In my excitement at being first to escape the dining room, I made the schoolboy error of hesitating for a moment due to uncertainty on the direction in which I should proceed. Given that circumstance, I should not have been surprised when Doctor and Mrs Watson careered into me, resulting in the three of us sprawling across the floor like a bunch of ill-mannered yobs.
‘No time for shenanigans,’ chided Holmes, slamming the door shut behind himself. ‘Into the library.’
He set off at a pace and we picked ourselves up and followed as swiftly as we were able.
Piling through the library door after the others, I pushed it shut and jammed a chair under the handle.
‘Got you on the run, has she?’
Still seated on the chair where we’d left her, Vera Claymore’s bonds held her arms and legs in place, allowing little room for movement. Even so, she seemed unconcerned at her situation and smiled as if we were all guests at some boring middle-class soiree.
Gazing around with my detective eye, I observed the shallow, ceiling-height bookshelves that lined each wall of the room and noted the usual fittings found in such apartments (desks, standard lamps, armchairs etcetera) were absent. Instead, the room had been furnished with three cheap-looking wooden chairs. One of these supported Miss Claymore, another stood in a corner, while the third was the one I’d used to jam under the door handle.
‘She’s right, you know, Holmes,’ said Doctor Watson. ‘We should’ve taken advantage and tied the mad bitch up while we had the chance.’
Holmes shook his head. ‘That is exactly what she wants us to do.’
‘Then why didn’t we do it?’ said Mary.
‘Because, my dear,’ said Holmes in that condescending manner of his, ‘there are still too many unanswered questions.’
‘Tch,’ said Watson. ‘What’s it matter? Klopp’s not going to tell us anything, is she?’
‘Precisely,’ said Holmes. ‘Which is why we must do our utmost to obtain that information from those members of our little party who remain, for the moment, alive.’ He turned to stare at Miss Claymore.
‘Huh,’ said our prisoner. ‘Don’t look at me. I ain’t tellin yer nothin.’
Holmes knelt in front of her and patted her leg. ‘Oh, you little fool. Don’t you know you never can win?’
The woman sneered, but I could see it troubled her.
‘You did hear those two shots, didn’t you?’ continued Holmes.
‘What if I did?’
‘Well,’ he said. ‘Take a look around you. Can you see anyone missing?’
She looked at me, at the Watsons and then back at Holmes. Her mouth opened, but she said nothing.
Holmes sat cross-legged on the floor, took out his meerschaum and after running his fingernail around the bowl, emptied the blackened contents onto the carpet. Then, taking his time, stuffed the pipe with a generous amount of Rough Shag, lit it and puffed away for a few moments. Finally, he looked up. ‘Tell me, who do you imagine was shot?’
The woman was not gifted with the ability to conceal her thoughts and even an occasionally dull-headed copper such as myself could see the cogs whirring round in her head as she worked through the possibilities. Eventually, she mumbled, ‘General MacArthur.’
‘Quite,’ said Holmes. ‘And who d’you think shot him?’
Vera Claymore bit her lip and blinked rapidly, as if striving to hold back tears. ‘She did.’
‘And why would she shoot him?’ said Holmes, his voice unexpectedly gentle.
‘Ter stop ‘im tellin you lot what he knows?’
She sniffed, made odd little shapes with her mouth, her eyes darting around the room like mad darty things. Then she appeared to make a connection and her face froze, her eyes wide.
‘Oh, bugger. Ye think she’s going ter kill me.’
Holmes nodded. ‘It’s a strong possibility.’ He took a moment to puff on his pipe. ‘Unless you tell us what you know, in which case there’d be no need to.’
‘And what if I tell yer and she kills me anyway?’ wailed Miss Claymore, her true colours finally coming to the fore.
‘Then you have nothing to lose, eh?’ said Holmes, brightly. Standing, he strolled across to the window and leaned against the wall. I saw a quick nod pass between him and Doctor Watson, and the latter pulled up the only spare chair and sat down opposite the prisoner. (I gathered from this exchange that the Doc and Holmesy had some pre-arranged interrogation technique.)
‘So,’ said Watson. ‘Who did you kill?’
‘What d’yer mean?’ said the other, avoiding his gaze.
‘Come along, Vera, if that’s your name. We know Klopp demanded that each of you kill one of the others. Who did you kill?’
Before she could say another word, I discerned a strange vibrating sensation in my shoes. Looking down, I saw that my feet appeared to be pulsating. ‘What the bloody hell…’
‘The floor,’ muttered Holmes. ‘Quickly, everyone…’
The thrumming noise increased in volume and the very ground we stood on began to shudder beneath us. A second later the whole floor started to move upwards.
‘Get to the door!’ yelled Holmes, striding across the room.
The chair I had jammed under the handle snapped in half as the pressure of the rising floor and the strength of the chair legs proved incompatible. Mary kicked the remains of the splintered item out the way and tried to yank the door open, but the rising floor was now a good twelve inches up the walls, prohibiting the aperture moving through its normal inward arc.
‘We’ll have to break it down,’ said Watson, picking up the chair he’d been sitting on and preparing to ram the door with it.
‘Here, let me help,’ said I, grasping the other side of the makeshift battering ram. On a count of three, we rushed forward and crashed into the door. The wood panels creaked but the hinges held fast.
‘Again,’ yelled Watson.
Once more we launched ourselves against the door and this time one of the upper panels split in half.
Holmes had picked up pieces of the broken chair and strived to jam them between the floor and the wall, preventing further movement, but each time the wood shattered, eaten up by the ever-rising platform.
The grinding noise below us had grown to a thunderous level and the floor had reached halfway up the length of the door. If it got much further, we’d be trapped, with no alternative but to be squashed flat against the ceiling like grapes in a sort of giant winepress.
I glanced at Watson and we swung the remains of the chair against the upper section of the door, the only part of it still visible. This time, it gave way and Watson gamely kicked out the remaining panels, allowing enough room for us to climb through into the passageway.
‘Mary,’ he bellowed. ‘You first.’
Mrs Watson looked for a moment as if she might refuse on the grounds of feminine equality or some such bollocks, but she saw there was no time to argue the point, so allowing herself to be lifted up between her husband and myself, she slithered through the broken panels to the other side.
‘What about me?’ wailed Miss Claymore.
I looked back at her. Holmes and Watson crossed to where she sat and began to pull at the ropes that held her to the chair.
‘Wait,’ said Watson. ‘There’s too many knots. We’ll never have time to undo them. Have to chuck her through the hole, chair and all.’
‘Right,’ said Holmes and they both leaned down to grasp the chair by its back and legs.
‘Dammit,’ yelled Holmes. ‘It’s screwed to the floor.’ Looking up, he scanned the room. ‘Watson, Lestrade. The books. Pile them up around her – they’ll act as a barrier against the ceiling.
By this time, only fifteen inches or so of the smashed door was still visible. Whatever happened next, it had to happen fast.
Running to the nearest of the bookshelves, I reached out to grasp a pile of crime novels, but my fingers slid along the spines as if the shelves were covered in glass. ‘What’s going on?’ I muttered.
Holmes grabbed my arm. ‘They’re not real. Painted on.’ He looked at Miss Claymore, who, for the first time, wore an expression of sheer terror across her pale face. Crossing to where she sat, he knelt beside her.
‘Who screwed the chair to the floor?’
Vera’s lower lip quivered like a jelly on a plate. ‘Lombardi.’
‘Come on!’ It was Mary’s voice and as I turned to look, I saw only seven or eight inches left before the door disappeared from view.
‘Sorry, m’dear,’ said Holmes to Miss Claymore. ‘But you brought this on yourself.’
With that, he pushed Watson and me across the room and all three of us squirmed through the narrowing gap and fell through onto the carpet on the other side.
Twisting round, I caught a last glimpse of Vera Claymore’s horror-stricken face as her head made contact with the ceiling. The rising floor rose beyond the hole in the door and a crunching of wood and bones resounded from the room that had almost become a graveyard for all of us.