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Monthly Archives: March 2020

Into the Crypt


Diary of Doctor Watson

Finding Madelaine’s room empty, Holmes and I stood for a moment in the semi-darkness, pondering what to do.

“I do hope Roddy isn’t lying in bed with his sister’s body next to him,” said Holmes, rubbing his chin.

Considering this idea, I said, “He’ll be feeling a terrible sense of loss, and people can react unpredictably to the death of a loved one. But in my professional opinion, I’d have to say he’d be off his chump to sleep next to a corpse.”

Glancing back along the passage I thought it unlikely Roderick had walked past our bedrooms, as we could not have failed to hear his distinctive heavy tread. Recalling the distant creaking noises from earlier, I wondered if he’d carried her downstairs.

“Perhaps he carried her downstairs,” I said.

Holmes rubbed his chin again. “That would seem logical. Tell me, Watson, d’you recall our initial approach to the house?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Did you happen to notice a structure to the left of the main building?”

“A sort of bandstand, you mean?”

Holmes gave me a sardonic smile. “I hardly think Roderick Usher would erect a bandstand in his back garden. No, I suspect we shall find it is the family mausoleum. In which case…”

“Of course. He’s going to lay her to rest.”

“Precisely.”

Hurrying downstairs, I darted into the library, picked up my Gladstone bag and lit one of the candelabras, before joining Holmes and emerging through the great front door into the cool of the night. Blinking in the darkness, I scurried after Holmes as he raced along the gravel path in his velveteen slippers. As we reached the gable end of the main house, I perceived the ghostly structure of the mausoleum ahead of us. In the pale moonlight, it had the appearance of a gigantic skull, with vast granite pillars holding up the roof section like enormous rotting teeth. In the centre, stood a low doorway, bordered by evil-looking ghoulish faces.

“It’s awfully spooky, Holmes,” I muttered, holding the candelabra up to the door.

“Don’t be a girl, Watson,” he chided. “Stay close.”

Moving forwards, we pushed through the doorway into a narrow passage. Inside, the air smelled of damp and decay, with an underlying hint of rancid meat. In front of us another door stood half open and a dim light glowed beyond it.

Holmes charged through the door, pushing it wide, as we entered the main tomb.

Around the walls were several stone benches, each one bearing the decaying bones of some long-dead family member. Directly in front on us knelt the lone figure of Roderick Usher, head bent, his clasped hands resting on the dead breast of his sister.

Holmes coughed. “Now look here, Roddy…” he started.

Usher whirled round and strode towards us, a sight I’ll admit was a little comical, given that he was still on his knees. Mouth wide open and arms held out like a priest giving a sermon, he reminded me of a mad dwarf I’d once encountered in a circus. On that occasion, I’d had the good sense to kick the crazed small person in the head. This, clearly, was a different situation altogether, though the wild look in Usher’s eyes did little to assuage my concerns.

“She’s dead, Holmes!” he wailed. “She’s deeeaaaad…”

“Yes, I know, old bean,” said Holmes patting his friend on the head. “She’s gone to a better place.”

Usher stopped wailing and gazed up at him. “A better place? A better fucking place! Are you out of your mind!?”

Nudging my companion, I nodded to him to hold the candelabra. Then, dipping a hand into my bag, fished out a syringe and a suitably calming solution. I hoped it might grant our distressed host a little much-needed relief.

“Here we are,” I said, taking his arm and pushing up the sleeve. “This should help…”

Usher watched wide-eyed as I slid the needle into him but made no attempt to prevent my ministrations.

After a moment, he sank to the floor and began to weep. I took the opportunity to slip past him and examine the corpse. Checking her pulse, I studied her pale, rather beautiful, face. Her lips still retained a reddish glow, as if she might spring up at any moment and yell, ‘Fooled you’. But of course, she did no such thing. Lifting each of her eyelids in turn, I saw the pupils were fixed and dilated, which strongly suggested she had most definitely passed on. Nevertheless, there was a strange sheen to her skin, as if life did indeed linger in some strange, sheeny skin type way.

Standing, I caught my companion’s eye and gave a quick nod.

Hauling Usher to his feet, Holmes gently intimated we return to the house. Usher allowed us to lead him out of that ghoulish place and back through into the library where we sat with him for an hour or so until he fell into a fitful sleep. Covering him with a blanket, we finally left him to his slumbers and set off to our own rooms.

“Rum do,” muttered Holmes, as we trudged up the stairs.

“Well,” I said, “At least we can be fairly certain she’s definitely dead.”

Holmes grabbed my arm, pulling me to a stop. “What d’you mean, fairly certain?”

I sighed and explained about the strange quality of the dead woman’s skin.

“For a medical man, Watson, sometimes you can be awfully obtuse.”

“I’m only saying what I think.”

Holmes let out a long breath. “Well, all I can say is I hope the silly bitch doesn’t come back to life. The last thing we need is a bloody zombie on our hands.”

He marched off up the stairs, leaving me to wonder why I had the awful feeling he wasn’t joking.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Detective Inspector Calls


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)
Batley Cottage, Skipton

Having now spent two nights in what I can only describe as the dullest residence I’ve ever had the misfortune to inhabit, my desire to escape grows by the hour. Though Aunt Bob complains bitterly about her aches and pains, her general health has clearly improved, and I now suspect she summoned me here simply to have someone to run around after her. Only this morning, she demanded I read aloud from a book on herbal remedies of the East Indies.

“It is quite unbearable, my dear Mary,” she muttered, as I began the third chapter of the aforementioned tedious tome, “that I should spend my dotage unaccompanied.”

“Well,” I said, “if you hadn’t thrown Uncle Jeremy out of the house, you wouldn’t be unaccompanied.”

She slapped a hand on the side of the chair. “He was rogering that tart from the butcher’s on an almost daily basis.”

“No, Aunt,” I repeated for the umpteenth time, “the lady from the butcher’s is even older than you and has a wooden leg and a hair lip. I doubt she’s capable of any kind of…intimate…activity. And I’m certain Uncle Jeremy wouldn’t be unfaithful.”

“He might have been…” She pursed her lips and adopted the pained expression I’ve come to look upon as her ‘normal’ face.

I leaned forwards and patted her knee. “Why don’t I pop along to the hotel where he’s staying and tell him you’d like him to come back?”

She sniffed derisively, but I could tell she was coming around to the idea.

At that point, the maid appeared—a dull-witted girl with a penchant for snivelling.

“Beg pardon, ma’am,” she said, “but a gen’leman’s at the door an’ wantin’ to see you.”

“Oh, I can’t be bothered with visitors,” moaned Aunt Bob.

“Oh, sorry, ma’am, I was meanin’ Missus Watson, ‘ere.”

“Me?” said I, perking up. “Who is it?”

The girl handed me a white card. One glance at it brought a smile to my lips. This might be the excuse I’d been looking for.

“Send him in, Florence.”

A moment later, a ferret-faced little man in a raincoat popped his head around the door.

“Mornin’ Mrs Watson,” he said tipping his hat.

“Inspector Lestrade,” I murmured shaking his hand. “How lovely to see you.”

The policeman reddened at this unexpected compliment and seated himself on a pouffe in the corner. He glanced at Aunt Bob.

“Ahm, this is my Aunt Roberta,” I said.

“A police inspector, eh?” said the old woman. “What trouble has that fool of a husband got you into now, dear?”

“For your information, Aunt, my husband is not a fool and he does not get me into trouble.” I grinned at Lestrade and added, “though we’ve had some rare adventures together.”

Aunt Bob prattled on for a few minutes more, then excused herself and stomped off upstairs.

Is there trouble?” I said, when she’d gone.

“Well, it’s ‘ard ter say, really,” he began. “It might be nuffin, but I thought I’d better check it out wiv you anyway.”

He sat there for a moment, turning his hat over and over in his hands, until eventually he seemed to come to a decision. “Fing is, I knew that ‘olmes and your ‘usband had gorn over ter that place near Carlisle.”

“Clovenhoof? Yes, that’s right. To see that Mr Usher and his poorly sister.”

“That’s the one. Well, it’s a few years back now, but when Mr ‘olmes told me this feller’s name, it sort of rang a bell, l but I didn’t recall why until this mornin’.”

“You’ve had dealings with Mr Usher before, then?”

“Not exactly, no.” He chewed his lip, then said, “It were all to do wiv a black cat that this bloke owned. I don’t remember all the details, but it ended up with ‘im tryin’ to kill the cat wiv an axe, but accidentally killin’ his wife instead.”

“Oh, I say. That sounds a bit grim. And you think this chap and Mr Usher might be the same person?”

Lestrade shook his head. “All I know is that this bloke wiv the cat and this Usher feller was in business together.”

I thought about this for a moment. “It’s entirely possible, then, that Usher knows nothing about this alleged murder.”

He sniffed and wiped a sleeve across his face. “Like I say, it’s probably nuffin ter worry about, and I woudn’t ‘ave bovvered you wiv it, if it weren’t for what ‘appened yesterday.”

“Which was?”

“I sent a telegram to your ‘usband and Mr ‘olmes, just to warn ‘em, like. But an hour later, I got a message back to say no messages of any kind can be delivered to the Usher ‘ouse.”

“How strange. Why not?”

“Seems that no-one in the area will go near the place. They say it’s ‘aunted and spooky fings ‘appen there.”

“What sort of spooky things?”

He shrugged. “Ghosts.”

“Can’t you go there yourself?”

“Well, I would, Mary, but my boss is sendin’ me to Blackpool to ‘elp out on the Bodies in the Baths mystery, so I can’t get away. Came up ‘ere on me day off in the ‘ope of persuadin’ you to go instead.”

“I see.” Sitting back, I couldn’t resist smiling to myself. Though Holmes would in all likelihood feel a bit put out at my turning up out of the blue, if there were a sinister side to this Usher fellow, I’d rather be with my husband.

“Have yer got the address?” said Lestrade.

“Yes, Johnny gave me it—I think he hoped I’d be able to find an excuse to join him at some point. Now, it seems I can.”

After Lestrade had gone, I went upstairs to give my aunt the good news. She wouldn’t be happy about me leaving, but I could already smell an adventure and I wasn’t going to miss it for the world.

Clovenhoof here I come.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Dead and Gone


Diary of Doctor Watson

Try as I might, Usher refused to allow me to examine his sister. With a face as pale as the moon, she lay there staring at the ceiling, unblinking green eyes wide and apparently lifeless. Holding onto the idea I’d seen her gliding up the stairs only moments earlier, I could not correlate that vision with the woman who now lay here before me.

“Perhaps I might…?” I murmured, holding out a small reflecting mirror I keep for such purposes.

Usher let out a mournful sigh but took the mirror and held it close to his sister’s lips.

Still entertaining a smidgen of doubt, I stepped forward, but could discern not the slightest mark upon the glass.

“My deepest sympathies,” I said, resting a hand on his shoulder.

He turned and looked up at me, his dark sunken eyes filled with tears. “Thank you, Doctor. Now, please leave me to grieve.”

Making my way back downstairs, I passed on the news to Holmes.

Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he said, “And you’re sure she is actually dead?”

I frowned. “You think he’s lying?”

Holmes smiled. “Roderick’s an odd cove. While I shouldn’t wish to imply he may be mistaken in his testimony, I’d be surprised if the dismal atmosphere in this house has not affected his judgment.”

Standing, he crossed the room and peered up the stairs, then came back into the room and closed the door. “I suppose you must do your duty?”

“Confirm her death, you mean?”

He nodded.

“Legally, yes. Though as it seems pretty obvious she’s dead, I hardly think I can insist.”

“No, of course not.” He brightened and patted my arm. “Still, there are ways and means, Watson.”

I sensed from his sly grin, that some scheme was in his mind, but as he would say nothing more on the matter, I picked up two candlesticks, blew out the remaining lamps and followed him upstairs. Moonlight from the high windows cast ghostly shadows across the floor, and the flickering light from the candles did little to assuage the feeling of unease in my stomach.

Located along the corridor in the opposite direction to where Madelaine’s body lay, and a few doors along from my companion’s billet, the ornamentation of my own room duplicated the outdated style I’d observed throughout the house. A fourposter bed took up much of the space with a few items of well-worn, dilapidated furniture filling the darkened corners. The fire in the grate had died to little more than an orangey afterglow and I stood for a few minutes warming my hands.

Though fatigued, I did not feel ready to retire, so, placing the candle on the mantelshelf, I settled down to update my diary. The occasional groan of floorboards or the creak of a distant door opening somewhere within the house, bothered me a little, but I soon resolved to my task and began scribbling away happily. Having passed almost half an hour in this manner, a gentle tap came at my door, causing me to sit up sharply. Crossing the room, I gave the doorknob a quick yank.

“Holmes,” I muttered. “Made me jump.”

The Great Detective stood there in his favourite pink striped pyjamas, his Meerschaum pipe clamped firmly between his teeth. Curling a finger at me, he whispered, “Quickly, Watson. No time to lose.”

“Where’re we going?”

Holding up a finger to silence me, he crept along the corridor towards the room where the dead woman lay.

Standing outside the door, we listened. No sound came from within and the various groans and creaks I’d heard earlier seemed to have ceased.

Holmes turned the handle and pushed open the door.

As before, the room lay in semi-darkness, with a single candle burning on the bedside cabinet.

But the bed was empty. The lady Madelaine had gone.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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