The three of us stood in the gloomy hall, while the butler shuffled off to ‘Get t’ master’.
Catching Lecter’s eye (and the cunning grin that played around his lips), a shiver ran up and down my spine. Though Holmes was convinced the man posed no danger to us, Hannibal the Cannibal still gave me the heebiejeebies. I turned away, pretending to study our surroundings: before us a pair of tiger skin rugs lay across the stone-flagged floor. Beyond these stood a grand staircase that curved upwards, its banister decorated with hideous gargoyle-like carvings, giving the place an oddly medieval feel. The ceiling and walls were panelled with a dark wood that played host to a curious mixture of landscape paintings in the classical and the Dutch styles, along with a bizarre selection of animal heads (the sort one sees in British museums of the dull-and-dusty variety).
“Colonial keepsakes,” muttered Holmes, running his fingers along the length of a protruding rhino’s horn. “An example of the worst kind of Englishman, don’t you think, Watson?”
“Absolutely,” said I, a little surprised at the animosity in my companion’s voice.
“Ah-ha,” said a voice behind me. The three of us turned to see a middle-aged man of about middle age, whose hair appeared to be fashioned from a piece of yellow sponge cake. “I see you’re admiring our collection.”
Holmes gave the man a sardonic smile. “Not so much admiring, as abhorring. Lord Lambton, I presume?”
The man’s mouth dropped open, revealing a veritable graveyard of broken and missing teeth. “The very same.” Regaining his composure, he indicated the long-dead decorations. “Not a fan of big game, then?”
“It’s only a game if the participants begin on an equal footing,” said Holmes.
Lambton’s face reddened. He glanced at me and Lecter, then gave a shrug. “Never mind, can’t please ‘em all, what?” He leaned forward and shook each of our hands. When he reached for Sherlock’s the great detective sniffed and stuck both hands in his pockets.
“I believe there’s been another murder? Perhaps we could see the body?”
Lambton coughed. “Of course. Follow me, what?”
As we followed him upstairs, Holmes whispered in my ear. “Curious.”
I looked at him. “What is?”
“Considering a member of his family has just been brutally murdered, the man seems unusually calm.”
“It’s the way these people are, Holmes – arrogant and superior.”
My companion nodded. “How uncommonly perceptive of you, Watson.”
I allowed myself a smile.
Lambton led us into a large bedroom, then stood to one side as the three of us studied the scene: sprawled across a large four-poster bed, was the naked body of a middle-aged woman in early middle age. She had been badly mutilated with several stab wounds and what looked like teeth marks around the neck and shoulders. If I hadn’t known better, my suspicions would have been directed towards one of my travelling companions.
“I know what you’re thinking, Doctor,” murmured Lecter. “Fortunately, I have an alibi.”
“Yes,” I quipped. “That’s what you said last time.”
Holmes punched my arm. “Behave. Doctor Lecter is here to assist, not to be tarred with suspicion.”
“Don’t think you can tar someone with suspicion…” I said to myself.
Holmes had approached the corpse and was peering at her breasts. “Look here, Watson.”
I crossed the room and looked down at the dead woman. “What am I looking at Holmes?”
“A fine pair of tits.”
“For God’s sake, man, the woman’s dead!”
Lecter tapped me on the shoulder. “I believe your colleague is referring to her earrings – they’re in the shape of Cyanistes caeruleus, commonly known as blue tits.”
“Oh,” said I, leaning forward for a closer look. “So I see.”
Holmes turned his beady eyes on me. “So what does that tell us, Watson?”
I stood up, my gaze flitting between him and Lecter. “Well, it tells us…that…er…”
Holmes sighed. “It tells us the murderer was interrupted.”
I blinked. “It does?”
“Certainly.” Holmes began pacing the room. “Note the earrings, the application of rouge to the woman’s cheeks, the further application of lipstick. And note also the lack of clothing, and the open door of the wardrobe.”
“Sorry, Holmes, you’ve lost me.”
Lecter laid a hand on my shoulder. “It’s quite simple my little starling, the killer was in the process of beautifying his victim. However, he, or she, was disturbed before completing the presentation of the body.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Both Lecter and Holmes turned towards Lord Lambton, who was still standing by the door.
“Absolutely right, old boy. The other victims were dressed in their best clothes and posed as if they had dressed for dinner.”
Holmes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Perhaps you could remind us exactly who the other victims were?”
Holding up four fingers, Lambton ticked them off one by one. “This one is Lucy, my estranged wife. Before that there was my brother Reginald, before him it was Reginald’s wife Pricilla and before her Arnold the grocer’s boy.”
Holmes rubbed his chin more vigorously. “It’s as I suspected. Apart from the first victim who was clearly a slip-up, it would appear someone is knocking off members of your family. If something happens to you, who inherits?”
Lambton frowned. “My son – Veronica.”
Just then, a bell rang downstairs and Lambton strode off, leaving us staring at one another.
The great detective shrugged. “Then it’s obvious. The son is the killer.” He took out his trusty Meerschaum and began stuffing hard shag into its bowl.
“Holmes,” said I. “You do know Veronica is a girl’s name?”
“I think we’ll find the young man has a penchant for dressing in ladies clothes. His father detests the boy and calls him Veronica in the hope that a little humiliation might push the lad towards a more manly attitude. After all, he is now the heir to the family fortune.” He lit his pipe and took a few puffs. “Or he will be if Lambton is next in line for the chop.”
“Makes sense to me,” I said.
“You’re forgetting one thing, boys,” said Lecter, gazing at the body on the bed.
“Really. Answer me this,” Lecter continued. “What does he do, this man you seek?”
“He kills people,” I said.
“No, that is incidental. Read Marcus Aurelius – what is it in itself?”
Holmes groaned. “For fuck’s sake, Hannibal, don’t start all that again.”
“All what?” said Lecter, looking a little hurt.
“That serial killer profiling shit,” said Holmes. “This is a straight forward murder and as soon as we find the boy we’ll have our killer.” With that, he strode off down the stairs.
I looked at Lecter. “Holmes is usually right, you know.”
The doctor gazed off into the distance. “Usually, but not today.” Then turning to me, he murmured. “Mrs Watson must be getting a little thirsty, don’t you think? Tick tock, tick tock…”
“Oh, fuck…” I heard him laughing as I hurried downstairs to fetch my trunk.