“Oughtn’t we to discuss this with the others?” I said to Holmes in a low voice.
“Absolutely not,” muttered the Great Detective. “Such a move would alert them to the extent of our suspicions, including, of course, the mastermind who’s behind this whole thing. No, I have something quite different in mind.” He gave me a sharp look, his piggy little eyes boring into me. “But you have a question, Watson?”
“How on earth..?” I spluttered, struggling to maintain a calm exterior for the benefit of the others.
He smiled smugly. “For the past several minutes you have been picking at the edge of your waistcoat with your thumb and forefinger – an activity you engage in only when pondering a problem or unanswered question.”
I sniffed and shrugged as if his apparent mind-reading act had not in the least unsettled me. In fact, Sherlock’s ability to seemingly identify exactly what I’m thinking at any given moment never fails to amaze me. “Well,” I said, avoiding his gaze. “As it happens, I was pondering on the fact that as Doctor Armstrong’s place on the island was taken by me, whoever Armstrong was supposed to murder has not, and presumably, will not, be murdered.”
“Oh,” said Holmes, his mouth dropping open. “Bugger.”
“Hadn’t you thought of that, then, Sherl?” said Mary, giving me a wink.
“For once, Mrs Watson, your husband has the better of me.” He steepled his fingers and leaned his chin against them, eyes narrowed in thought.
“But the mastermind murderer will know that, anyway,” added Mary. “So…”
Holmes looked up abruptly. “Of course, and has no doubt made alternative plans.” His eyes slid across the faces of our companions – five now, not including ourselves. “I think we had better put my plan into action.” He gave me an odd look, the sort of mournful look a person might expect from a long-time acquaintance when lying on his deathbed. “I should be obliged if you would do the honours, John.”
“What are you talking about?” I said, striving to keep the anxiety out of my voice.
“As you so cleverly pointed out, old friend, apart from Mary and myself, who are somewhat superflous to the original guestlist, you – being a replacement for Armstrong – are the odd one out. If our killer’s real intention is to do away with the three of us, I suspect he or she will have bumped you up the list. To take Armstrong’s place in the order of…er…dead people.”
“D’you mean to say that the killer himself, or herself, is going to attempt to murder me?” I said, with a distinct absence of enthusiasm.
“Well, I would,” said Holmes.
“You surely don’t expect poor Johnny to wander off by himself and await his own execution?” said Mary.
“That is precisely what I expect, my dear, though of course you and I shall be on hand to nab the culprit before he or she strikes the fatal blow.” He took a moment to relight his Meerschaum and puffed away with an air of arrogant nonchalance.
I sighed. “Fine. Whatever.”
Mary touched my hand. “Don’t worry darling, I’m sure Holmes won’t throw you to the wolves.”
We spent the next few minutes going over Sherlock’s proposal. The whole thing sounded a little too opportunistic to me and I couldn’t imagine the killer would take the chance of getting away with another round of slaughter without first assessing the various permutations and possibilities from every angle. After all, each of the previous killings must have been carefully thought out first. Nevertheless, armed with my trusty revolver, I doubted anyone would get the better of me without at the very least incurring a substantial gunshot wound.
Holmes gave me a nod. I stood up and stretched, gazed around the garden and announced in a casual manner that I had a bit of a headache and was going for a lie down upstairs.
“Lie down?” said General MacArthur. “Bit of a chance, what? Likely get yourself killed.” He hmphed, sniffed and shook his head. “Please yourself.”
“I really don’t think that’s wise, Doctor,” said Vera Claymore. She glanced at her neighbour nervously. “Don’t you think, Mister Rogers?”
The butler had been gazing at the ground in front of his deck chair for the past few minutes. Now he looked up. “She’s dead.”
Vera leaned over and patted his hand. “She’s in a better place, though.”
Rogers sneered. “Fuckin jokin, aren’t yer? Better place? Tch.” He nudged her hand away and went back to staring at the lawn.
Miss Claymore gazed at me, her lower lip quivering, but she said nothing more.
“Well, I’ll see you all later,” I said. Then added, “I hope.”
As I walked across the lawn towards the house, I had the odd feeling I was being watched. Obviously, the seven people behind me would be watching, but this was different, and the awful thought that we may have seriously underestimated the killer’s strategy washed over me like a wave of sloppy shit. We had assumed all along that the mastermind behind all this was one of the people on the lawn, but what if it wasn’t? What if this was all down to someone who we had yet to meet, and who up until this point, had remained very much out of sight? In that case, I mused, we were in a rather perilous situation and I might very well be walking to my death.