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

Chapter Text

It had been some years since I had strolled down a London street with my arm intertwined with another gentlemen’s. I could only recall a few drunken escapades at Oxford that had ended with my being dragged home in the early dawn light by a companion. And it had been even longer since I had consented to walk beside someone so unfashionably attired—while I approved of my friend’s stylish if eccentric manner of dress, I could not approve of a deerstalker worn in the middle of late autumn in the city. As I was quick to inform Aiba, a deerstalker should only be worn on the grounds of a country estate. During a hunting party. As I might have expected, Aiba was undeterred.

“But look at the close knit earflaps, my dear fellow! Admirable invention for keeping one’s ears warm and dry on a chilly autumn night.” I did my best to repress the sensations of approval creeping over me as I watched Aiba tugging at his earflaps, the corners of his dark eyes crinkling as he smiled. Merely because I had accepted my friend’s delusion that he was a detective did not mean that I could accept all his eccentricities. I was musing to myself that there are certain standards of sartorial life that simply must be maintained when I suddenly felt Aiba’s hand against my own ear. “Are you sufficiently warm, doctor?” he questioned, lightly dragging his fingers down the outer shell of my ear.

My next action was pure reflex; I had no conscious intention of harming the detective, but I nearly jumped out of my overcoat at the touch, and my walking stick was slammed against his kneecap. “Aiba! I beg your pardon!” I cried as he fell to the sidewalk, clutching his knee with a pained expression. “Forgive me…ever since I was a child…my ears…I cannot have…touched…” I trailed off, alarmed at the tears leaking from the corners of the detective’s eyes. I crouched beside him, “May I assist you?” I queried, reaching for his knee.

To my surprise, Aiba was on his feet just as my fingertips grazed his knee, biting on his lower lip as he choked out the next words, “No need…so sorry…I’m an…idiot…” he finished with a sigh, and for an instant, I glimpsed something of the sadness I’d observed in his eyes when he’d doubted his ability to solve the case. But in the next moment, the detective had reassumed his bright smile, and his eyes were upturned pleasantly once more. My heart sped as he helped me to my feet.

The reader will have to excuse these inconsequential details—I find that, in writing the narrative of our adventure, I cannot stop myself from including those small incidents and observations that shaped my view and opinion of the detective; indeed, I find that my pen runs away from me, eager to describe nearly every moment of our acquaintance. And I find—particularly in light of recent events—that my heart aches strangely as I reflect upon these past sensations.

But I must leave these melancholy thoughts and continue with my narrative, trusting to some future editor—perhaps even Ohno—to excise what is not useful from this account.

I broke the tense silence that had settled between us by inquiring as to the identity of the “Madame Becky” who my friend believed would lead us to the elusive Lord Kazunari. Aiba’s expression relaxed at the mention of the case. “She is the star performer at The Circus on Drury Lane…”

“A circus performer?” I interrupted curiously, bemused as to how a Lord might encounter such a woman.

Aiba smiled, “No, not the circus. The Circus, the notorious theater. A bit after your time, I suppose, but the place is the sensation of Covent Garden. Mostly due to Madame Becky’s influence. Though I’ve never quite understood the appeal. More sharp-tongued than Riisa, if you can imagine,” he shivered. I smiled at the thought of Aiba suffering under the witticisms of an even more sharp-tongued lady.

“She is Lord Kazunari’s mistress?” I ventured.

Aiba frowned thoughtfully as we pushed our way through the increasingly busy sidewalk traffic near the theatre district. “Perhaps. I cannot say. This is in the strictest confidence, of course, but I have known Nino to prefer men.”

I must admit that my heart thudded a bit at Aiba’s relatively casual delivery of this observation; I wondered what my friend’s personal opinion of such an inclination was, but I found myself unable to question him further.

Aiba continued easily, “But I do know them to be close friends. I have even seen letters addressed to Nino by Madame Becky. When he takes to the town at night, he is sure to head to The Circus, and I have generally found her an excellent source of information on his whereabouts. She is one of the few in London—besides myself—who is aware of Nino’s proclivities.”

“You refer to his dalliances with other…gentlemen?” I replied quietly, cursing myself for the flush that overcame me as I spoke the last word.

Aiba dropped his own voice as he replied. We were stepping from the curb to cross the street, and Aiba reached out—as though automatically—to lightly grasp my elbow, steering me across the muddied ruts of the thoroughfare. I instinctively chafed at the action, but he seemed not to notice as he simply tightened his grasp and continued to guide me. “No, I refer to another proclivity of my friend. Nino is a devotée of what I have heard popularly referred to as “slumming”—he disguises himself as a tramp and frequents the very worst neighborhoods of the city, making acquaintances and getting into scrapes.”

I was appalled by the revelation. I have spent some time (in a professional capacity) in the slums of London, and the misery I have seen there hardly seems a fit object of entertainment or adventure for a wealthy gentlemen. “Really,” I replied coldly, “a Lord of the realm dresses himself as a scamp so that he may molest honest, decent, appropriately-dressed gentlemen on the street, and so that he may have his fun among the poorest of our city?” I was now even more convinced that the Lord had absconded with his unfortunate sister’s diamond, perhaps to pay off one of his ill-gotten debts or for some other nefarious purpose.

Aiba was striding quickly ahead of me as we spoke, smiling charmingly at all passerby while still managing to swing his coat about enough to clear a path through the swarming flower girls and brightly-painted young prostitutes of both sexes tugging at us, as well as pushing the richly-dressed pleasure seekers to the side with a strong arm. “Nino is of an inscrutable character, but I believe him to be a very good-hearted man in spite of his pranks. He has told me that he takes to the streets to investigate the truth of life in our city, an aim that, as a pursuer of truth, I must sympathize with.”

I still held my doubts, but from the light in Aiba’s eyes, I recognized his genuine faith in his friend—whether Aiba was indeed an accurate judge of character, however, I was still uncertain of. We are too apt, I find, to have a high opinion of the judgment of those who profess a liking for ourselves, and I was determined to avoid this weakness in my appraisal of Aiba’s abilities.

Passing the gleaming, multicolored lights and posters that announced the box office of The Circus, I found myself tugged by Aiba down a side-alley, and our journey ended before what I guessed to be a stage door.

Aiba turned towards me, rubbing his palms together excitedly. “Yes, yes, and now our infiltration begins!” he muttered, eyes gleaming in a manner that sent a shiver of warning down my spine. I had imagined a knock on the door and a friendly cup of tea with Madame Becky—certainly not anything resembling an “infiltration.”

“Detective…” I began in a warning tone as he moved towards me.

Aiba held his hands up in what I believe he imagined a reassuring manner. “Doctor…please do not be alarmed…just allow me to straighten…” he reached carefully for my top hat, tilting it carefully at a rakish angle across my forehead. While I watched in alarm, he scooped up a garish bouquet left outside the theater door, tearing out the address card without a second glance and tossing it underfoot. He delivered the bouquet into my arms. “There,” he surveyed me triumphantly, “irresistible.”

“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow, detective,” I growled, already filled with an uneasy premonition of what my role in this “infiltration” would be.

“Elementary, my dear Jun,” he replied excitedly. I groaned, certain that he had been waiting to deliver those words since the beginning of our acquaintance. “I,” he pointed to himself, “have been banned from entering the theater by Madame Becky. But you,” he gestured towards me, “are precisely the sort of gentlemen caller that Becky would have swept into her dressing room in a moment. Simply be your usual charming self as you request an interview with her, and you will undoubtedly have the ladies tripping over themselves to usher you through.”

A more idiotic and unlikely plan I had never come across, even among the many disastrous actions taken by the British forces that I had witnessed in the Sudanese expedition. “And you? How will you manage to reach her dressing room?”

Aiba lifted the collar of his greatcoat so that it covered much of his chin and mouth and tugged his absurd cap even further down his head. “I shall play the role of your humble valet!” he announced. “See, I have studied Ohno closely to note the characteristic manners and behaviors of a valet.”

I slapped away Aiba’s finger as it began inching towards his nose. “And why would Becky not simply throw you out of her dressing room the moment she recognizes you?”

“Becky is a good egg, really,” he replied dismissively as he began dragging me towards the door. “She only says those things to amuse herself, I’m certain she’ll be naturally delighted to encounter an old friend. Water under the bridge and all that.”

It occurred to me that I had not even thought to ask why Aiba had been banned from The Circus—indeed, the notion of Aiba being banned seemed the most self-evident and sensible of the many revelations I had been a party to this evening. “And why were you banned from theatre, detective? What could you have done to inspire such feminine wrath?”

Aiba shrugged, his iron grip upon my elbow preventing my escape as I realized that our “infiltration” was already underway. “I stepped on the hem of her costume as she was ascending in a harness for the show’s grand finale. Rather more of the costume tore away than should have been possible. Those long trains are a nuisance, you know, and the old girl ended up hanging above the stage in nothing but her lace, to put it delicately. Such flimsy fabrics are certainly a hazard for the poor females,” he tsked, straightening his hat before rapping smartly at the door.

 

*

 

The speed with which I was delivered to Madame Becky’s dressing room was astonishing; I had been of half a mind that Aiba’s plan would fail altogether, or that he would quickly be recognized by one of the half-dressed young women running about frantically backstage, gathering up their gauzy white gowns and elbowing one another for mirror space as they applied stage paint. My female guide did cast a suspicious glance back at my “valet” (who hunched himself pathetically inside his coat in response). “A simpleton,” I stage whispered, “I employ him as a favor to my old nursemaid, you understand,” I offered with a smile.

The woman entered the dressing room and, after a mere minute of consultation, I was ushered inside, the maid assiduously blocking Aiba’s entrance.

Inside the colorful room, the gaslights were blazing, and I was overwhelmed by the fragrance of the bouquets that covered every available surface. I experienced a moment of pure panic of the sort I had not felt since the Sudan. All panic, however, was soon lost in admiration as I caught my first sight of the Madame.

She turned towards me with a blindingly white smile, her remarkable blue-green eyes shining in the artificial light. Her dark hair was piled atop her head and festooned with a garland of white flowers, and she wore a shimmering pink gown of the most flimsy material. To write the truth, I had expected a painted harlot, but she was enchantingly lovely, and I found myself hypnotized by the gaze of her sea-colored eyes.

Her gaze flickered over my person. She stood and approached me with a feline grace. “I am so pleased,” she murmured, stretching out a white hand for my lips. I was moving my lips towards her hand when she suddenly began to tremble strangely—she seemed to be falling but trying to regain her balance, letting out a most unladylike “Gahhh!” as she began to collapse, her gown apparently caught in her high-heeled shoes.

Being a gentlemen, I made haste to assist her, catching her in time to prevent her from landing on the floor. But unfortunately not preventing her head from making contact with a particularly large potted plant. “Ugggnnn!” she screamed as she collapsed atop me.

Instantly, Aiba was inside the dressing room, and, to my great astonishment, the lady was quite unceremoniously lifted from me and dropped into her chair (still moaning pathetically) while a red-faced and panting Aiba quickly returned to crouch at my side, seizing my face between his hands, “My dear Jun!” he cried, eyeing my face anxiously, “Are you hurt? What has this dreadful woman done to you?”

“I am well, Aiba, I am well,” I struggled to release myself from his grip while reassuring him. “I am not injured,” I nearly shouted, “but I must attend to this young lady. She has had a bad fall.” The detective seemed to accept my explanation, slowly releasing me and allowing me to return to Madame Becky’s side. Madame Becky, for her part, was holding a hand to a cut on her forehead while sending a venomous glare in my companion’s direction.

“You,” she whispered. “I might have known,” she continued, beginning to raise her beautiful voice to an alarming pitch.

“Please Madame,” I interrupted, “I am a physician, allow me to ascertain whether your injury is serious.”

She looked up at me suspiciously, kicking off her high-heeled shoes at the same moment, “Are you truly a doctor? Not simply some stage actor hired by this madman?” she gestured toward Aiba with a tilt of her head. I could hardly respond—the accusation of being a stage actor left me breathless with alarm.

“I swear it Becky,” Aiba offered eagerly, his voice concerned as he approached. I had no doubt that my friend was already regretting his rudeness. “Please Becky, accept my sincere apologies. My behavior was unpardonable. At least accept Dr. Matsumoto’s assistance.”

Apparently, Madame Becky trusted Aiba’s word in spite of his recent deception, as she immediately turned her face up for my scrutiny, murmuring, “Then please, examine me thoroughly, Dr. Matsumoto.” (I may have heard something resembling a snort from Aiba in response).

As I examined the scratch and ascertained that she was not suffering from any disturbance of mind or vision, Madame Becky glanced warily towards my friend before beginning with a sigh, “And to what do I owe the misfortune of this visit, Monsieur Amateur?”

“I require knowledge of Nino’s whereabouts,” Aiba offered immediately. I could not suppress a groan—had the man no notion of cultivating a witness to reveal the desired information?

Madame Becky pouted her lovely mouth, hissing softly as I carefully cleaned and bandaged her scratch with supplies produced from my coat pocket. “And why do you require knowledge of our Lord Nino’s whereabouts?” she sing-songed in reply.

I was relieved that Aiba had the sense not to mention who had employed him to locate Nino. “I have essential news that must be conveyed to him, Madame. News that can hardly wait another hour.” Madame Becky sent me a sweet smile before narrowing her eyes in Aiba’s direction. I glanced toward my friend to find him struggling to return her glare, his lower lip twitching as he attempted to maintain an expression of displeasure.

The sight was so ridiculous that I could not help laughing, unable to contain myself in the face of their rather adorable enmity. Luckily, my laughter did not seem to offend Madame Becky but instead to set her at ease; her nose crinkled charmingly as she burst into laughter before turning back to her mirror to begin re-applying her stage make-up, her face even more lovely graced by a natural rather than a seductive smile. Her eyes glinted with mischief as she gazed at us both through the mirror, “I may be able to offer you some guidance on Nino’s whereabouts, Amateur Detective, but only if you will be so kind as to introduce me properly to this gallant young physician.”

I hastened to introduce myself formally to the actress, and after a few minutes of (I must admit) rather flirtations chatter about my recent return to London, and my new position as (amateur) assistant to the detective, Madame Becky had completed her face, straightened her dress, and assured us teasingly that she would certainly tell us of Nino’s activities, but only if I would do her the favor of placing her feet inside those dreadful heels.

I hesitated, and I observed Aiba hasten towards us to complete the task in my stead. I held up a hand to stop him, however, and set my walking stick aside before carefully lowering myself to the floor, unsurprised by the pain that shot through my right leg at the movement. I could not look at Madame Becky as I carefully placed her small white feet inside her shoes, but I felt her gaze soften as she observed my stiff movements with surprise. She won my friendship by not apologizing.

Instead, she offered a quiet “Thank you, doctor,” before turning to Aiba with a serious expression. “I have hesitated to tell you what I know of Nino because I was concerned that you could not be trusted with this information.” Aiba made a sound of protest, which Madame Becky easily ignored, “I know you would never willingly harm Nino, detective, but I feared you might let some crucial information fall into the wrong hands. However,” she nodded towards me, “I see that you have procured a trustworthy assistant, and you seem to have improved somewhat as a detective if not as a gentlemen” (another noise of protest). There was a knock at the door and a call of “five minutes,” and Madame Becky stood gracefully and began straightening her gown. “Walk with me,” she commanded with a crook of her finger.

After a shared glance of alarm, the detective and I followed her out of the dressing room and into a bewildering forest of ropes and pulleys behind stage. “You,” she pointed towards my companion, “stay at least a stage length away from me and my gown. Doctor,” she smiled, “come and help me fasten my harness.” I offered Aiba a small smile of apology; he was forced to watch sulkily from the wings as I followed her to center stage.

Madame Becky began fastening herself into a corset-like contraption attached to a wire. “Nino came by the theater earlier today,” she murmured in my ear, her words inaudible to all but myself amidst the bustle backstage. “He sent me a message, and we met in the alley beside the stage door. He was dressed in the rags he usually wears slumming, and he said he had little time to speak. He asked me to keep a package safe for him.”

My heart sped at the revelation—surely the package contained the diamond? “He made me swear never to open the package, or to reveal its hiding place. I believe he was in some great trouble—his manner was harassed, and from his insistence on secrecy, I believe he feared for his safety.” Madame Becky fastened the last of the buckles beneath the layers of her gown and raised a hand to test the wire, “Indeed, I am letting you know of our meeting because I fear that his life may be in danger, and perhaps you can help.”

“He is in danger from his creditors?”

Madame Becky smiled grimly, “Yes, but I can assure you that they are no ordinary debts. Nino has laid out enormous sums, but not because he has been gambling or whoring. Nearly every Member of Parliament—whether in the Commons or Lords—owes Nino something, and a few owe him incredible amounts.” Before I could inquire further, Madame Becky raised a hand to dismiss me, “Now go. In precisely one minute, I shall be transformed into the Fairy Queen. I have already confessed more to you than Nino would like, but I find your eyebrows simply too charming to resist. ”

It was with some difficulty that I ignored her remark on the subject of my eyebrows. “And the package?”

She shook her head, “I gave him my word of honor, doctor. And what is a woman without her honor?” The bitterness of her smile surprised me. “Now go.”

“One last question, Madame,” I spoke hurriedly as the young fairies began flying into their positions about me. “Why do you protect the secrets of such a man? How can you defend a Lord who so abuses his position, who observes the lives of the poor for sport?”

Madame Becky shook her head with a serious expression. “For Nino, it is not only sport. He is the only wealthy man I have ever met who understands keenly what poverty means for a woman. The constant fear that if I were not in here,” she nodded towards her darkly glittering surroundings, “I would be out there, selling my body with the other poor flowers. If you’re searching for Nino, you might try St. Giles.” With a mere nod of Madame Becky’s head, I found myself rapidly pushed off stage by the insistent arms of twenty young dancers, finally stumbling back into Aiba’s arms. We watched from the wings as Madame Becky’s serious expression transformed into one of delight, her smile blinding as the curtain lifted and she took to the air.

 

*

 

Outside the stage door, I turned to Aiba to congratulate him on his plan (as well as abuse him soundly for using me as the “bait”), but before I could speak, I was crushed into an embrace. If my memory of last night was to be trusted, this action was becoming a habitual one with the detective. “Thank you, doctor,” he whispered warmly in my ear, “thank you, I could not have succeeded without your charm and quick-thinking.”

Shaking myself out of his embrace, I turned away, grateful that the brisk night air would cool my face. To tell the truth, I have often been complimented on my “charm” since I attained my full height and had my teeth dealt with by a capable dentist, but such praise has never ceased to discomfit me. I know myself to be a fashionable man, but the shyness I possessed during my youth has never quite left me.

Ignoring the detective’s exaggerated thanks, I quickly informed him of the information offered by Madame Becky. “The package must be the diamond,” I concluded.

The detective stroked his chin, his head bent to the side thoughtfully (and rather charmingly). “It seems most likely,” he concurred. My companion’s honest eyes clouded over. “But to believe that his life was in danger—there must be more at work here than mere panic at committing a theft. A theft, which, doctor, I cannot bring myself to believe that Nino would commit.”

“Then let us consider it as a hypothesis. If Nino steals the diamond, and if Nino leaves the package with Madame Becky, then surely he will return to claim it, or perhaps write her instructions as to how to dispose of it. We would do well to observe all of Madame Becky’s movements, and her post. And to place spies in the black market to inform us if the diamond should appear.”

Aiba nodded slowly, then promptly denied my theory, “But we have no proof to support your hypothesis, doctor. There is no reason that the package must contain the diamond. And if Nino’s life is in danger, if he is pursued by some dangerous enemy, then it is my duty as a friend to Nino and Lady Riisa to offer him my help.”

I sighed, feeling a violent headache coming on—I was still unused to the bright lights of the London street; I preferred the glowing stars of the North African sky. “Then we must head to St. Giles,” I concluded glumly, “if, indeed, Madame Becky’s information can even been trusted. If they have plotted something together, she may have lied to us. Nino could be in the theater at this moment.”

“Do you really think so, Jun?” Aiba examined my countenance anxiously.

I paused. For some time. “No,” I finally admitted, “forgive me, dear fellow, I’m simply reluctant to go traipsing about St. Giles in the middle of the night.” I took a steadying breath. “But that is contemptible weakness on my part, and I despise myself for it. Come,” I offered Aiba my arm, “we shall go together and search.”

Aiba took my arm with a smile. It was becoming a habit.

 

*

 

As any London reader of my narrative is no doubt aware, St. Giles is one of the foulest and most miserable of our city’s many slums; for those unfamiliar with London and its poverty, I beg that you will imagine the most desperate mode of existence; the most painful starvation; the most wracking illnesses; and the highest degree of human degradation that you can fathom; believe me, your imagination will inevitably fall short of the misery to be witnessed there. More eloquent (though perhaps, unfortunately few) pens than mine have treated the subject; I beg you will consult those accounts, as to describe it here in detail both saddens me and requires powers of sympathy and description greater than my own.

Suffice it to say that within moments of our entrance into the streets of St. Giles, we had acquired a large parade of sick and ragged young creatures—some entirely naked, many with every bone clearly distinguishable through their poor, blue skins—who followed behind us and climbed about my friend, demanding his name and proceeding to shout “Aiba, Aiba!” as they climbed atop him and generally molested his coat, turned out his pockets, and snatched at his hat (the remaining pound notes from Lady Riisa had been given away within minutes). Other children tugged at my person, but my friend was clearly the favorite; he chuckled merrily and spoke to the children in a cheerful voice, laughingly demanding that they address him as “Mr. Aiba” as he caught them up in his arms and allowed the children to take turns being piggy-backed down the street. I was both astonished and filled with admiration for my friend’s happy manner of strolling through the dark streets; I was already near vomiting from the mere stench of the place.

Leading this strange parade of small skeletons (who, indeed, afforded us some protection from the prostitutes and pickpockets hovering near), the two of us combed the neighborhood’s filthy streets, blind alleyways, and rat-infested dens, looking for any sign of Nino and seeking information from the residents on his whereabouts. Clear information was difficult to acquire; most of our interviews devolved into brief medical consultations, and I acquired a dozen new (non-paying) patients that night.

But most in the streets agreed that they had seen a gentleman in the area; that he dressed himself strangely in rags and spoke with an assumed accent; that they imagined him to be some sort of eccentric man who wandered the streets unbeknownst to his family; but that he was also kind, and could be counted on to give gifts of food and money to all who approached him. One particularly bright-looking young woman, clutching a puny infant tightly in her arms, reported that the man had once approached her and asked her a strange series of questions: was she a new mother? How many children did she have? How did she earn her money? What was the cost of her food?

“I was tempted to flee from him, sir, fearing he was some sort of new policeman made to come down and harass us poor, but he spoke so gently and gave me a ten pound note, so I kept on answering until it pleased him to go.”

My friend and I gave up the search around two in the morning. Our parade notwithstanding—whose numbers gradually diminished as we moved further towards our dwelling—our return to Garden Place was a remarkably silent one; we were both deep in thought, I believe. I was circling in my mind the possibility that Lord Kazunari was engaged in either some much more profound devilry than I had imagined, or in some much more profound good; I could not see what there was to entertain a man—beyond the oldest and sickest of the city’s prostitutes—in such a place, and Nino’s possible presence in the area suggested a nature that was either criminal, criminally insane, or deeply philanthropic. Perhaps all three.

I was roused from my thoughts by the sound of snuffling coming from the direction of my friend; we were at the door of Garden Place before I realized that my friend was in tears, his body racked with spasms of suppressed emotion. I reached out a hand but hesitated, uncertain how to offer comfort.

Aiba caught my hand. “I am sorry, dear fellow,” he rasped, “it will only be a moment. It’s always a shock, isn’t it? To see such things in our city. I mean, to know that such things are but a half hour’s walk from my own door.”

As he had promised, Aiba soon regained his composure, but I must admit that both of us were depressed as we made our way to the fire—we seemed to have ended our evening no wiser than we had begun it.

But the fire was warm, and the room remarkably tidy; Watson’s cage was covered, and Holmes napped quietly before the fire. Wandering into the kitchen to prepare us a reviving late night pot of tea, I was astonished to discover that Ohno seemed to have been hard at work both preparing food and doing the washing—drying garments and handkerchiefs were strung about the room, rather haphazardly but cleanly nonetheless.

I returned to the fireside with a pot of tea, two mugs, a handkerchief for Aiba to mop up his damp eyes with, and a most curious note that I had discovered on the kitchen table. Written in an elegant script, the note read:

Sir,
I took ten pounds from the remaining forty pounds to make up my wages. I took out an additional two pounds for new paints. The rest was spent on food, wash, and the tailor. Your suit will be ready on Wednesday. Please don’t spend the remaining ten pounds without first consulting me. I will be in my room until next Sunday. Knock if you require my assistance, but I may not answer.
Yours truly,
Ohno Satoshi

I watched my companion over my mug as he scanned the note. A small smile tugged at his lips, but then his brows knitted together, “He won’t be pleased about the ten pounds,” he frowned.

“Is Ohno unwell?” I finally questioned, unable to contain my curiosity at the missive’s contents any longer.

Aiba looked up at me with a warm smile, “My dear fellow, you are so considerate that it shames me. I am delighted to know such a kind man. I cannot tell you the sensations my heart experienced—the pride I felt to have you as my friend—as I watched you offer your assistance to those poor children.”

These overly-generous views of one’s character, I would learn, were typical of the detective. “That is all very well, but Ohno?”

“Do not worry, doctor, he is perfectly well. Ohno is a talented artist, and the room at the end of the hall is given over to him as his studio. He works for me only on the understanding that he is free to retire to his studio when the Muse descends upon him.”

I gaped. The nose-picking valet an artist? Inconceivable. “And what do you do when the…er…Muse descends?”

Aiba shrugged his shoulders, “I simply serve myself until inspiration has had its way with him. I’m getting rather good at roasts,” he offered proudly, “I only burn them about half the time, now. He will work feverishly for about a week every two months or so. I wonder what pictures he will produce this session,” he mused, taking a sip of his tea.

I was about to ask where Aiba had found such an eccentric valet (though I was beginning to suspect that Aiba possessed a sort of magnetic property that simply attracted the disturbed towards him, like moths to a flame) when we were both startled by a series of desperate knocks upon the door. Holmes woke with a mew and instantly began scrabbling at the floor with his claws.

The two of us rose to our feet quickly. “Riisa?” Aiba wondered aloud. Aiba was down the stairs and at the door as Holmes and I reached the landing, so I was able to witness the scene from above as Aiba opened the door to reveal my hat thief, looking deathly pale and much the worse for wear since last evening, his white shirt stained with blood. Aiba gasped at the sight of his friend, “Nino!”

“Satoshi,” Lord Kazunari gasped, tears streaming down his face, “please, I have come…for Satoshi…” he choked out before collapsing into the detective’s arms.