‘I don’t bloody believe it,’ said Holmes. ‘Professor James Moriarty.’ The Great Detective shook his head. ‘But it makes no sense—why would you go to all this trouble just to kill me?’
‘As it happens,’ said Moriarty, rubbing the last traces of rubber from his face, ‘killing you would be an added bonus. Take a look around you—not everything is about Sherlock Holmes.’ With a sneer, he turned and nodded to a group of individuals who had so far remained hidden behind a screen further up the hall. As they moved forward, I recognised one of them immediately.
‘Klopp.’ Holmes laughed. ‘Still striving for that ultimate wewenge?’
‘Do not taunt me, Holmes,’ she said, scornfully. ‘You haf no more chances in your community chest.’
‘What’s she bleedin on about?’ said I.
‘Monopoly,’ whispered Mary.
‘Oh, right.’ I was none the wiser.
‘And now we are all here, perhaps you are acquainted wiz my colleagues?’ Klopp waved a hand and the four strangers moved closer.
Holmes let out a long, low groan.
‘I reckon I know who the Chinese bloke is,’ I muttered to Watson, ‘but what about the others?’
The doctor was about to reply when Holmes piped up, ‘The one with the drooping moustache, as you guessed, is Fu Manchu, apparently not in Burma. Next to him is the forger Austin Bidwell. Then there’s the Lambeth Garage Poisoner Reggie Stocks and of course, our old pal Colonel Sebastian Moran. A veritable bevvy of bunglers.’
‘Oh yes, Moran,’ I said. ‘Didn’t recognise ‘im wiv that beard.’
‘And you, Inspector Lestrade,’ said Moriarty, turning his attention to me. ‘So nice of you to join us. I feel we’ve left you out of our adventures of late.’
‘That’s all right,’ I said. ‘I ain’t bovvered.’ Despite my bravado, my face flushed and a horrible feeling of uncertainty swept over me.
‘But I’m happy that you can take part in this small … how must we say … conclusion?’
‘You mean murder,’ said Holmes.
‘Call it what you will, but as I told you, ending your miserable little lives was Professor Klopp’s aim, not mine. Unlike her, I rather enjoy your little interferences.’ He stepped to one side. ‘And now, if Doctor Watson would be so good as to ask his question …’
Watson coughed. ‘Sorry, what question?’
Moriarty sighed. ‘The one you always ask when Holmes solves a case.’
The Doc looked blank for a moment, then his face lit up. ‘Ah.’ He hesitated, glanced at Holmes, then said, ‘But what I still don’t understand is, why set up all these people to kill each other for no reason?’
Frau Klopp smiled. ‘You see, Holmes, at least your rather stupid friend has ze decency to ask ze question, vhich of course, you cannot answer.’ She shrugged.
‘Oh, but I know the answer,’ said Holmes, rather smugly.
Klopp’s face dropped. ‘No, you don’t. You cannot know. You haf no idea.’
‘Yes, I have, actually,’ Holmes continued, ‘and I’d be happy to share it with you.’
Klopp’s face turned beetroot with rage, her mouth twisting into a snarling grimace much like my Aunt Bertha’s pet bulldog. Finally, she nodded. ‘Fine. Haf it your vay.’
‘Well,’ said Holmes, taking out his meerschaum, ‘I must admit the whole thing did rather stump me for a while. You see, I couldn’t work out why you’d go to all the bother of having each guest kill another guest.’ He stuck the pipe in his mouth but didn’t take the trouble to light it.
‘Zat’s easy,’ said Klopp, ‘I zimply—’
‘Hold your fire, Frau Rent-a-mouth. I haven’t finished.’
Klopp growled, but said nothing.
‘You see,’ Holmes went on, ‘the thing made no sense at all, unless you looked at it from that precise point of view.’
‘And vot point of view is zat?’ said Klopp.
‘That it makes no sense. In which case the only sense one can make of it is that the whole thing intends to make the detective—me—think he cannot solve it.’
‘Vich is entirely correct,’ said Klopp, triumphantly. ‘It vas a game, a game designed to baffle and befuddle you and force you to admit that you are not ze greatest detectif in ze vorld after all. And so, because you haf not solved it, you vill haf to kill yourself.’ She clapped her hands together. ‘Tah-Dah!’
Holmes took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit a match. ‘And that’s where your plan falls apart, Klopp.’ Taking his time, he relit his pipe and puffed away. ‘Because, being Englishmen, my companions and I do not view failure as a reason to take our own lives.’
Klopp’s face had turned an even deeper shade of beetroot. ‘Yes, you vould! Zat is vot Englishmen do!’
‘Sorry, old thing,’ said Holmes. ‘But it isn’t.’
‘Told you it wouldn’t work,’ said Colonel Moran, striding forward. ‘Let me get my elephant gun. Blow them all to buggery.’
‘Perhaps I could shoot them all with poisoned darts?’ suggested Fu Manchu.
‘Or I could give ‘em a nice glass of cyanide,’ muttered the Lambeth Garage Poisoner.
‘What about a death sentence, signed by the Queen?’ said Bidwell the forger. ‘It’d be no bother to run one off the press. Easy as pie, actually.’
‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Moriarty. ‘The fact is, killing these pieces of garbage was only a means of ridding ourselves of the four people in Londen who cause each of us the most trouble.’
‘But if zey are not going to kill themselves, vot are we going to do wiz zem?’ demanded Klopp.
‘Simple,’ said Moriarty. ‘We’ll leave them in the capable hands of Agatha Christie.’
I glanced at Holmes and saw his face darken. This was something he hadn’t expected.
Moriarty pulled out a half hunter and glanced at it. ‘By my calculations, she will at this very moment be making the trip across to the island in a paddle steamer accompanied by her faithful maid, Maudie.’
Klopp’s face brightened. ‘Ah, Maudie. I vonder if she still does a bit of nursing on ze side.’ She cackled fiercely.
I looked at Holmes. ‘Nursing?’
Holmes gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Maudie. Also known as Mathilda. Mathilda Ratched, in fact, formerly of The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed, where I spent a little time during a previous adventure.’
‘Yes,’ said Moriarty. ‘I believe she had a few difficulties finding work after your, ahm, meddling. I further believe she would like to settle your hash, if that’s the correct expression?’
‘Yes, Professor,’ said Holmes. ‘It is.’
‘Zen,’ said Klopp, ‘zer is only one more zing to zay.’ She looked at Moriarty.
The master villain smiled, and said, ‘Mwah, hah, hah!’