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

Chapter Text

London, 1890

 

It was upon my return to London from the Sudan in 1889—my now mostly useless right leg in tow—that a series of fantastic misadventures befell me, which I have taken it upon myself to record here for the edification of any reader who may chance upon these pages. The events I will relate are of no common occurrence, possessing, I think, a measure of interest to rival those of that recent literary sensation, Detective Sherlock Holmes. However, I challenge even Arthur Conan Doyle himself to produce such a record of goodness and faithful camaraderie as these pages will unfold. Like that venerable Dr. Watson, I write in tribute to a strikingly original personality—in my case, in tribute to Aiba Masaki, noted zoologist and (amateur) detective.

But while Dr. Watson had the enviable task of recording the acts of an apparently flawless logician with incredible powers of deduction, I have the more difficult task of depicting a man who is both singularly courageous and the most absurd human being I have ever had the misfortune of following into the slums of East London.

However, as Aiba assures me (with his characteristic generosity and stupidity) that he has no objection to an unvarnished account of the case, I shall do my best to fully describe the many contradictions of my friend.

Before I enter into the intrigues of the case that has gained so much notoriety in the London papers, however, Aiba requests that I inform the reader of how I first encountered this overenthusiastic gentleman.

 

*

 

It was a late autumn evening in 1889, with a fine gray drizzle soaking the streets of London. I was strolling (or, I might say, limping) along the Thames in sight of the Houses of Parliament, amazed by the gleaming gaslights installed since I last saw the Houses. I had spent the last three years as a medical attendant to the expeditionary forces in the Sudan, sent packing after an unexpected skirmish resulted in more shrapnel embedded in my right leg than had any right to be there. Indeed, I can only account for my uncharacteristic lack of an umbrella that evening by the fact that I had arrived in London a mere two days earlier—I believe I had forgotten the cold rains of the London streets after three years under the North African sun.

I was thoroughly wet and rather miserable, gloomily contemplating another evening spent in my comfortless hotel, when a small street urchin appeared suddenly at my side. The boy was panting as he skidded to a halt beside me. Dark hair was plastered across his forehead and his clothes were ragged, but he flashed me a confident smile before exclaiming in a rough cockney accent, “That’s a fine silk topper you have there, guv’nor!”

I touched my top hat reflexively (I’d worn it on the chance that I might attend the opera later that night). While I must furnish my wardrobe on the (comparatively) humble salary of a physician, I flatter myself that my clothing bears the mark of a rather sophisticated and discerning taste—my hat had been bought in Paris on my trip back, and it possessed a distinctive purple detailing.

“Thank you, young man,” I replied, unable to keep a note of suspicion out of my voice as my eyes narrowed; I had never known a street ruffian to address a gentleman so intimately, and I’d treated enough of East London’s poor to find something slightly strange about his accent. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it—he'd delivered the sentence quite naturally—but something about the rhythm of his speech felt artificial. A pickpocket?

No, a bolder thief! I’d no sooner tapped my hat in acknowledgement than the rapscallion had seized it from off my head, twirling it between his hands before stuffing his own insolent head inside it (carelessly wrinkling the fine material of the brim in his haste, I might add). The brat gave me a wink and a two-fingered salute before dashing off with a, “Sorry guv’nor, but I’m expected at the opera tonight!”

I naturally made to run after my property; it was only when my leg stiffened and I dropped my walking stick (a walking stick, not a cane) that I recalled my injury. I’d been doing that constantly—forgetting, I mean. I’d try to run down the stairs or hurry to catch a train and then I'd feel the unexpected pain all over again.

I suppose I was at my most undignified—soaking wet, shaking my fist at the sky and cursing in the rain—when I first made Aiba’s acquaintance; I’ve never been a particularly superstitious man, but perhaps the strangeness of our first meeting was a foreboding of things to come.

I was reaching for my walking stick when I heard a tremendous splashing of feet behind me and a bellowed, “Never fear, my good man! Your hat shall soon be in your possession once more!” I just caught a glimpse of a tall, athletic figure dashing past at a fairly impressive speed before the figure disappeared into the fog up ahead. Shaking my head, I wondered if I’d imagined the sudden apparition—perhaps loneliness had begun to turn my mind. Sighing, I retrieved my stick and continued my stroll, grateful that at least the rain had begun to ease.

I suppose I should have expected it after the shouted promise, but I was genuinely surprised (I had never undertaken such a shocking evening stroll before) when a few minutes later I heard steps coming toward me, and the fog parted to reveal the tall figure trotting towards me, my silk hat in hand. Catching sight of me, the figure waved the hat wildly above his head before running excitedly towards me, a blinding grin lighting up his whole face. Upon reaching me, he doubled-over, panting heavily, “My dear sir, please accept my sincere apologies for the delay, but I have retrieved your hat from the young scoundrel. The escapade had its doubtful moments, believe me, but I managed to rescue the innocent top hat unscathed.”

He held the hat out to me. The band was torn, the top was crumpled, and the entire article was splattered with mud. Seeing my nonplussed expression, his grin faded as his gaze shifted from my face to the hat. “Oh, I say…really…” he muttered, his cheeks turning redder, as though flustered. He began wiping the hat frantically against his pant legs, frowning sadly, “It’s rather spoilt, isn’t it?” he looked up at me, his wide brown eyes reminding me of nothing so much as my sister’s childhood puppy (whom I loved, but who always snapped at me whenever I came near).

I finally had a chance to observe the hat-rescuer properly; he was tall, with an athletic figure and broad shoulders (as I’ve already noted), with dark brown eyes and hair. His remarkably handsome face reminded one of a Greek statue in the gallery of the Royal Academy. His demeanor was undoubtedly that of a gentleman’s, and his clothes were fine though surprisingly colorful (he wore an orange linen shirt beneath his brown tweed jacket, and green shoes), and the cuffs of his overcoat were fraying at the edges.

I pulled out my handkerchief, “Sir, I cannot thank you enough. Not one gentleman in a hundred would have gone after such a low criminal for the sake of a stranger’s hat. Please,” I passed the handkerchief into his surprisingly warm hands, our rough fingertips chancing to brush against each other, “dry yourself. And may I know who I have the pleasure of addressing?”

At my words, his face seemed to light up so brightly that it rivaled the glowing windows of Parliament from across the river. I felt a strange thumping in my chest, and I found myself unconsciously mirroring his (to write the truth) rather idiotic smile.

He began scrubbing my hat vigorously with the handkerchief—spoiling my last piece of clean linen completely—as he babbled enthusiastically in response, “With pleasure, sir! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Aiba Masaki, lately a professor of zoology at the city college but most recently self-employed as an amateur detective at large, entirely free of charge for any in need, of course. I was in hot pursuit of the rascal who just passed, an acquaintance of mine, I’m ashamed to confess, when I witnessed his shocking affront to a fashionable gentleman of such obvious good-heartedness, and I must say it pained me to my core to be a party to such behavior. However, my happiness in being of service to someone so kind has more than made up for the inevitable rift between myself and my unworthy young acquaintance.” He pushed the mud-splattered hat and handkerchief toward me triumphantly, “And may I know your name, sir?”

Frankly, I was a bit stunned by this zoologist-turned-detective’s outburst, and not only because he was apparently acquainted with the rogue who’d stolen my hat. Having hardly exchanged more than a polite “Good morning” or “Good evening” with a soul since returning to London, I found myself rather breathless when confronted with so much confused eloquence. “Jun,” I managed, “Matsumoto Jun. Lately medical attendant of British forces in the Sudan, currently a London doctor of no fixed address.”

I may have imagined it, but the detective’s eyes seemed to soften further at my words. “Jun,” he replied, his breathy, surprisingly deep voice sending a strange thrill down my spine as he pronounced the syllable, “I realize that this is rather unorthodox on so short an acquaintance, but I was just heading for a late supper at the Oxford Club. You know it?” I nodded. “Then would you care to accompany me? There is a chill in the air, and I think we could both use a strong drink. Will you join me?” he repeated, his eyes so irresistibly entreating that before I had time to think I found myself nodding my assent.

“I would be delighted, sir.”

“Please call me Masaki,” he grinned cheerfully in response, stepping beside me and offering me his arm, “Will you take my arm, Jun?”

I flinched away from the proffered arm automatically, hating the thought that he might be inviting me out of mere pity. In those first months of my injury, I was very proud, and I shied away instinctively from all (often imagined) notice of it by others. “No,” I replied stiffly, my jaw suddenly tight, “In spite of my appearance, I am perfectly capable of making my own way, sir.”

Aiba dropped his arm immediately, looking for a moment as though I’d slapped him before he seemed to compose himself. He turned away quickly and began walking forward, “I beg your pardon, sir,” he offered, so gently that I instantly abhorred my rudeness.

I was falling back into my mood of fretful gloom as we made our way forward when Aiba suddenly raised a hand to his hair and burst out laughing, surprising me with his breathy guffaws. “Would you believe it, my dear Jun,” he exclaimed, “but I’ve lost my hat!”

As he turned to me with a warm smile, I could not help joining in his laughter, privately convinced that I would never again encounter a detective both so agreeable and so incompetent, a hypothesis that our future adventures would provide ample evidence to support.

Chapter Text

It was only after we’d dined and seated ourselves before the roaring fire of the clubroom, a bottle of brandy between us, that Aiba began his investigation of my circumstances. I should have felt more alarmed to be the subject of a detective’s attention, but I possessed very little fear of Aiba uncovering anything I did not wish to tell him. We’d already established ourselves as Oxford men with a common circle of acquaintances, and I expected no more than the typical cock-and-bull stories that usually pass between men at the club. Besides, my doubts about Aiba’s acumen had already been amply confirmed—the man had tried to give the waiter a franc, had apologized and shoved a five pound note into his hand instead upon realizing his mistake, then failed to notice when he spilt soup on his jacket, and he had just gone into a violent coughing fit after a single puff on his pipe.

“I do apologize,” he coughed out weakly, wiping the tears from his eyes with my (dirty) handkerchief as he tried to compose himself. “I’ve been trying to take up the habit lately, but it doesn’t seem to agree with me,” he grimaced.

I couldn’t help laughing at his explanation. “As a doctor, I would recommend that you don’t take it up at all.” I took a drink, enjoying the way the brandy warmed me from within.

“Really?” he inquired eagerly, “Is that your professional opinion?”

“Well, the men I know who smoke get terribly winded after very little exertion. Though to be honest I made a habit of it myself while I was in the Sudan. Needed something to calm my nerves.” I frowned, wondering why I had just confessed my (former) vice.

Aiba didn’t pursue my confession. “But I’ve heard that smoking a pipe is excellent for developing one’s contemplative faculties. Indeed, I cannot think of a detective without the habit!”

“Do you speak from actual or from literary experience?” I teased with a small smile.

“Both, my good man, both!” he replied jovially, the liquid sloshing as he poured himself another glass. Were we on our second glass already?

I frowned. “Yes, and other men—even some physicians of my acquaintance—take quantities of opium to sharpen their focus, or to dull their pain.”

“And you disapprove of this measure?”

“I believe that results achieved through unnatural stimulants are not worthy of a man of integrity.”

“And pain? As a doctor, you would not recommend opium to relieve a patient’s suffering?” He was pouring me another glass already.

“For those who cannot endure it, of course I would prescribe it. But for a man—I mean, for a man trying to achieve real fortitude—the sufferance of pain is nobler.”

“So you take nothing for your leg? It must be quite painful in this damp weather.”

If another man had spoken the words, I would have left the place instantly. But I could not doubt Aiba’s good intentions as he sat before the fire, his eyes wide with innocent concern. Besides, the alcohol was making me feel rather generally pleased with humanity.

“No,” I responded shortly.

Aiba turned to the fire with a half smile. “Yes, yes, I see it all clearly,” he murmured, looking strangely gleeful as he began poking enthusiastically at the fire.

My goodwill began to dissipate as I felt myself growing hot under the collar, “May I inquire as to your meaning, detective?” I tried for a note of sarcasm.

“Dr. Matsumoto Jun,” he turned to me with a smile, his dark eyes dancing in the firelight, “You are a positive stoic. From your appearance and conversation, I can deduce that not only are you a gentleman of good education, extremely fashionable, but you are also exceedingly strong and unbearably stubborn. Of perfect integrity in all things. Admired by many, but close to very few. I suspect you were injured in some feat of daring, perhaps saving the life of one of your company. You may be hot-tempered—you must have contested your discharge from the expedition and angered your superiors, so a story of your heroism has not appeared in the papers. You are absolutely trustworthy, but you have not yet learned to handle your liquor,” he concluded with a cheerful smile, as though he had finished making a casual observation about the weather.

Feeling myself turn bright red—with anger or embarrassment, I could not be sure—I struggled to my feet, unsure of whether to shake hands with him for his conclusions or to storm out of the room in a rage.

“Jun!” he cried, looking genuinely alarmed and getting hastily to his feet. “Oh dear,” he said, looking lost and beginning to brandish the iron poker about in a rather dangerous fashion, “I do apologize if…I’m afraid that I sometimes…Nino is always warning me to hold my tongue…” he looked so distressed (and close to impaling himself on the poker) that I hesitated, swaying (just slightly) with drink. “Jun,” he positively whimpered, “are you leaving?”

I considered it. “I am trying to decide whether I am affronted or not,” I finally replied, carefully lowering myself back down.

Aiba’s expression instantly transformed into one of such relief that I felt my last wall of resistance crumble, and I poured myself another drink with a smile, “Forgive me for my poor sportsmanship—I should be congratulating you on your accurate surmise. That is, I did contest my dismissal. I am hot-tempered and stubborn. And I am extremely fashionable, of course.”

“Truly?” Aiba exclaimed, crashing our glasses together in a one-sided toast. “My first—no, my second—victory as an amateur detective! I rescued your hat earlier this evening!”

Just what did Aiba think a detective did? Return items to the lost and found office? Pick up dropped handkerchiefs? And, more importantly, just how long had it taken him to achieve these successes? “And when did you begin…er…pursuing the life of an amateur detective?”

“Oh, for about a year now, my dear fellow. I’m starting to get the trick of it lately,” he replied, smiling blissfully at me before knocking back another glass.

 

*

 

As I have taken a solemn oath (presided over by Aiba and his valet) to recount only the truth of my history in these pages, I find it unfortunately necessary to report to the reader that the next morning found me pressed face first into the most hideous orange chintz cushion that I have ever encountered in my very extensive travels. Like many a foolish young man, I allowed the sudden flush of drink and company to carry me to regrettable lengths; in short, I awoke plastered to Aiba’s sofa, my head throbbing like the dickens after a night of revelry.

My manner of waking was as curious as the orange sofa I found myself on; I gradually became aware of what felt like the claws of a very large cat kneading at my back, and a quiet, “You! Come and have your milk,” pronounced in a voice that was not familiar to me. For a moment, I believed I was being invited for a glass of milk—but when I heard a loud “meow” in response and the claws disappeared from by back, I guessed that it was time for the cat’s breakfast. It is some indication of the state I was in that I simply continued to lie upon the sofa.

A sudden beating of wings beside my ear, however, had me up in a moment, my heart racing as I was confronted by the beady eyes of a large green parrot perched smugly on the arm of the sofa.

“Watson!” the unfamiliar, mild voice appeared again, “Come back to your cage and have your breakfast, you blasted scoundrel.”

In my confusion, I only perceived the most general characteristics of the room—large, with a fireplace, filled with regrettable furnishings and an incredible amount of crumpled paper—before I located the source of the quiet voice: a slight, good-looking young man with short hair and remarkably full, fetching-looking cheeks. He stared back at me with an expression of complete disinterest, and I guessed from his (rumpled, stained) uniform that he was some sort of servant.

“Beg pardon, sir,” he offered in a monotone, raising a hand to scratch at his right nostril, “I did not mean to wake you.” I watched in horror as the finger actually entered the nostril, “I am Ohno, Mr. Aiba’s valet.”

Unable to tear my eyes away from the abomination as his finger moved in deeper, I managed to stutter out a response, “Er…delighted…please excuse my appearance…I’m not quite entirely sure…”

Finally removing the finger from his nose and placing his hands behind his back, he seemed to assume a more official air, “Mr. Aiba will return shortly. He has instructed me to lead you to the bath. He also instructed me to convey…” his brow creased for a moment as though he were struggling to recall something “…to convey his sincere apologies for your current predicament.” He dropped his hands, apparently abandoning the prepared monologue, “Believe me, sir, we did everything in our power to lead you toward the spare bedroom, but you would not stop fighting us. You kept shouting something about ‘not being that kind of boy’ and ‘not being so easily won over by a few smiles,’ and you would not quiet until we allowed you to sleep on the sofa. Though you wouldn’t let go of our hands when we tried to undress you, so we had no choice but to have you sleep in so uncomfortable a position. Sir,” he added as an afterthought, his finger returning to the side of his nose as he lapsed back into silence.

Apparently this damned valet was loquacious enough when he chose to be. My headache evaporating under the scalding influence of mortification, I practically fled the room for the bath, hardly allowing the man time to direct me.

Shut away safely from beasts and valets, soaking gratefully in the burning water, I contemplated my current position with a scowl. I could recall very little of the previous night, but I did have a few, disconcertingly vivid flashes of myself singing in the streets—my arm about Aiba’s shoulder—and even, I think, of swinging about a lamppost and then arguing quite violently with a policeman. It was also entirely too probable that Aiba had burst into a storm of tears when I embraced him in the entryway, assuring him of my gratitude for my rescued hat.

Sinking deeper into the water, I firmly resolved to make my apologies and—as they say in the army—to “cut and run” from the premises as soon as possible.

Upon emerging freshly washed and dressed, however, I discovered Aiba comfortably seated and reading the newspaper in the parlor, his cheerful face positively beaming when he caught sight of me. Tossing the paper to the floor, he nearly shouted his greeting, “Good morning, my dear fellow!” Apparently, he was entirely unaffected by last night’s drinking. “I’ve been out having your handkerchief cleaned and your top hat refurbished,” he smiled, gesturing toward the now-gleaming articles on a side table.

I flushed uncomfortably, “You did not have to…”

“Nonsense! No trouble at all. Will you stay for breakfast?” he gestured toward a small table laid with tea and scones.

Who would blame me for relenting under the influence of such constant good nature? Indeed, the reader may instead blame me for my hardness of heart in my previous resolve to depart from my new friend as expeditiously as possible. But the reader must excuse me on the grounds of my nature’s lifelong love of order and regularity—I had not been intoxicated for several years, and I found myself equally interested in and appalled by my surroundings. The room was undoubtedly cozy and warm, but it was also in such a state of disarray that I felt an almost irresistible urge to straighten it. One half of the room—bordered by a series of large windows—seemed entirely given over to the cultivation of strange, odorous plants, while the other side of the room contained a massive desk piled high with books and papers as well as some rather suspicious-looking cages (one of which must have been the home of Watson). The floor was covered in oriental carpets, newspapers, and cushions, most bearing the distinctive claw marks of a cat. Books, maps, and paintings covered the walls, and an orange settee, two comfortable leather chairs, and a tea table fronted the large fireplace.

It was as I was passing Aiba an (unfortunately rather dry) scone with clotted cream and jam that my host suddenly blushed and became remarkably tongue-tied, turning his gaze to the floor, apparently at a loss for words. I waited curiously until he finally raised his bright gaze to mine and softly pronounced, “Jun, I’m afraid I have something of a confession to make.”

Was it just my imagination, or had the room suddenly become a few degrees warmer?

“I might have taken you to your hotel last night, but I’m afraid I brought you here with…ulterior motives.”

It must have been the cup of Earl Gray that was making my heart beat so rapidly.

“I’m not certain if you…recall…but last night…”

My face was turning crimson.

“You mentioned that you were searching for an apartment with rooms suited for conducting a medical practice. I possess a spare bedroom, and a set of rooms downstairs that I think would answer the purpose admirably. Would you consider…establishingyourpracticehere?” he rushed out the last words in a mumble.

Oh. I sipped my tea meditatively while Aiba waited, looking as though he were holding his breath, his soft hair appealingly rumpled in the morning light. “That is an extremely generous offer. I would have to inspect the rooms before agreeing, but I sincerely thank you.” Aiba released a long breath, his characteristic grin returning. His smile reminded me uncomfortably of sunshine and meadows. “But…” his face fell instantly as I lowered my teacup, “I cannot help but wonder why you would make such an offer after so short an acquaintance. After a single night—in which, I believe, I may not have been at my best—how can you be certain that I would make a desirable tenant?”

His gaze returned to the floor, a half smile tugging at his lips. “How can you be certain that I would make a desirable landlord?” he returned.

I reflected. “You cleaned my hat and handkerchief. You cared for me last night. You see, detective, I have evidence to support my good opinion of you,” I smiled.

Aiba’s eyes twinkled as they met mine, and I felt my chest clench, “Evidence is all very well, doctor, but have you never heard of intuition?”

Before I could protest that such an attitude was a dangerous one for any detective, professional or amateur, a large calico cat sped into the room and promptly upset the tea table, followed in no time at all by the dastardly green parrot, who squawked about excitedly as we tackled the mess with Ohno’s (lethargic) assistance.

Somehow, clearing away the tea things resulted in a tour of the room (Aiba was anxious to show me his framed portraits of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Bucket, and Sergeant Cuff), and then a tour of the apartment, and then a series of alarming formal introductions to Holmes (the cat) and Watson (the parrot) (Aiba pronounced their names without a trace of embarrassment, naturally). And it will likely come as no surprise to any of my readers that—with Ohno’s blessing (at least, the valet shrugged his shoulders and scratched his nose when told of Aiba’s proposal)—by that afternoon, I had ordered my belongings from the hotel and found myself permanently installed in no. 5, Garden Place, with (amateur) detective Aiba Masaki.

Looking back, I can only attribute my hasty decision to both my weakened physical and mental state at the time and to my friend’s extraordinary personal charisma. No other combination of factors, I am convinced, could have resulted in my taking rooms in a residence that—peopled as it was by a delusional detective, a careless valet, an imperious calico cat, and an excitable parrot—might as well have doubled as an Asylum for the Urban Maladjusted.

But it would be unjust to my friend to deny the contentment I felt over tea later that afternoon as we discussed the conditions of my residence (the sofa cushions would have to go, and I had a recipe for scones that needed to be implemented immediately). The atmosphere was undoubtedly cozy as Holmes happily purred away in Ohno’s lap while the valet sat on the sofa intently cutting out letters from newspaper headlines (all part of an ongoing study of criminal behavior, Aiba assured me).

This peaceful state of affairs was short-lived, however, as we were all surprised by the sound of the doorbell being rung repeatedly and even frantically belowstairs. Ignoring Holmes’ whine of protest, Ohno set the paper and scissors to the side and disappeared down the stairs, re-emerging half a minute later to announce that a young woman requested an interview with the detective, “She seems to be in some great distress, sir.”

Aiba was nearly vibrating with excitement at the news. “Please tell her to come up,” he managed to pronounce calmly before leaping to his feet and beginning to tear at the revolting orange sofa cushion in his arms. His eyes seemed to catch fire as he paced about the room. “My first client, Jun! From the moment I first laid eyes on you, I knew our meeting was a sign of excellent things to come!”

Trying to suppress a blush and a smile, I waited nearly as anxiously as my friend to discover the cause of the young lady’s distress, and particularly to discover what had led her to the conclusion that Aiba was a trustworthy detective worthy of consultation. Indeed, I was determined to make sure that my friend was not taken in by some adventuress.

But upon the applicants’ entrance, I instantly blanched and—losing my head—I jumped to my feet, pointing an accusing finger at the client. “Thief!” I cried, “The despicable hat thief! Disguised as a gentlewoman!” As unbelievable as it may sound, before me stood the living image (in a dress) of the young knave who had abducted my top hat the previous evening.

Her—his?—expression of anxious distress was replaced instantly by one of icy displeasure. “Pardon me, sir, but I have not the pleasure of understanding you. I am no hat thief. You are addressing—with extreme rudeness, I might add—Lady Riisa Kazunari.”

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.

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.

Chapter Text

As I watched the blood bloom ever more brightly on Lord Kazunari’s shirt, I knew we had not a moment to lose. I hurried down the stairs (followed closely by a mewing Holmes) while shouting instructions to the detective, “Take him to the examination room!” There was little in the way of medical equipment placed there—I had only just begun to furnish my office the day before, but I knew there to be at least a suitable table and sink. “Place him across the table and remove his shirt,” I ordered.

Luckily, my friend’s strength allowed him to lift the Lord easily, and by the time I had stripped myself of my jacket and scrubbed my hands in the basin with violent speed, the detective had removed the Lord’s bloodied shirt and was already pressing a damp cloth against his forehead. I hurried to examine the source of blood—a stab wound in his side. Not too deep, fortunately, but long and ragged, the teeth of the blade tearing unevenly at his skin—I had witnessed enough of such injuries in the Sudan to know that it was almost certainly the result of a struggle—perhaps of hand-to-hand combat with his assailant. Whoever he was, the (surprisingly slight) Lord had succeeded in fighting him off.

The Lord turned his fevered, unfocused gaze from Aiba (who seemed to be whimpering quietly under his breath, quite unconsciously) to myself, his countenance taking on an expression of great alarm as he studied my face. “I am going mad,” he choked out in a thick, pained voice, beads of sweat sliding down his forehead, “you are the man with the top hat. Are you some thick-browed demon sent to taunt me in my illness?”

The Lord was lucky that, as a physician, I adhere to a strict ethical code of impartiality in the treatment of my patients. “No, I am a doctor who will cure you,” I answered shortly.

My response seemed to put him in mind of his earlier fixation, for he began to struggle violently under my friend’s grip, “Satoshi,” he began insisting once more, his large black eyes wild, “Satoshi. Tell him he must come to me. Tell him anything, that I am dying, only let him come.” He seemed unconscious of the tears slipping from the corners of his eyes.

Aiba looked at me questioningly, struggling to hold the Lord still upon the table. “Tell Ohno to come to the room—perhaps it may quiet him. Go to my chamber—you will find a black bag upon my desk. Bring it to me. Quick as you can,” I added needlessly, for the good detective took off as though pursued by his own demon (the howling Holmes was doing a good imitation of one).

The patient quieted—he was cognizant that I had acceded to his wishes—and he allowed me to begin cleaning his wound (I had only water and a handkerchief at hand—the disinfectant was in my bag). “You are fine,” I tried to reassure him, but it has often been noted by my patients that I am lacking in “bedside manner,” and my voice was monotone, “It is a shallow cut. You feel faint because you have lost blood, but do not fear, I will stitch it and it will heal.”

I was surprised by the patient’s lack of protest under my ministrations. He licked his lips, staring up at me intently even as his eyes clouded, “Don’t tell Satoshi that,” he whispered, “tell him I am dying. Tell him anything to make him stay.”

I can hardly convey to the reader the shock I felt at the patient’s words—certainly the strangest I had heard at any bedside—but I had little time to reflect upon them before Aiba reappeared, grasping my black bag in one hand and dragging a half-dressed Ohno with the other.

Apparently, the idiot had failed to prepare his valet for what was about to greet him, for Ohno turned deathly pale at the sight, and I feared that we would have another patient on our hands. But he hesitated for only a moment before he was at the Lord’s side, his expression transfigured. I could never have imagined such an intent, such a burning look upon the countenance of the eccentric valet. His arm was about the Lord’s shoulder—their hands intertwined tightly—their gazes locked. The reader will forgive such a report, but to give an unvarnished account of the matter, the two men then engaged in the most passionate kiss I had ever witnessed in the course of my life. The reader must forgive my lack of amorous experience—but then, I think very few are privileged (or in my case, I think, condemned) to witness such a—I hardly know how to describe it—such a ferociously intimate moment between two lovers. To say nothing of the extraordinary rarity of witnessing an embrace between a Lord and a valet.

It was with exasperation that I observed the detective seemingly paralyzed by their display (though I must confess to having been temporally stunned myself). “Aiba,” I snapped, “my bag.” The detective was quick to emerge from his fog, and he proved a capable assistant as we began disinfecting and prepared to suture the wound. “Bring the light closer,” I ordered quietly, gesturing towards the lamp I’d hastily lit upon entering the room. I carefully removed the lamp’s glass cover and ran the needle through the flame to clean it, and then I began preparing for the stitches. “Hold the light as close as you can,” I willed myself to speak more gently to Aiba, noticing for the first time that his hand was trembling. I nodded towards Ohno, “Find the bottle of chloroform in my bag.”

“No,” the Lord managed a feeble resistance, “No, I won’t be knocked out.” He clutched at the valet’s shirt with his other hand, pulling his lover’s face impossibly closer, “No, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me for a moment,” the Lord commanded, gritting his teeth as he tried not to cry out in pain.

“Very well,” I snapped, already at the end of my patience with the Lord’s melodramatic antics. “Awake, then. I trust you, Ohno, to hold him still"; the valet gave me only the briefest of nods in response, his eyes never wavering from Lord Kazunari. I could not help rolling my eyes. “He would be quite fine if he hadn’t wandered the streets like a lunatic, making himself ill,” I muttered as I pierced the skin.

The lamp shook; I reached out to steady Aiba’s hand. “Detective,” I murmured softly, “I need your help.” The detective’s hand remained steady for the rest of the procedure, though quick glances at my friend informed me that he was on the verge of fainting.

 

*

 

The stitches were completed (after much unnecessary fuss that could have been avoided with a more cooperative patient); the patient cleaned and given something to drink; and Ohno had carried the now deliriously fatigued Lord into the sparsely furnished chamber that I intended to transform into my office. It was without the slightest hesitation or shame that Ohno crawled into the small bed to lie beside him, cradling the Lord carefully in his arms. I sat in a chair near the bed, anxious to see whether the Lord’s fever would abate. Aiba hovered near me.

“Take yourself to bed,” I attempted to command Aiba, my voice strangely hoarse. “I am no longer in need of your assistance. Sleep.”

“Not until I see you to bed,” my friend responded, his voice similarly hoarse, its breathy roughness sending a strange thrill through my frame.

Too exhausted to argue, I examined Lord Kazunari’s fever and pulse again; he seemed cooler, and his pulse was regular. I was surprised by Ohno addressing me, “I will not sleep tonight, doctor. Go to bed—I will wake you if there is any change.”

I shook my head. “I should stay. He was feverish when he arrived, and he has lost blood—there might still be some change in the night.” I re-seated myself, determined to keep watch over my patient—most probably a despicable thief, but also the man that the detective was in search of—through the night.

 

*

 

The last image I recall that night is Ohno’s face, glowing in the flickering candlelight, as he watched over Lord Kazunari; as usual, the valet’s expression was unreadable. After that, I was not aware of anything.

Until I had the most surprising and remarkable sensation of being carried. Indeed, it felt as though I were being carried in someone’s arms. Up the stairs.

I struggled to open my eyes but found it impossible; the depth of my tiredness was greater than I had thought. It occurred to me that perhaps Aiba was carrying me in his arms to my chamber; I frowned at the thought. Surely such a feat was impossible! He was (a bit) taller than me, yes, but capable of supporting me in such a manner?

It was then that I experienced a small lurch forward and became aware of a certain trembling in the arms that encircled me; I smiled as my prophecy seemed to come true. I was not dropped to the floor, however, so I decided that I must be in the middle of a pleasant dream, and I allowed myself to rest comfortably against the chest that I imagined nearby. It was only a short time later that I felt myself laid down (the action accompanied by a slightly breathless groan, I should note) upon a bed; and then—most curious—the lightest of touches upon my forehead before my phantom vanished.

 

*

 

For the second morning in a row, I woke suddenly, fully-dressed, and harassed by a calico cat. Holmes massaged my chest with his claws, quite happily shredding my dress shirt. However, I was almost grateful for Holmes’ violent manner of rousing me; my pocket watch revealed the startling fact that I had slept until noon.

As I hurried to wash and dress, memories of last night—Madame Becky, the stench of St. Giles, the ragged children, a bloodied Lord beneath my needle, an imagined touch—returned to me with unsettling force; rather than a detective story, I seemed to have stumbled into a sort of gothic romance.

My walking stick had been placed carefully beside my bed, and I felt a painful flush overcome me as I attempted to repress the likelihood of the detective having carried me (like a child!) to my bedchamber.

I can only blame my embarrassment for my lack of manners that morning—from the hall, I caught a glimpse of Aiba bustling (with a shocking amount of noise, accompanied by sudden spurts of flame) about the kitchen. But rather than wishing him good morning, I instead made haste below stairs, arguing internally that my medical duties took first priority.

As I entered the sick chamber, another memory of last night flashed vividly before me—Lord Kazunari and Ohno locked in a passionate embrace—and it was with some trepidation that I coughed loudly, knocked vigorously and repeatedly, and made my hesitant way into the room that Lord Kazunari and Ohno had retired to last night.

Inside the room, Ohno sat—dressed now, thankfully—beside the bed, both his hands holding one of Lord Kazunari’s tightly. As before, his gaze was intent upon the Lord’s face—I wondered what he could find to fix his attention on in the Lord’s visage. But then, the valet examined him through the eyes of love, something I knew little about.

The Lord was sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling regularly. “He woke earlier this morning and breakfasted. He is still weak, and he fell to sleep again,” Ohno informed me softly.

I examined the wound—no more blood had escaped (I must admit to having felt some pride in the neat job I had made of the thing, especially under such conditions), and there was nothing particularly alarming about his temperature or pulse. “He will have a very long scar,” I observed quietly. Ohno remained silent, his gaze unswerving.

I coughed uncomfortably, wondering how to broach the subject I felt the most intense curiosity about. “I was surprised to wake in my chamber this morning. I wonder…”

“Mr. Aiba carried you to your room after you fell asleep in your chair,” the valet informed me promptly, “you were too heavy and I offered to help, but he insisted on carrying you himself. You kept clutching at his shirt so—I don’t think we could have pried you off him, sir.”

“Thank you, Ohno, for your very detailed explanation. As usual, ” I whispered fiercely in response.

It was worse than I could ever have imagined, I reflected as I made my way heavily up the stairs. I had made a complete and utter fool of myself…I had forever lost any chance that…any chance of what? Of being perceived as charming, capable, worthy of respect? I could hardly say why it should matter so much that I be perceived as worthy by an amateur detective who wore a deerstalker in the middle of London…

My internal monologue of self-mortification was interrupted by a particularly alarming yelp from the direction of the kitchen. I hurried in to find Aiba leaping about while Watson flew in a panicked manner overhead; the detective was jumping up and down while hissing and blowing frantically at his fingers.

“Aiba, what have you done?” I cried in alarm.

“I’ve burnt myself with oil, dear chap!” he cried, “Too much in the pan, you know, splattering everywhere! Hurry Jun—leave the kitchen and save yourself!”

I carefully approached the frying pan and, using a cloth, gingerly removed it from the stove. I turned around to find Aiba with his hand into the butter dish. “Detective!” I cried, shocked to my core.

“Don’t you use butter as a cure for burns, doctor?” he questioned, his head cocked innocently at my response, “Didn’t your Nana ever tell you that?”

I could have wept with relief—if ever I had feared assuming the position of the more ridiculous member of our partnership, my fears were now laid to rest. Rather than weeping with relief, however, I responded with a roll of my eyes, “Yes, I’m sure it is cooling, but now you’ve stuck your fingers in our butter. That we eat. Clean up a bit, I’ll return with some salve.”

After applying a salve, Aiba was eager to start working on lunch again; I offered to take over the job—or simply to assist him—but he stubbornly refused. “I am cooking my famous pork chups, my dear fellow,” he responded sternly, “pay close attention, and perhaps I shall allow you to attempt this delicacy in the future.”

Choosing to recognize the universe’s limits of possibility, I finally gave up after repeated attempts to correct the detective’s pronunciation of Worcester sauce (the man insisted on calling it “wister sauce”). But while the detective was expounding excitedly on the virtues of his “chup” sauce (“The secret, my dear fellow, is the dash of apple juice in the mix”), I was able to rescue the forgotten pork chops burning in the pan.

 

*

 

The preparations ending without further incident, and a plate delivered to Ohno (and Nino’s left warming on the stove), the detective and I settled down for lunch and to discuss the latest developments in the case. Aiba pulled the small cloth notebook from his pocket as soon as we had seated ourselves, frowning thoughtfully as he flipped through its pages.

“So you have completed Lady Riisa’s charge,” I prompted, “you have located Lord Kazunari.”

Aiba’s frown deepened, and his dark eyes were distinctly troubled, “Yes. Or to put it more accurately, Nino located me. Or Ohno, I suppose.” Aiba heaved a sigh, “And his life is clearly in danger. And we have yet to discover the diamond,” he continued sadly.

I was surprised by my friend’s air of dissatisfaction—I thought he would have been delighted to report that more mysteries remained to be solved. “Is that not a good thing, detective?” I tried to examine his expression more closely, but the detective avoided my eyes, “I mean, these are exactly the kind of matters that a detective investigates, are they not?”

Aiba gazed up despondently at the framed portrait of Sherlock Holmes above the fireplace. “Yes…but I must say I’m having serious doubts about the course of the investigation.”

“It seems a singularly successful one to me.” I spoke the truth—I had not believed that we would ever recover Lord Kazunari.

Aiba leaned forward, pushing his plate to the side, his eyes kindling, “Yes, my dear fellow,” he spoke in a low, passionate voice, his fingers interlaced tightly at his knee, “but how have we succeeded? By luck, by chance! Is it not the beauty, the glory of Detective Holmes that he is able to see through all that is mystifying, all that is chance or mere human error, and use rationality, logic, science to tear through the veil of apparent randomness to reveal the face of truth?” The detective was nearly breathless at the end of this poetic disquisition, and I realized that I was in the presence of a reader who could only be described as a maniac—I was no longer certain that I cared for anything as much as Aiba cared for Sherlock Holmes.

“So far,” he continued, flopping back into his chair, depression written on his countenance, “our investigation has succeeded, I think, only through the chance workings of irrational human passions. Madame Becky, Lord Kazunari—all were, I believe, motivated by love,” he concluded, pronouncing the last word as though it were distasteful. “And I find even myself incapable of behaving in any other fashion,” he muttered gloomily, as if to himself.

I finished chewing my “porkchup” before speaking. “But Aiba,” I tried to appeal to his apparent love of rationality, “Holmes is a character. In a book. How can you expect reality to possess the neatness, the…convenience of a story?” Aiba’s raised his eyes from the carpet ever so slightly. “Of course we must use our reason to make our way in the world, and to solve problems, but human actions…human motives...they’re….” I struggled for the right turn of phrase, as Aiba was staring at me as though eager to catch every drop of wisdom that fell from my lips, “…untidy,” I relented, unable to conjure up a more appropriate word, “human actions are untidy,” I repeated more confidently, feeling as I spoke it that the sentence summed up nicely my view of life since my service in the Sudan.

The detective was smiling again, and I felt a kind of contagious warmth spreading through my chest. “Untidy,” he repeated thoughtfully, his eyes twinkling, “Yes, I think that just about sums it up. You have a way with words, doctor,” he laughed, his eyes curiously fond.

“And I have not read as many detective stories as you have, of course,” I barreled on, pleased with my success, “but does not every detective have his own peculiar skill that makes him unique? While Holmes’ skill might be logic, perhaps your skill might be a…strong if occasionally misguided sympathy with the workings of the human heart?”

The detective turned away to pour a new cup of tea, but a smile continued to play at his lips, “Thank you, Jun, for your good if misguided opinion. I may have agreed with you a few days ago, but of late one gentleman in particular makes me feel as though my quest to understand the human heart will be forever unsuccessful.”

“Were you so surprised to learn of Lord Kazunari’s…alliance…with Ohno?”

Aiba looked at me quizzically as he passed me a fresh cup of tea, as though startled by my question, “Yes, that was a shock as well. I had no idea that they were acquainted beyond meeting here as valet and guest. I suppose I am revealing more of my faults as a detective—I feel embarrassed by my blindness, especially after your wonderful actions of last night.”

I stared into my tea cup. “I do not know whether you can succeed to your satisfaction as an amateur detective, Aiba,” I admitted honestly, “but as a friend, if you require my assistance, I will give it, gladly.”

“Jun…” Aiba leaned toward me, his eyes filled with something I could not name.

“Excuse me, sir,” came Ohno’s soft voice, the valet (as usual) materializing suddenly beside me, “but Lord Kazunari is awake. And a letter was delivered. Not by mail, but by messenger—the young man was most anxious that you should open the note immediately.”

Aiba tore open the letter while I began gathering our dishes—to my surprise, the pork chups had been good—the sauce noticeably sweet—even if their presentation had been strikingly untidy. My tidying was halted, however, by the remarkable transformation of the detective’s countenance as he read the note. In the past two days, I had already witnessed a great variety of expressions upon the detective’s face—delight (of at least fifty different varieties), sadness, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment, fear…but never had I seen his expression transform into one of bitter anger.

“Here,” he hissed, inspiring an echoing hiss from Holmes, “tell me, what do you make of this villainy, doctor?” He passed me the letter and moved to the window where he stood, hands clasped behind his back, while I read the offending letter.

I was expecting a threat—perhaps a missive announcing blackmail or kidnapping. So the reader will understand my amazement when I read the following:

My dear sir,
I am truly sorry that I seem to have offended you in some manner. That I am unable to account for the manner in which I have given offense no doubt adds to the insult, but it will also reveal—I sincerely hope—that the offense given was entirely unintended—I can assure you that it was accidental, not malicious. I have always greatly esteemed you, and I value your good opinion almost more than any other man’s.
I hope you will forgive me, and that any misunderstanding between us will not prevent you from contacting me to receive information that I believe to be strongly pertinent to the case you are currently engaged in solving. I hesitate to convey the information through letter. If you would consent to meet me at our customary place at 3 o’clock this afternoon, I should be happy to offer you all the aid in my power. As Lady Riisa no doubt informed you, I was in attendance at the interesting dinner party that occurred at the Kazunari residence this week.
Wishing most warmly to be returned to your favor,
Your,
Sakurai Sho

The note was written in a hasty—an almost desperate—scrawl, and I felt a strange tightening in my chest, a kind of irrational anger, as I read such eager entreaties made to the detective. I attempted, however, to master my emotions. I looked up to discover the detective turned towards me, eyes blazing, Watson perched upon his shoulder. “What is your opinion of this missive, Jun? Can you ever recall having read such shameless hypocrisy, such utter cant?”

I was unsure how to respond, surprised by my feeling of delight at the detective's rebuff of the intimate note. “I am afraid the letter seems…sincere, Aiba. Perhaps if you would enlighten me as to the circumstances of your acquaintance, I could offer a more informed opinion?”

Aiba closed his eyes as though in great pain, “To do so, Jun, would be to unfold a narrative of deception and betrayal that I have no wish to pollute you with. But I can inform you that this…” he seemed to struggle for a word insulting enough "communication comes from none other than my arch nemesis and competitor, the depraved but genius Professor Sakurai Sho!”

Chapter Text

“A…nemesis?” I repeated warily. “Aiba…you told me that you had never investigated a major case thus far in your amateur career. Yet you have already…achieved…an arch nemesis?”

The detective nodded solemnly, “Yes, doctor. Such is the evil of men that one can barely begin upon a new venture before one is plagued by the demons of the past.”

I frowned at the letter in my hands, “Will you meet this man?”

The detective’s fury seemed to abate as he assumed an expression of uncertainty, “I…am not confidant how best to proceed. I noted his name on the list given to me by Riisa, of course, but I had no real grounds for my suspicions until this…communication arrived. Perhaps he was involved in the terrible events of that night, and perhaps it is also a despicable trap!” he flushed, his anger overcoming him once more.

I was torn as to how to reply to the detective; while this Professor Sakurai might possess valuable testimony, I felt a strong, unreasoning queasiness at the thought of a private interview between the two men. “I would be happy to accompany you,” I offered after some deliberation, internally resolved not to let the detective out of my sight in case he should stumble into a dangerous encounter, “And if we arrive armed with Lord Kazunari’s account of that night, we may be able to better distinguish whether Professor’s Sakurai’s information is true or false.”

Aiba crossed the room to clap a hand on my shoulder and shake my hand heartily, “Of course, my dear fellow! Unless he is aware of Lord Kazunari’s residence here, we may indeed have the trump card in our hand—I knew I could depend upon you to resolve the difficulty,” he beamed, all trace of his former anger gone. But I noted a strange sadness still present, a regret in his eyes that I had never witnessed there before.

I turned away from the detective, “Then let us see what our Lord has to say for himself.”

 

*

 

Ohno had, of course, vanished from the room as silently as he had entered it to deliver the letter, and I was unsurprised to discover the valet in the midst of a close, nearly inaudible conversation with Lord Kazunari. I heard only a low-spoken “But when?” and “I cannot” before I rapped loudly upon the door, anxious to announce our presence before entering.

“How does the patient?” I began as we stepped inside, but any attempt on the Lord’s part to respond was prevented by the detective racing past me to crush him in a fond embrace, wiping tears (and, I fear, some mucus) upon the Lord’s shoulder as he offered him his well-wishes and sincere entreaties that he would make a rapid recovery.

“Please Aiba,” the Lord gasped, “I cannot recover if you will insist on squeezing the life from me.”

The detective released him with evident reluctance, and for the first time in our (admittedly short) acquaintance, I noticed a genuine smile upon the face of the mysterious valet—the man looked positively boyish as he watched Lord Kazunari blushing under Aiba’s concerned scrutiny.

“Yes, yes,” I murmured, finally intervening to pull the detective from the Lord, “You are delighted to see him. But allow me to examine him first.”

The Lord was tired and pale but self-possessed, the glimmer of mischief I noted the evening he stole my hat having returned to his dark eyes. The fevered, broken man of the previous night—the man who had wept as he begged for the presence of his lover—seemed a mere dream as I examined his Lordship in the sober light of day. But his gaze still followed every movement of the valet’s. Their hands were intertwined tightly; Ohno ran his thumb across the white-knuckles of Lord Kazunari—he must have been holding onto the valet with all the force he possessed. Each seemed to require the contact as other men require breathing.

“Now that you are on the mend,” I continued after examining his stitches, “you can offer us an account of the events that led to your injury.”

The Lord glared up at me suspiciously, “I’m afraid I’ve not had the pleasure…” I caught a glimpse of Lady Riisa in his disdainfully raised brow.

Aiba swept me aside to seat himself on the bedclothes beside Lord Kazunari, seizing his shoulders and giving him a firm shake, “How can you, Nino? I am ashamed of you. You address the world-renowned Dr. Matsumoto Jun, the very man who saved your life last night! And we have been hired by your dear sister—she’s worried sick, man!—to investigate your disappearance. You are interviewed by Detective Aiba Masaki and Doctor Matsumoto Jun—a newly-formed, yes, but still irresistible partnership—yet you refuse to give way? I never thought you hard of heart, Nino,” Aiba concluded, his demeanor remarkably similar to that of a kicked puppy’s.

“Doctor,” Lord Kazunari implored as Aiba continued to shake him, “please, restrain this maniac!”

I reached out a hand to arrest Aiba’s overzealous attempts at persuasion, “I’m afraid there’s more of that in store for you, your Lordship, if you do not confess to your misadventures.”

“I beg of you Nino,” Aiba spoke more gently, “my only wish is to protect you and your family.”

The Lord’s gaze flickered between us, lingering with particular anxiety on Ohno’s impassive countenance. With an annoyed “humph,” he shook himself free of Aiba’s grasp, speaking with an uncharacteristically serious expression, “If I hesitate to narrate my history, it is only because I do not wish to involve you in a dangerous enterprise.”

“You involved us the moment you arrived at Aiba’s doorstep last night, bleeding through your shirt,” I noted bluntly.

The Lord’s face assumed a cross expression, “I believe I merely requested an interview with Ohno,” he muttered sulkily.

“Whose availability for interviews is by no means certain,” I offered on a sudden inspiration.

Aiba stared at me, wide-eyed, before seeming to catch the drift of my scheme. “That’s right, doctor,” he pronounced slowly, looking directly into the Lord’s eyes as he continued, “Ohno, if I asked you to go down to the country to retrieve my old cricket bat, how soon could you depart?”

Ohno replied without hesitation, “I believe there is a twelve-thirty train that I should just be able to catch.”

The valet made a movement as if to rise, only to be promptly pulled down by Lord Kazunari, whose next words resembled a kind of growl, “I see that I am outmaneuvered.” He released Ohno’s collar and turned towards Aiba with a sigh, “Then I shall inform you of the strange but not entirely unexpected circumstances that led to my turning up like a bad penny, to be blackmailed by my closest friend and his fancy medical companion.”

Aiba and I exchanged a glance of triumph; Lord Kazunari groaned. Ohno picked his nose.

 

*

 

“After attending a rather tasteless performance of The Queen of Spades—and in a top hat much inferior to yours, doctor—” (Aiba placed a restraining hand upon my knee), “I decided to return home. Several nights spent sleeping out of doors had tired me, and I hoped for a warm bath. I was alarmed to discover Riisa in the middle of one of her blasted dinner parties—she never used to host such bores…”

“Your colleagues,” I interjected.

“…at the house before she became engaged to that slimy Akanishi.”

“Lord Akanishi Jin?” Aiba confirmed.

“Yes,” Nino replied grimly, “And I have yet to give my consent, by the way. However, if I mention my refusal to Riisa, she starts rattling off some nonsense about the New Woman. In any case, I was not overly troubled, for I simply took the back staircase to the upper story and avoided the mob.”

“Did anyone see you making your way to your room?” Aiba had the cloth notebook out of his pocket again.

Lord Kazunari shook his head, “Not that I am aware of. I believe the servants were just sitting down to their own supper. Oh, the butler who answered the door saw me—perhaps he informed the others servants as well as Riisa.” Aiba scrawled a note in his untidy schoolboy hand. “I drew my own bath and afterwards dressed in my lounging suit and returned to my room. As usual, the door locked behind me.”

Now we were reaching the heart of the matter. Ohno astonished me by being the first to raise the question. “Why are you so careful to lock yourself in? Why do you keep a safe?” he inquired softly, as if he and Lord Kazunari were the only two present.

Lord Kazunari’s eyes were conflicted, but Ohno’s intent gaze soon drew him in. He licked his lips nervously, suddenly small and fragile-looking as he responded, “Because I have had secrets to keep for some time now, and I am beginning to fear that my life is endangered by them.” He closed his eyes before continuing, “For three years, I have been engaged in a project of collecting narratives and data from some of the city’s poorest residents.” He opened his eyes, “I have been compiling a manuscript detailing my adventures and observations, as well as crafting a new piece of legislation that I plan to introduce into parliament—a women and children’s welfare act that would place a heavier burden of taxation on the city’s wealthy to fund an entirely new, far more extensive program of food and housing.”

I was at a loss. Could this man and the hat thief be one and the same? Aiba appeared equally astonished. Ohno was smiling tearfully.

“But…why would such a piece of legislation place your life in danger?” I wondered.

Lord Kazunari assumed a cynical smirk, an expression so at odds with his innocent openness of just a moment before that I despaired of ever understanding the changeable gentleman, “Doctor, can you imagine anything more likely to incense the most wealthy—a set that includes, of course, our politicians—than a proposal to use their money for the benefit of the poorest?”

“Then they may vote it down. It will never pass.”

Lord Kazunari rubbed a palm across his brow before continuing, “Here is where it gets a bit dangerous.”

“Nino…” Aiba began in a warning tone, making me curious as to how often in the past the detective had scolded his friend.

“I knew it would never pass, doctor. In my father’s terms of service, and in my own, I have witnessed piece after piece of needed reform destroyed or dismantled, rampant corruption and favoritism, policies advanced only to benefit the wealthiest. So I chose to start combating these men on their own terms.”

“You are corrupt,” I pronounced, appalled.

Lord Kazunari’s eyes flashed, “Yes, and only because of that do I now have a chance of succeeding. The leaders of the opposition party either owe me money or possess a secret they do not wish to have revealed—one learns more on the streets than how the poor live. The strings of fate connecting the highest and the lowest would surprise you. I have made powerful men desperate, and now they are acting as desperate men must.” Lord Kazunari fixed his gaze on Ohno’s hand where it met his own before resuming, “I was too proud, Aiba. I started to believe those men were my dogs, forgetting that dogs will bite the man who is not their true master.” Lord Kazunari raised his gaze; I was taken aback by the tears veiling his eyes, “Are you satisfied with these revelations, detective? Have you uncovered the truth of your friend? Should I leave your presence instantly?”

Aiba was so still that I feared he might began sobbing as he had last night. I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I think, Nino,” the detective finally pronounced, “that you should continue recounting the events of last night. We have still not reached the point that most interests us.”

His Lordship looked uncertain whether to be relieved or frightened by Aiba’s mild response. He cleared his throat before continuing, “The party was still in progress when I entered my room—I could hear the strains of a waltz. I opened my safe and removed the manuscript, reviewing some pages and adding notes. I hoped publication would increase popular support for the bill—the story would be all the more sensational and likely to be noticed because the “slumming” was undertaken by a Lord.” I nodded, recalling the success of earlier popular "slum narratives" in combating the menace of child prostitution. “Around midnight, there were two sharp raps upon the door. I was careless,” the Lord grimaced, “I could still here the sounds of the party below, but I assumed it was Riisa—it was her distinctive knock, and she would often slip away to visit me when bored. I unlocked and opened the door…”

“Was your safe still open?” Aiba interrupted.

Lord Kazunari nodded, “I was about to place my manuscript inside, but left it open on the chance that Riisa might like to wear a necklace she kept there—I knew she would be announcing her engagement at another party the next day. It was stupid of me. No sooner had I cracked the door then I was attacked by a tall, foul-looking man with a ginger beard.”

“You did not recognize him?” Aiba questioned eagerly, still scrawling in his notebook.

“No, and there was no danger of it—he was no MP. He did not even bother to disguise his face. He carried a length of rope with him that he kept trying to tie about my neck—I suspect he intended to disguise my death as self-injury.”

I noted that Ohno had turned pale, his eyes frighteningly black. Lord Kazunari failed to notice his lover’s reaction as he continued, “I appear slight, but I am quick, and I have learned to fight on the streets. The struggle was desperate—my bedchamber was torn to pieces—I shouted but I believe the orchestra swallowed the noise. I abandoned any idea of escape through the door. Fumbling through the pockets of my smoking jacket as the brute choked me, I managed to hold a lit match to his eye. He released me, and I seized the manuscript from my desk, opened the window, and slid down the drainpipe—I have often left the house by way of that pipe. I do not know whether I was followed—I simply ran until the city swallowed me.” Lord Kazunari recounted his visit to Madame Becky, where, we learned, he had deposited the manuscript before attempting to lose himself in the rookeries of St. Giles. It was there that he had encountered the man with the ginger-beard for the second time that night.

“What? Again?” I exclaimed, beginning to doubt the veracity of his narrative.

“If I was indeed in my right mind, then it was the same man—the skin on the bridge of his nose and his eyelid were mottled and burned. This time, he had a knife, but I escaped through the aid of the good men and women of St. Giles. The last I saw of the assassin, he was buried in a shallow grave near the pauper’s cemetery.”

Aiba appeared physically ill at the revelation; Ohno smiled. From my seated position, I placed my head between my knees as a medical precaution against faintness. How could a stolen hat, a charming smile from a handsome idiot, and the fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle result in my embroilment in an affair of parliamentary intrigue and murder?

 

*

 

The silence (to say the least) lingered. Then I heard a clinking of glasses. I raised my head; Ohno held a large bottle of whiskey in one hand and four small glasses in the other. Had he hidden them beneath the bed, or in his jacket?

“I propose,” he offered quietly, his tone not ungentle, “that each of us take a strong drink.”

I looked helplessly towards the detective, who nodded, swallowing before congratulating his valet roughly, “An excellent suggestion, Ohno.”

“Doctor?” Lord Kazunari raised a brow.

“Alcohol’s an antiseptic, isn’t it?” I answered lightly, accepting a glass from Ohno, “please feel free, your Lordship.”

At Aiba’s prompting, the four of us toasted—Ohno muttered something resembling, “Let’s work well together”—before downing the contents; Ohno collected and began refilling the glasses before the burn had disappeared from my throat.

“I think what we might do,” the valet continued as he poured in his quiet, efficient way, “is resolve upon what would be the most desirable outcome of this affair—what it is that we want. Aiba, would you pass me your book?” We were all in awe of the valet’s decisive manner, I believe—we watched with rapt attention as Aiba obediently passed Ohno the casebook, and the valet proceeded to neatly tear four scraps of paper from it. “Let us all write what we desire—what we hope for most of all—and then see whether those aims may be compatible, or if we must separate to achieve them,” he continued authoritatively.

His Lordship examined the valet suspiciously while Aiba appeared impressed. “What I want?” his Lordship repeated indignantly.

“Only one,” the valet replied mildly, his eyes meeting Lord Kazunari’s. “There is only space for one.”

“A good solution,” Aiba offered brightly, knocking back his second glass and sputtering as he began distributing the papers, “To think that Holmes merely had his Watson—I’ve a masterful valet behind me as well!”

I accepted my scrap defeatedly, privately convinced that the exercise was a foolish one but unable to refuse Aiba (or, to write the truth, Ohno, who’d suddenly assumed a hypnotic authority over our small circle).

After we’d written our messages (Ohno’s, Aiba’s, and my own were completed quickly; Lord Kazunari completed his only after much hesitation), the valet crumpled and mixed them in his hands (of course, it would be easily apparent who had written what, but Ohno seemed determined on the farce) before passing the handful to Aiba. “Please open them, detective,” he demanded softly, the first instance I could recall of the valet addressing his employer as “detective.” Aiba carefully unfurled and spread the messages upon the bedclothes. We craned our necks to examine them closely.

For Aiba to be safe.

For his Lordship to be safe.

For the bill to stand a chance of passing in the House.

For dear Jun, Ohno, and Nino to be safe from harm.

“That’s clearly more than one desire!” Lord Kazunari cried, glaring in Aiba’s direction as he thrust a finger at the offending scrap. His face was painfully flushed, and he was determinedly avoiding the gaze of his lover.

Ignoring Lord Kazunari’s outburst, Ohno began arranging the papers upon the bed, carefully separating those that contained the word “safe” from the other. “Here lies the difficulty,” he murmured, indicating the gap between the papers with an elegant finger, “Detective, how do you propose we reconcile these competing aims?”

I felt rather slighted at being so soundly ignored by the valet, but the glow of delight in Aiba’s eyes at being so addressed mollified me (somewhat): “I would insist,” Aiba began slowly, picking up steam as he continued, “That we offer Nino a safe haven and our protection on condition that he cancels his loans and his schemes of blackmail. We will publish the book, and we will do everything in our power to bring the bill to the House, but only on terms befitting a gentleman.” (Nino snorted in response). “In the meantime, I will investigate—along with my capable assistant—” the detective turned to me with pleading eyes—will any reader blame me for nodding in reply? “the identity of the engineer of these assassination attempts. We know it to be a man at the party who hired this assassin—either he or the assassin must have tidied Nino’s room that night, staging the scene to make it appear as if Nino had stolen his sister’s diamond.” (“Pardon? I am accused of theft? Blast that Riisa!” Nino cried.) “And we know he has some knowledge of Nino—some means of tracing his movements. He even knew of your arrival at the house. You may even have been followed here, of course.”

“If he was, I will protect him,” Ohno spoke firmly. The statement was patently absurd—how could a valet protect a man marked for death? Yet, in that moment (perhaps it was the influence of the whiskey), I believed him. I was beginning to suspect that the soft-spoken valet had formerly been employed as a bodyguard to the King of Bohemia.

Aiba nodded, “Then we will safeguard you, Nino, until you propose the bill. But only on the conditions I enumerated.”

“But to accept those conditions,” Nino responded hotly, “is to guarantee its failure!”

“To continue such corruption is to ensure your death. What is your opinion of his Lordship’s actions?” I inquired, turning to Ohno, certain his opinion would carry the most weight with his Lordship.

Lord Kazunari was clasping one of the valet’s hands tightly in both his own. “I cannot advise you, Kazunari,” Ohno addressed him directly, making me feel as though I were witnessing something unbearably intimate. The way they looked upon each other—the valet impassive but tense with concentration, Lord Kazunari with something like a desperate fury in his eyes—made me long to flee the bedchamber before I snapped and strangled one or both of them. “I can only tell you what I want,” Ohno continued, his hand gesturing toward the crumpled slip, “I have already shown you the deepest desire of my heart. I will do nothing other than attempt to fulfill that desire.”

I chanced a glance at his Lordship; he was trembling. “Unjust,” he whispered fiercely in reply, “you are always unjust to me, Satoshi. You refuse to recognize conflicting demands—you will never admit to circumstances beyond one’s control.”

Ohno’s lips quirked, “Believe me, your Lordship, I am well aware of the pain of conflicting demands. And of the power of circumstances beyond one’s control to limit one’s choices.”

Lord Kazunari appeared ready to hit Ohno; I raised my arm as if to prevent it, and I noted Aiba moving forward as if to sooth him, but Nino raised a hand to calm him. “Do not fear, Aiba,” he gritted out between his teeth, “your valet is safe from harm. I agree to your conditions. I will call off my schemes, and henceforth conduct myself only on the straight and narrow path. And if you and your doctor do not absent yourselves immediately, I will not be responsible for my actions.”

I managed an anxious glace back at Ohno as Aiba hastily seized my hand to pull me from the room; the valet caught my eyes and nodded (I imagine) reassuringly—there was the slightest twitching of his eyebrow in his otherwise inexpressive face, but I believe he intended to convey that he was quite comfortable in the presence of his Lordship’s wrath.

The detective and I turned to each other breathlessly outside the door. “Detective,” I panted, “are you not concerned that, in inadvertently bringing these two particular individuals together, you have not…”

“...become the author of the greatest love story of our time?”

“I was going to say, threatened the continued existence of the British Empire.”

Aiba burst out laughing; I relaxed instantly at the familiar, breathy chuckles, “I suppose the two are…”

“…like acid and metal?”

“I was going to say, oil and water, but I prefer your metaphor, doctor. Nino has more bite.”

“And Ohno is more solid.”

It was then that we heard something I must describe—forgive me, dear reader!—as an ecstatic cry emanating from the opposite side of the door. Eschewing all potential medical responsibility for my patient’s condition, I followed Aiba’s example in taking off like a shot—we were both bright red as we stood panting on the doorstep, fully driven out of our place of residence by the two insufferable lovers. “Detective,” I extended my hand, “shall we swear—on our honor as gentlemen—never to refer to what we have seen and heard this hour again?”

“On my honor,” Aiba declared, seizing my hand. “Come, doctor, there is a one o’clock train for Oxford.”

“Oxford?”

“The deceptively-idyllic lair of none other than the dastardly Professor Sho,” my companion grimaced.

“Take my arm, detective," luckily, in his distraction, I believe the detective failed to noticed how my voice trembled, "And we may just catch it.”

Chapter Text

While Aiba hastened to send a telegram to Lady Riisa informing her of her brother’s whereabouts (“But all in code, my dear fellow, indecipherable code,” he assured me), I took the opportunity to secure us a private first class compartment for the hour’s journey to Oxford. I suspected that the detective would travel third class without complaint, but I was determined to share a private audience with Aiba—I was anxious to learn the history of the detective’s “nemesis,” Professor Sakurai. Indeed, I found Aiba’s enmity toward the detective shocking—it was so unlike his usual good cheer and tolerance towards his fellow man (a tolerance, I’d noted, that extended as far as an impertinent valet, an infamous Lord, and even my own curmudgeonly self). What depraved acts could this Professor be guilty of?

However, I ran into some trouble upon our entrance into the first class carriage—namely, that we seemed to be in much more intimate proximity than I had prepared myself for. I recommend the Rail Office to conduct a study on the matter—I am certain that when I left for the Sudan in ’85, private compartments were far more spacious, and the following years have witnessed a drastic decline in railway passenger comfort. While Aiba and I are not the shortest of men, I would consider our size average, yet we found ourselves chest to chest, elbow to elbow, and face to face as we struggled to arrange ourselves. When seated on opposite sides of the compartment facing one another, our knees hovered close, always but an inch from meeting.

Why this should have discomfited me so perhaps the reader knows better than I—in any case, a strangely charged atmosphere fell over our compartment, and it was with some trouble that I thought of a remark to break the silence. “It is good that you have warned Lady Riisa. But I wonder if Madame Becky is in some danger as well? Perhaps Lord Kazunari was followed to her theatre, as he was later followed to St. Giles.”

Aiba nodded thoughtfully as he attempted to tuck his long limbs in more closely to his body, “Yes, you are quite right, doctor. At Oxford, let us send her a telegram warning her of the possible danger and arrange to meet with her.”

I caught the detective’s eye—we both looked down—I to examine the head of my walking stick, Aiba to tug at his gloves. The uneasy silence returned.

“Did you…” I glanced up to discover Alba staring fixedly out the window beside us as he spoke in an unusually unhurried tone, “…think Madame Becky very beautiful, doctor?”

I nodded, surprised by the turn of our conversation. “Yes. I can see why she is so celebrated at the theatre—her eyes are extremely arresting. Very unusual. Though I suspect she is somewhat less graceful off stage than on,” I grinned, recalling her tumble in the dressing room.

Aiba turned to me with an oddly crestfallen expression, “I am certain she took a great liking to you, doctor. You seem a favorite with her already, and I am sure she would grant you another interview,” he replied with a stricken expression.

I was uncertain how to respond; I felt a confusion threatening to transform into delight at the detective’s apparent concern…could it be that Aiba felt some jealousy, however small, at my easy conversation with Madame Becky?

“May I inquire…” Aiba looked at me anxiously as I struggled to continue, “…as to your opinion of Lord Kazunari and Ohno’s relationship? Forgive me for the intimacy of the question, but I am curious as to your opinion of gentlemen who prefer to pursue…alliances…with other gentleman rather than with women?”

The detective turned away to examine the passing landscape, but he answered with a smile and in a quiet, steady voice, “My opinion is that love—I mean, a sincere love that meets with a return—can never be an object of contempt. And may I inquire as to your…I mean,” he seemed to fumble over his words, “that is to say…your…er… medical opinion of such alliances?”

I could not help smiling at the detective’s attractive confusion as he flushed a deep shade of crimson. “Much new literature on the topic suggests that such relationships have no ill consequences, other than, of course, the social stigma that one must inevitably face. In my own case, I have never detected any ill effects from the pursuit. My opinion is that love between persons of the same sex is no more or less foolish than love between persons of the opposite sex.”

Aiba turned to me with glowing eyes, “That is your medical opinion, doctor?” he teased.

I tried to suppress a grin (and escape the detective’s enthusiastic countenance) by turning to the window, pretending to carefully study the vibrant blues and greens that rushed past us, “Yes, detective. As a doctor, I decline to prescribe a remedy for it.”

“Jun,” the detective spoke softly, and when I turned towards him I discovered that his face was near. He licked his lips, “I think you must be uncomfortable. Please,” he began tucking the compartment’s small lap robe about my legs, “wrap yourself up well.” His hair just grazed my nose as he leaned over me as he tucked in the corners of the blanket.

I believe I astonished both of us with my sudden question, “And what is your history with Professor Sakurai?”

A blank silence—the detective narrowly missed my nose as his head shot up in surprise. Even the compartment doors seemed to scowl out me. “Forgive me,” I tried again, “the question was sudden. I am only curious as to the history of his villainy—I feel I must be prepared for our interview.”

Aiba sank back into the cushions of his seat, his expression pained. He grimaced, “Yes, I suppose my claims of his devilry do entitle you to an explanation, my dear Jun. You must forgive me if I am intemperate in my expressions—through his actions I have experienced a persistent hurt, a thorn that still pricks at me painfully.”

I felt an immediate urge to strangle the offending professor, particularly as I watched Aiba’s warm eyes slowly fill with sadness as he continued, his right hand clenching and un-clenching anxiously about his crumpled gloves as he spoke, “As you might have suspected from my excellent cooking this afternoon,” (seeing that his eyes were near flood-level, I allowed this to pass), “I am not entirely new to the kitchen. I am a gentleman by education, doctor, not by birth. My parents were cooks in the kitchen of the first Lord Kazunari. When I was young, the old man took a great liking to me, as did his children, and he sent me to school with Nino. I was that despised thing at Eaton and then at Oxford—a scholarship boy. Other than Nino, I came to possess only one faithful friend, the very brilliant and admired Sakurai Sho, the son of a government minister.”

I felt a burning sensation in my chest as I realized the depth of the intimacy that must have existed between them, first as school fellows and then as undergraduates. I glanced down at Aiba’s hands, fearful that his gloves would soon be torn to shreds but unable to reach out to prevent him. The detective continued, “We were professors together for a brief time at the city college—Sakurai specialized in behavioral science while my work was focused in zoology. I shared everything with Sakurai—my dreams, what I imagined to be the future direction of my work, and, unfortunately, my work itself.” Aiba swallowed painfully before pronouncing in a fierce whisper, “The professor misappropriated my data.”

Perhaps my reader will feel an instinct to smile, or even laugh, or may be disappointed to discover no greater villainy attributable to the nefarious Professor; however, any scientists or researchers among my readers will, I trust, understand the detective’s sense of violation.

“No, Jun,” he read my surmise in my expression, “he did not publish my research as his own. Instead, he showed my work to a senior colleague. I had spent several years studying the expression of emotions in chimpanzees and other primates—I hoped to produce a work demonstrating the unity of their emotional life with our own. I discovered remarkable correspondences between human and animal expression. Nor did the senior colleague simply publish my research as his own—instead, he put it to quite a different use.” The floodgates overflowed; tears slipped down my companion’s nose; I felt bitterly chastened for my curiosity, “The head of the college used my photographs and observations of chimpanzees as data in a book he produced claiming that all races of men other than the English—the “lower races,” as he called them—exist at the “level of the animal”—that they have as little intelligence and ability of reasoning, he wrote, as an ape. I lived to see my data used to justify the most base, the most unreasoning and unscientific racism, and Professor Sakurai still fails to see how he has offended me.”

Filled with self-loathing for upsetting my friend, I passed him my best handkerchief, “And when did this occur? That is, if it does not upset you to speak of it further,” I hastened to add.

Aiba sighed before blowing into the handkerchief noisily, “It is difficult, but some relief, I think, to speak of it. It happened little more than a year ago now.”

I fished out my second-best handkerchief from the lining of my jacket, “And have you spoken to the Professor since this betrayal?”

“I left the college, but since then I have been plagued by his harassment. The betrayal was followed immediately by his promotion to department head, and then a transfer to Oxford, so I believed that he had obtained his object. But now I think the act must have been motivated not only by ambition but by a positive malice, for he has continued to dog my footsteps ever since.”

Hatred—its embers aglow since I had first read the Professor’s letter—was stoked into flame by the expression of my dear companion. “I cannot convey to you Jun,” he mumbled, having fully employed one handkerchief and now moved on to the next, “how shocked I was by his actions—I considered him a trustworthy friend. Indeed, since then I think I have rather lost faith in...it is only recently that…”

The train whistle interrupted the detective’s reflections; we shuddered to a halt. Before thought prevented action, I seized the detective’s hands in both my own, realizing too late that I embraced my soiled handkerchiefs as well, “Then have faith in your abilities now, detective. We shall use all the reason and intuition at our disposal—no small amount, I assure you—to outmaneuver this man and win your reputation as a detective.”

“Jun,” the detective whispered, his eyes bright, “you put Dr. Watson himself to shame.”

I blushed, recognizing that I had received the detective’s highest compliment.

 

*

 

The meeting took place in a retired cloister near the back of the college. The stone walls were weathered and crumbling, but the square was shaded by large trees and contained a beautiful stone fountain at its center. The day had been fine, but the sky had turned an ominous gray as we wound our way through the university. The bare branches of the trees stood out starkly against the gray sky. The ground was littered with wet red and yellow leaves.

Aiba led me through an ivy-covered door; the professor stood immediately upon our entrance. He stood before a stone bench near the fountain. I noted that he had thoughtfully laid down a warm flannel across the bench, rendering it suitable for sitting.

But I write of these details to avoid those observations most pertinent—while I have attempted to overcome my weakness in relation to the person of Professor Sakurai, I must confess that it still pains me to confess that his appearance was remarkably attractive, more so than my own; his demeanor easy but polite; his dress impeccable (though, I should note, completely lacking in personal style). I felt, if I may abuse the English language so, completely out-gentlemanned by the upright figure before me.

The professor’s face wore an expression of tender concern as he examined my friend; it was only after several long moments that he observed my presence, his expression instantly transforming into one of uncertainty, “Masaki…I had not known…That is to say, I requested a private interview. I have matters to discuss that are…”

Aiba seemed to have turned to stone beside me; I was relieved when his voice finally rang out, “You wish to speak to me on matters related to my current investigation. Dr. Matsumoto Jun is intimately involved in the investigation as my assistant; I require his presence.”

The professor bowed politely in my direction, “Dr. Matsumoto, please excuse me, but if you would allow me a word with an old friend…”

“Impossible,” Aiba interrupted, grabbing the sleeve of my overcoat and turning as if to depart.

Quick footsteps, and a restraining hand on the detective’s shoulder. We turned back in surprise, “Please Masaki,” the professor panted, with a quick glance towards me before turning imploring eyes upon the detective’s face, “Stay. And Dr. Matsumoto as well. Believe me, I have much to tell you.”

 

*

 

I paced about the edge of the fountain, attempting through action to ease the sharp pain in my leg brought on by the damp weather, while Aiba stood near as Sho recounted his tale. Aiba’s expression was strangely shuttered as he stood quietly by—I could not decipher the detective’s opinion of the professor’s narrative. I had never seen the detective so self-contained—his gaze seemed turned inward.

“I learned of your participation in the investigation through a somewhat labyrinthine series of connections. My maid, Miss Horikita, is the adopted sister of Miss Kuroki Meisa, a dancer at The Circus. Miss Horikita was visiting her sister when she spotted you backstage.” I rolled my eyes, recalling the detective’s absurdly transparent disguise as my “valet.”

“Upon pointing you out to Miss Kuroki, Miss Kuroki informed her that Lord Kazunari had just been on the premises and engaged in mysterious conversation with Madame Becky. I believe Miss Kuroki told Horikita of this meeting in the strictest confidence—I imagine that she must have been eavesdropping on Madame Becky—but Horikita was sufficiently worried for your well-being to share the information with me. She knows how…dear…you are to me, Masaki,” the professor finished gently.

Aiba turned away, but the tremble in his frame betrayed his—what? his anger? his sadness? “And then?” the detective responded shortly.

The professor was silent for a few moments—he had flinched when Aiba turned from him, and I believe he was struggling to master his own emotions, “I was there when Lady Riisa and Lord Akanishi opened the room that morning. And I was at the party the night before. I saw Lady Riisa’s devastation at the verdict of the Scotland Yard investigator—I guessed she might have turned to you for help. And so might Lord Kazunari.”

The detective was studying a rose bush intently. “And you believe you have information pertinent to the investigation?” I prompted. The professor started at my voice, turning towards me as if only just recalling my presence.

He nodded briefly, “Yes, doctor. While I have no idea how such a scene could be staged, like Aiba I am…I was…Lord Kazunari’s friend, and I believe him incapable of theft. But I have my suspicions of Lord Akanishi. His manner that morning struck me as strange—he seemed too eager, I thought, to involve the police in the matter, an unusual trait in a peer; they usually abhor the involvement of the authorities. And through several sources, I have heard that his lordship is quite deeply in debt, and he was not pleased by Lord Kazunari’s resistance to his marriage to Lady Riisa.”

“This is all mere speculation,” Aiba spoke quietly, still examining the withered rose bush, his fingers tracing the thorns.

“Yes, but I noticed a strange absence of Lord Akanishi the night before. Around midnight, I observed him on the edge of the floor, in deep conversation with Lady Riisa’s butler. He slipped from the room, and he did not return until nearly half an hour later, looking strangely ruffled. Lady Riisa was on the floor for the entire period—I was surprised by his absenting himself from her side during the dancing.”

“You watched his movements very closely,” I observed suspiciously.

The professor frowned, “I trust you not to speak of this matter, so I will confess that I had a particular reason for following Lord Akanishi’s movements that night. Horikita had begged me to speak with him, and I spent the night in futile attempts to corner him in a personal interview. I’m afraid her sister Miss Kuroki is with child and only weeks away from losing her position at The Circus, and the fiend who seduced and abandoned the poor young woman is none other than Lord Akanishi. Horikita hopes Akanishi can be convinced to take responsibility for her sister’s condition.” Aiba and I exchanged a look of surprise—Lady Riisa could not be aware of her fiancée’s behavior, I was certain.

Aiba spoke stiffly, “Is that all the information you have to share?”

“Yes,” Sakurai returned, so quietly, and with such obvious sadness, that I felt a most uncomfortable sensation of pity for the man. I did my best to quell it by focusing on his offensively polished shoes and crisply-ironed pocket handkerchief.

“Then we will be on our way. Come, doctor.”

The professor was on his feet, “You will not even thank me?” he cried, anger in his voice. “You will not even look upon my face?”

Aiba turned towards him, pale and shaking. I reached for his elbow to steady him, “How can you ask me for gratitude? There is nothing in your testimony that even assures me of its truth. I even suspect that you called me here to hinder my investigation. I owe you no debt of thankfulness.”

The professor appeared ready to combust with frustration—in his rising fury, I recognized a temper not unlike my own. “So you are implacable,” he pronounced slowly, attempting to rein in his anger, “you will never forgive me. Though I hardly know how I could have deserved this treatment.”

“How can you not?” Aiba whispered. I wondered whether to pull him from the garden, but the detective appeared rooted to the spot, “If you cannot, then you have no imagination. And you are no scientist. If you cannot understand the pain of seeing my name in that terrible man’s book, of seeing the work I loved used for such perverted ends.”

The color drained from the professor’s face; comprehension dawned on his features. “But Masaki,” he began shakily, “you must know I did so for your benefit—you were on the verge of being sent down—I showed him your work to secure your employment.”

“How could you have done so without my consent?”

“Because you did not know what was best for you,” the professor spoke more gently, “you were never capable of understanding the politics of influence. You had no ambition, but I had ambition for you.”

“But his book…”

“Is trash,” the professor interrupted, “is trash, but if you had remained, a promotion would have allowed you to complete your work. As you had always dreamed.”

The detective shook his head in disbelief, “No,” he whispered, “you cannot convince me. You claim to have betrayed me for my own benefit, but since that time you have done nothing but harm me.”

The professor was suddenly near, his hand hovering as though anxious to replace mine at the detective’s elbow. “What do you mean, Masaki? How have I hurt you?”

“The case of the misplaced glove?”

The professor flushed red, “I only found it by chance on the floor of the opera house, I had no intention of foiling your investigation.”

“The threatening drawings?”

The professor looked befuddled, “The drawings of my travels? Those were landscapes, Masaki.”

“Your spies outside my house?”

The professor looked mortified, “I…was anxious to meet with you…to assure myself that you were well…”

“The night you set me on fire in Lord Toma’s drawing room?” Aiba cried, as if daring the professor to contradict him.

The professor’s face fell, “I…I was only trying…” the professor’s voice dropped to a whisper, “to offer you an aromatic candle. Its contact with your hair was entirely accidental, I swear it.”

I glanced anxiously towards the detective; he seemed breathless.

“Please, Masaki,” the professor pressed, his eyes glowing as he seized the detective’s arm, “Do not endanger yourself by becoming involved in this matter. Apologize and return to the university. You can complete your work. I will help you.”

To my relief, the detective jerked his arm from the professor’s grip. “I may be guilty of a grave misunderstanding,” he managed, his voice strained, “if my anger has distorted your actions unjustly, I am sorry. But the original betrayal remains. I can forgive you for your actions, but we still think too differently upon this subject for us ever to be what we once were to each other.”

“It was only data!” the professor finally exploded, raising a fist to his forehead in frustration.

The detective’s next words were laced with pain, “There is no such thing as mere data, professor. There are only the stories that we tell with it.”

Aiba turned; the professor reached for his shoulder. Unprepared for his sudden grasp, the detective stumbled and fell to the ground.

My quiet endurance of the scene was at an end. As the detective had guessed the first night of our acquaintance, I possess an easily roused temper that—in addition to my shyness—it has been the task of many years to overcome. My battle against shyness has been more successful.

I stepped before the professor; I seized him by his crisp white collar and shook, “How dare you touch him! And how dare you speak to him as though he were a child in need of your guidance!” I cried, throwing him to the ground in disgust.

The professor stared up at me, red-faced and aghast. “Come man!” I shouted, “I am challenging you. Get to your feet and fight!”

The professor’s gaze flicked to my leg, “As a gentleman, sir…it would hardly be fair…”

The professor had touched upon the subject most likely to infuriate me. All traces of pity evaporating, I flung myself upon him, “I’ll show you a fair fight!” I growled, raising my fist and rapidly bringing us to blows.

As a lesson to those as foolish as myself—to those young men who might consider a fist fight a glamorous and impressive act—I offer this truthful report: after a few blows had been exchanged, I am afraid our combat descended to the level of skill commonly observed between feuding chamber maids. That is, the professor was able to pin me beneath him and—truly unable to maneuver my leg—I could not recover my position. Seeing my inability to right myself, he hesitated, and I seized his hair in an attempt to force him from me. He promptly seized my own hair, and I am ashamed to write that we were lying side by side on the wet grass, both crying out in agony as we pulled each other’s hair, when Aiba separated us.

Aiba pulled me to my feet and held me to his chest as I strained to reach the professor; the professor was doubled over before us, his hands upon his knees as he panted. I was pleased to note an unattractive smudge of mud upon his forehead.

“Madmen!” Aiba was shouting, “Idiots! Rogues! Stop struggling Jun, before I throw you into the fountain to cool your head!”

I quieted myself; Aiba freed me from his arms. I smirked when the professor took a step back upon my release. I turned to Aiba; he was staring intently at the professor. “Doctor,” he spoke in a commanding voice, “please be so good as to wait for me outside the cloister. I must speak to the professor privately.”

“Detective…” I protested.

Aiba turned to me with hard eyes, “Please, doctor, I beg this favor of you.”

I held Aiba’s gaze, aware of the professor looking anxiously between us. Aiba was the first to break the connection, turning away. Slowly, I lowered myself to the ground, retrieving my walking stick before making my way through the ivy-covered door. I waited for the detective on the other side, anger and some other, much less satisfying emotion eating away at my heart.

 

*

 

The return journey was a quiet one; I would not meet the detective’s eyes as we made our way to the station. I cursed myself again for the smallness of the compartment, staring with determination out the window. Quick glances at the detective were a sharp lash; he was biting his lower lip, his brown eyes large and sad. Unfairly so, I reflected—his appearance rendered forgiveness irresistible.

“Jun, I…” he began once the train had picked up speed and the landscape bled past us.

“I was wrong,” I interrupted harshly. “Your ability as a detective is not in understanding the workings of the human heart. I think you know nothing of other's hearts, detective. Your only talent lies in inspiring affection in others.”

“Jun…”

I stood abruptly and left the compartment, slamming the sliding door behind me. I walked to the end of the carriage before removing the pipe, tobacco and matches I kept hidden in my jacket. The first puff burned; I had not smoked since the Sudan.

 

*

 

I left the station without the detective and spent the day wandering the city, first in Kensington Gardens, then through Hampstead. When the rain grew worse, I stepped in and out of shops, attempting half-heartedly to keep dry. I hoped exhaustion would calm me.

The pain in my leg grew worse until I could no longer bear it; I returned to Garden Place at ten, realizing sourly at the doorstep that I still possessed no key.

I rang the bell, expecting Ohno. Barely half a minute had passed when the door was flung open to reveal Aiba, wide eyes concerned. He seemed to sag with relief, eagerly reaching out a hand to lead me inside.

I brushed past him quickly, attempting to suppress the regret threatening to choke me if I met his eyes. I felt a pang of guilt when I spotted Lord Kazunari and Ohno seated before the fire; I had been careless of my patient’s welfare. With a great act of will, I forced myself to examine him (rather brusquely, I must admit) before hurrying to my room.

I chose Beethoven, placing the record carefully upon the phonograph (the device had been to the Sudan and back with me), raising the volume as high as possible, hoping to drown out my thoughts. After stripping out of my wet clothes and changing into my pajamas, I laid down upon the bed. It then occurred to me that the last time I had performed this particular sequence of actions, I had been fifteen years old and had just finished a terrible row with my friend.

I stood up, lowered the volume of the thundering notes of the piano, and opened my door; Aiba stood outside with two mugs of what appeared to be hot chocolate. I felt an unbearable itching sensation behind my eyes. “Detective,” I began, stopping as I found myself unable to modulate my tone, “Detective,” I began again, “how can I begin to apologize…”

Aiba smiled and brushed past me. “Please don’t think of it, my dear fellow. I realize that this must have been a most distressing day. I placed you in an awkward position, and I have abused your generous friendship. Please sit,” he gestured towards the bed before I could protest, sitting the mugs carefully upon my nightstand.

Obediently, I seated myself, but I nearly jumped to my feet again when Aiba suddenly kneeled down before me, seizing my thigh and beginning to massage it. “It has rained since this afternoon, doctor, you must be in great pain.” His touch was astonishingly soothing—I wondered if he had been formally trained. But I could only think of removing him from the vicinity of my waist as rapidly as possible.

“Please,” I begged, “it is nothing. Sit and drink hot chocolate with me, Aiba.” Aiba glanced up at me, his eyes dark. He gave a few more firm presses before raising himself up to sit beside me.

“Thank you,” I repeated when he was safely out of range (though even the heat of his body beside me was unnerving), “I cannot tell you how sorry I am for my outrageous behavior today.” The detective tried to interrupt, but I raised a hand, “Please, I will feel more comfortable if I apologize. My violence toward the professor was foolish, but far worse was my inconsiderate behavior to you afterwards. I am sorry to prove myself such an appalling companion and unreliable assistant.”

Aiba shook his head, his voice gentle, “I am not angry. I was only relieved that you returned. If it will make you more comfortable, I accept your apology.” I nodded. “And I forgive you,” he continued with a smile, “and I thank you. While I do not wish to witness another hair-pulling match, I thank you for the sentiment behind it,” he grinned.

I sipped my hot chocolate carefully. It was delicious—likely Ohno’s work. “Do you wish to discuss your encounter with the professor? Have you changed your…opinion…of him?”

Aiba took a sip as well. “May we discuss it another time?” he finally responded. “At the moment, I have something else that I am far more curious about.”

“Something relating to the investigation?”

Aiba shook his head. “No.” He set his mug down and turned to face me, his eyes so wide that I was dazzled by rays of reflected lamp light, “I have become worried that I offend you by addressing you as “Jun.” You never address me as Masaki. Would it make you more comfortable to be called Matsumoto?”

The reader will surely understand my surprise at the sudden inquiry. “No, of course not. I would have told you if I were offended.”

“Would you?” Aiba asked softly, his voice suddenly anxious. His face seemed closer. “Would you tell me if you were offended? You would not ignore it to be…kind?”

I set down my mug. Piano notes crashed against one another as I turned to face him. “No, detective,” I rasped out, my mouth suddenly dry, “I may omit certain truths, but I never lie for the sake of kindness. Even if I think it painful, I will tell you the truth if you ask me.”

Aiba slowly raised a hand, his fingertips just grazing my jaw. I closed my eyes, struggling to regulate my breathing. I feared my teeth would begin chattering. I opened my eyes. Aiba was flushed and near tears. “Then Jun,” he spoke in a low, rough voice, “please tell me the truth, with no concern for kindness. Do you…care for me? Enough that you would wish to embrace me? I care for you, Jun. I want to embrace you,” he confessed simply, his eyes shining with unshed tears. I raised a hand to capture his trembling fingers in a tight grip. He gasped.

Aiba—I think I am trying to write to you now as I recount this, for I know this recollection will not—cannot—be read by another—. I told you that I would never lie to you, but that I might omit certain truths. A truth omitted: I was terrified. Did you know how frightened I was? Is that why you were so gentle? Like many men of our age, I think, my amorous encounters until that night had been furtive, secretive, fumbled, most often anonymous: a corner of an empty classroom at school, a woman in a darkened alley, the man I met aboard ship, but always darkness. Confronted by the brilliant, shifting lights in your dark eyes, confronted with your affection I was helpless—can you blame me for fearing that, in my eagerness to grasp it, I would crush what I most desired?

Enough of this madness. The investigation. I must follow the thread of the investigation, or this narrative will slip between my fingers like sand.

Aiba’s hands clutched at my shirt; mine were tangled in his hair. I touched the softness of his lips with mine until the phonograph hummed the record’s noiseless rounds. I pushed you to the bed when you cried out, but it was not with pleasure. I followed your gaze (I am writing to you again, detective. Always, you ensnare me!) behind my shoulder to the large window on the opposite side of the room.

There, staring through the glass, were the two most frightfully unwelcome faces I have ever encountered: Madame Becky and Professor Sakurai watched us with wide eyes from behind the windowpane, their fingers clutching at the sill.

Chapter Text

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.

“Nino?”

“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.

Chapter Text

In the morning, I woke alone. As alone as a man can be while wearing a cat for a scarf. I was beginning to find Holmes’ attention rather flattering; I have never been a favorite with animals (my sister insisted that it was my thick brows that provoked them), but Holmes seemed to have taken a liking to me. Peeling the sleeping cat from my neck, I noted the early hour—when had Aiba risen? Why had I not sensed his loss?

As I dressed, I listened for sounds of the detective—his location was usually easy to determine, as he was generally crashing about or talking loudly with Ohno. But I only heard the faint murmurings coming from the direction of the kitchen.

Finding the great room empty, I made my way down the hall to the kitchen; the door was ajar, and I caught sight of Ohno standing before the large work table, slicing bread and assembling sandwiches with great concentration—his head hung heavily as he worked. A few steps from the kitchen, I heard a gentle snore, and I realized that the valet had fallen asleep standing up. I felt a strange pang at the sight of his hunched figure—had he maintained his vigil over Lord Kazunari last night as well?

I was about to enter and at least remove the knife from his drifting hand when I was stopped by the sight of Lord Kazunari (I had not spotted him till now) stepping behind the valet and gently removing the knife from his hand and placing it on the table. As the valet swayed, the Lord wrapped his arms about his waist and tugged him carefully into a chair, slowly folding the valet’s arms upon the table and moving his head to rest upon them. I noticed for the first time that the Lord was slightly taller than the valet. Lord Kazunari’s hand passed gently over Ohno’s brow.

With the sensation of intruding upon an intimate moment (a sensation usual around the pair), I stepped quietly into the doorframe, careful to keep my voice low so as not to disturb the gently snoring Ohno. “Aiba?” I mouthed, catching Lord Kazunari’s eye.

His lordship motioned for me to enter, responding softly but clearly, “He left early this morning to visit Riisa. He wanted to explain the current state of the investigation in person.” I tried to conceal my disappointment—almost my vexation—at the news. Why had the detective not woken me? I would have accompanied him, even if it had simply been to wait outside the door while he spoke with Lady Riisa.

Lord Kazunari laughed softly, giving me the uncanny feeling that he had read my thoughts. “Do not worry, doctor, I’m sure the detective still values your assistance. Earlier this morning he was going on about how adorable you looked sleeping and how he couldn’t bear to wake you after such a trying night. I had to push him out the front door to escape his effusions.”

I had finally detected a point of similarity between the lord and the valet; both seemed preternaturally gifted at embarrassing me. I was contemplating escape when his lordship gestured for me to sit; I glanced warily in Ohno’s direction, but the Lord shook his head, “Do not fear, he is so exhausted that I doubt he will wake.”

I gingerly took a seat, surprised when his lordship placed a mug of hot chocolate before me. When he took a seat on the opposite side of the table, I realized that I was in for some sort of interview. Possibly for some sort of test.

My supposition proved accurate. “So you have been acquainted with Aiba since the night I borrowed your top hat?” the Lord began, taking a sip of his hot chocolate with a nonchalant air. His black eyes, however, were sharp.

I stiffened, my brows knitting together (a bad habit of theirs, my sister would say). “Since the night you stole my top hat, yes. Aiba very kindly returned it to me. We dined together, and he learned that I was seeking rooms in London to establish a medical practice. He offered me a place here.” (I decided to draw a veil over our drunken night of revelry).

“Well, it is lucky for me, then, that he happened to find such a capable doctor. You saved my life. Something I don’t think I’ve thanked you for properly yet. Thank you, with all my heart.” His lordship’s eyes were earnest—the wind was knocked out my indignation completely.

“Don’t trouble yourself over it,” I responded gruffly. “Any half-capable physician, and perhaps even a few amateur physicians, could have performed the job just as well—it was only a matter of stitching you up. Speaking of which, may I take a look at how it is healing?”

His lordship obligingly opened his robe and lifted up his pajama shirt (which he must have borrowed from the valet, as the two men were dressed identically). I examined the work, finally pronouncing with satisfaction, “It is healing well, your lordship.”

“Will you not call me Nino, doctor? After all, you have saved my life and consider me a despicable thief. That must justify dispensing with the formalities,” he needled.

I frowned, uncertain how to respond. Lord Kazunari troubled me. I could not form a set opinion of the man, and I like to know my own opinion. At our first meeting he seemed a mere prankster, at our second a desperate lover, and now he had revealed himself as a most earnest philanthropist and politician. As well as a blackmailer and murderer (at least, he was capable of holding a lit match to his assassin’s eye and of disposing quite coolly of his body). Yet he still found the time to whine to me about his title over morning hot chocolate. I shook my head, unable to reconcile these different visions of his lordship to my satisfaction. “Forgive me, your lordship, but I’m afraid that I still don’t know what to make of you. Only when I have determined that will I feel comfortable addressing you as Aiba does.”

His lordship exhaled slowly in frustration, but his eyes softened, “Aiba was right. You are stubborn, doctor.” Suddenly, his posture grew less confident—he stared at the table with a frown. “I know you have no excellent opinion of my conduct,” he raised his eyes, his expression intense, “but what do you think of what I hope to accomplish? Of the bill? Do you support it, as Aiba does?”

I slowly nodded, “Yes, your lordship. I would not be here—I would not have agreed to protect your life—unless I believed your goal to be a noble and just one. I am only befuddled by your actions. I approve of the measure, but I do not approve of blackmail, and I am not sure I understand what drove you to disguise yourself upon the London streets.”

Lord Kazunari’s eyes turned to the sleeping valet, “It was his doing, of course,” he huffed, as though the matter were too obvious to require explanation.

I was confused. “You are saying that Ohno encouraged you to…?”

His lordship shook his head, “No, he learned of my plans at the same moment as you and Aiba. But I met him three years ago when I had disguised myself as a street ruffian. There was no greater aim to my disguise then—I simply sought to relieve the boredom of my life. I turned to the streets in my free time for adventure. I wrote records of my escapades, but only to amuse myself. I met Satoshi when he lived in Chelsea. He was an artist then, too, and he actually lived in a garret, if you can believe it, perpetually on the verge of starving. Whenever he got a little money, he bought paints instead of food. He had no idea of my true identity.” Lord Kazunari’s eyes grew wistful; he no longer saw me, I think, but looked past me, entranced by his memories of that time, “That was the happiest year of my life, I think. Even when he could so little afford to waste it, he used to cover my body in paint, and we’d make love until we collapsed.”

I spluttered, choking on my hot chocolate and coughing loudly as I attempted to recover myself. His lordship smirked, “Shh!” he brought a finger to his lips, “you’ll wake him!” I responded with a glare. He laughed silently.

“Excuse me, doctor, but you seem to bring out the worst in me. You are far too easy to shock.” My glare intensified. His lordship’s amusement faded as he continued, “But all changed when he discovered my identity. It was a photograph in the newspaper, unfortunately, that informed him of the truth. Then he left. He disappeared,” his lordship spoke the words with a grimace, as though they twisted like a knife in his heart.

I must confess; I was enthralled by the romance. But I kept my voice even as I inquired, “And how did you find him again?”

“I spent a year searching every corner of London for him. It was then that I began my project. As I searched, I began to take a sincere interest in the poverty and injustice I witnessed. Though I sometimes wonder,” his lordship frowned into his drink, “whether I was simply desperate for a distraction. In any case, I would have gone mad without the work.” His lordship was quiet for several minutes; once again, he seemed immersed in visions of his past history. These visions, however, were painful ones.

“And you found him?” I prompted.

His lordship shook his head, as though in an effort to chase such gloomy reminiscences away. “Remarkably, yes. I found him here. A year ago, when Aiba left his position at the college and moved to Garden Place, he informed me that he had hired a new valet. Naturally I thought nothing of it. But when I came to visit Aiba at his new residence, the door opened, and,” his lordship’s breath caught as he recounted it, “Satoshi stood before me, picking his nose.”

Even I could not prevent a thrill from running through my frame as I imagined it—how much greater must have been the shock for Lord Kazunari!

“Since then,” his lordship continued, “our relationship has been…tempestuous.”

“Tempestuous?”

“Perhaps I should have said, subject to disagreement. I believe that we have a relationship, Satoshi does not.” His lordship laughed bitterly, “I owe my would-be assassin a debt of gratitude. If I had known that I only needed to be near-fatally wounded to bring Satoshi back to my side, I should have performed the task myself long ago.”

“Do not let Ohno hear you make such facetious remarks, your lordship,” I replied fiercely, “I do not believe he would recover if another accident were to befall you. Do not say such things, even in jest.”

His lordship’s eyes widened in surprise. A genuine smile—a smile of surprise—crept across his features, “You are…kind, doctor. And well-suited to Aiba, I think,” his grin widened further, and I noted for the first time how charming his countenance was. “I can assure you that Aiba’s suffering after Sho’s betrayal was acute. But even in the few days since he has met you, I see a change in him, as though all his old warmth and trust had returned. The pair of you have my best wishes, guv’nor,” he ducked his head as though tipping his cap, his eyes sparkling mischievously as he assumed a cockney accent. “And since I have so generously granted you my permission, and, if one takes the time to think of it, I am in fact responsible for bringing the two of you together, perhaps you will find it impossible—as a gentleman, I mean—to refuse a favor I would ask of you.”

I groaned, beginning to comprehend that his lordship had, in fact, played me like a violin over a bribe of morning hot chocolate. “What favor do you have to ask of me?” I sighed.

His lordship still smiled, but his eyes were serious, “Speak to Satoshi for me. Appeal to him on my behalf.”

“Pardon?” I cried. “Pardon?” I repeated more softly, after being angrily shushed by his lordship.

His lordship’s eyes rested on the still quietly sleeping valet. “He respects you, doctor. He told me that he thought you both an earnest and sensible man. I would be exceedingly grateful if you would speak to him and assure him of my very serious and unchanging intentions toward him. I think you must be aware,” the Lord trained appealing eyes upon me, “of how deeply I care for him.”

I meditated. “But how can I be certain that it is in Ohno’s best interest to maintain his…attachment…to you?”

His lordship’s face fell. He sipped his hot chocolate with a frown. Then his eyes lit up. “Then I propose a bargain!” he whispered cheerfully.

I laughed, “I hardly think you have anything that I want, your lordship…”

“Not even to know Professor Sakurai Sho’s greatest weakness?”

I was caught off guard by the offer; the Lord sensed victory in my hesitation. He moved in for the kill, “I have known Sho nearly my whole life, doctor. I know secrets of the professor. Deep, dark secrets,” he emphasized.

I was skeptical. “His weaknesses? Other than his clumsiness?” His lordship nodded. “The sleepwalking?” Another nod. “His terrifying drawings?” A nod. “His…” I swallowed, grateful that I had an excuse to whisper the next words, “…obvious affection for Aiba?”

“Yes, doctor, weaknesses even greater. Weaknesses sure to spoil his chances with the detective.”

Will the reader believe me if I claim that, even with all these enticements, I should never have accepted the bargain unless I had believed in his lordship’s sincere love for Ohno? I would never wish to harm the valet (indeed, I was absurdly pleased to hear of the nose-picking artist’s praise for myself); learning of the professor’s weaknesses was only an added benefit of taking on the task.

But perhaps the reader will not believe that my intentions contained even a drop of altruistic purity, and perhaps they did not; in any case, his lordship and I shook hands on the bargain.

Ohno rubbed a hand against his face, snuffling as he awoke. He yawned widely, appearing entirely unsurprised to find himself at the kitchen table with his lordship and myself. He stood (as if automatically) to finish preparing the sandwiches; his lordship grabbed the knife from his hand and forced him back into his chair, taking over the task.

“Are you well, Ohno?” I asked, holding a hand to his forehead, fearing the valet might have caught a fever.
His lordship slapped my hand away jealously, “I will feel his forehead.”

“Wouldn’t the doctor know better?” Ohno wondered innocently. His lordship frowned.

“Yes, Nino,” I smirked, “I would know better.”

Our incipient argument was interrupted, however, by the loud bang of the front door being flung open, and the rapid clatter of heels upon the steps. In another moment, Lady Riisa stood in the doorframe, panting and furious as an avenging goddess. Aiba sent me a brief, sheepish wave as he trotted up behind her.

 

*

 

I was at a loss—one does not lay hands upon a lady, but the force with which Lady Riisa was beating his lordship with her purse left me fearful that his lordship’s stitches would reopen. Ohno, Aiba, and I looked at one another quite helplessly as Lord Kazunari cowered beneath his sister’s blows, his hands raised in a feeble attempt to protect his face.

“You…kept…such a secret…from me…three years…three years I thought…you were drinking…or whoring…or gambling…and now you…were stabbed!” she shrieked (rather breathlessly, to be sure). Her ladyship had obviously dressed in some haste, and pins were slipping from her coiffure, long locks tumbling down her back as she shouted. “And Jin!” she cried, bringing down her purse with particular force on Lord Kazunari’s shoulder, “I was…marrying…him…for you!”

Her ladyship dropped her purse to the floor; she sank breathlessly into a chair as tears overcame her; three handkerchiefs were immediately at her disposal as Ohno, Aiba, and I offered them with eagerly outstretched hands (Ohno also put forward a sandwich), but the lady swatted them away as though they were particularly irritating insects.

Lord Kazunari dropped to his knees before his sister, horrified. “What do you mean, Riisa? Marrying him for me? What madness is this?”

Her ladyship grabbed his bangs and shoved his head back violently (our crew of observers winced) before releasing him and bringing her hand to her face to wipe at the tears and mucus accumulated there. “You know I have never had any desire to marry. But since I must marry or be a despised old maid, I thought it would be just as well to marry to help you. Lord Akanishi is rich, I thought. He has great sway over his party, I thought. He could help your career, perhaps he could prevent you from sinking further into vice.”

“You really believed so?” his Lordship cried, stricken. “Riisa, how can you be so stupid? I am a terrible brother. How could I possibly have merited such self-sacrifice?”

Lady Riisa glared angrily at his lordship. “You are right. You are a terrible brother. I am well aware of that now. But before learning of these…secrets…and schemes…I only remembered how you took care of me when we were children, and how you told mother you were visiting a school friend but you came and rescued me from finishing school and took me to vacation at the seaside, and how you let the headmistress beat you when she found out. And how you used to let me hide behind the curtains so I could laugh at the men talking after dinner.” Lady Riisa snapped her fingers distractedly; three handkerchiefs (and a sandwich) were immediately placed before her. She seized the handkerchief nearest and blew her nose violently.

She seemed to be gaining her second wind, and Lord Kazunari’s words were hurried (some might say desperate) as he responded, “Well, if you put it that way, dear girl, I really have been quite a good brother to you, haven’t I?”

I should have hit him again, but Lady Riisa managed a watery smile. “And,” the Lord continued, his look sincere as he took her hand, “please believe that my motive in hiding my project from you was to protect you—I did not wish to entangle you in plans that could prove dangerous.”

Lady Riisa shook her head, her tears drying, “Not good enough, brother. You must swear never to hide something so important from me again. We share everything—even the same countenance, unfortunately—do not insult me by keeping me from your confidence merely because I am a woman.”

Lord Kazunari appeared chastened, and he answered her seriously, “I swear it, Riisa. These past few days have taught me that I was arrogant—that I cannot act alone.”

Lady Riisa stood, smoothing her dress. “And now,” she pronounced firmly, “I want revenge.”

“On Lord Kazunari, my lady?” I prompted helpfully.

She turned towards us as though just noting our presence in the room. “No, doctor,” she swallowed, “On my fiancé, Lord Akanishi.” Her eyes burned; I wondered if the unluckily man could sense her rage from the other side of London.

“And I will help you, my lady.” We turned to find Madame Becky before us, dressed once again as a young boy. Her dark hair, however, hung uncoiled down her back.

Lady Riisa took in this new presence with some confusion. “And you are…Madame Becky?” she inquired uncertainly.

“Yes, your ladyship.” Madame Becky approached her, boldly reaching out to take her hand. “You believe your fiancé is responsible for the assassination? That he has stolen your jewel?”

Lady Riisa nodded, eyes wide. She seemed to have fallen under the spell of Madame Becky’s gaze. “Yes. I had suspicions that I did not like to admit even to myself. But his eagerness for me to wear the diamond, his insistence on calling the police, his strange disappearances and changes of mood—they convince me that he is somehow a part of this crime.”

“Do you know whether he will be in his apartments in St. James’s today?”

“Yes, he receives callers this afternoon.”

“I will go to his apartments. I will search for the diamond, my lady.”

Reluctant as I was to break the intimate conversation between the two women—they clutched hands together as though drowning—I felt the need to intervene. But it was Aiba who voiced my opinion, “How can you find the diamond, Becky? Even if it were in his apartments, how would you locate it?”

Madame Becky turned on him, “I have some idea of where it might be hidden. Many of my fellow dancers have been to his London rooms before. From one girl in particular, I heard a tale of an evening when they smoked hashish together. She told me that he kept the drug not in his room but in the room of his valet—the first hiding place a gentleman thinks of when he has anything illegal to hide.”

Aiba was shocked. He swore under his breath. “Is such cold-hearted devilry really possible?” he cried.

“Pardon me,” Lord Kazunari hissed, “but are we not discussing the man who we believe ordered that I be hung and then stabbed to death?”

Aiba waved a dismissive hand, “Murder is an entirely different thing, Nino. But exploiting the trust of one’s valet! Dastardly!” I caught Ohno smiling behind his hand. Lord Kazunari glared.

“The man is a vampire,” Madame Becky pronounced coldly, “I know a young woman he has cruelly seduced and abandoned, and I suspect there are many others.”

“Is that…is that why you are determined to convict him?” Lady Riisa inquired shakily.

Madame Becky nodded, “Yes, my lady. Though I have another motive—I am determined that my story shall be told and your brother’s reform bill passed.” She turned to Lord Kazunari, “I want you to tell my story in your book. I want every man in London to read how my mother worked herself until she was rag and bone after the death of my father, how she watched her children starve until she sold me to the dance hall.”

“I swear it, Rebecca. But you cannot put yourself in such danger for…”

“I shall go regardless…” the actress countered hotly, clearly prepared for a fight.

“I admire your courage heartily, Madame,” I interrupted the passionate scene, “but it cannot be so simple—how should you access the valet’s room? How should we even convince the authorities to investigate Lord Akanishi? Would they even believe we had not placed the diamond there, if it were possible to find it?”

Aiba coughed. “If you’ll excuse me, doctor, I think I may have a plan.” The detective’s eyes were shy but determined, “And I know a constable who may help us.” His eyes glowed, “And fortune always favors the righteous and just!” he exclaimed, warming to his subject. Madame Becky beamed in Aiba’s direction. The rest of the assembled party observed the detective with varying degrees of admiration and skepticism.

Professor Sakurai strolling into the kitchen, yawning widely, interrupted us. “You’re all up early,” he observed, his voice still thick with sleep, “Any chance of a piece of toast?” The professor caught sight of Madame Becky and Lady Riisa, who were now embracing, tears streaming down their faces as they swore unshakable oaths of sisterhood to one another. Eyes wide, he took a nervous step backwards. The rest of the gentleman in the room took the opportunity to begin slinking towards the door. “Er…I’ll just…see if the paper’s come then…” the professor trailed off as he hastened back down the hallway.

 

*

 

After much debate and protest from all parties (I wondered whether Garden Place had ever heard such a din before), we resolved on our separate paths: the professor to the publisher in Oxford; Lord Kazunari and Ohno to my family home at Hayworth (I had sent a telegram to the groundskeeper to expect them, and prepared letters of introduction for them to carry); Lady Riisa to her London home to await word of our scheme’s success; and Madame Becky, Aiba, and I to Lord Akanishi’s London residence.

I shook my head at the sight of Lord Kazunari at the bottom of the staircase, thoroughly tricked out in the costume of his “slumming”—with a change of wardrobe he looked the part of a scrawny young ruffian completely. Not only were his clothes changed, however. His posture, glance, way of holding his hands in his pockets—he slipped effortlessly into the mannerisms of another person. Noticing my attention, his lordship gave me a saucy wink. I sighed, doubting that my own theatrical abilities would prove adequate to the task before me.

Ohno, to my surprise, handed me a ten pound note, advised me that there was a basket of sandwiches for the train journey in the kitchen, and requested that I take care of Mr. Aiba during his absence. I readily agreed. His lordship seized me by the hand and begged that I would prevent Rebecca from completing the venture were there the slightest hint of danger. Aiba protested loudly that he was not yet, as far as he was aware, the invisible man, and that all such requests ought, by rights, to be directed towards him. The detective was grinning cheerfully as he spoke the words, however, and the four of us burst into laughing at the conclusion of his tirade.

We parted ways at the door; Ohno in one direction, Lord Kazunari in the other, and Aiba and myself heading in the direction of the station to meet Chief Constable Hatori. We would meet Madame Becky at Lord Akanishi’s residence; she had returned to The Circus in order to dress (she had declared theatrically) for the performance of her life.

 

*

 

Constable Hatori seemed a very mild-mannered, sensible man; he was so easily persuaded by the detective, however, that I did not quite see how he could be sensible. I was only informed that he was a very old friend of Aiba’s (I had given up questioning how the detective was able to befriend so many sorts and kinds of people), and apparently Aiba had recently rescued Constable Hatori’s most beloved pet from a den of dog thieves.

“That seems to be a specialty of yours, detective,” I observed, recalling Lady Riisa’s tale of the beginning of her friendship with Aiba.

The detective nodded, “I find dogs—and dog thieves, for that matter—much easier to track. They behave in more predictable ways.”

The constable agreed to search Akanishi’s residence himself if Madame Becky should locate the diamond. We had decided to leave out the matter of the assassination attempt, on Lord Kazunari’s insistence; he feared involving the citizens of St. Giles in a murder investigation. Lord Akanishi’s crime was transformed into one of mere theft. I was uncomfortable with the deception, but both Lord Kazunari and Madame Becky were determined to conceal the role played by his lordship’s poor defenders.

Hatori settled down with a pipe and second-in-command on the street corner; the detective and I positioned ourselves behind a low park wall across the street from his lordship’s well-appointed London home. Madame Becky soon appeared dressed in scarlet, in the most low and tightly cut gown I had ever seen. She was so exposed that I hardly liked to let her enter.

“There is a time for subtlety, doctor,” she declared, noting my reaction, “and then there is a time to get a job done. We have arrived at the latter moment.”

Aiba stepped forward, “Good luck. Remember,” he passed her his pistol, which (to my astonishment) she was able to conceal beneath the folds of skirt, “at the slightest threat, fire and we will break down the door instantly.”

Madame Becky smiled at the detective fondly. “If you are good for nothing else, detective, you can always be counted on to let a woman take matters into her own hands.”

“What do you mean by “good for nothing else,” Madame?” he cried as though affronted, shaking her hand quite affably at the same time.

“Good luck, my lady,” I offered, taking her other hand. She nodded; walked across the street; knocked upon the door; and soon vanished into the apartment.

Aiba and I settled ourselves below the wall to wait, our eyes trained upon the windows of the house. After a few minutes of waiting, I felt Aiba’s hand brushing lightly against mine. “Are you flirting with me in the course of an investigation, detective?”

Aiba laughed but blushed as he mumbled, “I think you’ll find that I’m generally always flirting with you doctor, whether you choose to regard it or not.”

I felt myself grinning stupidly and turned to conceal my smile. I seized his hand, interlacing our fingers. “Then hold it properly,” I ordered quietly, “though I must say, this is all highly un-professional conduct.”

“But I’m not a professional, doctor. I think you’re aware that I investigate in a purely amateur capacity.”

My heart was racing as his fingers tightened around mine. In an effort to remain composed, I challenged, “Then what would you call the fifty pounds from Lady Riisa?”

“Ransom money for an impertinent valet. He was holding my good trousers hostage.”

The two of us exchanged a glance before (forgive me, reader) falling into a fit of silent laughter. If we seem heartless in the face of Madame Becky’s peril, I can only challenge the reader to undertake an investigation and become utterly infatuated with a detective simultaneously and observe the result.

When we recovered ourselves, I questioned the detective on a matter that had been worrying me, our eyes still carefully fixed upon the residence, “But are you not concerned with the direction of the investigation, detective? I’m afraid we are no closer to using our powers of deductive—or even inductive—reasoning to solve the case, and I think we’ve been upstaged by Madame Becky. She seems to be the heroine of the piece.”

I glanced towards the detective; he was smiling, but his eyes wore the serious look that let me know that he considered my words carefully, “You are right, Jun. Indeed, I hardly think this is my investigation any longer. But I must confess that I’ve given up the desire to solve this mystery through reason; I think in this case, I must ally myself on the side of the human heart. Or rather, most of the detectives I’ve read about are very lonely men. I would rather enjoy the advantages of…of companionship,” he concluded softly, squeezing my hand once more.

I admired the detective’s spirit; perhaps even more so because I am so prone to loneliness myself. “That may be so, but I still believe that you play a critical role in the course of the investigation, detective—you are the center that holds the spokes together,” I blushed, wondering whether he would find my analogy strange, but a glance told me that he was touched by my words. Shaking his head, he hastily removed his pocket watch, examining it before declaring, “One minute, Jun.”

I groaned softly, “Are you certain you cannot play the role instead?”

The detective shook his head. “Lord Akanishi knows me, Jun. I have met him socially, unfortunately. And you are perfect for the role of Madame Becky’s brother. You have a sister, do you not? Simply imagine that it is her that you are defending.”

“My sister would never place herself in such a compromising position,” I muttered darkly.

“Excellent!” Aiba cried, “Channel that indignation into your performance.” To my surprise, the detective pulled me in by my collar for a brief but enthusiastic kiss (some drool remained on my chin afterwards). “Just be your honorable self, Jun,” he murmured as he pushed me away, “Now go. Becky will be expecting your entrance.”

 

*

 

“I have it on good authority,” I shouted at the elderly butler gaping before me, “that my sister is in this house of debauchery. Please announce to Lord Akanishi that Madame Becky’s brother has arrived and demands a private interview,” I glowered, knitting my brows together as tightly as possible.

The butler stumbled backwards a few steps before disappearing up the stairs; he soon returned with an expression of dread, “Pardon me, sir, but Lord Akanishi is not at home today…” he began timidly.

I shoved my way past him, my heart pounding (with some exhilaration, I must admit) at behaving with such unpardonable rudeness, “Enough of these lies! I shall drag the man into the street myself if he is not at home!” My retort was not exactly sensible; but I was doing my best to act the part of an indignant defender of sisterly honor, a role I was not very practiced in (my sister being generally capable of defending herself).

I made what haste I could up the stairs, ignoring the butler’s panicked shouts, and flung open the parlor door to discover a flushed Lord Akanishi; if all had proceeded according to plan, Madame Becky should have “escaped” from her brother’s imminent visit up the stairs and into the servant’s quarters. I made haste to shove a nearby heavy end table against the door, effectively preventing the desperate butler from entering.

The infamous Lord was tall, with handsome, haughty features, and a mouth that tended naturally towards a sneer. “You…brought a cat with you?” he stuttered, staring at my feet in amazement.

I looked down dumbly—to my utter shock, Holmes (how had he accompanied me?) stood hissing at my feet, and with a yowl took off through the parlor (tearing up the carpet as he went) and flew into the hall opposite. Lord Akanishi gave an angry curse, moving as if to chase after the beast—I seized his lordship by the back of his ruffled jacket. “Not so fast! You cowardly fiend!” I cried, “And dressed in silks that would be an embarrassment even in Paris!” I added for good measure, rather warming up to my task as his lordship sent a look of pure venom my way, “I demand satisfaction for the dishonor of my sister! We shall meet at dawn! Will you bring your dueling pistols or your sword?”

His lordship shook himself loose from his jacket, slipping out of the offending garment and panting. “Calm yourself,” he cried, stepping back to place more distance between us and holding up his hands in a gesture of defeat. I stepped back, allowing him to recover himself. There was no real reason for me to insist on threatening the man—we only needed to create some time for Madame Becky to search for the diamond. “Let us discuss this calmly,” he urged.

I straightened my jacket, attempting a new strategy, “If you speak in good faith, your lordship, I am not opposed to a calm dialogue between rational men.”

His lordship (quite naturally) sneered, “You fool. You must know that as soon as you entered my home, my butler will have notified the police of your trespass? They should be here momentarily to arrest you.”

I had to concur with Madame Becky that this Lord Akanishi was not the most clear-sighted of men—why should he inform me of the one fact most likely to enrage me rather than simply stalling for time? It was with some difficulty that I suppressed a roll of my eyes. “Oh dear, really?” I replied, trying to muster up a convincing expression of panic.

If my performance fell short, his lordship did not notice over his gloating. He laughed cruelly, surveying me with an expression of disgust, “This will be a fine story for my club tonight—a cripple with a mangy stray, daring to appear at my house, shouting about defending his sister’s honor, when she is known to all of London as a common whore!”

Beating Lord Akanishi’s face to a bloody pulp was no part of the plan, but nor was it forbidden by the plan. Perhaps the reader is by now familiar with my temper; I contemplated restraint, struggling to picture Aiba’s disappointment should I engage in fisticuffs once again. Then I imagined Aiba’s reaction to hearing Madame Becky so disrespected, and I felt confident that he would behave in a similar fashion. That is, he would do his best to break Lord Akanishi’s nose.

Madame Becky must have heard the commotion belowstairs; in any case, our fighting halted at the sound of a gunshot above our heads. The shot was followed by heavy footsteps upon the stairs; for the second time in as many days, I found myself pulled from a fight by the detective; Aiba, Constable Hatori, and Deputy Chinen had broken through the door. This time, I relented more quickly—his lordship’s nose was bleeding, and I felt the beginnings of a black eye upon my face. Aiba held me tightly, “I was counting on your passionate temper to help you in your role, Jun,” he murmured breathlessly, “but this isn’t precisely what I had hoped for.”

As Constable Hatori restrained a shouting Lord Akanishi, we gradually become aware of slow footsteps approaching the parlor. We gasped as Madame Becky stumbled in, covered from head to toe in goose down, clutching the pistol tightly and carrying a stoic-looking Holmes beneath her arm. Her gaze was strangely unfocused and her gait unsteady, “I shot into a pillow…feathers…everywhere…” she lilted sweetly, as though in a dream. Lord Akanishi, formerly protesting loudly, fell silent with astonishment.

Catching sight of Aiba, Madame Becky seemed suddenly anxious to convey something. She dropped the pistol to the floor with a clatter, using both hands to raise Holmes towards us as though in a gesture of offering. “Detective!” she cried, eyes swimming, “it was Holmes! Holmes found the diamond! In the chambermaid’s room,” she mumbled, the color draining rapidly from her face as she fainted to the floor. Holmes leapt nimbly from her arms on the way down, landing neatly upon his feet.

 

*

 

Luckily, Constable Hatori had the foresight to gag Lord Akanishi (the constable seemed none too fond of his lordship, as a rule, and I was later to learn that his lordship had seduced Hatori’s daughter several years prior), so Madame Becky and I were able to talk quietly while Aiba, the constable, and his deputy made their way upstairs to the chambermaid’s room. Madame Becky recovered fairly quickly, and she lay quietly with her head in my lap as I bathed her temples with rose water. She was still, unfortunately, covered in feathers, and she complained of a ringing in her ears. I tried to reassure her, “Madame, do not be alarmed, I suspect you are only in shock from the noise and force of the pistol. Anyone would react in a similar manner. The first time I shot a hunting rifle, I was so surprised that I fell to the ground and hit my head upon a tree stump.”

She laughed weakly in response, shaking her head. “That is not all that I am in shock from, doctor. I was searching the servants quarters desperately—the valet’s room revealed nothing. I could hear you shouting and fighting downstairs—I feared I had little time remaining. When suddenly Holmes appeared, as if from the air, and he led me directly to the diamond!” She clutched at my arm, “He stood meowing above the crack in the floorboard as though determined to alert me of its presence! How could he have known it, detective?” she cried.

Privately, I suspected that Madame Becky’s anxiety and shock had led her to believe that Holmes—most likely wandering about at random—had led her to the diamond. I tried to soothe her as best I could with rational explanation while she continued to insist on occult forces at work. I believe we drove Lord Akanishi mad with our casual disregard of his presence in the room.

However, the return of Constable Hatori and the detective with the enormous, sparkling gem (followed closely by Holmes, who was nipping at Aiba’s heels) proved both our hypotheses wrong. Aiba was grinning like a schoolboy as he placed the diamond before us. “My dear Becky, do not trouble yourself that this cat possesses supernatural powers. Though an excellent cat, he is not himself a detective or magician. I am sorry to destroy the mystery, but apparently our dear chambermaid used to keep a cat, and some of its catnip remains hidden in a small compartment beneath the floorboards. The small compartment also contained Lady Riisa’s diamond.”

Madame Becky’s eyes widened; she appeared to contemplate strangling the smirking feline beside her. Instead, she only gathered him into her arms to rub his cheek against her own. Lord Akanishi groaned.

 

*

 

And so it was that Lord Akanishi Jin was arrested for the theft of Lady Ninomiya Riisa’s diamond; you are all undoubtedly familiar with this arrest, having read of it in the London newspapers. But, to my knowledge, no paper has reported that this arrest was the result of the tireless efforts and (perhaps irrational) conviction of one brave lady, and of the keen nose of an irascible cat called Holmes. I believe it was reported that an anonymous informant led to a search of his lordship’s home where the diamond was discovered; Lady Riisa’s butler later admitted, moreover, to having been bribed to lead Lord Akanishi to Lord Ninomiya’s room while his fiancé was still dancing the waltz. Lord Ninomiya testified that Lord Akanishi had confronted him in the midst of opening his safe and that he had fled, leaving the diamond vulnerable to theft. For reasons perhaps now clear to the reader, Lord Akanishi did not challenge this patently false description of that night.

This record of detection, one might suspect, naturally ends with the recovery of the diamond and the arrest of his lordship.

Yet I sincerely doubt that, when you recall the notorious scandal of Lord Kazunari, Lord Akanishi’s arrest is the first crime you recollect, in spite of its intimate connection with that infamous future crime; no, you will protest, I have not yet reached that shocking incident that lingers so persistently and with such justifiable force in public memory.

Do not fear—my narrative will recount it all. My readers—Ohno, Lord Kazunari, even Madame Becky—command me to provide a full and unabridged account of our adventures. But until the thread of the plot forces me to confront that moment, forgive me if my pen chooses to dwell instead on those prior incidents far more precious to me.

Aiba came to believe that most great detectives are lonely, in spite of the Watsons at their sides. The more I write—the more days that pass in which I have not once heard Aiba’s voice—the more I begin to believe that detectives share the loneliness of writers; both are doomed to uncover their plots in solitude.

 

*

 

We returned with Madame Becky to Garden Place later that evening to discover a telegram from Hayworth awaiting us. We opened the missive eagerly, expecting some new of our friends.

House infested with mice. Bring Holmes. Come quickly before Satoshi dismantles drawing room.

Aiba and I exchanged befuddled glances while Madame Becky laughed, unable to imagine what might have motivated the valet to “dismantle” the house’s drawing room. Perhaps as a preventative measure against mice?

In any case, we were happy enough to place Holmes in his traveling case (he was currently the hero of the hour—I was certain that Aiba was stuffing him with lavender tea cookies while I packed), and (on Aiba’s insistence) we prepared to carry Watson’s cage to the station.

We intended to stop at Lady Riisa’s in a party to return the diamond, but as we drew near in the hired cab Madame Becky gradually became agitated, her face flushing uncharacteristically, and when we arrived she held out an arm to prevent us from leaving the cab, “May I…” she began hesitantly, biting her lip. I had never seen the lady look so uncertain of herself, “May I return the diamond to Lady Riisa myself?” she finally burst out, “Privately? I have matters of a confidential nature that I am anxious to discuss with her ladyship.” Madame Becky’s beautiful green gaze was earnest—Aiba and I were helpless in the face of her request. Although befuddled, we put the request down to those mysterious bonds that exist between women that men can know little of. She thanked us profusely at our assent; and we watched her trip up to the house and enter (pulled in and embraced by Lady Riisa) before we gave the driver the order to continue to the station.

I must admit, I did not inquire into Madame Becky’s motives as closely as I might have—I was too delighted to be (truly) alone with the detective sooner than I had anticipated. As I reached for his hand, I wondered if the detective felt the same.

 

*

 

The private train compartment was far too small, as I had come to expect. Particularly with a large calico cat and insolent parrot in tow. However, our arrangements were greatly improved by the detective seating himself beside me rather than across from me—I could grasp his hand in mine, press my thigh against his, feel our shoulders bumping, and there was even a strange, ticklish sensation in my ribs at his proximity—all occurred even as I carefully avoided his open, curious gaze.

“Congratulations, detective,” I murmured.

The detective laughed softly, the distinctive breathy laugh that I had missed keenly, though it could not have been more than a day since I had last heard it. I could feel his breath hovering dangerously near the top of my ear. “For what, doctor?”

I was surprised by his response—I chanced meeting his eyes. “For solving the case, of course. For finding Lord Kazunari and the diamond, as promised.”

“Oh,” his eyes twinkled, “I thought perhaps you were congratulating me on securing yourself as my companion.”

I could not help snorting in response, raising a hand to cover my freshly-backened eye. “Do you really think me so vain, detective?”

“You should be, Jun,” he said softly, suddenly serious, “You’re one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.” He licked his lips nervously; I could feel the tremble in his arm. “And so beautiful,” he continued, his voice rough. He lightly traced the edges of my bruised eye with the tips of his fingers, studying my face.

As strange as it may sound, I must beg the reader to attempt to sympathize with my horror at being presented with so much open, sincere, and entirely undeserved affection. I have never liked to possess what I feel I have not earned—I can only think of the inevitable loss when the mistake is discovered.

I turned to better face the detective, raising a hand to the side of his face, running my thumb across his cheekbone, “The first time we rode in this compartment together, I longed to kiss you.”

“Truly, Jun?” he breathed, his eyes wide, as though he were surprised.

I nodded, “And this morning, I was so angry when I woke and you were gone.”

“My dear Jun, I swear I had only the best intentions…I only wanted you to rest…” he replied hurriedly, flushing.

I nodded. “I know. Forgive me, but I was afraid you were meeting with the professor. When I see the two of you together,” I swallowed, closing my eyes as I made the confession, “I feel as though I am choking with jealousy.” I opened my eyes, “So you see, Aiba, I am not a particularly kind man.” I could not help smiling, “And only you could think so, after seeing me engaged in two fights in as many days.”

To my surprise, the detective looked absolutely delighted, covering my hand with his own, his eyes glowing, “You were jealous?” he repeated, biting his lip in a failed attempt to suppress his smile.

“Were you intending to make me jealous?”

He shook his head, “No, Jun, believe me. I am only ecstatic at any sign that perhaps you…that perhaps you care for me with some of the intensity with which I…admire you,” the detective was stumbling over his words, “I…”

I could not listen any longer. “If you cannot see my admiration, then you are truly a terrible detective,” I muttered before pressing my lips to his. Ignoring Holmes yowling in his case and Watson squawking, I was lost in the sensation of his kiss and the insistent, rhythmic rocking of the train car.

We kissed until our lips were numb; the detective attempted to bring mine back to life by massaging them with his fingers, but his valiant efforts were in vain.

“Then we shall have to try something else, doctor,” he smirked, suddenly pushing me backwards until I lay prostrate against the plush seat, and—before I could protest—he was blowing gently upon my ear. My entire body went rigid in a moment (as the reader no doubt recalls, I cannot endure the slightest touch upon my ear).

For several minutes, I was entirely in the detective’s power, but then I discovered a spot upon his back that, when scratched with sufficient pressure, sent the detective into a fit of breathless laughter. Soon, I had turned the situation to my advantage.

Chapter Text

Our journey from the station to my family home took place in absolute darkness. Indeed, I felt a strange shiver pass through me as we rode upon the horse-drawn cart, staring up at the night sky. It was a cloudy night, and only the barest sliver of a moon relieved the darkness. I felt for a moment as though I had been transported back to the Sudan—as though I had never even left the place—but the detective’s hand reaching for mine reassured me that I had indeed returned.

We were cheered by the warm orange glow of the windows as we approached the small estate, and Aiba chattered excitedly beside me of how astonished Lord Kazunari and the valet would be by the tale of our exploits (or, as the detective described it, they should be amazed by “the triumph of his cunning detection and my gallant defense of a lady’s honor”). The detective glanced at me with a half-smile as he spoke the words, and it occurred to me for the first time that perhaps the detective was intending to make me laugh with his foolishness—I wondered how much of his nonsense had been said with a similar aim in mind.

I was grateful that even in the dark I was able to make out the kind expression of his beautiful countenance. Focusing intently (though, I must own, with what secretiveness I could) on the detective, I did what I could to suppress the anxiety threatening to overtake me the closer we approached—the last time I had been in the house had been on the occasion of my parent’s funeral. I had not even stayed the night after their burial.

All such meditations on my past were superseded, however, by contemplation of the violent noises issuing from the residence. I did not like to wake our family’s old groundskeeper, Shimura, at the late hour, so Aiba and I dragged our luggage to the entrance ourselves and began knocking at the door. It was only after loud and repeated rapping that we were rewarded by Lord Kazunari flinging open the door, his appearance distinctly ruffled. After a short greeting, he seized Holmes’ cage from the detective without ceremony, releasing the cat with an order to “make himself useful and bring his master some dead mice.” Holmes, after tumbling out of the cage, recovering his dignity by first licking every part of his body carefully and then hissing disdainfully at his lordship before sauntering off, his ears pricked up as though already on the scent of some new prey (I reflected that it was like the detective to have a cat that must have been a hunting dog in some former life).

I believe Lord Kazunari was on the point of hissing in return; he turned to me with some abruptness, “Forgive me for my ill humor, doctor. But I’ve been chasing the mice out with a broom all day. The kitchen is crawling with them.”

I have misled the reader if you imagine that this conversation was carried on in an everyday, level tone of voice—rather, you must imagine every word shouted at the top of one’s voice, for we were overwhelmed by the din of a hammer and splintering wood. “I’m afraid when we arrived and your man let us in,” his lordship continued to shout, “that we discovered the place in shambles. According to the old man, the living room had flooded earlier this year and the wood floor is stained—Satoshi insists on removing and replacing the boards himself. He’s planning to use the wood for a new piece he has in mind.”

“Piece of what?” I cried as his lordship led us toward the parlour. His lordship sent me a pitying look, as though unable to believe that anyone could be so ignorant, “Why of sculpture. What else could a lot of damaged floorboards be for?” he snorted.

True to his lordship’s words, we discovered a bare-chested Ohno with hammer and crowbar tearing up the floor of my parlor. The valet looked perfectly unconcerned to be discovered so, nonchalantly throwing down his iron bar to greet us, wiping a sheen of sweat from his forehead as he spoke, “I’m afraid, sir, that nearly the whole floor will have to go—the place is in a pitiable state.”

The valet’s words were quite true. Upon leaving for the Sudan, I had left the house entirely in the hands of Shimura, who was ninety if he was a day. At the time, I had been in no state to consider the future in a rational manner, and my only thought had been to escape as quickly as possible from the house that had come to hold such painful associations. Allowing Ohno to return to his work, I explored the house with increasing consternation, noting the state of disrepair into which it had fallen. I felt a pang as I thought of my mother’s horror could she see the current state of her linen closet.

To my advantage, however, was having the detective at my side—he assured me quite seriously that all could be set to rights, it would only take several days of hard work from himself and Ohno but we should soon have the place “ship-shape.” I stared into the detective’s cheerful countenance, shaking my head as I wondered what I had done to deserve such faithful companionship after so much neglect of my responsibilities.

We returned to the parlour where, persuading Ohno to take a rest from his labors, we drank wine directly from the bottles (discovered earlier in the cellar by Lord Kazunari) and ate cheese and toast cooked over the fire (an occasion of much debate between Aiba, his lordship, and myself as to the proper management of one’s tongs—the valet, as might be expected, managed his own toasting with a quiet natural grace). We recounted the discovery of Lady Riisa’s diamond and the arrest of Lord Akanishi. In spite of his earlier words, the detective was even more eager than myself in praising Madame Becky’s remarkable courage and Holmes’ fortuitous arrival.

“Ah, so that is why the doctor’s once handsome face has assumed such a hideous cast,” was Lord Kazunari’s response, smiling as he gestured toward my ever-worsening black eye, “I had suspected another hair-pulling match with our favorite professor.”

“Detective!” I cried in alarm, realizing with some horror that the detective must have recounted my misadventure at Oxford to his lordship.

“Now doctor,” his lordship began chuckling, “Do not fear, I can assure you that Aiba was flattered by your display of…”

“Shall we not all go to bed?” Aiba cried, his attempt to talk casually over his lordship rendered somewhat less casual by his leaping upon Lord Kazunari and forcibly covering his mouth with his hand; I was delighted to observe that Ohno’s affection for his lordship did not prevent him from laughing heartily at the two as they wrestled upon the ground without making even a single move to defend his lordship.

After some time, I was forced in good conscience as a physician to pull the detective from my patient, and we resolved upon sleeping in the bedchambers of the second story, the section of the house that seemed to have escaped the flooding that had so damaged much of the first floor. To my relief, Ohno immediately lit a lamp and led Lord Kazunari away by the hand—I should have been embarrassed to leave our company hand-in-hand with Aiba, yet I do not think I could have coldly left him to make his own way, either.

The detective and I sat before the fire in silence for some time; the cheerful warmth reminded me pleasantly of our (somewhat) peaceful evenings together in the great room at Garden Place, which I had already begun to feel the strongest and most unexpected longing to return to. The detective woke me from my daze with a light touch upon my shoulder, and we made our way arm and arm to the staircase, where the detective suddenly paused and turned to me with a look of uncertainty, biting his lower lip as though frightened to proceed.

Attempting to relieve his distress, I inquired gently, “Is there something you wish to speak to me about, Aiba?”

The detective glanced warily between myself and the long (and currently rather treacherous-looking) staircase. “Jun,” he began after some hesitation, forming each word carefully, “I am concerned by the stress that was placed upon your leg earlier today. I wonder if you would allow me the honor of…” his voice began to fade in the face of my evident astonishment, “carrying...you…up the stairs?” he finished with a squeak, looking positively terrified of my response and beginning to back away.

I was more surprised than offended. My leg had, indeed, been in great pain since my encounter with Lord Akanishi, but I had thought that I had concealed it from the detective—I had taken great pains not to walk with a limp any more pronounced than usual, grimacing only a few times as we boarded and disembarked from the train. How had the detective realized my discomfort?

Aiba carried on hurriedly, “I know that you are perfectly capable, of course…but I fear that I cannot allow you to harm yourself in such a…”

“Aiba,” I interrupted, “were you really able to carry me up the stairs the night of Lord Kazunari’s injury?”

The detected ceased his rambling and responded by nodding slowly, as though endeavoring not to make any sudden movement that might inspire my wrath.

Instead, I found myself unable to prevent a grin of genuine delight. I studied the staircase, and then the set of Aiba’s broad shoulders. “I do not think I can consent to being carried,” I finally offered, “but if you would consent to take me upon your back, I would be very glad of the assistance.”

Beaming, Aiba kneeled down obligingly, and I climbed upon his back, tugging at his hair in gentle remonstrance when he staggered to his feet with a distinct “Oof!”

“You are sure you can manage?”

“Quite sure,” the detective responded evenly (although slightly breathlessly). Holding on tightly, I smiled into his hair while he carried me with surprising ease up the staircase.

“I can feel you smiling,” the detective volunteered in a pleased tone.

“Impossible. I think you must make a better study of anatomy. One cannot feel a smile through the medium of one’s hair.”

“You have clearly never carried a chimpanzee upon your back before. Of course one can feel a smile. I shall prove it to you directly that we reach the bedchamber.”

I was formulating an indignant retort to the effect that I would not bear comparison with a chimpanzee, but the words died upon my lips; at the top of the staircase stood Ohno and Lord Kazunari; the former perfectly impassive while he held a struggling Holmes, the latter grinning like the Cheshire cat as he stood with his arm wrapped about the valet’s waist.

Ohno shoved Holmes into Aiba’s arms as he stepped onto the landing, “He’s been crying and searching for you, sir.”

“But his owner was clearly otherwise engaged,” his Lordship laughed, looking positively delighted at my mortification. “Do not let us interrupt you a moment longer, off to bed with the both of you!” he grinned, gesturing expansively towards the hall.

Any goodwill I had begun to feel toward his lordship dissipated; I kicked Aiba’s side to indicate that he might place me upon my feet, but instead the detective only mumbled “Good night” and hurried down the hall. At first indignant, I forgave him when I noticed that the tips of his ears were turning red.

Unable to imagine occupying the chamber that had formerly belonged to my parents, I guided the detective to the bedroom of my youth. Where I was unceremoniously dumped upon the small bed (I was in sympathy with Holmes’ earlier tumble from his case). Aiba began fumbling for a match to light the room’s candle while I stared up at the familiar cracks in the ceiling, reflecting on how little of my dignity remained after less than a week in the detective’s presence.

I heard the strike of a match and a soft glow illuminated Aiba; he took up the candle and passed it over the walls eagerly as though expecting to uncover some hidden treasure. All his illumination revealed was my wall of bookshelves, each stuffed to the breaking point with novels. I flung a hand across my eyes, recalling with a groan my extensive collection of boy’s adventure stories.

“Such a collection!” the detective enthused, “I knew you were brilliant, Jun, but I had no idea you were such a voracious reader. I believe your collection rivals my own,” he spoke wonderingly, bending eagerly to make out the titles.

“I’m afraid you will not find much brilliance there. It is only my collection of trash. As a boy and as a young man, I believe I read every story of piracy, adventure, war, and foreign places imaginable. Please,” I continued, trying to keep the note of desperation from my voice, “blow out the candle and come to bed,” I urged, hoping to distract the detective from further perusal of my chamber.

To my relief, the detective only gave me a curious glance before extinguishing his candle; we fumbled to undress in the dark. I sat up, pulling at my tie ineffectually; my fingers were heavy—I recalled that I had drunk almost an entire bottle of wine.

Suddenly Aiba was before me in the dark, his hands taking over the task; I reached to unfasten the buttons of his shirt. “You are so methodical, Jun,” he breathed quietly, “I am surprised to find your family home so neglected.” He spoke the words without the slightest hint of accusation.

I could not answer at first; I waited until I had removed his shirt. My voice was suspiciously thick when I spoke, “I am only truly methodical in matters of dress, detective. In every other matter, I am untidy.”

“I doubt that to be true,” the detective replied in a low voice as he began untying my shoes.

It was easier to speak the words in the dark, “When my mother and father passed away within days of each other, I was very eager to be gone. My sister had her husband to return to in Manchester, and I could not imagine staying alone a single day in this house. I had attended them both throughout their illness, but I had…failed,” I swallowed, moving from the bed and kneeling down to begin on Aiba’s shoe laces, “And I have tried never to think of this place since that day. Looking back, I am not sure if I ever mourned them—I simply fled. And then I fled the Sudan. And then I met you,” I concluded, standing to remove the detective’s belt.

“I am thankful you did,” Aiba rasped—I feared that I had once again inspired tears from the detective.

We had finished undressing. “You promised to prove to me that one can feel a smile,” I reminded him sternly.

The detective laughed shakily before pushing me down upon the bed, “Then let me begin the demonstration at once.”

I could hear the smile in his voice.

 

*

 

The next day brought Lady Riisa and Madame Becky to join our party; and the day after brought Professor Sakurai to Hayworth. The following weeks were among the happiest of my life. To return to England in full expectation that loneliness and solitude should be my lot—a solitude relieved only by the patients that I should encounter in my medical practice—and then instead to find myself amongst a companionable circle and experiencing a romantic attachment more precious to me than any former tie—all this was the cause of a happiness more intense than any I had ever felt. Although I believe it is no longer fashionable to confess it, the gratification of having my affection returned by a truly good and superior gentleman proved intoxicating.

The seven (nine if I am obliged to include the cat and the parrot) of us lived a strange, ramshackle sort of existence for those four weeks—we bunked upon couches, in servant’s rooms, and occasionally upon the floor. The house was barely habitable, at first, and it was even more astonishing to see the ladies existing without the aid of their personal maids (apparently they had agreed to act as lady’s maids to one another, their inexperience quite evident in the always precarious state of their stays and coiffures). We lived entirely without servants but for Shimura and his nephew—I could not remove the faithful Shimura from his position, but I urged him to invite his young nephew Daigo to join him in order to assist him with his duties. His nephew proved a strange, tall, taciturn fellow, but an excellent workmen and groundskeeper.

While Lord Kazunari, Professor Sakurai, and Madame Becky worked furiously to prepare the manuscript, Ohno, Aiba, Daigo, Lady Riisa and I did what we could to clean and repair the house (indeed, Lady Riisa astonished me by her facility with a feather duster). In a week, we had the place in a tolerable order, and all that truly troubled us was the necessity of keeping Lord Kazunari’s presence at the estate a secret—while Hayworth could not be well known to the residents of London, my sudden return and the presence of a large party of ladies and gentlemen at the house was certainly a matter of interest to the residents of Hayworth.

Our attempts to remain “under cover,” as the detective phrased it, were not helped by Aiba’s immediate popularity with the village residents. Lord Kazunari kept strictly within the walls of the house (which seemed not to trouble him in the slightest), and the rest of the party confined themselves to the grounds. Aiba, however, insisted on walking into the village, and he returned up the drive with about twenty children hanging off him. I noted once again the detective’s remarkable ability to delight young children, though the children generally seemed to express their love for him by beating him soundly at every chance. Luckily, the appearance of my own visage was generally sufficient to frighten the children away from the estate (a fact that Lord Kazunari never ceased to mention, most often at the breakfast table).

The detective was also an instant success with both Shimura and Daigo. While I could barely get more than a few observations on the weather or the state of the grounds from either of the two men, they frequently disappeared on long rambles in the woods with Aiba, during which they would collect various insect specimens and recount long, convoluted tales of country life that Aiba would then attempt to re-enact before the fireside later in the evening.

But if I sometimes imagined us living in a kind of pastoral utopia (an enchantment I was prone to when taking a walk alone with the detective), there were always more serious matters at hand. The manuscript was prepared at a feverish speed, with Sakurai expediting pages copied by ourselves to his maid, Maki, to be typewritten and delivered to the publisher in Oxford. Within two weeks, the book was prepared—a great triumph, but we also began to hear nearly every day from Lady Riisa’s maid that their London house was receiving anonymous threats directed towards Lord Kazunari, and his safety remained a pressing concern.

However, I must confess to the reader that my energies were not exhausted in anxiety for Lord Kazunari and affection for the detective; in spite of my (now I can admit, rather feeble) determination to overcome my dislike of the professor, his presence in the house proved a continual source of annoyance.

Particularly because the professor proved so integral to the publishing process and so helpful to Lord Kazunari’s political aims; the professor took a passionate interest in the publication, and many of our evenings were scenes of intense debate between the professor, Lord Kazunari, and Madame Becky, as they formulated and schemed what passages and plans would prove most compelling to the public, and how they might best foment popular (and parliamentary) support for the measure. The professor demonstrated such ambition and acuity that he soon accepted an offer to serve as Lord Kazunari’s political secretary (a position, I privately reflected, far more suited to his unscrupulous nature).

More irritating than the professor’s excellence in carrying out Lord Kazunari’s projects was his renewed friendship with the detective. Though I could learn no particulars of their private interview at Oxford, Aiba seemed to have forgiven him, and the two conversed quite pleasantly, and sometimes with an intimacy that I envied—the two had a long history of acquaintance that I did not share in. The professor seemed delighted by Aiba’s forgiveness, and he had no scruples inserting himself into our various pastimes, never hesitating to volunteer as a third companion on our morning walks, or leaning over to examine whatever book Aiba happened to be perusing (the detective, much to my chagrin, was reading his way through my entire library of adventure stories). And the professor was so unfailingly polite and easy in his manner towards me—never once referring to our scuffle—that I sometimes longed to wipe the smile from his insufferably handsome face.

A special source of pain was the professor’s skill at the piano. I might have whole-heartedly enjoyed his excellent playing; he entertained us nearly every night on the piano, and his skill and expression were truly impressive. But I was inwardly tortured by even the most fleeting expressions of admiration upon the detective’s countenance as he watched the professor play.

It was during one of the professor’s performances—as I stood sulking in a dark corner, attempting to set him aflame with my glare—that I was once again approached by my other cause of vexation: the lovelorn Lord Kazunari. His lordship had continually requested that I speak to Ohno on his behalf, but I still hesitated; I could not imagine what I might say to the valet to convince him to Lord Kazunari’s satisfaction. I already believed the valet to be sincerely attached to his lordship, and I thought Lord Kazunari unreasonable to demand the further proof of Ohno agreeing to live with him permanently. His lordship seemed to have arrived at this proposition prior to the preparation of his manuscript, but now that he had little to do but await the book’s publication, the idea seemed to obsess him.

Lord Kazunari had chosen his moment well; following the direction of my glare, he sidled up beside me to offer in a low voice, “Are you confident that you do not wish to possess information that might prove damaging to the professor?”

“I thought he was your friend,” I muttered, glancing towards Aiba to be certain he was oblivious to our conversation; he was pressing his nose fondly against Watson’s beak, so I could assume with some confidence that his attention was distracted.

His lordship shrugged, “Yes, but I am still furious about his misuse of Aiba’s work, and I think he forgives himself for it far too easily. I would not mind watching him squirm a little.”

His lordship’s eyes were narrowed; his tone chilling. I had come to realize in what esteem his lordship held the detective, and how protective he was of his friend; I was relieved that I had not yet incurred his lordship’s wrath. For the first time, I felt a kind of sympathy for the professor. Though I did not like to admit it to myself, I occasionally saw something in the professor’s eyes when he looked at Aiba that convinced me that the professor had not yet forgiven himself for the pain he had occasioned him.

It was then that the professor raised a hand, gesturing for Aiba to join him upon the piano seat, mouthing “Masaki” at the same time. Aiba, looking surprised, joined him after a few moments, watching quietly as the professor’s elegant fingers ran rapidly over the keys. The detective smiled softly.

My course was decided. “You will tell me his secret, regardless of whether I succeed with Ohno or not?”

To my surprise, his lordship released a breath and sagged slightly, visibly relieved by my words, “Yes, as long as you make a sincere attempt. But I think you will be successful. You are very well-liked by Satoshi at the moment—every since you allowed him to keep your floorboards, he considers you a patron of the arts.”

 

*

 

Following Lord Kazunari’s suggestion that Ohno considered me his artistic patron, I chose to confront the valet while he was at work on his sculpture. I had unthinkingly given him permission to work upon the grounds, and the valet had undertaken a project of shocking size, constructing from old and damaged wood, as well as wire provided by Daigo, an enormous structure that somewhat resembled a birdcage or a kind of open air dome. Regardless of its intended purpose, the neighborhood birds seemed to have taken to it as some new form of aviary (much to Aiba, Daigo, and Shimura’s excitement, who were often to be found studying the various creatures that perched themselves upon its lineaments). Ohno had offered no explanation for his choice of material and design, and he never discussed his future plans for the piece. Nor did he require praise or encouragement; he simply worked upon the thing steadily, seemingly content to follow the dictates of his own private vision. Upon my lawn.

I waited until he seemed to be taking a short rest before descending from the house to meet him; he had ceased sanding a piece of wood and was standing back as if to observe his progress. Knowing something of Ohno’s eccentricity, I thought a direct approach might prove most effective.

“Good morning,” I began. Ohno turned slightly, registering my arrival with some surprise before nodding his head in greeting. A gentle smile played across his features; the moment seemed right.

“Lord Kazunari has promised me some damaging information about Professor Sakurai if I speak to you on his behalf. He is currently standing at the kitchen window, staring at us. Do not turn around,” I warned un-necessarily—the valet remained engrossed in examining his own work. “We must appear to be in deep conversation for at least several minutes,” I continued, “or he will accuse me of making no effort. I would be greatly obliged if you would act as though I were convincing you of something for a few minutes.”

Ohno tensed but nodded his assent.

After a pause of about thirty seconds, during which we both stared dumbly at his work, I made another attempt, “You must appear to be talking with me,” I reminded him.

Ohno nodded.

“We could discuss the weather. Or your sculpture,” I offered hopefully.

Ohno began picking his nose.

Desperate, and intensely conscious of Lord Kazunari’s gaze boring a hole into my back, I relented, “May I inquire as to the cause of this…disagreement…between yourself and his lordship?”

The valet turned his face from me with a shrug of his shoulder. Long seconds passed, and I had just given up all hope of a response when he suddenly spoke out clearly, “His lordship would like us to live together upon our return to London, but I have told him that such an arrangement is impossible.”

“May the…obstacle…to this arrangement be got over? His lordship assures me that he would do everything in his power to secure your affection.”

Another long pause. “His lordship has my affection. He need take no pains to secure it. But I cannot live with his lordship.” The valet turned to me, his eyes full of some intense emotion. “Can you imagine me living in his London mansion?” he inquired, his voice deceptively calm.

The image was not an easy one to conjure, certainly—but seeing the pain in the quiet valet’s eyes made me eager to resolve any difficulty. “I am sure his lordship would leave the mansion—he would live anywhere you desired.”

“How should I pay my rent? How should I buy food and clothes?”

I stumbled over the words, “His lordship…surely….”

“Would you allow Mr. Aiba to support you?”

I was taken aback by the question. Now I was silent for some time before responding, “It is true that Aiba and I have the advantage of some equality of income. But were Aiba unable to afford Garden Place, for example, I would not hesitate to…”

“But would you allow him to support you?”

“No,” I answered truthfully, “I would not.”

Ohno turned from me once again; I could not read his expression. “I support myself as a valet, and my position at Garden Place allows me to work as an artist. I doubt I can find another such position, or an employer so good. I cannot live with his lordship until I have earned enough through my own work to support myself.”

I was stunned by the valet’s obstinate pride—but it was similar to my own. “But do you not regret his lordship’s great anxiety….that is to say, the night he arrived at Garden Place, you must have seen how heedless he was of his life—his only desire was to be near you.” To my amazement, the valet’s hand was trembling at his side. I continued in a lower tone, “Perhaps his lordship’s strong desire for you to live with him disguises his fear that you will disappear from his side once again.”

The valet’s hand clenched into a fist—I wondered if I had tread too far. Ohno turned upon his heel and began striding toward the house. I watched the valet enter through the kitchen door, and (irresistibly if inappropriately curious) I observed from a distance through the window as they shared a passionate kiss. Their bodies were pressed close, but from the tense grip of their hands upon one another’s shoulders—as though each were determined to simultaneously push away and restrain the other—I recognized an impasse.

I sighed for my failure. Turning back to examine the strange sculpture, I wondered whether the artist had been trying to construct not a cage but a home.

Chapter Text

The reader may justly inquire as to the cause of my jealousy; if I have occasionally represented the detective as somewhat ridiculous or (at best) overzealous in his amateur pursuit of truth, I hope these pages have also evidenced his remarkably kind, generous, and faithful character. In my defense, I can only assure the reader that I never suspected Aiba—but I feared that his heart might turn towards another. Especially towards one who seemed in nearly every respect to have the advantage of me, save his former betrayal—if more foolish, Professor Sakurai was also more sociable, more handsome, and more affluent than myself, and he possessed the full use of all of his limbs.

Only such persistent jealousy could have drawn me to a card table before Lord Kazunari; having performed my task, I was prepared to receive news of Professor Sakurai’s notorious deeds. At the moment, it was difficult to imagine the professor possessing any particularly dark secret: he was sitting by the fireside, scouring a London paper with a furrowed brow, biting his lip in concentration as he read. The professor was always eager for news, determined to “assess the current political climate” each day. Aiba, Ohno, Lady Riisa and Madame Becky were engaged in a new game in the dining room, which opened off the parlour. We’d cleared the room to replace the hardwood flooring, and in its empty state they’d taken to shuffling smooth stones (taken from the garden) across the floor with brooms, smacking their stones against one another in a complex system of gained and lost points that had been devised by the detective. The four were laughing merrily, the gentleman having removed their jackets and the ladies’ hair already beginning to escape from its pins. I was tempted to join them.

But Lord Kazunari had arranged our interview under the pretext of a card game, and I had already waited through at least four of his tricks (I guessed that he had learned something of card sharping during his London adventuring). My patience was at an end. “You admit that I have fulfilled my promise?”

His lordship nodded meditatively, passing the deck between his hands before spreading the cards in a smooth arc before me. “Those were his exact words? That he would never allow me to “support” him?”

“Yes. I do not think you need fear the loss of his affection. It is only his pride that prevents him.”

His lordship selected a card, not bothering to examine it before laying it before me. The Ace of Hearts. “Then I know what I shall do,” he murmured in a low voice, his eyes downcast.

I felt too strong an interest in the fate of the strange couple to resist inquiry. “What is your plan?”

“Draw a card,” his lordship instructed me. With a noise of exasperation, I obliged him, knowing I should get nothing out of him until I had admired his trick. I drew a card at random. The King of Hearts. “Another,” he demanded. The Queen of Hearts. “Another,” he grinned, his eyes shining. It was the Joker of Hearts.

“Very impressive,” I muttered, endeavoring to conceal my astonishment. “And your plan?”

His lordship swept the cards back into his left hand. “I shall sign all my fortune over to Riisa. Once I am penniless, Satoshi will have no choice but to take me in and support me. Otherwise I shall starve on the street.”

Now I could not hide my astonishment, “Had you not better inform Ohno of your plans?” I cried.

His lordship shushed me, continuing in a low voice, “No, it will be better to show up on his doorstep after the transfer is already completed—then he will not have the heart to turn me away. If I tell him now, he would disappear in order to prevent me.”

It may strike the reader as curious that I did not attempt to dissuade his lordship from this folly; but since meeting his lordship and seeing him with the valet, I found it impossible to imagine the two separating. Lord Kazunari had proved himself an eccentric man who placed little value on his fortune. My only concern was that the good-hearted valet should be chained to such a creature for the rest of his life.

“And Professor Sakurai?” I prompted as his Lordship dealt another hand.

His Lordship laughed aloud, perhaps at my lack of reaction to his scheme. “Is it really so necessary? From what I can tell, you and Aiba seem to be infatuated with one another.”

I could not help glancing toward the detective; catching my eye, Aiba paused in the game to gift me with a blinding smile. He raised a hand in greeting, the action cut short when Ohno’s stone crashed into his foot. The detective slipped but pulled himself back up, flushing as he nodded toward me to reassure me of his recovery.

Sheepishly, I returned his wave. I turned back to the sound of his lordship’s cackling, “You are crimson, doctor! As I thought, the two of you are sickening in your fondness for one another. I wonder that you should be jealous. Unless…” his lordship assumed a thoughtful expression.

I could not prevent myself from tensing. “What do you refer to?” I demanded.

His lordship smirked, “The two of you have not…?”

My face was aflame. His lordship shook his head, “What are the two of you about? I know that you share a bed every night. What have you been…”

“Your lordship!” I hissed, endeavoring to suppress him with all the combined force of my eyebrows.

His lordship continued in a voice of false concern, “If it is your first time, doctor, I can certainly offer you any necessary advice…”

“Nino!” I exploded, “If you do not cease these speculations, I shall go out to the lawn and dismantle Ohno’s sculpture myself, piece by piece.”

His lordship’s lips were sealed instantly, and he returned my glare with no inconsiderable intensity. He slapped down another card.

“And it is not my first time,” I mumbled, flushing again as I stared fixedly down at my hand of cards, “And we have been...affectionate. It is only that some of us have a sense of propriety and do not immediately…attack…our partners after a moment’s acquaintance…”

“I think Aiba would enjoy it very much if you attacked him.”

I prayed that the detective was not looking in my direction; I must have looked ill. “Well,” I retorted, attempting to turn the conversation in my favor, “I should have many more opportunities…alone…with the detective if I were not plagued by the professor’s presence.”

His lordship’s eyes sparkled, “For such a noble cause, I am at your service, Jun. Prepare yourself—I can inform you of how to instantly make our professor appear the most unappealing and foolish of men.” He leaned over the table to whisper conspiratorially, “Challenge him to a cricket match. He can never resist a game, but I assure you that his playing makes him look like the greatest dunce in existence. I have seen young ladies desperately in love with our professor who turned cold an instant after seeing his performance on the pitch.”

I could only sigh. “Nino,” I spoke with exasperation, “I cannot play cricket myself. I would look just as foolish.”

A rare occurrence—his lordship was caught off guard. “Why not?” he frowned. Comprehension dawned as I gestured toward my leg. “The rum leg!” he exclaimed, clearly surprised, “I forgot! I never think of it,” his lordship huffed, looking vexed with himself.

I could not help smiling at his lordship’s mistake, the disappointment of his useless information softened by his look of genuine amazement upon recalling my injury. “Then you’ve nothing else to tell me?” I inquired gruffly, but with little expectation of anything pertinent forthcoming.

His lordship was deep in thought as he reshuffled the cards. Slowly, a malevolent grin spread across his countenance. His eyes glittered. “Snakes,” he pronounced triumphantly.

“Snakes?” I repeated skeptically.

“Sakurai’s greatest terror is of snakes, of all kinds. I have seen him weep from encountering a garden snake.”

I rolled my eyes, “That is all very well, but as I do not yet plan to place a snake in the professor’s bed, I think the information will be of little use.”

His lordship looked extremely satisfied with himself. “But are you not condemned to have the professor as a member of your hunting party tomorrow?”

His lordship was right. Lady Riisa had insisted on walking out to hunt in the surrounding woods; she declared herself a capital shot (claiming to have been taught to shoot by Lord Nakai himself during a country house party), and she assured us that Madame Becky was eager to experience the hunt for the first time. While Lord Kazunari must remain in the house (Ohno naturally agreeing to remain with him), she had successfully recruited Aiba, upon which the professor had volunteered his company, and I was forced to make one of the party as well.

“Yes,” I responded, “but it is not as if there are a great number of snakes to be found in the woods. Particularly in late autumn. Perhaps a few small ones in the garden.”

“But few of us are rational when it comes to our fears,” his lordship replied confidently, “Leave it to me, Jun. I shall inform Sakurai of rumours, heard from Daigo, of a writhing snake colony in the forest, and I should not be surprised if tomorrow morning he declares himself too ill for the outing.”

The scheme seemed unlikely, but the result would be welcome. I chanced another glance at the detective, who was raising his arms with a shout of victory as his stone smashed into Madame Becky’s. “I would be glad if your plan were to succeed. Thank you, Nino.”

His lordship smiled at me warmly, “It is nothing, Jun. I am only performing the office of a friend.”

I was taken aback by his words. Can I possibly convey to the reader my simultaneous emotions of horror and gratitude at the realization that his lordship—with the one exception of the detective himself—was perhaps my closest friend in the world?

“And that’s trump!” his lordship cried, slapping down a card. “You owe me five pounds.”

 

*

 

The morning of our hunt dawned clear and cold—cool in the shadows, but warm in the sunlight, and with a hard frost upon the ground that began to melt as we took our first steps into the nearby field.

True to his lordship’s promise, a subdued professor had appeared at breakfast to announce himself too ill to hunt, and our party consisted only of myself and the detective, Lady Riisa and Madame Becky. Madame Becky had dressed herself once again as a young man, borrowing a pair of my boots and stuffing them with silk to make them fit; Lady Riisa wore a regal-looking red hunting dress that I imagined would frighten every animal in the woods away.

The two women exchanged glances as I impulsively seized the detective’s hand as we strode across the sun-dappled meadow; Aiba looked as handsome as I had ever seen him in his boots and long coat, and he held his rifle (after first dropping it several times) with an easy elegance. He was whistling softly, as if to himself, but he paused and smiled when I took his hand, “I have never seen you look so cheerful, Jun. Do you enjoy hunting so much?”

I felt like laughing, but only smiled, “I enjoy your company.”

The detective looked impossibly pleased as he squeezed my hand; it was at that moment that Madame Becky, with a wry smile, suggested that we split into two groups and compete to bag the most birds. The rest of us readily assented to her plan and, as fond as we all were of each other, I believe each pair was delighted to be rid of the other. Madame Becky and Lady Riisa took off down the opposite path, giggling softly and poking at each other’s shoulders like a pair of schoolgirls.

I saw no reason to let go of the detective’s hand, and what should have been a concentrated pursuit of game devolved into a slow stroll; I do not know whether the detective was scanning the bushes and sky, but I was only watching the play of light upon his hair, and thinking with satisfaction of the complete appropriateness of his deerstalker cap in this setting.

“I have enjoyed our walks,” the detective broke the easy silence that had fallen between us, “and this stay has reminded me of the pleasures of searching the woods and fields for specimens, and of studying animal behavior in nature. Just yesterday the field behind the shed recalled an old query of mine concerning the appearance of the common mole…”

The detective launched upon a long and enthusiastic monologue upon the mole’s particular characteristics and social relations, but I must confess that I was listening only partly to his discourse. His talk of the pleasures of the outdoors revived an idea that I had been turning over in mind since first coming across the detective’s photograph of himself with a chimpanzee.

The detective was too good-natured to be offended when I interrupted his ramblings on the difficulties of actually seeing a mole with, “Detective, have you never thought of returning to your research? That is, professionally?”

The detective stumbled and paled; our hands broke. I instantly regretted my speech, but in another moment the detective had re-taken my hand, and he began to speak softly, his eyes flicking up anxiously to meet mine, “Indeed, with your usual acuity, I think you have read my thoughts. Many times in the past weeks I have felt a strong pull towards my old work...but when I think of how degraded my research has been…of how my name is linked in scientific circles to a scholar I abhor…”

“Then can you not contest it?” I returned, rather more warmly than I had intended, but I could not bear the sadness in his eyes, “If tripe has been published, then can you not write a better book? The book you always intended to complete? I would like to read your discoveries in print, and their scientific rigor and truth would surely be self-evident to anyone of real intelligence.”

The detective’s gaze was turned from me, his voice low, as he responded, “You would be proud of me if I were to complete my book?”

Guessing his fear, I pulled him towards me, bringing our faces near, “I am proud of you already, detective. I only wish for you to be happy. I fear that you miss your chimpanzees very much. So much so that you insist on treating me like one of your chimps,” I grumbled as I averted my eyes, suddenly shy under the sincere expression of wonder in the detective’s eyes.

“I am happy now that I am with you,” Aiba replied, his expression and tone so simple and direct, and so full of—I think I may write it—love that I felt as though the breath had been stolen from my lungs. The detective had a habit of winding me with his directness of expression; after so many years spent trying to conceal the softness I sensed at my core, the detective’ ready displays of vulnerability both pained and enchanted me.

I was leaning towards the detective when we heard the twig snap; in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a young white-tail deer grazing quietly not ten feet off from where we were standing.

With a hasty glance at each other to confirm the reality of this sudden visitation, the detective and I slowly lowered ourselves to the ground, stilling even our breaths as we slowly withdrew our rifles and prepared to shoot. The deer continued chewing at the grass with perfect unconcern, even as the forest seemed to echo loudly with the release of the rifle’s catch.

We were both in position, but I found I could not take the shot; the beautiful creature’s long limbs and large brown eyes possessed an uncanny similarity to the hunter beside me. “Go ahead, detective,” I urged, “the shot is yours.”

I watched the detective glance repeatedly between his rifle and the nonchalant animal. Finally, he turned towards me with a sigh, laying down his rifle, “Riisa will have my head for this, but I cannot. Please, Jun, you can take him.”

I laughed as I set my rifle down beside his in the dirt, “Then I’m afraid neither of us is cut out for blood sport, because I can no more shoot him than you, especially when he demonstrates such trust in us.”

The deer had improbably begun to move even closer to our position, and after much rueful laughter at our weakness, the two of us fell to conversing as we watched the lucky animal enjoying his lunch. At first I was obliged to draw the detective out, but soon he was speaking (though with hesitation) of plans he had for his work, and of the possibility of attaining a position he had heard of at another college, and soon we were debating how best a work on the correspondences between animal and human expression might be addressed to the public. The detective appeared encouraged by my interest, and I was happy to observe the glow in his eyes as he spoke of it.

After some time, our deer seemed to grow dissatisfied with his current pleasure ground, and he began tripping away in the other direction. We watched him depart without much concern until Aiba recalled that the two ladies had taken the path leading to the eastern portion of the park; he feared that Lady Riisa would make short work of our friend. “It is foolish, I know,” he mumbled sheepishly, “but now that we’ve spared his life, I have a kind of interest in his future. Perhaps we could walk ahead to prevent Riisa, in case she should come across him?”

I also felt uneasy at the thought of Lady Riisa shooting him; I would never be able to eat the venison stew that would result. Thinking it just as well that her ladyship should be confined to the slaughter of birds, I followed Aiba to the path that led to the eastern portion of the forest, joking with the detective along the way.

It was as we were nearing the end of the path, which terminated in a clearing, that Aiba turned to me with a smile and said in a half-teasing, half-serious tone, “And when shall we see you publish a book of your own, doctor? Surely such an indefatigable reader of adventure stories as yourself, and one who has really been to the Sudan and lived his own adventure, cannot stop himself from writing such a book for long?”

“I would never write an account of my time there,” I replied coldly and immediately, “To travel with an army is nothing like the way it is represented in such books, and those stories do great damage by representing senseless greed, blood, and death as heroism.” The detective flinched visibly; I realized the harshness of my tone and expression too late.

I despised myself—of anyone in the world that I might vent my anger upon, how could I choose Aiba, the person most innocent of malice in England, if not the entire world? Yet, having spoken so barbarously to him, I could not recover myself—my tongue felt thick and stupid, and a heavy silence descended between us as I struggled to formulate a sentence that would undo the brusqueness of my reply. The detective’s silent presence before me—even the tense set of his shoulders—was torture.

It was in this state of confusion that we arrived at the end of the path, where only more confusion met us—I was wholly unprepared for the scene we encountered. I had observed the fast friendship between Madame Becky and Lady Riisa during their stay at Hayworth; as surprising as such a bond might at first appear, better knowledge of both Madame Becky and Lady Riisa convinced me that the two ladies were admirably suited for each other—Madame Becky was charming yet deeply pragmatic, Lady Riisa haughty but (I soon discovered) deeply eccentric, even fantastical in her notions. However, I had thought little more of their sudden friendship—we all lived together on such terms of cordiality that their fondness for one another seemed just another manifestation of our rural utopia.

If I had been less self-absorbed, I might have detected something more. The detective appeared just as shocked as myself, however, at the sight of Lady Riisa and Madame Becky at the far end of the clearing, Lady Riisa pressed against a tree, her legs wrapped (impossibly, it seemed) about Madame Becky’s slim waist, her crimson dress crumpled about her waist, the two women kissing passionately.

Aiba turned toward me, wide-eyed, mouth opening. Instinctively, I placed a hand over his mouth (I feared he would shout out loudly in surprise), and began dragging him back down the path as he gestured dumbly toward the two ladies, who were still (if appearances could be trusted) perfectly unaware of our presence. That my own instinct was simply to flee the scene is perhaps not to my credit; in any case, I did not release the detective until we were nearly at the edge of the woods, where we gaped at each other, panting. All awkwardness between us forgotten, I gasped, “Her ladyship and Madame Becky?”

Swallowing, Aiba nodded, his eyes slightly glazed, as though with fear, “Riisa and Becky!” He shivered, “I shall never know another moment’s peace if either should discover I am aware of their intimacy. They wish to keep it a secret!” he cried, as though affronted that they should not advertise their highly unorthodox alliance. But then the detective suddenly smiled. “Riisa and Becky,” he whistled softly, “do you think they are very much in love?” he asked with a tone and expression of deep concern.

I could not help smiling at the detective’s inquiry, “I could not say. They certainly like each other very much. Though I think if their…liason…should come to end, we shall all suffer for it. Both ladies have their own special flair for the dramatic.” Aiba and I exchanged a grin. I felt a kind of swelling gratitude for the two ladies—they had interrupted the strange mood between us, and all seemed set to rights.

As we stood simply grinning at each other, an image flashed upon my mind. In vivid detail, I imagined pressing the detective against a tree, kissing him passionately. The image possessed such force that I flushed—I took a step forward as if to take the detective’s arm, but recovering my senses, I drew back. “Shall we consider our hunt a lost cause and return to the house?” I suggested instead. Eyes wide, Aiba nodded, and I moved to follow the path back to Hayworth.

Only to be stopped by the detective’s own tight grip upon my arm. Suddenly, his wide eyes were before me, so close he seemed to block out the sun. “Jun,” the detective breathed, licking his lips before tugging urgently at my sleeve, his eyes pleading. I followed the detective as he drew me towards a clearing deeper in the woods, both of us stumbling in our haste to reach a more secluded spot.

It occurred to me that I had been in a state of keen anticipation since the morning—an anticipation suppressed and denied, but always present, and now, watching the detective bite his lip as he surveyed the ground for an appropriate place, I felt desire shudder through me, a spike of arousal traveling through my leg and groin. Unable to meet the detective’s eyes, I reached out to strip him of his long coat, spreading it upon the grass before shrugging out of my own and placing it beside the other. ‘Please,” I murmured with a sweep of my hand, inviting the detective to seat himself upon the coats.

Sighing, Aiba reached for my neck with a strong hand, tumbling me down to the ground along with him. It was upon our coats in the retired clearing that we kissed, with a force that I had never before sensed from the detective—his kisses demanded something from me, and I strove to return his passionate caresses with equal fervor.

I opened my eyes when the detective’s lips broke from mine; he was gasping. I stared into his eyes, dark yet perfectly clear. I could see my own breathless expression inside of them. I wondered what the detective saw as he studied my face—his gaze was constantly moving, as though eager to track every line, note every detail. Our lower limbs were now thoroughly entangled, and soon the pressure upon my lower half became unbearable.

First, I was atop the detective; then the detective was atop me. Then I was above; then below. It was as I struggled to reverse our positions once more that we finally began laughing as we continued to grapple with each other. “Jun,” the detective giggled breathlessly, lying back upon our coats and hauling me (rather roughly) by the collar to lie atop him, “Jun,” he repeated, his voice thick but affectionate, “Take me. I want you.” He pressed his lips to mine again. I spoke my “thank you” into his mouth, recognizing in his words his kindness—the permission he was granting me, when I was too frightened to give myself to him.

It was when I placed my mouth upon his cock that he began moaning in earnest, and it was then that he began frantically digging through the coat pocket beside him to produce, to my astonishment, a small jar of petroleum jelly. “You planned this?” I inquired with a raised brow.

The detective gifted me another beautiful smile as he responded in a scratchy voice (a voice that made my toes curl like a cat's), “I’d planned to style my hair, Jun. But since first meeting you, I’ve always been planning this.” His words sent a violent wave of arousal through me—I was glad when the detective reached a hand into my hair to bring my lips back to his, when he started guiding my hand to enter him.

I am lost (perhaps willfully so) when I try to write of these sensations—I do not know how to recapture how lost I felt then, but also how whole. Even as I entered him, I felt possessed, as though I were the one being taken. The detective wrapped one leg about my waist, digging a heel into the small of my back; his other leg rested beneath but curled about my injured leg, supporting me even then. He moaned and cried my name so loudly and so often that I would have been embarrassed if I had not myself been panting his name into his ear; he stroked my ear with fluttering fingertips as I moved inside him, always urging me forward; after only my first few thrusts he tugged at my hair demandingly (almost unconsciously, I think), crying “Faster,” as he wrapped his legs more tightly about me.

I wanted to prolong our joining—I’d wanted to make love to Aiba for the first time in a bed, where I could take care of him properly, slowly. But his voice and the feeling of his thighs trembling against my sides undid me; after a shamefully short period of thrusting as deeply and strongly inside of him as I dared, I was lost—all that reassured me was the sensation of his tightening and his release beneath me.

I collapsed—his hands were in my hair, stroking. I found the sides of his ribs, the ticklish spot just beneath his chest. I bit his shoulder, my eyes still blind from the intensity of my release. His chest was rising and falling rapidly, his breathing uneven. I traced his pounding heart with my fingertips. When I felt him twitching slightly beneath me I slipped from him, the movement accompanied by a strange lurching in my chest, as though I had suddenly misplaced my heart outside of my body. The still slackness of his limbs as I traced his arms with my fingertips and pressed against his legs made me wish to make love again—but a cloud passing over the sun, and a cold wind, reminded me that we would soon be missed.

With another pang, I moved away from the detective to locate the handkerchief in my coat pocket, returning to put the detective into what order I could. “Thank you,” I murmured as I finished, leaning over him and entangling a hand in his hair, holding his head still so that I could examine his expression.

He looked tired, and he was smiling, “You are very polite after making love, doctor,” he rasped.

I smiled, but there was a twinge of anxiety, “Is it…off-putting?”

“No,” Aiba rose to sit beside me and press his lips to the back of my ear, making me shiver, “I love your good manners. You are the most gentleman-like man I have known.”

Feeling the detective nuzzling against me, his arm about my waist, my hand tracing his thigh, I felt a sense of elation previously unknown to me. It occurred to me that I had been afraid—afraid that, somehow, performing the act itself would sully Aiba, or (more frighteningly) that it would reveal me to him in a way that he would abhor—that it would hurt or disgust him. Instead, all seemed only more right. Entirely different, but the same—the detective’s beautiful smile was undimmed.

And I love you, I thought. But I did not speak the words, even as Aiba told his love for me into my shoulder.

 

*

 

This chapter can never be published, of course. Its likely fate is to be thrown into the fire. Here, I have strayed far and wide from all of interest to the common reader—the case, the fate of Lord Kazunari. But how can I resist the temptation to return to these scenes, these actions and sensations, how can I resist dwelling on your sweet generosity even as it torments me? I no longer regret that our first time did not take place as I had imagined it, that it seemed to overtake us in the woods; instead, I regret that I was not courageous enough to speak these words until there was little chance of your hearing them. Even now, I can only write them: Aiba, I loved you then.

Chapter Text

The two of us were back in our coats just as Madame Becky and Lady Riisa stumbled upon our clearing; both ladies looked exceedingly refreshed. “The day grows hot,” Lady Riisa observed cheerfully, “let us return to the house.”

“I see that you’ve had no luck today, ladies,” I could not help observing, catching Madame Becky’s eye as I gestured toward the notable lack of game retrieved by the two ladies.

“And you’ve got leaves in your hair, gentlemen,” Madame Becky returned, eyes brimming with mirth.

My hand flew to my hair where (of course) I found nothing; Madame Becky laughed heartily at my expense. Aiba, on the other hand, looked as though he were wearing a laurel wreath, and I took a few moments to pull the leaves from his hair before we set off toward the house.

As we walked, both the detective and myself seemed filled with a sense of buoyancy; while I cannot speak for the detective, I believe that I had spent the last three weeks in a state of incredible tension, unaware of how tightly wound I had become until the rush of exhilaration that followed. The two of us could not stop laughing nor harassing one another; if not for my leg, we would have raced each other to the house. Instead, we had to content ourselves with throwing handfuls of leaves at each other while the ladies looked on in amusement at our antics.

One cannot lay a hand upon a lady, even in jest, but Hayworth provided new victims for our high spirits—particularly as Lord Kazunari greeted us at the door, looking anxious to speak with us. Before his lordship could speak a word, Aiba and I had swept his jacket up over his head, and, while his lordship cursed us most violently, Aiba ran off to seize a perfectly impassive Ohno in his arms and twirl him about the parlour; Professor Sakurai cried out in warning as the pair knocked over a side table. I held his lordship in a headlock for a very satisfying minute before he managed to break free, spluttering that “Aiba’s madness had infected me and that both of us should be carted off to Bedlam on his orders as soon as possible.”

Taking pity on his red-faced lordship, I finally relented, “Have you had news?” I inquired, attempting to smooth out my expression into one of polite interest.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I have,” he grumbled as he fussed with his jacket and hair, “Very critical news, though I doubt you will be interested in it, considering the state of post-coital idiocy into which you have fallen.”

His lordship’s words sobered me instantly. “Nino…” I hissed warningly, anxious lest any other members of our party should have heard him.

His lordship simply smirked, having neatly recovered the upper hand in our conversation, “I take it your outing was a success. You can thank me later, preferably by rendering me some service without question. However, I will not press the matter now,” his lordship continued in a placating tone, observing my thunderous expression, “because I can now report that our publication is a success.”

His lordship broke into a boyish, almost shy grin as he passed me the morning’s London paper (specially delivered each morning by train and messenger to Hayworth). The front page headline read: Publication of Lord Ninomiya Kazunari’s “Notorious Streets of London: The Journey of One Famed Aristocrat Into the Bowels of Our City, Involving the Most Incredible and Salacious Adventures, With a Special Plea for the Reform of Our City’s Poor Laws” sparks publishing sensation; Bestseller inspiring cries for urban reform.”

“I see you decided on the title suggested by Aiba,” I observed dryly, but the grin that I could not repress assured his lordship of my real pleasure at the news, for he only smiled happily in return.

“Of course, we cannot be certain that the work’s popularity will translate into real success for the reform bill, but…”

“The iron is hot,” the professor asserted, entering our conversation, “and now is the time to strike. If you will allow us to remain in your home for the next two weeks, doctor,” the professor bowed in my direction, “I believe we may work from here to organize the popular interest into a movement of support. The public is already crying out for an appearance by his lordship, but I believe from Maki’s reports of the threats reaching Lord Kazunari’s residence that the city is still too dangerous. Let us wait, and have his lordship return to London in the guise of a conquering hero to propose the bill.”

“Of course,” I replied, a certain stiffness in my tone as I addressed the professor, “I have already assured his lordship that he may reside here as long as necessary.”

“So you think my plan a good one, doctor?” the professor asked, looking into my countenance searchingly, as though truly anxious for my opinion.

I frowned. “Yes,” I responded shortly, “I think his lordship is right to wait to return to London. The delay may make the spectacle all the more impressive when he returns.”

The professor looked thoughtful, but there was also a gleam of restless excitement in his countenance. “We have much work ahead of us,” he murmured, and I could almost see the cogs turning in his mind as he imagined all the steps he should take to publicize the cause and secure political support for the measure.

Aiba interrupted us by seizing his lordship in a fond embrace (his lordship was nearly suffocated, as the detective still held Ohno in his arms—the two men were smashed against one another). “That is true,” the detective nodded toward the professor, “but for tonight, at least, let us celebrate this good news together.” The detective’s ecstatic smile rendered all opposition useless.

 

*

 

I drank little that evening, too preoccupied in keeping the rest of the party (the ladies included) in tolerable order during our celebration. Not that they should have done any real harm, but the parlour had already lost an end table, and I feared that with only the slight encouragement of a few drinks Ohno should be tearing up the floorboards again; the valet had to content himself with lying with his arms wrapped about Lord Kazunari, his lordship’s back resting against his chest, tracing designs upon the floor with his foot as his lordship and the detective drunkenly wrote out a detailed “Plan for General Success” together that I believed should prove illegible the next morning.

I had just finished convincing Madame Becky to release a yowling Holmes and go to sleep before the fire with Lady Riisa (Madame Becky kept insisting that “the darling kitty loved her kisses”) when I was startled to hear the professor addressing me. “Jun,” he intoned darkly from his seat at the piano, “come and turn the pages as I play.”

I approached warily; I had thought the professor relatively sober—indeed, he had seemed strangely melancholy all evening—but as I watched his fingers stumble over the keys, I realized that I had been mistaken. “Sho,” I pronounced the professor’s name with some sarcasm, hoping to inspire an apology for how informally he had addressed me.

Instead, the professor only raised a hand to beckon me closer. “Jun, I must speak with you. Instantly,” he commanded.

Bemused, I suggested with what gentleness I could muster, “Perhaps you would like to rest now, professor?”

The professor banged harshly upon the keys. “No!” he cried. I sent an anxious glance in the detective’s direction. “No,” the professor repeated more quietly, “I must demand something of you first.”

I sighed, consenting to stand beside him and turn the pages as he began slurring his way through several passages of Beethoven. “Ever since Eton,” the professor began, his face flushed and eyes dark, but his words still distinct, “Masaki has loved animals. Even when we were boys, he always took them in. Birds with broken wings, abandoned kittens, wounded rabbits…he would not listen to the masters, and his room was always filled with animals, no matter how often he was caned for it.”

“Hmmm,” I murmured, my attention drifting from the professor’s discourse as I watched Aiba falling asleep in the easy chair. His mouth was falling open. His lordship and the valet had been embracing passionately for some time, and I was relieved when they fell behind the sofa and out of sight of the rest of the company.

My attention was arrested, however, by the professor’s next words, “But he wasn’t just punished by our masters,” the professor continued, his fingers gaining more confidence, “his kindness brought about another punishment—as soon as the animal was well, he released it. I watched him cry as though his heart was breaking every time he said goodbye to another creature.”

I stopped turning the pages, lost in contemplation of the detective’s face as it was illuminated by the orange glow of the fire. I could easily imagine what the professor had described; I recalled the detective’s wracking sobs upon our return from St. Giles.

The professor’s fingers stumbled; he concluded the piece with a jumble of discordant notes before pushing back the piano seat and standing before me, seizing me by the collar. “Do not,” he commanded, his gaze intense, his breath reeking of whiskey.

If the professor had not been intoxicated, I should have knocked him down. I still might have but for the undercurrent of sadness in his tone. “Pardon?” I gritted out in reply, struggling to rein in my temper.

“Do not stay with him if you plan to leave him once you are healed…if you are just another broken thing that he has taken in until you leave him…” the professor’s voice was rough; to my astonishment, a tear slipped from his eye.

I loosened the professor’s (already slackening) grip on my collar. “Professor, I have no intention of leaving the detective’s side.” I pushed him to the piano seat by his shoulders, perhaps more forcefully than necessary, “Only Aiba’s express command could cause me to depart from him. And even then, I am not certain that I would obey him.”

The detective’s head hit the keys with a bang; I was furious enough to leave him there to sleep. I hoped sincerely his face would be a pattern of keys by morning.

I turned away from the professor, my heart turbulent. I was angry and shaken by the professor’s words—yet witnessing the depth of his concern for Aiba left me in curious sympathy with Professor Sakurai. I had always thought of us as very different men, but perhaps I was more discomfited by the similarities between us.

Looking upon the detective’s sleeping countenance, I was overcome with gratitude—gratitude that I was beside Aiba and not, like the professor, condemned to speak my regrets into an unfeeling instrument, a green parrot named Watson resting upon my back.

 

*

 

The next morning at breakfast, the professor joined us last, hesitating near the empty chair beside my own. The professor was pale (to be more accurate, a little green-looking), and he was glancing at me with a furrowed brow expressive of deep concern—I guessed that he possessed some unsavory memories of last night’s celebration. After some time I had relented and, with Aiba’s assistance, had dragged the professor from the piano keys to the sofa, but I knew from experience how disconcerting it was to wake upon an unfamiliar sofa with a parrot sitting atop your head.

“Sho,” I motioned for the professor to take the seat beside me, “Good morning. Would you like some coffee?”

There was an audible gasp from around the table—even Holmes paused in the middle of licking his paw. From the corner of my eye, I perceived Aiba beaming in my direction. Apparently, my dislike of the professor had not been as well-concealed as I had hoped.

With an expression of shock, the professor lowered himself gingerly into the chair, as though he were expecting a mine to explode beneath him at any moment. When he was seated and I had poured him a cup of coffee, he finally assumed an expression of relief, and his eyes evidenced both gratitude and something like mischief as he replied with a wry smile, “Thank you.” And after a pause—“Jun.”

Aiba reached across the table to shove a piece of buttered toast into my mouth. From that morning on, a truce existed between Professor Sakurai and myself.

 

*

 

It was well that I had overcome my dislike—or perhaps I should write, my antipathy—of the professor, as we spent the next two weeks in close quarters. Hayworth’s telegraph and telephone office—built several years ago in a frenzy of optimism during which the village council had imagined that someone would actually wish to communicate with Hayworth, but then abandoned after its first year of existence—became our headquarters, and we spent almost eighteen hours (if not more) a day engaged in sending cables, telephoning, and letter writing, orchestrating our campaign and contacting the London and national press.

His lordship, Professor Sakurai, and Madame Becky seemed engaged in a contest as to who could prove most dedicated to the cause, and it was often that I had to insist (as a medical practitioner) that Madame Becky return to the house and sleep.

The detective was also an enthusiastic and invaluable participant in this work, keeping spirits at headquarters high and proving particularly talented at the writing of pleading letters—he had the best record among us of securing funds from wealthy donors, and of having his editorials published in local papers. Aiba proved so dedicated to assisting Lord Kazunari that, more often than not, I ended the night by covering the detective with my jacket as he slept sprawled across towers of documents. I also learned a particular talent of the detective’s—even in the deepest sleep, he would seize my hand tightly in his own, and I spent my share of nights sleeping upon the desk beside him.

Ohno, unfortunately, proved useless at letter writing (unable to include those pleasantries and compliments necessary in addressing strangers, social graces apparently totally unknown to the valet), but he was also the most talented among us at operating the telegraph and telephone.

But Ohno had another project upon his mind; if he spent many hours a day assisting Lord Kazunari, he also worked feverishly upon his “sculpture.” Indeed, on the very last evening before our return to London, the valet was still hammering at the project. The great wooden lattice now rose high to the sky, resembling a kind of wide, squat, circular tower with an open roof and turrets. I was astonished that he had completed the project with materials gleaned from the house’s renovations; I was also horrified by the structure’s permanent residence on my lawn.

On our final day at Hayworth, I approached the artist just as the afternoon light was beginning to wane, watching as he descended the tall ladder he had built himself to land lightly upon the ground. We exchanged a short greeting, then turned to stare upon his masterwork. As usual, Ohno sought no opinion; he only gazed with a look of quiet satisfaction, caressing the structure as though it were as dear to him as his lover. I thought it resembled a cage more than ever.

“It looks ghastly. Like a prison in a gothic novel,” I offered frankly, wondering how the artist would respond.

As I might have predicted, Ohno was unperturbed by my evaluation; I doubt his expression would have changed had I declared it a work of genius. But I was surprised when he turned to me with a smirk and an expression of suppressed glee, suddenly reminding me of no one so much as Lord Kazunari, “The work is still unfinished, sir. These are only its bones,” he smiled, squinting up into the rays of sunlight catching the tops of the wooden turrets.

This was alarming news. But before I could protest his abuse of my artistic patronage, I found myself swept into Aiba’s arms, rendered breathless by his sudden proximity and his firm grip upon my arms as he dragged me into position; the detective, to my amazement, had brought his camera from London to Hayworth, and now he was insisting on a group portrait before we departed the next day. Aiba declared that the mellowing early evening light was “ideal” for photography, and he further insisted on arranging our party before Ohno’s strange creation—he went so far as to refer to the piece as our “dear tenth companion,” sending a shiver down my spine at the thought of the structure coming to life. An enthusiastic and determined detective (in his deerstalker hat, no less) was irresistible, however, and soon we were all arranged to his satisfaction before the sculpture. It took us some time to restrain Holmes, and even longer to persuade Watson to make one of the party. Finally, we were all in place, and stood obediently frozen as the detective opened the shutter before sprinting to assume his place in the photograph.

The strange lattice-work of Ohno’s masterpiece as our background. Daigo, a shovel in hand; Shimura, peering into the distance; Professor Sakurai, frowning and stiff; Ohno, gazing blankly directly into the eye of the camera; Lord Kazunari, smirking, with his right hand placed in a very un-gentleman-like position behind Ohno; myself, looking confused and off to the side; and Aiba, smiling brightly enough to blind. Madame Becky and Lady Riisa, dressed all in white, seated with ladylike decorum on delicate garden chairs set before us, and Holmes (as suspiciously and uncharacteristically docile as the two ladies) seated in Madame Becky’s lap. Watson is a mere blur high above the detective’s head—he never ceased flapping his wings during the exposure. A strange group, one would say, wondering what possible set of circumstances could have brought such a collection of individuals together.

I trace my fingers over the photograph now; it sits beside this paper on my desk as I write. I took the photograph out of its frame weeks ago, and its edges are already frayed and its surface worn smooth from the repeated scrutiny of touch. Although the detective had cried for us all to be still “on pain of death,” after assuming his position by my side he had reached for my hand; my look of confusion is directed towards the long, rough fingers entangling themselves with mine. You cannot see our clasped hands in the photograph—the detective’s sudden movement rendered our hands a blur in the final exposure. Each time I study this image, it recalls the sudden warmth of the detective’s hand in mine as the chill evening air set in, the fast panting of his breath and the rapid rise and fall of his chest as he came to rest beside me.

I thought that perhaps our final night ceremonies were at an end after this solemn memorial photograph, but I was astonished to discover, when I re-entered the house, a cake awaiting me, bearing the strange and lengthy legend covering every bit of its surface, Many Thanks to Doctor Jun for the use of Hayworth and his invaluable assistance in all our endeavors. The detective was smiling shyly at my surprise while Lady Riisa and Madame Becky produced crackers out of thin air, and I was surrounded by tiny explosions and applause as I performed the honor of slicing the cake. I must confess that the taste left something to be desired, but I was already thoroughly satisfied when, to my much greater amazement, Ohno and Aiba left the room for a few moments to return bearing my phonograph.

I gaped. Some cake may have fallen from my mouth (at least, judging from Lord Kazunari’s delighted laughter, I suppose that something equally embarrassing must have occurred). My formerly broken phonograph was placed before me—perfectly reassembled, its pieces gleaming and wood shining brightly as though recently polished. My expression must have adequately expressed my delight—at least, Aiba looked sufficiently pleased by my reaction. “We have fixed it, Jun,” he explained excitedly, “Ohno, Nino, Sho and myself have all had a hand in it.” (The professor had the grace to look a little shame-faced and mutter an apology for destroying it in the first place before Aiba continued). “There were a few moments when we despaired of the task, but we managed to pull through in the end.” The detective began fumbling with its parts, “It’s not quite as good as new…there is a crack here…and here,” he mumbled, pointing out the offending areas, “and a scratch upon the side…but it still plays, Jun. It will play anything!” he exclaimed. Ohno produced a record, and soon Meditation de Thais filled the small kitchen.

Words were inadequate to express my gratitude then, and I can hardly write of that evening now. I was only relieved that the party understood my stunned silence for happiness, and that Aiba did not question the tears that came to my eyes. I surprised myself with my response—it was only a phonograph, I reminded myself sternly. But to have something that I had assumed to be lost forever returned to me—when I had entertained no hopes of its recovery—it reminded me of my first meeting with the detective, when he had returned my best top hat. It seemed like a small miracle.

It was later that night, when the detective and I had retired to a garden bench to admire the stars, that I found the courage to make my request of Aiba. We were still able to hear the music of the phonograph as it continued its rounds in the kitchen; his lordship and Ohno had fallen long ago into a slow, drifting, passionate kind of dance, pressing each other close as though they desired to melt into one another, while the professor was waltzing with Madame Becky and Lady Riisa in turns (the lady unoccupied by the professor taking up Holmes as her partner).

We had been silent for some time before I asked, “Aiba, would you be so good as to accompany me somewhere early tomorrow morning? Before our train departs?”

I could not see the detective’s expression, as our temples were pressed together and our faces close, but I felt him tense slightly at my words. He did not question me, however; he only replied in a low, serious voice, “Of course. I would accompany you anywhere, Jun.”

“Thank you,” I breathed, relieved that the detective had not requested further explanation. “But first, you must promise me one thing.”

I felt the detective tense again—I smiled at the thought that he was already preparing himself to perform some great feat or accomplish a difficult task. “Anything that it is in my power to perform, I will promise it,” he replied firmly.

“When you accompany me tomorrow, promise me not to cry.”

 

*

 

I laid the flowers I carried upon the ground and thought.

“The house is in very good condition, now,” I finally began, “Shimura has even re-planted the garden. It has all the old flowers, mother, but Daigo has added some new plants. You would like him, father, he takes care of Shimura well and is an excellent shot. I am sorry that it took me so long to return home, and about the sculpture on the lawn.” I could not help smiling as I confessed that particular piece of news. “The last letter I received from Tsubaki said that she was very happy with her husband in Manchester. I will travel there myself soon, and make sure of it. I am very well. I have found a place in London and I am surrounded by many good friends.” I swallowed, unsure how to proceed but certain that all that was really important still remained to be said—my throat was closing involuntarily, as though it were unwilling to allow me to voice my feelings. I swallowed again. “I miss you both. Thank you, and I’m sorry. I will return soon.”

Unable to continue, I turned away from my parents’ graves toward the detective, who was seated on a mossy tree stump some feet away. He was watching me intently and, as I had predicted, his eyes were swimming. He was making a valiant effort to hold fast to his promise, though, blinking his eyes furiously and wiping a rough tweed sleeve across his face. I offered him my handkerchief when I reached him, “Forgive me, detective. My request was a selfish one. I release you from your promise,” I urged him.

“I am quite well, Jun,” Aiba insisted stubbornly, waving away my handkerchief, “It’s only this damn pollen out so early in the morning,” he choked out, eyes red. The detective gave a prolonged, manful sniff before seizing my arm and bringing me to his side. The trunk was not quite large enough for both of us to sit comfortably, but I did not mind seating myself with my spine against the detective’s. It was easier not to face him, just now. I could still hear some sniffling coming from his direction, but I chose not to wound Aiba’s pride by referring to it. “As if I would break my promise,” he was muttering quietly.

I took a deep breath, staring up at the stone church spire nearby. The churchyard was always beautiful, and it was especially so in the early morning light. It was cold—I could feel the true beginnings of winter in the biting air—and our breaths left our mouths in clouds as we shivered in our coats, scarves, and hats. A few minutes pressed back to back, however, soon warmed us.

As soon as I felt that the detective’s breathing grow even, I began, “Aiba, I would like to tell you about my time in the Sudan. I am not sure if it is something that you would like to hear, or that I should recount to you, but lately it has pressing on me strangely—I feel as though it would be a great relief to me if a friend would listen to my story.”

I felt the detective’s shoulders jump in surprise and then (with his conscious effort, I think) relax to resume their usual position. “If you think that it would be a relief to you to tell me, Jun, I am happy to listen.”

“Thank you.” I closed my eyes, thinking where to begin. It was so quiet—even the birds seemed still asleep—that it seemed I could hear our hearts beating in unison. “As I think you are already aware, Aiba, after my parents’ death I became very desperate, more so because I felt that I had failed in their treatment. I am not sure what course I would have taken, but I was saved by an old friend of mine from school, Oguri Shun. He was a very good man, sometimes eccentric and moody, but also very courageous and generous.”

“Like you,” Aiba murmured softly—I could hear the smile in his voice. I felt something clench inside my chest.

“We were very similar in some ways. Mostly in our tempers, I think,” I grimaced. “He attended my parent’s funeral, and he invited me to join an expedition into the Sudan that he was a member of—the forces were looking for an additional doctor, and he was confident that I would be accepted. I had always dreamed of foreign travel and adventure—such dreams made up my whole childhood, and I had consented to become a doctor only because my father had demanded it. I agreed, leaving England immediately and without regret.”

I opened my eyes, staring down at the frost upon the ground and trying to recall the blistering heat and sands of the Sudan. “But the longer I remained with the expedition, the more I became disenchanted with our presence there. We were meant to subdue local resistance to the British government and secure the empire’s financial interests in the region. But my adventure was more of a bloody, sickening mess than I had expected it to be—I wondered why we were even there, meddling in the affairs of a people whose language we did not even speak. I saw…” I stopped myself. There was a difference, surely, between telling Aiba my history and needlessly inflicting my own demons upon him—how could I recount to him my memories of massacres, or of dead women and children?

“I grew very disillusioned,” I began again, “and determined to return to England. But before I was able to execute that plan, our party was attacked by some local fighters. We were in a field of land mines, and we were unprepared. I was behind an overturned cart, scanning the area for the injured, when I witnessed Shun being cut down.” For several moments I could not continue, but at least I was not shaking, as I usually did when I thought of this moment. I tried to imagine that Aiba’s broad, still back was my own and remain calm. “I ran out into the field. A mine exploded at some distance. I was far enough away to escape with my life, but some shrapnel embedded itself into my leg.” Now I was rushing, my words bleeding into one another. I wondered if the detective could still understand me. “I held Shun in my arms as he died. I could not be separated from him. Worse, several men that I might have treated had I not injured myself—indeed, I might have saved them even injured, if only I had not been so inconsolable—died that day. I betrayed my sacred duty as a physician. Later that night, after the other doctor in our party had saved my leg, I assaulted our commanding officer. I was, of course, immediately dismissed and sent back to England.”

I took a deep breath, strangely relieved now that the worst of my sins had been confessed—the detective truly knew me, now. “But they allowed me to return Shun to England. He was burned in the desert, and I carried his remains back to England. The day before we met, I had returned his ashes to his parents.”

Having finished my account, I found myself waiting anxiously for the detective’s reply, as though his next words would seal my fate. He was the first person to whom I had narrated my history, and I wondered what his opinion of my conduct would be. I was surprised when the detective turned to face me, pulling me into a tight embrace. His voice was low and rough beside my ear, “Thank you for telling me, Jun.” He pressed me even closer—I almost feared I would be crushed, “I am very, very sorry that you lost your friend.”

Although the sentiment was a commonplace one, I was somehow astonished—the detective seemed not to have understood the real thrust of my narrative. I managed to pull back an inch from his shoulder to meet the detective’s dark, concerned gaze, “And…my conduct? You cannot think my behavior was right, or…?”

The detective stared back at me more seriously than I had ever seen him look, “Jun,” he said, his voice gentle yet surprisingly authoritative, “That you loved your parents and friend so dearly is a testament to your good nature. I don’t see what I could find objectionable in that. You were in shock, Jun. You are only human, you cannot but make mistakes—you cannot expect yourself to possess the infallibility of a god. I know that it is in your character to castigate yourself for supposed imperfections, but you cannot expect me to perform that task for you as well.” Aiba smiled, perhaps at my lost expression, and raised a hand to caress my brow, “After all, even the great Sherlock Holmes has been known to make errors in judgment,” he assured me, his face brightening at the thought.

“When?” I cried suspiciously.

The detective’s expression grew more serious, “When he fell in love,” he replied softly.

I felt…unsatisfied by our interview. I had hoped for either condemnation or absolution, but the detective seemed to be refusing both. Unsatisfied as I was, however, I also felt light, almost as though I were floating. The detective’s opinion of me seemed unchanged by my confession, and happiness coursed through me. I could not help reaching up to pet the detective’s soft hair, almost laughing in my relief.

The detective looked back at me seriously, however. “When I left the university, the chimpanzee I kept for my studies was given to the London zoo—I did not own him, the university did. I go to visit him every Wednesday when I am in town. He is still well enough, but a cage is a miserable change from the garden he was able to roam in at the college.” I watched the detective’s eyes fill with tears as he spoke.

As odd as his speech might appear to the reader, I understood the detective’s intent perfectly—as I had confessed to him the secret that weighed most heavily upon my soul, the detective sought to do the same for me: he was telling me of his keenest regret.

It was with some difficultly that I suppressed a smile (of pure affection, not mirth, I can assure the reader) before continuing. “Do not worry, detective. Should you be unable to secure the chimp for your research, the two of us will free him from the zoo by force.”

The detective looked scandalized but intrigued as he gasped, “Jun! You wouldn’t!”

“Care to test that hypothesis?” I challenged him with a raised brow. I was perfectly serious—I would travel to the ends of the earth for Aiba, so a mere theft of a chimpanzee from the London zoo seemed, in comparison, a very small price to pay for his happiness.

I was pulled close, the detective’s voice at my ear again, “I love you, Jun.”

I tried to find the words, but my throat was closing again—I realized that I had been more afraid of my own tears than of the detective’s. I swallowed again and again, and had just mastered myself well enough to reply when I was suddenly overtaken by a violent, shuddering yawn.

Fortunately, the detective was not insulted but only laughed as I scowled. “I hate mornings,” I growled as the detective pulled me to my feet.

The detective kneeled before me, “Then allow me, Jun,” he said, indicating that I should climb onto his back.

I considered his offer. “If you will promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” he smiled up at me, and my heart throbbed painfully in my chest at his sincerity.

“That this is the last time you force me into the humiliating position of being carried upon your back,” I smiled, confident the detective would read my real gratitude for the offer in my eyes.

“Ah Jun,” the detective laughed breathlessly as he pulled me down toward him, “Now that is one promise that I will never be able to keep.”

 

*

 

In spite of our anxieties concerning Lord Kazunari’s safety, our train journey to London proceeded smoothly. Until, of course, we were interrupted in our private compartment by his lordship slamming open the sliding door. Aiba and I sprang apart, hurrying to straighten our clothes and hair (Aiba’s deerstalker had somehow found its way atop my head), fearing that we had been discovered by a train attendant. At the sight of Lord Kazunari, however, I firmly pressed Aiba back down upon the seat cushions and growled, “Nino. Out. Now.”

His lordship scowled. “No. I must speak to Masaki immediately. And privately, Jun,” he demanded imperiously.

Now the detective groaned, pulling me closer by my collar. “Nino,” he whined, “ten minutes, please.”

“Ten minutes!” I exclaimed, offended.

“Fifteen,” the detective amended, struggling to bite back a smile.

“It is concerning Ohno’s future,” his lordship insisted.

I saw that Aiba’s attention was engaged; I overcame my dislike of displaying affection before others to press my lips against his, hoping to distract him. The detective responded to my kiss, but I could feel his concern; I released him with a sigh. Running a hand through my hair, I passed by Lord Kazunari and out of the compartment. “Five minutes,” I hissed, glaring as I passed his lordship.

“Fifteen,” he responded coolly.

I had planned to wait in the narrow hall outside, but seeing Lady Riisa exit the compartment she shared with Madame Becky and sweep down the opposite side of the corridor, I decided to take the chance that Madame Becky might like some company; she greeted me with a warm smile and set aside her novel and the small knife she was using to slice its uncut pages apart.

“Jun,” she smiled, “I feel as though we have not really spoken in ages. So preoccupied with your new romance that you have no time for old friends,” she addressed me teasingly as I seated myself across from her.

“I believe I met Aiba before we become acquainted, Madame,” I reminded her, “and…” I had been about to say, you have a new romance of your own, but I prevented myself at the last moment.

Madame Becky narrowed her eyes shrewdly, “You are aware of Lady Riisa and myself?” she demanded.

I nodded my assent, uncomfortable as I recalled the intimate scene that the detective and I had witnessed in the woods (indeed, I flushed as I then recalled the scene between the detective and myself that had followed).

Madame Becky was smiling, but her clear eyes were unreadable as she continued, tracing the window sill with one gloved-hand as she spoke, “And you are…shocked…by our relationship?” she challenged.

“I would say, surprised. I have no right, of course, to be shocked by any unconventional relationship. But I never suspected that you and Lady Riisa would form such a close bond.”

Madame Becky beamed on me approvingly, “Nor did I, Jun. Indeed, I wonder that I could fall in love with anyone, let alone a woman with such a close resemblance to Nino,” she shivered. I could not help laughing at her expression of horror. “But I found that she had too good a heart for me to resist her.”

Perceiving my skeptical expression, Madame Becky protested, “No, truly, doctor, you do not know her as I do! She plays the role of the haughty lady, but when I returned to the house that day to present her with the diamond, she rejected it, asking me to sell it and use it to help my dancers and those women cruelly seduced and abandoned by Lord Akanishi. Meisa, especially,” Madame Becky’s voice dropped, her eyes dimming with sadness as she continued, “Meisa will soon give birth to his child, Jun. And rather than scorning her, Riisa instructed me to use proceeds from the diamond to settle a life-long income on her, so that she may raise the child in security.”

I had not guessed her ladyship’s goodness and generosity—I saw that she resembled (if not exceeded) her brother in that respect as well. “Then perhaps she is good enough for you, Madame, after all,” I replied gallantly.

Madame Becky’s green eyes were bright again, and she looked almost shy as she continued, “I have never felt so…happy…in my life before, Jun. The bill looks likely to pass, and Riisa convinces me that I may trust in the goodness of people once again. Before these events, I could count the number of people that I trusted in this world on one hand. And that was if I had lost a thumb. But now, I think that the list may be growing.”

“And may I ask whether I am included on that hand?”

“You, doctor, are the pinky,” she replied, raising that digit for my inspection. I could not help laughing. “And you and Aiba?” she inquired eagerly.

I wondered what Madame Becky wished to know—surely the nature of our relationship was evident to the entire party. “Pardon?”

She gave a huff of frustration, kicking my knee with her heel. “Are you planning to make an honest man of him? Have you confessed your love? Given him a ring?”

I was stunned, not least by the violence of the blow to my knee. “Do you think Aiba would…like me to do such a thing? Does he expect a ring?” I cried, a rising sensation of panic in my throat.

“Would you not wish for some assurance?”

“But Aiba has never…”

I was interrupted so instantly that I began to suspect that Madame Becky had been planning to surprise me with this information for some time, “But Aiba will not, Jun. He told me that he does not wish to restrain you in any way, in case you should wish to leave him. You must be the one to assure him that…”

It was in the midst of this interesting conversation that we were interrupted by Lady Riisa, who assured me that her “dreadful brother” had returned to his compartment and that Aiba was now awaiting my return.

I left in a state of confusion, appalled by Madame Becky’s information. The detective believed that I might wish to leave him? I had been privately convinced that the detective was far more likely to leave me.

I re-entered the compartment, completely befuddled, and profoundly irritated by my befuddlement. The detective pulled me to him instantly; I was tempted to disregard Madame Becky’s words and simply enjoy these rare private moments together. But I found it within myself to separate from the detective. I searched his face as he gazed back at me with an expression of innocent surprise, his lips still wet from our kiss.

I licked my own lips. “Detective…Aiba…”

“Yes, doctor?” he prompted helpfully after I failed to continue.

“I have something I must tell you.”

“Something you must tell me?” he encouraged, the corners of his eyes wrinkling with amusement at my stern expression.

“Yes…it is only…” I struggled to locate the most appropriate expression. Instead, “In short…” fell from my lips. “In short…in short…” I stuttered idiotically.

Aiba was looking down at our hands, biting his lip and clasping and unclasping his hands spasmodically—I recognized the signs that he was struggling desperately to contain his laughter.

“In short...I believe it is only right to tell you that, if you should ever wish to…end…our relationship, you must be the one to leave. Because I could never choose to part from you, Aiba—I want nothing more than to remain by your side for the rest of my life. I can promise it.”

Now the detective’s mouth was opening and closing idiotically. I smiled, catching his lips with mine.

 

*

 

Our arrival in London was astounding—his lordship stepped off the platform to a crush of supporters, all cheering his arrival enthusiastically and carrying signs and chanting slogans of support. Lord Kazunari waved solemnly and, with a dignified mien (another of his disguises, I thought), spoke sincerely to them, first to the crowd as a whole and then to individual members that approached him. “Are you sure it was wise to advertise his arrival in London?” I cried, frowning at the professor as the two of us struggled to clear a path for our luggage through the sea of on-lookers.

Professor Sakurai appeared eminently satisfied by our reception, “Yes. This is just what we need to get a picture in the morning post. And it has been a week since Lord Kazunari has received any threats—the tide is turning, Jun! Lord Nakai and Lord Toma have finally come over to our side, and they bring many more with them. Whatever excitement we can create for the measure can only strengthen our position.”

The professor soon abandoned me to speak with a group of women carrying large signs, and I was left to secure a cab for Madame Becky and Lady Riisa, then wait for the crowd to disperse and deliver the detective back to me—he had insisted on remaining close to Lord Kazunari’s side in case his lordship should require his assistance.

When Aiba finally emerged from the chaos, dragging his lordship and Ohno close behind him, he confessed, in a tone of deepest regret, that he had lost his deerstalker hat in the confusion.

 

*

 

The days that followed appear, in retrospect, both impossibly slow and far too brief—how is it that I can recall with perfect clarity the fall of the detective’s hair at the breakfast table, the exact expression of his eyes as they traveled over the pages of A Study in Scarlet, the precise motion of his finger as he caressed the neck of my phonograph. I recall these small details so vividly, yet if asked to account for how we spent those happy days, I should be at a loss—I can only say that we were in love, and we had assured each other of our affections to the extent that both of us (I pray) felt a true, secure happiness and delight in each other’s company.

I have now been staring at this page for some time—I have reached the moment that I fear is of greatest interest to my readers, but of least interest to myself. In fact, I wonder that I should write it—expect that it is the moment that evidences, most completely, Aiba’s bravery and loyalty.

I cannot write of it tonight. I will try again tomorrow. I will write it straight, with none of the digressions and embellishments that have so far colored this narrative. Facts, is what Holmes would demand of me. I will attempt to write in facts.

 

*

 

As is very probably well-known to my readers, the incident occurred at the opening of parliament’s winter session. Lord Kazunari was entering the house amidst a throng of supporters. Professor Sakurai and Madame Becky were in attendance to lead several of the demonstrations and observe the proceedings in the house; Aiba and I were on our way to St. Giles to visit some of my patients, but we had decided to stop along our way to watch Lord Kazunari’s procession from a distance. I carried my bag of medical supplies. Ohno had insisted on remaining at the house. Although he did not speak the words, I knew the valet did not wish to appear in public in his lordship’s presence; he feared for his lordship’s reputation if the press learned of their relationship.

The detective and I did not hold hands in public, but the detective was teasing me by bumping the back of his gloved palm against my own at irregular intervals (is this a fact? It happened, yes, but is it relevant? I can no longer distinguish what I must write and what I should leave unwritten).

Our eyes were scanning over the demonstrators in wonder when I caught sight of a striking-looking young woman; I had a vague memory of having seen her face before, but I could not place it. She was severely, even handsomely beautiful, with dark, gypsy-like features. Her face was pale and grim, however, and she wore a large, stiff black gown and had wrapped several large gray shawls about her figure.

She was following Lord Kazunari’s procession closely; she stared at him fixedly as he ascended to a kind of makeshift platform to wave generously in the crowd’s direction. In the midst of the clamor, she was perfectly still and silent.

The fixity of my gaze drew the detective’s notice—he followed my line of sight. “Meisa,” he breathed, his surprise evident.

I wonder that she should have fixed my attention in that crowd—I can only attribute it to her absolute stillness. But I often wonder if, had I not been so attentive to her presence, the detective would have observed her himself.

It was when she reached into her shawls, her hand emerging with a gleaming pistol, that the detective gave a shout and broke into a run.

I could not follow—at least, I tried to pursue him, but I stumbled. My shouts drew Sho’s attention.

But not soon enough.

Nino was closer than Meisa—Aiba did not attempt to run to her through the crowd. Instead, he ran to Nino. He reached Nino, blocking him from the crowd.

I saw Aiba fall before I heard the shot—in that brief interval between sight and sound, I wondered dumbly why the detective had crumpled to the ground.

After that, I obsereved nothing—the expression on Nino’s face, the screams and turmoil of the crowd as Meisa was seized—the world was black and silent.

Memory returns when I am by the detective’s side; Sho was cradling Aiba’s head in his lap. Aiba reached for my hand, gasping. My eyes ran over his torso—the bullet had lodged itself in his lower ribcage. His jacket was stained black—with blood, I realized.

I could say nothing—I only stared at the detective blankly. He was licking his lips, struggling to keep his gaze upon my face, as though near unconsciousness but determined to press the blackness back from him—

“Nino…” came the detective’s ragged, painful voice, “Jun…Nino…is he…?”

It was Sho who finally answered the detective. “He is safe, Masaki. He is safe. Your actions saved him, detective.”

I recognized the tone of Sakurai’s voice at once—it was a voice I had heard often at the bedsides of the desperately ill. But I had never been very good at employing it myself. It was the voice one uses to ease the moment of dying—to allow the one we love to depart from us in peace.

Chapter Text

But I have never been a very temperate man. And I could not—I might almost write, I would not—allow our detective to depart this world in peace.

Taking Aiba’s face in my hands, I searched his dark eyes for some clue as to his fate. They were clouded, but I could still find pinpricks of light in the dark; I remembered the first time we had kissed, and how the lights in his eyes had dazzled me. Even as his eyes were fluttering shut, I could see the detective struggling to hold my gaze—his focus slid away only to return desperately, obstinately to my face.

I was decided. “Stay awake, Aiba, and breath,” I commanded, speaking only to the detective. There was a flicker in his expression—I believed he understood me. “This is not the end. I am going to save you,” I pronounced the words carefully, clearly, so that the detective would be sure to understand me.

For a moment, I felt myself lose my command; suddenly, I was back in the Sudan—Aiba was still in my arms, but dust surrounded us. I could smell blood, smoke, and gunfire, and I could even hear the din of battle surrounding me. Then I was holding Shun, watching him gasp his last breath. Then Aiba was in my arms again, looking up at me imploringly, his breathing ragged.

I snapped back into myself when I felt the light touch of a hand upon my shoulder. I was back in front of the House of Lords, on a cold, gray morning, a light drizzle beginning to fall. I turned towards the touch, recognizing, to my utter astonishment, the face of Ohno beside me. As usual, the valet seemed to have materialized out of thin air. I was later to learn that the valet had disguised himself in order to watch the scene from a distance. But at that moment, I did not question his appearance—it seemed natural, and I could have wept with relief to see him. He was handing me my medical bag, which I had dropped to the ground on my way to Aiba’s side. “Your bag, doctor,” he encouraged me, thrusting it into my arms. There were tears upon Ohno’s face, but his voice was calm.

I accepted the bag and turned back to the detective, a strange, still calm descending over me as I began tearing away the detective’s jacket and shirt. Aiba’s face was contorted with pain, eyes closed, his breathing loud and rasping, but I (perhaps brutally) pushed my awareness of his pain back into a small, dark corner of my mind so that I might proceed with his treatment.

I had intended to remove the bullet from Aiba’s chest. But rapid examination revealed an even greater danger to the detective’s life; while just missing piercing the lung itself, the powerful impact of the bullet had caused the partial collapse of the detective’s left lung—part of the detective’s chest was sunken in, and he was turning as white and cold as frost—I knew he would soon be turning blue. The detective struggled to breathe as his heartbeat rose to a dangerous pitch. Aiba was drowning before my eyes.

With a quiet command to Ohno to hold the detective still, I plunged a knife between Aiba’s lower ribs, opening a pocket of air. I covered it with my own hand as he inhaled, removed my hand as he exhaled, hoping to give him at least a few minutes more of breath.

It was then that sound returned to awareness—all had seemed quiet around me in my concentration, but now I heard the professor shouting, “You maniac! You are mutilating him as he dies!”

I looked up to discover the professor lunging toward me, restrained (improbably, I think now) by none other than Lord Kazunari—I do not know where his lordship found the strength to hold back the desperate Sakurai, but he wrestled him to the ground before looking up to gasp in my direction, “Please Jun, proceed.”

In truth, the professor was right to doubt me—to repair a collapsed lung in such a circumstance was impossible. I might gain minutes of life for the detective, but I was placing him in a state of pain that I shudder even now to consider. But I was beyond reason, and his lordship and the valet joined me eagerly in my delusion.

“Please, Sho,” I begged, handing him a cloth, gauze, and alcohol, “Hold this to his wound, or he will bleed out. Press as hard as you can.”

I watched the indecision in the professor’s eyes as he stared up at me, panting, from the ground. His lordship simply gaped at me with astonishment. But as I had expected, the professor paused only a moment before accepting my command. He quickly pressed the cloth below the detective’s ribs. “If he dies after this, I will kill you,” he muttered.

The professor’s statement relieved me—if I should lose the professor now, I could not imagine how I would live with the guilt—death would almost be preferable.

“What can I do, Jun?” his lordship questioned me eagerly. His face was badly scratched, and there was a trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth, most likely from when Aiba had pushed him to the ground as he blocked him from Meisa’s aim.

“Do you see how I am helping him to breath with my hand?” I demanded.

“Yes.”

“I need you to continue the action for me. I am going to open his chest and try to decompress the collapsed portion of his lung.”

His lordship blanched at my words while the professor gave an inarticulate cry of protest. But his lordship replaced my hand with his own, wide eyes following the course of Aiba’s shuddering breaths intently. There is no other man in the world I would have trusted to take over the task.

“Becky,” I cried, certain the lady would be near; she did not disappoint, her face immediately looming before me.

“Yes, doctor?” she gasped, speaking through a sob.

“Take over Ohno’s place. Take Aiba’s head in your lap, and if you see him begin to stop breathing, or lose consciousness, stop him—shout at him if you have to, but command him to keep breathing.”

Madame Becky gave a shaky, hysterical laugh as she obeyed, cradling the detective’s head in her arms, “Yes, captain,” she managed to respond tearfully.

“Ohno, I need equipment. Alcohol, a beaker, a tube, a cork, a needle, water. As fast as you can.” My request was indeed an impossible one—how could I expect the valet to produce laboratory equipment from thin air? Yet it never occurred to me to doubt the valet’s ability to procure what was necessary, and he set off at a run without a word of inquiry or protest.

I began making the incision while I waited for Ohno to return. I shall attempt to spare the reader some of the more terrible details of the procedure. In explanation, I can only write that I had studied treatments for consumption extensively while treating my parents, and I had come across writings by German doctors who recommended artificially collapsing and then re-inflating the afflicted lung as a treatment—an absurd, dangerous method, but I had once employed their method of decompression in an attempt to save the life of a soldier in the Sudan with an injury similar to the detective’s. The soldier had died soon after, of an infection he contracted while healing from the procedure.

It had been a terrible death, and I can offer no justification for my decision to perform the same operation upon the detective—the chance of its success was perhaps a million to one. I would like to write that it was my love for the detective that made me cruel, but it troubles me to think that cruelty can spring from love. Perhaps I should write, my selfish desire for the detective’s presence made me cruel—I would keep him by my side, in defiance of God and all medical probability.

Ohno returned to the scene with astonishing rapidity; the professor made a choked noise of amazement at his appearance. “Where did you find such things?” he cried.

“I stole them from the morgue down the street,” the valet responded quietly; I believe a shudder passed through our whole party at the soft-spoken words.

Removing a length of tubing from my bag, I began the operation of inserting a tube in the detective’s lung; Ohno followed my instructions to create a water seal from his supplies with remarkable intelligence and dexterity. His lordship continued to watch and assist Aiba’s breathing while the professor tended to his bullet wound, and Madame Becky talked, I believe, without a pause throughout the procedure. She hardly drew breath once, I think, never ceasing in her words of recrimination and encouragement to the detective, “Only you would be so idiotic as to jump in front of a speeding bullet, do you imagine yourself impervious to violence now? If you are attempting to attain some kind of sainthood, amateur detective, I can assure you that you will not be successful, as today sainthood is not given to mere simpletons hoping to look impressive and heroic. So you must live, as that is the only way that I will even begin to forgive you for your foolishness. Indeed, if you live, I will even do you the honor of allowing you back into the theater. In fact, I will even dance in my under-things on stage at the Circus, if you should wish it…” and so on, the lady continued, trying with her words to tie the detective more tightly to this earth.

I write of the contributions of these dear friends of the detective to show their goodness, courage, and invaluable assistance; the detective would not have lived through the procedure without them. But all blame should be placed squarely upon myself. Each trusted in me as a physician—though the professor suspected, they could not know how dangerous was the operation I was attempting.

For some minutes, the detective seemed to exist in a realm beyond us—not yet in death, but in a place of absolute pain. Yet, he kept breathing. Soon the passage was open, the decompression performed; miraculously, the collapsed portion of the lung began to reopen. His breathing eased; his heart rate slowed; the blue tinge began to disappear from his skin. He lived. Aiba opened his warm brown, almost black eyes; he looked upon me and tried to speak. I quieted him, but his hand moved as though struggling to reach mine; I took it, and he clasped my fingers weakly.

I cannot describe this moment to the reader—no words can express my relief, or my intense love and gratitude toward the detective for enduring so much, for not slipping away from me into the tempting embrace of death, a state so much easier than what I had demanded of him.

I sewed closed the detective’s chest where I had made an incision; I removed the bullet from just below his ribs. When his chest had risen again, I removed the tube and sewed closed the second incision I had made below his arm, near his heart. I declared the detective fit to be moved. It was only when I attempted to stand and follow the stretcher that carried the detective that I became aware of the burning pain radiating throughout my injured leg—almost the instant I stood, I fell back to the pavement, my vision smearing before the world turned black once again.

 

*

 

The detective and I were at the clearing in the forest near Hayworth, watching the white-tailed deer browse through the underbrush. We were seated, leaning back against a large tree, our hands intertwined. The detective was running his thumb across my knuckles.

“If you believe I will soon forgive you for this, you’re mistaken, detective.”

I smiled at the sound of the detective’s rough, breathy laughter. He squeezed my hand more tightly and reached to turn my chin so that I faced him. His beautiful visage was, as always, irresistibly pleading. “You would have done the same, Jun,” he breathed.

I closed my eyes, attempting to shut out his persuasive handsomeness from my consciousness. “Step in front of a bullet to save Lord Kazunari? Abandon you completely after promising so faithfully to stay by your side? Leave my lover’s side to greet death like an old friend? I could not, Aiba.”

I opened my eyes; the detective was examining me seriously. “But you would, Jun,” he insisted. “You care for the people around you so deeply—you know how impossible it is to love only one person. Once you open your heart to someone, all other kinds of scamps and ne’er-do-wells start to lay claim to your affections as well.”

I huffed, rolling my eyes in response to the detective’s impassioned plea. “Well, you are quite right to refer to his lordship as a scamp and ne’r-do-well.” Now I turned my gaze from the detective to focus determinedly on the quiet deer, “But even if I love those around me enough to die for them, as you say, I would never find the courage to do so.” I turned back to meet the detective’s eyes, “Today, detective, you were nothing short of heroic. Idiotic, but heroic.”

The detective looked positively delighted, his face immediately assuming a boyish grin. “Was it like something in the novels you read when you were young? Like what you hoped the Sudan would be like?” he inquired.

I groaned, falling back into the grass as I covered my eyes against his blinding smile. “Please don’t tell me you nearly had yourself killed because you wished to be like a character in a book, Aiba. Is modeling your career—and even your sense of fashion—after Sherlock Holmes not already enough to satisfy you?”

My breath caught as the detective fell atop me, pulling my hands from my eyes and catching my lips in a passionate kiss. After some minutes, the detective attempted to raise his face from mine, but I determinedly pulled him back, forcing his lips in a biting kiss again and again, as though I would consume him.

Finally he broke from my grasp, “If I come back, Jun,” he spoke breathlessly, “I’ll consider my amateur detecting at an end. I’m afraid that I’ve changed my mind—rather than a detective, I’d like to be the amateur hero of one of your adventure stories.”

“If?” I cried, instantly alarmed. I sat up hastily—daylight was fading. I heard the deer flee the clearing, as though the animal sensed an approaching storm. “If you return?” I repeated stupidly. The detective avoided my gaze; I seized his shoulders, forcing him to face me. “Come back to me, Aiba,” I demanded, my voice shaking with the intensity of my speech. The words tasted metallic on my tongue, as though my mouth were filling with blood. “Promise me that you will come back.”

I was lost again in the dazzling eyes. “I will try, Jun. I cannot promise something that I am not confident that I can perform, but I will try.”

Not good enough, I thought, watching helplessly as the rapidly setting sun cast stark shadows upon the detective’s face.

But before I could speak the words, I woke; I was lying in a bed in a hospital ward, my leg raised in a sling. My dream dissipated in the antiseptic light of the ward. I am not a superstitious man—I had never believed in signs or portents. Yet I am confident that my unconscious recognized the danger the detective was in before the signs of his illness became outwardly apparent.

Someone was placing a glass of water to my lips; I looked up to discover Ohno standing before me. I tried to speak, but my throat was rough; reluctantly, I accepted a drink from the valet. “Aiba?” I rasped.

“He is alive. But he is fevered. He inquired after you when we first reached the hospital, but then he seemed to fall in a delirium.”

I struggled up, reaching to unfasten the sling that held my leg. Ohno observed my actions quietly. “Kazu thought you might attempt to leave your bed,” the valet spoke gently, “but the doctor said that that you must rest. I was told to keep you in bed.”

“I see a set of crutches there,” I gestured toward the corner of the room, “if you will be so good as to bring them here, I will confirm Aiba’s condition myself. I am his personal physician. I must examine him.”

There was a smile tugging at the corner of Ohno’s mouth; I blessed the man as he immediately retrieved the crutches and brought them to me without further protest, helping me escape the ward and guiding me to Aiba’s private room.

I felt calmed as soon as I caught sight of the detective from the door; he was feverish, yes, but his chest still moved—he breathed, he lived. Professor Sakurai, who sat beside the detective, holding his hand, gave a startled cry as I entered; his lordship visibly paled and, strangely, made as if to slink from the room. His escape was arrested by Ohno, who dragged him forcibly back to Aiba’s bedside.

My relief was only momentary; I examined Aiba’s chart with concern. He had fallen into a high fever; the doctor (one of the finest in London, and the Kazunari family’s personal physician) had declared the cause unknown—he suspected shock, as no infection was yet apparent.

I placed a hand upon the detective’s brow. “I must speak to the doctor,” I began. “And he will have to be moved. If he does not have an infection yet, this hospital will surely provide him with one soon. Ohno, if you could began making the arrangements to return him to Garden Place…”

“Doctor,” came the professor’s voice, his tone firm, “You cannot be on your feet. You nearly lost your leg earlier today—the doctor was not certain that you would ever recover feeling in it again. You must rest. I have already made arrangements for Masaki at my London residence. He will have private attendants and constant nursing….”

I could not prevent myself; I laughed. My gaze sill fixed upon the detective’s fevered countenance, I interrupted the professor, “Thank you for your concern. Truly Sho, I am grateful. You helped to save Aiba’s life, which I can never repay your for. But if you imagine for one moment that I will let Aiba escape my sight, or that I will rest while he remains in this uncertain state, then you should submit yourself as a patient to a mental institution. It will take far more than a sore leg to draw me away from his side.”

 

*

 

It was in the special conveyance we had hired to transport Aiba back to Garden Place that Lord Kazunari finally spoke to me; he had, indeed, resisted entering the vehicle with me—Ohno had thrust him inside quite forcefully, slamming the door behind him with authority. I had been too preoccupied in arranging Aiba’s bedding to pay much attention to the commotion, but my attention was caught by his lordship's defeated address, “You must despise me, Jun.”

I considered his lordship’s words carefully before answering. I passed a hand over Aiba’s brow—his hair was still damp with perspiration, and I could see his eyes flickering uneasily beneath his lids. But he was quiet; earlier, he had been speaking in his delirium, piercing my heart as he called out for “Jun” and “Nino.” “I wish I could despise you, Nino. But I cannot find any anger for you.”

His lordship snorted quietly, “That is almost more frightening. Are you certain you did not hit your head when you fainted? I was convinced that you would tear me limb from limb once you regained consciousness.” Lord Kazunari’s voice grew thick, “And you would be right too, Jun. I can promise you that, at the very least, I despise myself.”

I spared a glance in his lordship’s direction; his countenance was pale and drawn, and he was shaking as he spoke. “Was the cut at the corner of your mouth treated?” I asked, striving to speak as gently as I could.

His lordship glared back at me, “Yes, Ohno insisted on holding me down while a doctor at the hospital disinfected it. Will you not hit me, Jun?” he demanded.

“Would you like me to hit you?”

His lordship pressed his head into his hands, “It would be relief. To feel something else, for a moment,” he sighed.

I was silent.

His lordship raised his face, “So your far more cunning and diabolical plan is to leave me to the torments of my own guilty conscious?”

“Yes.”

“And how would you suggest that I expatiate my sins, Jun?” His lordship’s tone was desperate.

“You should determine your repentance yourself, Nino—I cannot take on the task of your punishment. But I would ask that you continue to show Aiba your friendship, and that you treat Ohno well once you give up your fortune and take up residence at Garden Place.”

There were tears in his lordship’s eyes. He turned from me, his gaze coming to rest on the detective. “The two of you are so peculiarly alike, Jun,” he surprised me by offering quietly, “I sometimes feel as though I can hear Aiba speaking through you.”

 

*

 

To write this narrative without the detective’s active presence enlivening these pages proves challenging—even as I fill the pages, they seem empty as I look back upon them. They are dull and sterile without Aiba’s enthusiastic presence.

So I will be brief, now: Lord Kazunari’s bill failed to pass. As the reader knows, it was popularly reported that Lord Kazunari had been nearly assassinated by his pregnant ex-mistress; it was assumed that his lordship was the father of Meisa’s child, and her assassination attempt an act of vengeance for his abandonment. Madame Becky countered, of course, with the tale of Lord Akanishi’s guilt, but the public proved more enthralled by the notion of a lord assassinated by his ex-mistress. The story also proved popular among enemies of the bill, who were quick to point out the irony of a politician proposing to improve the conditions of poor mothers and children yet abandoning the poor mother of his own child.

It soon became clear to us that Meisa had alerted Lord Akanishi of Lord Kazunari’s presence at the Circus that fatal night, directing the assassin to follow him to St. Giles; that Meisa had ransacked Madame Becky’s room in search of the manuscript, and followed her to Garden Place; and that Meisa had not been satisfied by Lady Riisa’s offer of financial support. The offer, in fact, had only served to further stoke the white-hot hatred she felt for her ladyship and for Lord Kazunari, who she blamed fully for her lover’s arrest. The lady is still awaiting trial; because she is with child, she is allowed to remain—under guard—at the family home of her adopted sister, Miss Maki.

But while I was sincerely grieved for the failure of his lordship’s bill, it seemed of little importance to me in comparison to the fragility of Aiba’s health. When we returned to Garden Place, Aiba’s fever broke, and I believed he would soon recover. He was very weak, his breathing still labored. He could hardly speak, but he tried often, and what he said overwhelmed me in its earnest simplicity: he apologized, he thanked me, he inquired after Nino and after my leg. When I could convince him to rest, he held my hand in his own tightly as he slept.

But the next day, he was far more ill; so ill, that I did not think he would survive a second night. It soon became apparent that he suffered not from infection, but from a terrible pneumonia—not consumption, thank god, as I feared at first, but his ordeal had rendered him vulnerable to the epidemic sweeping the city. It is beyond my ability—and perhaps, I fear, beyond the reader’s patience—to recount those harrowing hours, but the detective spent the next week in a state of desperate illness, and his survival to this day is a miracle.

Or a curse, I sometimes think. While I am grateful for every breath, I am haunted by the possibility that I have condemned the detective to a purgatory of suffering that can end only in his lingering death—my hopes were raised when he seemed to emerge from his delirium after a second fevered week, but now he is so weak that he cannot speak. His hair was all cut away during his fever, and now he is skeletal in his thinness. I have buried him in ice to bring down a fever. His body is wracked with spasms of coughing. He can manage to eat only rarely. Every night is a struggle. And I have only myself to blame as he endures this agony; the three deep scars that cross the left side of his chest are a constant reminder of my choice.

How I came to write this narrative: a cold winter descended rapidly upon us, exacerbating the detective’s illness and the city’s epidemic. Forced by Ohno’s quiet but effectively obstinate efforts to force me to leave the detective’s side for at least a few hours each day, I at first spent my hours shivering in the park, staring at the hard-packed snow upon the ground. Then I thought to betake myself to St. Giles, where I spent time treating the patients there. During these excursions, I contracted the flu myself—it was a mild case, lasting only a few days, but during that time I experienced delusions of such vividness—in which I seemed to speak with, touch, and even make love to the detective—that I was almost sorry to emerge from my fever. But in the midst of my illness, I recalled my dream of Aiba in the hospital. In particular, these words of my imaginary detective pressed themselves upon my consciousness again and again: I’d like to be the amateur hero of one of your adventure stories.

I decided to pass the hours I am forced to spend away from the detective’s side in writing of our adventures together; at night, I read them to the detective, hoping he might hear and perhaps enjoy these accounts. At first, I read to him from his favorite, A Study in Scarlet, but when we came to the end of that great work I continued with this improvised tale of detection and—more accurately—of heroism; I hope you can take some pleasure, Aiba, in becoming the hero of a story, even if it is only of this poor and unskillful account. And while I cannot bring myself to write of it with the same careful detail, I recognize the heroic selflessness of your actions now—I know that you fight, each day, to return to me.

 

*

 

My story is at an end, or, at least, at a standstill—yet I find I cannot stop writing—it has become my habit. I shall continue, if only to keep a diary of Aiba’s health.

 

*

 

Better again today. Aiba sat up in bed; he drank water and broth. He looked into my eyes and spoke my name, he had no fever. Perhaps he is finally, truly recovering.

 

*

 

Worse, much worse. Today he did not recognize me; he thought I was one of his schoolmaster’s, then Professor Sakurai, when I came into the room. He begged me not to take Holmes from the room, believing that he was breaking some school regulation.

Forgive me, but only here can I confess my other fear, a fear I dare not to speak to the others: that the fever he has endured has affected his brain, and that he will not remember me, or himself, if he recovers.

 

*

 

After a week in which I believed him to be recovering steadily, Aiba has plunged back into a delirium in the course of these last two days. He vomits when I try to have him eat. I do not fear—I despair of his life. For the first time since the assassination, my heart truly forsakes me; his pulse is low, and I feel a conviction that we are approaching the crisis.

 

*

 

Tonight, Ohno found me by Aiba’s bedside, my head pressed against Aiba’s hand. All our friends—the professor, his lordship, the two good ladies, even Holmes, who never leaves the detective’s room—have proved indefatigable in their care of the detective. But the valet had outperformed them all (including myself) in his exertions; I cannot recall witnessing Ohno sleep in the four weeks since the detective returned to Garden Place. And that is not even to speak of the visitors clamoring to be at the detective’s side; I had often noted Aiba’s remarkably wide circle of acquaintance, but his illness revealed to me the incredible number of people—from all classes of society—for whom the detective had performed some good action.

Even tonight, Ohno did not find me alone; but the clock was approaching midnight, and his lordship had finally dropped to sleep in his chair. Ohno entered and, spotting his lordship, took him up in his arms and carried him, I presume, to bed; he returned a few minutes later determined, I think, to do the same for me, but I raised my head and held up a hand to stop him. “I am comfortable here, Ohno.”

“I think you can hardly be comfortable in such a position, sir,” the valet murmured, pulling up a chair beside me.

My laugher was perilously close to a sob; “You are right, I can hardly be comfortable here, seeing him thus,” I choked out bitterly. Before us, the detective’s emaciated visage was deathly white and creased with pain.

Ohno said nothing; his silence only encouraged my self-pity. “Ohno, do you think…would you consider that I made the right decision that day? That it was right to attempt to pull the detective back from death?” I glanced at the valet from the corner of my eye, anxious for his response.

“You saved his life,” he replied firmly.

“But I sometimes think… if I could have saved Shun when we were in the Sudan, I might still be there, now…and I would never have encouraged the detective to pursue the investigation…he might have played no role in the mystery, and he would never have been injured…”

“And if you had never been injured in the Sudan, the detective might still have followed the course of the investigation, but you would not have been in London to save him, and he would have died on the street that day.”

I frowned, “But then I should have to be grateful for Shun’s death. Otherwise, I would not have met Aiba.”

“Which is why one should not engage in such purposeless speculation, sir. It is done now. You cannot look to the past for answers.” The valet spoke with uncharacteristic intensity, almost with vehemence; I felt, for the first time, truly chastened by the quiet artist.

I was deeply impressed by his words; my next inquiry was not sarcastic, but sincere, “Then how would you have me live, Ohno?” I stopped for a moment, almost unable to continue speaking, “When I feel that I cannot bear the suffering of the present?”

The artist’s reply was immediate, “Live in anticipation of the spring, sir. Each year, I endure the winter by looking forward to spring’s return.”

 

*

 

I will write this, in the hope that someday these words might revive even more vividly to our minds the sensations of this morning:

I woke this morning with a hand in my hair; just as I was blinking open my eyes, I felt the surprising sensation of my hair being tugged and my head pulled upward. I was just able to catch sight of Aiba’s wide eyes staring into my mine before the strength of his hand seemed to give out and my head thudded back onto the bedspread; I raised myself up again to discover Aiba biting back a smile, his eyes glinting with amusement. He licked his lips before rasping softly, “I am sorry, Jun. I only wanted to see your face again so intensely—I could not wait until you woke.”

As the detective’s eyes met mine, something inside my chest turned over; I felt with absolute certainty that I was seeing Aiba: my detective, my love. I had spoken to him often over the course of the month, even conversed briefly—but in all those moments he had still been somehow distant from me, as though speaking to me from another world, as though looking at me through a dark glass.

But in that instant I felt his presence run through my body like an electric current—I could write it again and again—he was here, he was here, he was here.

His eyes were passing over my face, drinking in my features with the same eagerness with which I was devouring his. I took his hand to press it to my lips, kissing it repeatedly and with such force that I may have bruised it. “Aiba…” was all I could speak as he continued to look upon me.

“Jun…” he replied softly. His eyes were shining as he continued, “It has been so long.”

I felt myself began to shake, the waves of relief and thankfulness passing over me threatening to overwhelm me entirely. As I struggled to form the words that would convey my complete happiness and love to the detective, I was surprised by Aiba’s sudden inquiry, “What happens next in your novel, Jun?”

“My…novel?” I stuttered.

“Your novel…I thought you wrote me a novel, Jun” the detective struggled through his slight breathlessness to explain, “You were writing the story of a man who returns to England after some sad occurrence, and he helps others and begins to find happiness again…I thought…I hoped you were reading me your own story, Jun…but then it ended suddenly…you stopped reading…”

I laughed; the first genuine laughter I had enjoyed, I think, in weeks, “I am afraid that I have failed then, Aiba—I was attempting to write your story. The story of an amateur detective with a kind heart, and more courage than powers of deductive reasoning.”

Aiba smiled brightly at my words (how long had it been since I had seen that smile? How had I lived so long without it?), “Then instead, you wrote the story of how that amateur detective fell in love with you, Jun?”

I offered Aiba my own widest smile in return. “You are mistaken, Aiba. I wrote the story of how that detective saved my life.”

 

Four months later

When Aiba and I returned to Hayworth in the spring, we discovered that Ohno’s sculpture had been completed; the frame of the structure was entirely covered in thick, green ivy that twined itself about the lattice work, and a profusion of white flowers bloomed, as if by some magic, from the wooden turrets at the top—Daigo’s work, Aiba deduced. What stood upon my lawn was no longer a bare skeleton, but a tower embraced by living greenery.

Chapter Text

ADDENDUM

 

To whom it may concern:

Introductions often prove frivolous and even irritating to the common reader, but this work seems in particular need of an introduction; while this admirable account provides a first-hand and intelligent description of the events surrounding the passage of Lord Ninomiya Kazunari’s reform bill, every reader will acknowledge that this account (never seriously intended for publication by its writer) leaves many questions unanswered.

Therefore, I, Professor and current Member of Parliament Sakurai Sho, write with a twofold purpose: to assure the reader of the veracity of this account, and to resolve those queries that the reader may be left with upon finishing this work.

I must again note that this account was originally written for a private audience, to be circulated only amongst friends, and that its writer had no intention of making it available to a wider public. It was only after the enthusiastic pleading of his circle of acquaintances that the good doctor agreed to make these events known to the world, and thus a comprehensive editing of the original work was required. In addition to this significant editing of the narrative, the reader must also consider that the process of its composition was highly irregular, with the first sections of this book written after the latter. If the reader detects any fault in the work’s timeline of events, he might take into consideration its unusual conditions of production.

Admittedly, the account is colorful, but I believe the reader will ultimately agree that it is the very emotional nature of this work that renders it so interesting. While liberties may be taken in the depiction of certain individuals—those portraits naturally coloured by the author’s immediate feelings towards them—the events themselves are matters of absolute fact and (in many cases) of public record.

For the truth of these events, the reader may appeal to myself, as well as to Lord Toma and Lord Nakai, as well as to Miss Horikita Maki (a respectable maid known for her good character) and police Constable Hatori. Doctor Matsumoto Jun and Professor Aiba Masaki are gentleman of absolute integrity, and they are ready to respond to any questions or corrections the reader may present.

I believe the value of this narrative lies in its revelation of the extraordinary actions that ultimately led to the passage this year of the Poor Mothers’ reform bill; Dr. Matsumoto witnessed the original, more comprehensive bill’s failure under Lord Kazunari’s tenure, but, in spite of the scandals that accompanied that gentlemen, the true value of the legislation insured its eventual passage. Public sentiment had been activated; political forces were at work; Lord Toma and myself headed efforts to pass a narrower but still significant bill that would provide care for the impoverished women and children of this city. But Lord Kazunari’s original, extraordinary efforts should not be forgotten, and I would encourage the reader to temper judgment of his lordship’s deceptions with their knowledge of the sincerely philanthropic aims of his lordship.

It should also be of interest to the reader to know that Lady Riisa Kazunari has continued her brother’s good work; after his lordship’s renunciation of his fortune, Lady Riisa has used her newly-acquired wealth to establish a home and medical clinic in the neighborhood of St. Giles, where she lives and works with Madame Becky, who is now known for her charitable work as much as for her fame on the stage. If any find their hearts moved by this account, the good ladies would be happy to show them how they may help the poorest of our city.

The diamond, if the reader insists on knowing its fate, was sold; its profits were used to build the clinic and new housing. Miss Kuroki Meisa (as is well known) was sentenced to transportation to Australia, where she gave birth to her child; Lord Akanishi, after serving a brief jail sentence and finding himself cast out by his family, followed her to that continent. Nothing more is known of the villainous pair, at least to this writer.

Leaving his life as an amateur detective, Professor Masaki returned to the university. However, he continues to practice as an amateur in the field of finding and rescuing lost and stolen pets; the detective urges me to write that should any reader require his assistance in the matter of a pet, that he should apply to No. 5, Garden Place. Doctor Matsumoto continues his practice in London.

What more is there that can be said? My own political career is a matter of public record; and now this private record will illuminate those fatal errors and passions that have characterized my relation to the detective, in whose life—it pains me to admit—I have ultimately played only a supporting role.

Professor Sakurai Sho
November 15, 1892

 

To the future readers of this complete work:

The distinguished professor (now MP Sakurai), at Aiba’s request, has written the official introduction; but I find myself so disgusted by the work being offered for publication that I must insist on adding my own introduction to these already chaotic and overstuffed files. Our readers have been duped; the Adventures of (Amateur) Detective Aiba Masaki are presented to the public stripped of the love affair between Jun and the detective; of the relationship between Rebecca and my sister; and carefully divested of all particularly incriminating details pertaining to myself i.e. my relationship with Satoshi and the murder of my assassin (sadly, both would be classed as “crimes” by most contemporary readers)

In short, readers: all that is truly interesting and worthwhile in the book has been lost to the demands of reputation and propriety.

I write this introduction—this true introduction—in hopes that the future will see the publication in entirety of Jun’s files; more remarkable than any political significance is this book’s portrait of the sincere love that may exist between persons, and of the highly-entertaining course of his own courtship of the bumbling detective. Jun would agree with me that his (admittedly absurd and unfathomable) love for the detective is the best part of himself; readers will never truly understand these two men until their growing affection assumes its rightful place as the centerpiece of this narrative. I do not doubt that the particularly intelligent or discerning reader may “read between the lines” (and perhaps underneath them) to recognize the real nature of the relationship between this amateur Holmes and Watson—but all of those poignant details, so feelingly recorded by the doctor, will remain inaccessible to the contemporary reader

Though even I am denied access to these files in their entirety—Jun still refuses to share with me particular chapters of this work, chapters now kept in a safe in Jun’s office (In truth, reader, I do not doubt that these files will eventually find their way into my hands, but only so that I may insert them into their rightful place in this account and insure its completeness)

I toast you, future readers of this unabridged account! You live in a time and place more enlightened and generous than our own (though I challenge you, whether it be more brave or more loving—it is my wish that it should be, but I have my doubts).

Enlightened readers, I reward you with my own keen impressions of the individuals represented herein. I affirm that Jun’s portrait of Aiba is admirable; I concur in all his observations upon the detective’s person and upon his kind, courageous nature (though, of course, I must admit to finding it a fairly sopping portrait of Aiba’s appearance and manners—it is written through the eyes of love, we must remember)

But there are two individuals in this account who have received, I think, insufficient development, and whose portrayal I generously take it upon myself to supplement: the doctor himself, and that inimitable artist and valet, Ohno Satoshi.

The reader can naturally guess at my gratitude and affection for the doctor; as this story reveals, he saved both my own life and the life of my dearest friend (indeed, I shudder to imagine a life without our detective—how could a man atone for such a crime? How could I have lived in the knowledge of receiving such an undeserved sacrifice?). But I would like to reaffirm the doctor’s remarkable character. I met him, it is true, under the unusual circumstances of a stolen top hat and my own near death, but even then I recognized that I was in the presence of a haunted man. The doctor was handsome and fashionable, yes, scrupulous in his manners and language, always calm and reasonable in his conversation—but beneath that controlled surface was a man passionate, angry, and thoroughly sick of himself, chafing under some burden of memory. Aiba has never been able to resist the plaintive look of a wounded animal, and our doctor proved no exception, immediately inspiring Aiba’s sincere compassion and then—after further acquaintance with his excellent character—the detective’s devoted love

I can liken Jun’s transformation under Aiba’s care only to delicate petals slowly unfurling to reveal the full beauty of the flower (though I do not doubt that I should be shot for the metaphor if this introduction should come under Jun’s scrutiny). Most of all, I believe that Jun and Aiba share a tendency toward what I would deem excessive sincerity and uprightness—Jun because he demands so much of himself, Aiba because he can only with difficulty imagine, let alone partake in, less-than-honorable behavior. This shared trait, I think, renders two such apparently different men natural and agreeable companions.

I affirm that the detective would have died that day—indeed, we were all in expectation of his death, thinking then not of a doctor but of how we should take his body away from the street—without the doctor’s skill and determination. It should also be noted that, in caring for the detective that day, Jun severely re-injured his leg and spent months after in an intense pain of which he never complained. While it unpleasantly humbles me to record acts that so outshine my own sensational history of philanthropy, I must also write that Jun devoted himself to the care of the poor during the outbreak of influenza in our city, saving many lives, and that he continues to this day to care for the poor in addition to his more affluent patients, demanding nothing in return and never drawing attention to his selfless works.

This glowing account of the doctor naturally brings me to the matter of that other great hero of these adventures, Satoshi. I owe my life and the detective’s to Satoshi’s care, and it was Satoshi who tended to our doctor through that terrible fever that struck him down for several days during the epidemic. Satoshi is the kindest, gentlest, most talented and capable of men, and I anticipate that future generations will recognize the brilliance of his work, which goes so far beyond the current bounds of artistic practice as to belong only to the class of genius. This quiet valet is the most truly unemployable man I have ever met—never before or since have I known an individual for whom wealth or fame held so little appeal

He is also the most frustratingly, persistently, unbearably, and immovably stubborn man I have ever known, particularly in his refusal to recognize his own worth—it is only by abandoning my position and placing myself entirely in his power that I have been able to convince him of the intensity and constancy of my love, and of my determination to accompany him throughout his life.

I know I am no easy charge for a man to take on—but I absolve myself in the knowledge that none can appreciate Satoshi’s goodness to the extent that I can, having seen so many proofs of it in his (at times infuriating, but always well-intentioned) behavior towards myself.

After much wandering through our labyrinthine city, I have found my true home. I leave it to the reader to imagine with what happiness I get on at No. 5, Garden Place, living as I do amongst an ill-tempered parrot, a malicious cat, a half-witted professor, a sentimental doctor, and an eminently-superior valet of astonishing artistic talent.

Nino, Christmas Day, 1892

 

For Dr. Matsumoto Jun:

I have been asked by the doctor to provide an account of the day his lordship came to us. I thought it would be better to have the doctor, or Mr. Aiba, or his lordship write it, as they are all very practiced at writing. But the doctor insists that I should write it. He says that it is my story to tell. I think Mr. Aiba would like to read it, so I have agreed—it is hard to refuse anything that would give him pleasure just now, when he is so lately recovered from his illness.

I am not an educated man, so I can only put down in plain words what happened that morning.

It was January 2nd of 1890. It was cold but bright. When I woke, sunlight lit up the white curtains from the outside so that they glowed yellow. Small specks of dust glittered in the air. I woke early, an hour before breakfast. I went to my wash basin to shave. The cold water raised the hair on the back of my arms. I was halfway through shaving, and there was still lather on my face when I heard a rapid knocking at my door.

I knew the knock to be Mr. Aiba’s because of its rapid beat. The doctor’s knock is more measured. “Come in,” I said.

Mr. Aiba came into the room. His eyes were very bright, even brighter than the sunlit curtains. I watched his reflection in my mirror. His hands moved about restlessly as he spoke, “Ohno, there is someone come to see you.”

“Will you let him in and tell him I will be out soon?” I asked, dipping my razor into the basin. I watched the remains of the white lather swirl and float to the top of the cloudy water. My clean razor caught a ray of sunlight coming in from between the curtains, and it shone.

Mr. Aiba was still agitated, and from the thickness of his voice—his voice is sometimes like cotton wool, or a piece of flannel crumpled up in a work basket—I knew he was near tears, “I am afraid he insists on seeing you, Ohno. He says he will not enter the house until you open the door to him.”

I placed my razor to the side and, in my absence of my mind as I wondered who the visitor could be, I placed my wash cloth across my left shoulder. Half of my face was still unshaved. I followed Mr. Aiba out of the room and to the front door. Mr. Aiba disappeared. I do not know where he went.

When I touched the brass knob with my hand, I noticed that my hand was shaking. I thought it was from the coldness of the metal.

When I opened the door, I saw his lordship standing before me. At first I was not surprised or alarmed in any way. If there is some strangeness or mischief that concerns me, his lordship is usually the cause.

But then I took in the appearance of his lordship. He was not wearing his usual clothes, though I thought I recognized his linen shirt and black overcoat. But neither was he wearing the rags that he put on to wander about the streets. There was a leather bag sitting beside him

I recall that what surprised me most was that he did not wear a hat or scarf. It was a cold winter morning, but I could see the lines of his white neck, and I could see his black hair moving about in the icy breeze. I have read in the doctor’s work that he sometimes feels as though his breath leaves him when he looks at Mr. Aiba—that is the expression I would use here. My breath left me when I looked at him.

His lordship’s hands were in his pockets, but I knew that his hands were bare and clenched. I felt as though I could see all of his lordship, as though he were standing naked in front of me.

I grew more agitated as his lordship continued to stand there, his dark eyes looking at me sadly—he looked as though he were frightened but trying to hide his fear.

“What has brought you here, Kazu?” I said.

His lordship’s voice was like Madame Becky’s eyes. It was clear, but I could not understand it’s expression, and it pierced through me like a knife. “It is all gone, Satoshi. Everything. I have nothing now but the clothes on my back and this baggage. Will you take me in?” His lordship’s eyes were so large and black, and they looked at me with an expression of pleading. I noticed the light blue vein that runs along the left side of his neck, and that the tips of his ears were red. I wanted to see the white line of his teeth and his pale gums: his smile. I wanted to button myself inside his overcoat.

I must have become dizzy because I fell to my knees. Then I was inside his lordship’s overcoat as he stepped forward and hid me against him with it. In the warm, rough darkness, I could put my head against his soft stomach and feel the quickening of his ribs as they rose and fell. He was breathing very fast. I pressed my nose against his side, just where his scar would be. His lordship smelled like a bakery early in the morning, when the baker’s hands are still moving through the flour on the table.

I stood up and took his lordship’s hand. “Come in,” I said, “Help me finish shaving.” His lordship’s hand clasped mine so tightly that I knew his knuckles would turn white and red. When I looked back, his face was wet, but I saw his smile. I wanted to run my tongue across his teeth and bite his lip. I wanted to hold his face against my neck. I wanted to press my face against his shirt again and wrap my arms about his waist.

He wiped my nose with his sleeve. The wool scratched my nose, and it recalled to me when I was a child and my grandfather would do the same as we walked along the street.

His lordship has resided with me in Garden Place ever since. I do not deserve his lordship making such a sacrifice, but I believe him when he says that he is happier here, and I am finally content because now he is with me always.

 

The doctor has read over my account, and he says that he is puzzled. He would like me to write his opinion to the reader. He would like to say to the reader that in case it is not evident from my account, my meeting with his lordship that day was truly one of the most touching scenes he has ever witnessed in the course of his life.

Mr. Aiba says that he thinks the reader may understand even without the doctor’s words.

Ohno Satoshi, February 14th, 1892

 

To any intrepid detective who has the pleasure of uncovering this hidden document (Jun, you may also read what follows):

This morning found me on the floor of Jun’s office, examining the papers he keeps in the wooden box beneath his desk. While Nino believes that the original manuscript is kept in Jun’s safe—and thus is constantly making attempts to crack its code and otherwise force it open—the documents are really “hidden in plain sight,” a stratagem I suggested that the doctor has adopted.

I had no plans to lose myself once again in Jun’s manuscript, but a blizzard confined me to the house today, and, unable to reach the university, I found myself too strangely restless to occupy myself in my library or in listening to Jun’s records. So, I turned to that inexhaustible source of interest and happiness, Jun’s narrative of our adventures before I cast off the mantle of amateur detective. The reader may imagine with what mingled emotions of delight, pain, and admiration I survey his work; and with what gratitude I peruse those beautiful lines addressed to myself. This evidence of Jun’s loving nature forever humbles and enthralls me.

I was looking over the familiar pages when I noticed, for the first time, a strange outline along the bottom of the wooden box. How I could have so often examined the manuscript without noticing this strange feature is a mystery, but today it came to my attention. I immediately deduced the existence of a secret compartment! Tingling with anticipation, I managed to pry the compartment open, revealing, to my astonishment, additional pages of Jun’s manuscript!

Jun, I am not the perfect gentleman you imagine, for propriety would dictate that I leave the papers unexamined. Catching sight of both my name and your own, as well as the names of our dear friends, however, I surrendered to the exquisite temptation placed before me, and read the concealed chapter through to its end.

And how glad I am to have surrendered! To my utter astonishment, I discovered lines of a nature I should not have thought Jun capable of composing—a chapter detailing our hunt with Riisa and Becky, and of the first time the doctor and I made love! The tenderness of Jun’s writing naturally left me shedding tears of love and happiness—but I must also confess myself highly aroused by the doctor’s words. Unlike my flawed self, Jun is the paragon of a gentlemen, and I could never wish to rid him of his admirable sternness—yet I have often noted with a sense of discomfort Jun’s positive refusal to discuss or advertise matters of physical love, and I have often found myself embarrassed by my own frankness about such topics.

I have even struggled in vain to repress my overheated cries when in his arms. So, I relished this revelation of the doctor’s perverse nature! He has, in fact, been engaged in the creation of amateur pornography! My shock and delight are so great, in fact, that I am resolved: I shall remain beneath Jun’s desk, and, motivated equally by emotions of love and revenge, I shall write my own sensational account of our intimacy

I will recount the success of the task that most preoccupied my energy and ingenuity this winter—my attempt to achieve nothing short of the impossible—

My Seduction of Dr. Matsumoto Jun Against His Better Judgment

I have been fortunate enough to enjoy many truly happy moments in the course of my life; but my moment of purest happiness, of sheerest exhilaration, of most irrepressible joy, is doubtlessly the moment I awoke from my illness to find Jun by my side, his hair attractively rumpled as he slept upon my bed. I owe the doctor not only my life but my happiness, and no man could have asked for a kinder or more diligent physician and support—he was by my side at every moment as I recovered from my illness, alarming me only in the degree to which he was careless of his own health.

Yet, in spite of all this goodness, it was not long before I felt myself unsatisfied in the doctor’s presence. The first month of my recovery, I was too worn to think of anything but my striving to eat again, to sit up in bed, to take my first steps and move about the house again. My hair, too, had been strangely cropped (by Becky, I later learned) during one of my persistent fevers, and I am certain I presented a strange sight to the doctor in my shorn and skeletal condition.

But once I had recovered myself to be moving about with perfect freedom, returned (if not entirely to my former state of health) very nearly to my previous condition, I began to wish to resume those interesting activities with Jun that had occupied so much of our time previous to the attempt on Lord Kazunari’s life. Jun never shied away from my touch—he slept beside, took my hand in his, held me in his arms, kissed me—but should I ever attempt to move our relations in a more fervent direction, I would be quietly but firmly rejected, with looks and actions by the doctor that I could not mistake as indicating anything less than an order to “cease and desist.”

Jun is of so contemplative a nature, that I generally content myself with simply waiting until he shares with me freely whatever is troubling him. Therefore, I did not immediately think to inquire as to the reason for his coldness (perhaps fearing to hear his reasons), but I instead planned a sudden attack that I was sure should leave him in my power.

With the doctor, the most blunt approach can often be the most effective. I waited until Jun entered our bedroom after taking his bath, wearing only his robe. He turned from me for a moment in search of his pajamas and, with no more warning than the whisper of his name, I leapt from the bed to turn him and pin him against the bureau, maneuvering my leg between his own to press against him. I moved for his ear before I met his lips, knowing I should have more success if I caressed him there. I used my other hand to cradle his chin, rendering him defenseless against my kiss. After a surprised and highly pleasant “Hmmmphgh” and a slight stiffening of surprise, I felt Jun surrender; he returned my kisses with equal fervor. I felt a thrill pass through my frame as I sensed the persistent tension in Jun’s back and leg vanish even as he pressed himself more demandingly upon me. When Jun tangled his fingers in my hair and tugged, I could not repress a smile against his neck: I rejoiced in my victory.

But how to move us to the bed without breaking the spell that Jun seemed to have fallen under? He was gasping softly as I stroked him beneath his robe; if only I could remove his clothes without his notice. The robe was easy enough, but my own trousers proved a difficulty (I noted for future plans of seduction that I should fully undress beforehand in preparation)

There was a moment of pure terror when I fumbled and slipped as I attempted to kick my trousers from my feet and broke apart from Jun; but when I looked up to meet his countenance, he only smiled and pulled me to my feet, biting my shoulder gently and affectionately. To my surprise, I felt tears spring to my eyes at the gesture; I had not realized until that instant just how desperate I was to be joined with Jun again—how I ached to possess him and hear him mumble softly against my ear—

We were shuffling toward the bed, when suddenly all was lost—I coughed. It was not violent, as when I was just recovering, but I had to pause and break from our embrace. I turned back to the doctor with a smile of apology to find him withdrawn from me. His handsome face was pale, his dark, beautiful eyes troubled; I felt tension radiating from his form.

He attempted to disguise his repulsion; he offered me a smile that resembled a grimace, and he pulled me toward him to caress my back soothingly. “We should sleep, Aiba,” he said softly, but with a note of command. He was already pushing me down upon the bed, “You must be tired.”

I could not swallow for the bitterness of my disappointment; I sensed that I might soon give way to childish tears of grief; a sob was already threatening to rack my body. I placed my head in my hands in an attempt to collect myself; I knew that Jun did not like to see me weep, but the tears were already slipping from my eyes as I raised my head to him. I attempted a comforting smile as I faced him; but after catching sight of my expression, Jun looked ready to throw himself from our bedroom window.

I strove for a semblance of calm as I addressed him, but—as usual—my words betrayed me, “If your heart has changed towards me, I understand. You have done so much for me that I cannot rightfully demand anything more from you. I am much changed, and if you would like us to be…different…if you would like to return to the friendship we shared, I would not deny you…”

Jun seized me and brought me to him with such violence that I cried out in surprise; I was not certain whether he intended to embrace or smother me as he spoke fiercely into my ear, “Never pain me by saying such things. You are not leaving me, I would not allow it. I am unchanged in all my feelings for you, Aiba. Only that I care for you more dearly.”

I broke from his grasp to examine his countenance seriously, “Then why do you reject me again and again?” I whispered, feeling slightly sick as I spoke the words.

Jun closed his eyes, his brows knitting together; he was assuming that pained expression I have come to recognize as a sign that the doctor was in the throes of some dilemma (usually, I must note, an un-necessary dilemma of his own creation).

I waited patiently for Jun to speak. “I am afraid, detective. I am so afraid when I touch you. That you will break. That I will hurt you,” he sighed as if defeated, turning his eyes from me and refusing to meet my gaze.

My chest ached to see Jun in so much pain, especially when that pain was engendered by his excessive care and anxiety for my well-being. I tried to think what I might do to relieve Jun’s fears—I could imagine nothing worse than being a source of constant alarm to those I cared for

Jun had opened his eyes and was examining me warily, as though anxious for my response. I felt such affection for the doctor that it was with great difficulty that I restrained myself from making another attack upon him. But I did not want to frighten him; while a blunt offensive is often necessary, at other times Jun must be very carefully persuaded.

I nodded, “Would you…consider making love if you felt less frightened?” I wondered, doing what I could to keep my tone neutral, though my desire must have been evident in the huskiness of my voice.

The doctor was staring at me with an expression of confusion, “Yes…but…”

I interrupted Jun eagerly, “Then let us start with a drink. And take out your phonograph.”

Several hours later, we were sitting upon the floor of our bed chamber with two empty bottles of wine between us, most of which had been consumed by Jun. We sat near the phonograph, listening to a nearly silent recording of The Queen of Spades. Jun’s eyes were dark as he hummed along softly to the recording. He was dressed only in a pair of cotton pajama pants. In another moment, his head had fallen into my lap. “Detective,” he slurred, his voice low and rough, “I am feeling less frightened now,” he growled up at me, eyes warm and demanding.

Although it had indeed been part of my plan to intoxicate and then seduce the doctor, I really felt almost concerned by his uninhibited state—was I not taking advantage of a honorable man, and for my own selfish pleasure? I struggled valiantly to express my misgivings to Jun, who was making my cock hard by wetting his lips as he gazed up at me, “You will be tired soon, doctor. Let us go to bed, and perhaps tomorrow…”

I was on my back in an instant; the wind was knocked from my chest, and I gasped. I felt Jun hesitate even as he hovered above me; I quickly took his hand in my own and pressed it to my heart, “Can you feel that, Jun? It is still beating. You cannot stop it,” I whispered.

Jun pressed himself closer. I wept when his fingers moved to trace the lines of my scars. He kissed away my tears and moved his legs to pin mine between his own. I felt his smile against my cheek, then his fingers were tickling my sides. “You take such care to get me drunk, detective, and then you do nothing? It is unlike you to admit defeat so easily.”

I could only laugh and then sigh as I pressed my nose to his neck, taking in Jun’s familiar scent. I slid my hands down his back and to his ass to forcefully press Jun against me; I began thrusting shallowly as Jun’s hands moved hastily to open my shirt. His hands were so forceful that the small buttons scattered, rolling gently along the floor in elliptical arcs only to settle themselves between our floorboards. I moaned the doctor’s name as he

 

—Dear reader, I must break off this account in haste. Jun has discovered me writing beneath his desk, and, taking in my flushed expression and attitude, he has demanded to know what I write—he has finished reading and is now approaching me—I do not doubt that he means for us to review together more closely this new addition to the narrative, and to engage with its finer points in detail—

 

The End