Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde - Chapter Seventeen

By seven the next morning, Irene was already multitasking at the kitchen island, talking on her cell phone while sitting in front of her computer and simultaneously consulting a double layer of spreadsheets. I wasn't quite as chipper. In fact, I wasn't even sure what time it was. Irene had woken me throughout the night just to make sure she could, and because of that, I'd only been able to catnap intermittently for eight hours. On top of that, I wasn't a morning person to begin with. I plodded into the kitchen bleary-eyed and slouched onto a stool, yawning.

Irene put down the phone. She looked as if she'd just come off of a vacation. No red eyes or bed hair for her, and she'd been up all night. I don't know how she did it. If I hadn't been so exhausted, I'd have been furious. I didn't have the energy for furious.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

I yawned again. "Like I've been awake for a month."

She seemed contrite. "Sorry. I guess I overdid it a little. I promised Watson I would keep an eye on you."

I lifted an eyebrow.

She shrugged. "Yeah, okay, he's growing on me. Anyway, it's a good thing I did. Guess who just left a voicemail checking on you." She grinned. "Either that man gets an early start, or he's awfully worried about you."

"He gets an early start," I said. "Don't read too much into it. He's probably just concerned as any doctor would be about a patient."

"All his patients are dead," she said. "I doubt he's concerned about how they slept."

I looked at her.

"Don't you want to know what he said?" she asked.

Maybe I did, and maybe I didn't. I was still stinging from being foisted off on Irene when he could have looked after me himself just as easily. More easily, since he'd already been there. I was getting a little tired of rejection.

Okay, maybe I wanted to know a little. "What'd he say?"

She closed her laptop. "He said he'll let you know if he hears from Lestrade about the fingerprints they took last night. Sounds like he's finally taking you seriously as the detective that you are."

I looked at her. "I'm not a detective."

"That's what I thought too, at first," she said. "But then I started thinking about everything we've done—interviewing suspects and exploring the yoga studio and the tea shop. Well, until those two goons ran us off anyway."

Exploring. Yeah, that'd be the word for it.

"And I realized," she went on, "that's investigating. Sherlock Holmes couldn't have done it any better."

"Sherlock Holmes couldn't have done it at all," I said. "He doesn't exist."

She did a dismissive wave. "Whatever. You see my point. Dr. Watson has enough respect for you now to keep you in the loop."

I thought about it. In a twisted sort of way, she was right. It wasn't that long ago that Dr. Watson was openly skeptical of us. Uncooperative, even. So after two break-ins, a chase through Chinatown, a ginned-up website, and a phony staged internet chat he now believed an outright lie.

What a proud moment.

She hopped off the stool. "You want something to eat? I can run out for some doughnuts or something before I leave."

I shook my head. "No, thanks. You have to leave?"

"I gave the Boyfriend Babysitter whiz kids some time to put a business plan together," she said. "Today's the big unveiling. You can come if you want."

I shuddered. "No, thanks."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "You might be surprised at the quality of sleep you can get at these meetings."

I grinned. "I'll be fine. I've got some things to take care of. "

* * *

You can rationalize anything if you try hard enough. And by the time I got to the Victorian's front gate, I'd rationalized that the only way to get over my mounting fear of the place was to get back on the horse. So to speak. This was my house, and I refused to be run off. Besides, both break-ins had occurred after dark. It was eleven o'clock in the morning. The sun was bright. The park was alive with activity. The mailman was weaving in and out of properties up the street. No one seemed to be watching me when I slipped through the front door and into the dusky foyer.

I stood there for a few minutes, soaking in the place, thinking. Wondering what could possibly be worth multiple break-ins and assault. Could I have been the purpose? The house was a firetrap of paper and junk. Not like Kate had been safeguarding a rare stamp collection or the crown jewels, as far as I'd been able to see. The place was what it was, now and probably for the last few decades. The only thing that had changed was that Kate had died and I had started asking questions. Thankfully, no one could have expected Dr. Watson to follow me home the first night or to show up unannounced last night. Under other circumstances, I would have been alone for the entire night.

Under other circumstances, I could have been dead.

Shivering, I finally moved from the foyer into the living room, determined to find some inkling of a clue to why someone would keep breaking in here. I had no plan or desire to be there after dark, but that still left most of the day. I settled in front of boxes of papers I'd packed up to be discarded. Maybe I'd been too quick to categorize something as worthless. Problem was, would I recognize it the second time around if I saw it? Whatever it was.

As I started going through the boxes, I was struck again by how Kate had surrounded herself with things and couldn't help but wonder if that somehow compensated for her lack of companionship. She hadn't exactly gone out of her way to make friends. Just the opposite. She'd alienated a fair amount of people with her complaints. Had she been soured on human nature after her stint working with Valerie? Maybe that had been her subconscious method of pushing people away, punishing herself for her former life. Or maybe she just liked to complain.

Either way, it spoke of a loneliness that made me incredibly sad.

I'd just about hit the bottom of the third box without finding a thing when something caught my eye. A sheaf of papers stapled together, some of the writing in Chinese characters. Immediately thinking of Albert, I scanned the documents. Luckily, some of the writing was in English—enough for me to tell they were papers relating to importing goods. A bill of lading, an invoice, an insurance certificate. Though it wasn't Albert's name but Louis Chu's that appeared on the second piece of paper. I remember his business importing plastic tourist souvenirs. Sure enough, the invoice mentioned cases of decorative statues made of celluloid and resin.

I paused, wondering why Kate had this. I could easily see it being a case of misdelivered mail…but why keep it? Why not walk it over to its rightful owner next door? I glanced at the date. The 13th. The week before Kate had died. The day before she'd written her letter about criminals in the park. Coincidence?

The hairs suddenly standing up on the back of my neck pushed me to read the rest of the document. I sorely wished I'd sat in on a Chinese-language class or two instead of the Latin ones I'd opted for last fall. I was stuck relying on the English portions of the document to fill in the gaps. I strained to remember the boring details of the books I'd picked up at the library about importing goods. Content had to be explicitly spelled out, weights and sizes of containers detailed, points of entry and landing. It all seemed to be in place.

It wasn't until I was on my second scan through that I noticed it.

The bill of lading called for a dozen 40 foot, square shipping crates of goods, weighing in at just over 4,500 lbs each. I frowned, flipping to the invoice again. While resin could be heavy, I knew from various chemistry lectures that celluloid was not. When used in conjunction, the weight would be significantly less than resin alone. I did a little mental math and calculated it to be closer to 100 lbs a cubic foot. About 500 lbs off from the bill of lading. Certainly more than the weight of any type of protective packaging.

My mind flashed on the authentic-looking dragon sculpture I'd seen on the Chu's mantel. That weight might be off for plastic replicas…but not for real ivory.

What if the Chu's weren't importing plastic trinkets for the tourist market but actual ivory for the high-end collectors? While real ivory was far less rare in the East than it was here, it was also highly illegal to import across US borders, subject to all kinds of restrictions. Which made ivory sculptures that much more sought after by high-end collectors and that much more lucrative than plastic souvenirs. Lucrative enough to kill over?

I don't know how long I'd been staring at the documents, but my focus had clearly been laser sharp on the numbers in front of me, because I failed to hear the sound of the front door opening until footsteps sounded in my foyer.

My head shot up, sending my pulse rocketing into the red zone as I realized I wasn't alone.

Louis Chu was standing there. And he was holding a gun.

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