It was several weeks before I saw Holmes again; following our rather drawn-out adventure at Milford Junction, my dear wife put her foot down, demanding that she and I spend some ‘quality’ time together.
Leaving the Thankyew Twins to bask in the success of their performance at The Community Hall, Much-Banter-in-the-Woods, we boarded the Midnight Express to York and booked into the Grand Hotel and Spa for a week. Indulging in a series of water sports (or ‘treatments’ as the locals call them), we allowed ourselves free rein in the pursuit of relaxation. (I shan’t go into details due to the intimate nature of some of the procedures, but suffice it to say the sessions did wonders for our connubial activities).
So it wasn’t until the following weekend on returning to Londen, that I called on Holmes at 221B Baker Street. Settling myself into my usual chair by the fire, I helped myself to a copy of The Times and one of Mrs Hudson’s jammy muffins. As is his wont, Holmes had his head buried in Amateur Detective Weekly, while puffing away on his Meerschaum and muttering the occasionally derisive comment relating to this or that article. It was therefore a good half hour before he finally addressed me:
“He’s in the other room.”
I looked up. “Sorry, what’s that, Holmes?”
My companion rolled his eyes. “I said, Watson, he’s in the other room.”
I frowned. “How did you –”
“How did I know you were going to ask about our new lodger? Elementary, my friend.” He lowered the periodical and removed the pipe from his mouth. “When you opened the door twenty seven minutes ago, you paused for a moment. I noted your left eyebrow was raised a fraction above its usual position, indicating something had irked you a little. You then blinked rapidly as your gaze fell on the plate of muffins.”
I coughed. “That may be so, but I don’t see how it relates to the lodger.”
“On the contrary, Watson. I think you understand very well. You are merely a little slow in reaching the obvious conclusions.” He paused and let out an irritatingly self-satisfied sigh. “The raised eyebrow was my first clue – having mentioned to you the news of our new tenant some weeks ago, you had naturally expected him to be present this morning. Secondly, you observed that the plate bearing the muffins was not our usual willow patterned one, and therefore you correctly surmised Mrs Hudson must have utilized that very item for our guest, leaving us with the second-best china, yes?”
“Well, yes, possibly,” I agreed, with not a little annoyance.
“And since you have not,” he went on, “posed the question of where the aforementioned individual might be, you supposed I might be keeping that vital piece of information from you.”
I shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time, Holmes.”
He gave me a sardonic smile. “Indeed.” Then, leaping to his feet he strode over and pulled back the partition revealing the kitchen beyond. Seated on a chair in the centre of the room, was a man. He was of about average height, quite plain-looking face and with thinning hair. His face seemed familiar, though I could not at that moment recall where I’d seen it. Scattered around the legs of the chair were several lengths of rope and a sort of face-mask, the likes of which I had previously only observed in institutions such as the Londen Asylum for the Really Rather Mad.
The stranger rose to his feet and turned his face towards me. I noted his eyes were startlingly blue and his gaze as piercing as any I have yet witnessed. An involuntary chill ran up and down my spine.
“Dr Watson, your reputation precedes you.” He held out a hand towards me and without thinking, I grasped it firmly. His fingers were icy cold and his grip unbelievably strong. I must have winced, for he gave me a half-smile and winked in an unexpectedly sensual manner.
“Oh dear,” said Holmes with a chuckle. “He’s got you now.”
I glanced at my companion, then back at the stranger. It was then I realised I was unable to remove my hand from his grip. “I say, “ said I, a tremor in my voice. “What’s this – some sort of game?”
The man held onto me for a few seconds longer, before letting go. It was then I remembered where I’d seen him before. “Oh. My. God.” I stared at Holmes. “You know who this is?”
Sherlock nodded sagely. “John Watson, meet Doctor Hannibal Lecter.”
“Hannibal the Cannibal,” I whispered.
Lecter nodded slowly. “I see my reputation too, has preceded me.” He smiled then turned to Holmes: “Be a love and tie me up again, won’t you?”
“Of course. Give me a hand, Watson.” He opened a cupboard and extracted two lengths of rope. We then spent the next few minutes tying our guest to his chair. When we’d finished, I had the curious feeling that these ropes would not hold this particular man for long.
Holmes and I stepped back into the study and my companion closed the partition. When we had seated ourselves again, he gave me an enquiring look.
“Well, I’m absolutely at a loss, Holmes,” I said, struggling to contain my anger. “What on earth are you doing with a murderer in your rooms? And more to the bloody point, why did we tie him up?”
“Doctor Lecter enjoys a challenge.”
When he said nothing more by way of explanation, I banged my fist on the arm of my chair. “Dash it all, Holmes, he’s a killer!”
“Most probably, Watson, but he’s also a psychiatrist – a very clever one.”
“Humph,” I muttered. “That’s a matter of opinion.”
“Nevertheless, Watson, Lecter was acquitted of killing and eating that busload of tourists in Bexhill-on-Sea last summer and has instead dedicated himself and his considerable talents to helping the police crack a particularly vexing case.”
“Has he? Well fucking good for him!” I slapped my hand on the chair again. “And what case might that be, or is it a secret?”
“Calm yourself, Johnny, calm yourself. You’ve heard of the Lambton Killings, I imagine?”
I had, and a particularly gruesome one it was – three members of one family had been brutally slaughtered, leaving the police baffled. “What has it to do with us?” I jerked my thumb towards the room behind us. “And that monster.”
Holmes pulled out his pipe again and rubbed the shaft thoughtfully. “I fancy we might solve it. With the good Doctor’s help, of course.”
I allowed myself a moment to digest this, then, “So we’ll be catching the train to the North?”
“Tomorrow morning, Watson.” He paused for a moment. “I’ve also come up with a rather witty title for the case.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” said I, feeling miffed that Holmes considered it perfectly normal to tread on my literary skills as well as everything else. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll choose my own titles.”
“Very well,” declared Holmes. “Better go and pack, then, eh?”