“For the honor of Tokyo,” Taro Nakatashi sighed.


It was a gusty sound, loud and powerful in the small room and the four other men kneeling around the low table who heard it feared the strength behind that exhalation, but carefully hid their reactions. For a moment, no one spoke, then the oldest, a wizen little figure in a black suit looked up at Taro and stared, unblinking at him. Taro bowed and reached for the bowl on the table.


The chanko nabe steamed fragrantly, long tendrils of enticing scent filling the air, and Taro drank it gratefully, tipping the gold porcelain bowl to his mouth and swallowing the entire contents in a few deep gulps. Gracefully he set the bowl down again and bowed once more to the wizened little gnome in the black business suit. The tiny man spoke up, his voice as dry and thin as he was.


“We will watch you, Taro Nakatashi, and await your victory.”


“I am humbled,” Taro replied in a deep rumble. Rising, he made his bows to the rest of the group and turned, leaving them. As his mountainous silk-robed bulk passed through the doorway, two of the men sighed and glanced at each other. The little old man let his gaze drop to the porcelain bowl.


“Dispose of it, immediately.”


Pulling on latex gloves one of the men reluctantly picked up the still warm soup bowl.


***   ***   ***


Warrick sighed. This sound wasn’t gusty, it was worried and faintly amused; the sound of a man roped into doing something he wasn’t exactly comfortable with. One glance at the woman next to him confirmed THAT on more than one level.


Lydia was wiggling in her seat, excited and impatient, looking at a glossy program in her hand and muttering to herself. Warrick shook his head and glanced around at the audience with a calculating glance. The NeoTokyo arena easily seated 30,000, and it looked like a capacity crowd tonight. Thrusting his jaw out, he shook his head and leaned to speak to his companion.


“So you’re telling me that ALL these people forked out over seventy five bucks a seat to cheer on a bunch of huge guys in diapers trying to knock each other out of a ring?”


Lydia shot him a disapproving look. Tonight she had her hair up in a French twist and looked like a lusher version of Grace Kelley—if the former ruler of Monaco had ever worn big gold heart-shaped hoop earrings and a bright pink dress. She sighed.


“Look Warrick, Sumo is a contest of strength and strategy. Trust me, once you see a few of the rounds you’ll change your mind. We’ve got some pretty good matches coming up—Kashitoma is on a roll right now, and Taro’s the BIG favorite—“ she burbled happily, holding out the program.


 Warrick settled back into his seat, listening to her distantly, and trying not to peek down the cleavage of her dress. The latter was a losing battle as far as his hormones were concerned; whenever faced with the rounded curves of Lydia’s natural D cups straining against thin fabric, Warrick simply gave in to temptation.


“Of course this is only an exhibition, a Jungyo, so it doesn’t actually count in their rankings, but still, it’s a fabulous display, don’t you think?”


Forcing his attention back to the ring, Warrick gave a weak nod, knowing that what HE considered a fabulous display certainly wasn’t the same as hers. Lydia caught his expression and rolled her eyes.


“Oh come on— You didn’t have to come along you know. I invited you because I had the spare ticket and I thought sports were your THING!”


“Sports, Lydia, sports—not cultural anomalies! If we’re talking basketball, football, baseball then I’m your man. But Sumo isn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s Fantasy league.”


“In Japan it is—look around us! All of these people have laid out more money on this evening’s matches than any single casino is going to make in the next two days.”


“You’re kidding. It can’t be THAT big.”


“Oh yeah, and that’s just the official stuff. Hell, throw in what the Yakuza’s got going illegally, and we’re talking a betting stake equal to one of our Super Bowls, Warrick.”


He had no answer to that and sat back, slightly stunned at the implications. Lydia leaned closer to him, her voice low.


“I’ve got about thirty bucks on Taro myself—that’s a lot, I know, but I’m pretty confident he’ll win.“


“You GO girl—“ Warrick muttered, thinking back over his own past when bets of ten thousand and more had been common. Lydia winced a little.


“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like some stupid tourist—I don’t bet more than fifty if I can help it.”


“It pays to be cautious—“ he offered with a wry grin, “ Although I’d put something up against you anytime—“


The minute the words left his mouth he regretted it, but Lydia laughed, her eyes merry at his double entendre. She spluttered with giggles, demanding,


“Oh this I HAVE to hear this—come on, Warrick—what will you bet me?”


He shot her a speculative look, gaze connecting completely with hers for the first time that evening, and Lydia grew pink. Warrick smiled knowingly.


“All right—you say your man Taro’s the house favorite, so here’s the deal. If he loses, I take you dancing.”


“Dancing?” Lydia laughed, a little startled, “I’m a terrible dancer.”


“Not the point—besides, it all comes down to who leads anyway,” he countered, a grin on his beautiful mouth.


“All right—“ Lydia snorted, still unconvinced, “And if Taro wins?”


“If Taro wins, you’ve got yourself an extra pair of hands for that yard work you were bitching to Sara about—fair enough?”


Before Lydia could reply, a huge roar filled the arena and a procession of huge men in ceremonial dress began to move around the ring. Lydia contented herself with a quick handshake with her partner and leaned forward to get a better view of the arena.


***   ***   ***


There’s something fishy here—“ Gil teased. Sara shot him an arch look before stepping carefully through the broken glass and spilled water that littered the floor in front of the damaged tank. Catherine rolled her eyes.


“Gris, don’t quit your night job, okay? And exactly why does it take three of us to check out what seems to be an evident robbery?”


“Because assumptions are often wrong—“ he chided, pulling on latex gloves and gazing at the scene. Detective Vega smiled, coming up behind them.


“The back tank of the Atlantis was their showpiece—a two hundred gallon salt water aquarium complete with tropical fish, living coral and their treasure chest. Ever see it before tonight?”


Gris and Sara shook their heads but Catherine nodded.


“Oh yeah—seventy-five thousand dollars worth of pearls and other gemstones in a box about the size of a footlocker—“ she sighed, a smile on her face. Sara nodded knowingly.


“Saw it on a date here, huh?”


“Midnight  tête a tête--Lobster Thermidor and Baked Alaska washed down with Dom Perignon. Flowers too—Talisman roses if memory serves—“


“Happiness is a high roller sugar daddy—“ Sara smiled. Catherine dimpled happily and looked at Gris, who was staring at both women with a look of impatience on his face.


“If we’ve finished our little jaunt down memory lane, we DO have a crime scene to process—“ he chided, but gently. Catherine sniffed, shooting him a disapproving look.


“Sometimes you have all the romantic instincts of the insects you study, Grissom—“ she accused lightly. He managed a smirk.


“Quite a compliment, thank you.”


“It wasn’t a compliment—“ Catherine grumbled, taking out sample jars and getting them ready to label. Gil looked at the aquarium thoughtfully. The remaining fish were spooked, hiding in the broken coral. The top edge of the tank itself had a huge chunk cracked out of it and faint traces of blood were still evident. He took three photos.


“Ah but it is—for example, the scarlet-bodied wasp moth can take almost nine hours for a single act of sex.”


“Whoah—talk about going slow—“ Sara muttered, snapping on gloves and gingerly scooping up a fragment of coral. Catherine didn’t look convinced. Grissom continued.


“A pair of giant water beetles were recorded having sex over a hundred times in a thirty-six hour time frame.”


Catherine looked at Sara and they both silently mouthed ‘lube!’ behind Gil’s back. He pulled out a penlight and studied the prints on the edge of the tank.


“Although the most flattering would have to be to be compared to a male Swedish seed bug I suppose—“


“And that would be because--?” Sara drawled out. He shot her a mischievous look.


“His genitalia is two-thirds the length of his body and he has total control of all intimate encounters—“


“Yeeh hah—John Holmes of the bug world,” Catherine snorted, making Sara burst into laughter. Vega just shook his head tolerantly amused.


“Seems we had three burglars screen the tank with a few baggage carts to hide their break-in. They only managed to steal about a third of the gems and we’re hoping you guys can pick up something to help us figure out who did it.”


“Someone careless—which means desperate—“ Gil observed, taking a swab of blood from the edge of the glass. “Was anything else missing?”


“Not really—we’ve got a few dead fish, a lot of damaged coral and a broken filtration system. They tried to haul the treasure chest up but the top of the tank was too close to the wall, so they had to reach in and scoop, apparently.”


“With what?”


“A net—we found it, and some of the jewels near the back door.”


“Gris, I have a wet boot print here on the carpet—“ Sara murmured, setting a blot paper to pick it up. Grissom came over and squatted, studying the sole print bleeding through the thin tissue.


“Big—size thirteen or more—“ he quipped. Catherine came up holding a medium fishnet low on the handle near the webbing.


“More prints, possibly,” she observed. Gil looked over the crime scene once again and frowned.


***   ***   ***


“The salt tossing is ceremonial—gets rid of evil spirits in the ring and I suspect it probably gives them traction too,” Lydia whispered, her fingers clenching the program tightly. Warrick nodded, his eyes focused on the giant with his back to them. Even from the seventh row where they were sitting the man looked enormous, like a pink-tinted glacier, and Warrick could see the hard bulge of muscle through the behemoth’s thighs. He narrowed his eyes.


Six matches into the Jungyo, and Warrick had a whole new appreciation for Sumo. The first bone-jarring charge, the utter ferocity of the two combatants stunned him. He could almost FEEL the hard slams and shoves himself; sense the strain of sinew and weight and momentum in each collision. Clearly there were strategies going, but he wasn’t sure what they were, and so far not a single competition had turned out anywhere near what he’d expected.


“So the guy in the red belt, Kashitoma—he’s the odds on to win? He’s gotta be about seventy pounds lighter than the other dude—sheer physics tell me he’s going to lose, Lydia.”


She tilted her head to face him, blue eyes bright.


“His slap technique is second to none, Warrick. These guys can’t hit with a closed fist, but an open one is fair game, along with tripping, pushing and body blows.”


“Ow—“ Warrick winced, imagining one of those huge slab hands knocking teeth out. Lydia shifted closer.


“Would you put your arm around me?” she whispered. Warrick shot her a startled look and she sighed.


“I’m getting eyed up by a bunch of guys who are going to be hitting on me before the end of this thing—a blonde into Sumo is a real turn-on to this sort of crowd.”


“I bet—“ he snorted, not surprised. Casually he snaked an arm around her shoulder and tightened his grip; Lydia lurched into his shoulder with a soft chuff of astonishment.




“Shhh—they’re doing that badass macho man stare down gameface thing—“ Warrick replied, hiding his amusement. Lydia turned her attention back to the ring, leaning comfortably inside Warrick’s embrace. He shifted, feeling the warm press of her breast against his chest and fighting the instant reaction THAT was creating.


Lydia flinched at the two wrestlers charged each other with a ground-rumbling collision. The crowd roared, and the two men circled each other quickly. Warrick watched as Kashitoma rained a series of quick blinding slaps on his opponent’s neck and face, then dropped a shoulder into the man’s solar plexus and shoved HARD. Momentum gave, and the opponent lost balance, crashing to the ground with a thud heard throughout the arena. Lydia squealed.


“Seven seconds—he’s really ON tonight!”


“Damn that was quick—“ Warrick agreed, eying a few other patrons three seats away who were passing huge wads of yen notes back and forth. Lydia pointed to the ring.


“Match of the night, Mr. Brown—Taro Nakatashi versus Maso Yamachiri. They’re both Ozeki rank, so this ought to be good, even if it’s just an exhibition match.”


Warrick sized the two men up and could see why Taro was the crowd favorite. His presence was impressive, and he held an air of humble confidence in everything he did. In contrast his opponent seemed slightly arrogant, tossing the ceremonial salt as if it were lawn seed, and glaring at the crowd. Lydia hid a chuckle.


“Yamachiri is known as a bit of a sore loser—less than gracious sometimes.”


Warrick watched absently as the two men took their stances and stared at each other. The gyoji referee circled them once, looking elegant and slightly ridiculous in his kabuki clothing. Lydia squirmed a little.


“The tension’s terrible—I hope it lasts—“ she purred. Warrick shifted a little, needing to—readjust himself—at the heat in her words.


And the men charged. The hard slam of their impact seemed to send shock wave through the stadium and the audience rocked forward. Yamachiri locked a grip on Nakatashi’s belt, trying to shift him, but the other man didn’t budge. Warrick watched their feet bracing in the hard packed dirt; Lydia gasped.




Nakatashi staggered a bit, but rallied, moving in on his opponent and wrapping his arms around him. Then came the slow steady push, the drive of a human tractor. The crowd was chanting ‘Taro! Taro! Taro!’ in a low compulsive way, and Warrick sighed, resigning himself to an afternoon of clipping hedges and pulling weeds when it happened.


Yamachiri staggered; Nakatashi’s drive was too powerful, and he began to fall a few feet from the edge of the ring. As Yamachiri dropped, Nakatashi stiffened visibly and clutched his big hands in the air a few times. Yamachiri landed in the dirt, his neck hitting the half buried rope of the dohyo ring, and in a spectacularly unexpected surprise, Nakatashi fell ON him, all three hundred and seventy pounds flattening the other man. A crack rang out, clear as a shotgun blast.


The crowd was up, everyone on their feet watching as the gyoji moved in to help separate the two wrestlers, poking them lightly with the paper fans After a few seconds though, it became apparent that neither man was conscious. Lydia shifted uneasily.


“Warrick—I think—oh God, I think he’s—dead!“ she muttered. He nodded.


“I think you might be—right—“ he replied, sliding out of his seat and making his way down to the ring, where the beginnings of pandemonium were setting in. Lydia scooted after him.


***   ***   ***


“This isn’t a joke, Gris. I’m looking at two dead Sumo wrestlers and a crime scene like you’ve never had before—“ Warrick sighed into the cell phone. He glanced over at Lydia, who was talking earnestly with a group of men and police officers. Brass approached him, clearing his throat softly, and Warrick nodded.


“Just get here as soon as you can—“ Hanging up, Warrick looked at the captain, who sighed.


“We’ve got limited jurisdiction on this one, so you’re going to have to work fast. Right now everyone’s co-operating, but I don’t know how long that will last. Ms. Petrowski seems to know some Japanese--?” trailing off, Brass stared over his shoulder at her and then back at Warrick, who nodded.


“She’s a Navy brat— her dad was assigned to Atsugi NAF back when she was a kid. She told me she can catch about one word in seven, so she’s not fluent or anything.”


“And that’s why she’s here at a Jungyo?” Brass persisted gently, looking at Warrick, who gave a shrug.


“Hey, she said she had an extra ticket to a sporting event—how was I to know she was a Sumo fan?”


Brass smiled indulgently and turned back to the group of men, leaving Warrick to look at the dohyo ring.


He looked at it with a critical eye, noting the scattered salt and various footprints all through it. Nothing looked particularly unusual, so he moved closer to the edge of the ring where the two men had fallen. Blood stained the dirt here, and Warrick made a mental note to have samples taken from both the dirt and the rope edge. Something caught his eye and he leaned closer, looking at the rope edge.


It was wet, but not with blood. Possibly saliva.


“So, what’s the story, Morning Glory?” came Nick’s cheerful drawl as he came forward, kit in hand, eyeing the ring with interest. Warrick took the kit from him and fished out gloves swiftly.


“The story is over seven hundred combined pounds of dead wrestlers. Lydia and I saw it happen, too.”


“Yeah, you and about a million Japanese viewers—the media outside the casino right now is insane, dude.”


“No doubt—“ Lightly Warrick swabbed the rope and packed the samples, then took fresh ones of the bloodstained dirt. Nick held the flashlight on the site.


“So was this a date?”


“Say again?”


“You know, with Lydia? She looks pretty dolled up for a Sumo match.”


Warrick shot Nick a withering stare that the younger man cheerfully ignored.


“She had an extra ticket—“ Warrick explained for what felt like the hundredth time, “Damian has the German measles, otherwise HE would have been the one here with her.”


“Nevertheless, I’d say judging by the sportscoat and that manly hint of aftershave you’re wearing—“ Nick grinned. Warrick sighed, noisily.


“Yeah well it’s all moot now anyway. We’ve got bigger issues at hand.”


“Tough luck—although I gotta admit, Ms Petrowski looks mighty fine in pink—“


Warrick’s head snapped up; Nick flashed a ‘gotcha’ grin and began to walk the perimeter of the crime scene. Lydia broke away from the group and came back to Warrick, her expression tense.


“This is bad, Warrick. Reeeeeally bad.”


“How bad?”


“It would be like having both Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras drop dead at a tournament overseas. Everyone wants answers right NOW—the casino people, the exhibition sponsors, the managers, the broadcasting crews—“


“Lotta heat. So let’s make it a point to do it right,” Warrick intoned seriously. Lydia nodded and began to snap photos of the scene.


***   ***   ***


“This is—monumental,” Robbins sighed. Across from him, nearly hidden by the enormous body, David nodded and pushed up his glasses. Robbins glanced over at the other gurney and shook his head.


“You KNOW neither one of them is going to fit into the drawers—“


David nodded again, blinking nervously. Robbins moved to the nearest dead man and gently shifted his head, which already lay at an odd angle. A soft swish of doors, and Gil walked in, tugging on a gown.


“Wow—“ he blinked.


“Times two, I know,” Robbins agreed. He motioned Gil over and they stood looking at the first wrestler.


“Our first body—Mr. Yamachiri. Broken neck—right here at C2 and C3. From the various descriptions I got of the accident, our wrestler here fell against the hard, rounded raised surface of the ring, in this case the dohyo rope. The weight of his opponent slamming down on him at this critical point was enough to create a forced flexion and snap the spine almost instantly—that was the gunshot sound.”


“Quick—“ Gil muttered. Robbins nodded.


“And fairly painless—he died instantly. To be honest, I don’t see any need to do any further workups on him at the moment.”


“Looks fairly straightforward,” Gil agreed, eying the dead man with a small glance of compassion, “An accident, and probably not one unheard of in Sumo.”


“This other one though—Mr. Nakatashi--“ Robbins limped over to the other gurney and frowned. Gil followed, circling onto the other side and studied the man’s face.


“Heart attack? Stroke?”


“I don’t think so. He’s got none of the characteristics of either, and given his youth and physical condition, they’re not likely. The average Japanese diet is low in cholesterols, so I’m betting his arteries are fairly clear. I was thinking a possible aneurysm until I saw this—“


He ran latex-covered fingers over a deep flush down the dead man’s jaw line and throat. Gil leaned closer.


“Is it a rash?”


“It’s more like a residual symptom. I suspect our wrestler here died of an allergic reaction of some sort.”


Gil blinked. He looked up at Robbins and thought furiously.


“What sort? Biotoxin? Prescription overdose?”


“Not sure—I’ve got swabs from his mouth off at the lab, and once I get into his stomach we’ll have a better idea of what he may have ingested. Whatever it was resulted in a little paralysis.”


“Okay—keep me posted—“ Gil nodded.


He stepped out of the autopsy bay and blinked at rush of people moving up and around him clutching notepads and tape recorders. Alarmed, he looked over their heads, seeing Mobley coming towards him, grim expression on his face.


“Is it true that Nakatashi and Yamachiri both died under mysterious circumstances Mr. Grissom?” a young Asian American reporter demanded. An older man elbowed his way in front of Gil, his eyes almost accusing.


“Why is the Las Vegas Police Department delaying any information about these deaths?”


Mobley drove himself forward into the crowd to stand next to Grissom, his voice low and authoritative.


“I assure you all that the authorities of the US government and the city of Las Vegas are doing everything they can in as timely and accurately a way as possible. A press conference is scheduled in an hour in front of the NeoTokyo hotel and we’ll be happy to give you what information we have at that time. Now I need you to clear these halls—although this is a public building most of you are impeding our work here.”


As security began to herd the reporters out, Mobley shot a sideways look at Grissom, a look tinged with dislike and desperation.


“One hour, Grissom, sixty minutes—I need something to throw to this pack,” he hissed in a low voice. Gil stared back at him.


“My people don’t jump through hoops, sheriff—you’ll get our findings when they’re done.”


On that note they parted, each man stiff-backed and angry. Gil lumbered into Greg’s cubicle, scowling; the younger man flinched under that ferocious gaze.


“Okay—time to appease the Gods. I processed the blood DNA from your treasure chest case and ran it though the usual databases. Our jewel thief isn’t a local boy.”


“Do tell—“ Grissom softened a little, staring at the printout Greg handed him. “Tokyo?”


“Hai. Interpol lists him as one Ruki Makamatsu—“


“—Suspected yakuza associated with a Japanese syndicate known as the Kaiju—so what would HE be doing stealing gems out of a casino?”


“A good question, but not one his DNA can answer—“ Greg admitted.


***   ***   ***


Lydia sat in the dark, looking at the monitor patiently. She ran the tape again, watching the end of the match for what seemed the eighth time when she felt someone come into the screening room.


“Hey,” Catherine smiled.


“Hey—“ Lydia sighed. The two women watched as the wrestlers grappled through the end of the match again, both of them flinching a little at the loud crack that was clear on the tape.


“Can’t get much more definitive than that—“ Catherine sighed. Lydia nodded sadly.


“Pretty cut and dry. I’ve been looking at the other rikishi, Taro though, to see if there’s any sort of clue to HIS death, and I think there is.”


“Talk me through it—“ Catherine urged, hitching up a chair. Lydia nodded, rewinding the tape.


“Okay, here—when both of them circling around in their tamari—their waiting areas—the camera pans over Taro, and he’s looking a little stiff. See how he’s rubbing his mouth?”




“Not likely—this is for show—there wouldn’t be any change in rank from this match. Taro’s too professional to have a problem with nerves.”


“Okay, so it could be symptomatic of something—“ Catherine agreed. Lydia forwarded the tape.


“And here, walking up the hanamichi. He’s jerking a little on the left side, but I didn’t see a stumble or a limp.”




“The path up to the ring—sorry—it’s like the procession of a boxer to the ring—sort of a red carpet? And THERE—see? He’s grimacing. Something’s definitely not right.”


Catherine nodded, seeing the look that Lydia had pointed out.


“More than a tummy bug—like a paralysis of some sort. Maybe we’re looking at a neurotoxin of some sort. But if this match doesn’t change their rankings, why poison the guy? Cui Bono?”


It was Lydia’s turn to look puzzled; Catherine smiled.


“Latin, sorry—who gains? What’s the motive?”


“Well, Taro was the favored man—if someone bet against him knowing he was going to lose the match, they’d clean up—“


Catherine slowly nodded.


“Oh yeah, that’s motive. So the question is how—“


Lydia clicked the tape off and gave a little sigh, looking down at her hands.


“I had a bet with Warrick and now—I don’t know which one of us won or lost—I guess that won’t be settled until the Association makes a ruling on it.”


“Warrick bet you?” Catherine, who was rising from her chair, smiled. Lydia nodded.


“Yard work versus dancing. Now it’s in a holding pattern.”


“Well, considering how he feels about you, it’s my guess he’ll figure out a way to win—and believe me, he’s the one who could do it.”


Lydia turned her blg blue eyes up at Catherine, her cheeks slightly flushed.


“You mean—he likes me?”


“Uh, YEAH—you can’t have missed the clues, honey. He eats your cooking every time you bring it, he bullies Gris into having you team with him, he does you favors without a second thought—“


“I didn’t think it was about LIKING me—I just thought—“ Lydia muttered, perplexed. Catherine laughed softly.


“In all honesty, Warrick is definitely interested. If I were you, I’d find a way to LOSE the bet, Lydia—“


***   ***   ***


Nick looked over the statuesque brunette very discreetly, trying to keep a professional expression. She was handing him photographs and speaking in a melodious voice.


“—Dealings with them throughout L.A. and the Bay area mostly—any port of entry. If your lab has any evidence linking the Kaiju to the Sumo wrestler’s death it would be a huge step in controlling Yakuza activities in the US.”


“In what way, Special Agent Pachelli?” he murmured, liking the sound of her name. She gave a quick grin.


“If we have enough to deport and restrict their entry, we can keep an eye on the remaining known members and tighten the net, so to speak. Right now it’s pretty clear that part of the money that built NeoTokyo was from the Kaiju, but tying it in directly is hard.”


“Maybe not as hard as we think. Nick, we need a warrant for the kitchens of the NeoTokyo hotel,” Gil announced calmly. Regretfully, Nick handed back the photos to Pachelli and moved off. Gil looked at her.


“And you are?”


“Special Agent Grace Pachelli from the FBI, organized crime liaison. Your office contacted us when the Interpol database pulled up Ruki Makamatsu. What are you looking for in the kitchens?”


Gil managed a bland smile.


“When we find it, I’ll tell you.”


Special Agent Pachelli looked as if she wanted to say something, then smiled and nodded.


“Fair enough.”


A pager went off; Gil glanced at his and excused himself to the autopsy bay. Robbins was looking over a sheet and nodding to himself.


“Hey Gris—definitely poison. Tetraodontoxin to be exact. Found in the ovaries and entrails of—“


“— A Pufferfish, commonly known in Japan as fugu,” Gil nodded. “And that explains why there was a break-in at an aquarium—the thieves didn’t want the gems, they wanted one of the fish.”


“Well, the toxin can’t be destroyed by cooking, so our wrestler must have downed it in his soup an hour or so before his match. He would have been feeling numbness and the onset of paralysis right up until his collapse.”


“And now it’s time to see if we can find who did it to him and why—“ Gil nodded.


***   ***  ***


The kitchens were still new, the scent of fresh paint and good food everywhere. Gil glanced around at the cooks lined up against one of the stainless steel preparation islands. He looked at them mildly.


“Who prepared the food for the wrestlers?”


“The younger ones prepare for the rest—“ one cook ventured politely. Gil nodded as if this made sense.




The man pointed to the island and nodded; Nick began to carefully examine the table as Gil stepped around it.


“Which one made the stew last night, and has this table been cleaned since then?”


“Of course—health code states we clean constantly—“ the cook announced. Gil looked up and around the island; both he and Nick spotted the small plastic bucket at the same time. Nick lifted it down from the upper shelf and sniffed it.


“Salt water.”


Gingerly he turned it around to examine its edge. Three-quarters of the way around, two bloody fingerprints came into view.


“Looks like we may have landed the right fish—“ Gil quipped softly.


***   ***   ***


“—And that’s pretty much it. Once they hauled Makamatsu in and laid out the evidence—the blood, the shoe print, and the fingerprints--he confessed to his part in the poisoning. They sliced up the fish and cooked it in that little separate pot of that stew they make.”


“The chanko nabe, yeah—“


“Yeah. According to him, they only meant to make Taro sick and have him lose the match, but that’s not what happened.”


“And because of the Kaiji syndicate’s greed, two athletes are dead and a nation is in mourning for them. Sometimes I don’t understand human nature, Warrick—“


Lydia sighed, looking across the little club table at him. He studied her a moment before replying. She wore pink again, a deeper fuchsia dress this time, with a sheer mesh panel over the top half of her abundant cleavage and Warrick secretly adored the way it clung there. She’d left her long hair down, too, and it shimmered in the low light of the club, drawing admiring glances from other patrons.


“The dark side is always with us,” he admitted, wishing he didn’t sound like Yoda saying it, but Lydia cocked her head and nodded, fingers sliding around her glass of white wine.


“Yeah well I think it’s ironic that the Sumo Association ruled to grant a Kuroboshi AND a Ken-boshi at the same time, so each man was left with the honor of the status quo. Taro would have loved it, and Maso would have argued the point.”


“All I know for sure is the next time we go out for a sports event it’s going to be something NORMAL, like basketball.”


Lydia shot him a flirty look.


“The next time?”


Warrick smiled lazily, not quite answering as he turned to look at the dance floor. The music had shifted to a slow song and he glanced back at Lydia, his expression a blend of kindness and longing.


“Change of pace, Lyd—come on—“


She blushed, hesitating a moment, but slid out from her seat when he reached for her hand, his fingers cool from the glass. Warrick led them out among the other couples, then turned and held out his arms; shyly, Lydia stepped into his embrace. After a second she relaxed, and he laughed.


“Hey, I only stepped on your toes ONCE—“ he chided softly. She nodded, trying to catch her breath at his nearness, her eyes on the strong lines of sleek muscle on his chest where his shirt lay open. It was so close Lydia was tempted to lean forward and kiss it.


“I like your cologne—“ she murmured softly. Warrick gave a pleased little shrug, using the moment to steer her around another couple and pull her closer.


“Only the good stuff. You’re not wearing what you usually wear either though—“ he noted, shifting in slow shuffles on the floor, unconsciously keeping pace with the music as he focused on the soft touch of her hands on his shoulders.


Lydia hummed and looked up, close enough now to feel his breath on her face. She blinked.


“Ah—yeah. I know it’s a bad idea to wear anything at work, but April talks me into it,” She admitted with a shy little laugh. Warrick shook his head.


“She’s an interesting guy.”


“You don’t know the half of it—sometimes it’s unnerving to have a cross dresser know more about waxing a bikini line than I do—“ she blurted, then blushed. Warrick just smiled. Lydia felt good in his embrace, warm and rounded, a lush armful taunting his senses in more ways than one. He tried to keep from tightening his grip, but his arms refused to cooperate. Lydia moved in closer, pressing against him.


“Anyway, this is—nice.”


“Nice—“ he echoed softly, closing his eyes, losing himself in the slow sweet rock of their bodies to the sultry music. Lydia rested her cheek against his; for a hot moment of giddy sweetness both of them held their breath, caught in the web of mutual attraction. Lydia made a soft sound suspiciously like a choked sob. Warrick turned to look at her, hyperaware of her thighs brushing his, of her curves pressing into him. If only for this song he wanted her just like this, her sumptuous body reminding him all too urgently that he was a man—


“Hey—“ concerned, he lightly nuzzled her face, barely brushing it with his own, caught up in the blue of her eyes. Lydia’s chin quivered a little, and without thinking she tilted her face. It was an irresistible invitation, and Warrick felt himself answering the call of that luscious mouth as he slowly, deliberately, kissed her.


Lydia’s lips were softer and warmer than Warrick was expecting; he muffled a low moan of pleasure at the satiny plumpness of them against his. The light bite of her nails into his shoulders made him throb against her thigh, and in reckless hunger, Warrick’s tongue slid along the seam of her mouth. With a little whimper of delight, Lydia eagerly yielded to his gentle probing.


The first sensual slide of tongue to tongue brought a heady rush of pleasure; both Lydia and Warrick lost focus on dancing or anything else around them as they deepened their kiss. They molded to each other easily, naturally, as if made to meld like this.


Sheer erotic rush made Warrick growl a little; Lydia moaned, her hands clutching his shoulders, fingers digging into his shirt. They had to break for breath, and did so regretfully, panting a little.


“Ohhhhh—“ she gasped, swaying, overcome as she stared up at him.


“Lyddie—“ Warrick rasped, trying to put a world of meaning into her name, not sure how to tell her all the things he wanted to say, NEEDED to say. Then she closed her eyes to kiss him once more, moving instinctively and Warrick lost himself in the depths of her mouth again.


Slow and timelessly sweet they kept kissing, tempering urgency with gentle passion until Warrick felt her breathing go ragged. He slowly steered them off the dance floor and into the dim shadows behind the DJ, out of sight, never letting go of her. Lydia trembled a little, reaching up to brush his face with her fingertips.


“I-I didn’t mean for you to know—“ she muttered, blinking at the change of light. Warrick dipped his chin, glad for the press of the wall at his back as he luxuriated in her touch.


“That’s MY line, baby,” he assured her softly, feeling a surge of something deep and strong through his chest, a mingled sensation of comforting lust. Heat between them was building, physical demanding heat making him a little crazy. Warrick let his mouth rain little kisses on her nose, her cheeks, all along her forehead while she gave little sobbing giggles.


“It’s crazy—I mean, here I was thinking we were friends—“


“—We are—“


“—And wanting to kiss you even though I shouldn’t—“


“—Now that’s just WRONG. I fully endorse the kissing,” Warrick argued lightly, backing up his statement with a lovely flick of his tongue over her lips. Lydia shivered against him happily.


“Warrick, you know what I mean. We WORK together—“


“Shhhh—don’t go there right now,” he urged softly, and Lydia rolled her hips against his, making him groan again.


“Easy—“ he pleaded in a low whisper, delighted at the wicked pressure, “I’m not exactly stable at the moment.”


“And I am?” Lydia shot back, a little breathlessly. “You’re not playing fair, Warrick Brown. You’re driving me crazy.”


He smiled at her, gently brushing a finger along her cheekbone, marveling at the tantalizing feel of her skin.


“Taking you home before we both get into trouble here, Lydia,” Warrick decided, even though his entire body protested. It had been too long since he’d felt anything like this, and he fought hard against his baser nature as Lydia gave a regretful sigh.


“Yeah. I guess you’re right—“


Slowly they disentangled from each other and walked back to the table where Lydia collected her purse. Warrick ushered her out, acutely aware of her nearness, of his own aching arousal.


She was quiet during the ride home, and once they reached her house, she gave him a sad little smile, one that sent a note of uncertainty in him. As they got out of the car she murmured,


“You don’t have to walk me in—“


He cocked his head, green eyes slightly hurt.


“Come on, Lydia, of course I do—for one thing, April’s watching from the front window, and for another—I need to know when I’m going to see you again.”


Lydia sucked in a deep breath, holding it as she closed her eyes.


“Do you really think that’s a good idea?”


For an answer, Warrick reeled her in for a kiss. He tried to stay gentle, but she shivered, her lips opening to his once more, eagerly. Warrick plunged into the hot sweet depths of her mouth, feeling a strong surge of possessiveness rise up within him; after a long sensual moment Lydia broke away, laughing softly.


“Boy talk about presenting your—argument!” came her happy sigh. He cradled her head against his shoulder for a moment, smiling off into the night.


“Well you know how it is with evidence—“ he teased, and Lydia muffled her laugh against his shoulder, hugging him tightly.




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