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Where Art Thou, Mary Watson?

Diary of Doctor Watson

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

“Doctor Watson, I presume?” he murmured.

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

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

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

“A twitch?” I said.

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

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

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

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

Holmes and Lestrade exchanged a look.

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

I looked at Holmes.

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

“What’re you saying, Holmes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boy frowned. “Yer what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked up at him. “We have?”

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

“What d’you mean, Holmes?”

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

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

Naturally, I was wrong.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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Dressing Up, Dressing Down

Diary of Doctor Watson

The three Marks brothers proved to be attentive and quick-thinking. In the space of a couple of hours they had fed us, run up four new sets of clothes and sent off a lad to Fleet Street with various messages from Holmes detailing reports of our recent deaths.

“Look here,” I said pulling on my new outfit, “don’t you think Blackwood will be suspicious when no bodies are found in that house?”

Holmes shook his head. “I suspect the bomb he used was intended to quite literally blow us apart at the seams. The upstairs rooms were destroyed. Had we remained there, I think we really would be in bits. It’ll be several days before Lestrade’s colleagues realise there aren’t any actual body parts.”

Mary had finished doing up the buttons on her prostitute’s costume and had begun helping Lestrade into his corset. “That may be so, Sherl, but with all those fake coppers around, how do we know those investigating the scene will be the real thing?”

“Elementary, Mary,” said the Great Detective. “Blackwood thinks we’re dead, at least temporarily, so he’d never risk his men mixing with real coppers in case they’re spotted. Besides, I suspect he and his cronies are miles away by now, no doubt putting villainous plans into action.”  

“Mr ‘Olmes is right,” said Lestrade, adjusting his false bosoms. “Without me around they’ll likely put Bradstreet in charge, and he’s a complete dickhead.”

Holmes and I exchanged a look. Lestrade comparing himself to the likes of Inspector Bradstreet reminded me of that old adage about pots and black kettles. My companion gave me a wink, indicating I say nothing.

“Yes, Lestrade,” said he. “Luckily we have the cream of Scotland Yard at our service. And may I say, you make a magnificent lady.”

How Holmes managed to keep a straight face at this, is beyond me—his own costermonger costume at least represented him as a complete man, while mine involved a false leg, a wooden crutch, and a the application of some warty legions.

Lestrade pulled on his bonnet and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. “Suppose I do at that. In fact, my breasts are bigger than Mrs Lestrade’s.” Cradling the said bosoms in his hands, he fondled them for a moment. “Much bigger, actually.”

“Yes, yes, all right, Lestrade,” said Holmes. “Leave yourself alone and let’s have a look at you.”

We stood in front of the mirror one at a time and examined ourselves. Holmes had chosen a large moustache and beard, along with an eye patch, giving him a surly look that complemented his outfit. For my own part, I resembled a beggar who’d had a really bad day, while Mary portrayed a sluttier version of herself, with the addition of some garish makeup. Only Lestrade looked ridiculous in a red dress and black thigh boots but that was mainly because of his refusal to shave off his moustache.

“Don’t look bad,” said the inspector. “I’ve seen loads of girlies wiv taches.”

“Right,” said Holmes. “I suggest we leave this establishment separately and meet at the safe house.”

“Where’s that, again?” said Lestrade.

“The old gin shop on Drury Lane, next door to the Waldorf Theatre. The proprietor knows me well and will provide us with temporary lodgings while we work out what to do next.”

“Exactly what are we going to do next?” said Mary.

Holmes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I think the Baker Street Urchins might prove useful. I’ve asked Groucho to get a message to them and report to me within the hour. It’s imperative we hear about every strange occurrence over the next twenty-four hours.”

I rubbed my chin, unconsciously mimicking Holmes. “You think Blackwood will make his move so soon?”

“I’m certain of it, Watson. In fact, we may already be too late.”

And with those words, Holmes strode out of the shop. A few minutes later, Mary, Lestrade and I took our own turns, setting off in different directions. Whatever we were heading into, I had the awful feeling I might not survive to write about it.

NB Clearly, I did survive as I’m writing about it now, but it’s important to keep the tension going.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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Murder in Soho Square

Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

Leaving 221B Baker Street, the three of us took a Hackney and set off for Soho Square. We’d only gone a few yards when I heard a piercing scream and the cab skidded to a halt.

Holmes leaped out of the vehicle to see what the matter might be, but immediately climbed back in.

“What is it, Mr ‘Olmes,” said I. “Been an accident?”

The big-nosed detective gave his companion a sidelong look and muttered, “Nothing so trivial. No, I believe another party wishes to join us.”

At this, Mrs Mary Watson clambered into the cab and squeezed herself between me and her husband.

“Hello, darling. Mr Holmes. Inspector. I thought I’d save you the trouble of picking me up on the way.”

“Look, Mary…” said Doctor Watson, “we would’ve—”

“No, you wouldn’t. But I’m here, now, so you can lump it or like it.”

“I think the phrase is like is—”

“Shut the fuck up, Sherlock, before I punch your face in.”

“I was merely about to point out, Mary,” he continued, “that this case is a particularly dangerous one. I had privately advised John to leave you out of things.” He took Mary’s hand in his and I observed a very serious look come over his features. “I have placed you in danger too many times, Mary, and I simply could not bear for anything to happen to you. I know Johnny would be utterly distraught without you.”

Mrs Watson blushed slightly. “I see. That’s unusually thoughtful of you, Sherl, but if I am to die a horrible death, I should rather it occurred while in the service of my country and with my darling Johnny at my side.”

Holmes sniffed and let go her hand. “Fine. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

The rest of the journey passed in total silence, and I will admit to feeling a bit of gooseberry sitting there with a very definite atmosphere between Mary and Mr Big Nose. However, I took the opportunity to go over what I knew about the case in my head, so as not to look a complete fool when we arrived at the scene.

The house in Soho Square remained as I had left it, with two constables standing guard outside.

As we alighted from the Hackney, Holmes took me aside.

“The dead man at St Giles, Lestrade…”

“What about ‘im?”

“You are aware of his identity?”

“Course I am— Rev G Burnsbean.”

“Ah. Then you didn’t recognise him?”

“I ain’t never seen ‘im before.”

“Rev G Burnsbean is an anagram, Lestrade. An anagram of Ben Ravenscroft.”

“What? The museum bloke? But—”

“But me no buts, Inspector, I shall fill you in on the details later. For now, I should like to know exactly how he died.”

Feeling a bit miffed at this new information, I took a moment to compose myself. “Right. Well, I didn’t let the papers know cos of the brutal nature of the slayin. See, the poor feller were nailed to the floor of the church. Ye know? Like a sort of crucifixion.”

“Christ.”

“Exactly. And the killer also cut off his whasname.”

“Yes, so I heard. I suspect one of your subordinates has been leaking information to the Tittle Tattle Weekly.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Can’t trust nobody these days.”

We followed the Watsons up the steps to the front door, both of us deep in thought, though I admit my thoughts were more about how I might redeem myself in the eyes of the Great Detective, rather than the case itself.

Upstairs, I waved the other constables aside and waited at the bedroom door with the Watsons while Holmes examined the room.

The dead man had been laid out on the floor with his arms outstretched as if he too had been crucified, though without the addition of six-inch nails through his hands and feet and only a knotted rope around his neck.

Holmes crawled across the floor, avoiding the occasional spatters of white paint that specked the bare floorboards. Approaching the corpse, he slid one hand up the dead man’s trouser leg, withdrew it and smelled whatever substance his fingers had encountered. Then, jumping up, he strode back to the doorway.

“As I suspected, Lestrade, this is not Lord Blackwood.”

“What d’yer mean, it ain’t Lord Blackwood? I examined the body myself. It’s definitely ‘im.”

Holmes laid a calming hand on my shoulder and gave me what I suppose was a pitying look. “It may well have been Blackwood when you examined him, but at that time he wasn’t dead.”

“Yer mean he were alive?”

“Not only alive, but no doubt experiencing an inner thrill at your inability to recognise that fact.”

I blinked several times and waved a hand at the corpse. “But he’s right there—dead as a dodo.”

“No, Lestrade.” He turned and indicated the several white spots on the floor. “Not paint, as you probably assumed, but Plaster of Paris. What we have here is the perfect likeness of Blackwood dressed in his own clothes, painted up and placed in the same position on the floor immediately after your departure. But don’t take my word for it.” He turned to Doctor Watson. “Would you do the honours, John?”

Watson crossed to the body and carried out a quick examination. When he came back, he too gave me a pitying look. “Sorry, Lestrade. He’s right.”

At this point, Mary Watson broke into the discussion. “Is it just me, or does this not make any sense?”

Holmes nodded. “On the surface, Mary, no, no sense at all, but be assured Blackwood did not do this for no reason. It is unfortunate that at the moment we are unable to see that reason.”

Doctor Watson poked his companion’s chest with a finger. “Hang on Holmes, how could Blackwood have swapped himself for a Plaster of Paris dummy with all these police officers standing around?”

Holmes smiled and looked at the floor. A moment later he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a revolver. “Because, Watson, these are not police officers.”

With a sudden flurry of activity, the three cops standing by turned and fled down the stairs. Holmes rushed after them, firing warning shots over their heads, but a second later we heard the front door slam shut.

Hurrying downstairs, Mary, Lestrade and I found Holmes banging on the door.

“They’ve locked it. Damn it all, Watson, it was there right in front of me, and I didn’t see it.”

“To be fair, Holmes,” said Watson, “I didn’t see it either.”

“Thank you, old friend, but that is little comfort. Be a good fellow and break a window and fetch someone to open this bloody door.”

Watson scampered off and a moment later we heard the tinkle of broken glass and his voice calling to someone in the Square.

“I still don’t understand,” said Mary. “Why on earth would Blackwood leave a dummy lying on the floor?”

Holmes shrugged and shook his head. Then, with a low groan he muttered, “unless it isn’t just a dummy.” Grabbing mine and Mary’s hands he dragged us into the nearest room just as an explosion rocked through the building.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Murder at St Giles

Diary of Doctor Watson

It’s hard to believe that little more than a week has passed since Holmes, Mary and I returned from our adventure in Pokebottom-on-the-Moor. Since then, each day has felt like an eternity, and only the necessity of keeping my medical practice going has prevented my pestering Holmes for news of Ravensburg.

However, this afternoon I received a note from my companion on that very subject. Hand delivered by urchin, it read:

Watson

Interesting article in The Times. Suggest you come at once.

H.

I had of course regularly scanned the daily papers for clues to the whereabouts of either Ravensburg or Lord Blackwood (the latter having always proved to be a newsworthy subject) but nothing had caught my eye. I suspected Holmes of reading between the lines again. Whatever he’d noticed, I knew it must be important.

Cancelling the rest of my appointments, I made my excuses to Mary and set off for Baker Street.

“Ah, Watson,” murmured Holmes on my arrival. He nodded towards my usual seat by the fire. Sitting myself down, I waited somewhat impatiently while he spent several minutes stuffing his Meerschaum with hard shag. Finally, he lit the concoction and, puffing away, tossed me the day’s copy of The Times.

“Page four.”

I opened the newspaper and cast my eye along the various columns but could not immediately see what he might be referring to.

“Really Watson,” he said, when a full minute had passed without my having located the relevant article. “You see but you do not observe—Coroner’s Session Continues at St Giles.”

I ran a finger down the page and found the tiny headline.

Yesterday, Mr. Michael J Benedict, Coroner for the North-Eastern Division, resumed his inquiry at the Bakers and Muffin-Tasters Institute, Old Compton Street, in respect of the death of Rev G Burnsbean, a visiting clergyman, who was found brutally murdered in the Parish Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, on the morning of Friday last.

Detective-Inspector Lestrade (Scotland-yard) watched the case on behalf of the Criminal Investigation Department and Commissioners of Police. Inspector Lestrade commented afterwards that this was, ‘A very brutal slaying that will haunt my dreams for years to come.’

I laid the newspaper on my knee. “Terrible business, for sure, Holmes, but I can’t see—”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Watson,” sighed Holmes, leaning forwards. “Look at it. Read the words. Understand the significance.”

I peered at the article again. “A church chappy has been murdered…”

“And?”

“And Lestrade is involved…”

“And?”

I shook my head. “Sorry, old chap, I don’t get it.”

Holmes let out another sigh. “Who has been murdered?”

“Rev G Burnsbean.”

He raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

I looked again at the name and then it hit me. “An anagram?”

“Of?”

Peering at the letters, I struggled to rearrange them in my head. Eventually, I looked up. “Of course—Ben Ravenscroft.”

“Finally,” muttered Holmes, relighting his pipe. “Now, what’s the implication of the location?”

“St Giles?” I frowned and tried to look thoughtful. “It’s a church.”

“Yes, and it’s close to…”

 “Ahm, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road…” I blinked. “Soho Square.”

“And which of our evil genius contemporaries lived until recently in Soho Square?”

I felt a sudden lurch in my stomach. “Lord Blackwood.” Undoing two buttons on my waistcoat, I had another thought. “Christ, Holmes, d’you think he’s still there?”

“Absolutely—sitting in a comfy armchair awaiting our arrival.”

“Really?”

“No, Watson, not really.” He caressed his chin. “But I’m willing to bet he’s left a little something for us to find.”

I leaped out of my chair. “Then we must get over there before Lestrade tramples over the evidence.”

Holmes waved a hand at me to sit down. “Lestrade won’t have made the connection yet, though he may have useful information vis-à-vis the corpse.”

I stood up again. “To St Giles, then.”

“No, Watson. At this hour Lestrade will be on his way home via the nearest alehouse. I suggest we allow him time to partake of a few pints before he makes his appearance.”

“Makes his appearance where, Holmes?”

“Here, Watson.” He smiled sardonically.

We sat for a few moments, each of us contemplating the ramifications of a dead Ben Ravensburg, when Mrs Hudson bustled in with a tray of refreshments.

“Wish you two’d get off yer arses and solve some murders, stead of sittin round ‘ere munchin my muffins.”

“Really, Mrs Hudson,” said Holmes, helping himself to a mug of hot chocolate. “I sometimes think you must have an extraordinarily low opinion of my comrade and I. In fact, we have been pondering on a murder at St Giles.”

The old woman nodded solemnly. “Oh, yes—nasty affair. Apparently, someone cut off his paraphernalia.”

Holmes frowned. “His what?”

“His dick,” she said. “Don’t you lot read the bleedin papers?” She bustled out, leaving us both open mouthed.

I half-pointed to the door. “Mrs H doesn’t read The Times, does she?”

Holmes leaped out of his seat. “No, Watson, but she does read the Tittle-Tattle Weekly and I’ll wager one of their reporters has been talking to a certain interested party.”

“Lestrade wouldn’t give out that sort of information to a journalist.”

“Lestrade wouldn’t, but someone trying to attract our attention, might.”

“Blackwood,” I murmured.

A noise on the stair made us both sit up. Crossing the room, I yanked the door open to reveal Inspector Lestrade, sweating and pasty-faced.

Urging him to take a seat, we waited while he got his breath back.

“There’s been a bleedin murder, Mr ‘Olmes,” he panted.

“Yes, we know that, Lestrade,” said Holmes, rather irritably.

The police officer waved a hand. “Nah, not the one at the church. This is anovver one.”

Holmes and I exchanged glances.

Lestrade leaned towards us, his eyes wide. “It’s Lord Blackwood.”

“What?” said Holmes. “Again?”

He nodded, and reaching out, grabbed one of Mrs Hudson’s muffins. “Fink you’d better ‘ave a look at it,” he said, between mouthfuls.

“In the church, you didn’t find an old book, did you?”

Lestrade shook his head and took another mouthful.

I pushed myself back in my chair and let out a long breath. It had been difficult enough to come to terms with the idea that Blackwood might be alive, but for him to have somehow come back to life and then got himself murdered, seemed a little too much to bear.

After a moment, Holmes said, “I suppose Blackwood’s body is at his old house in Soho Square?”

Lestrade’s eyes went like saucers “Ow the fuckin ‘ell did yer know that?”

Ignoring him, Holmes went on. “I trust you did not leave the corpse unattended.”

“Course not—d’yer fink I’m stupid? I’ve got eight constables guarding it. There’s no fuckin way I’m letting that slippery sod do anovver vanishin trick.”

The feeling that something very bad lurked in our near future had begun to make itself known in the form of a tightening in my stomach. For a moment I thought I might have to excuse myself. But I clenched my buttocks and put on a brave face. Whatever we were about to encounter would take all our combined bravado as well as a large helping of ingenuity and guile. After all, Blackwood had already died twice and if, as we suspected, he had possession of Ravensburg’s book, we had no way of knowing what he might achieve.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2021 in Detective Fiction

 

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