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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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At Brooklands Hotel


The Brooklands Hotel
Tootbridge
Surrey
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor J. Watson

Holmes

Sorry to hear about the incident with the sardine tin, but if you will allow Mrs Hudson to go off on a walking tour of the cheviots at a moment’s notice without bothering to install a suitable replacement, you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps if you’d showed the slightest interest in your housekeeper’s domestic routines and, especially, her tin-opening technique, a ‘crisis’ of this sort might have been averted. Nevertheless, I hardly think a week recuperating in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed is essential for what is after all, only a small cut to the index finger, but I’m sure you know best.

However, I digress. Detailed below, you will find my notes pertaining to our current case:

Further to our discussion on the series of menacing missives received by Miss Penelope Pitstop, Mary and I travelled down to Tootbridge yesterday, to meet the lady herself at a small family-run hotel where she is currently staying. I had previously communicated Sherlock’s advice about remaining incognito and calling herself by a different name, though it may be that her fame will undermine any chance of remaining anonymous.

On arriving at the aptly-named Brooklands Hotel, we checked in as Mister as Mrs Sacker and made reservations for dinner. I had informed Miss Pitstop that I would be wearing a red rose in my lapel and had issued a brief instruction as to how she might affect introductions during dinner, so we might avert any suspicions regarding our business together.

As it happens, the hotel restaurant was barely half full, and by the time we’d been seated, Mary and I had the place almost to ourselves. When Miss Pitstop appeared, looking more like a film star than a racing driver, she made a show of ordering hors d’oeuvres in the way of potted wood pigeon and a bottle of Chateau Ee-bah-gum (a Lancastrian chardonnay). Then, making an even bigger show of noticing me, she waved a hand in our direction.

“Oh, ‘ello,” she said, approaching our table. “You’re not that philanderer bloke Orville Sucker, are ye?”

I coughed. “If you mean the philanthropist Ormond Sacker, yes I am.”

My dear wife stifled a giggle and said, “You look like a young lady on her own – perhaps you’d like to join us?” She raised her eyebrows seductively.

“Make it bloody obvious why don’t you?” I hissed. Turning back to our guest, I put on my most lenient smile. “Don’t worry my dear, everyone gets it wrong. And your name is…?”

Miss Pitstop extracted a decorative fan from one of her voluminous sleeves and wafted her face vigorously. “Eeh, Ah’m rate sorry luv, Ah’m always putting me foot in it.” She made herself comfortable, then added, “you can call me Penelope. Ah mean…Harriet.” Dropping her voice to a hoarse whisper, she said, “Sorry luv, Ah’m not very good at this pretendin lark.”

A young couple by the door whose attire was very obviously that of racing car enthusiasts, were watching us carefully and from the furtive conversation that followed, it was clear our guest had been recognised.

A baleful sigh emerged from my lips which I took no pains to conceal. Gazing around the restaurant, I judged it was likely that anyone with the remotest interest in the world of motor sports had already overheard us. Leaning forward, I said, “Right, let’s just forget the charade – I’m Johnny, this is Mary and I think everyone knows who you are, so let’s get down to it.”

It was about an hour later while we were having coffee, that Penelope showed us the letters.

“Mind,” she said, “Ah threw the first two or three away, thinkin they were just the ravings of some nut-job. But then they started to get serious.” She passed the latest communication across the table. “All the letters ‘inted at something bad, but with this one, there’s no misunderstandin.”

Without touching it, I peered at the single sheet of paper and considered what Holmes would make of it. The paper itself was a pale blue shade of Basildon Bond, hand written with no address or other marks of identification. I read it aloud:

Dear Slut

You ‘ave smeared the good name of English racing, so now you ‘ave ter pay. I am going ter slit your throat wiv a sharp knife and bring an end to your winning ways.

Yours
Humber Plate

“Well,” said Mary, “you’re right about one thing – the meaning is clear.”

I chewed my lip for a moment. “Perhaps, perhaps not. There’s a few obvious details – the signature is a mistake and should read ‘Number’ Plate. Also, the writer has attempted to disguise his identity by representing a common dialect, but has defeated the object by using punctuation correctly, which makes me think he is an educated man.” Looking at Miss Pitstop, I said, “What do you make of it?”

She tapped a finger on the note. “That’s interestin, Doc, but you’re wrong about t’spelling – Humber Plate’s the name of a race.”

“Then it’s someone within the racing world, someone who wants revenge.”

“But why – what ‘ave I done?”

“Isn’t it possible that one of your male counterparts resents your success? Being a student of human behaviour as I am, I imagine there’s many a man who might feel aggrieved to be bested by a woman. Particularly one as attractive as you.”

Penelope nodded slowly. “So you think this is some bloke what I’ve beaten in a race?”

I picked up the letter. “Quite possibly, although…” Having perceived what seemed to be a watermark within the paper, I turned the sheet over. There was nothing to see, but holding it up to the light, the design became visible – ingrained in the paper, most probably created via a cylinder-mould process, was the image of a man’s sleeve with a hand at the end. Except it wasn’t a hand, but a hooked device in the shape of a claw.

“Bugger,” I said. “He’s back.”

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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In Search of Fu…

From the diary of Doctor Watson

It has been some time since I was able to put pen to paper in this most terrifying of cases, but as I sit here at my desk, I know that the Demon who has taunted us for the last few weeks will shortly be behind bars.

Leaving Holmes in the care of the oddly named Dr Ormond Sacker and his team of virgin-like nurses, I determined to hunt down Fu Manchu and bring him to justice. My first port of call was to accompany Lestrade to the house at No 1A, Hangman’s Lane. Needless to say, neither of us were surprised to find that not only the house, but in fact the entire lane, was no longer in existence. The room where I had been held captive was nothing more than a pile of rubble.

“I fear our bird has flown,” muttered Lestrade.450px-Roper_Street,_Hull_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1226846

I nodded. “But we do have one clue…” I opened my bag and pulled out the carefully wrapped copy of ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’. Opening the package just enough to examine the wording on the back of the book, I pointed at the name of the printer.

Lestrade’s face began to change, and after a moment I realised he was smiling. “Ah ha!” Said he. “The Fat Bum Press.”

I coughed. “I believe it’s pronounced ‘Phantom Press’, Inspector.”

“Ah, yes of course.” His newly acquired smile was replaced by the more familiar smirk. “In any case, I know where the place is – to the Docks!

And so it was a mere thirty short minutes later that we approached a forlorn-looking warehouse by the River, and proceeded to circle the building to ascertain how we might gain entry.

As we rounded the corner, any doubt that we had arrived at Fu Manchu’s hideout, was blown away like a puff of smoke up a particularly unsoiled chimney. There in front of us stood fourteen individuals of Chinese origin performing a strange, ritualistic dance.

A moment later, all movement ceased as the eyes of the mob turned towards us.

To be continued.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Detective Fiction

 

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