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To the Island


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Leaving Lestrade to arrange for the body to be removed, Mary and I retired to our room. Jamming the chair against the door handle and sliding my revolver under the pillow, I snuggled up next to my dear wife and tried to sleep.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the adventures of the night had not removed my ability to slumber, and I awoke this morning feeling brisk and alert to a rapid knocking at the door. It was Lestrade.

“Ah, Doctor,” said he. “Just to let you know I ‘ave ‘ad Marston taken to a suitable location in order to ‘old the post mortem.” He sniffed. “Though I don’t ‘old much ‘ope of discoverin anyfing else that could assist our investigation.”

I nodded. “You’ll want to talk to the others, I suppose?”

“Indeed. If you would be so good as to meet me downstairs in ten minutes, we’ll get started.”

I closed the door and stood for a moment, thinking.

“We’re due on the boat in two hours,” said Mary in a low voice.

I looked at her and couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. “Yes.”

She raised an eyebrow.” You haven’t changed your mind, then? About going?”

“Lestrade’s probably right,” I said. “The whole thing is utter folly, but even though we’ll be placing ourselves in danger, I feel we have to go through with it. Otherwise…”

She gave me a half-smile. “Otherwise the killer is free to do his worst.”

A few minutes later we made our way downstairs. Lestrade had assembled the other guests who were all sitting around the bar-room in the same seats they had occupied the night before. The only one missing was Marston.

“Now then,” said Lestrade. I’m Inspector Heehaw of Scotland–”

I harrumphed loudly, interrupting him. “Not sure there’s any point in aliases…”

He bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Quite. As I said, I’m Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. And this is…” He glanced at me.

“Doctor John Watson, and my wife, Mary.”

A few members of the group let out audible gasps.

General MacArthur raised a finger. “Not Armstrong, then?”

I shook my head.

He twirled a thin moustache between finger and thumb and gave a quick laugh. “Heard of you. Baker Street, etcetera. Your detective chap. Holmes. Be arriving at some point?”

I thought it best not to herald my companion’s entrance, so I said, “He has no plans to join us.”

Former police inspector Blah shifted in his chair. “So if you’re not Armstrong, what are you doing here?”

I coughed in preparation for the lie. “Doctor Armstrong is ill. Terminal, in fact, but he wished that I, and my wife, should replace him, taking advantage of his good fortune in being invited to the island. Of course, he had no notion he might be thrusting us into a dangerous situation.”

Vera Claymore leaned forward. “Are you insinuating there may be another murder?”

I glanced at Lestrade and he jumped in.

“I expect this er – incident – was merely an unfortunate coincidence. After all, you lot are not actually on the island yet, are you, so no reason to assume Mister Marston’s death and your visit are connected, eh? Probably just some local lunatic on the rampage.” He looked around the room using his ‘optimistic’ expression.

“Well,” said Lawrence Warmonger in a voice loaded with sarcasm, “that is a relief.”

Lestrade continued. “If anyone has any further information that might ‘elp wiv enquires, I should be obliged if you would speak to me privately before you leave.”

No-one said anything more, and the following hour or so was spent attending to our individual needs regarding breakfast and preparations for the trip.

Lestrade took Mary and I aside as our companions drifted back upstairs.

“I don’t know what your pal ‘as planned, but I do ‘ope he gets ‘is proverbial finger out before anyone else gets the chop.”

He wasn’t the only one with concerns regarding the non-appearance of Holmes – I was beginning to think the Great Detective might be leaving his grand entrance a little late. We chatted for a few minutes about communications, as the only sure way of getting messages onto the island would be via carrier pigeon. Lestrade had come prepared with a dozen or so police-trained birds. He suggested we leave a portion of bird seed on our windowsill in preparation for such messages.

“This should keep you going,” he said, handing me a small paper bag. He turned and stared out of the window. From here we could just make out the island itself – a dark blotch on the distant horizon.

“Keep in touch, then,” I said, patting his arm.

He looked at me then with an expression of sadness I’d not deemed him capable of, and he laid his hand on mine. “Don’t go an get yerselves bloody murdered, will yer?”

“We’ll try not to,” I said, forcing a smile.

Twenty minutes later, together with the remaining travellers, Mary and myself made our way down to the harbour where a battered old paddle steamer waited by the meagre jetty. I was heartened to see it was a decent-sized vessel, though its obvious unsuitability for the journey across to the island did not fill me with hope. The captain, too, turned out to be a sad stereotype of that traditional old sea-dog – the drunken sailor whose knowledge of the sea had long since been overtaken by his familiarity with hard liquor. He stood by the jetty smoking a clay pipe and caressing a grizzled grey beard.

“Ar,” he muttered as I approached him. “Be thou one o’ they bound fer Huge Island?”

“That’s right,” I said, peering into his piggy little eyes. His skin was dark and leathery, and reminded me of a football I’d had as a boy.

“It be a grand day fer a crossin, ey?” He gazed up at the sky and I took the opportunity to examine him closely.

His height was about right and the sharp angle of his jawline too familiar to fool me for long. Giving him a playful punch in the shoulder, I said, “Nice one, Holmsey.”

The sailor swivelled his head toward me. “Say summat?”

I nodded and winked.

With a sudden movement, he reached out and grabbed my lapel. “Now lissen ‘ere, Mister. Oi don’t want no screamin bend-overs on moi boat, so if’n you’ve got any of that sort o’ nonsense in mind, ye can take yerself an’ yer whore of a wife back ter where ye came from.”

Recognising that I had perhaps granted my detective friend more talent for disguise than he actually had, I muttered a quick apology, grabbed Mary’s hand and hurried to our allotted places aboard the boat.

Once seated on one of the benches in the prow, Mary leaned over and whispered, “You surely didn’t think that was Sherlock, darling?”

I coughed. “It had crossed my mind.”

She laughed lightly and patted my knee.

A few minutes later, steam was up and the vessel pulled away from the dock, turning its nose towards our destination.

I couldn’t help wondering if we’d ever see Dolphin Cove again.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Chamber Pot Explained

The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As I’d expected, the door opened into a store cupboard located directly beneath that portion of Mr Marston’s room where the chamber pot had originally been located. Sturdy shelves lined each wall, stowing linen, blankets and household cleaning products. A couple of cardboard boxes in the corner housed several rusty kitchen utensils including a bread knife. Evidently the proprietor was not a man to throw anything away, and this presumably extended to an unwillingness to squander profits on the latest dust-sucking devices. Instead, he relied on an old dustpan and brush and a variety of besoms and brooms, all of which had seen better days. (It also occurred to me that we had not seen our host since entering the inn the evening before. I made a mental note to mention this to Johnny later.)

“Ah-ha,” said the inspector, pointing up at the ceiling.

Aiming my lantern upwards, Johnny and I saw the object of his attention. The planking which created not only the roof of the store cupboard but formed the floor in Marston’s room, had been tampered with. In a well-maintained house, of course, a separate layer of boards would have been fitted underneath the ceiling. This was not a well-maintained house. However, the single layer of flooring would’ve allowed our culprit to generate a diversion that had initially fooled me.

“He must’ve climbed up the shelving and put ‘is eye to that gap in the boards,” observed Lestrade.

“He must, indeed,” said my husband.

I resisted rolling my eyes melodramatically and waited for one of them to suggest an alternative scenario, but the pair of dimwits simply stared up at the section of ceiling where someone had gouged away part of the wood, leaving an easily accessible hole which nevertheless would not have been visible from above, had we not been looking for it.

“So?” I prompted.

They both looked at me.

“What does this tell us?” I tried again.

Lestrade began to say something but whatever it was lost its motivation and petered out. John also opened his mouth but again, was unable to elucidate.

“Really,” I muttered. “You two are hopeless. Isn’t it obvious?”

“Oh come on, darling,” said Johnny, adopting a whinging tone that only succeeded in annoying me. “It may be obvious to you, but…” He shrugged.

Lestrade coughed. “Wiv all due respect Mary, we ‘ave established that the perpetrator could easily ‘ave put his eye to that hole to see into the room above.” He smiled as if this explanation solved the whole case.

“And what would he have seen?” I said, doing my best to sound interested.

“Well,” said he. “He’d ‘ave seen the er…into the er…well, the room itself.” He nodded at Johnny, but my husband had realised I was ahead of them both and dutifully kept quiet.

“All the evidence is here.” I waved my free hand towards the corner of the cupboard.

Both men looked.

“What? A brush?” said Lestrade.

“That,” I said, “and the bread knife.”

I sometimes wonder how the male of the species ever manages to get himself out of bed in the mornings, let alone achieve the miracle of procreation.

Striding to the corner, I picked up the broom and held it in front of them. “There’s a crack here in the end. D’you see?” They nodded. I picked up the knife and slotted the thin handle into the end of the broom. “And this?” Still they didn’t get it. I raised the device upwards towards the ceiling.

“Bloody Norah,” exclaimed Lestrade.

“My God, “said John. “He used it to poke through the gap and rattle the chamber pot.”

“Yes,” I said. “Though not so much a rattle, as a thump, thump, thump. Leading you and I to the conclusion that someone was engaged in –”

“Ah!” said the inspector, cutting off my description. “So after committing the crime and making those bloody footprints to throw us off the scent, he came down here to make a bit of a noise in order to create the effect that someone was doin…somefing untoward…in that room?”

We all looked at each other for a moment, then Johnny said, “Which means they must have been in here when you and I entered the bedroom and found Marston.”

“And then whoever that person was, simply joined in when the alarm was raised, eh?” said Lestrade.

“Which means the killer is someone in the house.”

I shook my head. “Not necessarily. Well, it’s hardly the Tower of Londen, is it? Anyone could have walked in here in the middle of the night.”

“No.” Now it was my husband’s turn to shake his head. “Holmes made it clear to me before we left – we mustn’t get distracted, because this case is all about the book. Whoever’s behind it must be one of our travelling companions, otherwise it makes no sense. Also,” he added, “in the book, Marston is the first one to be murdered.”

Lestrade gave a short laugh. “We’ll I don’t mind admitting, I ain’t goin to no island wiv you. If you two and Mr Holmes want to hang around til the bitter end, you’re welcome, but as far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be around to hear the killer announce, ‘and then there were none’.”

I had to agree.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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What Lies Beneath…


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
The Dolphin Cove Hotel

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not used to this journal-keeping lark, but what with all the strange goings-on, and not having my usual police-issue notebook with me, I thought it best to get the details of the murder down on paper.

Following our initial assessment of the murder scene, Doctor Watson and myself brought in two paraffin lamps. We placed one on the chest of drawers and the other by the window. The light was not perfect, but illuminated the scene well enough for our examination. We then had a good look round the room and noted the following items of possible importance:

1. The naked body of Anthony Marston, strangled to death and nailed to the floor of the room in which he was occupying at the time, ie first floor bedroom – one of three on this side of the inn and with a single window from which the stable and yard can be observed. Said window frame is painted shut and therefore could not have been opened recently.

2. Items of furniture: one bed, one wardrobe, one chest of drawers, one rug (on top of which lies the body) and one piss-pot (unusually located on the floor between the bed and the wardrobe).

3. A small statuette of what I would’ve supposed was a red-Indian person, but which Doctor Watson tells me is properly termed a native American, depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. This was found on the dead man’s chest when I first inspected the room. Doctor Watson assures me it was not present on his first assessment of the scene.

4. A piece of notepaper found pinned to the back of the dead man’s door, bearing the words ‘And then there were seven’ written in black ink. Again, Watson assures me this was not there before, but I suspect that on discovering the murder he may have neglected to check behind the door. For the present time, I shall assume the latter situation to be the case.

Aside from what is in the room, there are several bloodied footprints leading away from the doorway to the end of the passage. There is no indication of any similar footprints in either the dead man’s room or in the room beyond where the footprints end.

“And that’s our bleedin lot,” said I, having read over my notes for the benefit of Doctor Watson. “Unless I’ve missed anyfing?”

Watson shook his head, held up his hands and dropped them hopelessly at his sides, then tutted several times and shook his head again. I took this to signify he had nothing to add.

“What about the chamber pot?”

I looked up and saw Mrs Watson (lovely woman) standing in the doorway. “Ah,” I said, raising my hat in greeting, “Nice to see you again, Mary.”

“And you, Inspector,” said she. “But if you’ll permit me, I think there is a clue here.” Holding up her candle, she pointed at the pot, which still stood on the floor between the wardrobe and the bed.

“It’s in an odd position, right enough,” said Doctor Watson, “but I can’t see that it has any bearing on the murder.”

“Your ‘usband’s right, missus,” I said. “It’s just an empty piss-pot after all.”

Mrs Watson rolled her eyes in a way that made me feel a bit inferior (though I’m not sure why).

She stepped across and stood over the aforementioned item. “I may not be Sherlock Holmes’ most strident supporter, but sometimes I wonder if the pair of you ever listen to a bloody word he says. Imagine Holmes was here. Look at the pot through his eyes. Look at it properly.”

Watson and myself did as she asked, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what she was getting at.

“Well,” I said, straitening up and folding my arms, “I like ter fink I know the methods Mr Holmes utilises, but I can’t see anyfing.”

The good lady’s husband nodded. “Have to say, Lestrade’s right, m’dear. It’s just a chamber pot.”

At this, Mrs Watson let out sigh and her wonky eye swivelled back and forth, which made me think she must be annoyed with us.

Picking up the pot, she tipped it up. “Well?”

“It’s empty,” said Watson.

“And tell me, dear husband, where do we place a chamber pot when it is in a state of emptiness?”

I looked at Watson and he looked at me, then we both sort of got what she was going on about at the same time and the both of us turned to look under the bed. Now, I’m not one of those chaps that goes around putting down the fairer sex, but obviously womenfolk aren’t as bright as men are, for if they were, we’ve have them in all the top jobs that blokes do now. Anyway, this thought was running through my head when Mary Watson said something that proved she is not like other women.

“Move the bed across to the far wall.”

The Doc and myself exchanged a look but thought it best to keep our thoughts to ourselves, so with him at one end and me at the other, we lifted up the bedstead and shuffling our feet, moved the whole thing a yard or so to the right, thereby exposing the space which would normally be unseen due to it being beneath the bed.

“Now,” said Mary. “What do you see?”

“Dust,” said the doctor.

“And what else?” Mary shook a finger at a particular patch of floorboard.

Taking care not to step into the cleared space, I strode forward and leaned down in order to see better. Watson crossed over and stood beside me and the two of us immediately grasped Mary’s meaning.

“There’s a mark,” said I.

“In the dust,” said Watson.

“Exactly,” said Mary. “A mark in the dust where the chamber pot stood.”

I looked at Mrs Watson with a new sense of admiration. “Someone moved it.”

She smiled. “Yes, Inspector. And why would someone move it?”

“It would only have been moved,” said Watson, “in order to…well, to take a leak. Excuse my language, darling.”

“You’re excused, Johnny. So, given that the pot is empty, it has not been used for its normal purpose, therefore I say again – why was it moved?”

Watson walked around to the wardrobe and looked at the place where the chamber pot had been found. “It was here, and it should have been there, and as it has not been used it must have been placed here for some other reason.”

“Finally, he gets it,” said Mary Watson. Then, crouching down on the floor, she ran a finger along the floorboards where the boards joined, right at the point where the chamber pot had stood. Holding the palm of her hand a few inches above the crack, she looked up. “Air. There’s a gap through to the room below. A gap that could accommodate…” She shrugged. “Well, come on – I’m not going to do all the work…”

Dropping to my knees, I put my eye to the crack and peered through. “It’s dark. What’s underneath this room?”

A moment later, all three of us were hurrying down the stairs, Mary holding one of the paraffin lamps and Watson brandishing his gun. Reaching the ground floor, we saw that directly underneath Marston’s room was a door. I tried the handle. It opened.

Watson grabbed my shoulder and held up his revolver. “Careful, Inspector.” And with that, the two of us stepped into the room.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Note on a Murder


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Having dragged one of the serving girls out of bed and sent her to fetch the village constable, I urged the other guests to return to their rooms. Then, standing in the doorway of Marston’s bedchamber, I gazed down at his body.

“Oughtn’t we to stay and keep guard?” said Mary, clutching my arm.

“I’ll wait for the constable, or whoever passes for the law in this God-forsaken place.” I patted her bottom. “You try and get some sleep.”

After she’d gone, I stepped into Marston’s room and looked around. What would Holmes do? Rubbing my chin, I struggled to stimulate something approaching inspiration, but the killer had taken great pains to avoid leaving any trace of his (or her) tracks. The bloodied footprints were clearly a blind, no doubt intended to lead us, quite literally, in the wrong direction. But what I couldn’t get out of my head was the fact of the thump-thump-thump we’d heard only moments before discovering the body. How could the murderer have been in the room and then vanished completely? More mysterious was the fact that, according to Mrs Christie’s version, the prime suspect should be Justice Warmonger, yet he had only appeared on the scene after coming downstairs from his room in the attic and could not have carried out the murder, escaped Marston’s room and gone back upstairs without us seeing him.

Apart from the bed, which like our own, was a metal-framed affair with plenty of space underneath for storage, the only furniture was a rickety wardrobe, a chest of drawers next to the bed and a chamber pot that stood on the floor, rather oddly, between the bed and the wardrobe. A window in the wall opposite the door, looked out over the stables, but as the frame had been painted shut, it could not have been opened without leaving some trace of that fact. In short, there was nothing that indicated an explanation.

Crouching next to the dead man, I studied his wounds. If the killer had hammered the nails into the body while the poor chap was still alive, we’d have heard his screams. Therefore, he must have already been dead, or at least unconscious, at that point. Then again, if he had been insensible during the mutilation, the pain must surely have brought him round. In any case, the fact of him being nailed to the floor would not have been sufficient to kill him.

Undoing Marston’s pyjama jacket, I noted a thin red mark encircling his neck. He’d been strangled, which suggested the apparent crucifixion routine must have served as a form of symbolic act. Was this significant to Marston’s line of work? Could there be a possible connection to the manner of his death? After all, the characters in the novel had all committed crimes.

It was about half an hour later that I heard the clunk of the front door and guessed the serving girl had returned with the police. Hurrying down to join them, I met the girl on the stairs. The poor thing was soaked to the skin, but visibly thrilled to be assisting with a murder enquiry. She happily informed me that as the usual constable was ill, she had taken the liberty of continuing up the lane to her aunt’s house where a gentleman lodger had happened to mention he worked with the police. On requesting that same gentleman’s assistance, she had discovered him to be an officer by the name of Inspector Heehaw.

My suspicions on hearing such an obviously made-up name were immediately raised, but I had no wish to make assumptions. As Holmes would put it, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.’ I therefore determined to avail myself of the facts before jumping to conclusions.

“Oi put ‘im in the public bar, sor,” said the maid, wiping a hand across her face. “If you loike, Oi’ll make yous a pot of chockerlit ter warm yer’s up.” And with that she scurried off to the kitchen, leaving me to make my own introductions.

The newcomer stood near the fire with his back to me, shaking the worst of the rain from his greatcoat. From behind, he had the distinct characteristics of a weasel on two legs, his small head waggling back and forth as if sniffing out clues. As he turned around, he whipped up a finger to his lips, warning me against giving away his true identity.

“Ah,” I said, loudly enough for the maid to hear, “Inspector Heehaw, is it?” I strode forward to meet him and shook his hand warmly. Then, dropping my voice to a whisper, added, “Lestrade, what the bloody hell are you doing here?”

The little man giggled and leaning forward, muttered, “Your pal Holmes found out I was due some holidays, so he persuaded the Chief to let me to come down ‘ere and lend a hand.” He shook his head. “All unofficial, of course.”

“Of course,” I said. “Did the girl tell you what’s happened?”

“No, though I guessed it’d be a rum old do if you was needing me in the middle of the night.”

“I nodded. “It’s a rum do, right enough.”

Just then, the serving girl came back with our hot chocolate and two mugs. I thanked her and told her to get off to bed. Within a few minutes I had enlightened Lestrade as to the facts as I knew them and expressed concern at the lack of clues to the killer’s identity.

“Indeed,” said he. “Holmes did warn me things might proceed a bit quick, but I don’t believe even he expected the killings to start before you reached the island.” He sipped his drink. “Supposed I’d better have a look at the body.”

We finished our hot chocolate and went up to Marston’s room, however, there was now an additional item on the body that I knew had not been there before. A small black figurine, about the size of a matchbox, sat on Marston’s chest.

Placing a hand on Lestrade’s arm, I bade him wait, while I stepped forward. Nothing else in the room seemed to have altered, only this small statuette. Gingerly picking it up, I studied it closely, then passed it to Lestrade.

“Looks like a little Indian,” said he, holding it close to the candle. “See – little bow and arrow there, and a fevver in ‘is bonce. What d’you think, Doc?”

But I had been distracted by something else. Closing the bedroom door for privacy, I’d caught sight of a small rectangle of notepaper pinned to the back of the door. Taking out the drawing pin, I held the note up to the light. Five words were printed across it in small, neat handwriting:

And then there were seven.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Warning to the Ill-Advised


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours
Holmes

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Werewolves of Londen


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” murmured my wife. “Rye.”

“What?” said I, staring at her.

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought we might get something to eat.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christ on a bike,” I muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whose?” said I. “The werewolf?”

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

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

“Oh my,” said Mary, her face pale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“From the creature?”

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

“I see. Where’s Mary?” I asked.

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

“So they’re both fine?”

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

I stiffened. “My God – he escaped!”

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

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

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

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

Holmes shook his head. “No.”

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Encounter in a Darkened Room


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

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

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

“Hello?” I ventured.

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

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

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

“You?” I spluttered, stupidly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bit my lip. “Kate Warne?”

The woman nodded.

“Of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency?”

She nodded again.

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

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

“Oh,” I said. “Shit.”

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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