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Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Cook, the Model and Her Brother

Diary of Doctor Watson

Arriving back at the house, we gathered in the hall and stood for a moment, listening.
Holmes raised a finger. “Hark. I hear the sound of distant spoons.”

He set off towards the kitchen, with Mary and I hurrying along behind.

Pushing through the door at the end of the hall, we passed along a dark passage and thence into the kitchen itself.

The room had a low beamed ceiling with long windows that looked out across the mere at the back of the house (a bleak, stagnant pool surrounded by dead grasses and withered shrubs). Turning my attention back to the room, I observed a tall, messily-dressed wench with unkempt black hair and a sizeable rear end. Standing with her back to us, the woman slopped some sort of greasy stew into bowls. At our entrance, she wheeled round.

“Ooh, Monsieurs and Madame,” she said in a tense, high-pitched voice. “Ze master vill not vant you in ze kitchen. You must away wiz immediate effect, please.”

Holmes took a step forward and grasped the woman’s hair. Giving it a sharp tug, he wrenched it from her head, revealing her to be none other than Roderick Usher.

“Ooh, Monsieur!” he gasped, in the same shrill voice. “How dare you.”

“Stop this, Roddy,” said Holmes. “Stop it now. I don’t know what’s got into you, but I shan’t stand for it, d’you hear?”

“But I’m a lady,” said Usher, in a cracked voice. “A French lady.”

Holmes glances at me and muttered, “Sharp slap to the chops, Watson?”

I nodded and stepped back as Holmes swung his right arm and gave Usher a resounding whack across his left cheek.

“Ow…that hurt.” Usher rubbed his offended face but appeared to have otherwise regained his former composure.

“Take off those clothes,” said Holmes. “We’ll have lunch and then I suggest you go and have a lie down. Watson here will examine you and provide something to calm your nerves.”

I tugged my companion’s sleeve. “I think Mr Usher requires something a little more substantial than a calming tonic, Holmes.”

The Great Detective turned and glared at me. “And I think,” he said through clenched teeth, “a spell in bed will do our host the power of good.”

From his tone I appreciated his suggestion was not up for consideration. “Very well, if that’s what you think.”

Mary rose to the occasion and took over the serving of the meal. Sitting around the kitchen table, we ate the sloppy broth with hunks of dry bread, followed by a pot of tea. Usher said little during the meal, while Holmes chortled away about this and that, presumably with the intention of lightening the sombre mood.

Afterwards, Mary and I took Usher upstairs and put him to bed. Mary sat on a chair at the side, while I checked his temperature and so forth.

“Roderick,” said Mary, stroking his arm, “who did the cooking when your sister was…was here?”

Our patient blinked several times. “Mrs Fournier. A French cook. She er…left…a few weeks ago. Since then, Madeleine and I have taken turns.” He shrugged. “Not terribly successfully, as you’ve seen.”

Mary nodded. “So you were simply trying to recreate the normality of family life as it was when the cook worked here and your sister was alive?”

Usher nodded sadly.

Mary looked at me with a questioning smile.

“Yes,” said I. “Your sister’s death has been a shock, perhaps more than you have realised. I think Sherlock’s suggestion that you stay in bed a while, is sound. Nonetheless, I shan’t give you anything medicinal at the moment—I don’t want you completely out of things, as it were, as that might simply postpone the grieving process.”

Closing the curtains, we sat for a few minutes until he began to doze, then left him in peace and retired to our own room.

“What d’you think happened to the cook?” said Mary, as we lay on our bed, side by side, Mary’s hand massaging my nether regions.

“Usher is a bit of a handful, isn’t he? I can imagine he might’ve proved a little intense for a French cook. She likely got sick of it all and left.”

“You don’t think he killed her, then?”

I stared at her. “Killed? What on earth makes you say that, my dear?”

“He’s wearing her clothes.”

Once again, my darling wife had pointed out a fact that had stared me in my dull-witted face and I’d totally missed it. “Oh. Shit.”

A knock at our door gave me a start. Jumping up, I modified my attire and opened the door.

“Watsons,” said Holmes, striding into the room. “We may have a dead French cook on our hands.”

“Yes,” I said. “Mary came to the same conclusion just now.”

Holmes glanced at my wife and grunted. “Ah. Jolly good.”

“Think we should look for her body?” said Mary, sitting up on the bed.

Holmes nodded, rubbing his chin. “Is Usher asleep?”

“As good as,” I said.

“Then, yes. I shouldn’t wish him to think we’d taken the liberty of poking around the house without his knowledge.”

“You were happy enough poking around downstairs this morning,” I said, adopting one of his own sardonic grins.

“Don’t be a smartarse, Watson, it doesn’t suit you.” He sniffed and went out, then turning at the door, said, “Come on, then.”

Starting with Madelaine’s room, we checked under the bed, in the wardrobe and anywhere else that might conceal a large French woman. Finding nothing, we walked back along the passage, past our own room, Sherlock’s and Usher’s. Three more doors lay on this floor. Pushing open the first, I peeked inside.

“Linen cupboard,” I said, pulling the door shut.

The next door led into a large room that turned out to be some sort of artist’s studio, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the rear wall. A couple of easel’s stood in the centre of the room, with long workbenches on one wall. Various piles of drawing paper had been neatly stacked here and there, with pots of brushes, pencils and other artists materials in glass jars.

“An artist’s studio, d’you think?” said Holmes, examining a pile of pen and ink drawings.

“Some of these are rather good,” said Mary, holding up a drawing of a nude woman. “Madelaine, if I’m not mistaken.”

Holmes and I moved closer to study the image, its detailed illustration of the female genitalia leaving nothing to the imagination.

“Seen enough?” said Mary, giving me a punch in the kidney.

“Yes, yes,” I muttered. “He’s a talented artist.”

Holmes let out a groan. “For fuck’s sake, John, you don’t imagine Roderick Usher drew this, do you?”

“Well, I thought…”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Usher hasn’t an artistic bone in his body. No, this is the work of someone else. Someone who thought very highly of the model.”

“Could’ve been a self-portrait,” suggested Mary.

Holmes shook his head. “No, this is the work of some else. Someone who had a real connection to Madelaine. Someone who loved her.”

“You mean the French cook?” said I.

“I do, Watson, I do.” He gazed around the room, noting the other sketches of Madeleine pinned to the walls, many showing her in all her feminine glory. “Come along, Watsons. There’s a dead woman in this house somewhere and I’d like to find her before she starts to smell.”

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Dead or Alive


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Collecting a couple of candles from a table in the entrance hall, Holmes stalked off with some urgency. Leaving my bags at the front door, I followed him and Johnny outside and along the path towards the mausoleum. Johnny filled me in on recent events, emphasising the general weirdness of the place.

“And you suspect this Madelaine person may not be dead?” I said, hurrying to keep up.

“Well, she was definitely bereft of life when I examined her last night,” said my husband. Then, leaning towards me so Holmes couldn’t hear, added, “Sherlock thinks she might be a zombie.”

“I heard that, Watson,” barked Holmes, whirling round. “As a matter of fact, I said I hoped she wasn’t a zombie.”

“I’m fairly sure he’s kidding,” muttered Johnny, as the Great Detective strode away. “He’s been reading a lot of gothic horror novels, lately.”

Glancing back, I stared up at the house and wondered if I’d made an error of judgement in coming here. Then again, if there were such creatures as zombies on the loose (whether real or imagined), I didn’t want to miss anything.

At the gable end of the house, I spied what must be the mausoleum ahead of us. Built as if to resemble an enormous skull, I felt grateful we weren’t approaching the place in the middle of the night. Holmes took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit the candles, then pushed through the doorway into a dark passage. I let Johnny go ahead of me and grasped his hand, keen to stay close.

Inside, we crept over the cold ground between the stone benches that lined the walls, displaying the skeletons of (presumably) long-dead members of the Usher clan. I took in the dismal surroundings. The entire place reeked of death (hardly surprising) and I wondered why the family hadn’t simply buried their dead in the ground like normal folk.

In front of us stood a more elaborate stone slab, on top of which lay a body that, thankfully, still retained its flesh. This must be Madelaine, I thought, peeking over Johnny’s shoulder.

Leaning across the body, Johnny did his doctory thing—checking for pulse, signs of breathing and so on. After a few moments, he straightened up.

“She’s dead. No doubt about it.”

Holmes had walked around to the end of the slab. “If that’s true, Watson, how d’you explain this?” Pointing to the soles of the deceased woman’s bare feet, he added, “Mud.”

Johnny and I moved around so we could see. Sure enough, the pale flesh bore traces of brown earth.

Holmes extracted a pocketknife and opened up one of its blades. Scraping it along the sole of one of Madeleine’s extremities, he examined the resulting deposit closely.

“D’you recall soil on her bedroom floor, Watson?” he said, holding out the blade for us to see.

“Of course not,” said Johnny. “The only way she could’ve got that is if someone smeared it onto her feet.”

“Or,” said Holmes, with a frown, “if Madeleine herself rose up from this slab and walked out into the garden.”

“Really, Holmes,” muttered Johnny, “now you’re grasping at straws.”

A movement behind us gave me a start, and I turned to see a shadow blocking the doorway.

“What is the meaning of this?” boomed a deep and echoey voice.

“Ah,” said Holmes, immediately slipping into his ‘bonhomie’ voice. “Just showing Mrs Watson around the place. Hope you don’t mind?”

The man’s eyes swivelled towards me, as if noticing my presence for the first time.

“Oh. Mrs Watson?” Stepping into the room, he extended a hand and taking my fingers in his, kissed them lightly. “My sincerest apologies, my dear. If I had known you were coming…” He smiled. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

I doubted this were true but thanked him anyway.

“So as I was saying,” said Holmes, “this is the mausoleum where the late Miss Usher has been laid to rest.” He gazed upon the corpse, pressed a hand to his heart and let out a muffled sob that I’m sure would have delighted his theatrical friends at the Soho Theatre Club.

“Well,” said Usher, seeming to accept this explanation, “we’d better get back to the house. Cook has prepared an early luncheon.”

And with that he turned and went out.

I was about to say what a jolly good idea this was, when Holmes grabbed Johnny by the arm.

“Cook? What cook?”

Johnny shrugged. “Someone made dinner last night…”

Holmes shook his head. “No, John. Our meal last evening was little more than the creation of a single man with no imagination—the sort of common fare one gets when one is living alone.”

“But he doesn’t live alone,” said Johnny.

Holmes grimaced. “He does now.”

“Well,” said I, “why don’t we go and meet this imaginary cook?”

“Good idea,” said the big-nosed detective “Though unless I happen to be the male relative of a chimpanzee, I suspect the cook and myself have already met.”

Watching Holmes walk off, I tugged Johnny’s sleeve. “What does he mean?”

“Buggered if I know,” he said. And with that, we set off back to the house.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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