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The Woman in White


Diary of Doctor Watson

I didn’t mention our sighting of the ‘woman in white’ to our host, as he seemed a little on edge. Instead, we spent a couple of hours discussing his pet subjects—the long and boring history of the Usher clan and, more especially, the unusual design of the house. When I say ‘discussing’, I mean Holmes and I listened while Roderick droned on about the place, as if it were some site of architectural significance.

“In addition,” he said, cradling a large glass of crème de menthe, “the House of Usher, as we like to call it, has one or two idiosyncrasies. In point of fact, I should alert you to the possibility of—shall we say—noises in the night.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, showing a spark of interest. “Ghosts, eh?”

Roderick pulled a face. “Wouldn’t say that, so much. Rather, something along the lines of structural disturbances. Nothing to concern yourselves about.”

He refused to be drawn further on the topic, so I decided to probe him in relation to one of the more obscure titles on his bookshelves.

“I see you have a copy of Vampirism in the Middle Ages, by Horst Wolverton.” Crossing to extract that precise volume, I flicked through its yellowed pages, noting several facsimile woodcuts featuring our old friend Count Dracula. It was odd to see his likeness portrayed in an image, the original of which had to be at least three hundred years old. “Not sure if you’re aware,” I said, “but Holmes and I actually met—”

“Wolverton himself,” burst in Holmes, giving me a stern look. “At a party given by the old queen.”

“The Duke of Clarence?” said Roderick.

“I meant Victoria, actually,” said Holmes. “Though the duke was also present.”

“Also known as Bendover Eddy,” I put in, smirking, “due to his alleged nocturnal activities.”

“Really, Watson, must you lower the tone?”

“Sorry, Holmes.”

At that point, our host excused himself, claiming a headache. “Feel free to plunder my wine stock,” he said, on his way out.

I glared at Holmes. “What was all that about? I was merely referring to—”

“Yes, yes, I know precisely what you were referring to,” said Holmes, “and I should be obliged if you would refrain from mentioning anything that might put ideas into Roddy’s head.” He rubbed a hand over his lean features. “Aside from his sister’s illness, there’s clearly some disturbing issue troubling him. I have no wish to muddle his head with additional fanciful ideas.”

“Hardly a fanciful idea, Holmes,” I said, feeling a little miffed. “After all, we did meet the count and—”

Holmes held up a hand. “Enough, Watson. Now, be a good fellow and pour me one more glass of that rather fruity little Chablis before bed.”

I did as he asked, then, settling back into my seat, recalled a subject I’d been meaning to question him about. “That business in Massachusetts…you never did tell me what the outcome was…”

Holmes grimaced. “Ah. The Lizzie Borden case.” He chewed his lower lip for a moment. “Very odd state of affairs with one thing and another. Acquitted, in the end, though only due to the stupidity of the local police.” He gazed into the fire and gave a small nod.

“So she did it, then?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “but it was she who ordered the killing.”

“What, you mean she got someone else to do it for her?”

“Yes.” He smiled to himself. “Never would’ve occurred to me if I hadn’t happened to hear the family maid, one Miss Sullivan, chatting outside the courthouse.”

“Something she said?”

“Not what she said, Watson, but the way she said it.” He contorted his mouth and muttered, “I haf been ze maid wiz ze family for only a short time, but I vould like to continue wiz my employment if zat iz at all pozzible.”

“Klopp! Then she’s alive?”

He shrugged. “I couldn’t be sure, and without the benefit of our old friend Lestrade and the necessary records to prove her identity, there was nothing I could do. However, I did take the precaution of alerting the relevant authorities to the woman’s immigration status. If she is Klopp, I’m certain we shall hear from her again.”

We sat in silence for a moment, then Holmes nodded towards the window. “Our friend has returned.”

Following his gaze, I saw the figure in white glide past the window in the opposite direction to earlier.

“Damn it all,” I muttered, “I’m going to find out who she is.” With that, I jumped up and went out into the hall, yanking open the front door. Though it could not have taken more than three of four seconds to reach the door, there was no sign of anyone near the house. “That’s damnably strange,” I said.

“Indeed,” said Holmes, behind me. “Mostly likely she’s a vampire and climbed the wall back to her bedroom.” Looking up at the windows, he chuckled. “I think perhaps we’ve imbibed a little too much vino, John.”

I took a few steps forwards and peered into the darkness. “Glad you think it’s funny, Holmes,” I said, “but if that was Usher’s sister, she may well be in need of medical attention.”

“Or a bite on the neck,” said Holmes, sardonically.

Following him back inside, I closed the door. Then, a footstep caused me to glance up at the staircase, where I caught sight of something white. Taking the stairs three at a time, I tore up to the first landing, in time to see a sliver of silvery-white material disappear along the corridor. Hurrying after the lady Madelaine, if it were indeed she, I pushed open the door at the end of the passage and found myself in a semi-darkened bedroom.

Directly in front of me, lying in an ancient four poster bed, her eyes closed, lay the woman I had seen only a few seconds before. On the floor beside her, Roderick Usher knelt, clasping her pale white hand, whispering words that sounded like a prayer.

I must have made some movement, for Roderick turned and saw me. I waved a hand and murmured an apology, but he merely stared at me.

In a low voice, replete with pain, he said, “Perhaps I should have taken your advice and allowed you to examine her, Doctor. Alas, it is too late now…”

“You mean…?”

“Yes. My sister is dead.”

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2020 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Gloomy Aspect


Diary of Doctor Watson
Monday

As arranged, we caught the 11:36 from Kings Cross this morning and settled ourselves in our compartment with our luggage and a basket of Mrs Hudson’s exceedingly good cakes. I spent some time updating my diary while Holmes buried his nose in The Times, making occasionally comments about this or that news item.

It was a few hours later that the train slowed as we approached Carlisle.

“Not long now,” said Holmes, cheerfully. I guessed he envisioned a warm welcome at our destination, and I felt heartened that he had perked up since our initial conversation about the visit. Even so, I did feel there might be some detail about Mr Usher that Holmes had neglected to mention.

Having endured several irritations in our transfer from the Carlisle train to a branch line locomotive, we duly arrived at a small station which served the community of Clovenhoof. To say that I was not impressed with the service we found there, would be a gross understatement. Holmes had assured me his pal Usher would arrange suitable transportation for the final leg of our journey. In fact, a surly chap in possession of a rough cart had been engaged by that aforementioned gentleman, but on questioning him, we discovered a certain lack of enthusiasm on his part to undertake the task for which he had already been remunerated.

“Oi did tell ‘im Oi weren’t goin ter take yous all the way to the ‘ouse,” said the man, with an air of derision.

“And why not?” demanded Holmes.

“Oi told ‘im. Rum ‘ol place that. Weird goings-on. Ain’t goin nowhere near it, Oi ain’t, less’n there be summat approachin recompensive compensation sort of thing.”

Holmes turned to me. “I do believe the fellow’s taking the piss, Watson.” To the surly cart owner, he said (with a rising inflection which did not bode well if further negotiations proved necessary), “Are you telling us, you dull-witted individual, that you require additional monetary inducement?”

“Summat loike that.” He gave us a sly grin that only confirmed our suspicions.

I could see Holmes might explode if the conversation were to proceed any further, so I dug into my pocket and handed over a few shillings. “If I were you, sir, I should take this and be grateful.”

The man doffed his cap and waved us aboard the shabby cart. Holmes grumbled a bit but quietened down as we got under way.

The journey to the House of Usher (as I had begun to think of it) was a pleasant enough one, but as we progressed along country lanes and leafy byways, the landscape underwent a change. The sky darkened, despite the heat of the day, and seemed to hang low in a manner that suggested a thunderstorm might be on its way, though it was hardly the time of year for such atmospheric manifestations.

At length, we pulled up at what appeared to be the entrance to a long driveway, bordered by rows of lacklustre trees of a type I had not seen before.

“Ere ye go, gents,” said our driver. “Oi goes no further.”

“Excellent,” said Holmes, with only a smidgen of sarcasm.

We hauled our luggage down and watched as the cart turned around and set off back towards the village.

“Up this way, then,” I said, indicating the pitted roadway that stretched out before us.

Passing the line of trees, the landscape opened out into one of fields and scattered hedges, both of which had a burnt, wasted appearance. I assumed some kind of bacterial or fungal pestilence had decimated the plant life, if indeed there were any life at all in the ashen ground.

“I have to say, Watson,” muttered Holmes as we advanced towards the house, “a certain feeling of trepidation has come upon me about this place.”

“The geography does have a sense of gloom about it,” I said, gazing around. “But I expect your chum will make us feel welcome.”

Gradually, the house itself came into view and I discerned a drabness to it that reflected the state of the surrounding area. It may indeed have at one time been a truly grand edifice, but its best days were gone. As we drew nearer, I was able to make out a few details—carved into each of the pillars at the main door, were a series of hideous gargoyles and other mythical creatures, their repugnant features doing nothing to allay the growing feeling of melancholy that seemed to engulf the place.

Eventually, we advanced to the great door and Holmes raised the goblin-like face of its massive iron knocker. Letting the thing go, it made a terrific clatter that gave me a start, and must surely have echoed throughout the house. Nevertheless, if was a minute or two before we heard footsteps approach.

The door opened and standing there before us was a tall man with a face etched in pain. Dark sunken eyes seemed to glow in the increasing darkness and his downturned mouth did little to brighten an unhappy outlook.

“Ah, Holmes,” he said, in a deep baritone voice. “How joyed I am to see you at last.” He grasped my companion’s hand in his and shook it vigorously. Then turning to me, muttered, “And the infamous Doctor Watson. How wonderful to meet you. I am a fervent fan of your fascinating tales.”

I shook the man’s hand, wondering which ‘fascinating tales’ he was talking about.

Our host stepped back and bade us enter. “Please, come into our humble abode.”

We followed him into a vast hall where he took our coats and waved us through into what I found to be a well-stocked library.

Seating myself next to Holmes on one of several dusty sofas, I marvelled at the range of reading matter on display. There were volumes on every subject under the sun, from alchemy and modern science, to vampirism and sexual abnormalities. Usher stood before us, hands clasped, as if waiting to deliver some pre-planned homily.

“Dinner will be served at eight, gentlemen, and then if you will permit, I shall tell you a little of our lives here.”

“Jolly good,” said Holmes with more enthusiasm than I would have expected.

“And will your sister be joining us, Mr Usher?” said I, eager to meet the mysterious sibling.

“Alas, Doctor, Madeline’s condition has deteriorated since my recent missive.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. “Perhaps I might examine her?”

“I think not, Doctor,” he said. Then with a forced smile, added, “Perhaps I could interest you in an aperitif?”

We thought this a good idea and Usher disappeared back into the hall.

“Jolly rum place, this,” I said, to Holmes. “I’d rather share a house with Moriarty. At least he has a sense of humour.”

“Yes, Roddy has altered a little since we last met.”

We were sitting on a sofa that looked out onto the front aspect. Though the day had darkened considerably, there was no mistaking the figure of a woman walking past the windows, her pale face and staring eyes turned towards us.

“I say, Holmes,” I whispered, in case Usher happened to be listening at the door, “d’you think that’s the sister?”

“Hardly likely, Watson, not if she’s ill in bed. Probably one of the servants out for a walk.”

This seemed a reasonable assumption, if a little odd, but I couldn’t help thinking Roderick Usher’s sister would prove to be even more of a weirdo than her brother.

Unfortunately, I was right.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 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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An Interesting Pair of Trousers


The Diary of Doctor J. Watson

‘We’ve got to do something, Holmes,’ I muttered. ‘In less than a minute poor Mrs Christie will get squashed like a–’

‘Yes, yes, I know that, Watson,’ hissed my companion. ‘But this is not the time for descriptive passages. This is a time for action. Where’s that jar of chilli sauce?’

‘It’s in my hand,’ I said, careful not to display the object, in case the man guarding us saw it.

‘Then do what you were going to do earlier,’ said Holmes, nodding towards the steam engine.

I could see no benefit from chucking a jar of chilli sauce into a steam engine, but as we had very little else in our store of retaliative weaponry, and as the floor of the library had already reached the halfway mark, we were out of options. Flinging my arm back, I hurled the jar towards the giant engine and watched as it flew up in a long arc and came down to land between two huge cogs.

I heard the jar shatter above the noise of the engine, then a jet of sauce spurted out and landed in Moriarty’s left eye.

For an Evil Genius, Moriarty screamed like a girl. Grasping at his injured eye, he waved a hand at Frau Klopp to help him. ‘My fucking … aaargh!’ he screeched.

As Klopp and the minions flocked around their leader, the man holding us at gunpoint glanced away for a second. That was all we needed. Leaping forwards, Holmes grasped the man by the neck. Lestrade knocked his gun to the ground and kicked it towards me. I picked it up and ran across to where Mrs Christie lay, now only a few feet from the descending floor and certain death. Keeping the gun raised in the direction of the villains, I grabbed one of the ropes holding the famous novelist and hauled her away from the danger area.

A moment later, Moriarty had pushed aside his workers and stood over us. ‘That’s it,’ he roared. ‘Kill them all!’

But the metal lid from the jar of chilli sauce had slipped into some vital part of the steam engine, and as the library floor hit the ground, the engine screamed as if in pain. The machine seemed to be attempting to force the library floor to continue its journey through the ground it now rested on. With a grinding of gears and a sudden lurch, the engine began to shake violently. The iron struts linked to the engine shuddered, and with a metallic whine, the first strut bent under the strain and collapsed, crashing down into the crowd of dumbstruck villains. A second strut followed and in a matter of seconds, the whole supporting structure of the vast hall buckled under the weight of the house above.

‘Quickly, Johnny,’ yelled Mary, cutting through Mrs Christie’s bonds with Lestrade’s nail scissors. ‘We have to get out before the whole place collapses.’

Moriarty’s men ran around the steam engine pulling levers and pushing buttons while the arch-villain himself stood in the middle, clutching his eye and screaming at Klopp.

Holmes grabbed my sleeve. ‘Back to where we came in,’ he said, pushing Mary and Mrs Christie towards the square of stone floor that led to the cellar steps.

‘D’you think it’ll still work?’ I yelled, above the roar of the collapsing engines.

‘If it doesn’t, we’re fucked,’ he said. ‘Come on.’

Racing to the end of the hall, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Moriarty still ranting at Klopp, with Fu Manchu and the forger struggling to separate their furious leaders. But two people were missing. Colonel Moran and Ratched had disappeared.

Gathering ourselves on the small square of floor, I looked at Holmes. ‘How do we make it go?’

‘Oh, I know,’ said Mrs Christie. ‘There should be a brick somewhere …’ She pressed her hands against various parts of the wall.

‘Quickly,’ said Holmes. ‘Try them all.’

The rest of us eagerly pushed and prodded the wall. At first it seemed that whatever Mrs Christie thought might be there, simply didn’t exist, but then one of the smaller bricks moved, and in a flash, the floor trembled and started its upward journey.

Below us, the noise level rose and the thumping and clanking of the steam engine hit a deafening pitch.

The floor re-connected with the cellar steps and clanked into place. Racing up the staircase, I crashed through the cellar door into the sudden glare of torchlight.

‘Who’s there?’ I demanded.

‘Oh, hello there,’ said a voice. ‘You must be Doctor Watson. And this would be your good lady wife, would it?’

Shading my eyes, I saw a plump constable holding a torch. Behind him were a crowd of other officers, all armed with torches and truncheons.

‘No, actually,’ I said, ‘this is the famous novelist Mrs Agatha Christie.’

‘Sergeant Radish,’ said Lestrade, stepping into the light. ‘Never thought I’d be ‘appy ter see your mutton chops.’

‘Never mind all that,’ said Holmes, pushing me out of the way. ‘Sergeant, the house is about to collapse. Get your men back outside with all speed.’

The big sergeant saluted smartly and shouted at his men. I grabbed Mary and Mrs Christie and escorted them through the drawing room and out through the French windows.

Once everyone had retreated to a safe distance, I looked back at the house. Holmes stood beside me.

‘There’s someone missing,’ I said.

Holmes nodded. ‘Yes,’ he murmured. ‘Moran and that awful former nurse. Keep your eyes open, Watson. I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they’d found another way out.’

As we watched, the whole house shuddered violently, shaking roof tiles loose and rattling window frames in their housings. As tiles and glass crashed to the ground, the house gave a massive judder, and one by one, the walls fell inward, clouds of debris, glass and dust flying about in all directions.

‘Well,’ said Holmes, ‘anyone left under there won’t be coming out in one piece. A fitting end to that bunch of atrocious individuals.’

‘Not including me in that, I hope, Mister Holmes?’

I turned and saw the woman who had arrived with Mrs Christie. Naturally, she was holding a gun.

‘Ratched,’ said Holmes, smiling sardonically. ‘I’d rather hoped you’d be dead and buried by now.’

‘Sorry to disappoint. But my lover knew another way out, so …’ She jerked her head indicating someone next to her and I saw Colonel Moran standing there holding his famous elephant gun.

‘Ah,’ said Holmes. ‘Guns all round, then.’

By this time Sergeant Radish and his officers had realised we had company. ‘Now then, now then,’ he said. ‘We don’t want no trouble here.’

‘Oh, it’s no trouble,’ said Moran, lowering his rifle. ‘I’m just going to pop off a few rounds and get rid of all my concerns in one go.’ Cocking the weapon, he raised it to his shoulder.

‘Hold on a mo, would you?’ said Mrs Christie, pushing through the crowd. ‘I’d like a quick word with Maudie. I mean Nursie, or whatever she’s calling herself these days.’

‘I’ve got nothing to say to you, Aggie, apart from goodbye.’ Ratched laughed and gave Moran a nod. ‘Get on with it.’

But Mrs Christie was not to be outdone. With a quick step forwards, she stuck out a finger and pushed the buckle of Ratched’s jodhpurs. Incredibly, the johdpurs came alive, vibrating and emitting a whirring noise that appeared to be centred around the genital area.

Ratched looked down at herself and began to moan. ‘Oh, my God, oh my fuckin God.’

Moran lowered his gun. ‘What’s happening Nursie? What’s she done to you?’

‘I don’t know,’ she squealed clasping at her lady parts. ‘These bloody trousers are making me all squidgy. Oh, bloody hell …’

At this, Holmes leaped forward, snatched Moran’s gun, upended the weapon and brought it crashing down on the grass, smashing the stock and separating the barrel from its casing.

‘That’s better,’ he said, handing the broken pieces back to Moran. ‘Now, I think Sergeant Radish has something to say.’

The big policeman stepped forward. ‘Right, Mister whoever-you-are, I am arresting you in the name of all that is good and proper and will be handing you over to the relevant police station at the earliest opportunity.’ Unfastening a pair of handcuffs from his belt, he clamped them over Moran’s wrists, while another officer did the same to Ratched, who writhed about like a bag full of cats.

‘Well,’ I said, looking at Mrs Christie with a sense of wonder. ‘An interesting pair of trousers.’

‘Yes,’ said the famous lady novelist, ‘I had them made after my husband curtailed his interest in my womanly needs. They’ve a built-in device for giving pleasure to those parts that most require it. Sadly, the thing developed a fault and now it’ll keep going until Miss Ratched has experienced the maximum number of orgasms.’ She paused. ‘Thirty-seven, I think.’

As we walked down to the beach and the waiting police launch, I caught up with Holmes.

‘That’s not the end of him, you know,’ he said.

‘Moriarty? No, we wouldn’t be that lucky.’

Glancing back at the house, a sense of great loss washed over me. Not for the house, or even for Moriarty, but for those innocent and not-so-innocent fools who got caught up in a ridiculous game—a game that didn’t even have a point, other than to make Sherlock Holmes look like a failure. And that would never happen.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2019 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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Mary and the Professor


The Diary of Doctor J. Watson

We stood in silence for a few moments while Moriarty and Klopp huddled together. Though I could hear nothing of their conversation, from Klopp’s puce-coloured upturned face and Moriarty’s scowling mouth, there could be no doubt they were arguing.

Holmes leaned towards me. ‘I don’t imagine you have a sgian-dubh down your trouser-leg, Watson?’

‘Alas, no,’ I muttered. Then something else occurred to me. ‘But I do still have that jar of chilli sauce in my pocket.’

Holmes closed his eyes and smiled beatifically, as if in the throes of an orgasmic dream. Then his features dropped back into their usual expressionless gaze and he whispered, ‘Excellent.’

Klopp barked an unintelligible order at the group of white-coated workers nearest her, prompting the minions to hurry away. They returned in a flash, carrying high-backed chairs much like those in the dining room.

Behind me, Lestrade leaned forward. ‘What’s a sgian-dubh?’

‘A small knife,’ I said. ‘Don’t suppose you’ve got one?’

He shook his head. ‘Not a sgian-dubh, but I do ‘ave a pair of nail scissors and a needle and thread pinned under my lapel.’

‘Really? Why?’

He sniffed. ‘The missus makes me carry ‘em. She won’t sew on buttons, see, so I ‘ave ter do it meself.’

‘Think you could cut through my bonds?’

‘What bonds?’

‘The ones we’re about to be tied up with,’ I said, nodding towards the minions.

The white-coats lined us up, instructing us to sit. The expected ropes appeared. In a trice, they lashed all four of us to the chairs like pigs in blankets. Except with rope, instead of bacon. Obviously.

Holmes and I were close enough to speak in low tones. ‘I think I can reach the jar,’ I said.

‘See if you can conceal it in your hand and get the lid off.’

‘Of course,’ I said, wishing I’d done that earlier.

‘Good. I’ve got a plan.’ Turning to face Mary, who was next to him, Holmes said in a loud voice, ‘Is it true what they say about a woman scorned, my dear?’ I knew from his tone of voice that he had also imparted some secret message to my dear wife. Her answer confirmed it.

‘Scorned, Holmes? Fucking scorned? I tell you, if that Italian lothario came back in here now, I’d tear his bloody face off.’ Her voice had risen in pitch to a near scream. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was really pissed off.

‘What’s that?’ said Moriarty, looking over. ‘The little woman rising from her baby carriage, is she?’

‘It’s ‘getting out of her pram’, you imbecile,’ said Holmes. He turned to me, ‘These bloody Scandinavians. Tch.’

Moriarty erupted. ‘Scandinavian? You think I’m Scandinavian?’

‘Aren’t you?’ said Holmes.

‘I’m an Icelander, you dolt, which makes me Nordic, not Scandinavian.’

Mary turned to Holmes. With a voice dripping in pure condescension, she said, ‘See, I told you.’

Moriarty glared at her. ‘Told him what?’

‘Oh, nothing. Just that I always knew there was something wrong with that so-called ice-cream seller.’

‘Something wrong?’

‘Yes. A Scandinavian lover wouldn’t have had such a tiny–’

‘No!’ he screamed. ‘Do not tell them. Do not, do not, do not!’

‘A tiny willie,’ said Mary, sniggering.

‘Now!’ shouted Holmes.

‘Sorry, what?’ said I.

Holmes stared at me and hissed, ‘The Chilli sauce, Watson. Throw it.’

‘I can’t get it out of my pocket,’ I said, demonstrating my inability to move.

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake …’

‘You didn’t give me a bloody chance,’ I said. ‘I’m not fucking Houdini.’

‘That, my dear Watson, is patently obvious.’

A sudden grinding noise came from the area at the back of the vast space. Twisting round, I saw that the floor we had arrived on had begun to move back up. I glanced at Holmes. ‘D’you think that’s …?’

‘Our saviour?’ muttered Holmes. ‘I do, Watson, I do.’

‘What’s happening?’ barked Moriarty, pushing workers aside as he stormed across the floor. ‘Who is that?’

Klopp hurried across to join him, shouting orders at the white-coated underlings. The pair stood gazing upwards as the floor reached its meeting point with the stone steps above and a second later began to slide back down again.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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