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A Warning to the Ill-Advised


The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed
From Sherlock Holmes Esq to Doctor J. Watson

Watson,
So, the Hooded Claw is back? Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you’re a fool, Watson, a damned fool!

Apologies old friend, but I do find myself wondering what goes on in that tiny brain of yours. Even though you have systematically recorded the evidence of your own eyes, you seem not to have allowed the information to penetrate your skull. For the sake of clarity (yours, not mine), I shall outline my thoughts on your notes:

In allowing Miss Pitstop to stay at the well-known racing-driver’s retreat, The Brooklands Hotel, you may as well have lit a beacon on top of her head – even our old pal Sikes would’ve had more sense. Also, the ‘young couple’ you observed were clearly on the Claw’s payroll – everyone knows the English hate motor sports, so unless the pair were German, from the Isle of Mull, or escapees from The Londen Asylum for the Really Rather Mad, I think we can safely assume your cover was blown the moment they set eyes on you. However, as we now have to deal with the fact of your having exposed our client to the felonious elements within our society, I have resolved to be the grown-up in this matter and move on.

Before I do, though, I should like to add an additional error of judgement (as if another needed to be drawn) – why on earth did you give yourself the ridiculous moniker of Ormond Sacker? Even that cretin Conan Doyle couldn’t have thought that one up. In future I suggest you choose one of our time-honoured standby pseudonyms, Joshua Smith or Thaddeus Jones.

Now, on one point I must congratulate you (cherish it, Watson, such plaudits will be rare). As you say, the paper used by the Claw to send those threatening letters, bears a watermark. I also concur with your assumption that the image was created using the cylinder-mould process. The singularly unique features of the image demand it must have been added after the paper was pressed and cut, therefore cannot have originated from the Basildon Bond factory. In any case, I very much doubt the Hooded Claw has need of several dozen reams of watermarked stationery. Since any legitimate paper manufacturer would not touch a specialised job in the quantities required, we must look to the criminal underworld to locate the brains behind it. To my knowledge, there is only one person in England who possesses both the skill and the level of villainy to carry out such a task – the forger Austin Bidwell.

Locating Mister Bidwell is likely to be a waste of time at present, since it is probable he has already fled the country, so I think we should confine ourselves to dealing with the Claw.

Now, you must have guessed that my sojourn in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed was not merely due to a finger injury. In fact, the self-inflicted wound to my digit proved necessary to gain entry to the Institute and, more specifically, to what inmates refer to as the ‘nutters’ ward, due to the high incidence of apparent suicides. Situated on the west side of the building and being on the third floor, the bedroom windows in that ward overlook the lake and, more importantly, a small harbour. It is for this reason I am now able to verify that all our lives, including that of Miss Pitstop (who I imagine was targeted purely to attract our attention and get us out of the way), are in terrible danger. That the Claw only succeeded in distracting you and Mrs Watson is of no consequence, as I am certain he will have altered his plans accordingly and will be expecting us to join forces here in Ullswater very soon.

I am sending this message via Bobby the carrier pigeon, Inspector Lestrade’s most recent strategy for speeding up communications between himself and his lacklustre team of detectives. I commandeered the aforementioned bird and adopted the pretence of him being my ‘pet’, in the certain knowledge that secreting one of Mycroft’s patented Telegraphical Steam Conduits down my pyjamas would soon have been confiscated by my so-called carer, the tyrannical Nurse Ratched, and access to the steamographal telecommunications office in the village would be out of the question once I had submitted myself to the Institute.

If you have not already done so, I suggest you book tickets for all three of you on the next train to Cumbria. In addition, I beg you to take the utmost care, as the Claw may attempt to capture you en route.

I recommend you gain entry to the institute by utilising your medical qualifications – though one or two of the staff here may be in league with Mister Claw, the majority are an asset to their profession and are unlikely to refuse admittance to an actual doctor.

Once again I urge you to take care. Though I do have an inkling as to the Claw’s intentions, I may be completely wrong, and it is entirely possible he intends to subject all of us to the sort of murderous device Moriarty employed in our Edinburgh adventure. Needless to say, I have no wish to face another ‘slicing and dicing’ machine, and as Mycroft is out of the country, a last-minute rescue from that quarter won’t be on the cards.

Yours
Holmes

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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At Brooklands Hotel


The Brooklands Hotel
Tootbridge
Surrey
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor J. Watson

Holmes

Sorry to hear about the incident with the sardine tin, but if you will allow Mrs Hudson to go off on a walking tour of the cheviots at a moment’s notice without bothering to install a suitable replacement, you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps if you’d showed the slightest interest in your housekeeper’s domestic routines and, especially, her tin-opening technique, a ‘crisis’ of this sort might have been averted. Nevertheless, I hardly think a week recuperating in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed is essential for what is after all, only a small cut to the index finger, but I’m sure you know best.

However, I digress. Detailed below, you will find my notes pertaining to our current case:

Further to our discussion on the series of menacing missives received by Miss Penelope Pitstop, Mary and I travelled down to Tootbridge yesterday, to meet the lady herself at a small family-run hotel where she is currently staying. I had previously communicated Sherlock’s advice about remaining incognito and calling herself by a different name, though it may be that her fame will undermine any chance of remaining anonymous.

On arriving at the aptly-named Brooklands Hotel, we checked in as Mister as Mrs Sacker and made reservations for dinner. I had informed Miss Pitstop that I would be wearing a red rose in my lapel and had issued a brief instruction as to how she might affect introductions during dinner, so we might avert any suspicions regarding our business together.

As it happens, the hotel restaurant was barely half full, and by the time we’d been seated, Mary and I had the place almost to ourselves. When Miss Pitstop appeared, looking more like a film star than a racing driver, she made a show of ordering hors d’oeuvres in the way of potted wood pigeon and a bottle of Chateau Ee-bah-gum (a Lancastrian chardonnay). Then, making an even bigger show of noticing me, she waved a hand in our direction.

“Oh, ‘ello,” she said, approaching our table. “You’re not that philanderer bloke Orville Sucker, are ye?”

I coughed. “If you mean the philanthropist Ormond Sacker, yes I am.”

My dear wife stifled a giggle and said, “You look like a young lady on her own – perhaps you’d like to join us?” She raised her eyebrows seductively.

“Make it bloody obvious why don’t you?” I hissed. Turning back to our guest, I put on my most lenient smile. “Don’t worry my dear, everyone gets it wrong. And your name is…?”

Miss Pitstop extracted a decorative fan from one of her voluminous sleeves and wafted her face vigorously. “Eeh, Ah’m rate sorry luv, Ah’m always putting me foot in it.” She made herself comfortable, then added, “you can call me Penelope. Ah mean…Harriet.” Dropping her voice to a hoarse whisper, she said, “Sorry luv, Ah’m not very good at this pretendin lark.”

A young couple by the door whose attire was very obviously that of racing car enthusiasts, were watching us carefully and from the furtive conversation that followed, it was clear our guest had been recognised.

A baleful sigh emerged from my lips which I took no pains to conceal. Gazing around the restaurant, I judged it was likely that anyone with the remotest interest in the world of motor sports had already overheard us. Leaning forward, I said, “Right, let’s just forget the charade – I’m Johnny, this is Mary and I think everyone knows who you are, so let’s get down to it.”

It was about an hour later while we were having coffee, that Penelope showed us the letters.

“Mind,” she said, “Ah threw the first two or three away, thinkin they were just the ravings of some nut-job. But then they started to get serious.” She passed the latest communication across the table. “All the letters ‘inted at something bad, but with this one, there’s no misunderstandin.”

Without touching it, I peered at the single sheet of paper and considered what Holmes would make of it. The paper itself was a pale blue shade of Basildon Bond, hand written with no address or other marks of identification. I read it aloud:

Dear Slut

You ‘ave smeared the good name of English racing, so now you ‘ave ter pay. I am going ter slit your throat wiv a sharp knife and bring an end to your winning ways.

Yours
Humber Plate

“Well,” said Mary, “you’re right about one thing – the meaning is clear.”

I chewed my lip for a moment. “Perhaps, perhaps not. There’s a few obvious details – the signature is a mistake and should read ‘Number’ Plate. Also, the writer has attempted to disguise his identity by representing a common dialect, but has defeated the object by using punctuation correctly, which makes me think he is an educated man.” Looking at Miss Pitstop, I said, “What do you make of it?”

She tapped a finger on the note. “That’s interestin, Doc, but you’re wrong about t’spelling – Humber Plate’s the name of a race.”

“Then it’s someone within the racing world, someone who wants revenge.”

“But why – what ‘ave I done?”

“Isn’t it possible that one of your male counterparts resents your success? Being a student of human behaviour as I am, I imagine there’s many a man who might feel aggrieved to be bested by a woman. Particularly one as attractive as you.”

Penelope nodded slowly. “So you think this is some bloke what I’ve beaten in a race?”

I picked up the letter. “Quite possibly, although…” Having perceived what seemed to be a watermark within the paper, I turned the sheet over. There was nothing to see, but holding it up to the light, the design became visible – ingrained in the paper, most probably created via a cylinder-mould process, was the image of a man’s sleeve with a hand at the end. Except it wasn’t a hand, but a hooked device in the shape of a claw.

“Bugger,” I said. “He’s back.”

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Werewolves of Londen


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It was a few minutes before I was able to regain my composure. Lestrade and his men had run out into the street in pursuit of Kessler, while Holmes calmly stripped off his disguise and pulled on his familiar greatcoat and deerstalker. Mary stood at my side, patting my arm supportively and making cooing sounds in my ear.

“Don’t worry, darling,” she said, “I was as surprised as you.”

I knew she was lying, but her words did make me feel a little less stupid.

The woman from Pinkerton’s appeared to be having a subdued, yet strident argument with Caddy and Schitt concerning the latter’s impersonation of her.

“What you don’t understand, you silly bint,” fumed Schitt, “is that I weren’t pretending ter be you, I were pretending ter be Kessler’s sister.”

“Kessler doesn’t have a sister, honey,” said the woman. The cut-glass English accent had gone, and in its place was a curious but somewhat alluring southern drawl.

“What I’m bloody saying,” said Schitt with more than a hint of menace in his voice, “is that if you hadn’t stuck your bleedin oar in, we’d have had him bang to bleedin rights.”

Kate Warne let out a sneering laugh. “Rilly? And how would you have protected y’rself agaynst him, honey?”

Inspector Schitt blustered for a moment, then failing to come up with a feasible explanation, turned to Caddy. “Go on, Buckie, you tell her.”

“Oh,” said Caddy, clearly feeling he’d been put on the spot. “Well, we could…er…I mean…ahm…”

“Precisely,” said Miss Warne. “You hayve no ah-deah.” And with that she began to undo the buttons of her blouse.

The eyes of the two men popped out like plums on sticks, but the lady wasn’t about to expose her feminine resources. Instead, she pulled open the garment’s collar to display a woven circle of some sort of grass or straw that hung around her slender neck.

“Of course,” murmured my wife. “Rye.”

“What?” said I, staring at her.

“It’s an ancient Celtic thing – apparently it wards off werewolves. Mistletoe has a similar effect.”

Once again, I was floored by the sheer breadth of Mary’s knowledge. I learned later that at least some of her information had been garnered from reading Curiouser and Curiouser, a monthly periodical which had recently featured an article on Celtic folklore.

Turning my attention back to the others, I heard Schitt mutter something derogatory under his breath, but aloud, he said, “Of course. I knew that.”

Holmes, having adjusted his clothing satisfactorily, now stepped forward. “Watson, Mrs Watson, I suggest we get going.”

A heavy sigh escaped my lips before I could stop it. “Hmph. Very well, Holmes. Anywhere in particular?”

“I thought we might get something to eat.”

A glance at Mary told me she was as stupefied as me. Holmes rarely mentioned food, and never in the midst of an investigation.

Before I could venture another question, the big-nosed detective had left the room. Caddy, Schitt and Miss Warne immediately curtailed their differences of opinion and hurried after him.

“Come on, then,” I said to Mary. “If nothing else, we might fill our bellies.”

Out in the street, Holmes had taken off after Lestrade and the two constables, whose lanterns we could clearly see bobbing about at the far end of the lane. They appeared to be engaged in checking every side road and back alley in the vicinity.

Just then, Holmes slithered to a halt, sniffing the air and turning his head this way and that. With his eyes tightly shut, his lips moved silently as they often did when his nasal analysis was at its keenest point.

As I watched, waiting for him to spout one of his ridiculous conclusions, one sound did escape his thin mouth. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘Biff Show Lane’ made no sense to me.

Assuming the officers had already explored the avenues in-between us and them, I was surprised to see Holmes abruptly whirl round and tear off down a nearby alleyway. Hastening after him, I noted the faint glow from a window halfway along. Approaching the place cautiously, Holmes dropped to his haunches and peered over the sill. Swivelling round, he beckoned us over.

“We’re too late,” he whispered, and signalled that I should look inside.

Keeping low, I raised my head just enough to see over the windowsill. Steam had misted the glass, but I could make out a long bench, behind which several cooking pots bubbled away on a rusty but serviceable kitchen range. However, it was the huge quantity of blood splashed across one wall that drew my gaze.

“Christ on a bike,” I muttered.

“Have a care, Watson,” said Holmes, standing up. “Caddy, Schitt – you two nip round the back. Watson, you and the others follow me.” Pushing open the door, Holmes stepped across the threshold, a cloud of steam billowing over his head as he did so.

Taking out my revolver, I held it like a baton as I prepared to advance. Beside me, Kate Warne pulled out her own weapon. I must have given her a questioning look for she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “My own favourite, don’t ya know – Webley five-shot pocket. Gets ‘em every time.” With that, she pushed past me and followed Holmes into the shop.

“Careful, Johnny,” said Mary, tugging at my jacket. She too had one hand on her pistol and the two of us crept inside after Miss Warne.

The blood on the walls had splattered upwards as if thrown from the end of a well-loaded paintbrush. The resultant mess appeared to be the result of arterial spray – the kind I might expect from a severe neck wound. I guessed the victim, if by some miracle still alive, would be unlikely to survive more than a few minutes.

Holmes had stopped by the long bench in front of the cooking area. Various bowls and plates were scattered haphazardly across the table, but it was one particular bowl that occupied his attention.

“See here, Watson,” he said, pointing a slender finger at the half-eaten meal. “Beef chow mein, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

I was about to comment, when Kate Warne pushed in front of me and stuck a finger in the meaty remains. Licking the digit thoughtfully, she said, “Sure is. His favourite.”

“Whose?” said I. “The werewolf?”

She nodded. “Werewolves love Chinese food.” She moved away to follow Holmes through to the rear of the building.

It was there we found the remains of the shop’s proprietor, Lee Ho Fook. His neck had been slashed so deeply that only a sliver of skin held his head to his body.

“Oh my,” said Mary, her face pale.

But Holmes was already off again, running towards the door at the rear of the building. Hurrying after him, I grabbed his sleeve and pulled him to a stop.

“Look here, Holmes,” I said. “Don’t you think we should get Lestrade and his men, before anyone else gets hurt?”

We had stepped outside into a darkened alley. To our left, Caddy and Schitt had paused to investigate a pile of dustbins. To the right was mere darkness. I was about to repeat my question when something moved in the shadows.

“Ah-ha,” murmured Holmes. “Werewolves of Londen.”

Before either of us could move, the black shape launched itself into the air with a piercing howl. Whether it was my imagination or some weird effect of the brain, everything seemed to slow down. As the creature flew through the air towards where we stood, my only recollection is of pulling my companion to the ground and the feeling of something claw-like gliding across the top of my head, scrutinizing my hair like some animalistic barber.

From somewhere in the distance, a series of shouts and screams echoed back and forth. Strong hands gripped my arms and I felt myself hauled upright. Struggling to focus, I became aware of movement below me and the sensation of the passing of time washed over my entire being.

When my senses finally returned, I found myself gazing up at an ornate ceiling, decorated with cherubs and god-like beings. For a moment I wondered if I were in Heaven.

“Ah, there you are, Watson,” said a familiar voice. “And no, to answer your question, you’re not in some unearthly paradise, but in a suite of rooms at The Dorchester, courtesy of Lord Greystoke.” He sniffed. “Apparently he hates werewolves.”

Blinking, I managed to raise myself into a sitting position and saw that I was in a large baroque-style bed, in a large baroque-style room.

A throbbing sensation began to make itself known, and looking down I saw a bandage around my arm.

“Don’t fret, Johnny, it’s only a slightly deep gash.”

“From the creature?”

Holmes coughed. “No, actually.” He averted his gaze for a moment. “As it happens, I appear to have slashed your arm open in my desire to protect you. My spatial awareness isn’t what it was.”

“I see. Where’s Mary?” I asked.

Holmes sat on the side of the bed and patted my leg. “She’s out shopping with the Pinkerton woman.” He rolled his eyes and uttered a passable imitation of Miss Warne’s voice: “Us gals sure do love to shop, doncha know?”

“So they’re both fine?”

He nodded. “In fact, it might interest you to know that your dear wife managed to shoot Kessler several times in the testicles before he disappeared into the sewers.”

I stiffened. “My God – he escaped!”

“No, far from it.” He let out a long sigh, then shifted his position and nodded to the other side of the room. “He’s over there.”

Looking past him, I gazed at the man in the other bed. The American’s face looked serene, as if he were experiencing the most beautiful dream. “Is he..?”

“Dead? As a Dodo. Though I’ll be happier when he’s six feet under – just to be sure.” Holmes dropped his voice and spoke in an almost reverential tone. “Kessler attacked Inspector Schitt and in doing so, fell down an open manhole cover into the sewers thirty feet below. Broke his neck.”

“Bloody hell,” I said. “And Schitt? Where’s he?” Looking around I noted there were no other beds in the room.

Holmes shook his head. “No.”

I blinked. The inspector had never been one of my favourite people, but I had to admit to feeling a deep sense of loss, if not for Schitt himself, then for the life of another human being.

It was several days before we finally returned home. Kate Warne had some Pinkerton-related business in Londen and promised to drop in and see us before heading back to the States. Inspector Caddy went back to Titfield to continue his holiday, though I was sure we’d see him again soon.

As to my own dear Mary, she was her usual self, though I suspected the adventure had affected her more than she was prepared to admit. Nevertheless, when a telegram arrived from the famous lady racing driver Penelope Pitstop, concerning a series of threatening letters, my wife was eager to join the investigation.

As it turned out, those letters were merely the bait to lure us into yet another mystery that would see us fighting for our lives.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Encounter in a Darkened Room


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

No sound came from inside the room and after half a minute or so, I knocked again – louder this time. Glancing at my wife, I noted a hint of desperation in her eyes as she and Schitt launched into another chorus of ‘Get Yer Nob Aht, Yer Naugh’y Boy’. Then a noise from within brought my attention back to Kessler’s room: thud – thud – thud. Someone, or something was walking slowly towards the door. Preparing myself for the worst, I leaned back and kept one hand on my weapon in readiness.

The door handle rattled, twisted and finally clicked as the door itself began to move. The dimly-lit corridor in which we stood told me the room beyond must be in darkness, as no tell-tale shaft of light shimmered across the landing carpet as the door swung open.

“Hello?” I ventured.

“Ah, Doctor Watson, I presume?” The person who’d opened the door stepped into the light and held out a hand in greeting.

I blinked several times. The woman standing before me was…

No, that can’t be right (I told myself). While my brain fought to fit the pieces of this bizarre jigsaw together, I became aware the singing had stopped, and sensed (rather than saw) that the mouths of my colleagues had either dropped open, or were fully in contact with the floor in utter amazement.

“You?” I spluttered, stupidly.

Inspector Schitt was the first to pull himself together. Leaping forward, he grabbed the woman’s arm with one hand and began pressing her breasts with the other. “Get them orf, yer bloody cow, get them orf now!”

“Schitt!” I barked, seizing the inspector’s shoulder. “What the hell are you doing, man?” Pulling him back into the corridor, I threw him against the wall. Immediately, the man’s knees gave way and he sank to the floor.

“Oh-my-God-they’re-fucking-real,” he spluttered, covering his face with his hands. “They’re real and I touched them. Oh my God.”

Turning round, I faced the newcomer again. Taking a deep breath, I said, “Doctor Hirsch. How nice to meet you, at last.”

Judith’s hand still hovered in mid-air, so I shook it as firmly as a man can when he’s just had the metaphorical shit kicked out of him. In doing so, I noticed the small scratches her fingernails left on my palm as she withdrew her slim fingers, and the somewhat enlarged and pointy canine teeth on each side of her mouth as she smiled demurely.

“I’m afraid I can’t invite you in, Doctor Watson, as I’ve–”

But I did not wait for her to finish that sentence. My years of observing Sherlock Holmes at work has taught me many things, one of which is the ability to evaluate any situation instantly. I took in the woman’s identity, the darkness of the room, her unwillingness to invite us in and the unmistakable transformation that was even now advancing upon her heavenly, but very dangerous body. Within a split second I knew what I must do. Pulling out my gun, I charged forward, knocking Judith to the floor.

“Johnny, what are you doing?” I heard Mary shout behind me, but I was already inside and determined to get the upper hand while there was still time.

In the half-light from the corridor, I was able to make out the few items of furniture in the room – a bed, two chairs and a wardrobe, but it was the window I was interested in. The blind had been pulled down, blocking out any light from outside. As I stood staring at the window considering the implications of ripping the screen away, I perceived a low guttural snarl from somewhere in the shadows of the room. Whirling round, I discerned a familiar shape crouching against the far wall. It was the shape of a man, but as I watched in horror, the arms began to extend, its legs became thickened and matted with fur and the head twisted sideways as the jaws extended and its teeth grew into the unmistakable outline of a wolf.

Raising my gun, I prepared to pull the trigger, but before I could act, Inspector Caddy threw himself against me and we crashed to the floor in a tangled heap of arms and legs. Looking up into his face, I witnessed a look of utter joy slide across his face.

“No Johnny,” he whispered. “You can’t kill her – she’s gorgeous.”

With a superhuman effort, I pushed him off me and struggled to my feet. “I wasn’t going to kill her, you stupid prick – I was going to kill him.” And I pointed to where the creature had been standing only seconds before, but of course it had gone. In the same instant this information entered my brain, a resounding crash told me the werewolf had thrown itself through the window.

Suddenly the room was full of people – Lestrade and his men ran to the shattered window, Mary and Schitt helped Caddy to his feet and Sherlock Holmes stood in the doorway, hands on hips and looking distinctly annoyed.

The only other person in the room was Judith Hirsch, who was now leaning against the wall, arms folded. She shook her head at me. “And there was me thinking Mister Holmes had you all wrong, Doctor. It seems you really are a total dick.”

“Inspector Lestrade,” I said, feeling my face flush scarlet, “arrest that woman.”

Holmes removed his false wig and mask, allowing it to dangle against his chest. Holding out a hand to prevent Lestrade slapping the ‘cuffs on Miss Hirsch, he said, “Don’t do that, old bean, we wouldn’t want to upset out American friends now, would we?”

A familiar churning sensation began to make itself known in my stomach. “No?” I said to Holmes, “and why’s that, then?”

Holmes smiled sardonically. “Watson, Lestrade, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Kate Warne, of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency.”

I bit my lip. “Kate Warne?”

The woman nodded.

“Of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency?”

She nodded again.

“That’s the Pinkerton’s Detective Agency in Chicago?”

“That’s the one,” she said, giving me a sly wink.

“Oh,” I said. “Shit.”

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Not Much of a Plan


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

The inspector was waiting by the turnstile as we hurried down the platform towards him. For once, his weasel-like features did not prompt my usual urge to snigger, and instead I shook his hand firmly.

“Lestrade. Good to see you, old chap.”

“And you, Doctor,” said the other, clearly surprised at my bonhomie. “Now, if you and Mrs Watson come with me, the others can take the second carriage.”

Leading us out onto the road, Lestrade made a show of getting us settled into our respective Hackneys before climbing in next to me and giving instructions to the driver.

We set off at a pace, hurtling through the darkened streets towards our destination, the cold wind doing nothing to cure my anxiety. Lestrade said nothing about our mission and made only the occasional banal comment relating to our current whereabouts. Within twenty minutes we pulled into a side street and disembarked under the meagre glow of a gas-lamp. Two constables emerged from the shadows and greeted Lestrade with the news that the object of their surveillance had not moved from the Tavern.

“Ah,” said Holmes, nodding towards the dimply lit windows of the public house opposite. “Then he is in his room?”

Lestrade frowned. “More likely to be in the public bar ‘aving a few jars, don’t you think?”

“Observe,” said Holmes pointing a slender finger skywards. Following his gaze, I looked up between the buildings to a narrow patch of the night sky and saw the moon emerge from behind a cloud.

“Full moon,” said Lestrade.

“Yes,” said Holmes. “My guess is the fellow will be waiting for the change to occur. We must get to him before it does, or we may be too late.”

“You think he’ll kill again,” said Mary, squeezing my hand tightly.

“Of course, Mrs Watson. If he is truly a werewolf, he cannot fail to. It is in his nature.”

“Now look here, Holmes,” I said, “we can’t go bursting in there without a plan.”

Holmes looked at me and nodded. “No, Johnny, we can’t. And that is why you will do precisely what I say.”

And so the Great Detective spent the next few minutes outlining the plan he’d worked out on the train journey. Mary, myself and Inspectors Schitt and Caddy were to act as decoys in a bid to lure Kessler out of his room with the offer of alcohol and sex, and thereby observing if the transformation had already taken place. Quite how we were supposed to escape if it had, was not explained. Lestrade and his men, meanwhile, would stand by in the room next door to Kessler’s armed with several rifles and a large net, though Holmes made it clear that killing the werewolf was to be considered only as a last resort.

“And where will you be?” I asked, as we made ready to enter the premises.

“I, Watson,” said Holmes, “shall be the bait.” And with that he unwrapped a package he’d been carrying since we boarded the train. As he unrolled it, I saw with horror that it was the disguise Schitt had used when masquerading as Judith Hirsch.

“You’ve got to be joking,” I said, stifling a laugh.

“Not a bit,” said Holmes, throwing aside his greatcoat and pulling on the false breasts, mask and wig. A moment later he had transformed himself into what can only be described as a very unappealing and grossly misshapen woman. “If the transformation has not already taken place,” he muttered, running his hands up and down his newly acquired chest, “Lestrade and his men will restrain him. If he has made the transformation, I shall tantalise him with my feminine allure, giving the rest of you a chance to move in from behind.”

“Have to say, Holmes,” I said, “that’s not much of a plan.”

“No, it’s not, Watson, but it’s all we’ve got.”

A few minutes later, we were all in position. Kessler’s room was on the second floor at the end of narrow corridor. Keeping one hand on my trusty revolver, I took up a stance outside the room in question, with Caddy standing close by holding two bottles of Baxter’s Very Brown Ale. With a curt nod, I signalled Mary to do her bit. Holding onto Inspector Schitt, she set about singing a music-hall ditty in a manner that might convince listeners she was several sheets to the wind. Schitt ad Caddy joined in the chorus and when I judged that anyone within a hundred yards of us could not have failed to hear them, I knocked on the door.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Into the Fray…


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

In setting down the final chapter in this bloody saga, I am gratified that I’m able to do so from the comfort of my own home. This evening, Mary kept me supplied with Custard Creams and hot chocolate while I revised my notes, reviewing and rewriting the sequence of events that led to the deaths of two of the protagonists. Now, she sits on the floor massaging my feet while I consider how best to relate the conclusion to this gory tale…

By the time we made our final rail connection on the last leg of our journey back to Londen, it was the afternoon of the following day. Inspector Schitt, not having brought a suit with him, was still clad in a dress, giving him the appearance of a rather miserable and wholly unconvincing female impersonator. His face reflected a sense of the annoyance he had revealed earlier, and a permanent scowl now lodged across his unshaven countenance.

Holmes, as usual, had reverted to his customary reluctance to share information, so we were no nearer to knowing exactly what had happened in his bedroom. Nevertheless, it didn’t take a genius to work out that while Holmes was at his toilet, Schitt had dressed up as some sort of pretend werewolf in a bid to scare us. If the man had not succumbed to the sleeping potion, Christ knows what he might have done – intentionally or otherwise. Presumably he’d employed the same tactic some days earlier in order to ‘attack’ Inspector Caddy on the moors for the benefit of the locals at The Slaughtered Lamb, giving credence to the werewolf rumours.

Since he could not have repeated this scenario a second time with the rest of us in the immediate vicinity, the truth of the matter had come from Caddy himself, who admitted that on the last occasion, the slashes to his neck were self-inflicted. Apparently, he’d borrowed one of Schitt’s knifey gloves and had unintentionally cut a little too deeply, which nevertheless served the purpose of, at least partly, convincing Holmes and I that some wolf-type beast had set upon him.

Even so, if we discovered that David Kessler was the real werewolf (and Holmes seemed convinced that this was the case), none of the Schitt/Caddy shenanigans really meant anything.

In an effort to avert further fisticuffs from the aforementioned pair, Holmes had seated himself between them, allowing exchanges of only stern glances and suitably insulting hand-signals. Mary and I sat opposite, taking turns trying to persuade Holmes to divulge his plans.

“I’ve told you, Watson,” said Holmes for the umpteenth time, “there is no specific plan other than to apprehend David Kessler.”

“You’re not going to…you know?” said Mary.

“You know my methods, Mary – the taking of another human life is not one of my usual solutions, though if it becomes the only viable option…” He tailed off, clearly not wanting to put into words what we were all thinking.

For my own part, I couldn’t see how keeping the fellow in some sort of confinement would be any different to taking his life, though as I was only too well aware, our old pal Doctor Lecter had not found any institution capable of permanently removing his liberty. That very morning, The Times had reported the famous cannibal’s latest bid for freedom. It seemed Lecter had beaten up two guards, hung one of them up on a meat hook and removed the other’s face in order to wear it as a mask, thus giving himself the perfect disguise. When the authorities whisked him off to hospital thinking he was a prison guard in the final throes of life, the canny doctor had overpowered his captors and escaped into the night.

It was hard to imagine Kessler being more adept at escape than Lecter, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been proved completely wrong.

I was aroused from my meanderings by the conductor, who announced that we would shortly be approaching King’s Cross.

“I suggest we stick together,” said Holmes, gathering his belongings. “Lestrade is meeting us at the station with a Hackney, so we should reach Bishopsgate within the next half an hour.”

Allowing our companions to leave the carriage first, I grasped Mary’s hand and urged her to stick by me at all costs – I didn’t want to be stitching her wounds if things turned nasty.

“Don’t worry, Johnny,” she said, “I’ll keep us safe.” And with that she produced a small repeating pistol from her handbag. “If he comes near me, I’ll blow his bloody brains out.”

I had to admire my wife’s courage – given what she’d been through, it was reassuring she hadn’t run screaming all the way back to Marlborough Hill. Checking my own weapon, I experienced a modicum of relief that my pistol was fully loaded and ready for action. My one concern lay in the old legend that werewolves could only be killed by a silver bullet. Though, truth be told, if it all came down to legends, we were all going to be well and truly buggered.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Undoing of Doctor Hirsch


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

“I’m sorry, Holmes,” I said, pulling up a chair. “But I just don’t understand how the woman could’ve strapped on these gloves and fitted herself with those horrendous dentures while you were sat here talking to her.”

Almost half an hour had passed since we had first entered the bedroom and looked upon the tormented form of Judith Hirsch. While I had hoped to continue my own investigation into the facts of the matter, it seemed selfish to keep what Mary and I now knew to ourselves, so I filled Holmes in on Caddy’s story, while the inspector added occasional details. My pipe-smoking friend listened attentively, making few comments and nodding thoughtfully from time to time. On finishing my account at the point where Holmes had called us upstairs, the four of us sat in quiet contemplation and for a few minutes no-one spoke.

Eventually, I leaned towards the Great Detective and tapped his knee.

Holmes coughed. “Yes, of course,” he muttered to himself. Then, glancing across at Mary and Caddy who had seated themselves by the fire, he gazed at each of them, their faces turned towards him in anticipation.

“To answer your question, John,” he said, patting his tummy, “I, unfortunately, was not in attendance the entire time, having found it necessary to spend several minutes in the Crapper.”

I let out a groan. “So you’re saying you don’t actually know what happened?”

“On the contrary, Watson, I know precisely what happened.”

He gave me one of his infuriatingly smug grins and said nothing more. Clearly, he was waiting for me to ask the obvious question.

“And what did happen?” I said with only a hint of annoyance.

Holmes leaned back in his chair and turned his face towards the still sleeping figure of Doctor Hirsch. Her ample bosom rose and fell gently in time with her breathing. “Judith here has endeavoured to throw us off the scent with a little bit of play-acting. Thankfully, it did not fool me for a second and I instead concentrated on those aspects of the case that truly required my attention. It was clear to me from our visit to The Slaughtered Lamb that something odd had occurred.” He swivelled his head back to look at me. “Whatever power overcame us during the short time we loitered at the inn, must be due to some sort of mass hallucination.”

“Really?” said I, stifling another groan.

“Yes,” he said. “Really. However, before I continue, I should like to hear the rest of Inspector Caddy’s tale.”

At this, Caddy jerked upright. “The rest? What on earth do you mean?”

Holmes smiled. “Simply that on making the possible connection of Miss Hirsch being the brother of the American David Kessler, you must have followed it up.” He smiled again.

Caddy swallowed noisily and took several deep breaths. “Ah.”

“You might begin,” urged Holmes, “by explaining exactly what drew you to the conclusion that Kessler was indeed her brother.”

Caddy gave a short laugh. “She told me, of course. When I commented on her American accent she described how she and her brother had embarked on a tour of the Londen sights, but that he had disappeared from the hotel where they were staying.”

“And she set out to follow him?” I put in.

“Yes.”

“To Titfield?” said Holmes.

“Yes,” said Caddy again, though with a lesser degree of certainty.

“But surely she already knew he was in Titfield?” said Mary, her wonky eye pivoting back and forth. “If she was following the trail of attacks, she must have known he’d been there.” She glanced at Holmes for affirmation.

“Indeed she did,” said Holmes. “What she did not know was where he was headed next.” He peered hard at Caddy. “And she could only have known that if someone in authority had told her.”

“Wait a mo,” said I, feeling somewhat left behind. “You’re saying Caddy knew where Kessler was headed?”

“Of course,” said Holmes. “He knew Doctor Hirsch had engaged the services of ourselves and that our first port of call would be the site of the so-called attack at The Slaughtered Lamb.”

“What d’you mean, so-called?” I said.

“Precisely that,” said Holmes. “The whole thing was a set-up between Caddy and Hirsch to lure the two of us…” he glanced at Mary. “The three of us into a trap.”

“But why,” I wailed.

At this point Caddy leaped up and declared, “Because I have a book deal that’ll make my name – a book that’ll blow the lid off Sherlock Bloody Holmes and his smarmy-parmy investigations.” He hesitated, then, “I mean…before I got to know you better…and…” Caddy’s mouth continued moving but any further explanation eluded him and after a moment he sat down again.

“What you failed to realise,” said Holmes rising to his feet, “is that you, Caddy, are not, and never were, at the centre of this investigation. No, in fact someone else had an interest in getting rid of you and your book deal and at the same time making a name for themselves with the biggest detective story this country has ever known.” He paused for effect. “The reason Judith Hirsch was following Kessler is because she is not Judith Hirsch, but is in fact…”

Stepping across to where Judith lay, he grabbed her bosom and ripped it upwards.

Incredibly, the woman’s face, hair and chest came away as if they were a single piece of fabric, and with a deft movement, Holmes tossed the attachments aside leaving behind the true face and torso of the person underneath.

Caddy sprang out of his chair like a firework. “Fucking hell!”

“Yes,” said Holmes, smoothly. “Inspector Schitt of the Yard, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

“But, but, but..” I stammered.

“But me no buts, Watson. As always, it’s elementary.”

“With the greatest of respect Holmes, it really isn’t.”

A low groan came from the person who apparently was not Judith Hirsch. The scrawny bald-headed features of Inspector Schitt turned towards us, his sharp green eyes blinking rapidly.

“For fuck’s sake…” he muttered. Pulling himself into an upright position he glared at Holmes. “Couldn’t fuckin leave it alone, could you, you bleedin…” He ran out of breath and coughed vehemently several times. Clutching at himself, he rubbed his chest. “Cost me ‘alf a month’s pay did that,” he said, gazing longingly at the disguise that now lay in a crumpled heap on the floor.

“Ah well,” said Holmes. “A disguise is only as good as the individual beneath it.”

With another burst of energy, Caddy leaped forward and landed a sharp right hook to Schitt’s jaw, knocking him backwards onto the bed.

Taking hold of Caddy by the shoulders, I held him back, but his anger had already subsided. Inspector Schitt, conversely, was out cold.

“Well,” I said, sitting back down. “That explains a lot.”

“Sadly,” said Holmes, “it answers only one part of the mystery.”

This was clearly going to be one of those times when Holmes explained everything, or nearly everything, so after lifting Inspector Schitt’s legs onto the bed and assuring myself that he was relaxed in his unconscious state, we all made ourselves comfortable.

“What all of you have singularly failed to realise,” said Holmes, waving a hand towards the bed, “is that this fellow is the only person who actually understood the problem. You see, unlike the rest of us, Schitt already believed in the possibility of an actual werewolf, therefore he was in the best position to hunt down the last of the bloodline and kill it in order to end the carnage.”

“What?” said I, aghast. “You mean it’s all true?”

“Of course,” said Holmes haughtily.

“But you said…” I began.

“I said,” continued the detective, “what it was necessary for me to say in order that the inspector here would not be duped into thinking we knew more than he did.”

I considered this for a moment. “So we could learn what he already knew?”

Holmes nodded. “It would also have served his purpose rather nicely if he could catch and kill the aforementioned wolf, while at the same time, make me out to be some kind of buffoon.”

“Not some kind,” muttered the man on the bed, “every fuckin kind.”

Holmes smiled at the inspector. “Now, now, Andrew, you know you’re not as clever as I am.”

“Oh, no?” said the old man with a snarl.

“No,” said Holmes, reaching into his inside jacket pocket. Pulling out a piece of yellowish paper, he passed it to me.

Taking the telegramatical communication, I unfolded it eagerly. “It’s a telegram,” I said unnecessarily. “It reads – Mister Holmes stop. Have located the gentleman in question stop. Is lodged at the Londen Tavern in Bishopsgate stop. Best wishes Lestrade.”

“Oh my God,” gasped Mary. “This means that…” She looked at me.

“Yes,” I said. “There’s an American werewolf in Londen…”

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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