Time passed so slow it seemed like one minute lasted an hour. Sebastian's head was pounding so fierce that every word that was spoken to him felt like church bells ringing in his ears. Earlier, in a not so friendly manner, he had already suggested that Grell remove his sorrowful self from Sebastian's sight so that the inspector could try and put his focus to solving the case, but even the absence of the red whirlwind did not aid in this process. The quiet of his office was never so present and painfully audible.
His body ached with every movement he made. Even the blinking of his eyes made him winch in pain. He was finally paying the price for his overindulgence in Paris and his willpower started to fail him. He had already gone through his entire hidden supply of alcohol and now tried to function on overly sweetened tea and dry biscuits. Sebastian knew he would not outlast another night in this manner and instead of living through the wicked hell that lay ahead of him, he stopped procrastinating and made up his mind.
Grell came in around eight to announce that he was taking his leave for the night. Sebastian could not remember if he had even responded besides a dismissive hand gesture. A quarter to ten, after most of the noises had quited down in the main hall, Sebastian grabbed his coat and left the darkness of his office. He had to stand still and blink several times against the bright lights in the hall. When his eyes had finally adjusted he staggered towards the exit and sucked his lungs full of the crisp night air. He stuffed his gloved hands in the pockets of his coat and fumbled with the seven coins that were in there. They were meant for food, but the thought of a meal alone was something he could barely stomach and after what had seemed weeks he finally gave in to the needs of his body.
The bell above the door chimed when Sebastian stepped into the dim teashop. There was only some light in the back and it cast eerie shadows onto the hard wooden floor of the empty room. Undertaker's head popped out of the backroom and a wide grin stretched over his scarred face. He glide to the counter and spread his hands over the cold marble.
"I knew you'd be back. Took you longer than I had expected though."
Sebastian took long and quick strides towards the owner and leaned on the counter as well. "I'm not here to chat. I need that address."
"You look like hell," Undertaker said when he saw the pale face in the light. "What is the rush? Sit down and have some tea and biscuits. It might do you some good."
Sebastian reached out, grabbed Undertaker by the collar and practically dragged him over the counter. "I don't need your damned tea and cookies. I need that address and I need it now."
"Calm down my friend." Undertaker wiggled out of Sebastian's grasp and straightened his shirt. "No need to get so violent. I will go and get it for you right away," he said and disappeared into the backroom for a moment or two and returned with a piece of parchment. "Here it is."
Sebastian snatched it out of Undertaker's hands, looked at it briefly and stuffed it in his pocket. "I am not your friend, and I was never here. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," Undertaker replied with another wide grin. "Have a good night inspector."
Sebastian hauled a coach outside and told the coachman to take him to Chelsea dock as fast as he could. Adding that he would be handsomely rewarded insured that Sebastian was taken there without detours, delaying and absolute secrecy. It had started to snow again and ever corner they turned the wheels skidded on the wet cobblestones, tossing Sebastian from one end of the couch to the other. The coach came to such a sudden stop that Sebastian had to brace himself so he would not be launched forward.
"Chelsea dock." The voice of the coachman bellowed over the storm.
As he sat back and closed his eyes to recover from the bumpy ride Sebastian felt bile rise in his throat. He ripped open the door and emptied the wee contents of his stomach followed by a float of gall. Shaking heavily, Sebastian managed to get out of the coach without stepping in his own vomit. He went through his pocket, and tossed the waiting coachman a coin, telling him that if he came back in four hours he'd enjoy another fair fee. The coach took off, and Sebastian shoved a hand of fresh snow in his mouth and spit it out to rid himself of the foul taste of vomit.
He took a moment to take in his surroundings. The dock was deserted. Somewhere hidden in the low fog that hung over the Thames a buoy chimed, and every now and then a seagull that soar far above his head cried out. Shy from those noises it was nothing but absolute silence. Sebastian put his collar up and started down the dock along the river. He passed several dark lots before he got to the number that was written at the bottom of the parchment. Number fifty-three. A beefy looking fellow wrapped in a frock coat that was entirely too small for his figure was standing by the door. His pitch black eyes zeroed in on Sebastian. He tilted his chin to look down upon Sebastian, and jerked his head to tell him to get closer.
Sebastian stuffed the parchment back in his coat and walked up to the bouncer. "Undertaker send me."
The piercing eyes just stared at him for another moment without a word. The men the stepped forward, opened the door and gestured inside. "Welcome to Little Shanghai."
Sebastian stepped inside, and a pleasant warmth wrapped around him like a blanket. It smelled of jasmine, mixed with the familiar tangy scent of opium. He noticed that he started to salivate, and he walked down the dim dark corridor as fast as his wobbly legs could carry him. Calmly music and babbling water soothed his ears as he neared the velvet amber curtains at the end.
Through the curtains was a candle and oil lamp lit room beyond Sebastian's scope. There were long divans covered in yellow satin. Red paper lanterns and paper dragons hung from the ceiling. Chinese women in short traditional dresses waited to the clientele, delivering refreshments and fresh opium pipes. To Sebastian's left one of the few Chinese men had taken notice of the new arrival and he came walking towards him, arms wide in a welcoming gesture.
"Be welcome at Little Shanghai stranger. My name is Lau. What brings you here on this cold evening?"
Sebastian retrieved four of the remaining five coins from his pocket and handed them to Lau. "I want a pipe, a cold drink and absolute privacy."
Lau nodded, took the coins and beckoned one of the girls that was waiting in the back. She came their way, her hips swaying seductively with every step she took. When she halted next to Lau he promptly placed his hand on her bum. "This is Ran-Mao and she will be serving you tonight. The inspector requests complete privacy," Lau instructed.
In a more coherent state of mind Sebastian might have taken notice that Lau seemed to know Sebastian's profession without being told, but with his brain foggy with longing Sebastian couldn't even have been bothered if Lau had known what color underwear Sebastian was wearing.
He was brought to a bay that had just enough room to fit a divan and a small table. It was candlelit, and if you did not know it was there you would miss it, basically cutting the person in there off from the rest of the room. Sebastian was told to sit down while Ran-Mao went to fetch his order. His entire body was shaking impatiently. His need for a fix was greater than he could have ever imagined.
Installed on the edge of the divan, Sebastian's body could hardly contain its delayed longing. His legs were shaking uncontrollably and he watched with great anticipation while Ran-Mao prepared the pipe with the utmost care and expertise. It was handed to him, and Sebastian accepted it with such care as if he was handed a baby bird. His nose picked up on the pungent scent that made his mouth salivate. When his lips closed around the mouth-piece and he inhaled his first long drag in what seemed ages, his eyes rolled into the back of his head in sheer ecstasy. All the tension seeped away from his stiff limbs and he fell back into the soft cushions of the divan. The entire world around him faded to the background and all his frustration about the robberies seemed nothing more than a pestering nightmare.
"To whom should I make out the tab Sir?"
Sebastian briefly opened his eyes and looked at Ran-Mao. "Make it out to C. Faustus," he replied without thinking twice and rolled his head into his neck, shutting out every worry that had been bothering him since he got back in London.
The next morning he awoke in his own bed, and aside from the slight hangover from all the four glasses of absinthe he had drank last night, Sebastian felt more refreshed than he had felt in quite some time. He took more care in grooming himself, and was not so bothered by his landlord reminding him of the delayed rent he had yet to pay. There was more spring in his step when he walked the usual route to the Yard, and all the unorganized hassle in the main hall flew right by him. It was hard to believe, and probably most embarrassing to acknowledge, how much drugs affected his entire person but he felt to good to give it a second thought.
Mey walked up to him in such a speed that it seemed she was lunging herself at Sebastian. In her hands she held a cup of tea that wobbled dangerously on its saucer, spilling bits of the hot beverage with every step she took.
"Inspector Michaelis, I brought you some tea."
Sebastian and Mey stood still for a moment and looked at the cup in her trembling hands. Mey's cheeks reddened when both saw the little bit of tea that was left at the bottom of the cup. She looked up at Sebastian, her brown eyes big and teary behind her enormous glasses.
"I'm sorry," she stammered, pulling the cup close to her chest.
Sebastian raised an eyebrow at her, and peered down his nose at the shivering girl. He then cracked a handsome smile and took the cup from her hands. "Thank you for the tea Miss Rin", he said, winked at her and gave her a light tap on the bum before opening his office door. His entire happy-go-lucky attitude melted away when he saw Grell sitting at his desk and scanning his notes. The young inspector looked up and gave Sebastian a big old smile.
"Good morning Inspector Michaelis. I hope you don't mind me looking through your things. Chief Inspector Faustus told me to get right into things and where better to start than with your notes. I must say they are impeccable."
"I do mind." Sebastian replied and slammed the door to emphasize his words. "You're sitting in my seat."
Grell jumped up from his chair, and wiped non-existing dust from the seat. "I do apologize Inspector Michaelis," he stepped out of the way to Sebastian pass. "But I might have found something that Inspector Abberline might have missed in his investigation."
"Have you?" Sebastian put his nearly empty cup down and reclined in his seat. And what might that be?"
"Wait a second," Grell bend over the desk and reached for the notes he had placed aside earlier. He pulled a file towards him, opened it and pressed his index finger down on the paper. "This eye witness claimed she had seen nothing out of the ordinary, minutes before the bank was robbed, and she is one of a dozen who have stated the same. Look over here, and here," Grell began to open random files and pointed out the exact same sentence in every testimony.
Sebastian frowned. "Which would suggest that the robbers did not stand out. They are part of the upper class themselves." He looked up at Grell who was just nodding at the conclusion. Sebastian turned his eyes back to the paperwork in front of him. "This means we have to extent our search beyond the metro," he mused as he got up to share this new piece of information with Claude. In his way towards the door Sebastian stopped, turned to Grell and gave him a quick look up and down. "This was very clever detective work Sutcliff, and I believe it is your duty to go up and report this to the chief inspector."
"Really?" Grell gasped.
"Positive," Sebastian said as he opened the door. "I am not one to take credit for the efforts of someone else."
"It was a joined effort," Grell shrugged, "had it not been for your impeccable notes."
Sebastian raised a hand to put an end to Grell's protest and gestured to the opening of the door. "Go," he commanded, "go before I change my mind."
"Yes Sir." Grell lunged towards the door and sped into the main hall. Sebastian shut the door behind him, walked back to his desk and sat down in his chair. He was slightly overwhelmed that the young inspector, who was only fresh from college, had connected those dots before he had, but in light of that situation he was glad he did not have to face Claude at such an early hour. He knew his boss could ruin the good mood he was in within mere seconds.
With the free time he now had at his hands while his young apprentice was reporting the major break through, Sebastian picked up the newspaper Grell had brought with him and took his leisure time to skim through the news. Fast reading through articles about horrible epidemics of a foreign fever the doctors had yet to identify and the upcoming exhibition of the Indian culture at the Crystal palace, his eyes landed on an advertisement greatly displayed on the sixth page. He spread the paper on his desk, smoothed out the creases, pulled some files towards him and studied the testimonies and the advertisement.
Grell came back after about twenty minutes, drenched in sweat and his cheeks red with excitement. Sebastian briefly tore his attention away from the advertisement, held up his empty cup and told Grell he'd like a fresh cup of tea.
"Right on it Sir." Grell took the cup from Sebastian's hands and stood there, as if waiting for further instructions.
After moments of silence and a light clear of the throat from Grell, Sebastian looked up and only arched an eyebrow.
"If you're wondering, the teapot won't magically spring legs and run over to pour me a cup. You're actually required to go and pour it yourself."
Grell produced an awkward short laugh, his cheeks once again completely flustered. "That is not it. Chief Inspector Faustus told me to send you up. He needs to talk to you."
Sebastian groaned, fell back in his chair and rubbed his eyes with his right thumb and forefinger. "That is just bloody perfect. Just when I had hoped to avoid him," he cussed.
Silent moments passed in which Sebastian just reclined in his seat and worked up the appetite to go and face Claude and Grell wondered what he was supposed to do. The latter finally decided, against his own better judgment, to break the silence.
"Sir?" He asked insecure.
Sebastian raised his hand again, instantly silencing Grell. He tore the advertisement from the paper, pushed himself up using the armrests of his chair and walked towards the door. "I'll be back in five. There'd better be a glass of whiskey waiting for me when I get back."
"Pardon me Sir?"
"You heard me," Sebastian replied. "But I'll make due with tea, for now."
Dismissing everyone that accosted Sebastian walked to the marble winding stairs and ran up it taking two steps at a time. At the top his and Hannah's eyes met for a second. She shrugged her shoulders and jerked her head towards the door to her left without saying a word. Sebastian walked up to it, opened it and shut it with more force than intended. It made Claude look up from the forms he was signing.
"Something the matter?" Claude said while he finished his signature and sat back in his chair. "Aside from your apprentice breaking the case wide open?" He punned with a mischievous grin. "Classic case of the student becoming the master, but it only took said student moments to outshine your record of expertise."
Sebastian sank down in one of the chairs opposite Claude. "If I have to be bothered by that I might as well quit my job. Someone has to crack it. It does not matter if it is me, as long as someone does it."
"How very mature of you," Claude retorted. "Now in this light of this new evidence, might you have any idea whom we should be looking at?"
"I have a theory," Sebastian placed the advertisement in front of Claude.
Claude pushed his glasses further up his nose, picked up the paper and turned it over and over. "What am I supposed to see or get from this?"
"There is a circus in town."
"Yes. I was aware of this. Hannah nagged about getting tickets to the show. Do you know how much those go for? And for what? To watch an elephant balance on a small ball and lions jump through fiery hoops. It's absurd."
"My deepest regard and heart go out to you," Sebastian commented sarcastically, "but this was not an invitation for you to nag about your personal life. This so-called band of robbers are infamous for their circus disguises."
Claude's eyes turned to Sebastian over the edgy rim of the paper. "You think they are somehow connected?"
"As a matter of fact I know they are. What your diligent Sutcliff failed to miss was that aside from the thieves blending in, victims had attended a show at Noah's Ark only days before their houses were robbed."
Claude stiffened in his chair, and his gloating expression soon faded. "That is not an ordinary coincidence."
"Indeed," Sebastian agreed. "And that you mentioned that you're already there, you could pay attention to things out of the ordinary besides balancing elephants and jumping lions. Saves me the trouble of getting those pricey tickets. If nothing stands out, it really was a coincidence and we can continue our investigation elsewhere."
"This is very perceptive of you," Claude admitted while he opened a drawer in his desk, "and to reward such ground-breaking perception I think it would only be just for you to go on and investigation any suspicious activities at the circus." Claude placed two tickets to Noah's Ark in front of Sebastian. "Take Sutcliff with you."
"I would not feel right taking those tickets. Especially once that were so pricey," Sebastian lied through his teeth. He could not deny to himself that he would love to go and investigate the circus for himself, but having to take Grell along with him he'd rather live through the entire withdrawal again over taking Grell anywhere.
"No no. I insist." Claude reached into the pocket of his vest to retrieve his watch. "And you'd best get a move on. The show start in just little over an hour."
"Fine," Sebastian growled and snatched the tickets off the table while he stood up. "You do know I am going to have to make you pay for this."
"I wouldn't expect anything else," Claude replied with a sly grin, "have a great night."
Sebastian muttered some insulting words under his breath and left the office, shutting the door with a bang. Hannah looked up from her work, her eyes puzzled at the sudden outburst of aggression. Sebastian did not hesitate one second, sat down on the edge of her desk and told Claude's fiancee how willing and cooperative Claude had been to Sebastian the tickets he himself could not afford. "You're lucky to have managed to get such a gentleman," he lied.
"I know," Hannah muttered, her beautiful face mashed into an angry frown as her eyes turned towards the door that led to Claude's office. "He is such a good person," she added in a monotone voice.
"In fact, why don't you go and tell him right now," Sebastian encouraged. "I'm sure he'd love to hear it."
Hannah shoved her chair back, marched to the office and shut the door with same force Sebastian had done moments earlier. He could hear her voice raised in anger as she cussed at Claude for giving away the tickets that were meant to celebrate their second anniversary. It was music to Sebastian's ears, and he got up and walked down the marble steps with an accomplished smirk.
In his own office Grell perked up the second Sebastian entered and offered him a cup of piping hot tea.
"There is no time for that. Grab your coat," Sebastian said while reaching for his own. "We have a show to catch."
Outside Sebastian halted the first coach he saw, climbed inside and sat down. Grell came in after, first tried to sit next to Sebastian but decided against it when he got a cold glare and sat across from him.
"What show are we catching?"
Sebastian retrieved the ticket from the inside pocket of his coat and handed them to Grell. The latter squealed in delight when he read the calligraphy type of lettering. "I have been dying to go to Noah's Ark," Grell looked up at Sebastian. "And out of all people you decided to take me. That means so much. Thank you," he said in his most sincere voice.
"It was not by choice so don't cream yourself," Sebastian retorted. "Besides, we're not going there to see the show, we are going to investigate."
"Investigate?" Grell's voice went up a tone in surprise. "Why are we going to investigate?"
"Because we're inspectors. That is kind of what we do on a daily basis," Sebastian replied.
"You think Noah's Ark has something to do with the robberies?"
Sebastian exhaled a weary sigh. "No I'm going on a random whim. Of course I think it has something to do with the robberies, why else would I waste my time going to some circus."
"Because they have wild animal shows and fancy colourful costumes. I remember when I was a young lad and my father took me to see my first circus show. I was so impressed with all those beautiful costumes that were layered with sequins that shimmered in the lights," Grell's mind was taken wholly by reminiscences of his childhood.
"Simmer down will you. Save your stories for someone who cares," Sebastian interrupted his thoughts. He pushed a the black velvet curtain that blocked the coach's window aside and saw that they had left the city center and were going down a bumpy dirt road. He sat back, sighed and closed his eyes. Between going to a circus and Grell sharing his most inner thoughts, it was going to be a long night.
After a twenty minute drive the coach came to a stop. Even with another thirty minutes before the show started the grounds around the enormous red and white tent were swamped with eager spectators, rich and poor alike, and all for good reason. The lane that lead towards the entrance of the circus was lined with smaller tents that sold all kinds of food, hosted games and told your future.
"We need to stay focused Sutcliff," Sebastian told an excited Grell, "eyes on the price. We need to find the connection between the robberies and this circus... Sutcliff?" Sebastian looked left and right for Grell, it was like he had vanished into thin air.
"Inspector Michaelis, over here."
Sebastian looked up. Grell was standing by a booth that sold stuffed animals. He grunted while he walked over.
"Aren't these adorable?" Grell cooed while he picked up one of the stuffed animals that had a foul look on its face. "And it is a real bitter rabbit as well."
"Put the rabbit down and act like a real officer of the law Sutcliff. We are here on official business only."
"But I want one," Grell pouted. "I always wanted one."
"Well then feel free to come back here in your own time because right now we have work to do." Sebastian yanked the toy out of Grell's hands and threw it on the pile of other stuffed animals. "I'm hungry. Let's grab a bite to eat before we go in."
Grell followed Sebastian without another word. At a tent further down the lane Sebastian bought two buns that the peculiar looking sales duo called curry buns. They ate them in silence and downed it with lukewarm beer. After Sebastian had gulfed down his food and had dunked the stained napkin in a nearby bucket, he suggested he and Grell go stand in line. "Best check where we're seated," Sebastian said to no one in particular while he retrieved the envelope from his inside pocket. Checking the tickets he could no help but chuckle. "Should've known he'd get seats amongst the posh. Faustus is really licking his way to the top."
"What was that Sir?"
"Nothing." Sebastian shook his head and nodded towards one of the entrances. "I believe we have to enter that way. Don't lose this," he said while handing Grell one of the tickets.
Half of the tent was already filled with families. Exciting looking children with new bought toys and foreign food pointed in every direction, asking their parents what they were looking at. Sebastian excused himself while he and Grell shuffled passed the rich upper class towards their seats halfway down the ring. At last they sank down, Sebastian exhaling a weary sigh and rolled his head into his neck, silently cussing himself out for having shared his theory with Claude and ultimately ending up at the circus himself.
"Would you look at that?" Grell said almost breathless.
"Look at what?" Sebastian straightened his head. "Yes, flashy costumes and sequins. Big childhood memories, I get it. Stop bothering me with it."
"Not that." Grell shook his head and pointed to a point on the other side of the ring. "That. The creator of the bitter rabbit. The sole owner of the Funtom Company. Earl Ciel Phantomhive."
"Who?" Sebastian smacked Grell's finger away and stared at the seats across from him. "Who are you talking about?"
"That man over there, in the smart navy blue suit."
Sebastian's eyes met bright blue ones and his breath hitched in his throat when he recognized the plump lips that had been on his mind every now and then since the second he saw them. "Who is that again?"
"Earl Ciel Phantomhive. Probably the richest man in London, or perhaps even England. He got lucky the robbers had not set their sights on his fortune while they were still burglarizing homes. He probably has the most fancy mansion around.." Grell continued talking but Sebastian had already stopped listening.
"Not burglarized. How very lucky," he hummed to himself. "Too lucky."