It was late the following afternoon when we arrived at the little station at Netherly Stratton. Lambton had his man drop us off and we spent a pleasant half hour enjoying tea and scones from the little kiosk. The platform itself was otherwise free of home comforts and with the nights drawing in, it was already dark when our train pulled into the station.
Our journey back to Londen was, initially, uneventful. Doctor Lecter acquiesced to being locked in the wooden crate in the baggage car again. Public opinion is not likely to turn in his favour until my account of our latest adventure appears in The Strand Magazine. Even then, the marque of ‘cannibal’ will, I fear be hard to shake off.
Sitting opposite Holmes, my dear wife at my side, I considered the details of the last few days and occasionally glanced at my illustrious companion. He busied himself scribbling notes in the margin of his copy of Potter’s Toxins and Murderous Mixtures – his current choice of bedtime reading. As the locomotive rocked gently from side to side, I detected the beginnings of a smirk on Sherlock’s manly features, though he kept his piggy little eyes on the book.
I was tempted to question Holmes on a few points, but I knew very well how he’d delight in showing off his powers of deduction, so I chose to keep my thoughts to myself. Holmes, however, was not to be robbed of victory. A short while later, the great detective closed his book and laid it in his lap. “Well, Watson?”
“What’s that, Holmes?” said I, feigning indifference.
He raised an eyebrow. “Your questions, dear fellow.”
I half-turned to Mary with the intention of starting up a conversation and thus ignoring the expected jibes, but she too raised an eyebrow.
“What?” I said, with more than a little venom.
“Go on, Johnny,” said my wife. “You know you want to…”
I sighed. “You know, Holmes, it would be nice if for once, you could explain your observations at the time they occurred, instead of keeping your horrid little secrets to yourself.”
Holmes sniffed. “Hardly little secrets, John. Merely details which, I presume, have thus far eluded your observations.”
Mary coughed loudly and gave Holmes a hard stare.
“Very well,” he said. “First of all, as you know, the young man known as Veronica was responsible for the murders of the grocer’s boy, his own aunt and uncle, and of course his step mother, Lucy.”
“And would have killed his father too, if he’d had the chance,” I said.
“Quite,” said Holmes. “However, such deadly intentions did not simply pop into his head, did they?”
I shrugged. “Might have.”
He shook his head. “No, Watson, they were planted there – planted and nurtured, given encouragement, nourishment, love.”
“Oh God…” Mary’s hand grasped my arm. Her face had turned pale. “You mean…?”
“Once again, Mrs Watson, your intellect surpasses that of your husband.” Holmes nodded solemnly. “Yes, Veronica’s murderous journey was no accident of nature. The idea was deposited in his brain by his doctor – the psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter.”
“You’re fucking joking!” I exclaimed.
“I’m fucking not,” said he. “If only I’d realised it sooner. In fact, it was you yourself who sparked my suspicions. When you reminded Lecter he had tried to eat you, it occurred to me that once again we’d been had. The canny criminal played us like a string quartet – a cheap one at that.”
I let out a groan. “If you knew that, why the hell didn’t you say anything?”
“Had I told you, Watson, Lecter would’ve seen it in your eyes in an instant. You too, Mary. I couldn’t take the risk – Christ knows what he might have done.”
I jumped up and reached for the emergency cord. “Then we must stop the train right now. Alert the authorities. The media…the…”
“Yes, yes,” said Holmes, flapping his hand at me as if I were a truculent child. “It’s all in hand, Watson. While you and Mary were supervising the crate, I took the liberty of sending a telegram to our friend Lestrade. He and his men will be waiting at the station when we arrive. If all goes to plan the crate will be unloaded and Lecter will be none the wiser until he’s safely locked up in the Londen Asylum for the Really Rather Mad.
I let out a long breath and sat down. “That’s a relief.”
Holmes nodded, then added, “Unless he escapes, of course…”
A shiver went up my spine and I grasped Mary’s hand. A second later, the lights went out and the train screeched to a halt.