Leaving Lestrade to arrange for the body to be removed, Mary and I retired to our room. Jamming the chair against the door handle and sliding my revolver under the pillow, I snuggled up next to my dear wife and tried to sleep.
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the adventures of the night had not removed my ability to slumber, and I awoke this morning feeling brisk and alert to a rapid knocking at the door. It was Lestrade.
“Ah, Doctor,” said he. “Just to let you know I ‘ave ‘ad Marston taken to a suitable location in order to ‘old the post mortem.” He sniffed. “Though I don’t ‘old much ‘ope of discoverin anyfing else that could assist our investigation.”
I nodded. “You’ll want to talk to the others, I suppose?”
“Indeed. If you would be so good as to meet me downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll get started.”
I closed the door and stood for a moment, thinking.
“We’re due on the boat in two hours,” said Mary in a low voice.
I looked at her and couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. “Yes.”
She raised an eyebrow.” You haven’t changed your mind, then? About going?”
“Lestrade’s probably right,” I said. “The whole thing is utter folly, but even though we’ll be placing ourselves in danger, I feel we have to go through with it. Otherwise…”
She gave me a half-smile. “Otherwise the killer is free to do his worst.”
A few minutes later we made our way downstairs. Lestrade had assembled the other guests who were all sitting around the bar-room in the same seats they had occupied the night before. The only one missing was Marston.
“Now then,” said Lestrade. I’m Inspector Heehaw of Scotland–”
I harrumphed loudly, interrupting him. “Not sure there’s any point in aliases…”
He bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Quite. As I said, I’m Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. And this is…” He glanced at me.
“Doctor John Watson, and my wife, Mary.”
A few members of the group let out audible gasps.
General MacArthur raised a finger. “Not Armstrong, then?”
I shook my head.
He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gave a quick laugh. “Heard of you. Baker Street, etcetera. Your detective chap. Holmes. Be arriving at some point?”
I thought it best not to herald my companion’s entrance, so I said, “He has no plans to join us.”
Former police inspector Blah shifted in his chair. “So if you’re not Armstrong, what are you doing here?”
I coughed in preparation for the lie. “Doctor Armstrong is ill. Terminal, in fact, but he wished that I, and my wife, should replace him, taking advantage of his good fortune in being invited to the island. Of course, he had no notion he might be thrusting us into a dangerous situation.”
Vera Claymore leaned forward. “Are you insinuating there may be another murder?”
I glanced at Lestrade and he jumped in.
“I expect this er – incident – was merely an unfortunate coincidence. After all, you lot are not actually on the island yet, are you, so no reason to assume Mister Marston’s death and your visit are connected, eh? Probably just some local lunatic on the rampage.” He looked around the room using his ‘optimistic’ expression.
“Well,” said Lawrence Warmonger in a voice loaded with sarcasm, “that is a relief.”
Lestrade continued. “If anyone has any further information that might ‘elp wiv enquires, I should be obliged if you would speak to me privately before you leave.”
No-one said anything more, and the following hour or so was spent attending to our individual needs regarding breakfast and preparations for the trip.
Lestrade took Mary and I aside as our companions drifted back upstairs.
“I don’t know what your pal ‘as planned, but I do ‘ope he gets ‘is proverbial finger out before anyone else gets the chop.”
He wasn’t the only one with concerns regarding the non-appearance of Holmes – I was beginning to think the Great Detective might be leaving his grand entrance a little late. We chatted for a few minutes about communications, as the only sure way of getting messages onto the island would be via carrier pigeon. Lestrade had come prepared with a dozen or so police-trained birds. He suggested we leave a portion of bird seed on our windowsill in preparation for such messages.
“This should keep you going,” he said, handing me a small paper bag. He turned and stared out of the window. From here we could just make out the island itself – a dark blotch on the distant horizon.
“Keep in touch, then,” I said, patting his arm.
He looked at me then with an expression of sadness I’d not deemed him capable of, and he laid his hand on mine. “Don’t go an get yerselves bloody murdered, will yer?”
“We’ll try not to,” I said, forcing a smile.
Twenty minutes later, together with the remaining travellers, Mary and myself made our way down to the harbour where a battered old paddle steamer waited by the meagre jetty. I was heartened to see it was a decent-sized vessel, though its obvious unsuitability for the journey across to the island did not fill me with hope. The captain, too, turned out to be a sad stereotype of that traditional old sea-dog – the drunken sailor whose knowledge of the sea had long since been overtaken by his familiarity with hard liquor. He stood by the jetty smoking a clay pipe and caressing a grizzled grey beard.
“Ar,” he muttered as I approached him. “Be thou one o’ they bound fer Huge Island?”
“That’s right,” I said, peering into his piggy little eyes. His skin was dark and leathery, and reminded me of a football I’d had as a boy.
“It be a grand day fer a crossin, ey?” He gazed up at the sky and I took the opportunity to examine him closely.
His height was about right and the sharp angle of his jawline too familiar to fool me for long. Giving him a playful punch in the shoulder, I said, “Nice one, Holmsey.”
The sailor swivelled his head toward me. “Say summat?”
I nodded and winked.
With a sudden movement, he reached out and grabbed my lapel. “Now lissen ‘ere, Mister. Oi don’t want no screamin bend-overs on moi boat, so if’n you’ve got any of that sort o’ nonsense in mind, ye can take yerself an’ yer whore of a wife back ter where ye came from.”
Recognising that I had perhaps granted my detective friend more talent for disguise than he actually had, I muttered a quick apology, grabbed Mary’s hand and hurried to our allotted places aboard the boat.
Once seated on one of the benches in the prow, Mary leaned over and whispered, “You surely didn’t think that was Sherlock, darling?”
I coughed. “It had crossed my mind.”
She laughed lightly and patted my knee.
A few minutes later, steam was up and the vessel pulled away from the dock, turning its nose towards our destination.
I couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever see Dolphin Cove again.