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What Lies Beneath…


Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade
The Dolphin Cove Hotel

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not used to this journal-keeping lark, but what with all the strange goings-on, and not having my usual police-issue notebook with me, I thought it best to get the details of the murder down on paper.

Following our initial assessment of the murder scene, Doctor Watson and myself brought in two paraffin lamps. We placed one on the chest of drawers and the other by the window. The light was not perfect, but illuminated the scene well enough for our examination. We then had a good look round the room and noted the following items of possible importance:

1. The naked body of Anthony Marston, strangled to death and nailed to the floor of the room in which he was occupying at the time, ie first floor bedroom – one of three on this side of the inn and with a single window from which the stable and yard can be observed. Said window frame is painted shut and therefore could not have been opened recently.

2. Items of furniture: one bed, one wardrobe, one chest of drawers, one rug (on top of which lies the body) and one piss-pot (unusually located on the floor between the bed and the wardrobe).

3. A small statuette of what I would’ve supposed was a red-Indian person, but which Doctor Watson tells me is properly termed a native American, depicted holding a bow and arrow and sporting a small feather in his headgear. This was found on the dead man’s chest when I first inspected the room. Doctor Watson assures me it was not present on his first assessment of the scene.

4. A piece of notepaper found pinned to the back of the dead man’s door, bearing the words ‘And then there were seven’ written in black ink. Again, Watson assures me this was not there before, but I suspect that on discovering the murder he may have neglected to check behind the door. For the present time, I shall assume the latter situation to be the case.

Aside from what is in the room, there are several bloodied footprints leading away from the doorway to the end of the passage. There is no indication of any similar footprints in either the dead man’s room or in the room beyond where the footprints end.

“And that’s our bleedin lot,” said I, having read over my notes for the benefit of Doctor Watson. “Unless I’ve missed anyfing?”

Watson shook his head, held up his hands and dropped them hopelessly at his sides, then tutted several times and shook his head again. I took this to signify he had nothing to add.

“What about the chamber pot?”

I looked up and saw Mrs Watson (lovely woman) standing in the doorway. “Ah,” I said, raising my hat in greeting, “Nice to see you again, Mary.”

“And you, Inspector,” said she. “But if you’ll permit me, I think there is a clue here.” Holding up her candle, she pointed at the pot, which still stood on the floor between the wardrobe and the bed.

“It’s in an odd position, right enough,” said Doctor Watson, “but I can’t see that it has any bearing on the murder.”

“Your ‘usband’s right, missus,” I said. “It’s just an empty piss-pot after all.”

Mrs Watson rolled her eyes in a way that made me feel a bit inferior (though I’m not sure why).

She stepped across and stood over the aforementioned item. “I may not be Sherlock Holmes’ most strident supporter, but sometimes I wonder if the pair of you ever listen to a bloody word he says. Imagine Holmes was here. Look at the pot through his eyes. Look at it properly.”

Watson and myself did as she asked, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what she was getting at.

“Well,” I said, straitening up and folding my arms, “I like ter fink I know the methods Mr Holmes utilises, but I can’t see anyfing.”

The good lady’s husband nodded. “Have to say, Lestrade’s right, m’dear. It’s just a chamber pot.”

At this, Mrs Watson let out sigh and her wonky eye swivelled back and forth, which made me think she must be annoyed with us.

Picking up the pot, she tipped it up. “Well?”

“It’s empty,” said Watson.

“And tell me, dear husband, where do we place a chamber pot when it is in a state of emptiness?”

I looked at Watson and he looked at me, then we both sort of got what she was going on about at the same time and the both of us turned to look under the bed. Now, I’m not one of those chaps that goes around putting down the fairer sex, but obviously womenfolk aren’t as bright as men are, for if they were, we’ve have them in all the top jobs that blokes do now. Anyway, this thought was running through my head when Mary Watson said something that proved she is not like other women.

“Move the bed across to the far wall.”

The Doc and myself exchange a look but thought it best to keep our thoughts to ourselves, so with him at one end and me at the other, we lifted up the bedstead and shuffling our feet, moved the whole thing a yard or so to the right, thereby exposing the space which would normally be unseen due to it being beneath the bed.

“Now,” said Mary. “What do you see?”

“Dust,” said the doctor.

“And what else?” Mary shook a finger at a particular patch of floorboard.

Taking care not to step into the cleared space, I strode forward and leaned down in order to see better. Watson crossed over and stood beside me and the two of us immediately grasped Mary’s meaning.

“There’s a mark,” said I.

“In the dust,” said Watson.

“Exactly,” said Mary. “A mark in the dust where the chamber pot stood.”

I looked at Mrs Watson with a new sense of admiration. “Someone moved it.”

She smiled. “Yes, Inspector. And why would someone move it?”

“It would only have been moved,” said Watson, “in order to…well, to take a leak. Excuse my language, darling.”

“You’re excused, Johnny. So, given that the pot is empty, it has not been used for its normal purpose, therefore I say again – why was it moved?”

Watson walked around to the wardrobe and looked at the place where the chamber pot had been found. “It was here, and it should have been there, and as it has not been used it must have been placed here for some other reason.”

“Finally, he gets it,” said Mary Watson. Then, crouching down on the floor, she ran a finger along the floorboards where the boards joined, right at the point where the chamber pot had stood. Holding the palm of her hand a few inches above the crack, she looked up. “Air. There’s a gap through to the room below. A gap that could accommodate…” She shrugged. “Well, come on – I’m not going to do all the work…”

Dropping to my knees, I put my eye to the crack and peered through. “It’s dark. What’s underneath this room?”

A moment later, all three of us were hurrying down the stairs, Mary holding one of the paraffin lamps and Watson brandishing his gun. Reaching the ground floor, we saw that directly underneath Marston’s room was a door. I tried the handle. It opened.

Watson grabbed my shoulder and held up his revolver. “Careful, Inspector.” And with that, the two of us stepped into the room.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Note on a Murder


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Dolphin Cove

Having dragged one of the serving girls out of bed and sent her to fetch the village constable, I urged the other guests to return to their rooms. Then, standing in the doorway of Marston’s bedchamber, I gazed down at his body.

“Oughtn’t we to stay and keep guard?” said Mary, clutching my arm.

“I’ll wait for the constable, or whoever passes for the law in this God-forsaken place.” I patted her bottom. “You try and get some sleep.”

After she’d gone, I stepped into Marston’s room and looked around. What would Holmes do? Rubbing my chin, I struggled to stimulate something approaching inspiration, but the killer had taken great pains to avoid leaving any trace of his (or her) tracks. The bloodied footprints were clearly a blind, no doubt intended to lead us, quite literally, in the wrong direction. But what I couldn’t get out of my head was the fact of the thump-thump-thump we’d heard only moments before discovering the body. How could the murderer have been in the room and then vanished completely? More mysterious was the fact that, according to Mrs Christie’s version, the prime suspect should be Justice Warmonger, yet he had only appeared on the scene after coming downstairs from his room in the attic and could not have carried out the murder, escaped Marston’s room and gone back upstairs without us seeing him.

Apart from the bed, which like our own, was a metal-framed affair with plenty of space underneath for storage, the only furniture was a rickety wardrobe, a chest of drawers next to the bed and a chamber pot that stood on the floor, rather oddly, between the bed and the wardrobe. A window in the wall opposite the door, looked out over the stables, but as the frame had been painted shut, it could not have been opened without leaving some trace of that fact. In short, there was nothing that indicated an explanation.

Crouching next to the dead man, I studied his wounds. If the killer had hammered the nails into the body while the poor chap was still alive, we’d have heard his screams. Therefore, he must have already been dead, or at least unconscious, at that point. Then again, if he had been insensible during the mutilation, the pain must surely have brought him round. In any case, the fact of him being nailed to the floor would not have been sufficient to kill him.

Undoing Marston’s pyjama jacket, I noted a thin red mark encircling his neck. He’d been strangled, which suggested the apparent crucifixion routine must have served as a form of symbolic act. Was this significant to Marston’s line of work? Could there be a possible connection to the manner of his death? After all, the characters in the novel had all committed crimes.

It was about half an hour later that I heard the clunk of the front door and guessed the serving girl had returned with the police. Hurrying down to join them, I met the girl on the stairs. The poor thing was soaked to the skin, but visibly thrilled to be assisting with a murder enquiry. She happily informed me that as the usual constable was ill, she had taken the liberty of continuing up the lane to her aunt’s house where a gentleman lodger had happened to mention he worked with the police. On requesting that same gentleman’s assistance, she had discovered him to be an officer by the name of Inspector Heehaw.

My suspicions on hearing such an obviously made-up name were immediately raised, but I had no wish to make assumptions. As Holmes would put it, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.’ I therefore determined to avail myself of the facts before jumping to conclusions.

“Oi put ‘im in the public bar, sor,” said the maid, wiping a hand across her face. “If you loike, Oi’ll make yous a pot of chockerlit ter warm yer’s up.” And with that she scurried off to the kitchen, leaving me to make my own introductions.

The newcomer stood near the fire with his back to me, shaking the worst of the rain from his greatcoat. From behind, he had the distinct characteristics of a weasel on two legs, his small head waggling back and forth as if sniffing out clues. As he turned around, he whipped up a finger to his lips, warning me against giving away his true identity.

“Ah,” I said, loudly enough for the maid to hear, “Inspector Heehaw, is it?” I strode forward to meet him and shook his hand warmly. Then, dropping my voice to a whisper, added, “Lestrade, what the bloody hell are you doing here?”

The little man giggled and leaning forward, muttered, “Your pal Holmes found out I was due some holidays, so he persuaded the Chief to let me to come down ‘ere and lend a hand.” He shook his head. “All unofficial, of course.”

“Of course,” I said. “Did the girl tell you what’s happened?”

“No, though I guessed it’d be a rum old do if you was needing me in the middle of the night.”

“I nodded. “It’s a rum do, right enough.”

Just then, the serving girl came back with our hot chocolate and two mugs. I thanked her and told her to get off to bed. Within a few minutes I had enlightened Lestrade as to the facts as I knew them and expressed concern at the lack of clues to the killer’s identity.

“Indeed,” said he. “Holmes did warn me things might proceed a bit quick, but I don’t believe even he expected the killings to start before you reached the island.” He sipped his drink. “Supposed I’d better have a look at the body.”

We finished our hot chocolate and went up to Marston’s room, however, there was now an additional item on the body that I knew had not been there before. A small black figurine, about the size of a matchbox, sat on Marston’s chest.

Placing a hand on Lestrade’s arm, I bade him wait, while I stepped forward. Nothing else in the room seemed to have altered, only this small statuette. Gingerly picking it up, I studied it closely, then passed it to Lestrade.

“Looks like a little Indian,” said he, holding it close to the candle. “See – little bow and arrow there, and a fevver in ‘is bonce. What d’you think, Doc?”

But I had been distracted by something else. Closing the bedroom door for privacy, I’d caught sight of a small rectangle of notepaper pinned to the back of the door. Taking out the drawing pin, I held the note up to the light. Five words were printed across it in small, neat handwriting:

And then there were seven.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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One Less for Breakfast


The Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

It was still dark when I awoke and the tingling sensation on my upper thigh suggested Johnny’s wandering hands were edging towards my ladyparts in the hope of some midnight fun. However, I soon realised he was merely rubbing my leg in order to wake me gently.

“What is it, darling,” I whispered, sensing danger.

“Thought I heard something.” He was sitting up straight, staring at the door of our room, his revolver held firmly in front of him. Following his gaze, I noted the chair was still propped against the door.

“Shall I light a candle” I said, reaching for the Swan Vestas.

“No, wait.” He cocked his head to one side. ”There it is again.”

Holding my breath, I listened and after a moment, a low thump-thump-thump came from the room next to ours.

“It’s just someone having a bunk-up,” I said, sliding my hand towards my husband’s marital equipment. “Which is what we could be doing…”

“Sh!” He hissed, holding up a finger. “It’s coming from Marston’s room.”

“Perhaps he got lucky with one of the gals,” I said.

“What? Bent Emily and Dreary Vera? I doubt that.”

“Then perhaps he’s doing man things with one of those soldier chaps. What is it squaddies say – one up the–”

“Yes yes, I know very well what they say, Mary. What I’m saying is that Marston told me he’s not been sleeping well. I gave him something to knock him out. He couldn’t sprout a Morning Glory if his life depended on it.”

I looked towards the door. “You think he might be in trouble?”

“I’m sure of it. Come on.” And with that he leaped out of bed and crept across the room. Pulling on my dressing gown I followed closely and a moment later we were standing on the cold floorboards in the passage.

Our room was the first door off the landing, so turning right, we padded along to the next one and paused outside the door.

“It’s stopped,” said Johnny. He leaned forward and pressed one ear to the wood panelling. “Can’t hear a thing now,” he murmured.

At the end of the passage, a small window allowed the moon to cast a silvery glow along the floor. I was pondering on the simple beauty of this when I noticed something. In several places between Mr Marston’s door and the one at the far end, there appeared to be marks on the floorboards. I tugged Johnny’s pyjamas.

“Look,” I whispered.

He looked at the floor and I heard a low moan escape his lips. Crouching down, he dipped a finger in the first of the wet marks. “It’s blood.”

Then, in a move that made me feel awfully proud, he jumped up, spun round and aimed a kick at Marston’s door. The wood splintered and the door sprang open, banging back against the wall with a thud.

There, sprawled across his floor, lay Mr Marston, completely naked and covered in blood. His hands and feet had been skewered to the floor with huge iron nails.

“Oh, my Christ…” I muttered. “Is he…?”

Johnny knelt down beside the man and touched two fingers to the poor fellow’s carotid artery. Then looking up, he shook his head.

For a moment, we said nothing, simply staring at each other in utter disbelief. Then Johnny stood up and strode past me back into the passageway. I watched as he followed the trail of bloody footprints to the far end, where he halted. Standing there in the moonlight, illuminated like one of those quaint silhouettes that used to be so popular, his features reminded me a little of Holmes, with his jutting chin and determined stance suggesting a man about to pounce on the culprit. Raising his gun, he took a step forward, but in that same instant, the door jerked open and Emily Bent appeared, holding a candle in one hand and tugging her nightdress around herself with the other.

“Something wrong, Doctor Armstrong?” she said, in a voice so soft I had to strain to hear her.

“Damn right there’s something wrong,” barked Johnny, pushing her back into the room.

Hurrying along to join them, I saw my husband shove the woman roughly onto her bed. I was about to object on her behalf when his reasoning became clear.

“Show me your feet,” he ordered, taking the candle from her.

The woman stared at me, her mouth open in shock, but nevertheless, she held up first one naked foot and then the other.

Johnny examined each one intently, using the edge of a bedsheet to wipe the soles of each foot. After a minute, he stood up. “Nothing,” he said, turning to me. “No blood.”

At this point, a rumpus behind me told us our fellow travellers had emerged from their rooms to see what the fuss was all about.

General MacArthur was first on the scene. He stood in the doorway, looking at each of us in turn, before demanding, “What’s the meaning of this? Waking a chap up in the middle of the bally night, what?”

Johnny took my hand and led me past Messrs Blah and Lombardi and a wide-eyed Vera Claymore, to Marston’s door. He pointed. “Tony Marston’s dead.”

The General looked at the scene before us. “Oh. Bugger.”

A clump-clump-clump nearby caused me to whirl round. Justice Warmonger had descended from the floor above and stared down at me as if I were something he’d stepped in. “Ah. Mrs Armstrong. Something wrong, is there?”

I nodded in the direction of the dead man. “In there.”

Warmonger leaned forward and peered in. “Ah. One less for breakfast, then.” And with that he turned around and tramped back to his room.

I looked at Johnny and saw the fear in his eyes. The killing had started.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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Death and Other Anxieties


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Our travelling documents stated that we must reach Dolphin Cove – a small village a few miles up the coast from Land’s End – by the following Friday lunchtime. Some chap with a boat would meet us at the harbour and take us across to Huge Island (which apparently does not live up to its name). Whether we were to encounter our fellow travellers at that point was unclear, and it was for this reason, and several others, that I decided to spend our train journey reading a copy of Mrs Christie’s novel, in the hope it might shed light on our forthcoming adventure.

“You do realise,” said Mary, flicking through a copy of Detective Monthly, “that we shall probably all be horribly murdered?”

“I should have thought that horribly was the only way to be murdered,” I said, giving her a playful wink.

“Don’t be obtuse, Johnny,” she snapped. “The only reason I agreed to this mad outing is my belief that between the two of us and Mr Big Nose, we can solve this thing.” She cast the magazine aside. “I do hope I’m right – If we all get killed, I’ll be really annoyed.”

Flipping to the end om my book, I said, “D’you recall who the culprit is in Mrs Christie’s version?”

“The judge.”

“Ah. So all we need do is look out for a wizened old magistrate or some such.”

Mary sighed and shook her head. “Really, husband, sometimes I despair of you.”

“What on earth d’you mean, darling?”

“Well, for a start, I’m not in the book and you’re not who you say you are. Don’t you think it’s probable none of the others will be who they say they are either?”

I considered this for a moment. “Of course. Even so, they’ll all have the same names as the characters in the novel? I mean, I am posing as Doctor Armstrong, the Harley Street Doctor.”

“Yes, but your Doctor Armstrong – the one with consumption – doesn’t work in Harley Street, does he?”

“No – he’s a junior doctor at St Bart’s.”

“There you are, then.” She sat back, satisfied.

I gazed out of the window at the long gardens and allotments whizzing past in the fading afternoon light. “I hope the hotel’s nice.”

“In any case,” said Mary, deftly avoiding my attempt to change the course of the conversation, “we’re not taking part in a book, are we? This is real, with real people and a real murderer.”

“We don’t know for sure it isn’t some ghastly joke.”

“Yes, darling, we do – no-one in their right mind would go to all this trouble to play a trick on a bunch of strangers.”

“No, I suppose you’re right.” I returned to my book with a view to finding out how my particular character meets his end and was a little disturbed to discover, a short while later, that Armstrong’s body is found washed up on the beach, having previously been suspected as the killer.

I persuaded myself there was nothing to worry about. Sherlock Holmes would utilise his skills in observation, logical reasoning and all-round clever-dickiness to save the day. After all, he’d pulled us back from the edge of death many times before.

“Besides, “ said Mary, butting into my musings, “Holmes won’t let us die – he’d have no-one to write up his adventures.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said I, but my resolve had begun to slide away and I had the awful feeling that this time, Holmes had made a terrible error of judgement.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Game’s Afoot

Exchanging a meaningful look with Holmes, I approached our visitor and knelt down beside him.

“How long have you had this cough?” I said.

He shrugged. “Three weeks, maybe four.”

Looking at his jacket I saw that it hung rather loosely about his torso. “And you’ve lost weight?”

He nodded.

“Night fevers? Sweats?”

Again he nodded, then looking into my eyes, I saw he knew as well as I did what the trouble was.

Returning to my seat, I allowed myself a moment before confirming my diagnosis. “Consumption, I’m afraid.”

Holmes waved the white card. “You think a spell on this island might help?”

“Of course, if it happened to be in the Caribbean, but the Devon coast is too cold at this time of year.” I cast a sidelong glance at Doctor Armstrong. “It might finish him off.”

“That’s it, then,” said Holmes, leaping to his feet. Crossing the room, he pulled the doctor from his chair and patted him heartily on the back. “Off to Barbados with you, my man. My colleague and I shall deal with this other matter.”

The visitor muttered his thanks and left.

“This other matter?” I said, when Holmes had seated himself again.

My friend took a few moments to fill his pipe and light it, puffing away until a cloud of blue smoke had almost engulfed him. “This doctor has been invited to an island, all-expenses paid, for reasons neither he nor we can guess, except for the ‘wonderful opportunity’ mentioned in the invitation. The doctor does not know his benefactor and has no conception of what may occur on his arrival. Following my initial interview with Armstrong and my investigations yesterday, I took the liberty of amending the doctor’s tickets to include another passenger – your wife.”

“You wish me to go in his place? And with Mary?” I sat back, aghast.

“To the Eastern Isles, yes.” Holmes dropped his voice. “My enquiries have unearthed a few odd, but important facts – as well as the good doctor, seven other individuals have been invited to this island. I suspect each of them has no idea as to why, which is suggestive, don’t you think?”

“Of what, Holmes?”

“Of murder, Watson. This has all the hallmarks of a master plan – something that has put the perpetrator to a great deal of trouble.”

A short burst of laughter escaped my lips before I could stop it. “Sorry, Holmes, but this whole thing sounds completely ridiculous.”

Holmes nodded. “Indeed it does, and I should think so to if it were not for one small fact.” Standing, he reached behind his chair to the bookshelf and took down a single volume, sheathed in a colourful paper dust-jacket with white and red lettering. “Here,” he said, waving the item. “A piece of fiction by the female authoress we know as Mrs Christie – I believe your wife has read a few of her efforts.”

I took the proffered volume and looked at the cover. “They changed the title?”

Holmes grunted. “Ah yes, some issue with offending certain communities, I believe. However, the point is that this story starts off with eight individuals being invited to a mysterious island where they are picked off, one by one, until there are none.”

I considered this for a moment, then said, “And you want Mary and I to go there and find out if this is some copycat killer?”

“Precisely.”

“And you don’t think this mysterious person may cotton on to the fact that I am not Doctor Armstrong?”

Holmes shook his head. “I suspect Armstrong has never actually met his intended benefactor and the latter’s knowledge of him likely relates to personal details, education and so forth. Also, as it happens, you do bear a vague resemblance to Armstrong in terms of height, bearing etcetera, though I suggest the application of a little hair dye and the removal of your moustache will aid the charade.”

“Shave off my moustache?” I exclaimed, fingering my facial development. “But I grew it especially for Mary – she likes the way it tickles her–”

“Yes, yes, spare me the details, Watson. The point is, the only fly in the ointment from the point of view of our would-be murderer, will be the appearance of Mary. And I’m certain you’ll be able to explain that away without arousing his suspicions.”

“But surely,” I protested, “It would be easier to simply prevent each of these people from going to the island in the first place?”

“Of course it would, Watson, but then we should not find out who the murderer is.”

I let out a long sigh, though I could not conceal my curiosity. “Seems a bit of a risk.”

“Yes, which is why I shall be coming along too, though no-one must know of my presence in order that I may have time to evaluate the situation and catch the killer before he, or she, strikes.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is the game afoot?”

I smiled. “Yes, Holmes, the game’s afoot.”

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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Invitation to a Murder


Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Wednesday January 25th, 1892

NB It has been some months since my last encounter with my friend and colleague Sherlock Holmes and even longer since we were involved in a case of any significance. Shortly after the adventure related in my story ‘Revenge of the Hooded Claw’, the Great Detective set off for Burma on the trail of arch-villain Dr Fu Manchu. Though I had urged him to allow me to accompany him, he was adamant I should remain in Londen with a view to ‘being my ears and eyes’ in his absence.

Initially, I interpreted this as a snub, and spent several weeks bemoaning the fact that my worth must be as relevant to him as a dead horse, since he rarely gave praise or complemented me on my intuition. However, after prompt replies to my weekly letters, I realised he did value my contributions but had considered my safety (and that of my wife’s) as paramount in his investigation.

Having dispatched my latest missive last Friday, I was somewhat surprised to receive a telegram from Holmes this morning summoning me to Baker Street. It seems he’d returned to the metropolis and wished to see me as a matter of some urgency.

Mrs Hudson caught me in a bear hug at the front door, then showed me upstairs with her usual eagerness, though all the while uttering remarks relating how that, in her tenant’s absence, I had simply ‘not bovvered’ with her, or considered that she might like ‘a bit ov male company ov a dark and dreary night’.

Issuing a few compliments on her appearance and the warmth of her welcome, I was heartened to see her wizened face light up once again. She left me at the door with the promise of heating up a trayful of muffins and a pot of hot chocolate.

“Ah, Watson,” said my companion as I entered the sitting room. “Glad you could make it.”

Holmes was seated in his usual armchair by the fire, and waving me into my former pew opposite, gestured to the corner of the room to which, until that moment, I had not paid any attention. Making myself comfortable, I looked over and for the first time discerned the figure of a man sitting in shadow. His hat was pulled over his eyes and a dark suit did nothing to illuminate his complexion.

Glancing at Holmes, I said, “A visitor?”

Holmes nodded and resting his elbows on the arms of his chair, steepled his fingers. “Doctor Watson, I should like you to meet a fellow medical man, Doctor Eddie Armstrong. In a moment I should be obliged if you would utilise your skills and examine him, but for now please take a look at this.” Reaching up to the mantelshelf, he took down a piece of white card and passed it across to me.

Holding the item between finger and thumb, I peered at it. “Postcard size, weight – perhaps two hundred or two hundred and fifty grams. Standard layout for an invitation. Printed by…” Turning it over, I saw the reverse side was blank. “No printer’s mark, which might suggest the sender doesn’t want anyone to know where it was produced.”

Holmes nodded. “Excellent. What else?”

“Well,” I said, “the wording is traditional – request the pleasure of your presence, etcetera etcetera. Sort of thing one might expect from a well-to-do house in relation to a ball, or some such.”

“Good. And?”

Holding the card up to the light, I detected no watermark or other signature. “Nothing, except…”

Holmes leaned forward eagerly. “Yes?”

“Rather enigmatic, I should say.”

“Why?” said Holmes, a smile playing around his thin mouth.

“Why? Because of the name – Mister Ulrich Norman Owen. The first one, Ulrich, is German. Old High German I should think, then Norman, well that’s of English origin, possibly from Scottish or Gaelic derivation. And, Owen of course, is Welsh.” I passed the card back to him, feeling rather pleased with myself. “So this is an invitation from a German English Welshman.”

Holmes guffawed, but his features immediately slid back into his customary impassive gaze. He looked across at our visitor. “Which is exactly what Doctor Armstrong thought.”

The man in the corner coughed suddenly and whipping out a large handkerchief, covered his mouth. Even so, I couldn’t help noticing a few spots of blood appeared on the cream-coloured material.

“Yes, indeed,” said the Doctor. “But more importantly…” he coughed again. “More importantly, I’ve never heard of this fellow, or the place mentioned on the invitation.”

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Colonel’s Choice


From the Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Holmes nudged me. ‘This is our chance, Watson.’

Keeping our eyes on the action in front of us, we began to edge our way towards the partially open double doors. Moriarty was screaming and together with the Claw’s maniacal laughter and the screeching saw blade, we could have broken into a hearty four-part harmony without anyone paying us the remotest attention.

As we slid out of the warehouse, I glanced back and saw that the Professor was only inches away from certain death.

‘Look here, Holmes,’ I whispered. ‘We can’t just leave him like this.’

‘Why not – he fully intended doing the same thing to us in Edinburgh.’

I sighed. ‘I suppose, but it seems…’ And then I noticed there was someone standing nearby. A man in dark clothing walked slowly toward us, a rifle in his hands. It was pointing straight at Holmes.

‘Sherl…’ I said, tapping my companion on the arm. ‘We’ve got company.’

Holmes turned to look and immediately broke into a broad grin. ‘Chief Bromide – what on earth are you doing here?’ He started forward, then stopped abruptly.

The newcomer had reached up and taken off his hat. Now, pulling at his hair, he removed the long black wig. Holding the hairpiece like a duster, he proceeded to wipe his face, removing whatever dark pigment he had used to disguise his true colouring.

Holmes let out a low sigh. ‘Ah. Well, this is unexpected. I thought you were dead?’ He twisted round and looked at me. ‘Watson, I don’t believe you’ve met – this is Sebastian Moran, Professor Moriarty’s left-hand man.’

The other man levelled the gun so it was now pointing at Sherlock’s head. ‘It’s right-hand man, actually,’ he said. ‘Now, Mister Holmes, it seems I got here just in time.’ He waggled the rifle toward the still-open doors. ‘Get back inside.’

Holmes shook his head. ‘I think not, Colonel, you see if you want to save your boss, you’re not going to have time to shoot all of us, and the Claw, and his henchmen before the Professor gets his testicles divided, so I suggest you focus on what your employer would wish you to focus on. I should think you’ve got about eight seconds left…’ He nodded towards the warehouse.

Keeping the rifle trained on us, Moran peered through the crack in between the doors. A look of irritation swept over his face and in an instant, he had burst through the gap. Seconds later a hail of bullets told us it was time to go, so still tied together, we hurried down to the rowing boats.

I won’t bore you with the details of our escape but suffice it to say that the gigantic metal fish (which Holmes has christened the Nautilus), is now safely back in dry dock at Burgen, where a team of Government experts are trying to work out how it got stolen in the first place. Colonel Moran did save Moriarty’s life, but killed several people in the process, one of which may have been the Hooded Claw, although reports of his death have not been confirmed.

Penelope Pitstop retained her title at Brooklands race track a few weeks ago and promised to visit us all the next time she’s in Londen.

Our old friend Inspector Buckingham Caddy was called in to investigate events at The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed, where a certain Nurse Ratched is facing questions regarding her continued employment as Matron.

For myself, there are several points in the case that still puzzle me, not least of which is why and how Penelope came to be involved, since there appears to be no connection between her and the Hooded Claw (or Moriarty, for that matter), leaving me with the impression that Holmes and I missed some vital clue. However, as my dear Mary says, it’ll all come out in the wash.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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