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Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

While ruminating on the problem the young lad had thrust upon me, I spent a few minutes making sandwiches for Doctor Watson and Holmes (or whoever the man with the meerschaum might be). Leaving the lad to finish his sandwiches, I trudged back upstairs, trying to think of an unobtrusive means of working out the truth, and a way to let Watson know we might be dealing with an imposter.

As I entered the room, I found my companions checking their revolvers by the fireside, and standing watching them, it seemed ridiculous that Watson could possibly be unaware Holmes might not be Holmes.

“Ah,” said the big-nosed detective. “Food for the workers. Good show, Lestrade.”

I handed over the plates of food and retired to a chair by the window.

Between mouthfuls, Holmes said, “Our urchin friend’s gone, has he?”

“Er, yes. Must ‘ave.”

Holmes gave me an odd look, but before I had time to think about it, his face had resumed its normal bland expression.

“So,” I said, hoping to change the subject, “we still goin lookin for Mary, then?”

Watson nodded. “Soon as it’s dark.”

Taking out my police notebook, I made a show of catching up on my notes, while keeping a close eye on Holmes. Watching him eat the cheese sandwich, I tried to see any movements or mannerisms that didn’t ring true with the Sherlock Holmes I knew, but if this man really was an imposter, he appeared to be doing a first-rate job. It wasn’t until my subject had finished eating and taken out his pipe again that I had the opportunity to observe his pipe-lighting techniques. But instead of holding the pipe and matchbox in his right hand as my informant had insisted, Holmes held them in his left hand—just as the real Holmes would do. As he struck the Swan Vesta, he glanced up at me.

“Very quiet, Lestrade. Not sickening for anything, are you?” He strolled over to where I sat and gazed out of the window into the street below.

“Er, no, Mr ‘Olmes. Just checking me notes and whatnot.” I dropped my gaze to the notebook, feeling that to continue staring at him might give me away. Then, realising Holmes might see what I’d been writing, I flipped the notebook shut and swivelled round in my chair. Peering out into the darkening street, I saw the boy from downstairs leave the shop and trot across the lane. I couldn’t tell from the detective’s face if he too had seen the lad.

“Yes, indeed,” said Holmes, half to himself. “Think I might go for a stroll.”

Watson looked up sharply. “Not outside?”

“No, obviously not. Just need to stretch my legs etc.” Crossing the room, he stepped out onto the landing, and we heard him walk along the passage to the top of the stairs where a window looked out onto the back of the building. No further sound came to my ears, suggesting he must be looking out of the window.

I glanced at Watson. “Everyfing all right, Doc?”

“Aside from my missing wife, yes.”

“Course. No, I just meant, is everyfing all right wiv his nibs?”

Watson blinked. “How d’you mean?”

I had no answer to this, so simply said, “Just generally, yer know?” He nodded, but I could see from his expression something bothered him. With an ear cocked in case Holmes returned, I continued in a low voice. “I always thought he were right-handed.”

“He is.” He inclined his head. “Is something wrong, Lestrade?”

“Nah, not really. Just…”

He watched me carefully and I could see I’d piqued his interest.

“Just that the lad, the messenger boy, yer know, he said somefing that got me finking.”

Watson glanced at the door then back at me. “Something about Holmes using his left hand?”

“Somefing about that.”

“You do know he’s ambidextrous, don’t you?”

“Ambi-what?”

“Dextrous. He can use both hands, though tends to favour the right one.”

“Fuck.”

“Is there something I should know, Inspector?”

“No, nofing ter worry about. Just me being thick.”

“That’s not like you, Lestrade,” he said, but I suspected he didn’t mean it.

A couple of minutes later, Holmes came back into the room, and I continued my observation exercise, albeit feeling less sure of my theory.

A few hours later, the sky had darkened considerably and the three of us agreed to go in search of Mary Watson.

Slipping out via the back door, we crept along a narrow alley and out onto Drury Lane. The wind had picked up and I pulled my collar up against the cold. By keeping to the shadows, we managed to avoid eye contact with the various passers-by, who, seemingly intent on reaching their presumed destinations, stalked along the street with their heads down.

“Once we get to Russell Square it’ll be difficult to stay out of sight,” said Holmes.

“How we goin ter find Mary, then?” said I.

“We’re not. Her abductors will find us.”

Watson whirled round to face Holmes. “Have you gone mad? We’d be walking right into Moran’s hands.”

“Precisely,” said Holmes, pushing past him.

Watson looked at me. Keeping his voice low, he muttered, “Does this sound like something Sherlock Holmes would do?”

I shrugged. “Honestly, Doc, I’m runnin out of opinions on what he would or wouldn’t do.” I paused, then, “He does act a bit weird sometimes.”

The doctor nodded. “True. Let’s go along with his plan, but if I give you the nod, make a run for it.”

We trotted off after Holmes, keeping our eyes peeled for anyone acting suspiciously.

At the corner of Russell Square and Montague Street, Holmes pulled up short and stood for a moment, gazing across the large garden square before us. I couldn’t imagine what he might be looking for since the place lay in darkness, with trees and bushes blocking out anything that might be lurking in the undergrowth.

“Right, chaps,” he said, turning his beady eyes on us. “Let us find the nearest lamppost and deposit ourselves beneath it.”

Watson and I exchanged glances but followed our apparent leader along to a position close to the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. Next to the monument, a gas lamp illuminated the area nearby. Standing beneath it, Holmes leaned against the post.

“Might as well make ourselves comfortable, eh?” And with that, he took out his meerschaum and began stuffing it with tobacco.

Taking Watson to one side, I muttered, “So? Is he Sherlock Holmes or is he not?”

“If he isn’t, why would he bother trying to find Mary?”

He had a point. I peered at Holmes as the big-nosed detective struck a Swan Vesta. Just as he sucked the flame into the pipe, a gust of wind caught all three of us and the match flared up.

“Yarrgh!”

Throwing the match and the pipe to the ground, Holmes clasped his hands to his face.

Quick as a flash, Watson stepped forwards. Taking out a handkerchief, he took hold of the detective’s hands and forced them downwards.

“What the hell are you doing?” yelled Holmes. “I burned my ducking dose!”

“Yes,” said Watson. “And I’m a doctor, so hold still while I examine you.”

Holmes let out a whimpering sigh but allowed Watson to check the damage. Dabbing at the injured organ, Watson wiped the area around the singed bit. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t touch it.”

Watson stepped back while Holmes continued whimpering.

“Well,” said the doctor, taking my arm. “It appears you’re right.”

“I am?”

Watson opened his handkerchief where he’d folded it over, revealing a lump of what looked like plasticine.

“What’s that?” said I.

“That,” said the other, in a low voice, “is what actors call face putty.”

“Oh, hell.”

We stood looking at each other for a long moment.

“What now?” I said.

“Let’s wait and see what he’s up to. If Mary really is being kept prisoner around here, he can only be leading us into a trap.”

“For once, John-Boy, you’re absolutely right,” said a voice behind me.

Whirling round, I stared up at the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. “Bloody Norah— a talking monument.”

Watson squeezed my arm and pointed to a dark shape emerging from behind the huge erection. “Colonel Moran, I believe.”

“Doctor. Inspector. Good of you to come along. Saved us the hassle of chasing after you.” He clicked his fingers and two thugs appeared, both holding pistols.

Walking past us, Moran looked at the man pretending to be Holmes and gave him a sharp slap across the face. “You stupid prick. Why’d you bring them here?”

The tall man with the beady eyes rubbed his face, then began peeling off the remnants of his false nose. “The boy noticed I’m left-handed. I’m pretty sure he told Lestrade.”

“So what? They wouldn’t have known for sure if you’d stuck to the plan.” He shook his head. “Bloody amateurs. I should send you back to Am-Dram Central, or wherever it is you lesbians hang out.”

“It’s Thespians, actually,” said the actor and made as if to walk away.

“On second thoughts, stay there.” Moran waved a hand at Watson. “Give me your gun, would you, Doctor?”

Watson blinked rapidly. “I don’t have it with me.”

“Yes, you do—it’s in your outside right jacket pocket.” He clicked his fingers impatiently. “Come on, come on.”

Careful not to make any sudden movements, Watson took out the weapon and handed it over.

Moran checked it over, cocked the revolver and pointed it at the actor.

“Be careful with that,” said Watson. “It’s loaded.”

“I know,” said Moran, “and this is what happens to people who let me down.” Taking aim, he shot the actor in the chest. The man fell to the ground with a faint sigh.

“You killed him,” said Watson.

“I shouldn’t worry, Doctor, he’s died on stage enough times to know the real thing when it happens.” He paused, sighed, and looked down at the actor who had begun to moan softly. “Don’t milk it.”

The fake Sherlock moved his head, looked up and patted his chest. “Ooh, that really hurt.”

Moran handed the gun back to Watson. “Yes. Unfortunately, blanks do sting a bit.” He waved an admonishing finger at the thespian. “Don’t let me down again or next time the bullets will be real.” He nodded at me and Doctor Watson and pointed to a house across the road. “Now, if you don’t mind, gentlemen…”

Watson and I walked across the street escorted by the two thugs. Giving Watson a nudge, I muttered, “Clever trick that.”

“Yes,” I said. “That bloody actor must’ve swapped the bullets while we were checking the revolvers earlier.”

Through a gate, we were pushed down a flight of steps towards what I presumed would be the basement of the house. Whatever awaited us, I guessed it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

As Doctor Watson would say—unfortunately, I was right.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Detective and the Doctor’s Wife

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Colonel Moran and his nursey sidekick stood there grinning at us for a moment, before slinking off into another room, leaving the two thugs guarding the door.

“Where did they pick you up?” I said, keeping my voice low.

“Literally seconds after I’d left the Marks Brothers shop,” said Holmes. “I turned a corner, and someone put a knife to my throat.” He nodded towards one of the thugs.

“They made no attempt to disguise themselves, then?”

He gave me a sad smile. “I know what you’re thinking, Mary—we’ve seen their faces, so they clearly have no intention of keeping us alive.”

“But why have they only taken you and I?”

Holmes made a face. “I can only surmise they’re holding your husband and Lestrade somewhere else.” He frowned. “Though that makes little sense—why use two hideouts when one would do just as well? And if they intend to kill us anyway…”

“Unless they haven’t been taken,” I said.

Holmes rubbed his chin. “But if that’s the case, Johnny and Lestrade would surely notice our absence.”

“Maybe that’s what they want—to create confusion.”

Pulling up a chair to the fire, I sat for a moment, contemplating our situation. “Could Moran be in league with Blackwood?”

Holmes shook his head. “As I recall, Blackwood had Moran horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”

I felt my mouth drop open. “Sherlock, d’you realise you’ve just quoted from one of Johnny’s stories?”

He frowned. “Really? One of my famous explanations?”

I coughed. “Well, no, actually. It’s from a piece Johnny wrote a few years ago about the murder of Lady Campanula Tottington of Tottington Hall—you suspected Blackwood and Moran but couldn’t prove it.”

“So it is one of my famous explanations?”

I bit my lip. “No, Holmes. Johnny told me how you’d gone into this long monologue about the rivalry between Blackwood and Moran, but that it was far too longwinded to use in the story, so he…paraphrased it.”

Holmes made an ‘O’ shape with his mouth. “Oh, well. I suppose one’s biographer must exercise the editorial red pen at times. Yes… Blackwood had a solid alibi and Moran couldn’t be traced. But in any case, it seemed unlikely the pair would have been in cahoots.” He peered at me. “The story didn’t appear in The Strand Magazine, did it?”

I looked away. “It didn’t, but Johnny submitted it to a periodical in Ireland—The Irish Investigator Monthly. They published it with the proviso that the case couldn’t be proved.”

Holmes let out a long sigh. “Which doesn’t alter the fact that Moran and Blackwood are highly unlikely to be in this together.”

“Unless Moran is trying to get rid of both Blackwood and us at the same time. With Moriarty dead, that would leave Moran free to take over both criminal empires.”

“Who says Moriarty is dead?”

“Moran told me. In the cab.”

“And you believed him?”

I shrugged. “Why would he lie?”

At that point, Moran himself came back into the room. “So, Mr Sherlock-Cleverclogs-Holmes…have you worked it out, yet?”

Holmes stared at him. “Where are Watson and Lestrade?”

Moran smiled. “All in good time. I’ve arranged a little entertainment for them. It’ll be interesting to see how they react when they realise the Sherlock Holmes they’ve been conversing with at the Olde Gin Shoppe, isn’t their Sherlock Holmes.”

Holmes laughed quietly. “A stooge. You’ve put a stooge in my place? And you seriously expect they won’t notice?”

Moran ran a tongue along his lower lip. “They haven’t so far.”

“And what’s the point?” I said.

“The point, Mrs Watson, is to have a little fun before…” He sniggered. “Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”

Still giggling away to himself, he went out, leaving us to ponder on his words.

We sat quietly for a few minutes, considering what we knew. Or rather, what we didn’t know. I couldn’t see any reason for carrying out the charade of replacing Holmes with a lookalike simply to entertain Moran. Then something occurred to me.

“Sherlock, d’you think it’s a test? A way of trying out their stooge to see if Johnny and the inspector notice?”

Holmes nodded slowly. “If this ‘stooge’ is good, he might fool them for a short while, or even fool them completely, and if he can deceive two individuals who know me well…”

“He could fool anyone.”

“Precisely.”

“But why?”

His mouth tightened into a hard line. “Because, Mary, if Londen’s only consulting detective and his closest friends could be replaced with an imposter, the entire city would be open to the worst cravings of the criminal underworld. And if one man controlled that underworld…”

“Oh, shit.”

“Shit indeed.” Holmes rubbed a hand over his face. “Our only hope is that Blackwood puts a stop to Moran’s plans before everything gets out of control.”

“But why would Blackwood do that?”

“That’s the problem, Mary—he wouldn’t.”

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Strange and the Familiar

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As the carriage raced along towards whatever my fate might be, I noted with a degree of disquiet that my captors made no effort to cover my face. Clearly, they were not concerned I might recognise my surroundings, which could only mean they did not intend to keep me alive long enough to reveal their identities or the particulars of their hideaway.

Nevertheless, I took careful note of our route in the unlikely circumstances of an imminent rescue attempt (a rescue attempt I feared would not be forthcoming, since my dear husband and his big-nosed companion would not yet be aware of my disappearance, and even when they did notice my absence, the likelihood of identifying Colonel Moran and his villainous gang as possible culprits, had to be somewhere in the region of little-chance, and no-fucking-chance.)

Reaching into my coat pocket, I extracted one of my notebooks, thinking I may as well update my activities (given the likelihood of it being the last thing I’d do).

“I see you keep a diary, Mrs Watson,” said Moran. He had placed himself between me and the carriage door—rat-faced Ratched having taken up residence on my other side, preventing any escape.

Tilting my chin upwards in a rebellious pose, I said, “Of course, I expect I shall need it when the case gets to court.”

Moran chuckled. “Ah yes, the optimism of the Watsons—always worth a laugh.”

“Don’t underestimate my husband, Sebastian. After all, he helped put you in gaol last time.”

He nodded, solemnly. “Indeed. But not for long. As you can see.” He waved his hands in a regal gesture.

I said nothing for a moment, then as we approached Russell Square, I leaned towards Moran and muttered, “So, Moriarty got you out, did he?”

The colonel grinned. “Now then, Mary, you know better than to ask leading questions.” He sniffed and gazed out of the window. “Besides, Moriarty’s dead.”

Though I knew him to be an accomplished liar, the tone of Moran’s voice gave the impression that, on this occasion at least, he told the truth.

At that point, the carriage rolled to a stop, and I saw we had drawn up a few yards away from a recently erected monument.

Moran nodded towards the famous statue. “Ah, yes. Bartholomew Cavendish. Hero of the Indian Wars. Also known as the Duke of Bendover. Best known for his habit of ordering unruly subordinates to drop their trousers, prostrate themselves over his desk and—”

“Yes, Colonel,” I said, interrupting. “I’m well aware of the stories surrounding that man’s accomplishments.”

“Curiously enough,” he continued, “bending over is one of the many activities Maudie has in mind for you.” He laughed, maniacally.

Maudie herself had begun to alight from the vehicle and I saw two burly henchmen approaching. Reaching in, they grabbed me roughly by the arms and hoisted me out and onto the street. For a moment, I had the urge to scream, but one of the men produced a dagger and pressed it to my stomach.

“One word out ov you, girlie, an I’ll slit yer gizzard faster than a Dundee fishwife.”

I smiled sweetly. “Actually, humans don’t have gizzards. The primary function of it in fish is to aid the digestion.”

The man scowled. “That so? Well, ‘ow about I slit somfing else instead?”

I coughed. “No, that’s alright. I shan’t be any trouble to you.”

“That’s what I thort.”

The two gripped me firmly and led me towards a grand looking house with several steps up to a large front door. But it wasn’t the main part of the building we were headed for, and I found myself being pushed down a metal staircase that presumably led to the cellar. In any case, we were soon in a darkened room below street level, where a distinct but recognisable aroma filled my nostrils.

Peering through the gloom, I saw a dark figure sitting by the fire at the other side of the room. As I moved towards him, the smell of the tobacco filled my nostrils. The potent and slightly sweet aroma seemed awfully familiar to me and as I searched my memory, a churning sensation in my tummy told me I already knew the identity of the stranger.

As I stepped closer to the fire, the man with the pipe turned his head towards me. “Ah, Mary. I wondered when you’d show up.”

“Oh, my God! What the fuck?”

“My sentiments entirely, my dear. But have a seat—if we’re lucky, our abductor might entertain us with an explanation.” He turned to look back at Colonel Moran, who now stood a few feet away, a smug expression on his face.

“Au contraire, old friend,” said he. “Surely, as the world’s greatest consulting detective, you’ve already worked out what’s going on?”

“Of course,” said Sherlock Holmes, but the tight line of his mouth told me that for once, the hero of Baker Street did not have all the answers.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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Where Art Thou, Mary Watson?

Diary of Doctor Watson

I arrived at the Olde Gin Shoppe on Drury Lane just as the gas lamps were coming on. A queue of punters had gathered outside the theatre next door, so creeping along the opposite side of the street, I took care to be sure of slipping into the shop unnoticed. Once inside, I looked around. Dusty shelves lined the gloomy interior, each boasting hundreds of bottles of the aforementioned beverage in sizes and colours enough to boggle the imagination. A noise caught my attention. Turning towards the counter, I saw a curtain sweep aside as the shopkeeper appeared, fat fingers clasped across his generous stomach.

“Doctor Watson, I presume?” he murmured.

A little put out that my costume hadn’t fooled him, I gave a brisk nod and followed his directions through a door in the corner and up a flight of stairs to the upper floor.

“Seems my disguise isn’t quite as good as I thought,” I said, closing the door behind me.

Holmes leaned an elbow on the mantelpiece, his meerschaum clamped between thin lips. He gave me a sardonic smile. “Not the fault of your disguise, Watson, simply a result of my having informed our host to look out for a man with a wooden leg and a twitch.”

“A twitch?” I said.

Holmes nodded. “Yes—every time you step on the false leg, your face performs an unintentional spasm, possibly due to the sharp pain exerted from the leather straps holding your appendage in place.”

“Huh. You’d have a bloody twitch too if your nuts had got caught up in this contraption.” Dropping my trousers, I unfastened the false leg, adjusted my marital equipment, and loosened the belt holding my right foot in place against my upper thigh.

It was only after I’d refastened my trousers and seated myself on a chair by the fire that I took stock of my surroundings.

“Where’s Mary? Shouldn’t she be here by now?”

Holmes and Lestrade exchanged a look.

“I know she meant ter take the shortest route,” said the inspector. “Ought to ‘ave been ere before all of us.”

I looked at Holmes.

He sniffed. “Mary’s a sensible woman. I can’t imagine she simply wandered off to do a bit of shopping.”

“What’re you saying, Holmes?”

“I’m saying, Doctor, that in all likelihood, Mary has been taken.”

My lower lip began to quiver. “You mean…you mean, she’s been taken by Blackwood?”

“It’s the only reasonable possibility.” Producing a small pocket-knife, he proceeded to clean out his pipe.

“My God, man, that’s unthinkable. Christ knows what he might do to her.”

Holmes held up a hand. “Until we have further news, I suggest we stay calm. There’s no use speculating.”

“And where might this further news come from?” I said, making no effort to conceal my anger.

The Great Detective cocked his head to one side and looked at the door. “Hark,” he muttered. “I hear the patter of urchin feet.”

A moment later, a knock came at the door and a ruddy face peered in.

“Scuse me Mr Olmes,” said the boy, stepping into the room. “Oi reckon Oi might ‘ave a bit of news for yer.”

“Come in, come in, dear boy.” He waved the lad into a seat by the fire. “Hopkins, isn’t it?”

The boy nodded. “It is, sir. Tommy Hopkins.”

“And pray what data morsels have you to impart to this anticipatory gathering?”

The boy frowned. “Yer what?”

Holmes laughed. “I’m asking you to tell us what you know.”

“Oh. Right.” He rubbed his mucky hands together, warming them at the fire. “Well, first off, we ain’t found anyfing about that Blackwood feller—seems like he must’ve disappeared inter thin air.”

Holmes nodded. “I see. And what else?”

“Well, I reckon yous are missing someone, ain’t yer?”

“We are, as if happens. Go on.” Turning, he stared at his own reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece, then lit his pipe with a Swan Vesta and puffed blue-grey smoke into the room.

“Seems a certain gen’leman as been seen bundlin a lady answering Mrs Watson’s description into a Hackney cab not an hour since.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know who this gentleman might be?” said Holmes, leaning towards the boy.

The youngster grinned. “Course Oi would. Know that fucker anywhere. Oh, pardon my French, Mr Olmes. No, yer see, he has what you yourself, sir, would call a military bearing and wears this long coat to conceal his weapon.”

Holmes stared at the floor for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. “A military man, you say, and carrying a weapon beneath a long coat…” Then with a shout of annoyance, his head jerked up, his eyes bright. “Not an air rifle?”

“That’s the one, sir. The very one used in the murder of Ronald Adair…” The lad glanced at me with an admiring smile. “The one Dr Watson wrote about in the—”

“Yes, yes, we know all about that, said Holmes, waving a hand. “So Mary has been taken by our old friend Colonel Moran, who apparently, is no longer a prisoner at her majesty’s pleasure. Tell me—where did the cab go?”

The lad leaned forwards. “Oi instructed one of the boys to run after it, but he lorst sight of the cab approaching Russell Square.”

Holmes thanked the boy and sent him on his way with a shilling for his trouble.

I glanced at Lestrade. “Ring any bells, Inspector?”

The weasel-faced cop shook his head. “Not off ‘and. Ain’t the sort of area where your ordinary villain is likely ter ‘ang about.”

Holmes began to stuff his meerschaum with a bit of hard shag, his piggy little eyes staring into space. After a moment, he looked at me.

“Watson, where might a former soldier and big-game hunter go for a bite to eat following the execution of a successful plan?”

“A big-game hunter?” said I. “Well…” I blinked, and then it hit me. “Of course! The Tropical Café—the haunt of explorers, adventurers and not a few well-heeled villains.”
“Which is where?” said Holmes with a smile.

I held up a triumphant finger. “Russell Square.”

“Which means,” said Holmes, blowing a cloud of smoke at me, “that our quarry may well have stashed Mary in some nearby bolthole.”

“Then we must go,” I said, jumping to my feet.

Holmes went to the window and, keeping well behind the curtain, peered down into the street below. “It’s getting dark. Another hour or so and it should be safe to venture out.”

“But what about Mary?” I protested. “She could be—”

“Yes, yes, Watson. I’m aware of your concerns but there would be no merit in walking straight into the hands of our enemies.”

I sank down onto a chair, dropping my head into my hands.

Holmes crossed the room and patted my shoulder. “We have one thing in our favour, old friend.”

I looked up at him. “We have?”

“Colonel Moran was in the army with Lord Blackwood. As I recall, Blackwood had him horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”

“What d’you mean, Holmes?”

“I mean, Doctor, that it may be, whether Moran knows it or not, that we and he are working towards the same conclusion—the downfall of Lord Blackwood.”

While this possibility did not exactly fill me with hope, it did give me pause to consider Mary’s situation might not be as perilous as I’d thought.

Naturally, I was wrong.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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‘Old Friends and Other Villains’

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Holmes had warned us to be vigilant in our journeys to Drury Lane, so I took a roundabout route, cutting along Great Russell Street, into Adeline Place and along Bedford Avenue, bringing me out at the British Museum. Then, crossing into a narrow lane which I knew would take me into Streatham Street, I ran headlong into an old friend.

“Ooh, you’re a tasty bit ‘o stuff, ain’t yer, my girl,” he gushed, beery breath belching into my face. “Why not come back wiv me ter my place and I’ll show yer what I keeps in me trousers?”

I had a mind to reveal my identity to the artful Mr Sikes, knowing he’d shit his pants on realising his indiscretion, but given his inebriated condition, he might well blab about the encounter in the nearest boozer. With Blackwood’s men everywhere, it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Well then, me dearie?” he muttered, grabbing my wrist. “What’s it to be?”  As he endeavoured to pull me into a drunken embrace, I brought my knee up, swiftly crushing his enthusiasm and leaving the poor man clutching damaged goods.

Scurrying past the midday crowds, I ducked into another lane around the back to The Old Crown and then turned right.

If I’d taken a minute to assess my surroundings, I might have avoided my next encounter, but instead, I pushed on, forcing my way through a group of workmen who’d stopped to help an old man who’d tripped over a dog. As I stepped aside to avoid the group, I caught my skirt on the broken-down cart, pulling it up and giving all and sundry an eyeful of my bare legs. One of the men moved away from the others and, placing himself in my path, grabbed hold of my shawl.

“I’d know those pins anywhere,” he said, pulling me closer.

Looking up into his face, I heard myself gasp. “Oh, shit…”

“Oh, shit indeed,” said the newcomer. “I reckon you’d better come along with me.”

As he tried to drag me away from the crowd, I allowed my legs to give way, dropping to the ground.

Bending over me, he brought his bearded face down to my level. Holding out his free hand, he carefully angled his wrist away, revealing the barrel of a pistol. The weapon had been strapped to his arm, no doubt fitted with a quick-fire mechanism that could do a lot of damage with a simple flick of the wrist.

“Do as you’re told, Mary Watson, cos I’d be more than happy to blow your bloody face off.”

I gave him a brief nod. Colonel Sebastian Moran had a reputation as a crack shot. This wasn’t the time for bravery.

Moments later, we were striding off in the opposite direction to my intended destination. Whatever Moran’s intentions, I had to get away, but a niggling doubt sprang into my head—what if this were no accidental encounter?

As we reached the next corner, Moran nodded to a waiting cabbie and the Hackney manoeuvred across the street. The door opened and—as if I needed any further surprises—another familiar face looked out.

“We meet again, Mrs Wonky-Eye Watson,” said the woman.

A sinking sensation churned my stomach, but I had no intention of allowing anyone to see how scared I felt. “Still got a face like a prolapsed anus, then?”

Formerly of the Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed and more recently seen during our adventure on Huge Island, Mathilda Ratched glared at Moran. “How does she know about my anus?”

Moran rolled his eyes. “She’s teasing you, Maudie. Ignore her and think about all the lovely things you’ll be able to do when she’s tied to the rack, stark naked and ripe for…” He winked at me. “Well, ripe for all sorts.”

The vile pair cackled in unison and were still laughing as the cab juddered into motion and set off towards whatever horrible fate awaited me.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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Holmes Explains – Mostly…


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

‘I don’t bloody believe it,’ said Holmes. ‘Professor James Moriarty.’ The Great Detective shook his head. ‘But it makes no sense—why would you go to all this trouble just to kill me?’

‘As it happens,’ said Moriarty, rubbing the last traces of rubber from his face, ‘killing you would be an added bonus. Take a look around you—not everything is about Sherlock Holmes.’ With a sneer, he turned and nodded to a group of individuals who had so far remained hidden behind a screen further up the hall. As they moved forward, I recognised one of them immediately.

‘Klopp.’ Holmes laughed. ‘Still striving for that ultimate wewenge?’

‘Do not taunt me, Holmes,’ she said, scornfully. ‘You haf no more chances in your community chest.’

‘What’s she bleedin on about?’ said I.

‘Monopoly,’ whispered Mary.

‘Oh, right.’ I was none the wiser.

‘And now we are all here, perhaps you are acquainted wiz my colleagues?’ Klopp waved a hand and the four strangers moved closer.

Holmes let out a long, low groan.

‘I reckon I know who the Chinese bloke is,’ I muttered to Watson, ‘but what about the others?’

The doctor was about to reply when Holmes piped up, ‘The one with the drooping moustache, as you guessed, is Fu Manchu, apparently not in Burma. Next to him is the forger Austin Bidwell. Then there’s the Lambeth Garage Poisoner Reggie Stocks and of course, our old pal Colonel Sebastian Moran. A veritable bevvy of bunglers.’

‘Oh yes, Moran,’ I said. ‘Didn’t recognise ‘im wiv that beard.’

‘And you, Inspector Lestrade,’ said Moriarty, turning his attention to me. ‘So nice of you to join us. I feel we’ve left you out of our adventures of late.’

‘That’s all right,’ I said. ‘I ain’t bovvered.’ Despite my bravado, my face flushed and a horrible feeling of uncertainty swept over me.

‘But I’m happy that you can take part in this small … how must we say … conclusion?’

‘You mean murder,’ said Holmes.

‘Call it what you will, but as I told you, ending your miserable little lives was Professor Klopp’s aim, not mine. Unlike her, I rather enjoy your little interferences.’ He stepped to one side. ‘And now, if Doctor Watson would be so good as to ask his question …’

Watson coughed. ‘Sorry, what question?’

Moriarty sighed. ‘The one you always ask when Holmes solves a case.’

The Doc looked blank for a moment, then his face lit up. ‘Ah.’ He hesitated, glanced at Holmes, then said, ‘But what I still don’t understand is, why set up all these people to kill each other for no reason?’

Frau Klopp smiled. ‘You see, Holmes, at least your rather stupid friend has ze decency to ask ze question, vhich of course, you cannot answer.’ She shrugged.

‘Oh, but I know the answer,’ said Holmes, rather smugly.

Klopp’s face dropped. ‘No, you don’t. You cannot know. You haf no idea.’

‘Yes, I have, actually,’ Holmes continued, ‘and I’d be happy to share it with you.’

Klopp’s face turned beetroot with rage, her mouth twisting into a snarling grimace much like my Aunt Bertha’s pet bulldog. Finally, she nodded. ‘Fine. Haf it your vay.’

‘Well,’ said Holmes, taking out his meerschaum, ‘I must admit the whole thing did rather stump me for a while. You see, I couldn’t work out why you’d go to all the bother of having each guest kill another guest.’ He stuck the pipe in his mouth but didn’t take the trouble to light it.

‘Zat’s easy,’ said Klopp, ‘I zimply—’

‘Hold your fire, Frau Rent-a-mouth. I haven’t finished.’

Klopp growled, but said nothing.

‘You see,’ Holmes went on, ‘the thing made no sense at all, unless you looked at it from that precise point of view.’

‘And vot point of view is zat?’ said Klopp.

‘That it makes no sense. In which case the only sense one can make of it is that the whole thing intends to make the detective—me—think he cannot solve it.’

‘Vich is entirely correct,’ said Klopp, triumphantly. ‘It vas a game, a game designed to baffle and befuddle you and force you to admit that you are not ze greatest detectif in ze vorld after all. And so, because you haf not solved it, you vill haf to kill yourself.’ She clapped her hands together. ‘Tah-Dah!’

Holmes took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit a match. ‘And that’s where your plan falls apart, Klopp.’ Taking his time, he relit his pipe and puffed away. ‘Because, being Englishmen, my companions and I do not view failure as a reason to take our own lives.’

Klopp’s face had turned an even deeper shade of beetroot. ‘Yes, you vould! Zat is vot Englishmen do!’

‘Sorry, old thing,’ said Holmes. ‘But it isn’t.’

‘Told you it wouldn’t work,’ said Colonel Moran, striding forward. ‘Let me get my elephant gun. Blow them all to buggery.’

‘Perhaps I could shoot them all with poisoned darts?’ suggested Fu Manchu.

‘Or I could give ‘em a nice glass of cyanide,’ muttered the Lambeth Garage Poisoner.

‘What about a death sentence, signed by the Queen?’ said Bidwell the forger. ‘It’d be no bother to run one off the press. Easy as pie, actually.’

‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Moriarty. ‘The fact is, killing these pieces of garbage was only a means of ridding ourselves of the four people in Londen who cause each of us the most trouble.’

‘But if zey are not going to kill themselves, vot are we going to do wiz zem?’ demanded Klopp.

‘Simple,’ said Moriarty. ‘We’ll leave them in the capable hands of Agatha Christie.’

I glanced at Holmes and saw his face darken. This was something he hadn’t expected.

Moriarty pulled out a half hunter and glanced at it. ‘By my calculations, she will at this very moment be making the trip across to the island in a paddle steamer accompanied by her faithful maid, Maudie.’

Klopp’s face brightened. ‘Ah, Maudie. I vonder if she still does a bit of nursing on ze side.’ She cackled fiercely.

I looked at Holmes. ‘Nursing?’

Holmes gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Maudie. Also known as Mathilda. Mathilda Ratched, in fact, formerly of The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed, where I spent a little time during a previous adventure.’

‘Yes,’ said Moriarty. ‘I believe she had a few difficulties finding work after your, ahm, meddling. I further believe she would like to settle your hash, if that’s the correct expression?’

‘Yes, Professor,’ said Holmes. ‘It is.’

‘Zen,’ said Klopp, ‘zer is only one more zing to zay.’ She looked at Moriarty.

The master villain smiled, and said, ‘Mwah, hah, hah!’

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Colonel’s Choice


From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Holmes nudged me. ‘This is our chance, Watson.’

Keeping our eyes on the action in front of us, we began to edge our way towards the partially open double doors. Moriarty was screaming and together with the Claw’s maniacal laughter and the screeching saw blade, we could have broken into a hearty four-part harmony without anyone paying us the remotest attention.

As we slid out of the warehouse, I glanced back and saw that the Professor was only inches away from certain death.

‘Look here, Holmes,’ I whispered. ‘We can’t just leave him like this.’

‘Why not – he fully intended doing the same thing to us in Edinburgh.’

I sighed. ‘I suppose, but it seems…’ And then I noticed there was someone standing nearby. A man in dark clothing walked slowly toward us, a rifle in his hands. It was pointing straight at Holmes.

‘Sherl…’ I said, tapping my companion on the arm. ‘We’ve got company.’

Holmes turned to look and immediately broke into a broad grin. ‘Chief Bromide – what on earth are you doing here?’ He started forward, then stopped abruptly.

The newcomer had reached up and taken off his hat. Now, pulling at his hair, he removed the long black wig. Holding the hairpiece like a duster, he proceeded to wipe his face, removing whatever dark pigment he had used to disguise his true colouring.

Holmes let out a low sigh. ‘Ah. Well, this is unexpected. I thought you were dead?’ He twisted round and looked at me. ‘Watson, I don’t believe you’ve met – this is Sebastian Moran, Professor Moriarty’s left-hand man.’

The other man levelled the gun so it was now pointing at Sherlock’s head. ‘It’s right-hand man, actually,’ he said. ‘Now, Mister Holmes, it seems I got here just in time.’ He waggled the rifle toward the still-open doors. ‘Get back inside.’

Holmes shook his head. ‘I think not, Colonel, you see if you want to save your boss, you’re not going to have time to shoot all of us, and the Claw, and his henchmen before the Professor gets his testicles divided, so I suggest you focus on what your employer would wish you to focus on. I should think you’ve got about eight seconds left…’ He nodded towards the warehouse.

Keeping the rifle trained on us, Moran peered through the crack in between the doors. A look of irritation swept over his face and in an instant, he had burst through the gap. Seconds later a hail of bullets told us it was time to go, so still tied together, we hurried down to the rowing boats.

I won’t bore you with the details of our escape but suffice it to say that the gigantic metal fish (which Holmes has christened the Nautilus), is now safely back in dry dock at Burgen, where a team of Government experts are trying to work out how it got stolen in the first place. Colonel Moran did save Moriarty’s life, but killed several people in the process, one of which may have been the Hooded Claw, although reports of his death have not been confirmed.

Penelope Pitstop retained her title at Brooklands race track a few weeks ago and promised to visit us all the next time she’s in Londen.

Our old friend Inspector Buckingham Caddy was called in to investigate events at The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed, where a certain Nurse Ratched is facing questions regarding her continued employment as Matron.

For myself, there are several points in the case that still puzzle me, not least of which is why and how Penelope came to be involved, since there appears to be no connection between her and the Hooded Claw (or Moriarty, for that matter), leaving me with the impression that Holmes and I missed some vital clue. However, as my dear Mary says, it’ll all come out in the wash.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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In the Belly of the Beast


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Awakened by a dull clanking noise, I became aware of the soft thud, thud of something cold and unyielding against the back of my skull.

Opening my eyes, I found myself staring at a wall consisting of riveted metal panels. The rest of the room was decorated in much the same manner; therefore the obvious conclusion must be that I was seated on the floor of a giant sardine tin, the rather fishy smell assailing my nostrils doing nothing to dissuade me from this initial impression. It was also clear from the rough bindings that scratched against my bare skin that both wrists and ankles were securely bound – visual confirmation in this case was not required. More annoyingly, a dull ache in my neck and shoulders persuaded me sudden movements would cause pain – and I was right, for as I turned to look to my left, a stinging sensation ran through my upper body, as if someone had thrown me to the floor several times in order to ensure a generous selection of bruises.

‘Bloody Norah,’ I muttered.

‘Johnny, you’re awake. Thank God.’

I blinked. The room was dark, but I was able to make out my dear wife’s fluttering eyelids and winning smile. Even her wonky eye seemed brighter than usual. She was crouched beside me, her fingers busily sawing at my bonds with what looked like a small metal clasp.

‘Is that a hairpin?’ I said, already feeling a slight give as the outer strands of the ropes began to part.

‘It’s a mini-hacksaw blade disguised as a hairpin.’ She grinned. ‘Mycroft gave it to me.’

‘Mycroft,’ I muttered. ‘Of course. And what did you do for him this time?’

Mary stopped sawing. ‘Oh, come on, Johnny, you surely aren’t still harbouring suspicions of that sort, are you?’ Turning her attention back to freeing me, she continued the back and forth motion while I took in the rest of our surroundings. Next to Mary sat Penelope, whose bonds had also been cut, and next to her, to my utter amazement, sat Sherlock Holmes, clad in a dressing gown and slippers.

‘Ah, Watson, glad you could join us,’ he said, waving a hand in greeting. ‘No doubt you’ll be wondering where we are?’ He peered at me. ‘Care to hazard a guess?’

I sniffed and leaned back, taking a moment to listen to the sounds that had summoned me from my slumbers. The wall behind me shuddered rhythmically, and there was a definite mechanical quality to the regular pounding above our heads, one aspect of which was a kind of gentle swirling sensation, that buffeted the walls of our prison. Given that all four of us were inside a metal container, the answer seemed obvious.

‘We’re inside that bloody iceberg again.’

Holmes rolled his eyes. ‘No, no, no, Watson. Once again, you see but you do not observe.’

‘Of course not,’ I said, grumpily. ‘Unfortunately, I’m not really in the mood for guessing games, so why don’t you just tell me?’

Holmes grinned gleefully. ‘Very well. As you will see from the expert manner in which the metal plates are joined together, this is a professionally constructed craft, much more so than the iceberg, which is little more than a metallic shell surrounding the essential mechanicals of the steam-powered undersea torpedo-ship we are so familiar with. More specifically, if you look at the lower sections of each plate, you can just make out the S and F insignia. This vessel was not constructed in some underground base in the Outer Hebrides, where, by the way, Moriarty’s current headquarters are located, but by the Shurgen and Furgen shipyard in Burgen.’

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. ‘Shurgen and Furgen? You’re talking bollocks again, Sherlock.’

Holmes shook his head vigorously. ‘Not at all, though I shouldn’t be surprised you haven’t heard of them – Shurgen and Furgen specialise in building ships on government contracts where a high degree of secrecy is required.’

‘Even if that’s true,’ I countered, ‘any company carrying out government work wouldn’t get involved with a known villain.’

‘Quite,’ said the other,’ which is why the Hooded Claw stole this vessel from the Burgen shipyard six weeks ago.’ He glanced at me. ‘Close your mouth, Watson. You can do your guppy impression when the Claw throws us into the murky waters. No, in fact we are currently residing in a prototype intended for an armada of submarines to bolster the British fleet in the next war.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Which I believe is scheduled to start just after the Oxford and Bainbridge Boat Race.’

I closed my mouth and considered this new information. Then something else occurred to me. ‘Hang on, Holmes, how can the Claw have stolen this thing from Burgen, when we’re in the middle of a lake? Answer that, if you can.’

Mary and Penelope both looked at me, then at Holmes.

‘Good point,’ said the Great Detective. ‘I imagine some form of flying machine, or overland apparatus was utilised, but for the moment, it is a question I am not currently in a position to answer.’

No-one said anything for a moment, then Penelope piped up, ‘So when are you boys goin ter get us out of this mess, then?’

Just then, a scuffling noise came from the wall opposite, and a second later, a door opened up and a familiar face peered through.

‘Ah-ha, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the Hooded Claw. ‘So you have managed to free yourselves? Excellent. Please follow me.’ He disappeared back through the doorway and in case we had any ideas of escape, two henchmen brandishing rifles appeared either side of the hatch.

‘Time to do my guppy impression, I think,’ said I, with a nervous laugh.

‘Oh no,’ said Holmes. ‘The Claw’s hardly likely to have bothered to bring us this far only to throw us overboard. No, I’m sure he has something much more painful in store.’

‘Thanks for that, Holmes,’ I said, with only a hint of sarcasm. ‘You always know just what to say.’ And with that, I followed him through the door and up the steps to the deck.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Message…

From the Diary of Dr J Watson:

The journey to Scarborough was a pleasant enough one and Holmes and I spent the most part of it in quiet contemplation. I read the first few chapters of the latest Stephanie Kingie gothic horror novel (‘Miserly’ – the tale of a Scrooge-like character who finds himself confined to a remote hovel with a deranged former nurse during a snowstorm), while my companion immersed himself in composing a monograph concerning the traditional rituals of Mongolian tribesmen within the wider cultural context of angoran sweaters.

The pony and trap that collected us from the station was driven by a rather dour chap by the name of Pierrepoint, who had the irritating habit of turning a beady eye on us every few minutes and commenting on my, or my companion’s, height, weight or likelihood of committing murder. After a tedious hour of winding through lanes and byways, he dropped us at the village pub in Snot-on-the-moor, where we’d arranged to meet Mr Rogers.

Holmes was quiet until we had ordered food and ensconced ourselves in a corner near the fireplace. Finally, he turned to me and observed:

“I suppose you know who is behind all this wicker malarkey, Watson?”

I made on I was considering this while fiddling with the crockery for our meal, but since I had not one solitary hint as to the answer, I eventually replied with my tried and trusted answer:

“Sorry, Holmes, not a clue.”

Holmes chuckled to himself as if he’d somehow got one over on me again (Which of course he had). “Moriarty, Watson.”

“Oh, Holmes, for God sake!” I cried. “Will you never let this go? The man is dead.”

My friend gave me a piercing look. “Or is he?” Pulling a piece of paper from his inside pocket, he unfolded the sheet and handed it to me.

“It’s a telegram, Holmes.”

“No, Watson, it is a cleverly constructed representation of a telegram, intended to have us believe that it was sent by Colonel Sebastian Moran.”

“But he’s dead too, isn’t he?” Said I, skimming the details of the message.

Holmes gave me a grim stare. “He should be, Watson – I killed him myself. But this so-called telegram suggests not.”

“It says here that you and I are invited to attend a murder.” But Holmes, what can it mean?”

“It means,” said my companion, his small eyes staring into the fire, “that we are in great danger.” He looked up and his expression changed to one of apparent delight. “Ah Mr Shag and Mr Scoob. How lovely to see you.”

Shaggy Rogers stood in front of us, grinning widely, whole his ridiculously large and stupid hound nuzzled its face into my crotch.

“Whoa, dudes, what’s goin’ on, man?” Shaggy shook both our hands vigorously, then his smile faded and in a low voice he said, “You guys are in great danger.”

Holmes gave me a sardonic smile. “I trust you thought to bring your revolver, Watson?”

I nodded. “No, but I’ve still got a bag full of Mrs Hudson’s crunchy pies.”

To be continued

Watson

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2015 in Detective Fiction

 

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