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The Cook, the Model and Her Brother

Diary of Doctor Watson

Arriving back at the house, we gathered in the hall and stood for a moment, listening.
Holmes raised a finger. “Hark. I hear the sound of distant spoons.”

He set off towards the kitchen, with Mary and I hurrying along behind.

Pushing through the door at the end of the hall, we passed along a dark passage and thence into the kitchen itself.

The room had a low beamed ceiling with long windows that looked out across the mere at the back of the house (a bleak, stagnant pool surrounded by dead grasses and withered shrubs). Turning my attention back to the room, I observed a tall, messily-dressed wench with unkempt black hair and a sizeable rear end. Standing with her back to us, the woman slopped some sort of greasy stew into bowls. At our entrance, she wheeled round.

“Ooh, Monsieurs and Madame,” she said in a tense, high-pitched voice. “Ze master vill not vant you in ze kitchen. You must away wiz immediate effect, please.”

Holmes took a step forward and grasped the woman’s hair. Giving it a sharp tug, he wrenched it from her head, revealing her to be none other than Roderick Usher.

“Ooh, Monsieur!” he gasped, in the same shrill voice. “How dare you.”

“Stop this, Roddy,” said Holmes. “Stop it now. I don’t know what’s got into you, but I shan’t stand for it, d’you hear?”

“But I’m a lady,” said Usher, in a cracked voice. “A French lady.”

Holmes glances at me and muttered, “Sharp slap to the chops, Watson?”

I nodded and stepped back as Holmes swung his right arm and gave Usher a resounding whack across his left cheek.

“Ow…that hurt.” Usher rubbed his offended face but appeared to have otherwise regained his former composure.

“Take off those clothes,” said Holmes. “We’ll have lunch and then I suggest you go and have a lie down. Watson here will examine you and provide something to calm your nerves.”

I tugged my companion’s sleeve. “I think Mr Usher requires something a little more substantial than a calming tonic, Holmes.”

The Great Detective turned and glared at me. “And I think,” he said through clenched teeth, “a spell in bed will do our host the power of good.”

From his tone I appreciated his suggestion was not up for consideration. “Very well, if that’s what you think.”

Mary rose to the occasion and took over the serving of the meal. Sitting around the kitchen table, we ate the sloppy broth with hunks of dry bread, followed by a pot of tea. Usher said little during the meal, while Holmes chortled away about this and that, presumably with the intention of lightening the sombre mood.

Afterwards, Mary and I took Usher upstairs and put him to bed. Mary sat on a chair at the side, while I checked his temperature and so forth.

“Roderick,” said Mary, stroking his arm, “who did the cooking when your sister was…was here?”

Our patient blinked several times. “Mrs Fournier. A French cook. She er…left…a few weeks ago. Since then, Madeleine and I have taken turns.” He shrugged. “Not terribly successfully, as you’ve seen.”

Mary nodded. “So you were simply trying to recreate the normality of family life as it was when the cook worked here and your sister was alive?”

Usher nodded sadly.

Mary looked at me with a questioning smile.

“Yes,” said I. “Your sister’s death has been a shock, perhaps more than you have realised. I think Sherlock’s suggestion that you stay in bed a while, is sound. Nonetheless, I shan’t give you anything medicinal at the moment—I don’t want you completely out of things, as it were, as that might simply postpone the grieving process.”

Closing the curtains, we sat for a few minutes until he began to doze, then left him in peace and retired to our own room.

“What d’you think happened to the cook?” said Mary, as we lay on our bed, side by side, Mary’s hand massaging my nether regions.

“Usher is a bit of a handful, isn’t he? I can imagine he might’ve proved a little intense for a French cook. She likely got sick of it all and left.”

“You don’t think he killed her, then?”

I stared at her. “Killed? What on earth makes you say that, my dear?”

“He’s wearing her clothes.”

Once again, my darling wife had pointed out a fact that had stared me in my dull-witted face and I’d totally missed it. “Oh. Shit.”

A knock at our door gave me a start. Jumping up, I modified my attire and opened the door.

“Watsons,” said Holmes, striding into the room. “We may have a dead French cook on our hands.”

“Yes,” I said. “Mary came to the same conclusion just now.”

Holmes glanced at my wife and grunted. “Ah. Jolly good.”

“Think we should look for her body?” said Mary, sitting up on the bed.

Holmes nodded, rubbing his chin. “Is Usher asleep?”

“As good as,” I said.

“Then, yes. I shouldn’t wish him to think we’d taken the liberty of poking around the house without his knowledge.”

“You were happy enough poking around downstairs this morning,” I said, adopting one of his own sardonic grins.

“Don’t be a smartarse, Watson, it doesn’t suit you.” He sniffed and went out, then turning at the door, said, “Come on, then.”

Starting with Madelaine’s room, we checked under the bed, in the wardrobe and anywhere else that might conceal a large French woman. Finding nothing, we walked back along the passage, past our own room, Sherlock’s and Usher’s. Three more doors lay on this floor. Pushing open the first, I peeked inside.

“Linen cupboard,” I said, pulling the door shut.

The next door led into a large room that turned out to be some sort of artist’s studio, with floor-to-ceiling windows on the rear wall. A couple of easel’s stood in the centre of the room, with long workbenches on one wall. Various piles of drawing paper had been neatly stacked here and there, with pots of brushes, pencils and other artists materials in glass jars.

“An artist’s studio, d’you think?” said Holmes, examining a pile of pen and ink drawings.

“Some of these are rather good,” said Mary, holding up a drawing of a nude woman. “Madelaine, if I’m not mistaken.”

Holmes and I moved closer to study the image, its detailed illustration of the female genitalia leaving nothing to the imagination.

“Seen enough?” said Mary, giving me a punch in the kidney.

“Yes, yes,” I muttered. “He’s a talented artist.”

Holmes let out a groan. “For fuck’s sake, John, you don’t imagine Roderick Usher drew this, do you?”

“Well, I thought…”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Usher hasn’t an artistic bone in his body. No, this is the work of someone else. Someone who thought very highly of the model.”

“Could’ve been a self-portrait,” suggested Mary.

Holmes shook his head. “No, this is the work of some else. Someone who had a real connection to Madelaine. Someone who loved her.”

“You mean the French cook?” said I.

“I do, Watson, I do.” He gazed around the room, noting the other sketches of Madeleine pinned to the walls, many showing her in all her feminine glory. “Come along, Watsons. There’s a dead woman in this house somewhere and I’d like to find her before she starts to smell.”

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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Dead or Alive


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Collecting a couple of candles from a table in the entrance hall, Holmes stalked off with some urgency. Leaving my bags at the front door, I followed him and Johnny outside and along the path towards the mausoleum. Johnny filled me in on recent events, emphasising the general weirdness of the place.

“And you suspect this Madelaine person may not be dead?” I said, hurrying to keep up.

“Well, she was definitely bereft of life when I examined her last night,” said my husband. Then, leaning towards me so Holmes couldn’t hear, added, “Sherlock thinks she might be a zombie.”

“I heard that, Watson,” barked Holmes, whirling round. “As a matter of fact, I said I hoped she wasn’t a zombie.”

“I’m fairly sure he’s kidding,” muttered Johnny, as the Great Detective strode away. “He’s been reading a lot of gothic horror novels, lately.”

Glancing back, I stared up at the house and wondered if I’d made an error of judgement in coming here. Then again, if there were such creatures as zombies on the loose (whether real or imagined), I didn’t want to miss anything.

At the gable end of the house, I spied what must be the mausoleum ahead of us. Built as if to resemble an enormous skull, I felt grateful we weren’t approaching the place in the middle of the night. Holmes took out a box of Swan Vestas and lit the candles, then pushed through the doorway into a dark passage. I let Johnny go ahead of me and grasped his hand, keen to stay close.

Inside, we crept over the cold ground between the stone benches that lined the walls, displaying the skeletons of (presumably) long-dead members of the Usher clan. I took in the dismal surroundings. The entire place reeked of death (hardly surprising) and I wondered why the family hadn’t simply buried their dead in the ground like normal folk.

In front of us stood a more elaborate stone slab, on top of which lay a body that, thankfully, still retained its flesh. This must be Madelaine, I thought, peeking over Johnny’s shoulder.

Leaning across the body, Johnny did his doctory thing—checking for pulse, signs of breathing and so on. After a few moments, he straightened up.

“She’s dead. No doubt about it.”

Holmes had walked around to the end of the slab. “If that’s true, Watson, how d’you explain this?” Pointing to the soles of the deceased woman’s bare feet, he added, “Mud.”

Johnny and I moved around so we could see. Sure enough, the pale flesh bore traces of brown earth.

Holmes extracted a pocketknife and opened up one of its blades. Scraping it along the sole of one of Madeleine’s extremities, he examined the resulting deposit closely.

“D’you recall soil on her bedroom floor, Watson?” he said, holding out the blade for us to see.

“Of course not,” said Johnny. “The only way she could’ve got that is if someone smeared it onto her feet.”

“Or,” said Holmes, with a frown, “if Madeleine herself rose up from this slab and walked out into the garden.”

“Really, Holmes,” muttered Johnny, “now you’re grasping at straws.”

A movement behind us gave me a start, and I turned to see a shadow blocking the doorway.

“What is the meaning of this?” boomed a deep and echoey voice.

“Ah,” said Holmes, immediately slipping into his ‘bonhomie’ voice. “Just showing Mrs Watson around the place. Hope you don’t mind?”

The man’s eyes swivelled towards me, as if noticing my presence for the first time.

“Oh. Mrs Watson?” Stepping into the room, he extended a hand and taking my fingers in his, kissed them lightly. “My sincerest apologies, my dear. If I had known you were coming…” He smiled. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

I doubted this were true but thanked him anyway.

“So as I was saying,” said Holmes, “this is the mausoleum where the late Miss Usher has been laid to rest.” He gazed upon the corpse, pressed a hand to his heart and let out a muffled sob that I’m sure would have delighted his theatrical friends at the Soho Theatre Club.

“Well,” said Usher, seeming to accept this explanation, “we’d better get back to the house. Cook has prepared an early luncheon.”

And with that he turned and went out.

I was about to say what a jolly good idea this was, when Holmes grabbed Johnny by the arm.

“Cook? What cook?”

Johnny shrugged. “Someone made dinner last night…”

Holmes shook his head. “No, John. Our meal last evening was little more than the creation of a single man with no imagination—the sort of common fare one gets when one is living alone.”

“But he doesn’t live alone,” said Johnny.

Holmes grimaced. “He does now.”

“Well,” said I, “why don’t we go and meet this imaginary cook?”

“Good idea,” said the big-nosed detective “Though unless I happen to be the male relative of a chimpanzee, I suspect the cook and myself have already met.”

Watching Holmes walk off, I tugged Johnny’s sleeve. “What does he mean?”

“Buggered if I know,” he said. And with that, we set off back to the house.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Seventh Room


Diary of Doctor Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope not, Watson. I hope not.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What sort of deviant practices?”

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

“What on earth is that?”

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

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

“Arrgh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He did—d’you know him?”

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

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

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

She laughed and I realised I’d been had.

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

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

“Really? How exciting.”

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

“Indications of what, Holmes?”

“Of murder Watson.”

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Detective Inspector Calls


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Send him in, Florence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which was?”

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

“How strange. Why not?”

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

“What sort of spooky things?”

He shrugged. “Ghosts.”

“Can’t you go there yourself?”

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

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

“Have yer got the address?” said Lestrade.

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

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

Clovenhoof here I come.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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An Invitation


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Saturday 1st July 1893

Things being somewhat quiet of late, Mary and I planned to take a short holiday to the lake District. An overindulgence in sweetmeats and the like over these last few months has resulted in both of us adding a few inches to our waistlines. To be fair, I suspect it was the increase in my own girth that prompted Mary’s suggestion we ‘get a little exercise’ and try a spot of hillwalking.

However, having set the proverbial wheels in motion, an urgent telegraphical communication from Mary’s Great Aunt Bob (short for Roberta), scuppered our plans, and yesterday afternoon I somewhat huffily waved my wife off on the 2:45 to Skipton.

We did agree to try and meet up in a few days, though if the health of the aforementioned relative does not improve, it seems likely I’ll be left to my own devices.

This morning, after sorting out a few medical affairs and finding myself with no immediate plans, I determined to pop over to Baker Street and call on Holmes, when a message arrived from that very personage:

Watson,

Come at once, if convenient.
(If not convenient, come all the same).

H

I told the boy I’d leave immediately, collected my hat and overcoat, summoned a Hackney and set off to see my old friend and colleague. As we trotted along, it occurred to me that I’d not heard from Holmes since his return from Massachusetts, and I was keen to probe him on his adventures.

Mrs Hudson greeted me with a grunt, slamming the door sharply behind me. She proceeded to follow me up the stairs, muttering disgruntled remonstrations concerning the absence of her name from any of my stories in The Strand.

“Well,” I said, as she pressed her bosoms into my chest, “I always make a point of mentioning your lovely muffins…”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “And don’ you make a bloody fing of ‘em as well. You was a decent bloke afore you got all involved wiv ‘is ‘ighness in there. When you first moved in ‘ere, you was all nice and polite an’ that. Now all I get is snidey remarks about my minge and my boobies.”

I coughed and patted her shoulder. “I’m fairly certain I’ve never mentioned your minge, Mrs Hudson, but you’re quite right, and I will from henceforth rather be myself.” Expecting the quote to go over her head, her response surprised me.

“I should fink so, an’all. Always thought your presence was too bold and peremptory.” She gave me a sly smile, then turned and stomped back downstairs, her rear end wobbling from side to side like a sack of overinflated balloons. (Note to self—replace with a more appropriate description.)

“Ah, Watson,” said Holmes, pulling the door wide. “Jolly good to see you old chap. Take a pew.”

I settled into my usual armchair by the fire and waited while Holmes poured tea and offered me one of Mrs Hudson’s delightful muffins.

“Mary get off alright, eh?”

“Mary?” I said.

“Skipton, wasn’t it?” His eyes sparkled, and I could see I wouldn’t get away with ignoring him.

“That’s right, Holmes.” I paused, sighed and, striving to keep the irritation out of my voice, added, “but how could you possibly know?”

“Elementary, my dear Watson.” He leaned back, gazing upwards, as if searching for a tiny crack in the ceiling. “I recall Mary mentioned an ancient aunt in Yorkshire. Great Aunt Roberta, isn’t it?”

I nodded. “But the county covers a large geographical area. Hardly specific.”

He smiled sardonically. “I occasionally take The Yorkshire Post, you know, and last week’s issue reported an outbreak of influenza. In Skipton. And of course,” he added, stuffing his meerschaum with a generous helping of Hard Shag, “the elderly can be prone to such infections.” He struck a Swan Vesta and lit his pipe, puffing away for a moment. “Aside from such details, I did see Mary get on the train as I was booking our tickets yesterday afternoon.”

“You never fail to amaze me,” I said, with only a hint of sarcasm.

Holmes grinned and watched me for a moment. I realised he was waiting for me to ask another question.

“Er…”

“Really, Watson,” he muttered. “Sometimes I wonder about your faculties. I said, Although, to be fair…”

“Oh!” I laughed and slapped my leg as if chastising myself. “Of course. What tickets, Holmes?”

“Monday morning,” he said. “The 11:36 from Kings Cross. We’re off to Clovenhoof Vale.”

“Clovenhoof what?”

“Vale. You won’t have heard of it. The place is a small village a few dozen miles south of Carlisle. An old school pal of mine has written, asking me to visit.”

I nodded. “I see.”

Holmes chewed his lower lip in a manner that suggested there might be something he hadn’t told me.

“And?” I said.

“And I thought you might like to come along, that’s all.” He coughed and looked out of the window.

“Holmes…”

“Oh, very well.” He coughed again and made humphing noises for a moment. Eventually, he said, “Fact is, this chap’s sister is ill.”

“Ah. Like Mary’s Aunt.”

“Possibly. But…” He sighed. “You know me, Watson. Not at home to sickly folk. I thought…” he looked up, hopefully.

“You thought I might come along and take care of any…medical issues.”

“That’s it entirely.” He resumed puffing his pipe,

I had no reason to refuse his offer, and as Mary would be indisposed for a few days at least, the ministering to a lone patient would hardly tax my skills. “Very well,” I said. “So, this pal of yours—rich, is he?”

“Not short of a few bob,” said Holmes. “Never been to the family seat before, but I believe it’s a fairly impressive residence.”

“Well,” I said. “At least it won’t collapse around our ears.”

We shared a chuckle at this, recalling our adventure on Huge Island.

“By the way,” I said, helping myself to another muffin. “What’s this chap’s name?”

“Usher,” said Holmes. “Roderick Usher.”

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2020 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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