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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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Mary and the Professor


The Diary of Doctor J. Watson

We stood in silence for a few moments while Moriarty and Klopp huddled together. Though I could hear nothing of their conversation, from Klopp’s puce-coloured upturned face and Moriarty’s scowling mouth, there could be no doubt they were arguing.

Holmes leaned towards me. ‘I don’t imagine you have a sgian-dubh down your trouser-leg, Watson?’

‘Alas, no,’ I muttered. Then something else occurred to me. ‘But I do still have that jar of chilli sauce in my pocket.’

Holmes closed his eyes and smiled beatifically, as if in the throes of an orgasmic dream. Then his features dropped back into their usual expressionless gaze and he whispered, ‘Excellent.’

Klopp barked an unintelligible order at the group of white-coated workers nearest her, prompting the minions to hurry away. They returned in a flash, carrying high-backed chairs much like those in the dining room.

Behind me, Lestrade leaned forward. ‘What’s a sgian-dubh?’

‘A small knife,’ I said. ‘Don’t suppose you’ve got one?’

He shook his head. ‘Not a sgian-dubh, but I do ‘ave a pair of nail scissors and a needle and thread pinned under my lapel.’

‘Really? Why?’

He sniffed. ‘The missus makes me carry ‘em. She won’t sew on buttons, see, so I ‘ave ter do it meself.’

‘Think you could cut through my bonds?’

‘What bonds?’

‘The ones we’re about to be tied up with,’ I said, nodding towards the minions.

The white-coats lined us up, instructing us to sit. The expected ropes appeared. In a trice, they lashed all four of us to the chairs like pigs in blankets. Except with rope, instead of bacon. Obviously.

Holmes and I were close enough to speak in low tones. ‘I think I can reach the jar,’ I said.

‘See if you can conceal it in your hand and get the lid off.’

‘Of course,’ I said, wishing I’d done that earlier.

‘Good. I’ve got a plan.’ Turning to face Mary, who was next to him, Holmes said in a loud voice, ‘Is it true what they say about a woman scorned, my dear?’ I knew from his tone of voice that he had also imparted some secret message to my dear wife. Her answer confirmed it.

‘Scorned, Holmes? Fucking scorned? I tell you, if that Italian lothario came back in here now, I’d tear his bloody face off.’ Her voice had risen in pitch to a near scream. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was really pissed off.

‘What’s that?’ said Moriarty, looking over. ‘The little woman rising from her baby carriage, is she?’

‘It’s ‘getting out of her pram’, you imbecile,’ said Holmes. He turned to me, ‘These bloody Scandinavians. Tch.’

Moriarty erupted. ‘Scandinavian? You think I’m Scandinavian?’

‘Aren’t you?’ said Holmes.

‘I’m an Icelander, you dolt, which makes me Nordic, not Scandinavian.’

Mary turned to Holmes. With a voice dripping in pure condescension, she said, ‘See, I told you.’

Moriarty glared at her. ‘Told him what?’

‘Oh, nothing. Just that I always knew there was something wrong with that so-called ice-cream seller.’

‘Something wrong?’

‘Yes. A Scandinavian lover wouldn’t have had such a tiny–’

‘No!’ he screamed. ‘Do not tell them. Do not, do not, do not!’

‘A tiny willie,’ said Mary, sniggering.

‘Now!’ shouted Holmes.

‘Sorry, what?’ said I.

Holmes stared at me and hissed, ‘The Chilli sauce, Watson. Throw it.’

‘I can’t get it out of my pocket,’ I said, demonstrating my inability to move.

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake …’

‘You didn’t give me a bloody chance,’ I said. ‘I’m not fucking Houdini.’

‘That, my dear Watson, is patently obvious.’

A sudden grinding noise came from the area at the back of the vast space. Twisting round, I saw that the floor we had arrived on had begun to move back up. I glanced at Holmes. ‘D’you think that’s …?’

‘Our saviour?’ muttered Holmes. ‘I do, Watson, I do.’

‘What’s happening?’ barked Moriarty, pushing workers aside as he stormed across the floor. ‘Who is that?’

Klopp hurried across to join him, shouting orders at the white-coated underlings. The pair stood gazing upwards as the floor reached its meeting point with the stone steps above and a second later began to slide back down again.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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