We stared at the severed head and I felt a familiar sensation in my bowels as my nether regions prepared themselves for an immediate loss of control.
I glanced at Homes who, with his eyes fixed on the shocking sight before us, muttered “Keep ‘em clenched, Watson. Keep ‘em clenched.”
I nodded, took a few deep breaths to reassure myself, and a moment later the feeling had passed. I was once more myself – though I suspected a small stain might have manifested itself in my undergarments. I looked back at the grisly scene.
Hannay was the first to speak. “Arrrgh!”
I leaned towards him and patted his arm with my head. “There, there, it’s not so bad. He had a good life. Relatively speaking.”
“I think we may have succumbed too easily in our conclusions.” said Holmes. “Answer me this, friend Watson, how could this gruesome article before us be what we think it is?”
I blinked several times and steeled myself. Staring hard at Lestrade’s head, I studied it’s all-too familiar lines, it’s jutting cheekbones, it’s manly forehead and flabby mouth. “I must say, on closer inspection…” I paused. “You think it isn’t Lestrade?”
“Consider – Moriarty left this building to meet Lestrade less than ten minutes ago.” He raised in eyebrow. “Even allowing for the man’s murderous genius, how could this so-called murder have been committed with such speed?”
A thought struck me. “It’s Lestrade’s death mask!”
“Exactly, “said Holmes. “Or to be more precise – his near-death mask. The very near-death mask I created myself when Poor Lestrade was holed-up in bed with Yellow Fever last year.” His gaze moved away from mine and I could see his pleasure at recalling that special day, with hot wax, rubber gloves and an almost dead policeman to play with. “Lestrade’s wife wanted something to remember him by – I had suggested removing a certain appendage and popping it along to my old pal Risible Ronnie the Teasing Taxidermist, but she said she never let him shag her when he was alive, and he certainly wasn’t going to when he’d passed on!”
“I remember it well,” I said. “You covered her dear husband’s head with wax in the style of a death mask, but of course, as the fellow didn’t die, it ended up as an unclaimed raffle prize for The Policemen’s Benevolent Society.”
He nodded. “Yes, which is why, for the last few months it’s been sitting on top of the cistern in their toilet.” He cast me a quick glance. “From where Moriarty’s men undoubtedly swiped it.”
“We have to escape,” I muttered. And without further hesitation, I began shuffling my chair forward towards the workbench. Or at least, that was my intention. What actually happened was that my chair fell forwards and I whacked my face on the filthy floorboards.
Behind me I heard the twin sharp intakes of breath as Holmes and Hannay took in my calamity. But I didn’t care, for I had discovered something: wedged between the floorboards was a broken piece of blade – perhaps from an old knife. Sliding my aching face around in the muck, I was able to pick up the blade between my upper lip and my nose. Then, shuffling sideways, I made my way slowly and somewhat painfully towards Holmes’ chair.
A sudden “Ouch-fuck!” sounded in my ear and looking up I saw that Holmes himself was now on the floor beside me, though he’d had the foresight to turn his manly features to one side, thus avoiding damage to that handsome Roman nose.
“Good thinking, Watson,” said he, as he manoeuvred himself around so that I could pass the short blade into his tied hands. “Just like old times, eh?” he said with a sly wink. And then slowly, ever so slowly, he began to saw his way through the ropes…