Crashing through the French windows, we hurried towards the stairs, then having a sudden brainwave, I swerved right and ran to the dining room.
Holmes, Mary and Rogers skidded to a halt then followed me into the room. There, on the table (as I’d expected) we beheld the murderer’s latest message.
The row of miniature Indian braves still stood in a line as before, but now three of them had been tampered with. One had a small nail thrust through his chest, a second had a piece of string knotted around its neck and a third appeared to have lost his head.
Holmes crouched down and peered at the statuettes. “Ah. Ten little Indians.”
“Eleven, actually,” said Mary.
Holmes ran his gaze along the line. “Are you sure about that, my dear?” he said, a furrow sliding across his brow.
I watched my wife turn back to the statuettes and silently count along the row of miniatures. Then, looking back at Holmes, she whispered, “Twelve.”
I glanced at Sherlock. There was no need to ask who the new Indian brave represented.
Changing the subject, I stepped forward. “This one must be Warmonger.” I picked up the headless one. “Which means…”
“Which means,” said Holmes, “that my prediction was right and the good judge has met his end. But that is not what interests me here.” Reaching out, he picked up the fourth Indian brave, which had been lying on its back.
“Must’ve fallen over,” I said.
“Unlikely,” murmured Holmes, examining the small platform that held the tiny fellow. “Look here, the base is wide and heavy. It would take a jolly good thump on the table for this to have fallen over by itself.” He peered at me. “Don’t you think, Watson?”
“I suppose so,” I said. Then as my companion’s meaning filtered through to my brain, I saw what he meant. “Oh. It has deliberately been placed like that.”
“Quite so,” said he. “But why?”
At this, Rogers pushed in between us. “You sayin someone else ‘as snuffed it? As well as the judge, I mean?”
“I’m saying exactly that,” said Holmes. Here, he looked up and made a come-hither movement with his hand. General MacArthur, Miss Claymore, Mister Lombardi and Billy Blah had come to see what was going on.
“What’s gong on?” demanded the general. “And who might you be, sir?” This last was addressed to Holmes.
“I might be a nymph or a shepherd,” quipped Holmes, “but I’m not. Sherlock Holmes at your service, ladies and gentlemen.”
Miss Claymore let out a gasp of excitement. “The real Sherlock Holmes? Oh, my!”
“Don’t have an orgasm, dear,” said Holmes, placing the little Indian back on the table in the position we’d found him. “Everyone please stay here while Watson and I check on the judge. Mary, you’re in charge.”
“I’ll come wiv yer,” said Rogers, moving towards the door.
“No,” said Holmes sharply. “You, in particular must stay exactly where you are.”
I followed the Great Detective up the stairs but as soon as we were out of earshot of the others, I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to a halt on the landing. “You think something’s happened to Mrs Rogers, don’t you?”
“I’ve been a fool, Watson, an utter fool. We’ve been investigating this mystery under the impression we were hunting a single killer.”
“You mean there’s more than one?”
He gave me a curious look then whirling round, ran up the next flight of stairs and down the passage that led to Warmonger’s bedroom. Bursting through the door, he stopped, one hand on the doorknob, the other holding his revolver. But we had no need to defend ourselves – the judge was dead. This time there was no mistake, as the absence of his head guaranteed that any involvement he might have had in this affair had come to an abrupt end.
“Bloody hell,” I muttered. “I wonder where his head is…”
“I expect it’ll turn up, Watson,” said Holmes with a smile that seemed to suggest he knew exactly where that particular object might be found. “Now, we must locate Mrs Rogers.”
As we flew up the staircase to the servant’s quarters, it occurred to me that the mask I’d found with the judge’s body had gone. I made a mental note to ask Holmes about it later, but reaching our destination, we hurriedly checked first the living room and then the bedroom. Nothing had changed since my earlier visit, except that a door I hadn’t noticed before stood open on the far wall.
“Of course,” I muttered. “I forgot to check the bathroom.”
Holmes strode across the room and opened the door wide. “Well, I doubt it would have made any difference, old friend.” He shook his head and stood aside.
Brushing past him, I gazed down at Mrs Rogers. She lay on her back, fully clothed, in a bath filled to the brim with water, her clear blue eyes staring straight up as if she might simply be holding her breath in some sort of macabre breath-holding competition. However, it was the bucket of ice next to the bath that drew my attention – Judge Warmonger’s pasty face stared up at me, its unblinking eyes wide open in surprise.
Moving the bucket to one side, I noticed the two Agatha Christie masks perched against the sink. Clearly the killer was intelligent enough to know that, on this occasion, placing them in water with the corpses wouldn’t work. I rolled up my sleeve and reached down into the icy water to pull out the plug. As I did so, the top of the dead woman’s head seemed to slide off.
“Fuck me,” I gasped, jumping backwards.
“No need to panic, Watson,” said Holmes, crouching down. As the offending item floated to the surface, he deftly picked it up and held it out so I could see it clearly.
He nodded. “One of her better ones, I might add.” Here, he looked up at me, a glint in his eye. “You recognise her now, Johnny?”
I stared at the woman’s face. The short curly hair that had nestled beneath her wig, the prominent front teeth and the thin unfriendly mouth, triggered something in my memory. “My God, it’s Professor Helga Klopp. Responsible for the murders of two British agents, three industrialists and several innocent bystanders, not to mention –”
“Yes, yes, Watson,” said Holmes with some degree of impatience. “No need to relate Frau Klopp’s role in our adventures for my benefit. The fact is it took me some little time to recall where I’d seen her face before, and when I did, I had no doubt that she, and she alone, was responsible for these ghastly killings.” He sighed heavily. “But apparently not. At least, not all of them.”
“Then the murderer is still at large?”
He nodded. “He is. And unfortunately, I think he’s winning.”