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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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Revenge of the Claw


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

As we watched, a familiar figure emerged out of the shadows.

‘Here he is – your own, your very own, Professor James Moriarty!’ The Hooded Claw waved his hook enthusiastically and the two villains embraced.

‘Good evening,’ said the Professor, smiling benignly. ‘Lovely to see you Mister Holmes, and so nice that you’re here with your faithful assistant, Mister Peabrain Watson, his whore of a wife and her lesbian lover.’

I was about to let rip with a torrent of vitriol, when Holmes held up a warning finger. ‘Don’t do it, John,’ he murmured. Then, raising his voice, ‘Sticks and stones, Professor, sticks and stones.’

‘Yes indeed,’ said the Claw, patting Moriarty on the shoulder. ‘But to business. As I intimated earlier to Doctor Watson, I do intend to kill you all, but that is not to happen for some considerable time yet.’ He paused and glanced at Moriarty, whose smile wavered a little. ‘No, what I’d like to do is to cause all four of you, but especially you, Shirley, to be brought before your English courts and tried for murder, then thrown into jail for a period of months where you will all be buggered soundly every day by the biggest and ugliest inmates, and then finally, I shall infiltrate the prison and execute each of you myself in a truly horrifying and wonderfully painful manner.’

Moriarty’s smile had disappeared, and an expression of absolute rage took its place. He stared at his companion and said in a low and threatening voice, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’

The Claw grinned and clicked his fingers. In an instant his men had grabbed Moriarty and tied his arms and legs using some of the leather straps from either side of the circular saw.

‘Claw! Claw,’ What’s going on?’ yelled the villain, struggling helplessly against his bonds.

‘Now, Mister Holmes,’ said the Claw, ignoring Moriarty’s protestations. ‘I should like you to tell me which of us…’ he waggled his hook between himself and the Professor. ‘Which of us is the greater villain?’

‘Ah,’ said Holmes. ‘I see.’

‘Come on, come on,’ urged the Claw, waving his arms.

‘Let me see, now,’ said Holmes rubbing his chin with his free hand. ‘Which of you is the greater?’ He made a show of considering this, then shrugged. ‘Clearly the Hooded Claw is the greater villain.’

‘Hah!’ yelled the Claw triumphantly.

‘Although…’ continued Holmes, thoughtfully.

The Claw ceased his revelry and stared. ‘Although what?’

‘Well,’ said Holmes. ‘In an ideal world there would be three villains to choose from.’

Both the Claw and Moriarty fell silent, then in perfect unison said, ‘Three?’

‘Three,’ said Holmes. He held up a finger. ‘The Professor, of course.’ Another finger. ‘Yourself.’ A third finger. ‘And the Woman.’

‘Sorry, what?’ said the Claw, his lower lip trembling slightly.

‘Sorry, I meant to say, The Woman,’ repeated Holmes. ‘Irene Adler.’

‘Fine,’ said the Claw, ‘but she’s not here, so who do you choose?’

Holmes shrugged again. ‘Moriarty.’

‘What?’ exploded the Claw, jumping up and down.

‘After all, he is the Napoleon of crime, so…’ He smiled. ‘Don’t you agree, Mister Claw?’

At this, the Claw spun round, screaming at Moriarty. ‘The Napoleon of crime, the Napoleon of fucking crime? Well, I’ll tell you, Moriarty, you’re just like Napoleon – small, ineffectual and dead from the neck down. Come and work with me, you said. I’ll teach you how to be a proper arch-villain, you said. Oh yes, had me running around like a headless goat doing this, doing that, doing every bloody thing you told me just so I could benefit from your massive intellectual abilities. Well, it’s time someone showed you who’s boss and I can tell you – it’s me!’ He waved a hand at the four of us and continued, ‘This bunch of incompetent defectives foiled my plans once before, but this time I’ve got the upper hand. I’m going to carve you up and blame it on Sherlock Bloody Holmes and his pals, then we’ll see who’s laughing.’

He barked out a series of orders and watched as his men tied the Professor onto the conveyor belt, legs wide, in a position that would enable his body to be sliced perfectly up the middle.

‘Start the machine,’ yelled the Claw.

One of the henchmen pressed a button and the circular saw screamed into life, its shimmering silvery disc demanding everyone’s attention. Another button was pressed, and the conveyor belt began to trundle along, propelling Moriarty towards what would be a quick, but painful death.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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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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In the Belly of the Beast


Diary of Doctor J. Watson

Awakened by a dull clanking noise, I became aware of the soft thud, thud of something cold and unyielding against the back of my skull.

Opening my eyes, I found myself staring at a wall consisting of riveted metal panels. The rest of the room was decorated in much the same manner; therefore the obvious conclusion must be that I was seated on the floor of a giant sardine tin, the rather fishy smell assailing my nostrils doing nothing to dissuade me from this initial impression. It was also clear from the rough bindings that scratched against my bare skin that both wrists and ankles were securely bound – visual confirmation in this case was not required. More annoyingly, a dull ache in my neck and shoulders persuaded me sudden movements would cause pain – and I was right, for as I turned to look to my left, a stinging sensation ran through my upper body, as if someone had thrown me to the floor several times in order to ensure a generous selection of bruises.

‘Bloody Norah,’ I muttered.

‘Johnny, you’re awake. Thank God.’

I blinked. The room was dark, but I was able to make out my dear wife’s fluttering eyelids and winning smile. Even her wonky eye seemed brighter than usual. She was crouched beside me, her fingers busily sawing at my bonds with what looked like a small metal clasp.

‘Is that a hairpin?’ I said, already feeling a slight give as the outer strands of the ropes began to part.

‘It’s a mini-hacksaw blade disguised as a hairpin.’ She grinned. ‘Mycroft gave it to me.’

‘Mycroft,’ I muttered. ‘Of course. And what did you do for him this time?’

Mary stopped sawing. ‘Oh, come on, Johnny, you surely aren’t still harbouring suspicions of that sort, are you?’ Turning her attention back to freeing me, she continued the back and forth motion while I took in the rest of our surroundings. Next to Mary sat Penelope, whose bonds had also been cut, and next to her, to my utter amazement, sat Sherlock Holmes, clad in a dressing gown and slippers.

‘Ah, Watson, glad you could join us,’ he said, waving a hand in greeting. ‘No doubt you’ll be wondering where we are?’ He peered at me. ‘Care to hazard a guess?’

I sniffed and leaned back, taking a moment to listen to the sounds that had summoned me from my slumbers. The wall behind me shuddered rhythmically, and there was a definite mechanical quality to the regular pounding above our heads, one aspect of which was a kind of gentle swirling sensation, that buffeted the walls of our prison. Given that all four of us were inside a metal container, the answer seemed obvious.

‘We’re inside that bloody iceberg again.’

Holmes rolled his eyes. ‘No, no, no, Watson. Once again, you see but you do not observe.’

‘Of course not,’ I said, grumpily. ‘Unfortunately, I’m not really in the mood for guessing games, so why don’t you just tell me?’

Holmes grinned gleefully. ‘Very well. As you will see from the expert manner in which the metal plates are joined together, this is a professionally constructed craft, much more so than the iceberg, which is little more than a metallic shell surrounding the essential mechanicals of the steam-powered undersea torpedo-ship we are so familiar with. More specifically, if you look at the lower sections of each plate, you can just make out the S and F insignia. This vessel was not constructed in some underground base in the Outer Hebrides, where, by the way, Moriarty’s current headquarters are located, but by the Shurgen and Furgen shipyard in Burgen.’

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. ‘Shurgen and Furgen? You’re talking bollocks again, Sherlock.’

Holmes shook his head vigorously. ‘Not at all, though I shouldn’t be surprised you haven’t heard of them – Shurgen and Furgen specialise in building ships on government contracts where a high degree of secrecy is required.’

‘Even if that’s true,’ I countered, ‘any company carrying out government work wouldn’t get involved with a known villain.’

‘Quite,’ said the other,’ which is why the Hooded Claw stole this vessel from the Burgen shipyard six weeks ago.’ He glanced at me. ‘Close your mouth, Watson. You can do your guppy impression when the Claw throws us into the murky waters. No, in fact we are currently residing in a prototype intended for an armada of submarines to bolster the British fleet in the next war.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Which I believe is scheduled to start just after the Oxford and Bainbridge Boat Race.’

I closed my mouth and considered this new information. Then something else occurred to me. ‘Hang on, Holmes, how can the Claw have stolen this thing from Burgen, when we’re in the middle of a lake? Answer that, if you can.’

Mary and Penelope both looked at me, then at Holmes.

‘Good point,’ said the Great Detective. ‘I imagine some form of flying machine, or overland apparatus was utilised, but for the moment, it is a question I am not currently in a position to answer.’

No-one said anything for a moment, then Penelope piped up, ‘So when are you boys goin ter get us out of this mess, then?’

Just then, a scuffling noise came from the wall opposite, and a second later, a door opened up and a familiar face peered through.

‘Ah-ha, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the Hooded Claw. ‘So you have managed to free yourselves? Excellent. Please follow me.’ He disappeared back through the doorway and in case we had any ideas of escape, two henchmen brandishing rifles appeared either side of the hatch.

‘Time to do my guppy impression, I think,’ said I, with a nervous laugh.

‘Oh no,’ said Holmes. ‘The Claw’s hardly likely to have bothered to bring us this far only to throw us overboard. No, I’m sure he has something much more painful in store.’

‘Thanks for that, Holmes,’ I said, with only a hint of sarcasm. ‘You always know just what to say.’ And with that, I followed him through the door and up the steps to the deck.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Fishy Tale


From the Journal of Sherlock Holmes
Ullswater
Cumbria

Assuring my fellow inmate that I would happily ‘grass him up’ to Nurse Ratched if he should falter, I positioned him by the bathroom door as my look-out and set about climbing onto a wooden cabinet in a bid to reach the high window. Pulling myself up to the ledge, I was easily able to see over the sill and look down on the lake below.

The foundations of the Institute were built on a rocky crag close to the water, so from my perch three storeys up, I calculated the water’s edge could not have been more than forty-seven feet away. This allowed me a classic birds-eye view of the harbour area. From the layout of the jetty, I reasoned its original purpose was to cater for the twice-daily steam launch that passed for a bus service, dropping off and picking up passengers at various points along the shore. What struck me as odd, however, was the sheer length of the jetty – it appeared far too long to accommodate the day-to-day comings and goings of a thirty-foot launch.

“Urry up, mate,” hissed Cutler, waving a hand in my direction. “The orderlies’ll be along soon and then we’ll be for it.”

“Just a moment,” I said, fishing in my dressing gown for my spyglass. Extending the instrument, I studied the point at the jetty which I judged to be the optimal area for boats and the like to tie up, and I noticed a disparity – the timber utilised for the main section of the landing-stage showed a clear demarcation line where a new section had been added (the colouring of the wood being a shade lighter and its grain more compact, signifying also that this addition had been carried out within the last year). The only reason I could see for such a supplementary construction must be to enable the jetty to reach further out into the lake where the water was considerably deeper, the sort of depth one might require in accommodating a much larger vessel.

And that’s when it happened.

The water around the mid-section of the jetty began to bubble and foam, as if several divers where rising hurriedly to the surface. However, it was not aquanauts emerging from the silvery water that caused the effervescence, but a vessel of the kind I had never seen before. It was the fin which broke the surface first – a gigantic metal fin that must have been a dozen feet in height and twice as much again in length. But this was nothing compared to the beast it was attached to. Rising slowly out of the lake, a gleaming silver fish appeared, its total length close to that of the wooden jetty itself, which seemed like a child’s toy alongside the beast’s massive bulk.

“My God,” I muttered.

“You’ve seen it, then,” said Cutler, recognising the look of amazement that had emblazoned itself across my habitually stolid features.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve seen it.” But then a flash of recognition seared through my brain and I realised I’d observed the gigantic metal fish before. Whatever Nurse Ratched had given me, had virtually erased the item from my memory and only now was I able to recall my actions on seeing this very same vessel the evening before.

“Quickly,” I urged, clambering down from the cabinet. “I must record these details before that damned nurse has another opportunity to pump her evil juice into my body.” Hurrying back to my bed, I slid a hand into the opening I’d made in the side of the mattress, but my slender fingers failed to make contact with the book’s moleskin cover.

“Looking for this, Mr Holmes?”

Raising my head, I knew before I saw it that she had my journal in her thieving hands. “Give that back, you evil temptress,” I muttered, striding towards her.

She gave a shrug and tossed the book across to me, her pendulous bosoms trembling with the effort of movement. “Interesting reading,” she said, “though I’m afraid your enthralling account won’t be making it into print anytime soon – don’t want the world to discover what’s really going on here, do we?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Cutler sliding along the wall towards his own bed, no doubt intending to slide between the sheets before she noticed him. Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched’s henchmen were already waiting with a large syringe and a straitjacket. Within seconds, the poor man was prostrate on the floor, his screams muzzled by a rubber gag. Moments later, he lay quiet, arms tied behind his back via the restraining garment that now encased half his body.

“You won’t get away with this,” I said. “Even now, my faithful companion Doctor John Watson is on his way here. We’ll blow your evil plan out of the water before your villainous leader can say Jack Robinson.”

“J-a-c-k R-o-b-i-n-s-o-n,” articulated an all-too-familiar gravelly voice from the far end of the room.

His mocking words prompted a sinking feeling in my guts, the kind of sinking feeling I imagine Watson encounters on a regular basis. In my case, though, it was a new experience and I did not like it – I did not like it one little bit. Turning my head, I gave the newcomer a rueful smile in the hope of appearing considerably more relaxed than I felt. “Ah, Mister Claw. We meet again.”

“So,” he said, locking the dormitory door behind him. “You have uncovered my dastardly plan?”

Oddly, it was only now that I noticed how quiet the dormitory had become. Apart from Cutler’s, all the beds were empty. My fellow patients had vacated the room. How this had occurred without any of them making a sound, was a mystery – had they secretly been awake earlier, waiting for some sign, some prearranged signal? If so, it could only have happened while I was in the bathing area, but with Cutler on lookout, he must have seen whatever had occurred. Was he part of this evil plan too? In any case, it was no coincidence – the Claw had been here all along, watching me, waiting for his chance. But to do what? And why?

“Well,” I said, stalling for time while probing my massive brain for some clue as to what the hell was going on. “Obviously I know about the fish.”

He raised an eyebrow. “A new type of submarine, that is all. Nothing sinister about that, is there, Mister Holmes?”

A dozen ideas flashed through my brain, none of them making any sense in connection with the water-dwelling contraception. “You’ve discovered a new type of fuel,” I ventured. “Something that will threaten the major powers of the world.”

“I have, as it happens,” he said with a smile. “But that is another project. No, this is something far simpler.” He paused, then, “Can’t you guess? Your biographer Johnny Watson mentioned it in one of his early articles for The Strand Magazine.” He smirked. “The story was replaced in the second printing of that particular edition.”

For a moment, I was stumped, struggling to recall which of our early escapades he referred to. Then it came to me: “Ah, you mean The Laird and the Wicker Mannie?

He nodded slowly, making a get-on-with-it motion with his metallic hand, his jaw set hard in a grimace of annoyance.

“The new story was called The Lady in Red, I think.”

The Claw let out a growl, the veins in his forehead throbbing furiously. “A Study in Scarlet, you imbecile.”

“Ah yes,” I said. “It was substituted due to some indiscretion of John’s regarding–”

“Get to the fucking point, Holmes,” screamed the Claw, his face flushing purple.

Gazing out of the window, I noted the appearance of grey-black clouds scudding across the sky, blocking out the sun – an ominous sign. “Very well. The word you’re referring to is ‘rache’ – a German term meaning…” I looked at him. “Revenge.”

The Claw’s anger subsided. “Precisely,” he murmured. “And that revenge begins now…”

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Detective Fiction

 

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