,” he intoned in a booming voice before dropping into a low bow, “and I declare myself at your ladyship’s service. I shall not rest until I have recovered both your ladyship’s jewel and your house’s most precious “jewel,” Lord Kazunari.”

How to describe to the reader my strangely commingled emotions of admiration and frustration upon witnessing such a display? Suffice it to say, that recently-named physical compulsion—the gag reflex—was undoubtedly activated by the amateur detective’s actions.

However, my friend made a rather better show of it after resuming his seat, pulling out a small green cloth notebook and pencil from his jacket and firing a round of questions at her ladyship.

“Your ladyship reported that she only wears her jewel on special occasions. Why did you think to wear it tonight?”

“My fiancée had requested that I wear it to supper, as we would finally be announcing our engagement to our friends.”

Aiba began scrawling rapidly. “And is your ladyship aware of any other items missing from the safe?”

“I’ve no idea what he keeps in the safe—I’d never seen its inside until this morning.”

“Was anything else missing from the room?”

Riisa shook her head again. “The police searched it thoroughly, but no, nothing that I am aware of. But I hardly know what he might have kept in there. His valet had no idea either. And none of his servants possesses a key,” she added quickly, anticipating Aiba’s next question.

“What was the appearance of the room when you opened the door? Signs of force, or of a scuffle? Were his things in order?”

“It was in perfect order. His books were lined up on the shelf, and his bed was made. His toilet articles were on the stand. There was no sign of disturbance except for the open safe and window. One would hardly think he had been there that night at all.”

Aiba made an ambiguous sort of “hmpgh” noise as he continued to scribble before tearing a page from his notebook, “If your ladyship would be so kind as to provide me with the names of every individual—both servant and guest—present in your house last night and today.”

Lady Riisa complied readily with his request, and I must confess that I felt rather impressed by my friend’s actions—I felt highly-pleased, almost absurdly relieved—by the seeming rationality of his course of his action. However, the detective’s futile attempts to wink at me while the lady wrote renewed my sense of unease.

Lady Riisa passed back the paper and made a discreet movement toward her purse, “And I shall of course be glad to pay whatever rate you usually…”

“My dear Riisa!” Aiba cried, flushing and looking painfully embarrassed, “I could not. To help a friend, you know. And I only practice the detecting arts in an amateur capacity…”

It was then that I heard the most frightful sneeze I have ever encountered in my entire career as a medical practitioner. Holmes hissed and Watson banged against his cage in a flutter as the entire room attempted to recover from Ohno’s loud “ACHWOOOHGNRRHUMPGH.”

“Sir,” Ohno sniffled calmly, “may I address you on a matter of immediate importance in the kitchen?”

I believe we were all so dazed by the sudden explosion that Aiba simply wondered out of the room in his valet’s wake as Her Ladyship and I stared at each other in shock.

Aiba returned a few minutes later, his face even more flushed as he stuttered, “If your ladyship would be so kind, anything you would like to pay…” there was a sniffle from the corner of the room, where Ohno had resumed his post after slipping in behind Aiba, “that is…if you would be so good as to offer…only if it is acceptable…" another sniffle from the corner, "fifty pounds,” Aiba finished in a miserable whisper.

“I am glad that someone seems to think of your housekeeping,” Lady Riisa observed crisply with a glance at the valet as she passed Aiba the notes. “Doctor,” she turned towards me with an air of command, “if you would be so kind.”

Aiba looked as baffled as I felt by Lady Riisa’s sudden request, but I readily took up my walking stick and offered her my arm, escorting her slowly out of the room and down the staircase. I believe her footsteps were dragging more than my own—the purpose of her request only became transparent when we reached the entryway and she hissed as I helped her on with her wrap, “You do not trust me. Or my brother. Do you, doctor?”

I knew it would be useless to attempt to deceive so perceptive a woman. “Not your brother, my lady.”

“But you will assist Aiba in this case?”

“Yes. And I can assure your ladyship that I would be as delighted as yourself if his investigation should prove successful. I will do everything in my power to assist him,” I confessed, rather shocked to realize as I spoke the words that they were perfectly true; I suddenly recognized that I had, indeed, already accepted the post of Aiba’s assistant. Aiba had spoken to me of intuition—I believe that, unbeknownst to my concious mind, my spirit had resolved to be of service to Aiba almost from the first moments of our meeting.

Her Ladyship examined me speculatively. “I am happy to hear it,” she finally offered in a measured tone.

I was leading her into the carriage when a final inquiry burst from me, “Your ladyship, are you truly certain that you wish Aiba to investigate this disappearance? Have you not essentially admitted that you chose him because he was uniquely capable of ignoring the most rational explanation of the matter?”

Lady Riisa turned to me with a smile. “Aiba once found something for me in the past. It is how he became acquainted with my family. He rescued my darling Flush from a den of dog thieves when he--Aiba, I mean--was only six years old.”

It was surprisingly easy to imagine Aiba performing such an action, even as a child.

I returned to the room to find Aiba pacing about restlessly. “There you are my dear fellow! Finally! Hurry up and get your coat on man, we make for Covent Garden, with not a moment to lose.”

“Covent Garden?” I exclaimed in some consternation as Aiba began trying to force me into my coat.

“Of course. If there is one person in London who might have some knowledge of Nino’s whereabouts, then it is Madame Becky at the Circus.” Aiba was mis-buttoning my overcoat when Ohno slipped the (now greatly reduced, I observed) stack of pound notes from Lady Riisa into Aiba’s coat pocket.

“Ohno, keep the home fire burning. Come Jun,” he offered his arm with a dazzling smile, “the night is young, and the game’s afoot!” Swallowing the pride that rose as a painful lump in my throat, I relented and took the detective’s arm. The pressure of his arm against my own was strange but not unpleasant. I was surprised by the solid strength of his arm and shoulder, as well as by the light, almost casual way he steered me towards the door, not stopping his chatter for a instant. His side was warm where it pressed against mine.

We were out the front door when Aiba gave a small cry of alarm. “My dear Jun, I’ve forgotten my hat! Just one more moment…”

“The night waits for no man!” I shouted after him, assuming a tone of irritation as he began scrambling back up the steps.

“But my hat always waits for me!” he returned over his shoulder. I hid my smile in the collar of my overcoat.