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A Witchy Tale

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

I must admit to feeling a little in awe of Ben Ravensburg. He’d lied about his employment at the museum, but knowing him to be an extraordinarily talented author, I saw no harm in giving him the benefit of the doubt. For some years, his books had scared me witless on many a long evening, waiting for Johnny to return from one of his night-time medical emergencies. Reading by lamplight in bed, I’d thrilled at the erotic delights of Ravensburg’s dashing heroes and the creepy apparitions they encountered. Sometimes I had to put down my book and give myself a little feminine pleasure to take my mind off the spooky goings-on.

Even so, listening to his tale, I wondered if his imagination had finally got the better of him.

Leaning forwards, Ravensburg stroked his goatee. “So, when I discovered my ancestor had been burned at the stake as a witch, I began to look into it.”

“And you say this woman—Sarah Ravensburg—was actually a wiccan?” said Holmes.

“That’s right. My research shows that many villagers recognised her as a healer. Some claimed she kept a sort of medical journal where she recorded her herbal remedies.”

Holmes opened his mouth, but I got my question in first. “And you think if you can find this book, it’ll clear her name?”

Ravensburg sat back in his chair. “It’s a long-shot, I know, but I believe it’s worth the effort.”

I looked at Johnny. He looked at Holmes. Holmes looked at the floor. Finally, the big-nosed detective raised his head.

“It’s a fascinating tale, Benny, but not the sort of thing that requires the attention of the world’s greatest detective. If this book exists, I’m sure any investigator with a reasonable level of deductive skill could locate it. Someone like Shaggy Rogers and that ridiculous hound of his would happily take on the case.”

“But that’s just it, Mr Holmes” said the Bearded One. “I’ve already enlisted the help of Shaggy and his friends.”

Holmes frowned. “And?”

“They’ve disappeared.”

“What, all of them?”

Ravensburg nodded. “Shaggy, Scooby, Velma, Daphne and Fred. They were exploring an old barn in the village one night and they vanished. Haven’t been seen since.”

This put a different complexion on the matter and after posing a few more questions, Holmes informed the famous author that he should catch the next train to Pokebottom-on-the-Moor, where we would join him later that day.

“Well,” said Holmes, when Ravensburg had gone. “What d’you think?”

Johnny shrugged. “Not entirely sure, Holmes. Seems odd he hasn’t called in the police.”

“Perhaps he’s worried what they might find.”

Holmes inclined his head towards me. “You think he may be hiding something?”

“Even Lestrade isn’t completely hopeless,” I said. “I think we’re being told only half the story…”

Johnny sighed. “If Ravensburg is hiding something, hadn’t we ought to know what it is before we get involved?”

Holmes ruminated on this for a moment, then his face brightened. “Watson—call the boy. I have two telegrams to send before we embark on this investigation.”

“Telegrams?” said Johnny. “Who to?”

“If I’m right, this has very little to do with a group of missing amateur detectives and a lot to do with an ancient book that has a great deal more value than Ravensburg is letting on.”

As it turned out, Holmes’ theory proved right. But not in the way he expected.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Another Night at the Museum

Diary of Doctor Watson
Half an hour later, swathed in linen bandages and with the addition of some makeup from Mary’s handbag, Ravensburg carried us one at a time into the gallery, placing us in suitable positions against the walls between the existing mummies.

Ravensburg checked the room again and whispered that he would respond immediately to calls for assistance, should the thieves appear. We had agreed he would inform the caretaker that the three of us had left, after which he intended to do the same, before surreptitiously making his way to the rear of the museum and slipping in via the cellar entrance, which had already been prepared.

Having only a narrow slit for my eyes, and with the gas lamps turned down low, the gallery took on a shadowy and menacing atmosphere. Standing between two decrepit former Egyptians gave me the willies and the urge to sing a happy tune to boost my flagging morale, almost got the better of me.

With no idea how long we might have to stand there, or indeed if the thieves would bother to return, I began counting.

On reaching four thousand one hundred and thirty-seven, I heard a sharp crack, followed by a distinct creak. Unable to turn my head without disturbing the bandages, I cast my eyes towards the door. Two dark shapes slid into the room. I heard a soft gasp from Mary as the thieves crossed the floor to a glass case exactly opposite where I stood.

“This one, Bert,” said a low voice.

“Don’t call me that, you dick,” said the second man, as he jemmied the lock on the cabinet.

“Sorry.”

The lock gave way with a snap and fell to the floor. As the taller of the two villains opened the case, I heard the distinctive tones of a certain consulting detective.

“I should leave that alone, if I were you.”

Holmes stepped forwards, ripping the bandages from his manly features.

“Oh, shit,” said one of the thieves. “It’s a fuckin mummy!”

Tearing off my own disguise, I hurried forwards to join Holmes, who had now produced his revolver. Taking out my own trusty weapon, I took up a position guarding the door.

“Bleedin hell,” said the villain. “There’s two of ‘em.”

“Three, actually,” said Mary, stepping forwards.

The two men held up their hands. I couldn’t help noticing their faces resembled that of a well-known master criminal.

“Ah-ha,” said Ben Ravensburg, hurrying into the gallery. Holding up a lamp, he illuminated the villains’ ruddy complexions. “Who on earth…?”

Holmes stepped towards the taller man and reaching up, took a firm grip on his ear. Giving it a sharp tug, he pulled the man’s disguise free.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see very often,” he said, staring at the rubber mask. “Moriarty, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

“All the blokes are wearing them, these days,” said the man. “We’re great admirers of the Professor. Mwah, hah, hah.”

Approaching the smaller man, I removed his Moriarty mask, too. “Quite a good likeness, though,” I said.

Holmes turned to Ravensburg. “I suspect you might know these men, Doctor?”

“Indeed I do,” said the archivist, sneering. “Professors Solverson and Hoffart—here on loan from Oslo University Museum, supposedly researching Egyptian artefacts for the benefit of a new exhibition. But it seems the study of ancient treasures became too tempting to resist.”

“And we’d have got away with it too,” said the tall one, “if it hadn’t been for these pesky mummies.”

“But where were they hiding?” said I, peering round the gallery.

Holmes jerked his head at me and strode back out into the corridor. Pausing by the two wooden coffins, he waved a hand. “Open it, please John.”

With a little trepidation, I did as he asked, and pulled open the lid of the nearest sarcophagus. Inside, I found a paper bag containing sardine sandwiches and a jar of pickled herrings.

“That would explain the smell, then,” said Holmes, giving me a sardonic smile. “Part of the Norwegian diet?”

“Can I ‘ave that back?” said Solverson. “It’s me supper.”

Having handed the villains over to the local constabulary, we set off back to Baker Street. Back at 221B, Holmes, Mary and myself tucked into an early breakfast, courtesy of Mrs Hudson.

“There’s something I still don’t understand,” I said, helping myself to another toasted crumpet.

Holmes nodded. “There’s a surprise…”

I rubbed my chin, thoughtfully. “The whole thing appears to have been too…simple. Why didn’t Lestrade work out where they were hiding?”

Holmes laughed. “As always, Watson, you see but you do not observe.” He glanced at Mary. “Don’t you agree?”

Mary frowned. “There was definitely something funny about those two crooks.”

Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Such as…?”

Mary shrugged. “Their accents. For Norwegians, they sounded distinctly Cockney.”

“Due to the fact that neither have been any closer to Norway than West India Docks.”

“D’you mean to say they’re British?” said I, aghast.

“Former members of Moriarty’s gang, in fact. Bert Clacker and Nobby Nobbler. Lestrade would’ve recognised them straight way, which is why the police were not called in.”

“But Ravensburg said—”

“Ravensburg lied,” said Holmes. Reaching up to the mantelpiece for his meerschaum, he began to stuff it with rough shag. “I expect the rest of your questions will be answered shortly when our next case arrives.”

“What next case?”

Holmes smiled sardonically. He cocked his head. “Hark. Footsteps on the stair…”

A moment later, a knock came at the door.

Holmes waved a hand at me. “Watson, would you do the honours, please?”

Crossing the room, I pulled the door open.

Ben Ravensburg blinked. “Oh. Good morning.”

“Come in, sir, and take a pew,” said Holmes indicating an armchair.

The archivist settled himself, took a breath, and said, “I expect you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“Not at all,” said Holmes, winking at me. “Today is Saturday. You are not expected again at the museum until Monday. Between now and then, you had hoped to solve a mystery of your own.”

Ravensburg’s eyes widened. “How on earth..?”

Holmes smiled. “Before we trotted off to investigate your so-called Norwegian friends, I took the liberty of telegraphing an old acquaintance of mine. Lord Ballantyne. He’s a member of the board at the museum, you know.”

Ravensburg’s eyes flicked around the room. “Er, yes, that’s right.”

“It turns out you do not actually work for the museum. Rather, you are a volunteer, working on a research project of your own.”

“Well…”

“So,” said Holmes leaning towards our guest, “what I want to know is why you had us go through that ridiculous charade with Clacker and Nobbler?”

“Oh,” said the other. “You know about them.”

“Of course,” said Holmes. “After all I am the world’s greatest consulting detective.”

Ravensburg let out a long sigh. “Right. Well, it all started with this witch…”

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Archivist’s Letter

Diary of Doctor Watson

It has been a few months since our adventure at the home of Roderick Usher, and my visits to Baker Street have become somewhat irregular. Following the capture of the dreaded arch villain, Doctor Fu Manchu, Holmes and Lestrade busied themselves in matters of law, guaranteeing that the infamous crook would not be free to practice his evil doings for the next several decades.

The court case, quite naturally, provoked renewed interest in the Great Detective’s powers of deduction in the Londen press, resulting in numerous requests for his services. Many of these proved to be of the missing-husband variety, which Holmes cast aside with his usual disdain. However, given his depleted personal finances, I took pains to persuade him to at least consider one or two cases, if only to counteract Mrs Hudson’s incessant whinging in relation to the regular payment of rent. I’m glad to say he finally took my advice and swallowed his enormous pride. Solving a series of straightforward and—it has to be said—boring cases, without the necessity of leaving his rooms, the ensuing remuneration, though being anathema to his sense of logic, has nevertheless allowed him to maintain the spendthrift existence to which he has become accustomed.

This morning, having not heard from my erstwhile companion for several weeks, I determined to pop along to see him. However, while ruminating on this plan, a letter appeared on my breakfast table.

“When did this arrive, darling?” I said, peering at the envelope.

Mary poured herself another cup of Darjeeling. “Just now. A messenger brought it. If you paid more attention to your surroundings, you’d have seen him.” She gave me a playful wink and tapped a finger on the letter. “From Big Nose, is it?”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call him that, dear. He is, after all, the world’s greatest detective.”

“With the biggest nose.”

“In any case, while the handwriting does bear some resemblance to his characteristic scrawl, there’s a distinct smell about the envelope which suggests its author to be someone who enjoys a rather more intense existence.” Holding it up to my nose, I inhaled the slightly putrid odour. “Hmm. A whiff of garlic, plaster of Paris and…a hint of hair tonic.”

“Quite the detective, aren’t you, darling?” said Mary, with a tinge of sarcasm. “I suppose the writer will turn out to be of French origin, wearing a well-lubricated toupee while constructing models of the Eiffel tower.”

Ignoring her jibes, I slit open the missive and read the following letter:

Dear Doctor Watson

I trust you will forgive this unsolicited pressure on your valuable time, but as you will see, I believe Sherlock Holmes and your good self may be able to assist me.

In my role as Chief Archivist at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts, I have of late become aware of the theft of several Egyptian relics from the museum. These relics have on each occasion, disappeared during the hours when the museum is closed and as our beloved police force have demonstrated themselves to be quite inept in securing the person or persons responsible, I should be most humbled if yourself and Mr Holmes might look into the matter with some urgency.

(I would of course have approached Mr Holmes in person, but knowing your role as his biographer allows some degree of, shall we say, persuasive abilities when it comes to demands on the great man’s time, I hoped that in the circumstances you might press upon him the importance of my request.)

Needless to say, the museum would be happy to reimburse any expenses, as well as a substantial fee for the recovery of the missing objects.

Yours sincerely
B Ravensburg (MA, ARA, DPhil)

Passing the letter to Mary, I said, “As I suspected—it’s from the Londen Museum.”

Mary scanned the missive. “His name sounds familiar. I wonder if it’s Ben Ravensburg, the famous gothic novelist.”

I rolled my eyes. “I think you mean alcoholic novelist, m’dear. The fellow’s well known for his drunkenness and debauchery.”

Mary’s eyes lit up. “Debauchery? How interesting.”

“Anyway, I continued, “What on earth would a novelist be doing working in a museum?”

“If you decide to see him, perhaps I might accompany you.”

I smiled at her. “Of course, my dear. If only to prove your theory wrong.”

An hour later, I climbed the stairs at 221B Baker Street and rapped on the door. It opened immediately.

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, shaking my hand vigorously. “I see you received my message.”

“Which message would that be, old bean?”

My friend’s smile vanished. “My telepathical communication, of course.”

“Ah. Sadly not.”

Knowing how boredom irritates Holmes, I should not have been surprised to learn that he had persisted in a preposterous series of experiments on the theory of mind transfer. Our previous discussions on the matter had only succeeded in frustrating me, so on this occasion I determined not to take the bait. Instead, I advanced to my usual seat by the fire and waited while Holmes stuffed a portion of Hard Shag into his meerschaum, lit it with a Swan Vesta and settled himself in the chair opposite.

“Nothing at all, then?” he said.

“Not a whisper.”

His mouth turned downwards. “Damn. Must be a fault with my transmutational analysis of the text.”

“What was the message?”

He shrugged. “Nothing of any import. I simply wished you to come at once on receiving my missive. But here you are anyway.”

Passing Mr Ravensburg’s letter across to him, I said, “Interesting proposition. Came this morning.”

Holmes held the envelope between slender fingers, examining it carefully. Holding it up to his nose, he sniffed. “I should hazard a guess that the writer works at the Londen Museum of Antiquities and Interesting Artefacts. Probably an archivist or curator in the Egyptian section.”

I couldn’t help let out a gasp. “How on earth—”

“Elementary, Watson. Before your arrival, my attention was drawn to a small article in The Times relating to the theft of certain relics. As our friend Lestrade and his comrades have once again proved themselves to be incompetent in tracking down the thieves, it could only be a matter of time before the museum’s board of directors called on the skills of the world’s greatest consulting detective.” He paused. “And his noble companion.”

“Excellent. I shall arrange a meeting.”

Holmes took out the letter and perused it. “Ravensburg.” He looked up. “Wouldn’t be Ben Ravensburg, the gothic novelist, by any chance?”

I suppressed a groan. “As it happens, Mary had the same ridiculous idea.”

Holmes stared at me. “Then she had better accompany us when we meet this fellow. Your wife’s ridiculous ideas have a habit of proving to be correct. Besides, we may require her diversionary skills if the situation turns out to be more complex than the theft of a few Egyptian ornaments.”

I should have felt grateful that Holmes now seemed to acknowledge my wife’s contributions to our adventures but having been outwitted by them both on several occasions, I found myself feeling a little miffed. I also managed to completely miss Sherlock’s inference that the investigation may not be all it appeared. As it turned out, the mystery we were about to embark on had nothing to do with missing artefacts and the events of the next seven days would place each one of us in the gravest danger.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Villain Revealed

From the Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

“I know that voice,” I said, stepping forwards. Grasping the hood, I yanked it off.

“Inspector Lestrade.” I held my lamp up to his face. “What are you doing here?”

The ferret-faced little man shrugged off his robe. “Responding to the telegram from Mr Holmes, of course.”

“Telegram?” said the big-nosed detective. “What telegram?”

Lestrade peered at each of us. “The one yer sent me.”

Holmes rolled his eyes.

“Oh. So you didn’t send a telegram?”

“No, but I suspect someone else required your presence here,” said Holmes, rubbing his chin.

“Hold on,” I said, picking up Lestrade’s discarded robe. “Why were you wearing this?”

Lestrade looked uncomfortable. “It said in the telegram—the one Holmes didn’t send—that I ought ter dress as a monk for the fancy dress party.”

“Ah.” Holmes strode around the room, muttering to himself. “Then you were given instructions about what to do upon arrival here, yes?”

Lestrade nodded.

Holmes continued. “Told to follow a certain route around the side of the house and into a certain bush and thence down into this room.”

“That’s right,” said the inspector. “Sorry if I’ve mucked fings up for yous.”

“Not all at all,” said Holmes. He asked to see the aforementioned message and when Lestrade produced it, whipped it out of the man’s hand and proceeded to examine it closely.

“A bit long for a telegram, eh?” said Johnny, peering over Sherlock’s shoulder. “Must’ve cost a few bob.”

“I rather think the cost would not be a major concern to its creator,” said Holmes, sniffing the paper.

Tossing the robe aside, I said, “Why on earth would anyone want Inspector Lestrade here? He doesn’t even know Roderick Usher.”

“Ah,” said Holmes. “I think I may be able to answer that. This whole masquerade has not been about Roderick Usher at all, but about us—Doctor and Mrs Watson, myself and, unfortunately, the inspector here.” He touched Lestrade’s shoulder. “Sorry old chap, but I believe you may have been lured here to your death.”

“Oh,” said Lestrade. “Bugger.”

I let out a long sigh. “If that’s true, Holmes, this can only be the work of one man.”

The detective shook his head. “No, Mary. This scheme does not bear Moriarty’s modus operandi. No, it is overly complex and utterly ridiculous.”

“Then who the hell is behind it?” said Johnny, stamping his foot.

“I suggest we get out of here and return to the library. If I’m right, our enemy will make themselves known to us shortly.”

We followed Holmes back up the steps, through the bush and back round to the house. The front door stood open as we’d left it and the library too, appeared unchanged.

Holmes held up a hand. “Have a care, my friends.” Stepping into the library, he pushed the door back, checked behind it then motioned for us to come in.

We stood there in a cluster, our eyes everywhere.

Holmes made a sign that we should stay silent, then pointed a slender finger at the bookcase on the far wall. He mouthed, Watch, and turned his own gaze towards the cluttered shelves.

Standing next to Johnny, I stared at the books but whatever had caught the detective’s eye, passed me by completely.

Suddenly, Sherlock’s arm shot out, indicating a section of shelving in the corner.

“I see it,” murmured Lestrade, taking out his revolver.

Holmes strode over to the fireplace, reached up and removed one of the ornamental sabres from where it hung over the mantle. Then, holding the weapon lightly, he leaped forwards and stabbed an area of leather-bound books.

A yelp of surprise came from the bookcase. “Ow, ow, ow!” And as we watched, the books themselves seemed to shift sideways. And then I saw it—the outline of a man, moving away from the shelves, and a moment later the ‘books’ dropped to the floor, revealing the criminal behind the disguise.

“Ah-ha,” said Holmes. “And the villain is revealed.”

“Who on earth is that?” I said, peering at the skinny little man.

Holmes gave me a sardonic smile. “I’m surprised you don’t remember him, Mary. Admittedly he’s cut off that give-away pigtail and shaved off the silly moustache, no doubt in order to take on the role of the French Cook, but you met him during our Ghost Train adventure.”

“My God,” I muttered, finally recognising the arch-criminal. “Then he didn’t meet his death when the ghost train plummeted into that ravine?”

“Apparently not,” said Holmes. “So we meet again, Doctor Fu Manchu—fiend, master criminal and the brains behind this ridiculous plot.”

Fu laughed. “Hah, and I almost had you Holmes. I even used your own invention—the bookcase disguise—against you.”

“Yes, but you forgot one important aspect of that particular camouflage, Fu. Instead of classic novels, you used the titles of books that no man in his right mind would ever read—regency romances.”

The villain rubbed his injured hand where the sabre had stabbed his finger. “They’re popular in my country,” he muttered.

“Tie him up,” barked Holmes, tearing down the bell-pull rope.

Within a few minutes Manchu was bound hand and foot. We sat him in an armchair and Lestrade kept watch while Johnny and I checked him for hidden weapons. The only thing we found was a pair of ladies’ knickers and a set of false breasts. Holmes took a moment to relight his meerschaum. Having done so, he settled himself on the sofa opposite the villain and puffed away.

“I suppose you’d like to know why?” said the evil doctor.

“Oh, I think I can guess,” said Holmes. He glanced at me. “But perhaps Mary can shed some light on the matter.”

“Me?” I said. “I haven’t got a clue.”

“On the contrary, Mary, you pointed me in the right direction when you stated that Roderick Usher must be the perpetrator.”

“Well, it seemed the obvious answer.”

“Precisely, and Doctor Manchu imagined that having identified the culprit I would then take deadly revenge on Roddy for the murder of my six chums. After which, Fu would murder Lestrade, Johnny, your good self and finally me, but not before revealing the truth. For only then could he guarantee that I would suffer the worst punishment imaginable for Londen’s greatest detective—the agony of being wrong.”

“You have to admit,” said Fu Manchu, “it was a good plan.”

“It would have been, yes. But for one simple mistake.”

“Mistake!” roared Fu. “I do not make mistakes.”

“Unfortunately, you do. You see, when you set up those six lookalike corpses to fool me into thinking you had murdered Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub, you forgot one vital thing. Pugh and Pugh were not brothers. They were brother and sister. Rebecca Pugh was, and is, a woman. Of course, I realised this straight away, but pretended not to notice in case we were under observation.”

“Hang on,” said Johnny. “What’s all this got to do with Roddy?”

“I think I know,” I said. “Roddy’s mental state only aided the villainous plan. Fu Manchu took advantage of Madelaine’s illness as well as her death.”

Johnny threw up his hands. “But she’s alive! We saw her!”

Holmes made a calming motion. “Watson, Watson, Watson. What we saw was Doctor Fu in disguise—a simple ruse to make us think she was either still alive or haunting poor Roddy.

“You mean she really is dead, then?”

Holmes nodded.

Johnny sat back down with a thump. “But who are those poor devils lying in the cellar?”

I looked at the evil doctor. He smiled an evil smile.

“As you pointed out earlier, “said Fu Manchu, “I did not die when that train fell into the ravine, but a great many of my employees did. I recovered the bodies of six of them and stored them in a freezer in a butcher’s shop in Huddersfield. I felt certain that one day they would be of use.”

“I see,” said Holmes. “And I suppose you also employed the services of a very expensive plasticine surgeon to make up their faces to look like my Bladderswick companions?”

“You think you are so clever, Mr Holmes,” muttered the arch-villain.

“Yes, actually I do.” He jumped up and tapped out his pipe on the mantlepiece. “Now, I think we’d better find Roddy and explain a few things.”

“Just wait a moment, old bean,” said Johnny getting to his feet. “There’ s a few things I still don’t understand…”

Holmes glanced at me. “As I’ve always said, Mary is the clever one…”

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Seventh Room


Diary of Doctor Watson

Following the events of last night, Holmes and I slept late. As Usher has no servants, we made our own breakfast, tucking into porridge, toast and strawberry preserve—the only options in a kitchen stocked mainly with dry goods and vegetables.

Half an hour later, and assuming our host to be still in his bed, we took the opportunity to explore the ground floor of the house. In the east wing, aside from the library, there were five other rooms, consisting of a dining room, a music room (filled with an array of strange and exotic instruments) and a sort of parlour that looked as if it hadn’t been opened for several years. On the west side of the house we found the morning room with a view of the mausoleum, and next to that, the study. This last proved the most interesting as it highlighted Roderick Usher’s poor grasp of household management. A wood-wormed desk bore the fruits of his labours, being untidily piled with personal papers and bills representing the last few years of the siblings’ expenditures. Musing on the source of their revenue, I questioned Holmes on the topic.

“Ah yes,” he said, gazing out of the window. “As I recall, the parents had business interests in China, which generated enough income to keep their offspring in relative luxury. Or what passes for luxury in this part of the world.” His eyes flicked around the room, taking in the dusty shelves, unwashed curtains and general atmosphere of grime that clung to the place as dirty underpants cling to the filthy torsos of the working class. “It would appear Roddy has let things slide somewhat.”

Moving back into the corridor, we found another door I hadn’t noticed before.

“Wonder what’s in here,” I said, moving to open it.

“Hold it, Watson,” said Holmes, grabbing my arm. Looking back along the corridor, he muttered something under his breath, then gazing at the door, said, “The seventh room.”

“Is that significant?” I said, staring into his piggy-like eyes.

“I hope not, Watson. I hope not.”

He nodded to me and I stepped forward, grasping the doorknob.

The room lay in near-darkness and as I opened the door, an odour of mouldering decay flooded over me, causing me to step back. Taking out my Swan Vestas, I struck a match and held it up. The first thing I noticed was a lack of windows and how the walls had been lined with a deep red velvety material. Not a stick of furniture decorated the chamber, save a single wooden slab-like table in the middle. Attached to the sides, top and foot of this were leather straps, bolted into place. A small red silk cushion lay at one end.

“Oh dear,” muttered Holmes, pushing past me.

“What on earth is it?” I said, stepping forward to examine the table. “Some sort of altar, d’you think?”

“I’m afraid, Watson, it is exactly that.” He rubbed his chin and gazed at the bizarre structure. “I’d hoped our beleaguered host might’ve given up such deviant practices, but…”

“What sort of deviant practices?”

“At college, while under the influence of opium, he became interested in an ancient ritual known as the Masque of the Red Death.”

“What on earth is that?”

Holmes turned towards me, his face ashen. “Sex and murder, Watson. Sex and murder.”

As we stood there just inside the doorway, something cold touched my hand.

“Arrgh!”

“Well,” said a familiar voice, “that’s a novel way to welcome your dear wife.”

“Mary,” I gasped, grasping her arms. “What the devil..?”

“No-one answered the door, so I let myself in. What’s going on? You boys look as if you’ve seen a ghost.” She laughed gaily, then seeing the grim look in Sherlock’s eyes, curtailed her amusement.

“Not a ghost, Mary,” said Holmes. “At least, not yet…”

Taking Mary aside, I hugged her, then said, “How on earth did you get here?”

“Your pal Lestrade suggested I come over.” She leaned in to whisper in my ear. “I think he’s worried you two might get into bother.”

“No, I meant, how did you get here? We had terrible trouble arranging a lift from the train station.”

“Oh, that bit was easy—I engaged the services of a surly old chap with a cart.”

“Did he have a wart on his nose and a droopy moustache?”

“He did—d’you know him?”

“Yes, though he refused to bring us to the door. We had to walk the last mile.”

“Ah. You should’ve offered to tickle his testicles. Worked a treat for me.”

“Really, darling, I do wish you wouldn’t—”

She laughed and I realised I’d been had.

“Poor Johnny—you’re so easy to wind up. No, I simply offered him one of those forged ten-pound notes you showed me last year.” She peered into the red room. “So, what’s going on in here?”

Holmes emerged from the room and stuck his hand out. “Best not, Mary. This may be a crime scene.”

“Really? How exciting.”

“Not exciting, my dear—dangerous.” He looked at me. “We must examine Madelaine’s body again and look for indications.”

“Indications of what, Holmes?”

“Of murder Watson.”

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Detective Inspector Calls


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)
Batley Cottage, Skipton

Having now spent two nights in what I can only describe as the dullest residence I’ve ever had the misfortune to inhabit, my desire to escape grows by the hour. Though Aunt Bob complains bitterly about her aches and pains, her general health has clearly improved, and I now suspect she summoned me here simply to have someone to run around after her. Only this morning, she demanded I read aloud from a book on herbal remedies of the East Indies.

“It is quite unbearable, my dear Mary,” she muttered, as I began the third chapter of the aforementioned tedious tome, “that I should spend my dotage unaccompanied.”

“Well,” I said, “if you hadn’t thrown Uncle Jeremy out of the house, you wouldn’t be unaccompanied.”

She slapped a hand on the side of the chair. “He was rogering that tart from the butcher’s on an almost daily basis.”

“No, Aunt,” I repeated for the umpteenth time, “the lady from the butcher’s is even older than you and has a wooden leg and a hair lip. I doubt she’s capable of any kind of…intimate…activity. And I’m certain Uncle Jeremy wouldn’t be unfaithful.”

“He might have been…” She pursed her lips and adopted the pained expression I’ve come to look upon as her ‘normal’ face.

I leaned forwards and patted her knee. “Why don’t I pop along to the hotel where he’s staying and tell him you’d like him to come back?”

She sniffed derisively, but I could tell she was coming around to the idea.

At that point, the maid appeared—a dull-witted girl with a penchant for snivelling.

“Beg pardon, ma’am,” she said, “but a gen’leman’s at the door an’ wantin’ to see you.”

“Oh, I can’t be bothered with visitors,” moaned Aunt Bob.

“Oh, sorry, ma’am, I was meanin’ Missus Watson, ‘ere.”

“Me?” said I, perking up. “Who is it?”

The girl handed me a white card. One glance at it brought a smile to my lips. This might be the excuse I’d been looking for.

“Send him in, Florence.”

A moment later, a ferret-faced little man in a raincoat popped his head around the door.

“Mornin’ Mrs Watson,” he said tipping his hat.

“Inspector Lestrade,” I murmured shaking his hand. “How lovely to see you.”

The policeman reddened at this unexpected compliment and seated himself on a pouffe in the corner. He glanced at Aunt Bob.

“Ahm, this is my Aunt Roberta,” I said.

“A police inspector, eh?” said the old woman. “What trouble has that fool of a husband got you into now, dear?”

“For your information, Aunt, my husband is not a fool and he does not get me into trouble.” I grinned at Lestrade and added, “though we’ve had some rare adventures together.”

Aunt Bob prattled on for a few minutes more, then excused herself and stomped off upstairs.

Is there trouble?” I said, when she’d gone.

“Well, it’s ‘ard ter say, really,” he began. “It might be nuffin, but I thought I’d better check it out wiv you anyway.”

He sat there for a moment, turning his hat over and over in his hands, until eventually he seemed to come to a decision. “Fing is, I knew that ‘olmes and your ‘usband had gorn over ter that place near Carlisle.”

“Clovenhoof? Yes, that’s right. To see that Mr Usher and his poorly sister.”

“That’s the one. Well, it’s a few years back now, but when Mr ‘olmes told me this feller’s name, it sort of rang a bell, l but I didn’t recall why until this mornin’.”

“You’ve had dealings with Mr Usher before, then?”

“Not exactly, no.” He chewed his lip, then said, “It were all to do wiv a black cat that this bloke owned. I don’t remember all the details, but it ended up with ‘im tryin’ to kill the cat wiv an axe, but accidentally killin’ his wife instead.”

“Oh, I say. That sounds a bit grim. And you think this chap and Mr Usher might be the same person?”

Lestrade shook his head. “All I know is that this bloke wiv the cat and this Usher feller was in business together.”

I thought about this for a moment. “It’s entirely possible, then, that Usher knows nothing about this alleged murder.”

He sniffed and wiped a sleeve across his face. “Like I say, it’s probably nuffin ter worry about, and I woudn’t ‘ave bovvered you wiv it, if it weren’t for what ‘appened yesterday.”

“Which was?”

“I sent a telegram to your ‘usband and Mr ‘olmes, just to warn ‘em, like. But an hour later, I got a message back to say no messages of any kind can be delivered to the Usher ‘ouse.”

“How strange. Why not?”

“Seems that no-one in the area will go near the place. They say it’s ‘aunted and spooky fings ‘appen there.”

“What sort of spooky things?”

He shrugged. “Ghosts.”

“Can’t you go there yourself?”

“Well, I would, Mary, but my boss is sendin’ me to Blackpool to ‘elp out on the Bodies in the Baths mystery, so I can’t get away. Came up ‘ere on me day off in the ‘ope of persuadin’ you to go instead.”

“I see.” Sitting back, I couldn’t resist smiling to myself. Though Holmes would in all likelihood feel a bit put out at my turning up out of the blue, if there were a sinister side to this Usher fellow, I’d rather be with my husband.

“Have yer got the address?” said Lestrade.

“Yes, Johnny gave me it—I think he hoped I’d be able to find an excuse to join him at some point. Now, it seems I can.”

After Lestrade had gone, I went upstairs to give my aunt the good news. She wouldn’t be happy about me leaving, but I could already smell an adventure and I wasn’t going to miss it for the world.

Clovenhoof here I come.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Woman in White


Diary of Doctor Watson

I didn’t mention our sighting of the ‘woman in white’ to our host, as he seemed a little on edge. Instead, we spent a couple of hours discussing his pet subjects—the long and boring history of the Usher clan and, more especially, the unusual design of the house. When I say ‘discussing’, I mean Holmes and I listened while Roderick droned on about the place, as if it were some site of architectural significance.

“In addition,” he said, cradling a large glass of crème de menthe, “the House of Usher, as we like to call it, has one or two idiosyncrasies. In point of fact, I should alert you to the possibility of—shall we say—noises in the night.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, showing a spark of interest. “Ghosts, eh?”

Roderick pulled a face. “Wouldn’t say that, so much. Rather, something along the lines of structural disturbances. Nothing to concern yourselves about.”

He refused to be drawn further on the topic, so I decided to probe him in relation to one of the more obscure titles on his bookshelves.

“I see you have a copy of Vampirism in the Middle Ages, by Horst Wolverton.” Crossing to extract that precise volume, I flicked through its yellowed pages, noting several facsimile woodcuts featuring our old friend Count Dracula. It was odd to see his likeness portrayed in an image, the original of which had to be at least three hundred years old. “Not sure if you’re aware,” I said, “but Holmes and I actually met—”

“Wolverton himself,” burst in Holmes, giving me a stern look. “At a party given by the old queen.”

“The Duke of Clarence?” said Roderick.

“I meant Victoria, actually,” said Holmes. “Though the duke was also present.”

“Also known as Bendover Eddy,” I put in, smirking, “due to his alleged nocturnal activities.”

“Really, Watson, must you lower the tone?”

“Sorry, Holmes.”

At that point, our host excused himself, claiming a headache. “Feel free to plunder my wine stock,” he said, on his way out.

I glared at Holmes. “What was all that about? I was merely referring to—”

“Yes, yes, I know precisely what you were referring to,” said Holmes, “and I should be obliged if you would refrain from mentioning anything that might put ideas into Roddy’s head.” He rubbed a hand over his lean features. “Aside from his sister’s illness, there’s clearly some disturbing issue troubling him. I have no wish to muddle his head with additional fanciful ideas.”

“Hardly a fanciful idea, Holmes,” I said, feeling a little miffed. “After all, we did meet the count and—”

Holmes held up a hand. “Enough, Watson. Now, be a good fellow and pour me one more glass of that rather fruity little Chablis before bed.”

I did as he asked, then, settling back into my seat, recalled a subject I’d been meaning to question him about. “That business in Massachusetts…you never did tell me what the outcome was…”

Holmes grimaced. “Ah. The Lizzie Borden case.” He chewed his lower lip for a moment. “Very odd state of affairs with one thing and another. Acquitted, in the end, though only due to the stupidity of the local police.” He gazed into the fire and gave a small nod.

“So she did it, then?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “but it was she who ordered the killing.”

“What, you mean she got someone else to do it for her?”

“Yes.” He smiled to himself. “Never would’ve occurred to me if I hadn’t happened to hear the family maid, one Miss Sullivan, chatting outside the courthouse.”

“Something she said?”

“Not what she said, Watson, but the way she said it.” He contorted his mouth and muttered, “I haf been ze maid wiz ze family for only a short time, but I vould like to continue wiz my employment if zat iz at all pozzible.”

“Klopp! Then she’s alive?”

He shrugged. “I couldn’t be sure, and without the benefit of our old friend Lestrade and the necessary records to prove her identity, there was nothing I could do. However, I did take the precaution of alerting the relevant authorities to the woman’s immigration status. If she is Klopp, I’m certain we shall hear from her again.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then Holmes nodded towards the window. “Our friend has returned.”

Following his gaze, I saw the figure in white glide past the window in the opposite direction to earlier.

“Damn it all,” I muttered, “I’m going to find out who she is.” With that, I jumped up and went out into the hall, yanking open the front door. Though it could not have taken more than three of four seconds to reach the door, there was no sign of anyone near the house. “That’s damnably strange,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Holmes, behind me. “Mostly likely she’s a vampire and climbed the wall back to her bedroom.” Looking up at the windows, he chuckled. “I think perhaps we’ve imbibed a little too much vino, John.”

I took a few steps forwards and peered into the darkness. “Glad you think it’s funny, Holmes,” I said, “but if that was Usher’s sister, she may well be in need of medical attention.”

“Or a bite on the neck,” said Holmes, sardonically.

Following him back inside, I closed the door. Then, a footstep caused me to glance up at the staircase, where I caught sight of something white. Taking the stairs three at a time, I tore up to the first landing, in time to see a sliver of silvery-white material disappear along the corridor. Hurrying after the lady Madelaine, if it were indeed she, I pushed open the door at the end of the passage and found myself in a semi-darkened bedroom.

Directly in front of me, lying in an ancient four poster bed, her eyes closed, lay the woman I had seen only a few seconds before. On the floor beside her, Roderick Usher knelt, clasping her pale white hand, whispering words that sounded like a prayer.

I must have made some movement, for Roderick turned and saw me. I waved a hand and murmured an apology, but he merely stared at me.

In a low voice, replete with pain, he said, “Perhaps I should have taken your advice and allowed you to examine her, Doctor. Alas, it is too late now…”

“You mean…?”

“Yes. My sister is dead.”

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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An Interesting Pair of Trousers


The Diary of Doctor J. Watson

‘We’ve got to do something, Holmes,’ I muttered. ‘In less than a minute poor Mrs Christie will get squashed like a–’

‘Yes, yes, I know that, Watson,’ hissed my companion. ‘But this is not the time for descriptive passages. This is a time for action. Where’s that jar of chilli sauce?’

‘It’s in my hand,’ I said, careful not to display the object, in case the man guarding us saw it.

‘Then do what you were going to do earlier,’ said Holmes, nodding towards the steam engine.

I could see no benefit from chucking a jar of chilli sauce into a steam engine, but as we had very little else in our store of retaliative weaponry, and as the floor of the library had already reached the halfway mark, we were out of options. Flinging my arm back, I hurled the jar towards the giant engine and watched as it flew up in a long arc and came down to land between two huge cogs.

I heard the jar shatter above the noise of the engine, then a jet of sauce spurted out and landed in Moriarty’s left eye.

For an Evil Genius, Moriarty screamed like a girl. Grasping at his injured eye, he waved a hand at Frau Klopp to help him. ‘My fucking … aaargh!’ he screeched.

As Klopp and the minions flocked around their leader, the man holding us at gunpoint glanced away for a second. That was all we needed. Leaping forwards, Holmes grasped the man by the neck. Lestrade knocked his gun to the ground and kicked it towards me. I picked it up and ran across to where Mrs Christie lay, now only a few feet from the descending floor and certain death. Keeping the gun raised in the direction of the villains, I grabbed one of the ropes holding the famous novelist and hauled her away from the danger area.

A moment later, Moriarty had pushed aside his workers and stood over us. ‘That’s it,’ he roared. ‘Kill them all!’

But the metal lid from the jar of chilli sauce had slipped into some vital part of the steam engine, and as the library floor hit the ground, the engine screamed as if in pain. The machine seemed to be attempting to force the library floor to continue its journey through the ground it now rested on. With a grinding of gears and a sudden lurch, the engine began to shake violently. The iron struts linked to the engine shuddered, and with a metallic whine, the first strut bent under the strain and collapsed, crashing down into the crowd of dumbstruck villains. A second strut followed and in a matter of seconds, the whole supporting structure of the vast hall buckled under the weight of the house above.

‘Quickly, Johnny,’ yelled Mary, cutting through Mrs Christie’s bonds with Lestrade’s nail scissors. ‘We have to get out before the whole place collapses.’

Moriarty’s men ran around the steam engine pulling levers and pushing buttons while the arch-villain himself stood in the middle, clutching his eye and screaming at Klopp.

Holmes grabbed my sleeve. ‘Back to where we came in,’ he said, pushing Mary and Mrs Christie towards the square of stone floor that led to the cellar steps.

‘D’you think it’ll still work?’ I yelled, above the roar of the collapsing engines.

‘If it doesn’t, we’re fucked,’ he said. ‘Come on.’

Racing to the end of the hall, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Moriarty still ranting at Klopp, with Fu Manchu and the forger struggling to separate their furious leaders. But two people were missing. Colonel Moran and Ratched had disappeared.

Gathering ourselves on the small square of floor, I looked at Holmes. ‘How do we make it go?’

‘Oh, I know,’ said Mrs Christie. ‘There should be a brick somewhere …’ She pressed her hands against various parts of the wall.

‘Quickly,’ said Holmes. ‘Try them all.’

The rest of us eagerly pushed and prodded the wall. At first it seemed that whatever Mrs Christie thought might be there, simply didn’t exist, but then one of the smaller bricks moved, and in a flash, the floor trembled and started its upward journey.

Below us, the noise level rose and the thumping and clanking of the steam engine hit a deafening pitch.

The floor re-connected with the cellar steps and clanked into place. Racing up the staircase, I crashed through the cellar door into the sudden glare of torchlight.

‘Who’s there?’ I demanded.

‘Oh, hello there,’ said a voice. ‘You must be Doctor Watson. And this would be your good lady wife, would it?’

Shading my eyes, I saw a plump constable holding a torch. Behind him were a crowd of other officers, all armed with torches and truncheons.

‘No, actually,’ I said, ‘this is the famous novelist Mrs Agatha Christie.’

‘Sergeant Radish,’ said Lestrade, stepping into the light. ‘Never thought I’d be ‘appy ter see your mutton chops.’

‘Never mind all that,’ said Holmes, pushing me out of the way. ‘Sergeant, the house is about to collapse. Get your men back outside with all speed.’

The big sergeant saluted smartly and shouted at his men. I grabbed Mary and Mrs Christie and escorted them through the drawing room and out through the French windows.

Once everyone had retreated to a safe distance, I looked back at the house. Holmes stood beside me.

‘There’s someone missing,’ I said.

Holmes nodded. ‘Yes,’ he murmured. ‘Moran and that awful former nurse. Keep your eyes open, Watson. I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they’d found another way out.’

As we watched, the whole house shuddered violently, shaking roof tiles loose and rattling window frames in their housings. As tiles and glass crashed to the ground, the house gave a massive judder, and one by one, the walls fell inward, clouds of debris, glass and dust flying about in all directions.

‘Well,’ said Holmes, ‘anyone left under there won’t be coming out in one piece. A fitting end to that bunch of atrocious individuals.’

‘Not including me in that, I hope, Mister Holmes?’

I turned and saw the woman who had arrived with Mrs Christie. Naturally, she was holding a gun.

‘Ratched,’ said Holmes, smiling sardonically. ‘I’d rather hoped you’d be dead and buried by now.’

‘Sorry to disappoint. But my lover knew another way out, so …’ She jerked her head indicating someone next to her and I saw Colonel Moran standing there holding his famous elephant gun.

‘Ah,’ said Holmes. ‘Guns all round, then.’

By this time Sergeant Radish and his officers had realised we had company. ‘Now then, now then,’ he said. ‘We don’t want no trouble here.’

‘Oh, it’s no trouble,’ said Moran, lowering his rifle. ‘I’m just going to pop off a few rounds and get rid of all my concerns in one go.’ Cocking the weapon, he raised it to his shoulder.

‘Hold on a mo, would you?’ said Mrs Christie, pushing through the crowd. ‘I’d like a quick word with Maudie. I mean Nursie, or whatever she’s calling herself these days.’

‘I’ve got nothing to say to you, Aggie, apart from goodbye.’ Ratched laughed and gave Moran a nod. ‘Get on with it.’

But Mrs Christie was not to be outdone. With a quick step forwards, she stuck out a finger and pushed the buckle of Ratched’s jodhpurs. Incredibly, the johdpurs came alive, vibrating and emitting a whirring noise that appeared to be centred around the genital area.

Ratched looked down at herself and began to moan. ‘Oh, my God, oh my fuckin God.’

Moran lowered his gun. ‘What’s happening Nursie? What’s she done to you?’

‘I don’t know,’ she squealed clasping at her lady parts. ‘These bloody trousers are making me all squidgy. Oh, bloody hell …’

At this, Holmes leaped forward, snatched Moran’s gun, upended the weapon and brought it crashing down on the grass, smashing the stock and separating the barrel from its casing.

‘That’s better,’ he said, handing the broken pieces back to Moran. ‘Now, I think Sergeant Radish has something to say.’

The big policeman stepped forward. ‘Right, Mister whoever-you-are, I am arresting you in the name of all that is good and proper and will be handing you over to the relevant police station at the earliest opportunity.’ Unfastening a pair of handcuffs from his belt, he clamped them over Moran’s wrists, while another officer did the same to Ratched, who writhed about like a bag full of cats.

‘Well,’ I said, looking at Mrs Christie with a sense of wonder. ‘An interesting pair of trousers.’

‘Yes,’ said the famous lady novelist, ‘I had them made after my husband curtailed his interest in my womanly needs. They’ve a built-in device for giving pleasure to those parts that most require it. Sadly, the thing developed a fault and now it’ll keep going until Miss Ratched has experienced the maximum number of orgasms.’ She paused. ‘Thirty-seven, I think.’

As we walked down to the beach and the waiting police launch, I caught up with Holmes.

‘That’s not the end of him, you know,’ he said.

‘Moriarty? No, we wouldn’t be that lucky.’

Glancing back at the house, a sense of great loss washed over me. Not for the house, or even for Moriarty, but for those innocent and not-so-innocent fools who got caught up in a ridiculous game—a game that didn’t even have a point, other than to make Sherlock Holmes look like a failure. And that would never happen.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Agatha Goes Down


From the Private Diary of A. Christie (Mrs)

Dear Diary,
I should have expected the noise of the descending floor to alert whoever waited below us, but even so, I experienced a wave of fear as we emerged into a vast arena and a crowd of expectant villains.

Maudie gave me a pitying smile and slunk away to join her comrades. Obviously, the threat of a Derringer held no sway. Nevertheless, I held onto my weapon, pointing it at the man in front of me.

‘Now then,’ I said. ‘Who’s in charge, here?’

‘That would be me, madam,’ said the man, smiling.

‘Ant me, of course,’ said the woman standing next to him.

I recognised her immediately, though of course her accent had reverted to her native German. ‘Ah yes,’ I said. ‘The kraut.’

‘I don’t zink zer’s any need for zat zort of talk,’ she said, looking as if I’d slapped her stupid face. ‘Zer name iz Klopp.’

‘Then I suggest you Klopp off.’ I walked forwards, keeping my eyes and my gun on the man next to her. ‘And you are …?’

‘Professor James Moriarty, Mrs Christie. At your service.’ He bowed. ‘I see you’ve already met our friend, Nurse Ratched …’ He laughed, mirthlessly. ‘Now, if you’d like to hand over your little pop gun …’

There seemed no point maintaining my stance as the vengeful warrior, so I passed it across to him. ‘So, what do you do here?’ I said, looking around intently.

The Professor laughed. ‘Oh, the usual—murder, mayhem, a little bit of intimidation, protection. You know the sort of thing.’

‘And these are …?’ I waved a hand at the assembled throng.

‘Comrades, minions, various arch villains—Doctor Fu Manchu, Colonel Sebastian Moran, etcetera, etcetera.’

Keeping a straight face, despite my surprise at the sheer quantity of rogues, villains and very bad people gathered in one place, I said, ‘And this moving floor business. What’s all that about?’

‘You’d like a demonstration?’ He seemed pleased at this, and I wondered if it might be possible to launch him into one of those fatal monologues that villains in trashy crime novels love so much, where they explain everything before killing the hero. If nothing else, it would fill in a bit of time.

Frau Klopp interrupted. ‘I don’t zink zis is necessary. Let’s just kill zem all now.’

Moriarty smiled at her. ‘If Mrs Christie wants a demonstration, let’s give her a demonstration.’

The way he said this gave me a start. I realised with growing horror that he meant something likely to prove extremely injurious—mainly to me.

‘Tie her up and place her beneath the library.’

A horde of white-coated henchmen surrounded me, and in a trice, they trussed me up like an out-of-season turkey. Hoisting me into the air, they carried me like a rolled-up carpet to an area at the far side of the hall where they laid me down. Far above me, I could make out the plan of the house—the rooms linked by iron struts leading to pulleys and gears and thence to a massive steam engine in the middle. The struts connected to the room above me stretched up to the sides of the library floor but were hinged in places to allow the whole thing to slide down on top of me without getting in the way. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be squashed flat. It wasn’t a scene I’d envisaged for any of my own characters, and I positively did not wish to see it played out for real.

Twisting my head, I could see Inspector Lestrade and an attractive, wonky-eyed woman, standing at the other side of the hall. Next to them stood Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson (identifiable from the images used in The Times and Strand Magazine). Standing there and guarded by a white-coat with a gun, I stared hard, struggling to convey something of my fear in a way that might prompt them into one of their famous rescues.

But as Moriarty pressed a button on the steam engine, any hope I had of liberation slipped away like a lover in the night.

With a screech of gears, the floor began its descent.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Mary and The Colonel


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As we were tied up facing away from the end of the room, it was tricky to see what was going on, but I managed to shuffle my chair back and forth and twist around enough to watch the proceedings. The elevator-type floor descended, while Moriarty barked at his henchmen, their Lugers at the ready. He and Klopp stood side by side, with Fu Manchu and that forger chap next to them. I realised someone was missing from the group just as a hand touched my knee.

‘Mrs Watson,’ purred Colonel Moran, crouching next to me. ‘Feisty little thing, aren’t you?’ His hand slid around to my bottom.

‘Get off me, moron,’ I snapped.

‘You mean Moran,’ he said.

‘I know what I mean.’

He sniffed and sat back on his haunches, watching me. ‘You know, Mary, even with that wonky eye, you’re a startlingly attractive woman. If you and I were able to get to know one another a little, I could spare your life.’

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I don’t drop my knickers for villains.’

‘But you already did,’ he said, sniggering.

I turned away from him and in doing so, caught sight of what Johnny and Lestrade were up to—Lestrade had a small pair of scissors in his fingers and had managed to snip through his own ropes. Now his attention was on my husband’s bonds.

Turning back to Moran, I smiled at him and put on my ‘coy’ face, determined to keep his focus on me. ‘Of course, you’re not any old villain, are you, Sebastian?’

He gazed into my eyes and began fondling my knee again. ‘I’m not?’

‘No,’ I murmured. ‘I mean, for one thing, you’ve got a really big gun, haven’t you?’

Amazingly, the man became embarrassed and dropped his head to look at the floor. Luckily, he faced away from Lestrade and Johnny. If I could keep him occupied for a few more precious seconds, we’d still have a chance.

At that moment, the descending floor thumped into place, and Moran jumped up and stalked off to join Moriarty.

‘Mary,’ hissed Holmes. I looked over and saw he’d wriggled one hand free of the ropes and clutched the box of Swan Vestas. ‘Can you get a match out?’

Shuffling my chair closer, I managed to get two fingers into the box and with a bit of fiddling around, picked out a single matchstick.

‘Strike it?’ I said, glancing over to the crowd at the far end of the room.

He nodded, holding the box as close as he could to my fingers and the single match. With a quick movement, I hit the thing against the course side of the matchbox. It burst into flame, and I leaned over, holding it under one of the ropes tying Sherlock to the chair.

A movement behind me told me our plan was discovered, and Colonel Moran leaned down and blew out the match.

‘Naughty, naughty,’ he said with a sneer. Looking across at my companions he saw that Johnny and Lestrade had almost succeeded in freeing themselves. ‘Don’t bother, chaps,’ he said. Pulling a long knife from a sheath tied to his shin, he held the blade in front of my face. ‘Time for slicing.’ With that, he cut through my ropes, then moving across to the others, freed them of their remaining bonds.

‘Get over there,’ he shouted, indicating an area away from the tables. One of the minions hurried over to guard us, his gun pointing straight at Holmes.

Free of the chairs, we could now see what was happening with the new arrivals. I recognised Agatha Christie immediately and saw that she had a small gun in her hand. Unfortunately, five guns were also pointing right back at her.

If this was the famous novelist’s attempt at a rescue, she’d better re-think the dénouement.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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