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A Game of Two Halves


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It was dark when, some twenty minutes later and accompanied by a bevy of villains, we arrived via two rowing boats at the shore. Looking back at the vessel we had recently been extricated from, I wondered how the Claw expected to keep the thing hidden from public view – after all, being in the shape of a gigantic metal fish, it did seem unlikely it would not attract attention. However, as I watched, the metallic beast closed her hatches and slowly disappeared beneath the waves.

‘You are wondering where I keep it, eh?’ said a surprisingly softly-spoken Claw from his seat beside me.

‘Yes, actually,’ I said. ‘An underground cave, perhaps?’

He nodded. ‘As an arch villain, I have to think of everything. It can be tedious being the boss sometimes.’

‘You could always surrender?’

He giggled girlishly, gave me a playful punch on the arm, then resumed his usual gruffness and barked a series of orders at the crew.

From the look of the buildings ahead of us, we were making for a large warehouse a few yards up from the wharf. I noticed several other buildings behind the main one, though these were not lit up and the only signs of life came from the crowd of henchmen who were engaged in getting us out of the boats and into the warehouse.

As we trudged up the shingled beach, I tried to make out the details of the various pieces of apparatus that had been arranged just inside the huge double doors of the warehouse. A feeling of déjà vu wafted over me as I stared at the long workbench, the conveyor belt on top and the scarily-familiar circular saw that slotted into it at one end. Beneath the bench and the saw, sat a small steam engine, and as if that wasn’t enough to cause me to fill my trousers several times over, the horrific picture was completed by a series of leather straps fastened on either side of the table.

Hustling us inside, the henchmen lined us up against the wall and tied our wrists together. Holmes was tethered to me, me to Mary, and Mary to Penny, so the only chance of absconding would demand that all four of us cooperate. Though, at that moment, the possibility of escape seemed like a remote and highly unlikely scenario.

Holmes leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘It may be my imagination Johnny, but this scenario looks awfully familiar.’

I nodded. ‘Edinburgh.’

He sighed. ‘Ah. I’d hoped I was mistaken.’

‘Now then,’ said the Hooded Claw, tying a bloodstained apron around his waist. ‘See if you can guess what’s going to happen here?’

We all looked at each other, none of us wishing to state the obvious. Finally, Holmes spoke.

‘At a wild guess, I’d say we were slicing tonight.’

The Claw laughed heartily. ‘Very good, Holmes, very good. But no, that is not my intention.’ He paused, as if waiting for Holmes to make another suggestion, but the big-nosed detective said nothing more.

‘Very well, then,’ the villain continued. ‘As you have surmised, these items of equipment came from an auction house in Scotland. I learned of your involvement with them via a friend of mine. In fact, that same friend is here with me tonight.’ Holding up his good hand, he clicked his fingers. The various henchmen gathered around the edges of the warehouse burst into a round of applause, which only ceased when a man emerged out of the shadows and made his way to stand by the side of the Claw.

‘Oh, bugger,’ I said.

‘Seconded,’ murmured Holmes.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 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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A Fishy Tale


From the Journal of Sherlock Holmes
Ullswater
Cumbria

Assuring my fellow inmate that I would happily ‘grass him up’ to Nurse Ratched if he should falter, I positioned him by the bathroom door as my look-out and set about climbing onto a wooden cabinet in a bid to reach the high window. Pulling myself up to the ledge, I was easily able to see over the sill and look down on the lake below.

The foundations of the Institute were built on a rocky crag close to the water, so from my perch three storeys up, I calculated the water’s edge could not have been more than forty-seven feet away. This allowed me a classic birds-eye view of the harbour area. From the layout of the jetty, I reasoned its original purpose was to cater for the twice-daily steam launch that passed for a bus service, dropping off and picking up passengers at various points along the shore. What struck me as odd, however, was the sheer length of the jetty – it appeared far too long to accommodate the day-to-day comings and goings of a thirty-foot launch.

“Urry up, mate,” hissed Cutler, waving a hand in my direction. “The orderlies’ll be along soon and then we’ll be for it.”

“Just a moment,” I said, fishing in my dressing gown for my spyglass. Extending the instrument, I studied the point at the jetty which I judged to be the optimal area for boats and the like to tie up, and I noticed a disparity – the timber utilised for the main section of the landing-stage showed a clear demarcation line where a new section had been added (the colouring of the wood being a shade lighter and its grain more compact, signifying also that this addition had been carried out within the last year). The only reason I could see for such a supplementary construction must be to enable the jetty to reach further out into the lake where the water was considerably deeper, the sort of depth one might require in accommodating a much larger vessel.

And that’s when it happened.

The water around the mid-section of the jetty began to bubble and foam, as if several divers where rising hurriedly to the surface. However, it was not aquanauts emerging from the silvery water that caused the effervescence, but a vessel of the kind I had never seen before. It was the fin which broke the surface first – a gigantic metal fin that must have been a dozen feet in height and twice as much again in length. But this was nothing compared to the beast it was attached to. Rising slowly out of the lake, a gleaming silver fish appeared, its total length close to that of the wooden jetty itself, which seemed like a child’s toy alongside the beast’s massive bulk.

“My God,” I muttered.

“You’ve seen it, then,” said Cutler, recognising the look of amazement that had emblazoned itself across my habitually stolid features.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve seen it.” But then a flash of recognition seared through my brain and I realised I’d observed the gigantic metal fish before. Whatever Nurse Ratched had given me, had virtually erased the item from my memory and only now was I able to recall my actions on seeing this very same vessel the evening before.

“Quickly,” I urged, clambering down from the cabinet. “I must record these details before that damned nurse has another opportunity to pump her evil juice into my body.” Hurrying back to my bed, I slid a hand into the opening I’d made in the side of the mattress, but my slender fingers failed to make contact with the book’s moleskin cover.

“Looking for this, Mr Holmes?”

Raising my head, I knew before I saw it that she had my journal in her thieving hands. “Give that back, you evil temptress,” I muttered, striding towards her.

She gave a shrug and tossed the book across to me, her pendulous bosoms trembling with the effort of movement. “Interesting reading,” she said, “though I’m afraid your enthralling account won’t be making it into print anytime soon – don’t want the world to discover what’s really going on here, do we?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Cutler sliding along the wall towards his own bed, no doubt intending to slide between the sheets before she noticed him. Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched’s henchmen were already waiting with a large syringe and a straitjacket. Within seconds, the poor man was prostrate on the floor, his screams muzzled by a rubber gag. Moments later, he lay quiet, arms tied behind his back via the restraining garment that now encased half his body.

“You won’t get away with this,” I said. “Even now, my faithful companion Doctor John Watson is on his way here. We’ll blow your evil plan out of the water before your villainous leader can say Jack Robinson.”

“J-a-c-k R-o-b-i-n-s-o-n,” articulated an all-too-familiar gravelly voice from the far end of the room.

His mocking words prompted a sinking feeling in my guts, the kind of sinking feeling I imagine Watson encounters on a regular basis. In my case, though, it was a new experience and I did not like it – I did not like it one little bit. Turning my head, I gave the newcomer a rueful smile in the hope of appearing considerably more relaxed than I felt. “Ah, Mister Claw. We meet again.”

“So,” he said, locking the dormitory door behind him. “You have uncovered my dastardly plan?”

Oddly, it was only now that I noticed how quiet the dormitory had become. Apart from Cutler’s, all the beds were empty. My fellow patients had vacated the room. How this had occurred without any of them making a sound, was a mystery – had they secretly been awake earlier, waiting for some sign, some prearranged signal? If so, it could only have happened while I was in the bathing area, but with Cutler on lookout, he must have seen whatever had occurred. Was he part of this evil plan too? In any case, it was no coincidence – the Claw had been here all along, watching me, waiting for his chance. But to do what? And why?

“Well,” I said, stalling for time while probing my massive brain for some clue as to what the hell was going on. “Obviously I know about the fish.”

He raised an eyebrow. “A new type of submarine, that is all. Nothing sinister about that, is there, Mister Holmes?”

A dozen ideas flashed through my brain, none of them making any sense in connection with the water-dwelling contraception. “You’ve discovered a new type of fuel,” I ventured. “Something that will threaten the major powers of the world.”

“I have, as it happens,” he said with a smile. “But that is another project. No, this is something far simpler.” He paused, then, “Can’t you guess? Your biographer Johnny Watson mentioned it in one of his early articles for The Strand Magazine.” He smirked. “The story was replaced in the second printing of that particular edition.”

For a moment, I was stumped, struggling to recall which of our early escapades he referred to. Then it came to me: “Ah, you mean The Laird and the Wicker Mannie?

He nodded slowly, making a get-on-with-it motion with his metallic hand, his jaw set hard in a grimace of annoyance.

“The new story was called The Lady in Red, I think.”

The Claw let out a growl, the veins in his forehead throbbing furiously. “A Study in Scarlet, you imbecile.”

“Ah yes,” I said. “It was substituted due to some indiscretion of John’s regarding–”

“Get to the fucking point, Holmes,” screamed the Claw, his face flushing purple.

Gazing out of the window, I noted the appearance of grey-black clouds scudding across the sky, blocking out the sun – an ominous sign. “Very well. The word you’re referring to is ‘rache’ – a German term meaning…” I looked at him. “Revenge.”

The Claw’s anger subsided. “Precisely,” he murmured. “And that revenge begins now…”

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Winners and Losers


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Aboard the Cumbrian Express

As the train picked up speed, I cast a swift glance around our compartment. Naturally there was nowhere to hide – even the luggage racks that stretched along each side above the seats, would barely conceal a couple of suitcases, let alone three fully-grown individuals. But then a thought came to me – all we required was a chance to gain the upper hand and even a few seconds might mean the difference between living and dying.

“Quickly,” I urged, pulling Mary and Penny to their feet. “Climb up there, one of you in each rack.”

The expression of lustfulness that fell across Mary’s face was only too familiar to me. “Don’t be silly, Johnny,” she exclaimed, with a sly wink. “You know very well you can’t squeeze a large object into a small hole.”

“I know that, dear, but I have a plan and it has a much greater chance of working if the pair of you do as you’re bloody told!”

The ladies exchanged a look and suitably chastised, proceeded to clamber up into the aforementioned spaces.

Gazing down at the seats, I was reminded of one of Hannibal Lecter’s more ingenious disguises, when he concealed himself in a Paisley-patterned train-seat-suit and surprised us brandishing a large kitchen knife. Clearly, I hadn’t the time or resources to camouflage myself in such a way, but I did have another weapon at my disposal that might do the trick. Taking off my shoes, socks, trousers and undergarments, I took up a position with my legs apart, spanning the gap between the seats. With one foot on each seat, my proud manhood dangled menacingly by the door at what I judged to be face-height. Whoever slid the door open first would get a truly surprising eyeful.

“Excuse me, darling,” murmured my wife, giving a polite cough. “You do know you’re not wearing any trousers, don’t you?”

I didn’t bother to conceal my annoyance and let out an irritated sigh. “Just make sure you two have your guns cocked and ready.”

Penelope sniggered. “Well, yours definitely is, ain’t it, Doctor?”

Mary joined in with an amused titter, but their enjoyment was cut short when the slap, slap of heavy footsteps sounded from the passageway.

“Get ready, they’re coming,” I said, holding Harry’s machine pistol at a jaunty angle.

The footsteps grew closer then stopped outside our compartment. There was a pause of a few seconds before the door was thrust aside on its runners, slamming it home with a resounding thud, an action which caused me to drop my pistol. It clattered to the floor and bounced under one of the seats.

“Oh, nice one, Doctor Watson,” said the first man (who had given up any pretence of being blind). With a hoot of derisive laughter, he pulled out a revolver and prepared to blow my tackle to Kingdom Come. But assuming he had the upper hand, he made the mistake of turning to his companion (no doubt to cast further aspersions on my apparent stupidity). As his head swivelled sideways, the end of his gun touched my naked belly. It was all I needed to jerk myself into action – the sensation of cold steel pressing against my vulnerability had the desired effect and my muscles contracted, then immediately relaxed, and a stream of urine spurted forth and hit the first man in the eye. The glistening torrent then ricocheted off his face and into the second man’s mouth.

I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

Dropping deftly to the floor, I grabbed the machine pistol from where it had fallen and jabbed it in the man’s ribs. The red-headed henchman next to him busied himself spitting out my discharge and wiping his tongue vigorously on the sleeve of his jacket. Reaching forward, I pulled a revolver from his pocket and tossed it across to Mary, who had climbed down from her perch to lend a hand.

“Well done, Johnny,” she murmured, with more than a hint of pride at my victory. “Let’s get them in here and tie them up.”

Penny slid down onto the seat and took off her stockings, before tying the hands of both men behind their backs. Ripping off the cording from along the seat-backs, I tied the men’s legs too, just in case.

Oddly, the villains seemed unaffected at having been overwhelmed. They sat quietly and apart from the occasional rueful glance, made no attempt to communicate with each other or to regain their former dominance.

Mary and Penelope kept their weapons trained on the pair while I dressed, then seating myself opposite, I studied each of them in turn. The red-head was the younger of the two and appeared more subdued than the other, though even he showed little sign of concern at his capture. The older man had all the hallmarks of a seasoned villain, which I now realised should have been obvious to me earlier.

“So you work for the Claw, then?” I said.

The older man shrugged.

“I expect he’s at the Institute, eh?” I tried.

Another shrug.

“You so realise you’ll both be going to prison for a very long time?”

“Hah,” said the red-head, but before he could say more, his companion gave him a hard stare which shut him up like a clam.

With a sigh, I saw that it would be pointless to pursue further questions, so sitting back, I considered our options. I had no wish to continue this vigil for the next few hours, so we’d have to find somewhere to lock the pair of them away. Knowing there was a guards-van attached to the train, it would be an easy matter to shut the villains in there and telegraph ahead for them to be picked up when we reached our destination. It was the simplest solution and would leave us free to enjoy the rest of our trip without the worry of constantly watching our prisoners. Sending Mary off to find the guard, I sat back to wait. Penelope had taken the window seat and also kept her gun aimed at our detainees. I was glad to note the look of quiet fortitude on her face – she had taken to the role of ‘detective’ as easily as an otter slides into a pool of water.

It was a few minutes later before I heard my wife’s footsteps returning along the passageway.

Standing, I cocked my head around the doorway. Mary’s face was oddly expressionless, her eyes had a strange lifeless quality and there was no welcoming smile telling me everything was in hand. Something was wrong, but even though a shiver ran up my spine, it was a few seconds more before I realised why, and even then, I was momentarily thrown off-guard. A man in a black fedora was following behind Mary. Thank God, I thought, Harry had made it onto the train. But as the stranger lifted his head, my stomach dropped into my boots.

“Ah, Doctor Watson,” said a familiar gravelly voice. “I see you’ve rounded up my chaps.” He lifted a hand in greeting and the sun glinted spookily on the metallic claw. “Glad you caught the train,” he continued, “would’ve been an awful bore to have come chasing after you.”

Mary had reached the doorway and I caught hold of her as she half fell into the cabin. Sensing she had succumbed to some drug or other, I guided her into a seat, then whirling round, raised a warning finger. “If you’ve hurt her in any way, you damned fiend…”

But the Claw’s other hand had come into view and I saw the glass syringe and its lurid green contents.

“What have you done?” I barked helplessly.

“Oh, don’t fret Doctor, I’m not ready to kill her yet.” He let out a low chuckle. “Just a little something to shut her up.” And before I could move, he jabbed the needle into my arm and I felt myself go floppy all over. Dropping onto the seat beside my wife, I wondered what Holmes would do…

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Through a Window


From the Journal of Sherlock Holmes
Ullswater
Cumbria

Not being an aficionado of diary-keeping, I acknowledge a feeling of irritation on recognising that keeping detailed notes on my current situation has become a necessity. This awareness came about this morning following an attempt to recall an encounter last evening. Finding myself unable to focus on specific details of the encounter, I reasoned that a portion of my memory must have been ‘misplaced’. I use this word loosely since it clearly cannot have gone anywhere, and will, at some future point in time, be once more fully accessible. However, as I simply am unable to sustain my usual diligence during the deductive process without the use of my entire faculties, I shall in the meantime resort to Watson’s tedious method of writing everything down.

At supper last night, I shared a table with two of my fellow inmates – one, a chap named Cutler who believes himself to be the ghost of a pirate captain, became unusually talkative on the subject of Nurse Rached. This latter person is a vile individual who delights in tormenting the patients with petty punishments, most often metered out via her innate ability to instil feelings of worthlessness in her charges.

The other man at our table goes by the nickname of Chief Bromide – a dark-skinned fellow who is unable, or at least, refuses, to speak to anyone. (He apparently masturbates during morning prayers, hence the application of a certain type of suppressant, and therefore his current moniker). That he hears and sees everything that goes on around him is perfectly obvious from the minor ‘tics’ and small facial movements he makes, and which I surmise he is unaware of, but nevertheless allow me to clarify that he does indeed respond to conversation, albeit not in the usual manner.

“Watch out she doesn’t get yer alone in the bathroom,” said Cutler, drawing me back to his diatribe. “She’ll stick a rubber hose up yer arse before you can pull your trousers up.”

“There are those who delight in such practices,” I observed with a sardonic smile.

He nodded glumly, “Oh aye, but not the way she does it.”

Glancing at the Chief, I thought I detected the beginnings of a smile, but a moment later it was gone as his features regained their unyielding indifference.

Cutler continued his ramblings while I took a few minutes to observe the other inmates in the dining area. There are currently forty-three of us in Ward 4, including five who are completely catatonic and will only move when manhandled by a pair of burly orderlies. The rest are mostly sad cases, here due to a lack of appropriate care in their own communities or through the pressure of families who cannot bear to be smeared with madman-in-the-attic type scenarios. (I’m sure Watson would have something pertinent to say on the matter.)

Cutler’s conversation abruptly ceased, and he muttered a feeble greeting to someone behind me. Turning around, I stared up into the dark and wholly malevolent eyes of Nurse Rached.

It was at this point that my memory begins to fade.

On awakening and finding myself in bed, drenched in sweat and completely naked, I immediately sought to recollect the circumstances that might have led to this unusual, and somewhat disquieting circumstance. Recalling only the details I have so far related, I pulled on my dressing gown with a view to hunting down my two companions.

The large timepiece on the wall showed it was not yet six o’clock. Most of my compatriots were still entrenched in their beds, snoring and farting alternately. Cutler, however, was already dressed and waiting at the entrance to the ward, no doubt hoping to scrounge a cigarette from one of the orderlies. He started at my approach and hurried away into a side room, gesturing at me to follow.

“Bloody hell, mate,” he said, closing the door. “You must’ve done something real bad.”

“What on earth are you gibbering about, man?” I said, giving him a shake.

“Rached, weren’t it? She gave you something to shut you up.”

I blinked. “Some type of drug?”

“Dunno what they call it, but she dishes it out to anyone who sees too much.”

“Too much of what?”

He looked at the floor. “Can’t say.”

I grabbed his chin and forced him to look at me. “Come on man, spit it out.”

Moving close so his mouth was by my ear, he whispered, “You must’ve seen something what you didn’t ought to have seen.”

This put me in a quandary. If I had witnessed something significant, I was not aware of it, therefore it could only be that whatever I had seen had not registered as important in my own mind. “Now look here, Cutler,” I said. “You have to tell me what this something is.”

He shook his head vehemently. “Can’t do that, mate, not a bleedin chance.” He grasped the door handle and made to leave, but I pulled him back and threw him against the wall.

“You’d better tell me, or I’ll tell Nurse Rached how much you enjoy the rubber hoses.” I admit this was a rather pitiful tactic, but I had to discover what he knew.

His eyes went as wide as saucers. “You bloody bastard, you.” Then biting his lower lip until it bled, I observed the man wrestle with some internal dilemma as he strived to come to a decision. Eventually, he gave a quick nod and opened the door.

“I’ll show you,” he murmured, “but you ain’t got to let on it was me, right?” Taking my arm, he peered around the doorway, then hurried down the still-darkened dormitory towards the bathroom. Checking each cubicle, he verified that none were occupied, before pushing through into the bathing area.

“Through there,” he said, pointing across the room to a window, high on the west wall of the Institute. “That’s where I saw it.”

“Saw what?” I exhorted.

“A fish – a gigantic metal fish.”

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Stranger on a Train



Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Aboard the Cumbrian Express

It was while I waited for the clerk to arrange our tickets at the station that I realised my mistake in assuming our nemesis would not be nearby. Mary and Penelope had retired to the waiting room armed with a tray of sandwiches, a pot of coffee and my revolver (the latter concealed in Mary’s handbag). Penelope too, had a handgun hidden about her person, just in case.

Keeping half an eye on their table through the adjoining door, I scanned the area for possible threats. At once, I spotted three dubious-looking men who might easily be on the side of the damned Claw. All three were plainly dressed, had swarthy or ruddy faces, and were seated at separate tables, drinking tea. This was not in itself unusual – it is a well-known fact that the English working man is rarely comfortable in the company of others and will often secrete himself away from the gaze of fellow workers in order to avoid the horror of being engaged in spontaneous conversation.

The chap nearest to me held a copy of The Times up to his face, but I discerned from his oscillating gaze that he was no more reading it than dancing a jig. From where I stood, I could see the newspaper was not a recent edition (the crossword had been completed and one corner of the broadsheet was torn off). Noting the fellow’s eyes had fixed firmly on Miss Pitstop’s chest, I quickly dismissed him as nothing more than a lustful hireling, utilising a day-old newspaper as a prop for eyeing up young women.

Turning my attention to the other two men, I immediately saw that one was roughly middle-aged, had a white stick at his side and a hand-written sign pinned to his jacket. The emblem declared the fellow to be a veteran of the Crimea who’d lost his sight in that terrible conflict. Clearly, a blind man was no threat to us.

Lastly, a tall chap with a shock of red hair had seated himself at the table next to Mary and Penelope. I was reminded of The Case of the Red-Haired League and for a moment found my mind drifting back to that lusty young chap whose fortune Holmes and I had recovered when we exposed a scheme to rob the poor lad of his savings. Perhaps it was for this reason that I dismissed this man too from my scrutiny.

At that point, a newcomer wearing a black Fedora and greatcoat entered the waiting room and immediately approached the women’s table.

“That’ll be nineteen shillings and sixpence, sir.”

“What’s that?” I exclaimed, turning back to face the ticket master.

“I said,” the little man repeated, raising his voice a little too gamely, “That’ll be…”

“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time,” I said, tossing the required coinage across the counter and grabbing the tickets from his outstretched hand.

Ignoring the man’s continuing commentary, I hurried into the waiting room to find the stranger standing with his back to me and speaking in low tones to Mary.

“Hold it right there,” I whispered in the man’s ear, “or I’ll blow your spine to smithereens.”

“I don’t reckon you’ll do a lot of damage with that finger, Doc,” said the man in front of me, “but you’re welcome to try.”

I recognised the familiar American drawl before he turned to face me, but it was his suggestive smirk that made my knees go weak. “Harry!” I gasped, hugging him like a long-lost brother. “What the deuce are you doing here?”

Harry Lime glanced around the room before urging me to sit down. Pulling up two chairs, he leaned in close. “Heard you were having a little trouble with an old pal of ours, so thought I’d drop by to lend a hand.”

“Really, you know about t’Claw an’all?” said Penelope, her eyes taking in Harry’s huge shoulders and winning smile.

“Sure do, Miss Penny, but let’s not tell the whole world about it just yet, eh?” He gave her a wink and patted her hand, then turning to me, whispered, “I guess you noticed the guy with the stick?”

“Who?” I said, glancing around. “The blind chap?”

“Johnny, Johnny,” he chided. “That there’s no more a blind man than a side of beef. Take a glance at him now and I’ll bet ya he’s staring right at us.”

As surreptitiously as possible, I made as if to look back at the ticket office and as my eyes drifted past the war veteran, I saw that he was looking straight at me.

“As your pal Sherlock would say,” said Harry, “it’s elementary, Watson.”

The former blind man had dropped his eyes, so I took the opportunity to take a good look at him. Now of course I could see the all the clues as plain as day – being no more than forty years old, he couldn’t possibly have taken part in the Crimean War, and the hairline around his forehead showed the edge of an elasticated band of the type used to fasten hairpieces in place. No doubt the white stick leaning against his table was just another prop to aid his pathetic disguise.

“Ah, I see,” I said, feeling small.

“And just to prove it…” Harry stood up cautiously, making not the slightest sound. Then, taking two steps towards the other man, he deftly lifted the white stick from where it stood and passed it across to me. The man did not move, but started straight ahead, as a true blind man might, unaware of the theft.

Taking hold of the stick, I immediately realised that it was not constructed from wood as I’d have expected, but from some sort of painted metal. Twisting the handle, I was amazed when it came away in my hand, revealing the razor-sharp blade inside.

“My God, “I said. “It’s a swordstick.”

The shriek of a train whistle told us our transport had arrived.

“Come along,” said Harry, pulling us all to our feet. “You guys get aboard the train. I’ll make sure this joker stays exactly where he is.”

“Thank you, Harry, “I gushed, feeling a little overwhelmed. “What’d we do without you?”

“You can thank me when the Claw is in custody. For now, take this.” He pushed something into my hand and looking down I saw that it was a machine pistol – the latest American model.

A moment later, the three of us were climbing onto the train. Leaning out of the window as we chugged out of the station, I saw Harry pull back an arm in readiness to smash the blind man in the face, but before he could do so, the other two so-called working men had jumped up and grabbed Harry, throwing him back against the counter. A second later, they were running up the platform and clambering aboard the accelerating locomotive.

“We’ve got company,” I said, sliding the window closed.

Mary and Penelope exchanged glances, then reaching into their respective handbags, pulled out their weapons.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Bird at Breakfast

Diary of Doctor J. Watson
At the Brooklands Hotel

Following my own revelations concerning Penelope’s letters and the realisation that we had once again been thrust into the path of the villainous Hooded Claw, I took all necessary precautions to ensure the three of us remained in close proximity until I could formulate a plan of action. In our room after the meal, Mary appeared quite delighted at the idea of Penelope spending the night with us, until I acquainted her with the details I had decided upon vis-à-vis our intimate arrangements.

“Really, Johnny,” she exclaimed, “I don’t see why the poor girl should be made to sleep in the bath when there’s a perfectly good four poster here that would easily accommodate all three of us.” She glanced across at the young lady herself, who had spent the previous several minutes painting her fingernails a rather fetching shade of vermillion. “Or even,” she added, with not a hint of embarrassment, “if she and I were to share the bed while you bunked up in the bath. Surely that would be the gentlemanly thing to do?”

“Hmph,” I muttered, lowering my voice. “If it weren’t for your dalliances with that infernal ice-cream seller and his floozy of an assistant, I might have been perfectly happy to trust you with Miss Pitstop, but given your penchant for certain…practices, I think it better to keep things on an even keel, don’t you?”

Mary pouted seductively. Moving closer to me, she began patting my chest and rubbing her leg up and down my corduroys. “But we might all be murdered in our sleep,” she murmured, “and then wouldn’t it be a shame not to have spent our last night–”

“No, Mary,” I said. “We need to keep our heads. In fact I suggest we stay awake tonight and be on full alert. We don’t know when the Claw might strike.”

At that, Penelope jumped up and joined Mary on the end of the bed. “If we’re all goin’ ter keep our clothes on, it dunt matter if we’re in bed togevver, does it?” She grinned at Mary, and the two of them sniggered away for some minutes as if they had planned it that way.

Having decided that posting a letter to Holmes would take too long, I had opted to send a boy out to the telegraph office in town. The cost would be prohibitive but I reasoned our situation required advice at the earliest opportunity. As it happens, Tootbridge is one of those so-called liberal-minded towns and boasts the latest in communications technology, so the total cost of transposing my letter came to less than three shillings including a tip for the boy.

I had hoped to receive a reply from my esteemed companion by the morning, and in fact it was during breakfast that the waiter surprised me not with a second helping of toast and lime marmalade as I’d requested, but with a weather-beaten pigeon and an attached note written in Sherlock’s familiar scrawl.

“Is it from Big Nose,” said Mary, stifling a yawn.

“Yes,” I said, scanning the copy cautiously.

“Does he point out all your mistakes?”

I poured myself another cup of tea. “He does, though he also suggests we journey to Cumbria as soon as possible. Apparently our lives are in danger. Again.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “I think we knew that already.”

“So it is the ‘Ooded Claw, then?” asked Penelope tucking into sausages and egg.

I nodded solemnly. “It is. As usual Holmes only tells me half the story – something about a harbour and a tyrannical nurse. However, he does make it clear he fully expects us to die a horrible death if we are not very careful.”

“Do we have time for another round of toast?” said Mary pointedly.

“I expect not,” said I, signalling for the waiter. “But as we shan’t be able to board a train for at least another hour, I hardly think it matters. In any case, I shouldn’t think the Claw is within a hundred miles of us at the moment.”

As usual, I was wrong.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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