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Author Archives: colingarrow

About colingarrow

Indie author of murder, mystery and horror books. Short stories in: SN Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Flood, Word Bohemia, Every Day Fiction, The Grind...

Nursie in the Cellar

Diary of Doctor J. Watson

While Holmes and Lestrade set the bomb to blow off the front door, Mary and I went about finding Maudie Ratched. If she were indeed in the building, we wouldn’t have time to search everywhere. As a starting point, we ran back to the kitchens and discovered the staff we’d met earlier had all gone.

‘Maybe they were Blackwood’s men,’ suggested Mary.

‘Perhaps, but then why did that waiter help us?’

Mary gave me a look. ‘Right—he helped us waste valuable minutes when we should’ve been searching for Blackwood.’

‘Ah. So he did.’

We did a quick assessment of the built-in gas freezer and larder, then hurried back into the main corridor.

‘There must be a cellar here,’ I said. ‘That’d be the obvious place to hide Ratched.’

Taking the stairs two at a time, we made our way through the downstairs lounge bars and library, but there were no obvious hiding places. Heading to the rear of the building, we found steps leading to the cellar. I pushed open the door.

‘There’s a light down here.’

‘Could be a trap,’ said Mary.

‘Let’s find out.’

The steps led into the wine cellar, where row upon row of vintage wines and champagnes filled every available space. It seemed a shame to leave them all to be blown to Hell, but I pushed the idea out of my head. Besides, I’d only be able to fit one bottle in each of my jacket pockets.

At the end of one of the wine racks, the room turned into an L-shape and the source of light became obvious.

Maudie Ratched lay strapped onto a workbench, stark naked and with a pair of hurricane lamps placed at either side of her head. A bandage encased her right wrist, while her upper body showed signs of having been badly beaten. Despite all her nastiness, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the poor villain.

‘Doctor Watson,’ she sobbed, tears coursing down the sides of her face and into her ears. ‘You’ve come to save me.’

I coughed at the sight of her womanhood—on show for all the world to see. Or at least, me and Mary. ‘Actually, Maudie, we’re here for the antidote.’

She let out a howling laugh. ‘Of course. I should have known my life would be meaningless to you.’

‘All life is precious, Miss Ratched,’ I said, my doctor’s sensibilities rising to the fore. ‘Now, am I right in thinking the antidote is hidden up your…ahm…’

‘Up my front bottom. Yes.’

I noticed a sink nearby and began to wash my hands.

‘Johnny,’ said Mary. ‘I don’t think we have time for the niceties of your bedside manner.’

‘Just habit, dear,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you do something about those straps?’

As Mary began to unfasten Maudie’s bonds, I began my internal investigation. Though this sort of procedure would not normally affect me, I found myself becoming strangely aroused. Forcing myself to think of good wholesome things like cricket, Wedgewood pottery and summer meadows, I felt heartened when my unwanted stiffy began to subside. When my fingers came into contact with the base of a small glass bottle, I gave it a gentle tug. Extracting the object from Ratched’s orifice, I felt my face flush scarlet as the object provoked a loud slurp.

Giving the bottle a wipe, I cast my eyes over the label:

H. Blackwood’s All-healing Antidote

For use by Dr J. Watson

(Should he be clever enough to find it).

Mary unfastened the last of the straps holding the prisoner to the bench and located a dusty bedsheet to wrap around her.

As we reached the foot of the stone steps, I heard a loud boom followed by the kind of rumblings I’d become all too familiar with in Afghanistan. Holmes had succeeded in blowing off the front doors. At least we’d be able to escape.

Glancing at my pocket watch, I said, ‘Only a few minutes left. Mary, you take Ratched outside, I’ll get to work with the antidote.’

Mary grabbed my arms and pulled me to her bosom. ‘I don’t care about those old fogies, Johnny. Save Mycroft and the ambassadors, but please don’t get yourself killed.’

I nodded, feeling jolly uncertain about what I had to do.

While Mary and Ratched made their escape, I ran up the stairs to the dining room and crossed to where Mycroft still sat, staring ahead like a stuffed antelope.

Unscrewing the dropper from the bottle, I pulled Mycroft’s head back and dripped four drops into his mouth. By the time I’d done the same with the ambassadors, Mycroft had jumped to his feet.

‘Where’s Sherlock? Did he catch Blackwood? Has he located the bombs and diffused them?’

‘Don’t know, no, and no.’ I moved to the next table and continued my anti-poisoning schedule.

While Mycroft led the ambassadors out of the room, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of irritation that I’d been left to save the lives of approximately forty strangers while the Holmes boys were saving themselves. But that wasn’t fair. After all, Holmes had rescued Mary and me.

Glancing at my watch again, I noted I had perhaps seven minutes before the bombs were due to go off. A quick look at the remaining diners told me there wouldn’t be enough time to get to them all. Dripping the antidote into the mouths of three more grizzled old men, I helped them to their feet and led them to the newly-formed exit at the front of the Club.

Outside, the street lay strewn with debris from the explosion. Holmes and Mary were on the opposite pavement talking to Mycroft.

‘I’ve done as much as I can,’ I muttered, handing the antidote to Sherlock.

He nodded, his face pale and tired. ‘Thank you, John. You’re a brick.’

‘Don’t call me a prick, you tart,’ I quipped, prompting laughter all round.

But the seriousness of the situation soon regained its hold as a thunderous blast shook the ground. We all turned to watch as the shuttered windows of the Diogenes Club blew outwards and the walls began to crumble downwards, clouds of filthy dust filling the air.

As the dust began to clear, I saw crowds of onlookers at either end of the street, several police constables straining to hold them back.

‘Where’s Lestrade?’

‘He and that doorman chappie went to Scotland Yard,’ said Holmes. ‘Though even if he got there in time to evacuate the building, he wouldn’t be able to save anyone who ate the soup.’

‘Now look here, Sherlock,’ said Mary, poking his chest. ‘We’ve all done our damnedest to stop Blackwood. If even a fraction of his intended victims has survived that’s one up to us.’

‘You’re right, Mary,’ said Holmes. ‘Which reminds me, we have an appointment with Lord Blackwood.’ He glanced at his pocket watch. ‘He’ll be at his country residence by now with his collection of bent politicians. God knows what he’ll be telling them.’

‘Where is this country residence?’ said Mary.

‘Tossingly Park House. About ten miles from here.’

‘Then there’s no time to lose.’

‘I think you’d better stay here with Mycroft, Mary,’ said Holmes.

‘Don’t be a twat, Sherlock. I’m not missing this for anything.’

Holmes grinned and the three of us ran off, leaving Ratched in the care of Mycroft and a brace of constables.

Whatever Blackwood had in mind, I had no idea if we’d be able to stop him. Indeed, his villainous plan might already be in motion, in which case we might simply be giving him another opportunity to finish us off for good.

Commandeering a police carriage, Holmes whipped the horse into action, and we set off for what might be our last attempt to prevent the whole of Londen falling into the hands of a criminal mastermind.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Big Bangs at the Club

Statement of Robert Clackett

(Former employee of the Diogenes Club)

I make this statement at the request of Sherlock Holmes and his associate Doctor John Watson in connection with an incident at the Diogenes Club on Monday last.

Having met Messrs Holmes and Watson and two other individuals as they entered the Club, I continued with my usual duties for about another half hour. At that point, I became aware of two gentlemen approaching me. As they were not familiar, I stepped forwards to prevent entry until I’d had the opportunity to examine their credentials. However, before I could do so, one of the gentlemen hit me over the head with what I suspect to be a wooden mallet.

The next thing I recall is waking up on the ground with a large cut to the back of my head and a headache like I’ve never before experienced.

Getting to my feet, I heard a knocking sound coming from inside the Club and realised someone must be banging on the doors. That’s when I noticed several planks of wood had been nailed across the double doors and a heavy chain looped around the handles.

When the knocking stopped, I heard a voice.

‘Clackett? Are you there?’

I recognised the voice immediately as Mr Sherlock Holmes, the aforementioned famous detective.

‘Yes, sir,’ said I. ‘How can I help you this evening?’ (I realise now this was a particularly stupid response, but I did have a very sore head at the time.)

‘Clackett,’ continued Mr Holmes. ‘I am placing a large explosive device at the door. I suggest you withdraw to the pavement and prevent anyone else from approaching.’

I called out my agreement and hurried down the steps to the road. A few moments later, I found myself sailing through the air as if a terrific wind had erupted from nowhere.

When the dust cleared, I perceived that the doors to the Club had gone, replaced by a hole several times larger than the space formerly occupied by the said doors.

A man I now know as Inspector Lestrade, hurried out into the street and helped me up.

‘Can you stand, Clackett?’ he said.

‘I can, sir.’

‘Then I want yer to come wiv me ter Scotland Yard.’

‘But inspector, I can’t leave my post—non-members might gain entry to the Club.’

The inspector placed a hand on my shoulder. ‘This may come as a shock to you, but in a few minutes the Diogenes Club will be blown ter fuck. Now. Are you wiv me?’

I nodded and we pushed through the gathering crowds along Pall Mall and found a cab. Racing across The Mall, the Hackney veered left into Horse Guards Parade, under the arch, and out onto Whitehall where we careened left again followed by a sharp right into Whitehall Place.

Lestrade shouted at me to pay the cabbie while he ran up the steps.

A minute later, I found him shouting at two constables in the lobby. The pair looked a little suspicious until the detective flashed his warrant card.

‘I ain’t gonner tell yous again, lads—we ‘ave ter evacuate the building right now, cos there’s a fuckin bomb an it’s gonner blow this place sky bloody high.’

‘But there ain’t no-one ‘ere, Inspector,’ said one, waving his arms as if to demonstrate the lack of police officers.

‘What d’yer mean, there ain’t no-one ‘ere?’

‘It’s a bank ‘oliday, sir. There’s only a skeleton crew here tonight. An anyway, we got an offer of soup and stovies from that wee Scots lassie that runs the soup kitchen round the corner. Since Commissioner Gordon sent round that notice sayin we weren’t ter consume food on the premises, the lads that were on duty ‘ave gone round there.’

The inspector let out a long sigh and I saw the tension of the situation drop from his face like suet pudding hitting the floor.

‘Right,’ said he. ‘You two go outside and make sure no-one gets back in here.’

‘Oughtn’t we ter try an find this ‘ere bomb, Inspector?’

‘No time. Outside, now.’

No sooner had we crossed the threshold than that (by now familiar) terrific wind erupted again and all four of us flew up into the air. We landed in a heap of arms and legs back in the Hackney cab we’d just got out of.

After we’d picked ourselves up and examined our various injuries, the inspector sent the two coppers off to check on their colleagues and warned them to arrest whoever had made the soup. Just as they ran off, he called them back.

‘Just so yer know, yer colleagues might be dead. If they are, well…just do what yer can.’

The pair hurried away. Then the inspector told me to go home and come back in a few days to make a statement.

‘Where will I come back to, sir?’ I said, gazing at the ruins of the police headquarters.

He rubbed his chin. ‘Good point. Leave me your address and I’ll come to you.’

As I walked away, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all, I saw the inspector gazing up at the great mounds of rubble that a few seconds earlier had been Scotland Yard.

I’d only got as far as Trafalgar Square when an almighty explosion shook the very street I walked upon.

That’d be the Diogenes Club, then, I thought to myself.

Bugger.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Bombs in the Bathroom

Diary of Doctor J. Watson

No amount of pulling and twisting did any good—the ropes were too tight and our balancing act on top of the bomb too precarious. Anything other than small movements might trigger the mechanism and blow us to smithereens.

‘Don’t worry, darling,’ I said. ‘Holmes will find us.’

‘Before or after the bomb goes off?’

I told myself to stay positive and tried a different tack. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have one of those clever little devices about your person?’

‘Which clever little devices?’

‘You know—like your wind-up lamp, or that vibrating thing you had on the SS Mangochutney.’

‘Even if I did have that ‘vibrating thing’, I’d have to remove my French knickers to get at it.’

‘Oh. Of course.’

We fell silent for a moment. Then, realising the end must be near, and with a trembling lip, I murmured, ‘Mary, I want you to know that you have been the best part of my life. You’ve brought me companionship, unexpected joy, thrilling escapades, and laughter. Not to mention undreamed of carnal adventures of such intensity—’

‘Will you shut up a minute?’

‘What?’

‘Quiet. There’s someone outside.’

I listened. Something squeaked. For a moment I thought it must be the toilet seat, then I recalled a similar sound when I’d pushed open the bathroom door only a few short minutes earlier.

‘Who’s there?’

‘For God’s sake, Watson. You’ve not got the squirts again, have you?’

‘Holmes!’ I cried. ‘We’re in here but don’t open the door. There’s a bomb.’

I heard muttering, a few thumps and a minute later Sherlock’s head appeared over the top of the cubicle.

‘One thing we can say for the Watsons—they never do anything by halves.’ His beady eyes took in our situation, and he barked instructions to Lestrade.

‘D’you know about the bombs in the dining room?’ said Mary.

‘I do,’ said Holmes.

‘I expect Mycroft’s panicking, is he?’

Holmes coughed. ‘He would be if he could talk.’ In typical Holmesian pragmatism, he outlined the events of the last few minutes. As he finished, Lestrade returned.

‘I got scissors, a knife and a tin-opener.’

I heard Holmes clamber down from on top of the toilet and a moment later the big-nosed detective’s face appeared under our cubicle door. Twisting himself round, he managed to get one arm under the door and stretched upwards until able to position the scissors next to the wire.

‘You do know that cutting it might trigger the bomb, Holmes?’ I said.

‘I do, Johnny. So, let’s hope it doesn’t.’

I closed my eyes and heard a metallic snip. Holding my breath, I opened my eyes and looked down. The wire had been cut and we were still alive.

Using various other kitchen utensils, Holmes and Lestrade cut through the ropes holding Mary and I together, then lifted us bodily, one by one, away from the bomb and into the relative safety of the washroom.

‘How long have we got left?’ said Mary.

‘Not long enough,’ said Holmes. ‘The external doors and windows are locked and shuttered. I suggest we use this explosive device to fashion an exit.’

‘You what?’ said I.

‘We need to blow the bloody doors off.’

‘What about the antidote?’ said Lestrade.

Holmes rubbed his chin. ‘Hmm. Given the occupations of our dining room friends, I did consider leaving them to their fate, but even Mycroft doesn’t deserve that. Besides, we don’t really want to start a war between America and Russia, which is exactly what would happen if the ambassadors were killed.’

Lestrade shook his head. ‘I don’t see ‘ow we can ‘ope to find a bottle of antidote in a place this size. It just ain’t possible.’

‘For once Lestrade, you’re absolutely right.’ He turned to Mary. ‘Where would you hide such a bottle, Mrs Watson?’

Mary frowned. ‘Why are you asking me?’

‘Because, Mary, I seem to remember a certain incident on a certain steam ship where you extracted a small device from a certain part of your anatomy.’

‘We were just talking about that,’ said I. ‘She’d shoved it up her—’

The slap echoed around the small room. ‘What the hell was that for?’ I whined, rubbing my offended features.

Mary glared at me. To Holmes, she said, ‘You’re right. I kept if up my vagina, but as I’m not in league with Lord Henry Blackwood, I can assure you that—’

‘Yes, yes, I know, Mary. I’m simply suggesting that a woman in the employ of Blackwood, should she fall foul of him, might, as punishment, serve as a receptacle for such a hiding place.’

I looked at Mary, who inclined her head in a way that suggested she already knew the answer.

‘Of course,’ I muttered. ‘Ratched.’

‘Ang on,’ said Lestrade. ‘Why would Blackwood punish Maudie?’

‘Tell him, Mary,’ said Holmes.

‘Because, Inspector, I broke her wrist. Blackwood might easily see that as a betrayal—don’t forget, she wasn’t his woman, but Moran’s and as Moran doesn’t exist…’

Holmes glanced at his watch. ‘We have to find her. And we have only fifteen minutes before the bombs go off.’

As we raced along the corridor, I wondered what would be worse—being blown to bits or having to give Maudie Ratched an internal examination.

Either way, it wouldn’t be pleasant.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Blackwood to the Stage

Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

Having searched the guest bedroom and a couple of nearby closets, Holmes and I decided to go back to the dining room.

Back at our table, we found the Watsons had not returned.

‘How long have they been gone?’ said Holmes to his brother.

Mycroft checked his Half Hunter. ‘It’s just after seven, so almost fifteen minutes. Hadn’t you better go and look for them?’

Holmes started to rise from his seat, then sat down again. I followed his gaze to the far end of the room where a woman had stepped onto the stage. Standing at the lectern, she stared at the audience.

‘It’s Klopp,’ muttered Holmes.

While she waited for the diners to fall silent, I picked up my spoon and was about to start on the pea soup when Holmes touched my hand. His eyes went from mine to the soup bowl and back again.

‘Don’t.’

I looked at Mycroft and the two ambassadors, who had all finished their soups. With my stomach grumbling, I was about to complain that I hadn’t eaten for hours, when Professor Klopp began to speak.

‘Gentlemen and gentlemen, I vould like to zank you all for coming here tonight to hear my thoughts about bringing economic equality to ze world. Unfortunately, zer vould be no point in telling you zat, because by eight o’clock tonight you vill all be dead.’

A murmur of disapproval ran around the room, but rather unexpectedly, no-one stood up to protest. I glanced at Holmes whose beady eyes were scanning the other diners. When I looked at Mycroft and the ambassadors, I saw they were all sitting very still, with only their eyes moving.

‘What’s happenin, Holmes?’ I whispered.

‘It’s the soup. They’ve all eaten it. Probably laced with a formula taken from that damned book of Ravenscroft’s, or perhaps a substance similar to the one Blackwood used to murder his father.’ He leaned over and poked Mycroft in the chest. Mycroft’s eyes widened but he did not move.

‘They’re bloody paralysed.’

‘But still able to hear,’ said Holmes.

‘Yes, Mr Holmes,’ said Lord Henry Blackwood, who had now arrived on the stage, a tall black hat and long cape giving him the appearance of some sort of posh wizard. ‘In fact, you and the inspector are the only individuals still able to move. Unfortunately, you are also unable to escape, as all the doors and shutters have been locked from the outside. Your friends Mr and Mrs Watson are,’ he laughed, ‘also unavoidably detained. Anyway, on with the show. I’d like to welcome the American and Russian ambassadors, gentlemen of the British government and various other industrialists and businessmen. You were all invited here in the belief that you would hear something to your advantage. Sadly, that is not the case. As you will have guessed by now, you have all been poisoned. Our good friend, the world’s first and only consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, assisted me in locating a certain ancient book of spells. It is this book that has allowed me to develop a poison that would take effect approximately 30 minutes after imbibing it. However, the bombs we have planted above your heads will ensure that anyone who does not succumb, will be blown up.’

Holmes jumped to his feet. ‘You won’t get away with this, you fiend.’

‘Ah, Sherlock. Your rather stupid friend, Doctor Watson, said something along the same lines. Alas, he and his good lady are currently tied up in the company of one of my explosive devices and therefore won’t be with us for the rest of their lives. But I would not wish to kill everyone here without giving you, Sherlock, a small chance to save a few individuals, so I have hidden in this building, somewhere, a bottle of antidote. If you can locate it and give three or four drops to anyone still alive, you can save them. Of course, you still risk being blown to hell when the bombs go off, but you can’t have it all ways.’

‘Even if you kill us all,’ said Holmes, ‘you’ll still have half the government and the whole of the Metropolitan Police Force to contend with.’

Blackwood grinned. ‘The Government, yes, but not the dreaded fuzz. My men have also placed bombs at Scotland Yard and have utilised the services of a local soup kitchen to provide my special soup to any officers wishing to partake. So, you see, one way or the other, most of my current enemies will be dead by this time tomorrow.’

‘You’ve forgotten one thing, Blackwood,’ said Holmes. ‘You’re still here.’

‘For the moment, yes, but I have arranged an escape route for myself and my team.’ He glanced at his pocket watch. ‘In half an hour, I shall be dining at my country estate in the company of several elder politicians who share my beliefs on the future of Londen. Which gives me what I believe the gentlemen of the law would call a water-tight alibi.’

With that, he grabbed Klopp’s hand and hurried offstage.

‘What the bleedin hell are we goin ter do now, Holmes?’ said I.

‘Find that bleedin antidote, that’s what.’ He pushed his chair back. ‘And save John and Mary, and find the bombs and…’ He sighed. ‘Or at least give it a bloody good go.’

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Flushed Away

Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The two doors on the right side of the hallway were marked Kitchen and Gentlemen. A quick glance up and down the passage highlighted nothing we might use to defend ourselves. Just then, a waiter emerged from the kitchen bearing a large silver tray, three dinner plates and an assortment of cutlery.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, pointing my blank-filled revolver at him. ‘Is there anyone in the kitchen who isn’t familiar to you?’

The man blinked several times. ‘No, sir.’ He paused. ‘Apart from the new sous chef.’

‘Take us to him. Now.’

The waiter laid his tray on a side table and led us into the kitchen. The whole place rang with the clatter of knives on chopping boards and shouts of ‘Two soups, chef’ and ‘Deep fried swan for table six’. A few faces turned to look at us and I kept my revolver hidden so as not to alarm anyone. 

The waiter led us past a row of iron stoves bearing steaming pots, sizzling joints, and simmering vegetables. He came to a halt beside a young man in a toque engaged in berating another worker for some cooking-related blunder. The chef looked up as we approached.

‘What is it now?’

Yanking off the man’s hat, I pulled his hair while Mary ran her fingers around his face.

‘What the hell?’

‘Sorry, thought you might be in disguise,’ I said, replacing his hat.

‘Would you like to meet all the other members of staff, sir?’ said the waiter.

‘No, that’s fine, thanks.’

‘But aren’t you the famous Doctor Watson? The Doctor Watson who helps Sherlock Holmes solve all those mysterious murders?’

‘Well, sometimes,’ I muttered, glancing at Mary.

‘Then, I’m sure everyone would love to say hello to y—’

‘Come on, Johnny,’ said Mary, tugging my sleeve. ‘We’re wasting time.’

I thanked the waiter, and we retraced our steps into the hallway.

As the door swung shut behind us, I let out a breath. ‘One down.’

The waiter’s tray still lay on the table where he’d left it, so I removed two of the forks and gave one to Mary. ‘Not much, but marginally better than an unloaded gun.’

Taking care, we entered the gentlemen’s toilets, creeping across the shiny white tiles towards the inner door. Pushing it open, the hinges squeaked. Pausing, I listened. When no further sound arose, I pushed the door wider and peeked inside. Six sinks, six cubicles and one moustachioed attendant holding a tray of small hand towels.

He opened his mouth to speak, but I silenced him with a finger to my lips and a harsh look. The man’s eyes widened but he said nothing. Pointing at one of the two occupied cubicles, I mouthed, ‘Who’s in there?’ to which he mouthed back, ‘The Earl of Cardigan’.

I nodded, and pointed to the second cubicle, mouthing the same question.

This time, the attended shrugged and shook his head.

Signalling to Mary to wash her hands and thus create enough noise to cover my movements, I dropped to the floor and peered underneath the unknown cubicle. What I saw were a pair of high-heeled laced boots. Not the sort of thing a chap would be seen dead in, but exactly the sort of thing Professor Helga Klopp would choose.

As I lay there staring at the boots, it occurred to me that if a woman occupied the cubicle, the attendant must surely have noticed. Unless…

‘Johnny?’ Mary’s voice had an edge to it.

Getting to my feet, I turned and found myself staring at the wrong end of a pepper-box revolver—a multiple-barrel firearm, easily concealed in an average-size coat pocket.

The attendant, having discarded the (obviously) false moustache, uttered a harsh laugh. ‘I never cease to be amazed at how stupid you are, Doctor. Even Holmes acknowledges Mary Watson as the clever one.’

‘You fiend,’ I muttered. ‘You won’t get away with this.’

‘I beg to differ,’ said Blackwood, crossing to the nearest of the occupied cubicles. Unlocking the door, he pushed it open, revealing two henchmen standing on top of the toilet holding the legs of a third man, who had now begun to climb down from the hole in the roof space.

Before I could say anything, the other cubicle opened and Helga Klopp emerged, clutching a strange-looking device. Consisting of several sticks of gelignite, lots of wires and some sort of timing mechanism, it didn’t take a genius to understand its deadly purpose.

‘It’s a bomb,’ I said.

‘Ah,’ said Klopp, giving me her familiar villainous smile. ‘Vonce again you dizappoint me, Johnny. Stating ze bloody obvious.’

‘You won’t get away with this.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Blackwood, ‘we’ve done that bit. How about we get on with what you two nitwits are going to do now?’

‘Well,’ I said, stalling for time. ‘Since you clearly intend to blow us all to smithereens, why don’t you outline your fiendish plan?’

‘Oh, you’d love that, wouldn’t you, Watson? Give the arch-villain a chance to embark on a monologue, bragging about his exploits, therefore wasting time while your colleagues come to your rescue. No, I don’t think so.’

I glanced at Mary and noticed her hands were still wet. ‘Then at least allow my wife to dry her hands.’

Blackwood nodded and indicated the tray of hand towels. Mary took one and carefully wiped her fingers, one by one, keeping the towel close to her jacket pocket. As she handed the towel back, I glimpsed the fork in her right hand a second before she lunged at the villain’s unguarded stomach.

But Blackwood stepped aside, deftly avoiding the fork and grabbing Mary’s wrist. ‘Now, now, Mary.’

He threw the fork away and held out a hand to me. ‘And yours, Doctor.’

I sniffed and handed over my fork.

‘Now,’ said Blackwood. ‘As you noticed, we have a bomb. In fact, this is one of several, the others having been distributed above the roof of the dining room. I had intended this one to be placed on the stage as part of my presentation, but as you so rudely interrupted our arrangements, and given that I cannot allow you to disrupt my plans any further…’

He signalled to the thugs to tie us up and a moment later we were bound up in one of the cubicles, our feet balanced on top of the bomb which itself stood on top of the toilet seat. A loop around our necks led to a hook on the wall above me. Any but the smallest of movements would unbalance us, prompting a combined version of the Tyburn Jig. And if that didn’t kill us, the bomb definitely would.

Klopp adjusted the timing mechanism and leaned over to give my nether regions a squeeze. ‘Ah, Johnny—ve could hav made zuch beautiful muzic togezer.’

Before closing the cubicle door, Blackwood took a piece of wire attached to the bomb and wound it carefully around the handle of the door. ‘In the unlikely event some foolhardy detective attempts a rescue, a tug on this will trigger the timer.’ He smiled his most evil smile. ‘Sadly, you two won’t be able to witness my performance in the dining room, but you can at least take pleasure in the knowledge that, one way or another, you’re going to be well and truly fucked. Mwah, hah, hah.’

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Dinner and Death at the Club

The Journal of Sherlock Holmes Esq.

Inspector Lestrade flashed his warrant card at a passing Hackney and pressured the cabbie into taking us to the Diogenes Club. Spurred on by the promise of a mention in The Police Gazette, the man completed the journey in less than five minutes.

‘What are we going to do when we get inside?’ said Mary, as I assisted her onto the pavement.

‘Haven’t the foggiest,’ I said. We ran up the steps to the front doors, where the doorman seemed about to bar our way. On recognising my distinguished features, he grinned.

‘Evening, Mr Holmes. Will you be joining your brother for dinner?’

‘That’s right, Clacker.’

He blinked and muttered, ‘It’s Clackett, sir.’

‘Of course it is. Now, I suppose there won’t be any trouble signing in my friends, here?’

The doorman cast an eye at Mary as I pushed her through the doorway.

‘You do know ladies aren’t allowed in the Diogenes, don’t you, sir?’

I coughed. ‘Course I do, but as we are attempting to prevent a master criminal from taking over Londen, I’m sure you can make an exception.’

His eyes widened and he leaned closer. ‘Who is it, sir, Moriarty of Moran?’

‘Blackwood.’

‘Oh, fuck. He’s a proper bad ‘un, that one. Tell you what—I did a bit of time in Wormwood Scrubs before landing this job, so if you need a good bloke with a cosh, just tip me the wink.’

‘I’m obliged, Clackett, but I think we’ll need more than a cosh on this occasion.’

‘You’d better have this for the lady,’ he said, dipping a hand into his outer pocket.

Taking the necktie from him, I nodded my thanks and followed the others into the foyer. Lifting Mary’s collar, I fashioned a quick Half-Windsor knot. ‘Remember, talking isn’t allowed in the Club except in the dining room.’

Hurrying up the stairs, I wrote a note for the attendant that we were guests of Mycroft Holmes. While he scribbled a reply, I took the opportunity to whisper a final instruction to my companions.

‘Whatever Blackwood’s got planned, he’ll expect us to try to stop him, so keep a sharp eye out for anything suspicious.’

‘Would help if we had weapons, Holmes,’ whispered Lestrade.

‘We do have weapons,’ I whispered back. ‘They’re just not loaded.’

As soon as I opened the door to the dining room, my heart sank. The place was packed to the rafters. All eyes turned towards us as we made our way into the centre of the room, where I spied Mycroft sitting with the American and Russian ambassadors. My brother gave me one of his For-Fuck’s-Sake looks and stood up as we approached. The table had been set for four, so I clicked my fingers at one of the waiters and indicated our need for three more chairs.  

‘Sherlock, how good of you to come,’ said the elder Holmes, glancing at Watson and Lestrade. When he caught sight of Mary, however, his mouth dropped open. ‘Ahm, yes. Inspector Lestrade, Doctor and…Mr Watson. May I introduce Ambassador Slobinov of Moscow, and Ambassador Diddlysqit of Washington.

The two representatives stood and bowed, and we all shook hands, apart from Mary, who curtsied, blushed and then looked at her feet.

Two waiters brought the additional chairs and managed to squeeze all seven of us into spaces around a table meant for four.

As the general hum of conversation returned to the room, I scanned the faces of our fellow diners. Most were not members and had likely come along in the hope of insinuating themselves into the good books of one of the ambassadorial guests, while the others were the usual bunch of indolent politicians and greedy industrialists—in other words, the cream of the upper classes. At one end of the room, I noticed a small stage.

‘Are there to be speeches?’ I said to Mycroft.

‘Indeed.’ He nodded to the ambassadors. ‘Following our meeting, I’ve arranged an after-dinner speaker. To lighten the mood.’

‘Anyone we know?’

Mycroft gave a little shrug. ‘Just some chappie from the Londen School of Economics. Professor…’ He frowned, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small card. ‘Professor H. Ppolk. With two ‘p’s.’ He paused. ‘Are you all right, Sherlock? You’ve gone rather pale.’

Leaning towards him, I whispered in his ear. ‘It’s Klopp, you cretin. Professor Helga Klopp.’

He laughed. ‘I don’t think so, Sherlock. As you told me yourself, she died on Huge Island. Besides, women aren’t allowed in the Diogenes Club.’ Glancing at Mary, he coughed. ‘Usually.’

John tapped my leg. ‘Holmes, I think we ought to check out the backstage area.’

‘Good idea, Watson, except there isn’t a backstage area. Only toilets, the kitchens and a guest bedroom.’

‘In that case I suggest we check out the toilets, the kitchens and the guest bedroom.’

Mycroft sighed loudly. ‘Sherlock, I realise it’s a lot to ask, but d’you think you could possibly pay attention while I outline our government’s proposals with our guests?’ He indicated the two ambassadors, who by now were becoming restless.

‘Is it a matter of life or death?’

‘No, little brother, but it is a matter of national security and I’d appreciate your input.’

I smiled politely at the ambassadors, then turned back to Mycroft. ‘Lord Henry Blackwood is alive and well and almost certainly planning to kill everyone here. If we don’t stop him, national security will be the least of your problems.’

‘Ah. I see. In that case, is there anything I can do to help?’

‘Keep the ambassadors talking. If they’re seen leaving, Blackwood may do something drastic. Nevertheless, if anything untoward occurs before I return, I suggest you exit the building with all speed.’

I signalled to the Watsons and Lestrade and we removed ourselves from the table and made our way to a door at the far end of the room. Closing it behind me, I glanced around. We were in a hallway with several doors leading to the aforementioned toilets, kitchens and guest bedroom.

‘What’s the plan, Holmes?’ said Watson.

‘The guest speaker is Helga Klopp. I expect her speech will be used as a distraction while Blackwood carries out his evil deeds.’

‘And do we know what those evil deeds involve?’ said Mary.

‘No, which is why we need to find him. Lestrade, you come with me. Watsons, check the toilets and kitchens. Meet back here in five minutes.’

Quite what we would do when we located the criminal mastermind and his villainous gang, I had no idea, but I did know we had no choice but to try.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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To Londen on a Coal Barge

Diary of Doctor J. Watson

We reached the river at Richmond Hill within twenty minutes and with the aid of my revolver, engaged the services of a coal barge and its truculent captain.

‘Good thing he doesn’t know this is loaded with blanks,’ I muttered to Holmes as we clambered aboard.

‘Yes. Like you, Watson, most individuals see but they do not observe.’ He paused. ‘Of course, he wouldn’t be able to see into the barrel and identify the actual bullets.’

Holmes busied himself reading a copy of The Times he’d borrowed from the harbourmaster. We settled down for the voyage into the city and I finally had the chance to ask Mary about her encounter with Maudie Ratched.

‘Blackwood said you’d injured two of his associates.’

Mary nodded. ‘Ratched made the mistake of trying to interfere with me, so I broke her wrist with a move I learned at my Kung Fu for Ladies class. That’s when her friend intervened.’

‘Friend?’

‘Yes.’ Mary gave me a sly smile. ‘She had disguised herself as a man, with a bushy moustache and a ridiculous wig, but her distinctive voice allowed me to identify her as an old adversary of ours.’

‘Really?’ said Holmes, putting down the newspaper to listen in to our conversation. ‘Who?’

‘See if you can guess. Up until the point when I smacked her in the mouth, she hadn’t spoken, but then she said something that gave her away— I vill haf wewenge on you, Mary Vatson.’

‘Wewenge?’ said Holmes, his face draining of colour. ‘Oh, God. Professor Helga Klopp. So, I did see her in Massachusetts during the Lizzie Borden affair.’

‘It seems so,’ said Mary.

Holmes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. I did the same, but it didn’t help. Then I realised something. ‘Why were Klopp and Ratched not with Blackwood just now?’

‘I think I know,’ said Mary. ‘Klopp said she would see me later and that I’d be sorry. I assumed she’d be there in the workshop.’

‘But she actually meant she’d see you somewhere else entirely,’ muttered Holmes. ‘In which case she must have known Moran’s real identity.’

‘Then why did Blackwood go through that whole palaver of pretending to kill us?’ I said.

Holmes grimaced. ‘Don’t forget, in the guise of Moran, he had to be dramatic and vengeful—that’s what Moran was known for. Blackwood, on the other hand, enjoys tormenting his victims, dragging out their agony. Look what he did to his own father.’

I recalled the crime scene all too readily. Being Sir Thomas Rotheram’s illegitimate son had always riled Blackwood. Using his knowledge of chemistry, the villainous lord drowned Sir Thomas in his own bath, baffling the police for days until Holmes revealed the source of the paralysing substance discharged into the bathwater. I shuddered to think what torments the man might have in store for us at the Diogenes Club.

‘How long til we reach the city?’ yelled Holmes to the barge captain.

The surly fellow sniffed and nodded up-river. ‘Ten minutes. Oi can drop yous at Lambeth Bridge.’

‘Westminster Bridge, if you don’t mind,’ said Holmes.

‘Suppose you’ll blow me brains out if Oi does mind, eh?’

‘Quite probably.’ Holmes turned to me. ‘I’d happily pay the fellow if we had any cash.’ He returned to scanning his copy of The Times and we fell into a companionable silence until Holmes broke it with a sudden yelp.

‘My God!’ He folded the paper over and pointed to a tiny column at the foot of the page.


Diogenes Club, Carlton House Terrace

Government representative Mr Mycroft Holmes will be entertaining the Russian and American Ambassadors this evening as part of a plan to bring the two sides together in a bid to secure world peace. It is rumoured that Mr Holmes will also be joined by his younger brother, the private detective Mr Sherlock Holmes…

‘Blackwood intends to provoke a war,’ I said, aghast.

‘At the very least,’ muttered Holmes. ‘And if I’m not much mistaken, he plans to murder Mycroft and the four of us in the process. Replacing us with his puppet stooges, he’ll be able to put out whatever story he likes—probably blaming the British Government for allowing criminals to run riot across Londen.’

‘I’ve never been to the Diogenes Club before,’ said Mary.

‘And you won’t be going this time,’ said Holmes. ‘Women are forbidden to enter, even when attempting to avert a world war.’

Mary made a growling noise. ‘If you lot think I’m missing out on this, you can think again.’

Lestrade examined his feet. Holmes and I twiddled our thumbs.

‘I’m serious,’ Mary went on. ‘If I have to dress up as a…as a…’ She looked around for inspiration. ‘As a bloody barge captain, I’m going to be there.’

And so the truculent captain suffered yet further indignities as Mary demanded he remove his clothes and put on her dress instead. Emerging from the tiny cabin a few minutes later, Mary barely looked human in a pair of black trousers, a grease-stained shirt, and a heavy black coat. With her hair bundled up into a woollen hat and black grease smeared across her face to give the appearance of an unshaven chin, she definitely resembled a man, though I could not say with any certainty that even the most defective doorman would deign to allow her entry to the most exclusive gentleman’s retreat in the city.

‘D’you think they’ll let me in?’ she said, in a deep voice.

Holmes and I nodded. ‘Absolutely.’

The captain clambered out of his cabin a few minutes later, Mary’s dress hitched up around his knees. ‘Oi ain’t ‘appy about this, mind,’ he muttered. He continued to moan and gripe until we reached Westminster Bridge.

It had started to get dark by the time we climbed up the steps to the quayside. Pulling my collar up against the cool breeze, it occurred to me that this might well be the last case Holmes and I, and indeed Mary and Lestrade, would work on together. At that moment I determined that if we survived whatever ordeal we were about to embark on, I would return to my medical practice and relinquish my crime-solving activities for ever.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Unmasking of a Master Criminal

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

A collective gasp went around the room and the man with the face fungus took several steps backwards.

For a moment, I thought he’d continue to deny everything, but then he took a long breath and exhaled slowly, as if allowing his real self to emerge. Straightening up, his entire torso seemed to fill out. With one hand, he took hold of his whiskers and peeled them off, revealing the smooth and manly chin of Lord Henry Blackwood.

When he spoke again, his voice had dropped almost an octave, but its rich deep timbre had a far more menacing tone to it than Moran’s ever had.

‘Moriarty told me not to underestimate you, Holmes. Seems he was right.’ Blackwood rubbed the remaining bits of makeup from his face, took off the brown wig and pushed his fingers through his long black hair.

‘Right, matey,’ said Lestrade, striding forwards. ‘I’m arrestin you in the name of the law.’

Blackwood laughed. ‘I wouldn’t bank on it, Inspector.’ With a quick movement, he whipped out a pistol and aimed it at Sherlock’s heart. ‘Surprised you took so long to work it out, Holmesy. Just goes to show the deductive powers ain’t what they used to be. Never mind, I’ve other plans for your demise that’ll work just as well.’ Turning the gun on me, he smiled. ‘Would’ve been nice to see you skewered, Mary.’ Then with a wink, added, ‘Nice tits, though.’

‘You won’t get away with this,’ said Holmes.

The villain rolled his eyes at me, as if we shared a private joke. ‘Don’t think too badly of me, Mary—I’m a sucker for a stupid doctor and a wonky-eyed woman.’ Leaning closer, he lowered his voice. ‘The best is yet to come. I’ll see the Holmes later.’

Moving around the other side of the table, he nodded to his henchmen. ‘You chaps may have once been Moriarty’s men, but now you have the opportunity to join me in creating the largest criminal empire in England. Are you with me?’

The thugs nodded like the imbecilic morons they were. Opening the double doors, they followed Blackwood outside. The moment the doors clanged shut we heard bolts slammed into place on the other side.

Holmes sprang into action. ‘Get dressed, Mary. Watson, Lestrade—go after him.’

Lestrade reached the doors first. ‘No use, Holmes—we’ll never get through here. See if there’s an axe or a crowbar.’

At the other side of the workshop, Holmes searched for something to use but all the tools had been locked away. Spying a length of timber, he picked it up. ‘Stand aside, chaps.’

With a short burst of speed, he ran towards the doors and crashed into them, bouncing back into the room.

‘Humph,’ he said. ‘Stronger than they look.’

Johnny and Lestrade joined him with the makeshift battering ram and took another run at the doors. On their third try, the bolts gave way.

Outside, we found ourselves in a wide courtyard. The building we’d vacated turned out to be part of a country house. At the far side of the courtyard, a high wall ran down to the gates, opposite a stable block. Directly in front of us stood the main building—a country house of some considerable size.

Lestrade let out a yell and pointed to one of the ground floor windows of the house. ‘He’s in there.’

We ran across to the ornate front doors and Holmes gave the knocker a series of sharp raps.

After a moment, we heard footsteps and the door opened. A bald man in what I took to be a servant’s outfit gave us a bow.

‘Good day, sirs, madam. What can I do for you?’

‘Where’s Lord Blackwood?’ demanded Holmes.

‘Blackwood, sir? There’s no Lord Blackwood here.’

‘Then who was that lookin out of the window just now?’ said Lestrade.

‘Oh, that were just me, sir. Heard a commotion.’

‘Now look here my good man,’ said Holmes, adopting an authoritative tone. ‘Who lives in this house?’

The old man shrugged. ‘No-one, sir. Dene House Manor is owned by the National Trust. We’re open to visitors from August to December, but the place is empty just now. I’m the caretaker, see.’

Holmes frowned. ‘So, you don’t know Lord Blackwood?’

‘Never heard of him, sir.’

‘Then who’s been using the workshop over there?’

The man leaned forwards and muttered in a conspiratorial manner, ‘That be part of a secret Government project, sir. I ain’t supposed to say.’

Holmes clenched his jaw. I hoped he wasn’t about to get physical with the caretaker. ‘Look. If you don’t tell me who has been working in there, I shall—’

‘No, no, you’re alright. I ain’t no hero, sir. It’s just that it’s meant to be top secret, that’s all.’

‘Yes, yes, I understand that,’ said Holmes, his voice rising with each syllable. ‘Just tell me his name.’

The man leaned closer. ‘Sherlock Holmes.’

The big-nosed detective went a shade of purple, but his anger dissipated instantly, and he let out a gentle laugh. ‘Of course, of course, who else could it have been?’ He patted the old man on the shoulder. ‘Obliged for your assistance, sir. Now, where’s the nearest town or village?’

‘That’d be Richmond Hill. Follow the road for half a mile and it’ll take you down to the river. You’ll be able to get transport there, I expect.’

‘He must have had an escape plan,’ said Holmes, as we retreated across the courtyard. ‘Better check the stables.’

We hurried off towards the stable block, where a wide door had been left open. Inside, we found six box stalls but no horses. Holmes dropped to the ground and began crawling around on hands and knees.

‘What’s he doin?’ said Lestrade.

‘Looking for clues,’ I said.

‘Here we are,’ said Holmes. ‘Four horses, two carriages…no—make that one carriage and a Brougham. But they must have been brought outside some time earlier, otherwise we’d have heard them leaving.’ Getting to his feet, he brushed himself down. ‘Suppose we’d better start walking.’

‘Look on the bright side,’ said Johnny. ‘At least we’re still alive.’

The consulting detective dropped his chin to his chest. ‘Yes, yes, I suppose that is something.’

‘It certainly is,’ I said. ‘I’m much happier not having a steel phallus shoved up my—’

‘Thank you, Mary,’ said Holmes. ‘Though as my deductive powers were on top form, I don’t think you were ever in any real danger.’ He gave me a sardonic smile.

‘Oh, you don’t, do you?’ Curling my fingers into a fist, I made ready to smack him in the mouth.

‘Later, dear,’ said Johnny, holding me back. ‘I rather think we ought to save our energy for finding Blackwood, eh?’

We stood for a minute, looking at each other. Then I remembered something. ‘Holmes, what did he mean by seeing you later?’

Holmes scratched his chin. ‘I’m sorry to say I have no idea, Mary. After his criminal activities first came to light, he was banned from entering any public meeting place in Londen.’

He started to walk down the driveway to the gates, but I caught hold of his arm. ‘Wait. Blackwood isn’t known for his conversation. I got the feeling that when he says something, he says it for a reason. Could it be some sort of clue?’

He stopped and looked at me. ‘Blackwood was talking to you, at the time.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘If he meant it as a clue, why not say it directly to me?’

‘Because he was looking at my tits. Anyway, he said he’d see the Holmes later.’

‘D’yer fink he’s expectin ter see yer somewhere specific?’ said Lestrade. ‘Somewhere you’d know about.’

‘Oh, hell,’ I muttered. ‘What if he didn’t mean Holmes, but Holmes’s, as in both of you—Sherlock and Mycroft?’

Holmes swallowed hard. ‘The Diogenes Club.’ He slapped a hand against his forehead. ‘Of course. I’ve been so blind. Mycroft has been sending me dinner invitations for weeks. Something is going to happen at the Club and Blackwood’s expecting both of us to be there.’

Johnny butted in. ‘But if it’s just dinner…’

‘No, no, no,’ said Holmes. ‘It’s never just dinner with Mycroft—he’ll have some ulterior motive. Something he needs me to do, some vital mission for the Government—saving the world or something like that.’

‘Did Mycroft mention a date?’

‘He did, Mary, but as I only read the first part of the invitation, I took no notice of the details.’

‘We need to get a newspaper,’ said Johnny. ‘If something important is due to happen at the Club, it could be what Blackwood’s been waiting for.’

With that, we set off at a pace for Richmond Hill. As we hurried along, I couldn’t help wondering why Blackwood had walked away from his plan to kill us. Could it be that the whole thing had been a diversion to distract us from his real target? Whatever the reason, I knew he wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of creating stand-ins for the four of us if he meant to keep us alive.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Colonel Moran and Other Identities

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Hearing the door of the cell next to mine creak open, I listened keenly as Moran’s voice echoed from the passageway outside. I heard Sherlock reply but couldn’t make out the words. A rattle of keys in my own door prompted me to step backwards. As the door swung open, one of the thugs stepped inside and grabbed my wrist.

‘Come on, you,’ he said, dragging me into the corridor.

Holmes, Lestrade and my own dear husband were waiting there, guarded by another thug with a gun. Johnny tried to embrace me, but Moran held him back. ‘You’ll get your chance to say goodbye, Doctor, but not just yet.’

Pushing us into a line, we were herded along the passage, up two flights of stairs and into what appeared to be a workshop. So far, I’d seen no windows and had no idea of our location. The room we now found ourselves in had stone walls like the cells, and a set of high wooden doors at one end, wide enough to admit a horse and trap. The edges of the doors didn’t quite meet in the middle, allowing a shaft of daylight to flicker across the floor. Workbenches were fixed around the remaining walls, but our attention centred on a shape in the middle of the room. Covered with a grubby white sheet, I estimated it to be about the size of a large dining table.

‘Now,’ said Moran, ‘I think as Mrs Watson has already injured two of my associates, I shall give her the pleasure of being the first to try out my latest device.’

Johnny glanced at me. ‘Injured two of them? Good for you, old girl.’

I gave him my best winning smile, but already my hands trembled in uneasy anticipation.

One of the thugs drew back the sheet covering the table, revealing a wide metal bench with a slightly raised section in the middle and several leather straps hanging from the sides. At first sight, there seemed to be nothing particularly threatening about it, then Moran walked to a set of wheels and levers attached to the wall and I saw they were linked to a contraption higher up by a series of belts and ropes. As Moran twisted the wheels and operated each of the levers in order, a grinding noise began to vibrate all through the room, causing my stomach to jiggle and my legs to shake, so much so that I thought I might wet myself. Looking up, I observed a complicated contrivance juddering down from the rafters. As it came into view, it reminded me of an iron-maiden—one of those horrendous coffin-shaped devices embellished with short spikes. The only difference with this one lay in the central spike, which stuck out at an acute angle in what I estimated to be the location of the victim’s private parts.

As the contraception came to a halt a few feet above the table, Moran moved to another lever.

‘Now, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you can see the possibilities of this machine. The smaller spikes, of course, are intended to pierce the victim’s skin as the top of the machine descends upon them, however, my particular delight with this one is the central spike, which as you will see…’

He pushed the lever, and the central spike began to extend downwards at an angle.

‘The victim is strapped into place, face down, with the hindquarters uppermost over the raised area of the table, and with legs apart. Thus, allowing the Buggering Tool, as I like to call it, to do its job. Though of course the smaller spikes will cause some damage, it is the Buggering Tool that will force its way into the victim’s body and continue up through the bowels, slicing through various internal organs until the victim is no longer alive.’  He scratched his beard thoughtfully. ‘Of course, I haven’t seen it at work on an actual victim, yet, so can’t comment on exactly how long the process will take, but I should imagine it will be exceptionally painful. As our old friend Moriarty would say—Mwah, hah, hah.’

At this, my legs gave way. Falling to the ground, something in my churning stomach began to work its way up to my throat, emerging as an animalistic howl.

‘Come, come, Mrs Watson,’ said Moran, waving a hand at his henchmen. ‘A little more decorum, if you please.’

Two of the thugs helped me to my feet, but Johnny pushed them aside. To their credit, they let him support me and I clung to him, hiding my face from Moran.

‘My darling,’ murmured Johnny. ‘My poor, poor darling.’

Though my churning guts were real enough, I had no intention of having my bottom pierced. Looking up into my husband’s eyes, I whispered, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan.’

He smiled at me in a rather pitying way, as if nothing I could do would make the slightest difference to our fates.

I stepped forwards. ‘Come on, then. Do your worst.’

‘That’s more like it,’ said Moran. ‘So, if you’d like to strip naked, please.’

Clutching the silver teaspoon in one hand, I took off my jacket and began to undo the buttons on my blouse. Holmes, Lestrade and Johnny stood by, their eyes firmly fixed on the floor. As I slid the blouse off my shoulders revealing my pert breasts, Holmes looked up.

‘You can stop now, Mary. I think this has gone far enough.’

I hesitated and looked at him, as did everyone else in the room.

‘Oh, Holmesy,’ said Moran. ‘Don’t be a spoilsport, we’re just getting to the interesting part.’

‘Indeed,’ said Holmes, ‘but first of all, I should be obliged if you would remove that silly beard.’

Moran gave him an odd look. ‘Granted, this may not be the most stylish set of whiskers, but I can assure you, it is real.’

Holmes laughed sardonically. ‘Yes, about as real as those ridiculous stories of derring-do and swordsmanship we’ve been hearing about for the last fifteen years.’

Moran’s grin had disappeared and for the first time he seemed unsure of himself. ‘Those stories are all true. In fact,’ he pointed to Johnny, ‘your own bloody biographer wrote about them.’

Holmes nodded to Johnny. ‘He did. However, Watson does have a habit of exaggerating certain aspects of his tales—a remnant from his soldiering days in Afghanistan, you know.’

‘You cannot put me off, Holmes. I mean to kill you all and I want it to really hurt!’

Holmes waved a hand around the room, indicating Moran’s men. ‘They know, do they? Who you really are?’

‘Don’t play games, Holmes, or you shall go first.’

‘I must say I’d never have twigged if it hadn’t been for your manicured fingernails and that Wedgewood tea set. It’s obvious you created the character of Sebastian Moran to infiltrate Moriarty’s gang, which I have to say you did exceedingly well. So well, in fact that I suspect you allowed your double identities to go on for several more years than you had originally intended. But that tea set especially let you down. A man like Moran, as you created him, would never use such fine china. If he really had been educated at Eton and Oxford as you would have us believe, he would naturally have the social graces to go with that education. But you made the mistake of forgetting that Moran is supposed to be a solider, used to rough soldierly ways and manners. Watson here was a soldier too, but he is also a doctor, and even he prefers drinking from a mug rather than a fine bone china teacup. When you created Moran, you mixed up his background with your own and a love of the finer things in life.’ He glanced at the thugs, who had suddenly become interested in what he had to say.

‘This is rubbish,’ Moran blustered, waving his hands. ‘You two, take off Mrs Watson’s clothes and strap her onto the machine.’

But the thugs didn’t move.

‘I suspect they are as interested as we are to see what is underneath that disguise of yours. Now, take off the beard, Lord Henry Blackwood.’

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Porcelain and Poisons

The Journal of Sherlock Holmes Esq.

Though I do not usually succumb to Watson’s habit of recording my reflections on our adventures, the probability of our imminent demise encouraged me to put down on paper what may well be the last words I ever write. Borrowing a few pages from Watson’s diary, I collected my thoughts.

With Mary now in the clutches of Maudie Ratched, the time had come to make a move. But before I could proceed, Watson leaned forwards.

‘A teaspoon, Holmes?’

I shrugged. ‘Had Moran’s men issued us with a paring knife, I would of course have urged Mary to secrete it about her person.’

‘Maybe she could sharpen it on a brick,’ said Lestrade. ‘That’s what the blokes do in Wormwood Scrubs.’

‘Of course,’ muttered Watson with more than a smidgen of sarcasm. ‘And perhaps she could stab Ratched and Moran and all the other villains, allowing us to make our escape.’

I waved a hand at him. ‘Keep your voice down, John. Walls have ears.’ I glanced at the two thugs by the door, but they were engaged in a game of cards and took no notice.

‘I suppose you’ve got a better plan, eh?’ said Watson, giving me a hard stare.

Picking up my cup, I shook out the tealeaves and examined its base. ‘Not a plan as such, John, but a possibility.’

‘I see,’ said my effervescent companion. ‘We’ll bash their heads in with bone china.’

I allowed myself a sardonic smile. ‘You’ve written a good deal about Colonel Moran, haven’t you, Watson?’

He sniffed. ‘Suppose I have.’

‘Would you say he were the sort of chap to use fine china?’

He frowned. ‘Actually, no. Not at all. If anything, I’d expect him to drink from a workman’s mug, the sort of thing labourers might use.’

‘Precisely,’ said I, examining the saucer. ‘So, why are we drinking from Wedgewood teacups?’

Watson picked up his own cup and looked at it. ‘Wedgewood. Well, I never.’

We sat for a moment, each of us staring at the teacups, when Lestrade chipped in.

‘Posh stuff, ain’t it? More the sort of fing a lord would use, eh?’

‘For once, Lestrade, you’re absolutely right.’ I grinned and waited for the proverbial coin to hit the floor.

‘Oh, fuck,’ said Watson. ‘They’re not Moran’s—they’re Blackwood’s.’

‘Which means what?’

‘That he is in league with Blackwood after all.’

‘Possibly,’ said I, ‘though there may be another explanation. Also, Mary’s observations are suggestive.’

 ‘Of what?’ said Watson. ‘You don’t think…’

At this point, whatever toxic substance Moran had put in our drinks began to take effect. Watson nodded off in mid-sentence. While trying to wake him, Lestrade slid to the floor, eyes flickering and tongue lolling like a dog on a hot day. Making myself comfortable, I waited for sleep or death, whichever option our enemy had chosen for us.

Some hours later, I awoke to find I had been laid on a rough wooden bench in a room without windows. Testing the air, I inhaled deeply, finding a distinct aroma of damp, decay and an oddly familiar fragrance. Peering through the gloom, I made out a hunched figure against the far wall. Struggling to my feet, I stumbled across the stone floor and grasped Lestrade’s hand, shaking it.

‘Wha…’ he murmured. ‘Wha’s goin on?’ Sitting up, he blinked and stared at me. ‘Shirl? That you?’

‘It is. Where’s Watson?’

Lestrade stood up, holding on to me for support. ‘There’s somethin in the corner.’

We stumbled across the room to what appeared to be a pile of mouldy blankets next to a heavy door with iron hinges and found John Watson hunched beside it, breathing heavily.

I gave him a nudge. ‘Watson? Come along, old chap. Wake up.’

He blinked several times and after a moment or two came to his senses. ‘Where are we?’

‘Some sort of cellar,’ said Lestrade.

‘Dungeon, more like,’ said I. ‘Clearly our captors have moved us to another location, though if they still intend to kill us, it would hardly seem worth the effort.’

Struggling to his feet, Watson examined the rest of our prison. ‘Where’s Mary? She’s not here, Holmes.’

‘No, but a certain aroma suggests she may be nearby.’

‘Aroma?’

‘Yes, Watson.’ I waited while he sniffed the air.

‘What is it,’ he muttered, still sniffing.

‘As always, John, you inhale but you do not evaluate. I suggest a combination of Bulgarian rose, musk, ambergris and bergamot, if I’m not mistaken.’

‘Of course—Fleurs de Bulgarie. Mary’s favourite scent.’

‘What de what?’ said Lestrade.

I resisted rolling my eyes. ‘A perfume presented to the old queen in the mid-eighteen-forties. It has become quite popular with ladies of Mary’s class.’

Watson took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit a match. Holding it up, all three of us searched the upper walls of our cell until we spotted a barred window near the ceiling.

Taking Lestrade’s arm, I pulled him to a spot beneath the aperture. ‘Be a good fellow and make a step.’

Cupping his hands, Lestrade leaned against the wall while I planted one foot in his grip and hauled myself upwards, almost level with the window. ‘Mary?’ I whispered. ‘Are you in there?’

I perceived a scuffling noise from the cell next door. ‘Sherlock? Is that you?’

‘It is,’ I said. ‘I’m in here with John and Lestrade. Are you hurt?’

She gave a short laugh. ‘No, but Maudie Rached won’t be sticking her fingers into anyone for a while.’

‘Are you in a position to escape?’ I listened hard, eager for some morsel of hope.

‘No. There’s only the cell door and this tiny window.’

I dropped to the floor and crossed to our own door, running my hands up and down its frame, examining the hinges and lock.

‘What d’you think, Holmes?’ said Watson.

‘I think we’re in a tight spot. As is your wife.’

We stood and looked at each other in the gloom, each of us no doubt wondering how much longer we might have left to live.

At that precise moment, a key rattled in the lock and the door opened. Colonel Moran stood there, a pistol in one hand and two of his henchmen on either side.

‘Ah, Holmes,’ he said, caressing his beard. ‘Glad to see you and your friends are awake at last. I expect you’re wondering how much longer you have to live, eh?’

‘Actually,’ I quipped, ‘we were speculating how much longer you have left to live.’

Moran forced a smile. ‘Very funny, Holmes. Now, if you’d all like to come with us, I shall introduce you to the machinery which will bring about your deaths.’

I glanced at my companions and let out a heartfelt sigh. ‘My apologies, friends. I should never have dragged you into this mess.’

Watson laid a hand on my arm. ‘Don’t worry, Holmes. We’ll come through this, one way or another.’

I opened my mouth to reply but no sound came out. Fearing my emotions might for once get the better of me, I simply coughed, held up my head and walked through the door. Whatever fate awaited us, it seemed the world’s greatest detective had met his match.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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