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A Game of Two Halves


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

It was dark when, some twenty minutes later and accompanied by a bevy of villains, we arrived via two rowing boats at the shore. Looking back at the vessel we had recently been extricated from, I wondered how the Claw expected to keep the thing hidden from public view – after all, being in the shape of a gigantic metal fish, it did seem unlikely it would not attract attention. However, as I watched, the metallic beast closed her hatches and slowly disappeared beneath the waves.

‘You are wondering where I keep it, eh?’ said a surprisingly softly-spoken Claw from his seat beside me.

‘Yes, actually,’ I said. ‘An underground cave, perhaps?’

He nodded. ‘As an arch villain, I have to think of everything. It can be tedious being the boss sometimes.’

‘You could always surrender?’

He giggled girlishly, gave me a playful punch on the arm, then resumed his usual gruffness and barked a series of orders at the crew.

From the look of the buildings ahead of us, we were making for a large warehouse a few yards up from the wharf. I noticed several other buildings behind the main one, though these were not lit up and the only signs of life came from the crowd of henchmen who were engaged in getting us out of the boats and into the warehouse.

As we trudged up the shingled beach, I tried to make out the details of the various pieces of apparatus that had been arranged just inside the huge double doors of the warehouse. A feeling of déjà vu wafted over me as I stared at the long workbench, the conveyor belt on top and the scarily-familiar circular saw that slotted into it at one end. Beneath the bench and the saw, sat a small steam engine, and as if that wasn’t enough to cause me to fill my trousers several times over, the horrific picture was completed by a series of leather straps fastened on either side of the table.

Hustling us inside, the henchmen lined us up against the wall and tied our wrists together. Holmes was tethered to me, me to Mary, and Mary to Penny, so the only chance of absconding would demand that all four of us cooperate. Though, at that moment, the possibility of escape seemed like a remote and highly unlikely scenario.

Holmes leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘It may be my imagination Johnny, but this scenario looks awfully familiar.’

I nodded. ‘Edinburgh.’

He sighed. ‘Ah. I’d hoped I was mistaken.’

‘Now then,’ said the Hooded Claw, tying a bloodstained apron around his waist. ‘See if you can guess what’s going to happen here?’

We all looked at each other, none of us wishing to state the obvious. Finally, Holmes spoke.

‘At a wild guess, I’d say we were slicing tonight.’

The Claw laughed heartily. ‘Very good, Holmes, very good. But no, that is not my intention.’ He paused, as if waiting for Holmes to make another suggestion, but the big-nosed detective said nothing more.

‘Very well, then,’ the villain continued. ‘As you have surmised, these items of equipment came from an auction house in Scotland. I learned of your involvement with them via a friend of mine. In fact, that same friend is here with me tonight.’ Holding up his good hand, he clicked his fingers. The various henchmen gathered around the edges of the warehouse burst into a round of applause, which only ceased when a man emerged out of the shadows and made his way to stand by the side of the Claw.

‘Oh, bugger,’ I said.

‘Seconded,’ murmured Holmes.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Winners and Losers


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Aboard the Cumbrian Express

As the train picked up speed, I cast a swift glance around our compartment. Naturally there was nowhere to hide – even the luggage racks that stretched along each side above the seats, would barely conceal a couple of suitcases, let alone three fully-grown individuals. But then a thought came to me – all we required was a chance to gain the upper hand and even a few seconds might mean the difference between living and dying.

“Quickly,” I urged, pulling Mary and Penny to their feet. “Climb up there, one of you in each rack.”

The expression of lustfulness that fell across Mary’s face was only too familiar to me. “Don’t be silly, Johnny,” she exclaimed, with a sly wink. “You know very well you can’t squeeze a large object into a small hole.”

“I know that, dear, but I have a plan and it has a much greater chance of working if the pair of you do as you’re bloody told!”

The ladies exchanged a look and suitably chastised, proceeded to clamber up into the aforementioned spaces.

Gazing down at the seats, I was reminded of one of Hannibal Lecter’s more ingenious disguises, when he concealed himself in a Paisley-patterned train-seat-suit and surprised us brandishing a large kitchen knife. Clearly, I hadn’t the time or resources to camouflage myself in such a way, but I did have another weapon at my disposal that might do the trick. Taking off my shoes, socks, trousers and undergarments, I took up a position with my legs apart, spanning the gap between the seats. With one foot on each seat, my proud manhood dangled menacingly by the door at what I judged to be face-height. Whoever slid the door open first would get a truly surprising eyeful.

“Excuse me, darling,” murmured my wife, giving a polite cough. “You do know you’re not wearing any trousers, don’t you?”

I didn’t bother to conceal my annoyance and let out an irritated sigh. “Just make sure you two have your guns cocked and ready.”

Penelope sniggered. “Well, yours definitely is, ain’t it, Doctor?”

Mary joined in with an amused titter, but their enjoyment was cut short when the slap, slap of heavy footsteps sounded from the passageway.

“Get ready, they’re coming,” I said, holding Harry’s machine pistol at a jaunty angle.

The footsteps grew closer then stopped outside our compartment. There was a pause of a few seconds before the door was thrust aside on its runners, slamming it home with a resounding thud, an action which caused me to drop my pistol. It clattered to the floor and bounced under one of the seats.

“Oh, nice one, Doctor Watson,” said the first man (who had given up any pretence of being blind). With a hoot of derisive laughter, he pulled out a revolver and prepared to blow my tackle to Kingdom Come. But assuming he had the upper hand, he made the mistake of turning to his companion (no doubt to cast further aspersions on my apparent stupidity). As his head swivelled sideways, the end of his gun touched my naked belly. It was all I needed to jerk myself into action – the sensation of cold steel pressing against my vulnerability had the desired effect and my muscles contracted, then immediately relaxed, and a stream of urine spurted forth and hit the first man in the eye. The glistening torrent then ricocheted off his face and into the second man’s mouth.

I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

Dropping deftly to the floor, I grabbed the machine pistol from where it had fallen and jabbed it in the man’s ribs. The red-headed henchman next to him busied himself spitting out my discharge and wiping his tongue vigorously on the sleeve of his jacket. Reaching forward, I pulled a revolver from his pocket and tossed it across to Mary, who had climbed down from her perch to lend a hand.

“Well done, Johnny,” she murmured, with more than a hint of pride at my victory. “Let’s get them in here and tie them up.”

Penny slid down onto the seat and took off her stockings, before tying the hands of both men behind their backs. Ripping off the cording from along the seat-backs, I tied the men’s legs too, just in case.

Oddly, the villains seemed unaffected at having been overwhelmed. They sat quietly and apart from the occasional rueful glance, made no attempt to communicate with each other or to regain their former dominance.

Mary and Penelope kept their weapons trained on the pair while I dressed, then seating myself opposite, I studied each of them in turn. The red-head was the younger of the two and appeared more subdued than the other, though even he showed little sign of concern at his capture. The older man had all the hallmarks of a seasoned villain, which I now realised should have been obvious to me earlier.

“So you work for the Claw, then?” I said.

The older man shrugged.

“I expect he’s at the Institute, eh?” I tried.

Another shrug.

“You so realise you’ll both be going to prison for a very long time?”

“Hah,” said the red-head, but before he could say more, his companion gave him a hard stare which shut him up like a clam.

With a sigh, I saw that it would be pointless to pursue further questions, so sitting back, I considered our options. I had no wish to continue this vigil for the next few hours, so we’d have to find somewhere to lock the pair of them away. Knowing there was a guards-van attached to the train, it would be an easy matter to shut the villains in there and telegraph ahead for them to be picked up when we reached our destination. It was the simplest solution and would leave us free to enjoy the rest of our trip without the worry of constantly watching our prisoners. Sending Mary off to find the guard, I sat back to wait. Penelope had taken the window seat and also kept her gun aimed at our detainees. I was glad to note the look of quiet fortitude on her face – she had taken to the role of ‘detective’ as easily as an otter slides into a pool of water.

It was a few minutes later before I heard my wife’s footsteps returning along the passageway.

Standing, I cocked my head around the doorway. Mary’s face was oddly expressionless, her eyes had a strange lifeless quality and there was no welcoming smile telling me everything was in hand. Something was wrong, but even though a shiver ran up my spine, it was a few seconds more before I realised why, and even then, I was momentarily thrown off-guard. A man in a black fedora was following behind Mary. Thank God, I thought, Harry had made it onto the train. But as the stranger lifted his head, my stomach dropped into my boots.

“Ah, Doctor Watson,” said a familiar gravelly voice. “I see you’ve rounded up my chaps.” He lifted a hand in greeting and the sun glinted spookily on the metallic claw. “Glad you caught the train,” he continued, “would’ve been an awful bore to have come chasing after you.”

Mary had reached the doorway and I caught hold of her as she half fell into the cabin. Sensing she had succumbed to some drug or other, I guided her into a seat, then whirling round, raised a warning finger. “If you’ve hurt her in any way, you damned fiend…”

But the Claw’s other hand had come into view and I saw the glass syringe and its lurid green contents.

“What have you done?” I barked helplessly.

“Oh, don’t fret Doctor, I’m not ready to kill her yet.” He let out a low chuckle. “Just a little something to shut her up.” And before I could move, he jabbed the needle into my arm and I felt myself go floppy all over. Dropping onto the seat beside my wife, I wondered what Holmes would do…

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Stranger on a Train



Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Aboard the Cumbrian Express

It was while I waited for the clerk to arrange our tickets at the station that I realised my mistake in assuming our nemesis would not be nearby. Mary and Penelope had retired to the waiting room armed with a tray of sandwiches, a pot of coffee and my revolver (the latter concealed in Mary’s handbag). Penelope too, had a handgun hidden about her person, just in case.

Keeping half an eye on their table through the adjoining door, I scanned the area for possible threats. At once, I spotted three dubious-looking men who might easily be on the side of the damned Claw. All three were plainly dressed, had swarthy or ruddy faces, and were seated at separate tables, drinking tea. This was not in itself unusual – it is a well-known fact that the English working man is rarely comfortable in the company of others and will often secrete himself away from the gaze of fellow workers in order to avoid the horror of being engaged in spontaneous conversation.

The chap nearest to me held a copy of The Times up to his face, but I discerned from his oscillating gaze that he was no more reading it than dancing a jig. From where I stood, I could see the newspaper was not a recent edition (the crossword had been completed and one corner of the broadsheet was torn off). Noting the fellow’s eyes had fixed firmly on Miss Pitstop’s chest, I quickly dismissed him as nothing more than a lustful hireling, utilising a day-old newspaper as a prop for eyeing up young women.

Turning my attention to the other two men, I immediately saw that one was roughly middle-aged, had a white stick at his side and a hand-written sign pinned to his jacket. The emblem declared the fellow to be a veteran of the Crimea who’d lost his sight in that terrible conflict. Clearly, a blind man was no threat to us.

Lastly, a tall chap with a shock of red hair had seated himself at the table next to Mary and Penelope. I was reminded of The Case of the Red-Haired League and for a moment found my mind drifting back to that lusty young chap whose fortune Holmes and I had recovered when we exposed a scheme to rob the poor lad of his savings. Perhaps it was for this reason that I dismissed this man too from my scrutiny.

At that point, a newcomer wearing a black Fedora and greatcoat entered the waiting room and immediately approached the women’s table.

“That’ll be nineteen shillings and sixpence, sir.”

“What’s that?” I exclaimed, turning back to face the ticket master.

“I said,” the little man repeated, raising his voice a little too gamely, “That’ll be…”

“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time,” I said, tossing the required coinage across the counter and grabbing the tickets from his outstretched hand.

Ignoring the man’s continuing commentary, I hurried into the waiting room to find the stranger standing with his back to me and speaking in low tones to Mary.

“Hold it right there,” I whispered in the man’s ear, “or I’ll blow your spine to smithereens.”

“I don’t reckon you’ll do a lot of damage with that finger, Doc,” said the man in front of me, “but you’re welcome to try.”

I recognised the familiar American drawl before he turned to face me, but it was his suggestive smirk that made my knees go weak. “Harry!” I gasped, hugging him like a long-lost brother. “What the deuce are you doing here?”

Harry Lime glanced around the room before urging me to sit down. Pulling up two chairs, he leaned in close. “Heard you were having a little trouble with an old pal of ours, so thought I’d drop by to lend a hand.”

“Really, you know about t’Claw an’all?” said Penelope, her eyes taking in Harry’s huge shoulders and winning smile.

“Sure do, Miss Penny, but let’s not tell the whole world about it just yet, eh?” He gave her a wink and patted her hand, then turning to me, whispered, “I guess you noticed the guy with the stick?”

“Who?” I said, glancing around. “The blind chap?”

“Johnny, Johnny,” he chided. “That there’s no more a blind man than a side of beef. Take a glance at him now and I’ll bet ya he’s staring right at us.”

As surreptitiously as possible, I made as if to look back at the ticket office and as my eyes drifted past the war veteran, I saw that he was looking straight at me.

“As your pal Sherlock would say,” said Harry, “it’s elementary, Watson.”

The former blind man had dropped his eyes, so I took the opportunity to take a good look at him. Now of course I could see the all the clues as plain as day – being no more than forty years old, he couldn’t possibly have taken part in the Crimean War, and the hairline around his forehead showed the edge of an elasticated band of the type used to fasten hairpieces in place. No doubt the white stick leaning against his table was just another prop to aid his pathetic disguise.

“Ah, I see,” I said, feeling small.

“And just to prove it…” Harry stood up cautiously, making not the slightest sound. Then, taking two steps towards the other man, he deftly lifted the white stick from where it stood and passed it across to me. The man did not move, but started straight ahead, as a true blind man might, unaware of the theft.

Taking hold of the stick, I immediately realised that it was not constructed from wood as I’d have expected, but from some sort of painted metal. Twisting the handle, I was amazed when it came away in my hand, revealing the razor-sharp blade inside.

“My God, “I said. “It’s a swordstick.”

The shriek of a train whistle told us our transport had arrived.

“Come along,” said Harry, pulling us all to our feet. “You guys get aboard the train. I’ll make sure this joker stays exactly where he is.”

“Thank you, Harry, “I gushed, feeling a little overwhelmed. “What’d we do without you?”

“You can thank me when the Claw is in custody. For now, take this.” He pushed something into my hand and looking down I saw that it was a machine pistol – the latest American model.

A moment later, the three of us were climbing onto the train. Leaning out of the window as we chugged out of the station, I saw Harry pull back an arm in readiness to smash the blind man in the face, but before he could do so, the other two so-called working men had jumped up and grabbed Harry, throwing him back against the counter. A second later, they were running up the platform and clambering aboard the accelerating locomotive.

“We’ve got company,” I said, sliding the window closed.

Mary and Penelope exchanged glances, then reaching into their respective handbags, pulled out their weapons.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Bird at Breakfast

Diary of Doctor J. Watson
At the Brooklands Hotel

Following my own revelations concerning Penelope’s letters and the realisation that we had once again been thrust into the path of the villainous Hooded Claw, I took all necessary precautions to ensure the three of us remained in close proximity until I could formulate a plan of action. In our room after the meal, Mary appeared quite delighted at the idea of Penelope spending the night with us, until I acquainted her with the details I had decided upon vis-à-vis our intimate arrangements.

“Really, Johnny,” she exclaimed, “I don’t see why the poor girl should be made to sleep in the bath when there’s a perfectly good four poster here that would easily accommodate all three of us.” She glanced across at the young lady herself, who had spent the previous several minutes painting her fingernails a rather fetching shade of vermillion. “Or even,” she added, with not a hint of embarrassment, “if she and I were to share the bed while you bunked up in the bath. Surely that would be the gentlemanly thing to do?”

“Hmph,” I muttered, lowering my voice. “If it weren’t for your dalliances with that infernal ice-cream seller and his floozy of an assistant, I might have been perfectly happy to trust you with Miss Pitstop, but given your penchant for certain…practices, I think it better to keep things on an even keel, don’t you?”

Mary pouted seductively. Moving closer to me, she began patting my chest and rubbing her leg up and down my corduroys. “But we might all be murdered in our sleep,” she murmured, “and then wouldn’t it be a shame not to have spent our last night–”

“No, Mary,” I said. “We need to keep our heads. In fact I suggest we stay awake tonight and be on full alert. We don’t know when the Claw might strike.”

At that, Penelope jumped up and joined Mary on the end of the bed. “If we’re all goin’ ter keep our clothes on, it dunt matter if we’re in bed togevver, does it?” She grinned at Mary, and the two of them sniggered away for some minutes as if they had planned it that way.

Having decided that posting a letter to Holmes would take too long, I had opted to send a boy out to the telegraph office in town. The cost would be prohibitive but I reasoned our situation required advice at the earliest opportunity. As it happens, Tootbridge is one of those so-called liberal-minded towns and boasts the latest in communications technology, so the total cost of transposing my letter came to less than three shillings including a tip for the boy.

I had hoped to receive a reply from my esteemed companion by the morning, and in fact it was during breakfast that the waiter surprised me not with a second helping of toast and lime marmalade as I’d requested, but with a weather-beaten pigeon and an attached note written in Sherlock’s familiar scrawl.

“Is it from Big Nose,” said Mary, stifling a yawn.

“Yes,” I said, scanning the copy cautiously.

“Does he point out all your mistakes?”

I poured myself another cup of tea. “He does, though he also suggests we journey to Cumbria as soon as possible. Apparently our lives are in danger. Again.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “I think we knew that already.”

“So it is the ‘Ooded Claw, then?” asked Penelope tucking into sausages and egg.

I nodded solemnly. “It is. As usual Holmes only tells me half the story – something about a harbour and a tyrannical nurse. However, he does make it clear he fully expects us to die a horrible death if we are not very careful.”

“Do we have time for another round of toast?” said Mary pointedly.

“I expect not,” said I, signalling for the waiter. “But as we shan’t be able to board a train for at least another hour, I hardly think it matters. In any case, I shouldn’t think the Claw is within a hundred miles of us at the moment.”

As usual, I was wrong.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 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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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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