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

It was over a week before I ventured back into 221 Baker Street. While I wanted to believe I was tough and ready to get back on the horse, every time I thought about going back to where I'd almost been shot to death, my knees went a little weak and things like laundry and scrubbing my sink started sounding like fun. After a full seven days of putting it off, I finally sucked up the courage to venture back.

Not much had changed, except that there was now a For Sale sign planted in the Chu's front yard. While I had to feel a little sorry for Lucy, when I'd made my official statement, Lestrade had informed me that she'd confessed to knowing about Louis's business. She'd denied any knowledge of him killing Kate, but her story wasn't totally holding water, considering she'd been trying to clean up Louis's mess with the misdelivered documents since I'd arrived. She was being held on several counts of illegal importing, forgery, and conspiracy while the DA straightened the whole jurisdiction thing out with the several other initialed agencies involved.

I silently wondered what the very public arrest would do to property values in the neighborhood when their house sold.

I let myself into the Victorian, and a musty, closed-up smell greeted me. A cleaning crew had taken up the ugly rug, made even uglier with Louis Chu's blood stains, and eradicated any signs of the struggle that had taken place here. The boxes of papers were just where'd I'd left them, still awaiting some permanent home.

I took my jacket off, and I had just started sorting the papers into piles to recycle when the doorbell rang. I hurried into the foyer and opened the door to find Albert Fong standing there.

The first word that came to mind was miserable. His shoulders drooped, his hands were buried in his pockets, and his mouth was drawn down in a frown so severe, it was almost exaggerated, as if he was faking it.

"May I come in?" he asked. He wasn't faking it. He sounded as bad as he looked.

I let him into the foyer, but I wasn't about to offer him something to drink.

While Louis may have fingered Albert as his business partner, when Lestrade had looked into it, he'd been able to find no connections between the two men and no proof they'd been anything but chess partners. Albert had eluded arrest once again, and I was starting to think maybe he was smarter than I'd given him credit for.

He might not have killed Kate, but I didn't like him. And despite Lestrade's lack of evidence, I still thought he was potentially a dangerous man. I peered over his slumped shoulders onto the front stoop and beyond that into the park, in case Heckle and Jeckle were lurking nearby. I didn't see them, and that was good enough for me, because Heckle and Jeckle wouldn't exactly blend into the scenery.

"I came to thank you," he said without preamble. "And to apologize."

I blinked. Not what I'd been expecting. "I don't understand."

"Not everyone is what they seem," he said.

No kidding. Take him, for instance. He looked like the sort of guy who would feed pigeons in the park all day before going home to heat up a can of soup for a solitary dinner. But in reality, he was a crime boss, and I wasn't buying his Confucius bit.

"My partner isn't what he seemed either," he said. "I want you to know I had no idea he had killed Kate. Or even that he had planned to confront her."

"I find that hard to believe," I said flatly. "You're not exactly an innocent bystander."

"Perhaps," he said. "I've done many things I'm not proud of. As have you, I'm sure."

Right. Jaywalking and not riding in the bicycle lane seemed right on par with money laundering and murder. But I kept my mouth shut.

He sighed. "I'm not trying to defend myself or justify things I've done. But you must believe that if I'd known what was going on—that Louis intended to harm Kate—things would have turned out differently."

"You would have lent him a helping hand?" I blurted out. Not the smartest thing I could have said, but I couldn't help myself. I had enough anger to spare, and I didn't mind giving some to Albert Fong. He had it coming.

He didn't react in the way I'd expected. His face crumpled, and a few seconds later he was crying.

I stood there, speechless.

"I would never have hurt Kate," he told me. "I loved her. She was the reason I was leaving Louis and the whole business behind. She made me want to be a better person."

I blinked. Twice. My aunt and Albert Fong?! He was kidding, right?

He pulled a tiny velvet box from his pocket and offered it to me. "I bought this for her."

I didn't move. I didn't care.

He withdrew his arm. "You don't believe me."

"I have my doubts," I said flatly.

"I don't blame you. I wasn't very helpful to you." His shoulders lifted and fell. "You have to understand—I'm not a man who trusts very many people. When you and your friend came along asking questions, I didn't know what to think." He opened the box to show me the ring nestled inside. It was a yellow diamond, and it was big. "Katie wouldn't accept this," he said. "She suspected my business dealings weren't always…on the right side of the law. She didn't want to marry me."

At last, something about Kate to admire.

"But I didn't give up on her. I asked her again the same day she…" He trailed off, looking sad. "…passed," he finished quietly. "We were having tea together at my shop."

"Ginger lily," I said automatically. So Kate had been to the Lucky Dragon on the day she'd died.

Albert looked up and blinked in surprise. "Yes. How did you know that?"

I shook my head. "It doesn't matter now."

"Kate loved it. Said it tasted exotic and exciting." A ghost of a smile touched his lips. "You know, we were going to travel. I was going to take her to China. She wanted to see China. She was very adventurous."

I took a look around, remembering the hoarded mess the room had been not that long ago. Hard to imagine that person had been adventurous. But it was also hard to realize that Albert Fong had known my great-aunt better than I ever would, and because of that, his loss was greater than mine, and his grief was deeper.

I felt the tiniest twinge of sympathy, which I tried to ignore. Part of me thought he should have known what his partner was up to, that he'd been in the best position to put a stop to it. He hadn't, and Kate was dead because of that.

He pressed his palms to both eyes for a few seconds to staunch the tears. "He witnessed my sorrow, and he said nothing. He was a loathsome man, and I regret my involvement with him." For the first time, he looked straight at me. "Thank you for revealing him for what he truly was. I'm forever grateful to you for that."

Great. A mobster was grateful to me. I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

"If you should ever find yourself in need," he said, "I have considerable assets and resourceful employees who stand ready to be of assistance to you."

Resourceful employees? He was offering his thugs to me? What need could I possibly have that would require the help of thugs?

I glanced over at the front windows, with the ancient drapes that were going to need changing out, hopefully with new hardware that would need to be hung. It would be helpful not to have to balance on a ladder while hammering nails into ancient plaster walls.

No. I would not go there. Heckle and Jeckle as handymen was not going to happen. I planned to stay as far away from them, and Albert Fong, as possible.

"Thank you," I said firmly. "But I don't think we'll have much reason to speak again."

He looked at me for a moment. His eyes were still wet with unshed tears. "As you wish," he said at last. "But the offer stands." He turned silently and slipped through the front door out of sight.

I sighed and turned to go back to the living room, when the doorbell rang again. Honestly, the man couldn't take a hint.

I yanked open the door. "I already told you—"

A short-legged basset hound came bouncing into the foyer, barking and wagging his tail as he raced past me into the living room and jumped on the sofa. He spun around three times and collapsed into a ball, panting. The sweater and the rhinestone collar were gone.

Sunshine Moonbeam followed him inside. "Toby, down!" She smiled at me. "I'm sorry. I'm not very good at enforcing rules. I hope you don't mind us dropping in like this." She handed me two metal dog bowls and some dog toys. "These are his favorites. I'm sure you'll want to get some new ones. They've been kind of well loved."

I stared at her. "But you've adopted him." I looked over at Toby. He gave me a big doggy smile. "And he's obviously being treated well."

"Too well, I think. He runs the house. He's a very bossy dog." Sunshine pulled a leash from her pocket and handed it over as well. "But he belongs here, in this house. With you. And now I can save another life. I've already adopted a dog from the shelter, and I'm on my way to pick him up. I'm naming him Scrabbles."

I took the leash from her. "Are you sure about this?"

She nodded. "It's the best all the way around. Toby was never really my dog to begin with. I just took temporary custody."

I gave her a quick hug. "I hope you'll bring Scrabbles by to play with him."

She brightened. "And you can bring Toby to the park so I can visit with him. Maybe you could even take more yoga classes. On the house." She hesitated. "That is, if you're going to be in the neighborhood."

"Oh. Uh…I'm not really sure how long…"

"Never mind," she said, rescuing me from making a verbal commitment I wasn't ready for. "I hope to see you very soon either way." She waggled her fingers at Toby. "You be a good boy, peanut."

I closed the door behind her and turned to find Toby's eyes fixed on the bowls in my hands.

"Are you hungry?" I asked him.

He let out a yap and jumped off the sofa to follow me into the kitchen, his tail wagging furiously. I didn't have dog food in the house, so I gave him some fresh water and poured some Cheerios into the other bowl. He gave me a look of pure adoration and snarfed them up.

I squatted down beside him and put my arm around him. He leaned into me and licked my cheek.

"Welcome home, Toby," I told him.

* * *

"So you're going to keep him?" Irene asked, her legs dangling off the arm of my sofa as she absently scrolled through her tablet.

I glanced at Toby. He was chewing on a plastic toy hamburger next to the fireplace. "I am. I think it's what Kate would have wanted. Besides, he's kinda cute."

"And the house…" Irene trailed off, her eyebrows rising in question at me over the top of her tablet.

I sighed. "As much as I would love to move, I'm ready to be realistic. There's just no way I could afford the upkeep. I'm going to have to sell it as is." And soon. Before the real estate taxes were due. I glanced around at the living room. We'd finally managed to clear out the majority of the boxes and clutter in the house. What was left were good bones that were still hidden under years of neglect.

"My offer still stands to loan you the money to flip her," Irene offered.

I shook my head. "I appreciate it, but no. I couldn't ask you to do that. Flipping is too risky. There's no guarantee I could ever pay you back. Besides, I'm sure there's some value in the land here," I said, the words creating a sinking feeling in my stomach even as I said them. The idea of someone bulldozing my aunt's once-stately home to build a modern townhouse was oddly depressing.

"Huh," Irene answered, flicking her fingers over her screen. "Well, what if you could get the money another way?"

I shot her a look. "Planning a bank heist?"

She grinned. "No. I mean legally."

"Sure. If you come up with a way for me to make a quick couple hundred grand, I'm all ears," I said, heavy on the sarcasm.

Irene's grin grew. "I was hoping you'd say that."

A little red flag began to wave in the back of my mind. "Why? What are you up to?"

"Nothing. Much."

"Oh boy." I sat on the sofa beside her. "Spill it."

She straightened up, her eyes shining with a scary light that made that red flag wave harder. "Okay, so remember how the Chronicle happened to have a small mention in it about Sherlock Holmes when they ran that story about Louis Chu's arrest?"

I nodded, not sure I liked where this was going.

"Well, it kinda gave our Sherlock some visibility."

"Kinda?" I prodded.

"He's been getting some emails."

I felt my stomach sink. This was it. We were going to be found out. Any second now Lestrade would rush through the door with a warrant for my arrest. Falsifying government documents. Misrepresentation. Fraud. Poor Toby would be an orphan again!

"What kind of emails?" I managed to squeak out.

"Ones wanting to hire him."


Irene shoved the tablet toward me, and I saw she had it opened to Sherlock's inbox. Sure enough, it was full. At least ten emails soliciting his services sat there.

"But…he's not real!"

"What's not real?" she said. "He has a PI license and everything." She cleared her throat. "Even an address. I mean, it's a PO box, but it's an address."

I narrowed my eyes at her. "Since when does he have a PO box?"

Irene avoided eye contact, waving that minor detail off. "In fact, I stopped by the post office today to pick this up." She handed me an envelope.

"What's this?" I opened it, and a check fell out. Payable to Sherlock Holmes Investigations in the amount of—

My mouth fell open. "This is five figures!"

"Yeah, I know. It's not that much, right?" Irene glanced at it. "Hopefully the amounts will get bigger as we go along. But it's only a deposit anyway. We can always bill more."

I felt my eyes ping-pong between her and the check. "'Deposit? Bigger as we go along?'" I shook my head, stuffed the check back into the envelope, and handed it back. "We can't take this."

"Of course we can! We're performing a community service. We're ridding the streets of degenerates and thugs. We're practically Batman and Robin."

"More like Bonnie and Clyde," I muttered.

Irene frowned. "We're not ripping anyone off, Mar. This check was sent voluntarily." She sat back. "You're not going to make this kind of money at the coffee bar. This could help you fix up the house for sale. Or maybe even keep it…"

I bit my lip. Five figures was a lot. Sudden images flashed through my head of paying my back rent on my apartment. Buying Bitterman cooking lessons, buying 2B a new wardrobe, fixing 221's roof and front gate and floors and hot water heater and…

"You're thinking about it." Irene was grinning again. A really big, toothy one.

I sighed. "What does this five-figure check mean we're investigating?"

Irene let out a squeak of delight. "She sent me an email about it a couple of days ago. It's a missing person. This is gonna be so fun!"

As much as I knew this was going to be a bad idea…

"Maybe Sherlock Holmes can take on just one more case," I said.

Irene grabbed me in a hug, practically vibrating with excitement. "Let me tell you all about it."

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