This was why I wore turtlenecks even when it was muggy and sweltering hot outside. This was why I left Kyoto at ten years old to live with my estranged Japanese-American mother in the States. This was why at twenty-four, I found myself marrying a man I had only been seeing for a few months, just so I could escape to another country across the Atlantic Ocean.
I didn't ask to be born to a boss of one of the largest groups of Yakuza in Japan. I didn't want to learn how to use a gun. I didn't want to know how to use a knife in a fight. I didn't want to learn how to kill efficiently with a garrote. I was thrust into this life at infancy.
I just wanted to be normal.
Can you imagine what high school in America was like when my father's hoodlums picked me up after school because my father insisted on it? My father's word was law. You do not disobey my father unless you're keen on losing some fingers.
Instinct took over and I shoved my elbows backward with the intention of hitting Mr. Holmes in the stomach, but he was fast and dodged me.
"I had a feeling you were going to strike," he said with a trace of amusement in his voice.
What is it with this guy? He might be one of the most attractive men I've ever laid eyes on, but he's kind of weird and seems to think everything in my life was set up and happening for his pleasure.
I turned around to face him. My heartbeat had slowed to where I needed it to be. Years of practice. You couldn't fire a gun or slit a man's throat with your heart slamming against your ribcage. I was ready to fight.
While I had no doubt that Mr. Holmes was very intelligent and would make a formidable opponent, he was also probably raised as a gentleman. Most likely, he wouldn't hit a woman back. And if he weren't, judging by everything within my immediate reach in the bathroom, I could think of at least six ways I could send him to his maker in less than ten seconds.
But Mr. Holmes was not my enemy. Not yet, at any rate. And if I didn't relax my stance, it was a distinct possibility on the horizon. I had a feeling that one did not want to make an enemy out of Sherlock Holmes.
I took a deep breath and nodded. "Tokugawa Yoshiro was my father. He was the chief of one of the more successful factions under Yamaguchi-Gumi. He was on the board of directors."
Despite my best efforts to keep my hair out of my face, a lock of hair had escaped my ponytail and fallen over my eyes. Mr. Holmes lifted his hand and reached toward my face, but mere inches away, his hand dropped and he stepped back, clearing his throat. I shoved the offensive lock back with the palm of my hand.
"Your father was killed in August of last year. Sixty-seven stab wounds and left for dead outside his home in Kyoto, while he was out walking his dog," he recited automatically and quickly. "His killers had rolled him into a nearby ditch, so he was not found until the next morning. Your young step-mother did not look for him because the two of them had quite a row the night before and it had been your father's habit to storm off and visit one of his hostess clubs, only to return the next day."
I was, to say the least, shocked. How did these people know so much about my family? Had I been hiding for nothing and Scotland Yard knew who I was all along? Had I spent the last eight years, deluding myself that my dark days were finally over because my past was truly dead and buried?
"No," the detective said and I wondered if I had voiced my queries out loud. "No one else knows who you are. The Scotland Yard couldn't find the hole of its arse if it had a map and giant torch." He grinned briefly, then something unusual happened. His mouth curved in what I could only call an upside-down smile. It was... a smile in reverse and a little more than unsettling.
"I see," I murmured, for lack of anything else to say. "How do you know so much about me? I've never even heard of you until today."
Those silver-blue eyes widened in surprise, then outrage, and for a moment, he could only gape at me in disbelief, like I had told him something truly incredible. "Watson," he yelled, poking his head out of the bathroom door. "This woman claims she has never heard of me."
"Not everyone follows your Twitter feed and practically worships Watson's blog, Holmes," said Sergeant Donovan with a trace of unmistakable glee. "Do you, Mrs. Carter?"
"No," I replied, squeezing past Mr. Holmes to get out of the bathroom. "I don't have any social media accounts."
"There you are, Sherlock," said the good doctor like an adult placating a child.
I crossed the room toward the bed where I had been sitting with the detective following closely behind me. I could feel his presence like humidity on a hot summer day, but not unpleasant.
"It's completely impossible," he balked sulkily, returning to the seat he previously occupied. "Do you not watch the telly or read the newspapers?"
"We don't have a telly," my outraged son announced to the room at large. "Daddy says it rots your brains."
"Said," the detective corrected succinctly. "The man is--"
"Mr. Holmes!" I heard my own voice cut through the air like a whip and the detective ceased instantly, once again turning his full attention on me.
What kind of man is this that he would announce such a thing though he were merely reporting on the weather? The children were looking at me in awe, wide-eyed. Dr. Watson was finished patching them up and was standing behind them, his hands resting on their shoulders. His scrutiny of me was one of curiosity and wonder as he stared at me silently, the corners of his hazel eyes crinkling.
I had shut his friend up. Even the sergeant looked impressed. I imagined it wasn't a common occurrence as who would dare challenge the great Sherlock Holmes? I assumed, anyway, that he was supposed to be a big deal because he was kind of offended that I didn't know who he was.
That already made him lose cool points in my book, but the fact that he would announce the death of the children's father so carelessly was beyond the pale.
"I think I want everyone to get out now," I said wearily, opening my arms as both my children stumbled sleepily toward me. "My kids are tired, my nerves are frayed, and we've all had a bit of shock, so if you would all please get the fuck out, that would be fantastic."
"Mummy said a bad word," I heard my son whisper to my daughter. "The really bad one."
"Mrs. Carter," said Sergeant Donovan from her post. "We are not exactly done here. We have a few more questions."
"I think we have everything we need for now, Sergeant Donov--duck! Everyone take cover!"
The world erupted in a hail of bullets and broken glass. The assault lasted mere seconds, but it felt like eternity as the rat-tat-tat of the semi-automatic rifles drowned everything out and I couldn't hear my children. In those moments, I discovered what the end of the world would look like.
Mr. Holmes had shoved me to the ground and thrown himself over my body while Dr. Watson had done the same for my children. I couldn't see very well as Mr. Holmes had my head partially covered with his heavy black coat, but from what little I could see, Helena's blond head was pressed down to the carpet and she was facing me.
Suddenly, there was the sound of a car's tires peeling away and maybe a couple of seconds of dead silence before the explosion of sound returned like someone unmuted the telly.
"Stay down," Mr. Holmes ordered through what sounded like gritted teeth and then he began to pat me down even with his weight still on me. For a skinny guy, he was surprisingly heavy. "Are you hurt?"
"No, but I can't breathe," I gasped, trying to wiggle out from under his weight.
"Can you not do that?" the detective said. "I'm checking you for injuries."
That was about the time the motel door was kicked in with enough force that it swung off the hinges. In the doorway was tall, gray-haired Detective Inspector Lestrade of the Scotland Yard with his gun drawn. There were two equally serious-looking officers flanking him.
"Is Donovan all right?" Lestrade demanded, doing a quick visual scan of the room in search of the beautiful sergeant.
"I'm right here, sir," said a thready voice from the far side of the room. Sergeant Donovan popped up from the floor on the side of the bed, clutching her bloody shoulder. "No bullet, just a flesh wound."
"Watson? Holmes?" called the detective inspector.
"I'm all good," said the doctor. "The children are fine as well."
The world's only consulting detective answered with a grunt of impatience.
"Get off me," I said, giving him a jab over my shoulder. "I need to check on my children."
"Is that Mrs. Carter?" asked Lestrade. "I'd advise you to stay close to the ground right now, madam. We haven't caught the arseholes who did the drive-by. They might have left a couple of gunmen to finish the job."
That was Helena. Timothy had already started a healthy, plaintive wail, which Dr. Watson, who was sitting on the ground next to them, was trying to soothe.
Thankfully, Mr. Holmes had deemed it safe enough to lift himself off my person and was now presently sitting on the carpet across from his friend Dr. Watson, who was watching us curiously, but not saying a word.
We were sitting on the floor in between the two full-sized beds. Mr. Holmes was sitting to my left, with his legs drawn up, trying to catch his breath and his arms resting on his knees. There was a streak of blood originating from his temple. He was hurt. I shuddered. Looking around, I took stock of the damage to the room. Practically all the walls were riddled with bullets and not a single framed picture survived. Helena crawled over to me and I clutched her to my chest as she began to cry.
My eyes burned with tears and exhaustion, so I buried my face in my little girl's mass of sweet-smelling curls. On the other side of me, Timmy had lifted my other arm and burrowed himself against my side, wrapping his skinny arms around my waist. He had stopped wailing but was still crying and there were active sniffles.
"Mummy," said Helena. "Are the bad people trying to kill us?"
I hated that my little daughter had to be taught the concept of killing and being killed at the age of six. It was something I had to explain, however, on our mad dash to the motel from the house. I had to get her to understand the urgency of the situation so she would cooperate with me. It was the only way.
"All right, Mrs. Carter?" Detective Inspector Lestrade queried, peering at my face. "We will be moving you and the children as soon as backup gets here. Special operations will be taking over to make sure that you and the children are taken to a secure location where you will remain safe until we catch the perpetrators."
That one word was said softly, but it was pronounced by a man whose tone would brook no further argument.
"Excuse me?" said Lestrade, looking at Mr. Holmes as though he were surprised that the other man had spoken. "Holmes, I suppose you have a better idea?"
"Infinitely and always." The man rose in one smooth, graceful move like a dancer or a vampire. From his standing position, he looked down at me and said, "Stay on the floor until I say it's safe. Keep your children close to your body."
I bristled at the commanding tone of his voice, but I couldn't argue with it. I wasn't an idiot. I would do anything to protect my children, even listen without question to an arrogant, supercilious, ice-wouldn't-melt-in-his-ass white man.
"Lestrade, I wouldn't trust Special Ops to guard a houseplant, let alone this little family."
"Sherlock, these are men with big bloody guns," said Dr. Watson. "They have a big truck that's bullet-proof and they can take this family to some remote, heavily guarded location in Yorkshire or something."
"John, we are talking about the Scotland Yard here. Do you really think they would waste all that time and money on one little family?" Mr. Holmes scoffed. When his friend reached out to check out his injury, he shook him off. "They don't have the budget. Besides, this place is crawling with police and the bloody Triads still attacked."
"Holmes, no matter what you think of the Scotland Yard, we really aren't a bunch of incompetent nincompoops. We are perfectly capable of protecting this family," said the Detective Inspector Lestrade with a bit of bluster.
"Is that why Dr. Jim Carter ended up chopped up and stuck in five suitcases spread throughout London?" Mr. Holmes demanded. "You were supposed to be protecting him, too."
"Oh, you bloody bastard!" The words were out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
On either side of me, my two children began to cry, tugging at my clothes, demanding to know if daddy was dead and who chopped him up and were they going to be chopped up, too?
"Way to go, mate," Lestrade said with disgust, slapping the taller man on the back, though not in a friendly way.
"Goddamn it, Sherlock," exclaimed Dr. Watson. "We've talked about this. There are certain things that must be handled with finesse. The children hadn't even been told about their father."
At least Mr. Holmes had the grace to look appropriately ashamed. He sighed and ran a hand through his thick, black, wavy hair. "I apologize. I did not mean to be so crass."
He knelt before us, so he was at eye-level with the children. He looked at Helena first, then at Tim. "I am the best at what I do, the very best in the entire world. I will find the ones responsible for your father's death and the ones who are trying to harm you and I will destroy—ahem, will make sure they are punished to the fullest extent of the law."
He had his large hands on the children's shoulders and my babies, though they hadn't stopped crying, looked mollified.
"I really did not mean to blurt it out like that," he told me, his eyes searching mine. "As John will tell you, I'm not very good at-- people stuff."
"He's awful at it," said Dr. Watson, though not unkindly. "He's working on it, but he can be a slow learner about these things."
I sighed in exhaustion. I really must have been in shock earlier to find this guy attractive. He was a complete weirdo. But there was a sincerity in his blue eyes that made it hard for me to stay angry with him. "You're still an arsehole," I said, reaching out to pat the side of his face.
"Right." He rose again in that uncannily smooth way of his and regarded the two men watching him. "They won't be safe with Special Ops."
Lestrade looked at him disbelievingly. "Oi, what do you propose then, Sherlock? That they stay with you? How the bloody hell will you protect them?"
"Will you send them to your parents in Sussex?" John Watson asked. "I don't think that's a good idea, Holmes. You don't want to involve them in this."
I held my children tighter as the men above our heads discussed our welfare as though we weren't in the room or were no more than cattle to be bussed around. Helena clutched my right arm and watched Sherlock Holmes with wide eyes, while Timmy lay his head against my hip and began to suck his thumb.
"And you're not thinking of sending them to me and Mary," John Watson said warningly. "Mary and I wouldn't hesitate to defend them, no problem, but with Rosie there--"
"Wait, wait!" said Lestrade. "Nobody is making any plans. The Special Ops will be arriving here at any minute, upon which they will take the Carters to a safe, highly secure, undisclosed location."
"No," insisted Sherlock Holmes. "I will take them."
"Take them where, Sherlock, to 221B Baker Street? Do you want to involve Mrs. Hudson in this, too? These guys are heavy-duty gangsters, Sherlock. They are not messing around."
"Remind me to tell you a thing or two about Mrs. Hudson over a pint sometime," Holmes replied dryly. "Look, Gavin..."
"Greg," said the detective inspector with a sigh.
"I can make a case for my brother that the Triads are a part of Moriarty's underground terrorist network and the government will take over from there. This way, your department will keep all the accolades and the glory, instead of those arseholes at MI-6."
"Wait," I piped up. "I like the sound of MI-6. How about you turn us over to them, instead?"
"This is blackmail, Holmes," said Lestrade with a growl, as though I hadn't spoken.
"You and I both know that the Scotland Yard needs a high profile case like this. It'll be easier for your boss to ask for that funding next quarter, won't it?"
"Sherlock, you are a son of a bitch."
"No, his mum is rather pleasant, really," said John Watson cheerily. "Don't know how the Holmes Brothers turned out the way they did, but their parents are perfectly nice people."
"Sherlock, tell me you're not really taking them to your flat on Baker Street," pleaded Lestrade.
"Of course not," Mr. Holmes replied, seemingly offended at the notion that he could come up with such an idea. "I'm taking them to 221C. No one has lived there for years. Hell, no one will even know they're there."