The shock was incredible—the reader will not be surprised that I was at first convinced that the sudden visions at the window were my own hallucinations, products of my anxiety after confessing my romantic desires to the detective. I had resolved to simply close my eyes and press my face into the detective’s shoulder until the visions dissipated, but another look at the detective assured me that it was no hallucination—the color had drained from Aiba’s formerly flushed face, and he gaped up at me in astonishment.
There was a sudden, sharp rapping—the detective and I turned our faces dumbly back towards the window—Madame Becky had begun rapping at the glass with one delicate knuckle, and she seemed to be whispering at us furiously, her brow assuming a threatening air.
It was only when I made to stand that I realized that Aiba’s hands were resting beneath my shirt—I felt his long, rough fingers slide gently away from my skin with an acute sensation of regret; a bitter disappointment that, I believe, somewhat blunted the usual curiosity I might have felt about the strange appearance of these uninvited guests.
The detective seemed unable to recover himself, simply lying upon the bed open-mouthed, so I moved hastily to open the window (luckily, the frames opened from the inside), and I gave a hand to Madame Becky, who raised a leg up and moved with remarkable grace to stand on the other side of the sill. I should not have recognized her but for her arresting green eyes—her luxuriant dark hair was tucked away under a cap, and she wore the outfit of a young errand boy. A leather bag was fastened securely at her back. Even in the masculine attire, her appearance was captivating.
I cannot report how the professor managed his entrance into the room; I only became aware of his presence after a loud crash and a muffled “humpgh” beside me. I turned to find the professor looking ghost-like in his paleness, his legs trembling as he raised himself from the floor. I noticed a tear in his jacket.
“Are you well, man?” I inquired, my voice (unavoidably, I can assure the reader) cold.
The professor nodded, taking a long breath as though attempting to collect himself. “Quite well, doctor,” he responded weakly, “Only rather adverse to heights, I’m afraid.” Aiba was near—I watched the detective place a hand on the professor’s elbow to steady him.
“Pardon me, so very sorry to interrupt your conversation,” Madame Becky was muttering as she straightened her jacket, “Believe me, gentlemen, I have no desire to witness the various midnight conquests of our amateur detective, but I…”
Before I could object to being referred to as the detective’s “midnight conquest,” the room was thrown into further chaos as the chamber door banged open, releasing a shrieking Watson and yowling Holmes into the room. Both, I was pleased to note, circumvented Madame Becky to head directly for Professor Sakurai; it was with reluctance that I joined the detective in pulling Holmes from the professor’s leg.
Aiba was just smoothing Watson’s ruffled feathers when a high-pitched shriek filled the air; I spun about to discover Madame Becky (forgive the indelicate expression) screaming her head off at the sight of Ohno and Lord Kazunari that confronted her. Lord Kazunari, I noticed immediately, was wielding an iron poker from Aiba’s fireplace; it took me a moment longer to realize that Ohno—his expression unperturbed, as usual—held a pistol.
“Ohno!” I shouted, seizing the pistol from his hand, “Have you lost your wits?”
“I thought there might have been an intruder, another assassin,” he answered calmly. I was surprised to note beads of sweat upon his forehead.
“How long have you possessed this weapon?” I cried.
The valet’s eyes flicked towards Aiba. “It was in Mr. Aiba’s desk drawer, sir.”
I glowered in Aiba’s direction; he shrugged his shoulders sheepishly, “In case of emergency…you understand, Jun…”
Unable to imagine anything more dangerous than Aiba in possession of a weapon, I did not hesitate to place it in my own bedside drawer. Behind me, I heard Nino’s shocked gasp, “Rebecca!” and Madame Becky’s answering, “Kazunari!”
I turned back to find the dancer and the Lord embracing, the professor and the valet looking on in surprise. The detective was struggling to hold Watson beneath his arm while Holmes tore at his shoes. Aiba stared back at me helplessly.
“First of all,” I sighed, “who needs to be introduced?”
“Madame Becky,” I began, now that our strange party had reseated ourselves before the fire, a pot of tea and a tray of lavender cookies on the low table before us, “may I introduce Professor Sakurai Sho of Oxford, and Mr. Ohno Satoshi, artist in residence at Garden Place.”
The two men bowed shortly, murmuring their greetings; Madame Becky smiled, continuing to stroke the purring Holmes, who had settled himself happily in her lap, “How kind of you to introduce these gentlemen to my notice, Dr. Matsumoto, rather than placing me before them.”
“A lady is never introduced to a gentleman, Madame,” I reminded her gently, “a gentleman is only honored to be introduced to her.”
Madame Becky raised a brow, smiling even more broadly, “I have been called many things, Dr. Matsumoto, but “lady” is a first.” She sighed, her smile dimming as she moved her hand to scratch behind Holmes’ ears, “I did like you, doctor. You’ve no idea how disappointing it is to learn that the detective got to you first.”
I may have blushed up to my ears; from the corner of my eye, I noticed Professor Sakurai wince while Ohno and Lord Kazunari exchanged a glance, and I believe I heard a soft snort coming from the direction of the Lord.
“Be that as it may,” Aiba intervened hurriedly, “you have yet to explain what brings the two of you here. Pray explain how, and why, you appeared at Jun’s window.”
Professor Sakurai frowned in Madame Becky’s direction (who only smiled brightly in response). “To speak the truth, Masaki,” he began hesitantly, “I can hardly account for how I came to be at your window. I was but two houses from Garden Place, determined to speak with you once more, when this young woman seized my arm and pulled me into a dark alley, insisting that she was being followed and that we must on no account be discovered heading towards your home. After a few moments, I recognized her as Madame Becky, and knowing her to be your friend and have an interest in the case, I…er…allowed her to lead me up and over several roofs before reaching your window sill.” The professor paled visibly at the memory of his escapade.
Madame Becky let out a peal of laughter in response, “You are very good, professor, not to inform them of how I beat you into submission and dragged you across roofs and up and down drain pipes. Your acrobatic skills were admirable, I assure you.” She turned towards Aiba, “I must confess, Aiba. I left the theatre late tonight, hoping to meet with Lord Kazunari here. Several streets ago, I became aware that I was being followed, and as I drew closer, under the street lights, I recognized Professor Sakurai from your photographs.” I could not help turning towards Aiba, who flushed at the lady’s words. “Thinking it would be well to have a…reliable…male escort of some sort, and fearing he was heading towards Garden Place as well, I determined that we should find another route. If I had known that I should be interrupting such a passionate scene…”
I have never felt as kindly towards Lord Kazunari as I did in that moment (the incident of the top hat was nearly forgiven), when he interrupted Madame Becky with a groan, “Come Rebecca, I can assure you that your tale is already sufficiently colorful. Tell me,” he demanded, leaning forward in his chair (Ohno stood near, a hand resting lightly on the Lord's shoulder), “how did you know that I was at Garden Place?”
Madame Becky shook her head, “Truthfully, I did not. I suspected. But whether you were here or not, I was determined to deliver this.” She unfastened the satchel from her side and moved as if to remove some article, before hesitating with a glance in the direction of the professor.
Aiba caught her hesitation, and I was surprised by his response, “Do not fear, Becky. Professor Sakurai is involved in the case, and he is on our side.” The detective looked towards Lord Kazunari, who gave a small nod, his expression neutral.
Madame Becky removed a thick sheath of paper and placed it carefully out of range of Holmes’ eager claws, “Your manuscript, Kazunari. I could no longer guarantee its safety, and I am anxious for your story to be published.”
“Do you fear for your safety?” Lord Kazunari inquired sharply.
Madame Becky nodded, some of her usual mirth disappearing from her eyes. “I have possessed the uncanny sensation of being followed for the past day, and tonight I returned to my dressing room after the show to find the place ransacked—nothing was taken, so I believe the criminal may have been in search of the papers.” The detective and I exchanged anxious glances. “Little did he know that my maid guards the manuscript during my performances. As I made my way here tonight, I became convinced that a small man, dressed as common street-sweeper, was following me—I am afraid that, in my eagerness to escape him, I was unable to examine him more closely.” Madame Becky looked at each of us in turn. “So what is to be done, gentleman?” she finally inquired, with a wide-eyed innocence that I believe was only partially assumed.
The five of us surveyed each other before reaching a silent agreement to focus our gazes upon Aiba, who cowered for only a moment before straightening with a determined expression. “Well, if our security has been compromised, then our only choice may be to find a new headquarters for our…er…operations. Shall we act on the hypothesis that Lord Akanishi is the primary suspect?”
“We cannot be certain…” I intervened, only to be prevented by the professor, who spoke over me in a confident voice, “I am certain of it.”
Ohno, Lord Kazunari, and Madame Becky looked curious; Aiba and Professor Sakurai informed them of our suspicions.
Lord Kazunari appeared to contemplate their explanation. “It is not unlikely," he finally pronounced. His eyes darkened, “Though if he has really seduced a girl while seeking an engagement with my sister, I will have to send out an order for his castration,” he concluded fiercely.
“He has a great familiarity with The Circus,” Madame Becky volunteered, “I know him quite well, in fact. He may have some special knowledge of my doings there.”
Ohno, heretofore silent during our discussion, finally offered his opinion in his soft, even voice, “Then it seems that we have two priorities. One, to safeguard those involved in the mystery. Two, to discover whether Lord Akanishi ordered the assassination of Lord Kazunari, and whether he is currently in possession of the diamond.”
“Don’t forget the order for a castration,” Lord Kazunari growled.
“I have a proposal,” Professor Sakurai began, standing and moving towards the mantle (I took a step nearer to Aiba), “if Lord Akanishi is responsible for the assassination attempt, and if he did stage the scene to make it appear as though Nino were responsible for the theft, then he either still possesses the diamond, or he has placed it on the black market. I propose we place spies to observe the market and report whether the diamond has appeared.”
“I know a few men who would be glad of the work,” Lord Kazunari offered.
“And if Lord Akanishi still possesses the diamond?” I challenged.
“If he did take the diamond, it must have been on his person that morning, for the police searched the entire house and the possessions of all present. Perhaps it is still on his person or in his apartments.”
“Would he be so idiotic as to not remove it from his surroundings?” I wondered.
“Yes. He would,” Madame Becky interjected, “I can assure you that he is not the cleverest of men. And his tactics seem desperate to me—surely, tearing apart my dressing room, or more likely hiring a man to do so, could only raise my suspicions. I say we infiltrate his lair,” she proposed, eyes glowing. In that moment, I understood for the first time the fast friendship that existed between herself and the detective, in spite of all her protestations to the contrary. Both, I determined, were equally maniacal in their pursuit of adventure.
“An excellent notion,” the detective responded with a smile of approval, “but how could any of us meet with him?”
“I could,” she volunteered eagerly, “Believe me, he is no match for my feminine wiles. I have merely to drop my handkerchief to enter every recess of his apartments.”
Aiba snorted; Lord Kazunari responded in a concerned tone, “We cannot ask you to do so, Rebecca. The man may be dangerous.”
“Then some of you attend me,” she offered easily, “we can work out some sort of signal if I am in danger. Are you not all well-versed in this cloak-and-dagger business?” she wondered, with only the slightest hint of a challenge in her voice.
However, Lord Kazunari looked implacably resistant to the idea, and I had my own doubts as to its wisdom. The conversation having reached a deadlock, Ohno intervened, “May I suggest that we discuss this plan further in the morning, sir?” he directed his question toward Aiba. “I think the matter of greater importance may be the safety of the individuals in this room. How can we insure that Lord Kazunari lives to publish this manuscript?” His usual calm was strained; I noticed a glow in his eyes as he spoke the final words. Lord Kazunari stood, his expression openly astonished. He raised a hand to the valet’s face as the two stared deeply into one another's eyes.
“I have a proposal,” I intervened loudly, rather desperate to avoid witnessing another passionate display between the two men. “My house,” I offered, my explanation confused in my haste to convey it, “I mean, my family home in the country. It is empty—there is an old groundskeeper, but not even servants live there now. It is not grand, but it is retired and has the advantage, I think, of being in all ways entirely unconnected to Lord Kazunari, Ohno, or Madame Becky—who would think to search for them there?”
I looked to Ohno for approval. He seemed to turn the idea over in his mind, a hand near his face as though screening his thoughts from the notice of others, “Yes,” he finally concluded, “I think it is a good plan. We could take the train, separately, tomorrow.”
“How long until the next parliamentary session opens and you can propose your bill?” Madame Becky inquired.
Lord Kazunari sighed, “One month.”
Madame Becky nodded thoughtfully, “I can just manage the leave. Of course, we will be busy—we must rush your manuscript to the presses, and create a fervor of public support for the measure.”
“I know a publisher, a socialist,” Professor Sakurai volunteered, “he is looking for a project—I believe he could typeset and begin distribution in less than a week.”
“Thank you, Jun,” Aiba smiled, so warmly that I turned away from his gaze, “For offering your home. I think we may be safer there.” I noticed the detective glance meaningfully towards Professor Sakurai.
“Professor,” I spoke stiffly, “you are of course also welcome to join us, as you seem to have entangled yourself in this affair.” Aiba pressed an elbow into my ribs, “That is, please do what you think best for your safety,” I choked.
The Professor smiled grimly, “Thank you for your…ahem…very kind and willing offer, doctor,” he replied dryly, “I would be delighted to accept it.”
“And why were you so determined to visit at this unusual hour, professor?” I asked, only just suppressing the note of suspicion. Aiba placed a hand before his eyes with a groan while Madame Becky, Lord Kazunari, and Ohno looked between myself and the professor intently, as though enjoying a performance of Covent Garden’s latest play.
Professor Sakurai assumed a defeated expression, his dispirited appearance increasing as Watson landed and dug his claws into his left shoulder (I’d never looked on the flying beast with more favor), “I came, doctor, to try once again to convince Masaki to leave this dangerous profession and return to his studies. I’m afraid, however, that—with my typical finesse—I have managed to accomplish precisely the opposite.”
Our audience appeared rapt with attention. I could think of no retort. Aiba coughed uncomfortably. “I’ll write to Riisa,” he mumbled, turning about frantically as though expecting a scrap of paper and pen to jump into his hands, “we should contact her to discuss the...probable future...of her engagement to Lord Akanishi.”
Sleeping arrangements proved difficult. Madame Becky was naturally offered the best bed (which, I was surprised to learn, was in Ohno’s possession). The valet naturally offered to bunk with Lord Kazunari below stairs for the night. Aiba, the professor and I were left to debate the occupant of the sofa.
“I’m so sorry, Masaki, but I’m afraid my tendency to sleepwalk has not lessened in this past year…if possible it might be safer for all if I were placed in a room with a door…”
I felt an absurd sense of relief when Aiba offered him my bed instead of his own; as little as I relished the thought of hosting the professor, I would have been less comfortable knowing that he occupied Aiba’s bedchamber.
After what seemed an un-necessarily lingering goodnight between the detective and professor, my companion and I were left alone—I moved as if to take the sofa, only to find myself stopped by a hand at my wrist. I looked back at the detective; he was blushing furiously and staring most intently at the floor, “Don’t be absurd, Jun. Come to my room. You can share my bed.”
For one moment I was perilously near fainting; commanding myself not to behave like a young maiden, however, I recovered with a breath and took the detective’s hand.
The detective’s bedchamber was surprisingly tidy (I believe he reserved most of his mess for the single large room that served as parlor, library, dining room, and office). There was little in the room but a bed and dresser, but the dresser was covered entirely by photographs. Not troubling to conceal my curiosity, I examined the photographs while Aiba began removing his jacket. A photograph of Ohno wearing a beret and seated impressively before a large canvas, paintbrush in hand; an older couple that I guessed to be Aiba's parents seated stiffly but with broad smiles; Nino in cap and gown; Madame Becky in the center of a troupe of young women in various states of undress; and, surprisingly, one of Aiba himself in a lab coat, a frighteningly large chimpanzee wrapping its arms about his head. Both scientist and chimpanzee were baring their teeth in wide grins. “Did you take these photographs yourself, detective?” I wondered, pleased to note a lack of professors among the collection.
“Yes,” Aiba replied, his voice muffled as he seated himself upon the bed and began unlacing his boots, “While working with the primates I became quite skilled at photography. There were several disastrous exposures at first, but I slowly improved. I'm afraid I forced nearly every member of my acquaintance to sit as practice for my chimpanzee photography—I think Ohno’s artist portrait turned out particularly well, don’t you? I recommended he send it to the Royal Academy.”
“Hmmm,” I hummed in agreement, continuing to study the image of the detective in his white coat, embraced by a chimp. He looked (even for Aiba) ecstatic. “Do you still practice photography?”
“On occasion. Useful for crime scenes and all that. Though I must confess that I’m more tempted by portraits. Perhaps I could photograph you, doctor?” I laughed softly, imagining myself posed regally before the mantle with Holmes at my feet and Watson resting atop my head. “You needn’t examine those photographs so carefully, doctor. You’re welcome to watch me undress,” the detective laughed.
I knew the detective spoke teasingly, but his confidence riled me; I turned to face him, careful to keep my features from betraying me. “Then continue, detective,” I commanded with a raised brow, folding my arms across my chest.
The detective flushed, his hands slipping as he struggled to remove his shoe. He ducked his head, but when he raised it, he appeared composed if slightly nervous. Our gazes met in a silent challenge; he stood and began removing his shirt. Next came his belt—when he reached the button of his trousers, he hesitated; he gave a short, breathy laugh and gazed up at me with dark eyes.
As usual (I was finding), the detective won. “Enough,” I moved hastily to stand before him, replacing his hands with my own, “Enough, I can’t bear it any longer,” I mumbled, unable to meet his eyes as I unfastened his trousers and began sliding them from his waist. He surprised me by lowering his head to press his lips against mine in a short, fervent kiss.
The tweed trousers rested forgotten about the detective’s ankles as I caught his lips for a second, longer kiss.
It was then that I heard the (oddly unmistakable) sound of my phonograph crashing to the floor, the record shattering.
After Aiba had wrestled a still-sleeping professor into my bed (could nothing wake the man from his trace? I wondered furiously), and I had collected the various, now entirely separate components of my phonograph and broken record into a single box and carried it sulkily to Aiba’s bedchamber, I was yet again prevented from reflecting on how I should murder (repeatedly) Professor Sakurai in the morning. Aiba had just returned to the bed, seating himself gingerly beside me and reaching cautiously for my hand (my murderous intent must have been written clearly upon my face) when there was a furious knocking at the door; Ohno did not wait for permission before bursting into the room, seizing me by the shirt and muttering something about Lord Kazunari’s ailment.
It was as I crouched beneath the Lord, removing a splinter from the bottom of his foot with my tweezers while he hid his face against the valet’s chest, whimpering in pain, that I realized that my next day’s schedule could hardly accommodate an investigation—I had at least three murders to commit before noon.
Only after these undesirables had been properly disposed of, I reflected as I made my way slowly up the stairs, might Aiba and I enjoy a moment’s peace together. Privately. Madame Becky I would allow to live—she slept through the night like a sensible woman. Holmes and Watson were also (barely) tolerable. But everyone else would have to go.
I returned to the room to discover Aiba stretched out in his pajamas across the bed, a purring Holmes curled upon his stomach. The detective held a piece of my phonograph above his head, turning it this way and that as he studied it.
“Leave it,” I groaned, falling face down upon the bed, feeling something like a short but not unpleasant electric current pass through me as our shoulders pressed against one another. Holmes whined in protest as I settled myself beside his master.
“A splinter,” I growled.
I felt Aiba’s breath against my neck and a sudden weight upon my shoulder blade, then an arm passed around my waist. Mewling, Holmes moved lower to press himself against our feet. The animal proved a surprisingly comfortable foot rest. I was relieved that the detective could not observe my expression—it was far too pleased for my current degree of annoyance.
“I did not know you had a family home to return to. I hope I have not delayed any meeting with those you love.”
The sincerity in his voice undid me, easing the tight knot of anger in my chest. “No, Aiba, do not worry. My older sister married several years ago and now lives quite happily in Manchester. My parents passed away before I left for the Sudan—consumption claimed both their lives.”
I both heard and felt the detective’s sharp intake of breath, “I am sorry, Jun.”
“Thank you. The onset was rapid and they suffered very little, which was some comfort,” I managed to speak calmly, feeling as though my jaw would lock shut in a moment.
There was something wet against my back; I turned to face the detective. “How can you be weeping? And so quickly,” I smiled, brushing Aiba’s soft hair from his eyes.
“A habit I've had since I was a child,” he returned with a laugh. His eyes grew serious, “Will you not visit your sister, Jun? You have not seen her since your return?”
I tried, but I could not answer. I could not speak what was in my heart to the detective, fearing that he would flinch from my hand, or shout or cry, if I expressed the shame that I felt at returning to England penniless, dishonored, and lame. What I feared most was the sympathy that I would surely encounter in his expressive eyes.
The detective awaited my response patiently, eyes wide. As though he could find the answer in my countenance. “Sleep,” I finally ordered, moving my hand to gently close his eyes, “You are tired. Sleep.”
The detective smiled, but his eyes remained closed. I pressed my face into his shoulder. “Remember Jun,” he mumbled in reply, “You are in the presence of an amateur detective. You will not always be able to escape my penetrating insight.”
I managed only a light smack across the detective’s forehead before exhaustion overtook us, my fingertips splayed inelegantly against his lips. I was comforted by the feeling of his warm breath against my hand.