Glancing at the faces of my colleagues, I could see I was not the only one to feel somewhat out of my depth. Knowing it would take a little while for Billy Blah’s sobering revelation to sink into our respective intellects and produce a solution (if indeed there was one), it seemed logical to proceed with those tasks we were able to deal with.
“Tie him up, eh?” I said, looking at Holmes for approval.
The Great Detective nodded. “Yes. In fact, I suggest we tie them all up, stick them in separate rooms and boil their toes till they squawk.”
“Boil their toes?” said Mary, her face tinged with alarm.
“Metaphorically speaking,” said Holmes, giving her a wink.
“Lestrade,” I said, crossing the room, “let’s you and I round up the others. Mary, would you fetch my emergency villain-apprehending kit from our room, please?”
Mary acquiesced and followed us up the stairs.
“Seems ter me, Doctor,” said Lestrade as we walked along to General MacArthur’s room, “that it mightn’t be a completely stupid idea to get a team of constables over ‘ere ter lend a hand.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” said I, “but that would simply scare away our nemesis, and we don’t want to risk her fleeing the scene, as it were. At least, not before we’ve had the chance to run her to ground.”
“Or before she kills us all,” muttered Lestrade, solemnly.
We’d reached the General’s room and giving a quick knock, I went in. The man himself was sitting on his bed, with Dilip Lombardi lounging on an easy chair nearby. The pair had a guilty look about them and I suspected they’d been in the midst of plotting some devious scheme.
“Oh, er…” said MacArthur, spluttering over his words. “Just ahm…just discussing the funeral, etcetera.”
“No need to continue the charade, General,” I said, as disdainfully as possible. “As you both know, Holmes is alive and well and looking forward to applying a little pressure to your villainous brains.”
The General laughed. “Ah, game’s up, eh?” He glanced at Lombardi and I caught the quick exchange between them that could well have been some secret message. But what that message might be, I had no clue.
“Just get yerselves dahn the stairs,” said Lestrade, coming over all authoritarian. He moved back to the door and waved a hand. “Out.”
I followed the pair back down to the dining room while Lestrade went to fetch Miss Claymore, whose intermittent moaning had lapsed into occasional grunts of annoyance.
Mary emerged from our room carrying the emergency kit and holding a note.
“Look – a pigeon was waiting on our windowsill.”
I took the piece of paper and glanced at the tiny writing, but it was far too small to make out the words.
Back in the dining room, I took a length of rope from the emergency villain-apprehending kit and cut it into lengths to tie up the three men. Lestrade appeared, dragging a grouchy Vera Claymore behind him.
Holmes had arranged four chairs in a line. The first was occupied by Mister Blah, and now General MacArthur and Mister Lombardi were pushed onto the second and third chairs. Miss Claymore’s injury appeared to have improved for, though she still walked rather bowleggedly, she’d given up trying to elicit sympathy from us.
We spent a few minutes securing the four captives to their respective chairs, and ensured they were free of weapons. Rather oddly, all four sat quietly, watching the four of us, as if expecting something interesting to occur.
“Mary found this on our windowsill,” I said to Holmes, handing him the pigeon’s note.
He took it carefully, glanced at the writing then pulled a magnifying glass from his inside jacket pocket. Seating himself at the table, he ran a hand over the paper, flattening it out, then holding the glass over it, leaned down, his eyes only inches away from the tiny lettering.
“Why on earth would anyone pen a letter in such…” He sniffed a few times, coughed and dropped the magnifying glass, then sitting bolt upright, looked pointedly at me and murmured, “Oh, dear…” And with that, Holmes fell off his chair.
As I leaped to his side, I was aware of a merry chuckling from the quartet of villains behind me. Ignoring them, I dragged Sherlock away from the chair, so he now lay flat on his back. I unfastened my companion’s collar and slipped a hand under his neck, titling his head back slightly to ease his breathing.
“Holmes? What is it, Holmes?”
Already his lips were turning a deep blue and his eyelids flickered, wanly. Leaning over him, I lowered my ear to catch his words.
“Pij…pij…pigeon…post…” And with that he lapsed into unconsciousness.
“My God,” I gasped, looking up at Mary. “He’s been poisoned – by pigeons!”