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Monthly Archives: October 2018

A Warning to the Ill-Advised


The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed
From Sherlock Holmes Esq to Doctor J. Watson

Watson,
So, the Hooded Claw is back? Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you’re a fool, Watson, a damned fool!

Apologies old friend, but I do find myself wondering what goes on in that tiny brain of yours. Even though you have systematically recorded the evidence of your own eyes, you seem not to have allowed the information to penetrate your skull. For the sake of clarity (yours, not mine), I shall outline my thoughts on your notes:

In allowing Miss Pitstop to stay at the well-known racing-driver’s retreat, The Brooklands Hotel, you may as well have lit a beacon on top of her head – even our old pal Sikes would’ve had more sense. Also, the ‘young couple’ you observed were clearly on the Claw’s payroll – everyone knows the English hate motor sports, so unless the pair were German, from the Isle of Mull, or escapees from The Londen Asylum for the Really Rather Mad, I think we can safely assume your cover was blown the moment they set eyes on you. However, as we now have to deal with the fact of your having exposed our client to the felonious elements within our society, I have resolved to be the grown-up in this matter and move on.

Before I do, though, I should like to add an additional error of judgement (as if another needed to be drawn) – why on earth did you give yourself the ridiculous moniker of Ormond Sacker? Even that cretin Conan Doyle couldn’t have thought that one up. In future I suggest you choose one of our time-honoured standby pseudonyms, Joshua Smith or Thaddeus Jones.

Now, on one point I must congratulate you (cherish it, Watson, such plaudits will be rare). As you say, the paper used by the Claw to send those threatening letters, bears a watermark. I also concur with your assumption that the image was created using the cylinder-mould process. The singularly unique features of the image demand it must have been added after the paper was pressed and cut, therefore cannot have originated from the Basildon Bond factory. In any case, I very much doubt the Hooded Claw has need of several dozen reams of watermarked stationery. Since any legitimate paper manufacturer would not touch a specialised job in the quantities required, we must look to the criminal underworld to locate the brains behind it. To my knowledge, there is only one person in England who possesses both the skill and the level of villainy to carry out such a task – the forger Austin Bidwell.

Locating Mister Bidwell is likely to be a waste of time at present, since it is probable he has already fled the country, so I think we should confine ourselves to dealing with the Claw.

Now, you must have guessed that my sojourn in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed was not merely due to a finger injury. In fact, the self-inflicted wound to my digit proved necessary to gain entry to the Institute and, more specifically, to what inmates refer to as the ‘nutters’ ward, due to the high incidence of apparent suicides. Situated on the west side of the building and being on the third floor, the bedroom windows in that ward overlook the lake and, more importantly, a small harbour. It is for this reason I am now able to verify that all our lives, including that of Miss Pitstop (who I imagine was targeted purely to attract our attention and get us out of the way), are in terrible danger. That the Claw only succeeded in distracting you and Mrs Watson is of no consequence, as I am certain he will have altered his plans accordingly and will be expecting us to join forces here in Ullswater very soon.

I am sending this message via Bobby the carrier pigeon, Inspector Lestrade’s most recent strategy for speeding up communications between himself and his lacklustre team of detectives. I commandeered the aforementioned bird and adopted the pretence of him being my ‘pet’, in the certain knowledge that secreting one of Mycroft’s patented Telegraphical Steam Conduits down my pyjamas would soon have been confiscated by my so-called carer, the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, and access to the steamographal telecommunications office in the village would be out of the question once I had submitted myself to the Institute.

If you have not already done so, I suggest you book tickets for all three of you on the next train to Cumbria. In addition, I beg you to take the utmost care, as the Claw may attempt to capture you en route.

I recommend you gain entry to the institute by utilising your medical qualifications – though one or two of the staff here may be in league with Mister Claw, the majority are an asset to their profession and are unlikely to refuse admittance to an actual doctor.

Once again I urge you to take care. Though I do have an inkling as to the Claw’s intentions, I may be completely wrong, and it is entirely possible he intends to subject all of us to the sort of murderous device Moriarty employed in our Edinburgh adventure. Needless to say, I have no wish to face another ‘slicing and dicing’ machine, and as Mycroft is out of the country, a last-minute rescue from that quarter won’t be on the cards.

Yours
Holmes

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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At Brooklands Hotel


The Brooklands Hotel
Tootbridge
Surrey
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor J. Watson

Holmes

Sorry to hear about the incident with the sardine tin, but if you will allow Mrs Hudson to go off on a walking tour of the cheviots at a moment’s notice without bothering to install a suitable replacement, you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps if you’d showed the slightest interest in your housekeeper’s domestic routines and, especially, her tin-opening technique, a ‘crisis’ of this sort might have been averted. Nevertheless, I hardly think a week recuperating in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed is essential for what is after all, only a small cut to the index finger, but I’m sure you know best.

However, I digress. Detailed below, you will find my notes pertaining to our current case:

Further to our discussion on the series of menacing missives received by Miss Penelope Pitstop, Mary and I travelled down to Tootbridge yesterday, to meet the lady herself at a small family-run hotel where she is currently staying. I had previously communicated Sherlock’s advice about remaining incognito and calling herself by a different name, though it may be that her fame will undermine any chance of remaining anonymous.

On arriving at the aptly-named Brooklands Hotel, we checked in as Mister as Mrs Sacker and made reservations for dinner. I had informed Miss Pitstop that I would be wearing a red rose in my lapel and had issued a brief instruction as to how she might affect introductions during dinner, so we might avert any suspicions regarding our business together.

As it happens, the hotel restaurant was barely half full, and by the time we’d been seated, Mary and I had the place almost to ourselves. When Miss Pitstop appeared, looking more like a film star than a racing driver, she made a show of ordering hors d’oeuvres in the way of potted wood pigeon and a bottle of Chateau Ee-bah-gum (a Lancastrian chardonnay). Then, making an even bigger show of noticing me, she waved a hand in our direction.

“Oh, ‘ello,” she said, approaching our table. “You’re not that philanderer bloke Orville Sucker, are ye?”

I coughed. “If you mean the philanthropist Ormond Sacker, yes I am.”

My dear wife stifled a giggle and said, “You look like a young lady on her own – perhaps you’d like to join us?” She raised her eyebrows seductively.

“Make it bloody obvious why don’t you?” I hissed. Turning back to our guest, I put on my most lenient smile. “Don’t worry my dear, everyone gets it wrong. And your name is…?”

Miss Pitstop extracted a decorative fan from one of her voluminous sleeves and wafted her face vigorously. “Eeh, Ah’m rate sorry luv, Ah’m always putting me foot in it.” She made herself comfortable, then added, “you can call me Penelope. Ah mean…Harriet.” Dropping her voice to a hoarse whisper, she said, “Sorry luv, Ah’m not very good at this pretendin lark.”

A young couple by the door whose attire was very obviously that of racing car enthusiasts, were watching us carefully and from the furtive conversation that followed, it was clear our guest had been recognised.

A baleful sigh emerged from my lips which I took no pains to conceal. Gazing around the restaurant, I judged it was likely that anyone with the remotest interest in the world of motor sports had already overheard us. Leaning forward, I said, “Right, let’s just forget the charade – I’m Johnny, this is Mary and I think everyone knows who you are, so let’s get down to it.”

It was about an hour later while we were having coffee, that Penelope showed us the letters.

“Mind,” she said, “Ah threw the first two or three away, thinkin they were just the ravings of some nut-job. But then they started to get serious.” She passed the latest communication across the table. “All the letters ‘inted at something bad, but with this one, there’s no misunderstandin.”

Without touching it, I peered at the single sheet of paper and considered what Holmes would make of it. The paper itself was a pale blue shade of Basildon Bond, hand written with no address or other marks of identification. I read it aloud:

Dear Slut

You ‘ave smeared the good name of English racing, so now you ‘ave ter pay. I am going ter slit your throat wiv a sharp knife and bring an end to your winning ways.

Yours
Humber Plate

“Well,” said Mary, “you’re right about one thing – the meaning is clear.”

I chewed my lip for a moment. “Perhaps, perhaps not. There’s a few obvious details – the signature is a mistake and should read ‘Number’ Plate. Also, the writer has attempted to disguise his identity by representing a common dialect, but has defeated the object by using punctuation correctly, which makes me think he is an educated man.” Looking at Miss Pitstop, I said, “What do you make of it?”

She tapped a finger on the note. “That’s interestin, Doc, but you’re wrong about t’spelling – Humber Plate’s the name of a race.”

“Then it’s someone within the racing world, someone who wants revenge.”

“But why – what ‘ave I done?”

“Isn’t it possible that one of your male counterparts resents your success? Being a student of human behaviour as I am, I imagine there’s many a man who might feel aggrieved to be bested by a woman. Particularly one as attractive as you.”

Penelope nodded slowly. “So you think this is some bloke what I’ve beaten in a race?”

I picked up the letter. “Quite possibly, although…” Having perceived what seemed to be a watermark within the paper, I turned the sheet over. There was nothing to see, but holding it up to the light, the design became visible – ingrained in the paper, most probably created via a cylinder-mould process, was the image of a man’s sleeve with a hand at the end. Except it wasn’t a hand, but a hooked device in the shape of a claw.

“Bugger,” I said. “He’s back.”

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Werewolves of Londen


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It was a few minutes before I was able to regain my composure. Lestrade and his men had run out into the street in pursuit of Kessler, while Holmes calmly stripped off his disguise and pulled on his familiar greatcoat and deerstalker. Mary stood at my side, patting my arm supportively and making cooing sounds in my ear.

“Don’t worry, darling,” she said, “I was as surprised as you.”

I knew she was lying, but her words did make me feel a little less stupid.

The woman from Pinkerton’s appeared to be having a subdued, yet strident argument with Caddy and Schitt concerning the latter’s impersonation of her.

“What you don’t understand, you silly bint,” fumed Schitt, “is that I weren’t pretending ter be you, I were pretending ter be Kessler’s sister.”

“Kessler doesn’t have a sister, honey,” said the woman. The cut-glass English accent had gone, and in its place was a curious but somewhat alluring southern drawl.

“What I’m bloody saying,” said Schitt with more than a hint of menace in his voice, “is that if you hadn’t stuck your bleedin oar in, we’d have had him bang to bleedin rights.”

Kate Warne let out a sneering laugh. “Rilly? And how would you have protected y’rself agaynst him, honey?”

Inspector Schitt blustered for a moment, then failing to come up with a feasible explanation, turned to Caddy. “Go on, Buckie, you tell her.”

“Oh,” said Caddy, clearly feeling he’d been put on the spot. “Well, we could…er…I mean…ahm…”

“Precisely,” said Miss Warne. “You hayve no ah-deah.” And with that she began to undo the buttons of her blouse.

The eyes of the two men popped out like plums on sticks, but the lady wasn’t about to expose her feminine resources. Instead, she pulled open the garment’s collar to display a woven circle of some sort of grass or straw that hung around her slender neck.

“Of course,” murmured my wife. “Rye.”

“What?” said I, staring at her.

“It’s an ancient Celtic thing – apparently it wards off werewolves. Mistletoe has a similar effect.”

Once again, I was floored by the sheer breadth of Mary’s knowledge. I learned later that at least some of her information had been garnered from reading Curiouser and Curiouser, a monthly periodical which had recently featured an article on Celtic folklore.

Turning my attention back to the others, I heard Schitt mutter something derogatory under his breath, but aloud, he said, “Of course. I knew that.”

Holmes, having adjusted his clothing satisfactorily, now stepped forward. “Watson, Mrs Watson, I suggest we get going.”

A heavy sigh escaped my lips before I could stop it. “Hmph. Very well, Holmes. Anywhere in particular?”

“I thought we might get something to eat.”

A glance at Mary told me she was as stupefied as me. Holmes rarely mentioned food, and never in the midst of an investigation.

Before I could venture another question, the big-nosed detective had left the room. Caddy, Schitt and Miss Warne immediately curtailed their differences of opinion and hurried after him.

“Come on, then,” I said to Mary. “If nothing else, we might fill our bellies.”

Out in the street, Holmes had taken off after Lestrade and the two constables, whose lanterns we could clearly see bobbing about at the far end of the lane. They appeared to be engaged in checking every side road and back alley in the vicinity.

Just then, Holmes slithered to a halt, sniffing the air and turning his head this way and that. With his eyes tightly shut, his lips moved silently as they often did when his nasal analysis was at its keenest point.

As I watched, waiting for him to spout one of his ridiculous conclusions, one sound did escape his thin mouth. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘Biff Show Lane’ made no sense to me.

Assuming the officers had already explored the avenues in-between us and them, I was surprised to see Holmes abruptly whirl round and tear off down a nearby alleyway. Hastening after him, I noted the faint glow from a window halfway along. Approaching the place cautiously, Holmes dropped to his haunches and peered over the sill. Swivelling round, he beckoned us over.

“We’re too late,” he whispered, and signalled that I should look inside.

Keeping low, I raised my head just enough to see over the windowsill. Steam had misted the glass, but I could make out a long bench, behind which several cooking pots bubbled away on a rusty but serviceable kitchen range. However, it was the huge quantity of blood splashed across one wall that drew my gaze.

“Christ on a bike,” I muttered.

“Have a care, Watson,” said Holmes, standing up. “Caddy, Schitt – you two nip round the back. Watson, you and the others follow me.” Pushing open the door, Holmes stepped across the threshold, a cloud of steam billowing over his head as he did so.

Taking out my revolver, I held it like a baton as I prepared to advance. Beside me, Kate Warne pulled out her own weapon. I must have given her a questioning look for she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “My own favourite, don’t ya know – Webley five-shot pocket. Gets ‘em every time.” With that, she pushed past me and followed Holmes into the shop.

“Careful, Johnny,” said Mary, tugging at my jacket. She too had one hand on her pistol and the two of us crept inside after Miss Warne.

The blood on the walls had splattered upwards as if thrown from the end of a well-loaded paintbrush. The resultant mess appeared to be the result of arterial spray – the kind I might expect from a severe neck wound. I guessed the victim, if by some miracle still alive, would be unlikely to survive more than a few minutes.

Holmes had stopped by the long bench in front of the cooking area. Various bowls and plates were scattered haphazardly across the table, but it was one particular bowl that occupied his attention.

“See here, Watson,” he said, pointing a slender finger at the half-eaten meal. “Beef chow mein, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

I was about to comment, when Kate Warne pushed in front of me and stuck a finger in the meaty remains. Licking the digit thoughtfully, she said, “Sure is. His favourite.”

“Whose?” said I. “The werewolf?”

She nodded. “Werewolves love Chinese food.” She moved away to follow Holmes through to the rear of the building.

It was there we found the remains of the shop’s proprietor, Lee Ho Fook. His neck had been slashed so deeply that only a sliver of skin held his head to his body.

“Oh my,” said Mary, her face pale.

But Holmes was already off again, running towards the door at the rear of the building. Hurrying after him, I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to a stop.

“Look here, Holmes,” I said. “Don’t you think we should get Lestrade and his men, before anyone else gets hurt?”

We had stepped outside into a darkened alley. To our left, Caddy and Schitt had paused to investigate a pile of dustbins. To the right was mere darkness. I was about to repeat my question when something moved in the shadows.

“Ah-ha,” murmured Holmes. “Werewolves of Londen.”

Before either of us could move, the black shape launched itself into the air with a piercing howl. Whether it was my imagination or some weird effect of the brain, everything seemed to slow down. As the creature flew through the air towards where we stood, my only recollection is of pulling my companion to the ground and the feeling of something claw-like gliding across the top of my head, scrutinizing my hair like some animalistic barber.

From somewhere in the distance, a series of shouts and screams echoed back and forth. Strong hands gripped my arms and I felt myself hauled upright. Struggling to focus, I became aware of movement below me and the sensation of the passing of time washed over my entire being.

When my senses finally returned, I found myself gazing up at an ornate ceiling, decorated with cherubs and god-like beings. For a moment I wondered if I were in Heaven.

“Ah, there you are, Watson,” said a familiar voice. “And no, to answer your question, you’re not in some unearthly paradise, but in a suite of rooms at The Dorchester, courtesy of Lord Greystoke.” He sniffed. “Apparently he hates werewolves.”

Blinking, I managed to raise myself into a sitting position and saw that I was in a large baroque-style bed, in a large baroque-style room.

A throbbing sensation began to make itself known, and looking down I saw a bandage around my arm.

“Don’t fret, Johnny, it’s only a slightly deep gash.”

“From the creature?”

Holmes coughed. “No, actually.” He averted his gaze for a moment. “As it happens, I appear to have slashed your arm open in my desire to protect you. My spatial awareness isn’t what it was.”

“I see. Where’s Mary?” I asked.

Holmes sat on the side of the bed and patted my leg. “She’s out shopping with the Pinkerton woman.” He rolled his eyes and uttered a passable imitation of Miss Warne’s voice: “Us gals sure do love to shop, doncha know?”

“So they’re both fine?”

He nodded. “In fact, it might interest you to know that your dear wife managed to shoot Kessler several times in the testicles before he disappeared into the sewers.”

I stiffened. “My God – he escaped!”

“No, far from it.” He let out a long sigh, then shifted his position and nodded to the other side of the room. “He’s over there.”

Looking past him, I gazed at the man in the other bed. The American’s face looked serene, as if he were experiencing the most beautiful dream. “Is he..?”

“Dead? As a Dodo. Though I’ll be happier when he’s six feet under – just to be sure.” Holmes dropped his voice and spoke in an almost reverential tone. “Kessler attacked Inspector Schitt and in doing so, fell down an open manhole cover into the sewers thirty feet below. Broke his neck.”

“Bloody hell,” I said. “And Schitt? Where’s he?” Looking around I noted there were no other beds in the room.

Holmes shook his head. “No.”

I blinked. The inspector had never been one of my favourite people, but I had to admit to feeling a deep sense of loss, if not for Schitt himself, then for the life of another human being.

It was several days before we finally returned home. Kate Warne had some Pinkerton-related business in Londen and promised to drop in and see us before heading back to the States. Inspector Caddy went back to Titfield to continue his holiday, though I was sure we’d see him again soon.

As to my own dear Mary, she was her usual self, though I suspected the adventure had affected her more than she was prepared to admit. Nevertheless, when a telegram arrived from the famous lady racing driver Penelope Pitstop, concerning a series of threatening letters, my wife was eager to join the investigation.

As it turned out, those letters were merely the bait to lure us into yet another mystery that would see us fighting for our lives.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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