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A Murder at St Giles

Diary of Doctor Watson

It’s hard to believe that little more than a week has passed since Holmes, Mary and I returned from our adventure in Pokebottom-on-the-Moor. Since then, each day has felt like an eternity, and only the necessity of keeping my medical practice going has prevented my pestering Holmes for news of Ravensburg.

However, this afternoon I received a note from my companion on that very subject. Hand delivered by urchin, it read:

Watson

Interesting article in The Times. Suggest you come at once.

H.

I had of course regularly scanned the daily papers for clues to the whereabouts of either Ravensburg or Lord Blackwood (the latter having always proved to be a newsworthy subject) but nothing had caught my eye. I suspected Holmes of reading between the lines again. Whatever he’d noticed, I knew it must be important.

Cancelling the rest of my appointments, I made my excuses to Mary and set off for Baker Street.

“Ah, Watson,” murmured Holmes on my arrival. He nodded towards my usual seat by the fire. Sitting myself down, I waited somewhat impatiently while he spent several minutes stuffing his Meerschaum with hard shag. Finally, he lit the concoction and, puffing away, tossed me the day’s copy of The Times.

“Page four.”

I opened the newspaper and cast my eye along the various columns but could not immediately see what he might be referring to.

“Really Watson,” he said, when a full minute had passed without my having located the relevant article. “You see but you do not observe—Coroner’s Session Continues at St Giles.”

I ran a finger down the page and found the tiny headline.

Yesterday, Mr. Michael J Benedict, Coroner for the North-Eastern Division, resumed his inquiry at the Bakers and Muffin-Tasters Institute, Old Compton Street, in respect of the death of Rev G Burnsbean, a visiting clergyman, who was found brutally murdered in the Parish Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, on the morning of Friday last.

Detective-Inspector Lestrade (Scotland-yard) watched the case on behalf of the Criminal Investigation Department and Commissioners of Police. Inspector Lestrade commented afterwards that this was, ‘A very brutal slaying that will haunt my dreams for years to come.’

I laid the newspaper on my knee. “Terrible business, for sure, Holmes, but I can’t see—”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Watson,” sighed Holmes, leaning forwards. “Look at it. Read the words. Understand the significance.”

I peered at the article again. “A church chappy has been murdered…”

“And?”

“And Lestrade is involved…”

“And?”

I shook my head. “Sorry, old chap, I don’t get it.”

Holmes let out another sigh. “Who has been murdered?”

“Rev G Burnsbean.”

He raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

I looked again at the name and then it hit me. “An anagram?”

“Of?”

Peering at the letters, I struggled to rearrange them in my head. Eventually, I looked up. “Of course—Ben Ravenscroft.”

“Finally,” muttered Holmes, relighting his pipe. “Now, what’s the implication of the location?”

“St Giles?” I frowned and tried to look thoughtful. “It’s a church.”

“Yes, and it’s close to…”

 “Ahm, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road…” I blinked. “Soho Square.”

“And which of our evil genius contemporaries lived until recently in Soho Square?”

I felt a sudden lurch in my stomach. “Lord Blackwood.” Undoing two buttons on my waistcoat, I had another thought. “Christ, Holmes, d’you think he’s still there?”

“Absolutely—sitting in a comfy armchair awaiting our arrival.”

“Really?”

“No, Watson, not really.” He caressed his chin. “But I’m willing to bet he’s left a little something for us to find.”

I leaped out of my chair. “Then we must get over there before Lestrade tramples over the evidence.”

Holmes waved a hand at me to sit down. “Lestrade won’t have made the connection yet, though he may have useful information vis-à-vis the corpse.”

I stood up again. “To St Giles, then.”

“No, Watson. At this hour Lestrade will be on his way home via the nearest alehouse. I suggest we allow him time to partake of a few pints before he makes his appearance.”

“Makes his appearance where, Holmes?”

“Here, Watson.” He smiled sardonically.

We sat for a few moments, each of us contemplating the ramifications of a dead Ben Ravensburg, when Mrs Hudson bustled in with a tray of refreshments.

“Wish you two’d get off yer arses and solve some murders, stead of sittin round ‘ere munchin my muffins.”

“Really, Mrs Hudson,” said Holmes, helping himself to a mug of hot chocolate. “I sometimes think you must have an extraordinarily low opinion of my comrade and I. In fact, we have been pondering on a murder at St Giles.”

The old woman nodded solemnly. “Oh, yes—nasty affair. Apparently, someone cut off his paraphernalia.”

Holmes frowned. “His what?”

“His dick,” she said. “Don’t you lot read the bleedin papers?” She bustled out, leaving us both open mouthed.

I half-pointed to the door. “Mrs H doesn’t read The Times, does she?”

Holmes leaped out of his seat. “No, Watson, but she does read the Tittle-Tattle Weekly and I’ll wager one of their reporters has been talking to a certain interested party.”

“Lestrade wouldn’t give out that sort of information to a journalist.”

“Lestrade wouldn’t, but someone trying to attract our attention, might.”

“Blackwood,” I murmured.

A noise on the stair made us both sit up. Crossing the room, I yanked the door open to reveal Inspector Lestrade, sweating and pasty-faced.

Urging him to take a seat, we waited while he got his breath back.

“There’s been a bleedin murder, Mr ‘Olmes,” he panted.

“Yes, we know that, Lestrade,” said Holmes, rather irritably.

The police officer waved a hand. “Nah, not the one at the church. This is anovver one.”

Holmes and I exchanged glances.

Lestrade leaned towards us, his eyes wide. “It’s Lord Blackwood.”

“What?” said Holmes. “Again?”

He nodded, and reaching out, grabbed one of Mrs Hudson’s muffins. “Fink you’d better ‘ave a look at it,” he said, between mouthfuls.

“In the church, you didn’t find an old book, did you?”

Lestrade shook his head and took another mouthful.

I pushed myself back in my chair and let out a long breath. It had been difficult enough to come to terms with the idea that Blackwood might be alive, but for him to have somehow come back to life and then got himself murdered, seemed a little too much to bear.

After a moment, Holmes said, “I suppose Blackwood’s body is at his old house in Soho Square?”

Lestrade’s eyes went like saucers “Ow the fuckin ‘ell did yer know that?”

Ignoring him, Holmes went on. “I trust you did not leave the corpse unattended.”

“Course not—d’yer fink I’m stupid? I’ve got eight constables guarding it. There’s no fuckin way I’m letting that slippery sod do anovver vanishin trick.”

The feeling that something very bad lurked in our near future had begun to make itself known in the form of a tightening in my stomach. For a moment I thought I might have to excuse myself. But I clenched my buttocks and put on a brave face. Whatever we were about to encounter would take all our combined bravado as well as a large helping of ingenuity and guile. After all, Blackwood had already died twice and if, as we suspected, he had possession of Ravensburg’s book, we had no way of knowing what he might achieve.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Book in the Barn

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Reaching down through the hole he had created, Johnny wiggled his arm around for a moment.

“I’ve got something,” he said.

Holmes and I knelt close to him and pulled at the rotting floorboards, enlarging the hole. As Johnny removed his hand, I saw that he held the spine of an ancient tome.

“My God,” I gasped. “It really exists.”

Laying the book on the ground, Johnny knelt there for a moment, contemplating his find. The book had a cover made from leather, all rotted around its edges, and there was a rancid smell about the thing that reminded me of mouldy cheese.

“Come on then, Watson,” said Holmes. “Open the damned thing.”

Still kneeling, Johnny did so, holding the front cover in a gentle, almost reverential way. Smoothing a hand over the frontispiece, he began to read the inscription quietly to himself.

Just then, a buzzing noise caused all three of us to look up. Somewhere outside, someone, or something appeared to be approaching the barn.

“Watson—guard the book. Mary come with me.” And with that, Holmes and I rushed to the door.

But the approaching thing did not stop and instead came flying through the very window the so-called ghost had so recently vacated. Screeching to a halt, our visitor dangled for a moment before letting go of the mechanical device that had propelled him along the cable and dropping deftly to his feet.

“Doctor Watson. I see you’ve found it.”

Picking up the book, Johnny stood, holding the book to his chest. “It would appear so.”

Holmes and I hurried over to join him.

Still standing in the spot where he had dropped, Ravensburg stared at the hole in the ground and shook his head as if in disbelief. “Under the floorboards—of course.”

Johnny nodded. “I expect the barn was erected long before you turned up. It never occurred to you to look underneath.”

Ravensburg waved a hand at Holmes. “You see? This is why I needed a team of detectives to help me.” He cackled in a rather menacing way that reminded me of Professor Moriarty.

“Anyway,” the bearded one went on, “thank you for finding it. I’ll take care of it now.”

“Don’t move, Watson,” barked Holmes. Then, positioning himself between Johnny and the newcomer, he said, “As this is quite clearly an historical document, I demand you at least allow us to examine it properly.”

Ravensburg sighed. Reaching into his coat, he pulled out a revolver. “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary, Mr Holmes. I know what the book contains, and what it’s worth to a certain individual, so unless you’d like me to pop holes in all three of you, I suggest you hand it over right now.”

Holmes stared at Ravensburg. “I see. One moment, please.” Raising a hand, he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, his head swivelling back and forth between Ravensburg and the book. Then, giving my husband a long hard look, as if totting up the possibilities of him surviving a gunshot wound, he said, “Very well. Hand it over, Doctor—whatever this is, it isn’t worth dying for.” He turned to look again at the man with the gun.

Holmes and I stood there for several long seconds watching Ravensburg. Hearing a familiar sound, I glanced back at Johnny and saw he’d lit a Swan Vesta. Holding the flickering match over the book, I saw his eyes skim across the pages. His face had gone pale, a look of dread transforming his familiar features. Taking a step backwards, I touched his arm.

“What is it, darling?”

Johnny murmured something so softly I didn’t catch it. “Sorry, darling?”

Looking up, my husband’s mouth tightened into a hard line. “He lied.”

Holmes whirled round. “About what?”

Ravensburg jiggled his revolver and took three steps towards us. “Just hand the bloody thing over—it’s of no use to you lot.”

Johnny didn’t move. He looked at Holmes. “This is no medical journal written by some long-dead village healer. Listen.” He flicked back to the front of the book. “This be the book of the Master of Darkness and it containeth within all the means and methods for a faithful disciple.” He looked up.

Ravensburg laughed, a little too heartily. “Just a fanciful title, that’s all, you silly man. I can assure you, this is a collection of natural remedies passed down over hundreds of years. Worth a fortune to a collector, but of no value to a bunch of amateur detectives.” Still holding the gun, he held out his free hand.

“I think not,” said Johnny, gripping the book firmly. “These aren’t remedies, natural or otherwise. They’re not even the sort of thing I might expect an actual witch to have written. Even our old pal Mr Crowley would find this thing scary…”

Holmes frowned and pointed a bony finger at Ravensburg. “A moment ago, you said the book is worth a fortune to a ‘certain individual’. Who might that be?” When the other man didn’t reply, Holmes glanced at Johnny. “You thinking what I’m thinking, Watson?”

I saw a frown crease my husband’s forehead, then his eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”

I grabbed his hand. “Oh shit what?”

Johnny turned to face me. “Remember the library at Roderick Usher’s house? He had books on alchemy, vampirism and sexual abnormalities, but compared to this one, they were little more than nursery rhymes. This…” he said tapping a finger on the cover, “…is what you might call a necromancer’s handbook—a collection of rituals for summoning demons and for the acquisition of supernatural powers.”

I blinked. “I see, but why did you say, oh shit?”

“Because,” said Holmes, “there is only one man who would have the intelligence, the resources and the sheer audacity to make use of such a book.”

I blinked again. “You don’t mean…”

“Yes,” he muttered. “The most evil man in England—Lord Henry Blackwood.”

“But he died, didn’t he?”

Holmes let out a long mournful sigh. “Indeed he did. Twice. Unfortunately, like our old pal Moriarty, Blackwood has a habit of coming back from the grave.”

Ravensburg jiggled his revolver again and nodded at the book. “Mine, I think.”

Johnny stepped forwards and handed it over.

“Thank you, Doctor. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Tucking his acquisition under his arm, Ravensburg backed out of the barn, keeping the gun trained on us. When he’d covered thirty yards, he turned and ran into the woods.

“Shouldn’t we get after him?” I said.

Holmes shook his head. “No need. If Blackwood is still alive, once he has the book. he’ll make a move. Whatever he’s planning, I’m sure it will include taking revenge on those responsible for his previous deaths.”

“You mean us?”

Holmes nodded.

“Oh, shit,” I said, again.

“Yes. I believe the game, Mrs Watson, is afoot.”

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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On a Witch Hunt

Diary of Doctor Watson

Once all three of us were fully dressed, we hurried along the road towards the old barn. Then something occurred to me.

“Hold on, Holmes. Does Ravensburg live in the barn?”

The big-nosed detective stopped in his tracks. “Of course not.”

“Then why—”

“Because,” said Holmes with a sigh, “we cannot possibly visit the fellow’s house and the barn at the same time. If I’m wrong and he’s not at the barn, then we can go to the house.”

He raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Ah,” I said. “I see.”

“Good,” said he, and with that we resumed our hurrying.

Within a few minutes we had reached the darkened building. This time, however, the place had a spookiness to it that did not fill me with bravado.

We were stood looking up at the rickety building when Mary’s hand shot out, indicating one of the upper windows.

“There!”

At the far-right hand window, peering down at us through the shattered glass, a whitish figure moved back and forth.

“Bloody hell,” I muttered. “It’s the witch.”

“Of course it isn’t the witch,” barked Holmes. “Witches do not exist. Come along.”

He sprinted towards the open doors of the barn, Mary and I fast on his heels.

Inside, we slithered to a halt and looked upwards to where the ‘witch’ had appeared.

“Wait a minute,” I said, staring up at the still-hovering spectre above us. “There’s no upper floor in this place.”

“Precisely,” muttered Holmes. “Whatever’s holding that thing up, is of human construction.” Crossing to the far corner of the barn, he grabbed hold of a ladder leaning against the wall. “Give me a hand, Watson.”

Together we heaved the ladder across to where the ghostly figure wafted in the window. Then Holmes and I looked at each other.

“Go on, then, Doctor, get after it.”

“You’ve got a better head for heights than me, Holmes.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, “said Mary, pushing us aside. “You’re a pair of spineless pansies.” And with that, my dear wife began to clamber up the ladder.

Just as she came within reach of the spectre, the thing juddered in mid-air and vanished through the window.

“Oh my God,” I gasped. “It’s real.”

Mary looked down at me. “No, Johnny, it’s on a string.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A length of wire, in fact. It appears to be some sort of pulley arrangement.” Reaching above her head, she tugged at the wire—a thin, almost invisible line. No wonder we hadn’t noticed it before. I also noticed my wife wasn’t wearing any undergarments. Catching sight of my companion’s open mouth and staring eyes, I saw that he had noticed too.

“Holmes! D’you mind?”

He coughed and averted his eyes.

Mary gave a tug on the wire. “It’s fastened to a beam over there,” she said, pointing.

“Where does it go to,” I called.

“Out through the window. We need to get after it.”

Scrambling back down the ladder, Mary grabbed my hand and we ran outside. Above us, in the space between the barn and the trees, we could see the ghostly spectre flying through the air.

“It must be suspended all through the woods,” said Holmes, staring at the apparition.

“Let’s get after it, then,” I said, pulling at his sleeve.

But Holmes just stood there. “No, Watson. That’s what he wants us to do.”

“Who?”

“Ravensburg, of course. If we go haring after that so-called witch, it’ll give him time to hide it and get back into his bed to pretend he’s been asleep the whole time.”

“Oh. So, what should we do?”

Holmes sighed and looked at my wife. “Tell him, Mary.”

“Well, I imagine the whole witch thing is to make us believe the legend and persuade us to help him find this bloody book he keeps going on about.”

“Fine,” I said, with more than a touch of disgruntlement.

Mary began to wander away, staring at the nearby trees and bushes. “What was it he said? The book could be buried under a tree…”

I glanced at Holmes, hoping for a bit of support. “But surely he’s already dug up all the likely spots around here?”

Holmes rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. “Perhaps he has, but has he searched all the unlikely spots?”

I sighed. “Come on then, Mr Brainbox—which unlikely spot might he not have searched?”

Mary had walked in a full circle around the barn. Now she came back to join us. “There are signs of digging around all the nearest trees. Nearest to the barn, that is.”

“So,” said Holmes, “what about the trees in the barn?”

He and Mary hurried back into the barn to search. I felt my shoulders sag. This was a waste of time. Digging my hands in my pockets, I sighed again (mainly for my own benefit) and trudged after them.

“I’ll start of here,” said Mary, crossing to the far corner.

Holmes began his exploration at the opposite side.

I stood and watched.

After a moment, Holmes noticed I had not made any effort to participate in the search. “Really, Watson. A little help would be appreciated.”

He resumed his rummaging about, while I began to walk rather morosely around the barn, close to the walls. Even in the darkness, it seemed obvious there was nothing to see. But then I did see something. Poking up through the rotten floorboards, I spied the tiniest green shoot. Crouching, I gave it a tug and the thing came away in my hand. Reaching into my jacket pocket, I took out my trusty Swiss Army Knife and opened the largest of the blades. With a little perseverance, I found I could dig away part of the rotting floorboards to create a hole. Lighting a Swan Vesta, I held it to the gap. A cold draught blew out the match and caused me to shiver involuntarily. But not before I had glimpsed what could well be the root of a tree.

“I say, Holmes,” I called. “I think I’ve found something.”

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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Night in the Woods

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

My eyes were still closed when I heard the sound. Blinking, I looked up at the cracked ceiling and realised two things— one, the night had not ended, and two, Johnny and I were not ensconced in our own comfy bed in our little house in Marlborough Hill, but in an ancient four-poster in a dreary tavern in an equally dreary village. As the reasons for our being in this strange place came back to me, I heard the sound again.

What could it be? I took a moment to assure myself it did not resemble the creaking of the bed, nor the soft tread of footsteps outside our room. Neither could it be it the horse-like neighing of Johnny’s snoring. Sitting up, I stared hard at the window, the slight parting in the musty curtains emitting a sliver of moonlight. Sliding out of bed, I crept over and peeked out. Our host had billeted us in a room at the rear of the inn, with a view that had little to be proud of. Across the inn yard, a dense wood stretched from the edge of the yard as far as I could see, except for a gap—a pathway, perhaps—that allowed the full moon to appear in the space as if to light the way.

Gazing at the astral orb, I spied the silhouette of an owl shooting across the sky and for a moment the beauty of nature overwhelmed me.

Then I heard the sound again—a strange whooshing that had an oddly metallic quality to it.

This time, I saw what might be its source—in between the trees to my right, a shadowy figure seemed to glide through the bare branches. But this figure could be no human one, for its feet (if indeed it possessed any) floated at least two yards off the ground.

Hurrying across to the bed, I gave Johnny a good shake.

“Wha…” he muttered, rubbing his eyes.

“Quickly, darling. There’s something outside.”

With a glance at my naked form, a familiar leer slid over his features. Delivering a hefty slap across his chops, I knocked any thoughts of shenanigans out of his head.

“Ow.”

“Come along, dear,” I said, dragging him towards the window. “Before it disappears.”

Naturally, by the time I’d got him to the window and pointed to the strange apparition, the damn thing had gone.

“Probably an owl,” muttered my bleary-eyed husband, scratching his testicles.

“No, I’ve just seen an owl. That thing looked more like a…”

“A what?”

“Well, I don’t know. Like something spooky.”

A sudden rap at the door, reminded me we were both stark naked. Grabbing a bedsheet, I wrapped myself up while Johnny pulled on his long johns.

“Ah, Watsons,” said Holmes, fastening his dressing gown. “Did you see it?”

He strode into the room and stood gazing out of the window.

“I did,” I said.

He turned and stared at me with those piggy little eyes. “Something spooky, eh?”

“I thought so.”

“Come along, then. Let’s get after it.”

As he hurried out of the room, I noticed he already had his boots on.

“You heard him, husband. Get dressed.”

A minute later the three of us slid out of the back door and into the darkened inn yard. The moon had vanished behind a cloud, leaving the whole place in utter darkness.

Hurrying to the edge of the woods, we veered to the right to where I recalled the path lay. Luckily, I’d remembered to pack my clockwork lamp and giving it a quick wind, I aimed the meagre beam into the trees ahead of us.

“There’s the path,” I said, stepping over a pile of timber that lay in the way, marking the boundary between the inn yard and the woods.

“Careful, Mrs Watson,” said Holmes, taking my arm. “We don’t know what’s out there.”

“Thank you, Sherlock, but I’m perfectly capable.” I removed myself from his grasp and forged ahead.

Taking our time, we stumbled over the track between the trees, but it wasn’t until the clouds moved away that the moon allowed us to see the path clearly.

“It came from over there,” I said, pointing to the right.

“Then over there, we must go,” said Holmes, forcing his way through the trees.

As soon as we’d moved off the track, the darkness enveloped us again, my lamp making little impression on the branches that seemed determined to block our path.

“Wait,” murmured Johnny. “There.” Holmes and I peered into the darkness and for a moment I could see nothing. Then, as the shape began to move again, I saw it plainly. The figure seemed to move towards us, rising upwards as it did so. Only then did I see its eyes—bright red staring eyes, glaring at us.

“Bloody Norah,” said Johnny, grabbing my hand.

“Hold firm, Watson. Whatever that thing is—”

But before he could go on, the ‘thing’ had risen high above the trees and scooted off in the direction of the barn.

“It’s heading for that old barn,” said Holmes.

“I was just thinking that,” I said.

“Me too,” put in Johnny.

But all three of us simply stood there, looking at each other.

After a moment, I said, “Should we follow it?”

Holmes nodded. “Of course. That is exactly what we should do.”

Still, none of us moved.

“Perhaps a jug of hot chocolate first, eh?” said Johnny.

“To warm us and revive our spirits,” said Holmes.

“Exactly.”

“Are you two sacred?” I said, unable to keep the annoyance out of my voice.

“Not at all, Mary,” said Holmes. “I simply meant that before setting out to chase that thing, we ought to take stock. And in doing so, ensure that every member of our party is properly revived and appraised of the situation before setting out again.” He cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.

“Ravensburg,” I murmured.

“The very same. I should not wish him to miss one single moment of our investigation, but mark me – If that man is at this moment tucked up at home asleep in his bed, I shall be very much surprised.”

“I do hope he’s going to get changed first,” I said, watching Holmes march round the corner of the inn.

“Course he is,” said Johnny. He paused, then when the big-nosed detective didn’t reappear, hurried after him. “Holmes? I say, Holmes?”

I rolled my eyes and went back to my room.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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Rooms at the Inn

Diary of Doctor Watson

We arrived at the village inn—The Grumpy Bugger—a few minutes later, where a fat and grisly-faced fellow stared at us from his position leaning over the end of the bar. He greeted us with a surly grunt.

“Arr.”

“Good evening,” said Holmes, dropping his bags at the door. “You have rooms for us, I believe?”

“Arr,” said the fat man. “That I have.” He cast an eye over each of us in turn, taking rather longer than necessary to complete his perusal of Mary’s chest. “Mr Hole?”

“Holmes, actually,” said Holmes, with only a smidgen of irritation.

“Arr.” Looking at me, the man nodded. “An Doctor Watnot, ay?”

“Watson.” I stared at him for a moment. “And I suppose you are Mr Fatman, the landlord?”

The man seemed to take the hint and with another grunt, he collected our bags and bade us follow him upstairs.

Our rooms turned out to be rather better than expected, with a carved mahogany four-poster double bed and a tatty but comfortable sofa. The lavatory, of course, was out the back, but we found a matching pair of chamber pots under the bed. Mary made some saucy comment about us ‘weeing together’ during the night, which set my nether regions a-jiggling at the thought of her naked hindquarters and led to us indulging in a little adult fun.

Five minutes later, a knock came at the door.

“Ravensburg’s downstairs,” said Holmes. Then, glancing at each of us, he cocked his head to one side. “At it already? Tch. Can’t take you two anywhere.” He rolled his eyes and walked off.

Mary giggled. “D’you think he heard us?”

“Probably listening at the door,” I muttered.

Mary smiled. “Really?”

“No.” I pointed to our discarded clothes, which we’d thrown aside in haste. “Elementary, my dear.”

She sniffed. “Well, if he wasn’t, I’ll bet he wanted to.”

“Darling, you really must try to bring your urges under control. You’ll be suggesting we have a three-in-a-bed romp, next.”

Mary opened her mouth to say something, but I held up a finger. “Don’t even think about it. Come along, Ravensburg will be waiting.”

We got dressed and trooped downstairs where we found Holmes and our visitor sitting in the lounge bar supping beer. I ordered drinks for Mary and myself then settled down at a table near the window. As I pulled up a chair next to Mary, I noticed an awkward silence had fallen over the room.

“Did we miss something?” I said.

Ravensburg coughed. “I was explaining to your colleague here why I lied about involving Shaggy and his pals.” He coughed again. “I thought that hunting for a lost book wouldn’t be enough to temp you away from Londen, so…” He shrugged.

“And I was saying,” said Holmes, “that it rather depends on the book.” He paused, then, “So. Where shall we start?”

“Hold on,” said Mary, leaning forwards. “What about the haunted barn where Shaggy and his friends supposedly disappeared?”

“Ah,” said Ravensburg. “Well, obviously the bit about them disappearing isn’t true, but it is true that the barn is sited on the very spot where my ancestor had her little cottage and is said to be haunted by her ghost. More interestingly, perhaps you noticed an ancient oak tree nearby?”

None of us had, so he continued.

“In those days people often buried important items near trees, since there’d be a clear marker of where to dig when they wished to recover them.”

“Sorry,” said I, “but why would anyone want to bury anything?”

“I can’t say for certain, of course, but I think it’s likely that when Sarah heard people making accusations of witchcraft against her, she realised the book of herbal remedies could be interpreted as a book of spells.”

“But haven’t you already searched that area for the book?” said Mary.

Ravensburg shrugged. “Yes, many times, but so far I’ve turned up nothing but a few animal bones and tree roots.”

Holmes sipped his beer, wiped his mouth with a spotted handkerchief and sighed. “As I’ve already said Benny, I really don’t think this is a job for Sherlock Holmes. I and my friends are not gardeners and I have no intention of spending any time digging up roots and berries.”

“Ahm,” I said. “I think the er…berries would be on a bush, Holmes, not in the ground.”

“Don’t split hairs, Watson, you know what I mean.”

“I think I should tell you, Mr Holmes,” said Ravensburg, “that a book similar to the one I seek was unearthed in Suffolk a few years ago. It fetched more than twenty thousand pounds at auction.”

Holmes sniffed. “As I said, we’d be delighted to help in any way we can.”

Ravensburg clapped his hands and went off to buy a round of celebratory drinks.

Leaning over the table, I tapped the big-nosed detective on the hand. “Since when has money been of any interest to you, Holmes? What about the thrill of the chase, the scent of the villain the—”

“Yes, yes, alright, Johnny.” Dropping his voice, he murmured, “I still think there’s something about this whole carry on that Benny Boy isn’t telling us, so in the meantime, it’s reasonable that we should give the impression of at least being interested.”

Mary made a huffing noise. “It seems to me that even an expensive book as this one might prove to be, is nothing more than a missing family heirloom. If you ask me, I say we get the next train home and find ourselves a nice grisly murder to solve.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, glancing across at Ravensburg, who was chatting to the landlord. “As it happens, this may be a murder case. Watson, d’you recall a certain Lord Lucan?”

“Old Donkeyface Lucan? Yes, of course,” said I. “Went missing under mysterious circumstances while taking part in a supposed séance with a group of pals.”

“Correct. And would it surprise you to know that our pal Benny was one of those pals?”

“My God. You believe he may have been involved in the disappearance?”

“If he’s not,” said Holmes, “I’m an uncle’s monkey.”

“Actually, it’s—”

“Shut up, John.”

And so, the very next day, armed with shovels and a pick axe, we set off to explore the area around the oak tree.

Or at least, we would have done, if something else hadn’t occurred first…

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Ghostly Beginning…


Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

That very afternoon, the three of us caught the train from Paddington and set off for Pokebottom-on-the-Moor, a village on the outskirts of Minchester. Holmes had received replies from his telegraphical communications, but for the moment, he kept the results to himself.

“We should arrive in time for tea,” said Johnny, gazing out of the window.

“Yes,” murmured Holmes, stuffing his pipe with a concoction of tobacco and heather. “Ravensburg offered to put us up at his place but I thought we might fare better at the village inn.”

“You mean we might pick up on the local gossip?” I said.

“Assuming there is local gossip,” said Johnny.

“Bound to be,” said Holmes, lighting his pipe. “Always is in those tight-knit, inbred, sheep-shagging communities.” He puffed away for a moment, then added, “though as Ravensburg isn’t actually from there, it may be that the locals have taken against him.”

“All the more reason for them to gossip, then,” I said.

“Quite.”

We fell into a convivial silence for the next couple of hours—Holmes immersed himself in a copy of Private Detective Weekly while Johnny and I brought our respective diaries up to date.

Shortly after four o’clock, we pulled into Minchester’s Londen Road station and from there boarded a branch line connection to Pokebottom-on-the-Moor. We were the train’s only passengers and on arrival at Pokebottom, it soon became obvious why—the deserted platform and dilapidated station house with its boarded-up windows, didn’t fill me with much hope for the village itself, but being ever the optimist, I decided to keep my opinions for later.

When the train had departed and we were left standing on the platform with only our bags and an eerie silence, I wondered if Holmes had arranged any transport.

In answer to my unasked question, the big-nosed detective hoisted his bag onto his shoulder. “Come along, Watsons. We can walk from here.”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open. “Walk? Are you serious, Holmes?”

“It’s only a mile to the village.” He set off towards the exit before pausing to look back at Johnny. “Besides, you could do with the exercise.”

“Cheeky bugger,” muttered Johnny. Picking up his own case, he glanced at me. “Suppose I shall have to carry your bag too?”

“Of course not,” I said. Then, running my tongue seductively along my lower lip, added, “But if you do, I might let you play hide-the-sausage later…” I walked off, gaily swinging my umbrella.

As it turned out, Sherlock’s suggestion wasn’t based on my husband’s need for exercise, but on the need for research. Following him onto a narrow country lane, I could see a junction up ahead of us and a wooden barn in the field directly opposite.

Holmes stopped at a suitable gap in the hedge and pointed to the building. “That, supposedly, is the barn in which Shaggy and his friends disappeared.”

“But you don’t believe that?” I said.

“No, Mary, I do not.”

Johnny caught up with us, panting from his excursions. “And I suppose there are several incredibly obvious reasons why not, are there?” He dropped the bags and folded his arms.

“Not at all, Watson. Simply a matter of checking the facts of Ravensburg’s story. Shortly before our departure, I received replies to the two telegrams I sent.”

“Oh, yes?” said Johnny.

“Yes,” said Holmes. “One was in response to my query about the authenticity of Ravenburg’s claim that a witch matching his description of her did actually exist. According to the historian Lord Crumble of Lancashire, a woman by the name of Sarah Ravensburg was burned at the stake in the village of Pokebottom-on-the-Moor in 1625.”

Oh,” said Johnny. “So he’s telling the truth, then?”

“Partly,” said Holmes. “The other telegram was from Daphne Blake. She assured me that she and Fred are currently staying at Mrs Mason’s Boarding House in New York along with the rest of the gang. It seems they have been engaged to perform a stage version of one of their famous adventures.”

“Bloody hell,” I said. “So Ravensburg lied about them disappearing in the barn?”

Holmes made a face. “He did, but Daphne confirmed that he had asked them to investigate the theft at the museum. “Apparently, she suggested he get in touch with Londen’s prominent consulting detective.” He gave me a smug smile and pushed his way through the hedge, striding towards the barn. Finding a gate further along the lane, Johnny and I followed.

The barn looked old and I guessed it hadn’t been used for some years. The farmhouse, situated a hundred yards away, appeared equally unused.

“How d’you know Ravensburg meant this particular barn?” I said, examining the rusted hinges on one of the broken-down doors.

“Simple,” said Holmes. “I looked on the map. Brierley’s Farm is the only one marked. Unfortunately, agriculture round here isn’t what it used to be—all the farm workers moved away to work in Minchester’s woollen mills about ten years ago. Whoever owned this farm, and the associated buildings, wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

“That’s terribly sad,” I said, gazing up at the cobwebs around the door.

“Sad, yes, but it also provides a suitably spooky location to lure us to in search of a witch.”

“Or a book.”

“Indeed.”

“What are you two on about?” said Johnny, leaning against the side of the barn. “I’m knackered. Can’t we just find the pub?”

“Certainly,” said Holmes. “According to the map, it should be just around the next bend. Or several bends.” Picking up his bag, he set off at a pace. “Come along, Watsons.”

The late afternoon sky had darkened considerably since our arrival at the station, and I began to feel a little nervous. Looking inside the barn again, I could see why Ravensburg had chosen this spot.

Johnny sighed. “Is it me, or is this whole thing going to turn out to be a pile of—”

“Shit!” I stepped backwards. “There’s something in there…”

Johnny pulled me aside. “Stay there, old thing, I’ll deal with this.” And with that, he marched into the barn brandishing his trusty revolver. “Come out, come out, whoever you are…”

As I watched him cross the dusty floor towards the rear of the building, I saw another movement. “There it is,” I yelped. “In the corner.”

Johnny glanced back at me. “In the corner? Where’s it’s really dark?”

I nodded.

Taking out a box of Swan Vestas, he lit a match and holding it up, walked into the shadows. “I’ve got a gun, mind.”

From nowhere, something black and furry leaped at his throat.

“Arrgh!”

The animal ran past me, clearly more scared of us than we were of it.

“Darn cat,” muttered Johnny, dusting himself down.

“Are you two quite finished?” said Holmes from the doorway.

I coughed. “Johnny’s checking out the local pussy.”

Holmes gave me a sly smile. “Sometimes, Mary, you do a remarkable impersonation of a really bad girl.” He turned and walked off, calling, “Come along—beer’s getting cold.”

As we pursued him across the field and onto the road, I glanced back at the barn. From one of the broken windows on the upper level, a white face stared at me. I blinked and looked again, but it had gone.

I told myself it couldn’t be the face of the witch. That was ridiculous. Apart from the fact she was long dead, I didn’t believe in spooky apparitions.

But that wouldn’t be the last time I saw that pale face with the black staring eyes.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Witchy Tale

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

I must admit to feeling a little in awe of Ben Ravensburg. He’d lied about his employment at the museum, but knowing him to be an extraordinarily talented author, I saw no harm in giving him the benefit of the doubt. For some years, his books had scared me witless on many a long evening, waiting for Johnny to return from one of his night-time medical emergencies. Reading by lamplight in bed, I’d thrilled at the erotic delights of Ravensburg’s dashing heroes and the creepy apparitions they encountered. Sometimes I had to put down my book and give myself a little feminine pleasure to take my mind off the spooky goings-on.

Even so, listening to his tale, I wondered if his imagination had finally got the better of him.

Leaning forwards, Ravensburg stroked his goatee. “So, when I discovered my ancestor had been burned at the stake as a witch, I began to look into it.”

“And you say this woman—Sarah Ravensburg—was actually a wiccan?” said Holmes.

“That’s right. My research shows that many villagers recognised her as a healer. Some claimed she kept a sort of medical journal where she recorded her herbal remedies.”

Holmes opened his mouth, but I got my question in first. “And you think if you can find this book, it’ll clear her name?”

Ravensburg sat back in his chair. “It’s a long-shot, I know, but I believe it’s worth the effort.”

I looked at Johnny. He looked at Holmes. Holmes looked at the floor. Finally, the big-nosed detective raised his head.

“It’s a fascinating tale, Benny, but not the sort of thing that requires the attention of the world’s greatest detective. If this book exists, I’m sure any investigator with a reasonable level of deductive skill could locate it. Someone like Shaggy Rogers and that ridiculous hound of his would happily take on the case.”

“But that’s just it, Mr Holmes” said the Bearded One. “I’ve already enlisted the help of Shaggy and his friends.”

Holmes frowned. “And?”

“They’ve disappeared.”

“What, all of them?”

Ravensburg nodded. “Shaggy, Scooby, Velma, Daphne and Fred. They were exploring an old barn in the village one night and they vanished. Haven’t been seen since.”

This put a different complexion on the matter and after posing a few more questions, Holmes informed the famous author that he should catch the next train to Pokebottom-on-the-Moor, where we would join him later that day.

“Well,” said Holmes, when Ravensburg had gone. “What d’you think?”

Johnny shrugged. “Not entirely sure, Holmes. Seems odd he hasn’t called in the police.”

“Perhaps he’s worried what they might find.”

Holmes inclined his head towards me. “You think he may be hiding something?”

“Even Lestrade isn’t completely hopeless,” I said. “I think we’re being told only half the story…”

Johnny sighed. “If Ravensburg is hiding something, hadn’t we ought to know what it is before we get involved?”

Holmes ruminated on this for a moment, then his face brightened. “Watson—call the boy. I have two telegrams to send before we embark on this investigation.”

“Telegrams?” said Johnny. “Who to?”

“If I’m right, this has very little to do with a group of missing amateur detectives and a lot to do with an ancient book that has a great deal more value than Ravensburg is letting on.”

As it turned out, Holmes’ theory proved right. But not in the way he expected.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Another Night at the Museum

Diary of Doctor Watson
Half an hour later, swathed in linen bandages and with the addition of some makeup from Mary’s handbag, Ravensburg carried us one at a time into the gallery, placing us in suitable positions against the walls between the existing mummies.

Ravensburg checked the room again and whispered that he would respond immediately to calls for assistance, should the thieves appear. We had agreed he would inform the caretaker that the three of us had left, after which he intended to do the same, before surreptitiously making his way to the rear of the museum and slipping in via the cellar entrance, which had already been prepared.

Having only a narrow slit for my eyes, and with the gas lamps turned down low, the gallery took on a shadowy and menacing atmosphere. Standing between two decrepit former Egyptians gave me the willies and the urge to sing a happy tune to boost my flagging morale, almost got the better of me.

With no idea how long we might have to stand there, or indeed if the thieves would bother to return, I began counting.

On reaching four thousand one hundred and thirty-seven, I heard a sharp crack, followed by a distinct creak. Unable to turn my head without disturbing the bandages, I cast my eyes towards the door. Two dark shapes slid into the room. I heard a soft gasp from Mary as the thieves crossed the floor to a glass case exactly opposite where I stood.

“This one, Bert,” said a low voice.

“Don’t call me that, you dick,” said the second man, as he jemmied the lock on the cabinet.

“Sorry.”

The lock gave way with a snap and fell to the floor. As the taller of the two villains opened the case, I heard the distinctive tones of a certain consulting detective.

“I should leave that alone, if I were you.”

Holmes stepped forwards, ripping the bandages from his manly features.

“Oh, shit,” said one of the thieves. “It’s a fuckin mummy!”

Tearing off my own disguise, I hurried forwards to join Holmes, who had now produced his revolver. Taking out my own trusty weapon, I took up a position guarding the door.

“Bleedin hell,” said the villain. “There’s two of ‘em.”

“Three, actually,” said Mary, stepping forwards.

The two men held up their hands. I couldn’t help noticing their faces resembled that of a well-known master criminal.

“Ah-ha,” said Ben Ravensburg, hurrying into the gallery. Holding up a lamp, he illuminated the villains’ ruddy complexions. “Who on earth…?”

Holmes stepped towards the taller man and reaching up, took a firm grip on his ear. Giving it a sharp tug, he pulled the man’s disguise free.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see very often,” he said, staring at the rubber mask. “Moriarty, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

“All the blokes are wearing them, these days,” said the man. “We’re great admirers of the Professor. Mwah, hah, hah.”

Approaching the smaller man, I removed his Moriarty mask, too. “Quite a good likeness, though,” I said.

Holmes turned to Ravensburg. “I suspect you might know these men, Doctor?”

“Indeed I do,” said the archivist, sneering. “Professors Solverson and Hoffart—here on loan from Oslo University Museum, supposedly researching Egyptian artefacts for the benefit of a new exhibition. But it seems the study of ancient treasures became too tempting to resist.”

“And we’d have got away with it too,” said the tall one, “if it hadn’t been for these pesky mummies.”

“But where were they hiding?” said I, peering round the gallery.

Holmes jerked his head at me and strode back out into the corridor. Pausing by the two wooden coffins, he waved a hand. “Open it, please John.”

With a little trepidation, I did as he asked, and pulled open the lid of the nearest sarcophagus. Inside, I found a paper bag containing sardine sandwiches and a jar of pickled herrings.

“That would explain the smell, then,” said Holmes, giving me a sardonic smile. “Part of the Norwegian diet?”

“Can I ‘ave that back?” said Solverson. “It’s me supper.”

Having handed the villains over to the local constabulary, we set off back to Baker Street. Back at 221B, Holmes, Mary and myself tucked into an early breakfast, courtesy of Mrs Hudson.

“There’s something I still don’t understand,” I said, helping myself to another toasted crumpet.

Holmes nodded. “There’s a surprise…”

I rubbed my chin, thoughtfully. “The whole thing appears to have been too…simple. Why didn’t Lestrade work out where they were hiding?”

Holmes laughed. “As always, Watson, you see but you do not observe.” He glanced at Mary. “Don’t you agree?”

Mary frowned. “There was definitely something funny about those two crooks.”

Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Such as…?”

Mary shrugged. “Their accents. For Norwegians, they sounded distinctly Cockney.”

“Due to the fact that neither have been any closer to Norway than West India Docks.”

“D’you mean to say they’re British?” said I, aghast.

“Former members of Moriarty’s gang, in fact. Bert Clacker and Nobby Nobbler. Lestrade would’ve recognised them straight way, which is why the police were not called in.”

“But Ravensburg said—”

“Ravensburg lied,” said Holmes. Reaching up to the mantelpiece for his meerschaum, he began to stuff it with rough shag. “I expect the rest of your questions will be answered shortly when our next case arrives.”

“What next case?”

Holmes smiled sardonically. He cocked his head. “Hark. Footsteps on the stair…”

A moment later, a knock came at the door.

Holmes waved a hand at me. “Watson, would you do the honours, please?”

Crossing the room, I pulled the door open.

Ben Ravensburg blinked. “Oh. Good morning.”

“Come in, sir, and take a pew,” said Holmes indicating an armchair.

The archivist settled himself, took a breath, and said, “I expect you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“Not at all,” said Holmes, winking at me. “Today is Saturday. You are not expected again at the museum until Monday. Between now and then, you had hoped to solve a mystery of your own.”

Ravensburg’s eyes widened. “How on earth..?”

Holmes smiled. “Before we trotted off to investigate your so-called Norwegian friends, I took the liberty of telegraphing an old acquaintance of mine. Lord Ballantyne. He’s a member of the board at the museum, you know.”

Ravensburg’s eyes flicked around the room. “Er, yes, that’s right.”

“It turns out you do not actually work for the museum. Rather, you are a volunteer, working on a research project of your own.”

“Well…”

“So,” said Holmes leaning towards our guest, “what I want to know is why you had us go through that ridiculous charade with Clacker and Nobbler?”

“Oh,” said the other. “You know about them.”

“Of course,” said Holmes. “After all I am the world’s greatest consulting detective.”

Ravensburg let out a long sigh. “Right. Well, it all started with this witch…”

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Night at the Museum

Diary of Doctor Watson

Shortly after nine o’clock the following evening, Holmes, Mary and I caught a Hansom cab to Pall Mall. The entrance to the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts lay directly opposite the Reform Club on that thoroughfare. I’d visited the museum a few times in the past but, despite its name, had never found it especially interesting. Holmes paid the driver, strode up the stone steps to the high double doors and rapped on the wood with his walking cane (an affectation he’s taken to lately). After a moment, the door swung open and an old retainer peered out at us.

“We’re closed,” he muttered.

“I’m aware of that,” said my big-nosed companion. “My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is Doctor Watson and his good lady. We’re here to see Doctor Ravensburg.”

The man muttered something inaudible and pulled the door wide, waving a hand for us to enter.

We walked into a darkened hallway. Corridors lead off to the left and right and a wide staircase curved upwards in front of us. Glass cases on either side displayed the usual collections of moths, stuffed owls and various other creatures. Next to one of the cases stood what appeared to be a life-size effigy of the infamous freak-show exhibit, Two-headed Tony.

Mary touched my arm. “Come away from there, Johnny. It’s disgusting.”

“It’s just a model,” I said.

“Realistic,” said Holmes, peering at the likeness. “Of course, the real one had three heads.”

The old man grunted to get our attention. Resting a hand on the banister, he wheezed, “Can’t manage the stairs meself. Jus’ go up to the top floor, turn right and follow the light.”

We thanked him and made our way to the upper floor. The whole place had an eeriness to it that I’d never noticed during the hours of daylight. Now, with long shadows everywhere, the ancient masks and weapons adorning every inch of wall space made it feel as though we were creeping into a building fraught with danger.

“Bloody spooky place, eh?” quipped Holmes, stopping to admire an enormous carved phallus.

“Oh, my,” murmured Mary, her eyes wide. “That would bring tears to your eyes.”

I gave her an admonishing glare, but she merely sniggered and moved on.

Turning right, we saw light emanating from underneath a door a few yards ahead.

“Ah, this must be his office,” said Holmes, giving it a sharp rap with his cane.

The door opened and a tall man with a goatee-style beard and a thin smile greeted us. “Ah. Messrs Holmes and Watson. Come in, do.” He stepped back and bade us enter.

Lined with bookcases and artefact-packed shelves, the office smelled of old things, reminding me of Mrs Hudson’s living quarters. I was about to introduce myself when the bearded one brushed past me.

“And this gorgeous creature must be the infamous Mrs Watson,” he murmured, taking Mary’s hand and kissing it rather too enthusiastically.

Mary reddened, fluttering her eyelids. “Call me Mary,” she said, giggling girlishly.

Feeling somewhat affronted, I stepped between my wife and the Bearded One. “John Watson,” I said, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “And this is Mr Sherlock Holmes.”

Ravensburg nodded, muttering various greetings. “One moment, please.” Turning to his desk, he shuffled a pile of papers before picking them up and sliding them into a leather satchel.

“Research work, eh?” said Holmes.

Ravensburg sniffed. “Kind of. In fact, I’m investigating someone who once lived in the village where I now spend much of my time.”

“An ancient Egyptian?” I joked, hoping to inject a little humour into the man’s stolid expression.

“No,” he said, dark eyes glaring at me. “A witch, actually.”

“Ooh, that’s interesting,” said Mary, pushing out her chest.

Holmes coughed loudly. “Perhaps we could progress to the matter in hand, Doctor Ravensburg?”

“Of course,” said the other. “But call me Ben.”

“Ben Ravensburg?” said Mary, glancing at me.

“Yes,” said Beardy, a quizzical smile gliding over his face. “Not a fan of my books by any chance, are you, Mary?”

Mary gave me a, ‘Told you so’ look. “Actually, yes. I loved The Menacing Monk and The Hailsham Horror.”

“Oh,” he said waving a hand in what was clearly meant to be a self-deprecatory gesture. “That’s kind of you.”

Holmes coughed.

“My apologies, Mr Holmes,” said Ravensburg. “I can never resist a devotee of my work. Let us proceed to the gallery in question.”

He led the way down a series of corridors, until we came to the section housing the Egyptian gallery. An odd smell caught my nostrils as we approached the entrance—it was a familiar, yet unusual aroma that I couldn’t quite place. Glancing at Holmes, I saw that he had noticed it too.

At the entrance to the gallery, two life-size golden sarcophaguses stood ‘guarding’ the doorway. The coffins were intricately carved, their exteriors having been painted to resemble whichever poor souls must have originally occupied them. The black staring eyes gave me the creeps and I was glad to pass them by.

Ravensburg ushered us into the room, where a series of mummified bodies glowered down at us from the walls. Between each one, glass display cases exhibited ancient vases, urns and delicate stone carvings, along with decorative rings and other ornamental jewellery.

Ravensburg stopped beside one of the exhibits, its glass front shattered. “The contents of each of these cases is valued at many thousands of pounds. As you can imagine, the museum simply cannot afford to replace even a fraction of what has already been stolen.” He shook his head, mournfully. “They broke into this one last night. We don’t know how the thieves are getting in, or indeed, how they’re getting out, but we simply cannot afford another theft.”

Holmes took out his magnifying glass and inspected the broken case. Mary and I examined the rest of the room, looking for possible clues to the theft.

“There’s only the one door, is there?” I said.

Ravensburg nodded. “Always locked at night and only myself and the caretaker have keys.”

“Ah. And the caretaker is…”

“Completely innocent,” said the archivist. “Blind in one eye and incapable of ascending the stairs without help.”

Mary whispered something to Holmes. The Great Detective nodded and muttered to himself. Turning to me, he gave a sly wink. “Yes, it is a difficult case. In fact, I’m not at all certain that we can help, Doctor Ravensburg. Perhaps I could trouble you for some refreshment before we leave.”

Ravensburg looked puzzled. “Really? Oh, that is a shame. But yes, of course. We’ll go to my office.”

Back in the corridor, Holmes held a finger to his mouth, signalling that we should stay silent. He did not speak again until we were safely ensconced in Ravensburg’s office. “Apologies for the subterfuge—it was merely a precaution. Now, whoever is responsible for the thefts must have already been in the gallery, or at least, in the museum when it closed.”

Ravensburg laughed. “I don’t think so, Mr Holmes. One each occasion, I myself was the last person to leave the room. As you saw, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Looking around, it had appeared that this was indeed the case.

“And all the other internal doors are locked?” said Holmes.

“Of course. And are not opened again until I return in the morning.”

“I see,” said Holmes. He turned to Mary and raised an eyebrow.

Mary looked at Ravensburg. “Do you have any bandages?”

“We keep a stock to use as replacements when mummified pieces become too fragile,” said Doctor Ravensburg.

“Could I have a look?”

“Certainly, if you think it might be useful.”

Holmes nodded. “Of course. An excellent idea.”

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Archivist’s Letter

Diary of Doctor Watson

It has been a few months since our adventure at the home of Roderick Usher, and my visits to Baker Street have become somewhat irregular. Following the capture of the dreaded arch villain, Doctor Fu Manchu, Holmes and Lestrade busied themselves in matters of law, guaranteeing that the infamous crook would not be free to practice his evil doings for the next several decades.

The court case, quite naturally, provoked renewed interest in the Great Detective’s powers of deduction in the Londen press, resulting in numerous requests for his services. Many of these proved to be of the missing-husband variety, which Holmes cast aside with his usual disdain. However, given his depleted personal finances, I took pains to persuade him to at least consider one or two cases, if only to counteract Mrs Hudson’s incessant whinging in relation to the regular payment of rent. I’m glad to say he finally took my advice and swallowed his enormous pride. Solving a series of straightforward and—it has to be said—boring cases, without the necessity of leaving his rooms, the ensuing remuneration, though being anathema to his sense of logic, has nevertheless allowed him to maintain the spendthrift existence to which he has become accustomed.

This morning, having not heard from my erstwhile companion for several weeks, I determined to pop along to see him. However, while ruminating on this plan, a letter appeared on my breakfast table.

“When did this arrive, darling?” I said, peering at the envelope.

Mary poured herself another cup of Darjeeling. “Just now. A messenger brought it. If you paid more attention to your surroundings, you’d have seen him.” She gave me a playful wink and tapped a finger on the letter. “From Big Nose, is it?”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call him that, dear. He is, after all, the world’s greatest detective.”

“With the biggest nose.”

“In any case, while the handwriting does bear some resemblance to his characteristic scrawl, there’s a distinct smell about the envelope which suggests its author to be someone who enjoys a rather more intense existence.” Holding it up to my nose, I inhaled the slightly putrid odour. “Hmm. A whiff of garlic, plaster of Paris and…a hint of hair tonic.”

“Quite the detective, aren’t you, darling?” said Mary, with a tinge of sarcasm. “I suppose the writer will turn out to be of French origin, wearing a well-lubricated toupee while constructing models of the Eiffel tower.”

Ignoring her jibes, I slit open the missive and read the following letter:

Dear Doctor Watson

I trust you will forgive this unsolicited pressure on your valuable time, but as you will see, I believe Sherlock Holmes and your good self may be able to assist me.

In my role as Chief Archivist at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts, I have of late become aware of the theft of several Egyptian relics from the museum. These relics have on each occasion, disappeared during the hours when the museum is closed and as our beloved police force have demonstrated themselves to be quite inept in securing the person or persons responsible, I should be most humbled if yourself and Mr Holmes might look into the matter with some urgency.

(I would of course have approached Mr Holmes in person, but knowing your role as his biographer allows some degree of, shall we say, persuasive abilities when it comes to demands on the great man’s time, I hoped that in the circumstances you might press upon him the importance of my request.)

Needless to say, the museum would be happy to reimburse any expenses, as well as a substantial fee for the recovery of the missing objects.

Yours sincerely
B Ravensburg (MA, ARA, DPhil)

Passing the letter to Mary, I said, “As I suspected—it’s from the Londen Museum.”

Mary scanned the missive. “His name sounds familiar. I wonder if it’s Ben Ravensburg, the famous gothic novelist.”

I rolled my eyes. “I think you mean alcoholic novelist, m’dear. The fellow’s well known for his drunkenness and debauchery.”

Mary’s eyes lit up. “Debauchery? How interesting.”

“Anyway, I continued, “What on earth would a novelist be doing working in a museum?”

“If you decide to see him, perhaps I might accompany you.”

I smiled at her. “Of course, my dear. If only to prove your theory wrong.”

An hour later, I climbed the stairs at 221B Baker Street and rapped on the door. It opened immediately.

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, shaking my hand vigorously. “I see you received my message.”

“Which message would that be, old bean?”

My friend’s smile vanished. “My telepathical communication, of course.”

“Ah. Sadly not.”

Knowing how boredom irritates Holmes, I should not have been surprised to learn that he had persisted in a preposterous series of experiments on the theory of mind transfer. Our previous discussions on the matter had only succeeded in frustrating me, so on this occasion I determined not to take the bait. Instead, I advanced to my usual seat by the fire and waited while Holmes stuffed a portion of Hard Shag into his meerschaum, lit it with a Swan Vesta and settled himself in the chair opposite.

“Nothing at all, then?” he said.

“Not a whisper.”

His mouth turned downwards. “Damn. Must be a fault with my transmutational analysis of the text.”

“What was the message?”

He shrugged. “Nothing of any import. I simply wished you to come at once on receiving my missive. But here you are anyway.”

Passing Mr Ravensburg’s letter across to him, I said, “Interesting proposition. Came this morning.”

Holmes held the envelope between slender fingers, examining it carefully. Holding it up to his nose, he sniffed. “I should hazard a guess that the writer works at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts. Probably an archivist or curator in the Egyptian section.”

I couldn’t help let out a gasp. “How on earth—”

“Elementary, Watson. Before your arrival, my attention was drawn to a small article in The Times relating to the theft of certain relics. As our friend Lestrade and his comrades have once again proved themselves to be incompetent in tracking down the thieves, it could only be a matter of time before the museum’s board of directors called on the skills of the world’s greatest consulting detective.” He paused. “And his noble companion.”

“Excellent. I shall arrange a meeting.”

Holmes took out the letter and perused it. “Ravensburg.” He looked up. “Wouldn’t be Ben Ravensburg, the gothic novelist, by any chance?”

I suppressed a groan. “As it happens, Mary had the same ridiculous idea.”

Holmes stared at me. “Then she had better accompany us when we meet this fellow. Your wife’s ridiculous ideas have a habit of proving to be correct. Besides, we may require her diversionary skills if the situation turns out to be more complex than the theft of a few Egyptian ornaments.”

I should have felt grateful that Holmes now seemed to acknowledge my wife’s contributions to our adventures but having been outwitted by them both on several occasions, I found myself feeling a little miffed. I also managed to completely miss Sherlock’s inference that the investigation may not be all it appeared. As it turned out, the mystery we were about to embark on had nothing to do with missing artefacts and the events of the next seven days would place each one of us in the gravest danger.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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