It was after midnight when we arrived back at the inn. Holmes had already disappeared into the Snug Bar with that woman in tow, and I have to say I was very happy to see the back of her. Doctor and Mrs Watson escorted me into the innkeeper’s own front parlour, which they were able to persuade that same gentleman to relinquish for an hour or so.
Having received our order of hot chocolate and a selection of Yorkshire biscuits, the landlord left us alone and, seated around the fire, I finally felt myself able to relax. “So?” I said, gazing at my companions in turn.
“So,” said Watson, dipping a Custard Cream into his cocoa, “vis-à-vis werewolves etcetera, why don’t you start at the beginning?”
“Right.” Taking a breath, I closed my eyes for a moment, and allowed myself to drift back to the first time I heard mention of the dreaded creature. “It began with a visit to my great Aunt Agatha. I was due some leave and had booked a ticket on the 4:15 from Euston to Titfield in Staffordshire, with the intention of spending a long weekend with my aunt, followed by a few days in Cannock. However, before I left Scotland Yard, I called into the office of Chief Inspector Schitt, who had asked to see me.”
“That’s Schitt of the Yard?” said Watson, with a smirk.
“Don’t be childish, Johnny,” said Mary, giving her husband a sharp look.
“Sorry darling,” he muttered. “Continue please.”
“The Chief had been asked to interview a chap by the name of David Kessler, an American who had been attacked by a madman in a fish and chip shop in Walthamstow. It appears a deranged killer had escaped from the Londen Asylum for the Really Rather Mad and caused a furore over a piece of battered haddock. The American got involved in the argument and chased the lunatic into an alley where he was brutally attacked.”
“Hang on a mo,” said Watson, leaning forward, “you’re not talking about the serial killer Hannibal Lecter by any chance?”
I nodded. “We thought so at the time, but it turned out Lecter was giving a speech on ‘meal preparation for cannibals’ at the University of Exeter. Day release, apparently.”
Watson visibly relaxed. “Thank God for that. Go on, please.”
“The Chief told me this American fellow was staying with relatives in Staffordshire and as there were still several unanswered questions regarding the attack, he wondered if I might have time to follow it up. To be honest, I was a little put out he expected me to give up a portion of my holiday, but the case intrigued me, so I agreed.”
“What questions did the Chief Inspector want you to ask, Buckingham?”
Mrs Watson smiled kindly and for a moment I was thrown by her use of my Christian name. I coughed to hide my discomfiture. “Well,” I said, “he was interested to know if the American was travelling alone and if so, why had he entered that particular fish and chip shop. You see, the place is situated in a seedy and, to a certain degree, dangerous area of Walthamstow and the Chief wondered if there might have been another reason for visiting the place, other than to buy haddock and chips.”
Mary nodded thoughtfully. “Anything else?”
“Indeed,” I said, getting into my stride. “By a peculiar coincidence, the American’s travelling companion, one Jack Goodman, had also been attacked in a similar manner only a few days before. Unfortunately, the fellow died of his wounds.”
Doctor Watson leaned forward again. “And that was when you heard about the werewolf?”
“Yes. Of course, we all discounted the theory as utter rubbish, but having read up on the subject, I discovered that a person of a certain mental instability could, given the right circumstances, begin to believe that he or she might be endowed with a lycanthropic tendency, that is, they might have the ability to turn into a werewolf during the course of a full moon.”
My companions said nothing, though it was clear my narrative had piqued more than their interest. “It was only after my arrival at Titfield, that the significance of my visit became obvious to me. While waiting for a Hackney cab on the platform, I picked up a copy of the local newspaper, The Titty Gazette, and saw the headline. The chomped-up and bloodied remains of a local boy had been discovered the previous day. I knew there had to be a connection.”
Pausing for a minute, I gazed into the fire, recalling the horror of that dreadful headline. “I tried to put the thing out of my mind, at least for a couple of days, but on reaching my aunt’s house, I found that I wasn’t the only visitor. Aunt Agatha had long been in the habit of letting out the rooms at the top of her house and one of her lodgers at that time was a young woman. A woman by the name of Judith Hirsch.”