True to his word, Moran sent in one his henchmen with bowls of chicken broth, bread, and a pot of tea. I noticed the patterned milk jug matched the cups and saucers, which, along with a single silver teaspoon, added a nice touch—not the sort of thing you’d expect from a master criminal and crack-shot assassin. When the thug had gone, Mary played mother and we sat for a few minutes concentrating on filling our stomachs. Lestrade’s slurping would normally have irritated me, but the knowledge the inspector would be dead in less than a day, pushed such self-interested thoughts from my mind.
Collecting the empty bowls, Mary piled them up on the tray and poured herself another cup of tea. “By the way,” she said. “I noticed Moran’s fingers.”
“Oh, yes? What about them?”
“Manicured. Seemed a bit odd considering his background. You don’t think he prefers men, do you?”
Holmes laughed. “Not if the stories about him and Lady Windermere’s fanny are true.”
“Just a thought.” She sipped her tea for a moment, then, “So, d’you have any ideas? Some clever scheme to get us out of this mess?”
“Several, my dear,” said the big-nosed detective. “But none that would bear fruit in our current situation.” He eyed the two thugs still guarding the door to the basement. “Left to our own devices we might have a chance but with our two friends here, I doubt we’d make it out of this room alive.”
“D’you still think Blackwood is involved in this?” I said.
Holmes shrugged. “It seems unlikely, given their previous relationship. However, I can’t imagine he’d allow Moran to take over Londen’s criminal empire without a fight.” He took out his meerschaum and began stuffing it with tobacco. “Besides, Blackwood still has that damned book of Ravensburg’s. Christ knows what he might achieve with that.”
Lestrade took a slurp of tea and swallowed noisily. “What exactly is this book he’s got, then?”
“Magic and witchcraft,” I said.
“Oh. Gonna murder us wiv magic?”
“I doubt it,” said Holmes. “Blackwood is far too clever to believe in such nonsense.”
“But you told me he brought himself back from the dead,” put in Mary.
Holmes let out a sigh. “Mary, Mary, Mary. The book may be stuffed with ancient spells and incantations, but we all know magic doesn’t exist. Whatever Blackwood did to apparently come to life again, will have a perfectly simple explanation. That book will prove effective for him only if he can make others believe he possesses supernatural powers.”
Lestrade straightened up in his chair. “He made out he were able ter cast a spell over all the politicians an that in the ‘ouses of Parliament. Course, what he really done was try to gas them with cyanide, after givin his own men the antidote.” He winked at Holmes. “Would’ve got away wiv it, too, if it weren’t for Sherl.”
“Yes,” said Holmes, a smile creasing his face. “We chased him across tower bridge, which at the time was still under construction. Silly sod fell off and hanged himself from a loose chain.”
I nodded. “Still bloody survived, though didn’t he?”
“Perhaps, Doctor,” said Holmes, banging a fist on the arm of his chair, “we may be getting away from the point.”
“Which is, that by this time tomorrow we shall all be as dead as dumplings unless we come up with an escape plan.”
One of the thugs looked over. “Don’t mind us. We won’t say nufink, will we, Bert?” He guffawed loudly and after a moment, his mate joined in.
“And we shall have to do it,” added Holmes, “quietly.”
The door to the other room opened and one of the other thugs came in, picked up the tray with the soup bowls and went out, leaving the door open. For a moment, I wondered if it might be worth having a look inside, but just then Maudie Ratched appeared. She crooked a finger at Mary.
“Come along, girlie. Me an you are going to have some fun.”
I saw Mary press herself into her chair, gripping the arms with white knuckles. “I’m not going anywhere with you, bitch.”
Maudie produced a dagger and waved it around. “We can do it the easy way or the fuckin painful way. You choose—I don’t care.”
Holmes had his back to the door. He raised an eyebrow at Mary and, opening his hand, showed the silver teaspoon he’d been hiding. Mary gave a quick nod.
“Very well,” she said, standing. Crossing to me, she crouched and kissed my cheek. She did the same with Lestrade (which must have made his day) then, passing Sherlock, bent down to kiss him and slid the teaspoon up the sleeve of her dress.
“Bye boys,” she said, turning at the door. “If you hear screaming, it won’t be me.”
On hearing a key turn in the lock, the brace of thugs guarding the door pulled out their weapons and took up a readied stance. One of the men nodded to his mate, then pulled the door open. In the dim light beyond, three figures stumbled into the room.
“Johnny,” I murmured, jumping up. No-one tried to stop me as I ran over and flung my arms around him, kissing his mouth as if we’d not seen each other in months.
Picking a morsel of bread from his chin, I said, “Cheese sandwiches?”
“Dorset Blue Vinney, actually.” He squeezed my bottom, making me go all squidgy inside, then straightening up, he peered around the room.
“At least we’re all safe,” he said. “For now.”
Inspector Lestrade tipped his hat. “Mrs Watson.” He gave me a dopey grin. “Fraid we ain’t here ter save yer from certain death.”
Seeing Holmes by the fire, the pair hurried over to embrace him. As I turned to look at the third man, a gasp escaped my lips. Except for an oddly flattened nose, the person standing in front of me might have been Sherlock Holmes himself.
“So you’re the fake Holmes,” I said, barely supressing a laugh.
“Fake enough to fool your nitwit of a husband and that stupid copper,” he muttered, pushing past me.
Two more thugs came in, followed by Colonel Moran. For a moment, I stared at him, my mouth involuntarily sliding into a sneer.
Moran grinned. “How lovely you look tonight, Mary.” He glanced at the group by the fire, then leaning towards me, whispered, “Y’know, if things were different, you and I would make a damned attractive couple.” He licked his lips in what he no doubt imagined to be a seductive fashion.
“In your dreams, mate.”
Taking my hand in his, he raised it to his lips and for the first time, I noticed how finely manicured his fingernails were. Nevertheless, I pulled my hand away before he could slobber over it with his villainous mouth.
“Oh, Mary,” he murmured, “what a delight you are.”
The fake Sherlock disappeared into the back room with the two new thugs, leaving Moran to wander over and lean an elbow on the mantle, a satisfied smirk spreading across his features. Idly twirling his moustache, he addressed Holmes.
“Shame we weren’t able to drag out our little performance a little further, but I think the point has been made.”
Holmes smirked. “That a mere amateur can take my place, leaving you and Blackwood to run the biggest criminal empire in Londen, must be every master-criminal’s dream. But that’s all it is—a dream.” He sniffed. “Besides, you have yet to demonstrate your ability to replace Lestrade and the Watsons as well, which of course would be essential to allow you any chance of making this evil plan work.”
“Replacing you was my biggest problem, Sherlock,” said Moran. “Luckily, your biographer here provided plenty of background material in the form all those silly stories in The Strand Magazine and other periodicals.” He glanced at Johnny and gave him a big wink.
I fancied this disclosure may have unsettled Sherlock, but his face betrayed no emotion. It also hadn’t escaped my attention that Moran hadn’t denied the Blackwood connection.
Holmes sniffed. “Let’s wait and see, shall we?”
“No need,” said Moran, with a flourish. “Bring them in,” he called.
A moment later the back-room door opened, and three individuals marched into the room. They stood in a line next to Moran, as if their entrance had been rehearsed.
I felt my mouth drop open and perceived from the deathly silence around me that my companions were suffering the same sense of disbelief. The woman standing opposite me, sported my favourite blue dress and bonnet, the very one I’d worn at Roderick Usher’s house only a few short weeks earlier. But it was the woman’s face that took my breath away. Apart from the embroidered eyepatch, I might have been staring at a reflection of myself.
Moran coughed. “Obviously we couldn’t easily replicate your wonky eye, Mary, hence the patch, but aside from that, I’m sure you’ll agree, the likeliness is remarkable.”
I nodded dumbly, turning my head to look at the man next to the fake Mary. Again, it might have been an exact reflection of my own dear husband, from the bowler hat and checked waistcoat to the Windsor knot in his tie. Only the colour of his eyes differed from John’s.
“Nothing like me,” muttered Johnny, but his face had turned pale and the nervous rumbling in his stomach echoed around the room.
I glanced at Lestrade, whose attention focused on his own representation. The imposter’s weasel-like countenance replicated the real inspector from his tight-fitting suit to the scuff marks on his shoes.
Moran cleared his throat. “You were saying, Sherlock?”
Holmes let out a gruff laugh. “I suppose you intend to install your imposter at my lodgings in Baker Street, eh?”
“As I mentioned earlier,” said Moran, “I had hoped to drag this little charade out a bit longer. Purely for my own amusement, you understand, but yes—in fact my Sherlock Holmes will be moving into 221B tonight, while the Watsons make themselves comfortable in their little house in Marlborough Hill and Lestrade takes up residence with his good lady wife.”
“Good luck wiv my missus,” said Lestrade, nodding at his mirror image. “She’ll eat this fucker for breakfast.”
“You’re forgetting one thing,” said Holmes, to Moran. “While Mrs Lestrade sees little of her husband and may therefore remain unaware of the imposter while riding him like a Grand National jockey, no-one could fool my trusty housekeeper Mrs Hudson. She’ll see through this puppet of yours in a flash.”
Moran nodded sagely. “That may be so, in which case the newspapers will reveal how her sordid sexual adventures with a brace of barrow boys from Bow led to a case of autoerotic asphyxia. I’m sure Maudie would be happy to instruct you in the procedure, should you wish to try it for yourself.”
“You sadistic fiend,” spat Sherlock. “If you hurt one hair—”
Holmes sprang forwards, hands outstretched, but the fake Watsons grabbed his arms before he could get close enough to ring the villain’s neck.
Sebastian Moran sniggered. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have evil plots to work on. I shall arrange food and drink for you, but you can be assured that all four of you will be dead within the next twenty-four hours.” He started towards the door, then turned to Mary. “Apart from you, my dear. Maudie has a yen to practice her fisting techniques. I dare say she’ll widen your horizons before you’re much older.”
The door closed and we heard a bolt slide into place on the other side.
Sherlock turned to me. “Fisting, Mary? What on earth’s that?”
Johnny and Lestrade looked at each other and muttered simultaneously, “Don’t ask.”
While ruminating on the problem the young lad had thrust upon me, I spent a few minutes making sandwiches for Doctor Watson and Holmes (or whoever the man with the meerschaum might be). Leaving the lad to finish his sandwiches, I trudged back upstairs, trying to think of an unobtrusive means of working out the truth, and a way to let Watson know we might be dealing with an imposter.
As I entered the room, I found my companions checking their revolvers by the fireside, and standing watching them, it seemed ridiculous that Watson could possibly be unaware Holmes might not be Holmes.
“Ah,” said the big-nosed detective. “Food for the workers. Good show, Lestrade.”
I handed over the plates of food and retired to a chair by the window.
Between mouthfuls, Holmes said, “Our urchin friend’s gone, has he?”
“Er, yes. Must ‘ave.”
Holmes gave me an odd look, but before I had time to think about it, his face had resumed its normal bland expression.
“So,” I said, hoping to change the subject, “we still goin lookin for Mary, then?”
Watson nodded. “Soon as it’s dark.”
Taking out my police notebook, I made a show of catching up on my notes, while keeping a close eye on Holmes. Watching him eat the cheese sandwich, I tried to see any movements or mannerisms that didn’t ring true with the Sherlock Holmes I knew, but if this man really was an imposter, he appeared to be doing a first-rate job. It wasn’t until my subject had finished eating and taken out his pipe again that I had the opportunity to observe his pipe-lighting techniques. But instead of holding the pipe and matchbox in his right hand as my informant had insisted, Holmes held them in his left hand—just as the real Holmes would do. As he struck the Swan Vesta, he glanced up at me.
“Very quiet, Lestrade. Not sickening for anything, are you?” He strolled over to where I sat and gazed out of the window into the street below.
“Er, no, Mr ‘Olmes. Just checking me notes and whatnot.” I dropped my gaze to the notebook, feeling that to continue staring at him might give me away. Then, realising Holmes might see what I’d been writing, I flipped the notebook shut and swivelled round in my chair. Peering out into the darkening street, I saw the boy from downstairs leave the shop and trot across the lane. I couldn’t tell from the detective’s face if he too had seen the lad.
“Yes, indeed,” said Holmes, half to himself. “Think I might go for a stroll.”
Watson looked up sharply. “Not outside?”
“No, obviously not. Just need to stretch my legs etc.” Crossing the room, he stepped out onto the landing, and we heard him walk along the passage to the top of the stairs where a window looked out onto the back of the building. No further sound came to my ears, suggesting he must be looking out of the window.
I glanced at Watson. “Everyfing all right, Doc?”
“Aside from my missing wife, yes.”
“Course. No, I just meant, is everyfing all right wiv his nibs?”
Watson blinked. “How d’you mean?”
I had no answer to this, so simply said, “Just generally, yer know?” He nodded, but I could see from his expression something bothered him. With an ear cocked in case Holmes returned, I continued in a low voice. “I always thought he were right-handed.”
“He is.” He inclined his head. “Is something wrong, Lestrade?”
“Nah, not really. Just…”
He watched me carefully and I could see I’d piqued his interest.
“Just that the lad, the messenger boy, yer know, he said somefing that got me finking.”
Watson glanced at the door then back at me. “Something about Holmes using his left hand?”
“Somefing about that.”
“You do know he’s ambidextrous, don’t you?”
“Dextrous. He can use both hands, though tends to favour the right one.”
“Is there something I should know, Inspector?”
“No, nofing ter worry about. Just me being thick.”
“That’s not like you, Lestrade,” he said, but I suspected he didn’t mean it.
A couple of minutes later, Holmes came back into the room, and I continued my observation exercise, albeit feeling less sure of my theory.
A few hours later, the sky had darkened considerably and the three of us agreed to go in search of Mary Watson.
Slipping out via the back door, we crept along a narrow alley and out onto Drury Lane. The wind had picked up and I pulled my collar up against the cold. By keeping to the shadows, we managed to avoid eye contact with the various passers-by, who, seemingly intent on reaching their presumed destinations, stalked along the street with their heads down.
“Once we get to Russell Square it’ll be difficult to stay out of sight,” said Holmes.
“How we goin ter find Mary, then?” said I.
“We’re not. Her abductors will find us.”
Watson whirled round to face Holmes. “Have you gone mad? We’d be walking right into Moran’s hands.”
“Precisely,” said Holmes, pushing past him.
Watson looked at me. Keeping his voice low, he muttered, “Does this sound like something Sherlock Holmes would do?”
I shrugged. “Honestly, Doc, I’m runnin out of opinions on what he would or wouldn’t do.” I paused, then, “He does act a bit weird sometimes.”
The doctor nodded. “True. Let’s go along with his plan, but if I give you the nod, make a run for it.”
We trotted off after Holmes, keeping our eyes peeled for anyone acting suspiciously.
At the corner of Russell Square and Montague Street, Holmes pulled up short and stood for a moment, gazing across the large garden square before us. I couldn’t imagine what he might be looking for since the place lay in darkness, with trees and bushes blocking out anything that might be lurking in the undergrowth.
“Right, chaps,” he said, turning his beady eyes on us. “Let us find the nearest lamppost and deposit ourselves beneath it.”
Watson and I exchanged glances but followed our apparent leader along to a position close to the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. Next to the monument, a gas lamp illuminated the area nearby. Standing beneath it, Holmes leaned against the post.
“Might as well make ourselves comfortable, eh?” And with that, he took out his meerschaum and began stuffing it with tobacco.
Taking Watson to one side, I muttered, “So? Is he Sherlock Holmes or is he not?”
“If he isn’t, why would he bother trying to find Mary?”
He had a point. I peered at Holmes as the big-nosed detective struck a Swan Vesta. Just as he sucked the flame into the pipe, a gust of wind caught all three of us and the match flared up.
Throwing the match and the pipe to the ground, Holmes clasped his hands to his face.
Quick as a flash, Watson stepped forwards. Taking out a handkerchief, he took hold of the detective’s hands and forced them downwards.
“What the hell are you doing?” yelled Holmes. “I burned my ducking dose!”
“Yes,” said Watson. “And I’m a doctor, so hold still while I examine you.”
Holmes let out a whimpering sigh but allowed Watson to check the damage. Dabbing at the injured organ, Watson wiped the area around the singed bit. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t touch it.”
Watson stepped back while Holmes continued whimpering.
“Well,” said the doctor, taking my arm. “It appears you’re right.”
Watson opened his handkerchief where he’d folded it over, revealing a lump of what looked like plasticine.
“What’s that?” said I.
“That,” said the other, in a low voice, “is what actors call face putty.”
We stood looking at each other for a long moment.
“What now?” I said.
“Let’s wait and see what he’s up to. If Mary really is being kept prisoner around here, he can only be leading us into a trap.”
“For once, John-Boy, you’re absolutely right,” said a voice behind me.
Whirling round, I stared up at the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. “Bloody Norah— a talking monument.”
Watson squeezed my arm and pointed to a dark shape emerging from behind the huge erection. “Colonel Moran, I believe.”
“Doctor. Inspector. Good of you to come along. Saved us the hassle of chasing after you.” He clicked his fingers and two thugs appeared, both holding pistols.
Walking past us, Moran looked at the man pretending to be Holmes and gave him a sharp slap across the face. “You stupid prick. Why’d you bring them here?”
The tall man with the beady eyes rubbed his face, then began peeling off the remnants of his false nose. “The boy noticed I’m left-handed. I’m pretty sure he told Lestrade.”
“So what? They wouldn’t have known for sure if you’d stuck to the plan.” He shook his head. “Bloody amateurs. I should send you back to Am-Dram Central, or wherever it is you lesbians hang out.”
“It’s Thespians, actually,” said the actor and made as if to walk away.
“On second thoughts, stay there.” Moran waved a hand at Watson. “Give me your gun, would you, Doctor?”
Watson blinked rapidly. “I don’t have it with me.”
“Yes, you do—it’s in your outside right jacket pocket.” He clicked his fingers impatiently. “Come on, come on.”
Careful not to make any sudden movements, Watson took out the weapon and handed it over.
Moran checked it over, cocked the revolver and pointed it at the actor.
“Be careful with that,” said Watson. “It’s loaded.”
“I know,” said Moran, “and this is what happens to people who let me down.” Taking aim, he shot the actor in the chest. The man fell to the ground with a faint sigh.
“You killed him,” said Watson.
“I shouldn’t worry, Doctor, he’s died on stage enough times to know the real thing when it happens.” He paused, sighed, and looked down at the actor who had begun to moan softly. “Don’t milk it.”
The fake Sherlock moved his head, looked up and patted his chest. “Ooh, that really hurt.”
Moran handed the gun back to Watson. “Yes. Unfortunately, blanks do sting a bit.” He waved an admonishing finger at the thespian. “Don’t let me down again or next time the bullets will be real.” He nodded at me and Doctor Watson and pointed to a house across the road. “Now, if you don’t mind, gentlemen…”
Watson and I walked across the street escorted by the two thugs. Giving Watson a nudge, I muttered, “Clever trick that.”
“Yes,” I said. “That bloody actor must’ve swapped the bullets while we were checking the revolvers earlier.”
Through a gate, we were pushed down a flight of steps towards what I presumed would be the basement of the house. Whatever awaited us, I guessed it wasn’t going to be pleasant.
As Doctor Watson would say—unfortunately, I was right.
Colonel Moran and his nursey sidekick stood there grinning at us for a moment, before slinking off into another room, leaving the two thugs guarding the door.
“Where did they pick you up?” I said, keeping my voice low.
“Literally seconds after I’d left the Marks Brothers shop,” said Holmes. “I turned a corner, and someone put a knife to my throat.” He nodded towards one of the thugs.
“They made no attempt to disguise themselves, then?”
He gave me a sad smile. “I know what you’re thinking, Mary—we’ve seen their faces, so they clearly have no intention of keeping us alive.”
“But why have they only taken you and I?”
Holmes made a face. “I can only surmise they’re holding your husband and Lestrade somewhere else.” He frowned. “Though that makes little sense—why use two hideouts when one would do just as well? And if they intend to kill us anyway…”
“Unless they haven’t been taken,” I said.
Holmes rubbed his chin. “But if that’s the case, Johnny and Lestrade would surely notice our absence.”
“Maybe that’s what they want—to create confusion.”
Pulling up a chair to the fire, I sat for a moment, contemplating our situation. “Could Moran be in league with Blackwood?”
Holmes shook his head. “As I recall, Blackwood had Moran horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”
I felt my mouth drop open. “Sherlock, d’you realise you’ve just quoted from one of Johnny’s stories?”
He frowned. “Really? One of my famous explanations?”
I coughed. “Well, no, actually. It’s from a piece Johnny wrote a few years ago about the murder of Lady Campanula Tottington of Tottington Hall—you suspected Blackwood and Moran but couldn’t prove it.”
“So it is one of my famous explanations?”
I bit my lip. “No, Holmes. Johnny told me how you’d gone into this long monologue about the rivalry between Blackwood and Moran, but that it was far too longwinded to use in the story, so he…paraphrased it.”
Holmes made an ‘O’ shape with his mouth. “Oh, well. I suppose one’s biographer must exercise the editorial red pen at times. Yes… Blackwood had a solid alibi and Moran couldn’t be traced. But in any case, it seemed unlikely the pair would have been in cahoots.” He peered at me. “The story didn’t appear in The Strand Magazine, did it?”
I looked away. “It didn’t, but Johnny submitted it to a periodical in Ireland—The Irish Investigator Monthly. They published it with the proviso that the case couldn’t be proved.”
Holmes let out a long sigh. “Which doesn’t alter the fact that Moran and Blackwood are highly unlikely to be in this together.”
“Unless Moran is trying to get rid of both Blackwood and us at the same time. With Moriarty dead, that would leave Moran free to take over both criminal empires.”
“Who says Moriarty is dead?”
“Moran told me. In the cab.”
“And you believed him?”
I shrugged. “Why would he lie?”
At that point, Moran himself came back into the room. “So, Mr Sherlock-Cleverclogs-Holmes…have you worked it out, yet?”
Holmes stared at him. “Where are Watson and Lestrade?”
Moran smiled. “All in good time. I’ve arranged a little entertainment for them. It’ll be interesting to see how they react when they realise the Sherlock Holmes they’ve been conversing with at the Olde Gin Shoppe, isn’t their Sherlock Holmes.”
Holmes laughed quietly. “A stooge. You’ve put a stooge in my place? And you seriously expect they won’t notice?”
Moran ran a tongue along his lower lip. “They haven’t so far.”
“And what’s the point?” I said.
“The point, Mrs Watson, is to have a little fun before…” He sniggered. “Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
Still giggling away to himself, he went out, leaving us to ponder on his words.
We sat quietly for a few minutes, considering what we knew. Or rather, what we didn’t know. I couldn’t see any reason for carrying out the charade of replacing Holmes with a lookalike simply to entertain Moran. Then something occurred to me.
“Sherlock, d’you think it’s a test? A way of trying out their stooge to see if Johnny and the inspector notice?”
Holmes nodded slowly. “If this ‘stooge’ is good, he might fool them for a short while, or even fool them completely, and if he can deceive two individuals who know me well…”
“He could fool anyone.”
His mouth tightened into a hard line. “Because, Mary, if Londen’s only consulting detective and his closest friends could be replaced with an imposter, the entire city would be open to the worst cravings of the criminal underworld. And if one man controlled that underworld…”
“Shit indeed.” Holmes rubbed a hand over his face. “Our only hope is that Blackwood puts a stop to Moran’s plans before everything gets out of control.”
Listening to Mr Holmes and Doctor Watson discussing the relationship between Blackwood and Moran, reminded me of something I’d noted earlier. Something in the gesticulatory behaviour of the Baker Street detective bothered me, as if his general demeanour had somehow altered. Thing is, for the life of me, I couldn’t put a finger on what it might be. Then, when the urchin lad arrived to tell Holmes about Mary Watson’s abduction, the boy seemed to be giving Holmes a queer sort of look, as if he weren’t sure what to make of the beady-eyed detective. Course, I knew the lad had run errands for Holmes many times before and must’ve come to know the man quite well (or at least as well as what any urchin would in such circumstances).
Having divested myself of the silly costume and put on my own clothes (which I’d sensibly thought to bring with me), I noticed something else—a distinct rumbling in my tummy.
“If you two don’t mind, I fink I’ll nip down an see if I can rustle up some grub.”
“Good idea,” said Watson, before continuing his conversation with Holmes about some aspect of the case.
Making my way downstairs, I located the back room which doubled as a storeroom and kitchen. The proprietor lounged in an easy chair in the corner but on seeing me, jumped up and gave a small bow.
“Ah, Inspector. Please feel free to help yourself to bread and cheese, or whatever…” He waved a hand at a table at the side of the room, then hurried back through to the shop.
Cutting myself two slabs of bread, I looked around for something to put between them and found my gaze resting on a small figure standing by the window. I presume I hadn’t noticed him due to his slight build and dark clothing.
“Oh. It’s young whatsname, isn’t it?”
“Hopkins, sir,” said the lad. In one hand he held a half-eaten sandwich and in the other a glass of milk. He appeared unwilling to continue eating in front of me.
“Don’t stop on my account—get stuck in.”
The boy gratefully chomped on the meagre meal while I continued with my own provisions. With a slice of Cheddar from a small cupboard that passed for a panty, I completed my preparations and took a bite. Munching thoughtfully, I gazed across at the boy who, in turn, gazed back at me.
It was then that I recalled my earlier observations and decided to quiz the youngster about it.
“You must’ve known those two chaps for a good while, eh?” I said, glancing at the ceiling.
“Suppose Oi must, yeh.”
“Mr Holmes looks funny in his disguise, don’t yer fink?”
The lad grinned for a second then looked sideways at me, a frown creasing his young face.
“You’re one of those proper detectives, ain’t yer, Mr Lestrade?”
“I suppose I am, at that,” said I.
“So, yer must know yer left from yer right, eh?”
Unconsciously, I glanced at my right hand, my fingers still holding the half-chewed sandwich. “I suppose so.”
He went quiet for a moment, so I said, “An I suppose you know your left from your right, too?”
“Course Oi does.” He glanced at each hand, as if thinking about it. “It’s easy for me ter remember, cos Oi wipes me arse wiv me right ‘and—” He reddened slightly and bit his lip. “Scuse me, Inspector. Oi ain’t normally one fer swearin an that.”
“Quite all right, lad. Continue, please.”
“Well, when we was talkin an that, upstairs, Mr ‘Olmes lit that smelly old pipe of his. An of course he always uses those Swan Vesta matches. Doctor Watson uses ‘em too. But that’s the funny fing, yer see? Mr ‘Olmes held the pipe and the matchbox in his right ‘and an struck the match wiv his left ‘and.”
My sandwich dropped to the floor. If I’d been holding a glass of milk, that too, would have cascaded downwards.
The boy blinked. “Did Oi say summat wrong, Inspector?”
“No, lad,” I muttered. “You certainly did not.”
The pair of us fell silent for a moment, my mind racing with possibilities, none of which I could make anything of.
“But Oi suppose,” said the boy, “that using the wrong ‘and might be one of those fings Mr ‘Olmes does, yer know, ter make his brain work better, or summat.”
Knowing Sherlock Holmes as I did, this made perfect sense, but if this were the case, surely Doctor Watson would have made some comment on it, as he often did when Holmes altered some aspect of his behaviour. Thinking back to when the boy was in the upstairs room, I tried to recall what the good doctor had been doing, and more to the point, if he might’ve noticed anything odd.
“Got it,” I said, holding up a finger. “Holmes stood in front of the mirror for a minute or two. If he’d lit his pipe at that precise moment, it would’ve appeared to be with the wrong hand because it would be a reflection.” I clapped my hands together in triumph.
But my conspirator did not agree. “Nah, that weren’t it. Cos the reflection fing did confuse me, an that’s why Oi come down ‘ere ter fink it through before Oi said anyfing, see?”
“You mean, that even looking at him lighting the pipe in the mirror, you say he still used the left hand to strike the match?”
I’d said it before, but it seemed worth saying again. “Bollocks.”
I arrived at the Olde Gin Shoppe on Drury Lane just as the gas lamps were coming on. A queue of punters had gathered outside the theatre next door, so creeping along the opposite side of the street, I took care to be sure of slipping into the shop unnoticed. Once inside, I looked around. Dusty shelves lined the gloomy interior, each boasting hundreds of bottles of the aforementioned beverage in sizes and colours enough to boggle the imagination. A noise caught my attention. Turning towards the counter, I saw a curtain sweep aside as the shopkeeper appeared, fat fingers clasped across his generous stomach.
“Doctor Watson, I presume?” he murmured.
A little put out that my costume hadn’t fooled him, I gave a brisk nod and followed his directions through a door in the corner and up a flight of stairs to the upper floor.
“Seems my disguise isn’t quite as good as I thought,” I said, closing the door behind me.
Holmes leaned an elbow on the mantelpiece, his meerschaum clamped between thin lips. He gave me a sardonic smile. “Not the fault of your disguise, Watson, simply a result of my having informed our host to look out for a man with a wooden leg and a twitch.”
“A twitch?” I said.
Holmes nodded. “Yes—every time you step on the false leg, your face performs an unintentional spasm, possibly due to the sharp pain exerted from the leather straps holding your appendage in place.”
“Huh. You’d have a bloody twitch too if your nuts had got caught up in this contraption.” Dropping my trousers, I unfastened the false leg, adjusted my marital equipment, and loosened the belt holding my right foot in place against my upper thigh.
It was only after I’d refastened my trousers and seated myself on a chair by the fire that I took stock of my surroundings.
“Where’s Mary? Shouldn’t she be here by now?”
Holmes and Lestrade exchanged a look.
“I know she meant ter take the shortest route,” said the inspector. “Ought to ‘ave been ere before all of us.”
I looked at Holmes.
He sniffed. “Mary’s a sensible woman. I can’t imagine she simply wandered off to do a bit of shopping.”
“What’re you saying, Holmes?”
“I’m saying, Doctor, that in all likelihood, Mary has been taken.”
My lower lip began to quiver. “You mean…you mean, she’s been taken by Blackwood?”
“It’s the only reasonable possibility.” Producing a small pocket-knife, he proceeded to clean out his pipe.
“My God, man, that’s unthinkable. Christ knows what he might do to her.”
Holmes held up a hand. “Until we have further news, I suggest we stay calm. There’s no use speculating.”
“And where might this further news come from?” I said, making no effort to conceal my anger.
The Great Detective cocked his head to one side and looked at the door. “Hark,” he muttered. “I hear the patter of urchin feet.”
A moment later, a knock came at the door and a ruddy face peered in.
“Scuse me Mr Olmes,” said the boy, stepping into the room. “Oi reckon Oi might ‘ave a bit of news for yer.”
“Come in, come in, dear boy.” He waved the lad into a seat by the fire. “Hopkins, isn’t it?”
The boy nodded. “It is, sir. Tommy Hopkins.”
“And pray what data morsels have you to impart to this anticipatory gathering?”
The boy frowned. “Yer what?”
Holmes laughed. “I’m asking you to tell us what you know.”
“Oh. Right.” He rubbed his mucky hands together, warming them at the fire. “Well, first off, we ain’t found anyfing about that Blackwood feller—seems like he must’ve disappeared inter thin air.”
Holmes nodded. “I see. And what else?”
“Well, I reckon yous are missing someone, ain’t yer?”
“We are, as if happens. Go on.” Turning, he stared at his own reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece, then lit his pipe with a Swan Vesta and puffed blue-grey smoke into the room.
“Seems a certain gen’leman as been seen bundlin a lady answering Mrs Watson’s description into a Hackney cab not an hour since.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know who this gentleman might be?” said Holmes, leaning towards the boy.
The youngster grinned. “Course Oi would. Know that fucker anywhere. Oh, pardon my French, Mr Olmes. No, yer see, he has what you yourself, sir, would call a military bearing and wears this long coat to conceal his weapon.”
Holmes stared at the floor for a moment, brow furrowed in thought. “A military man, you say, and carrying a weapon beneath a long coat…” Then with a shout of annoyance, his head jerked up, his eyes bright. “Not an air rifle?”
“That’s the one, sir. The very one used in the murder of Ronald Adair…” The lad glanced at me with an admiring smile. “The one Dr Watson wrote about in the—”
“Yes, yes, we know all about that, said Holmes, waving a hand. “So Mary has been taken by our old friend Colonel Moran, who apparently, is no longer a prisoner at her majesty’s pleasure. Tell me—where did the cab go?”
The lad leaned forwards. “Oi instructed one of the boys to run after it, but he lorst sight of the cab approaching Russell Square.”
Holmes thanked the boy and sent him on his way with a shilling for his trouble.
I glanced at Lestrade. “Ring any bells, Inspector?”
The weasel-faced cop shook his head. “Not off ‘and. Ain’t the sort of area where your ordinary villain is likely ter ‘ang about.”
Holmes began to stuff his meerschaum with a bit of hard shag, his piggy little eyes staring into space. After a moment, he looked at me.
“Watson, where might a former soldier and big-game hunter go for a bite to eat following the execution of a successful plan?”
“A big-game hunter?” said I. “Well…” I blinked, and then it hit me. “Of course! The Tropical Café—the haunt of explorers, adventurers and not a few well-heeled villains.” “Which is where?” said Holmes with a smile.
I held up a triumphant finger. “Russell Square.”
“Which means,” said Holmes, blowing a cloud of smoke at me, “that our quarry may well have stashed Mary in some nearby bolthole.”
“Then we must go,” I said, jumping to my feet.
Holmes went to the window and, keeping well behind the curtain, peered down into the street below. “It’s getting dark. Another hour or so and it should be safe to venture out.”
“But what about Mary?” I protested. “She could be—”
“Yes, yes, Watson. I’m aware of your concerns but there would be no merit in walking straight into the hands of our enemies.”
I sank down onto a chair, dropping my head into my hands.
Holmes crossed the room and patted my shoulder. “We have one thing in our favour, old friend.”
I looked up at him. “We have?”
“Colonel Moran was in the army with Lord Blackwood. As I recall, Blackwood had him horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”
“What d’you mean, Holmes?”
“I mean, Doctor, that it may be, whether Moran knows it or not, that we and he are working towards the same conclusion—the downfall of Lord Blackwood.”
While this possibility did not exactly fill me with hope, it did give me pause to consider Mary’s situation might not be as perilous as I’d thought.
The three Marks brothers proved to be attentive and quick-thinking. In the space of a couple of hours they had fed us, run up four new sets of clothes and sent off a lad to Fleet Street with various messages from Holmes detailing reports of our recent deaths.
“Look here,” I said pulling on my new outfit, “don’t you think Blackwood will be suspicious when no bodies are found in that house?”
Holmes shook his head. “I suspect the bomb he used was intended to quite literally blow us apart at the seams. The upstairs rooms were destroyed. Had we remained there, I think we really would be in bits. It’ll be several days before Lestrade’s colleagues realise there aren’t any actual body parts.”
Mary had finished doing up the buttons on her prostitute’s costume and had begun helping Lestrade into his corset. “That may be so, Sherl, but with all those fake coppers around, how do we know those investigating the scene will be the real thing?”
“Elementary, Mary,” said the Great Detective. “Blackwood thinks we’re dead, at least temporarily, so he’d never risk his men mixing with real coppers in case they’re spotted. Besides, I suspect he and his cronies are miles away by now, no doubt putting villainous plans into action.”
“Mr ‘Olmes is right,” said Lestrade, adjusting his false bosoms. “Without me around they’ll likely put Bradstreet in charge, and he’s a complete dickhead.”
Holmes and I exchanged a look. Lestrade comparing himself to the likes of Inspector Bradstreet reminded me of that old adage about pots and black kettles. My companion gave me a wink, indicating I say nothing.
“Yes, Lestrade,” said he. “Luckily we have the cream of Scotland Yard at our service. And may I say, you make a magnificent lady.”
How Holmes managed to keep a straight face at this, is beyond me—his own costermonger costume at least represented him as a complete man, while mine involved a false leg, a wooden crutch, and a the application of some warty legions.
Lestrade pulled on his bonnet and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. “Suppose I do at that. In fact, my breasts are bigger than Mrs Lestrade’s.” Cradling the said bosoms in his hands, he fondled them for a moment. “Much bigger, actually.”
“Yes, yes, all right, Lestrade,” said Holmes. “Leave yourself alone and let’s have a look at you.”
We stood in front of the mirror one at a time and examined ourselves. Holmes had chosen a large moustache and beard, along with an eye patch, giving him a surly look that complemented his outfit. For my own part, I resembled a beggar who’d had a really bad day, while Mary portrayed a sluttier version of herself, with the addition of some garish makeup. Only Lestrade looked ridiculous in a red dress and black thigh boots but that was mainly because of his refusal to shave off his moustache.
“Don’t look bad,” said the inspector. “I’ve seen loads of girlies wiv taches.”
“Right,” said Holmes. “I suggest we leave this establishment separately and meet at the safe house.”
“Where’s that, again?” said Lestrade.
“The old gin shop on Drury Lane, next door to the Waldorf Theatre. The proprietor knows me well and will provide us with temporary lodgings while we work out what to do next.”
“Exactly what are we going to do next?” said Mary.
Holmes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I think the Baker Street Urchins might prove useful. I’ve asked Groucho to get a message to them and report to me within the hour. It’s imperative we hear about every strange occurrence over the next twenty-four hours.”
I rubbed my chin, unconsciously mimicking Holmes. “You think Blackwood will make his move so soon?”
“I’m certain of it, Watson. In fact, we may already be too late.”
And with those words, Holmes strode out of the shop. A few minutes later, Mary, Lestrade and I took our own turns, setting off in different directions. Whatever we were heading into, I had the awful feeling I might not survive to write about it.
NB Clearly, I did survive as I’m writing about it now, but it’s important to keep the tension going.
Having been grabbed by the wrists and hurled through the nearest doorway, my first thought was to utter some grumpy complaint at Holmes, but at that very second, a tremendous noise thundered through the house, rattling its doors and shattering the windows.
“Jeezus We—” said Lestrade, but his words were cut off by a terrific crash as the ceiling we had until a moment before been standing under, collapsed onto the floor, throwing debris into the room where we now sprawled in a heap.
“Johnny!” I yelled, scrambling to my feet.
“No, Mary,” said Holmes, pulling me back down. “Your husband is more than capable of looking after himself.”
The three of us stared at each other, dust swirling around the room. After a minute, the rumbling from above ceased and Holmes helped me to my feet.
“A bomb?” I said, looking up at him.
“It would appear so, Mary.” He turned his beady eyes towards the front window, and I saw that the heavy curtains had protected us from the worst of the damage when the glass shattered.
“Watson,” yelled Holmes, crunching over the shards of broken glass to the shattered frame.
A noise came from behind us and looking round, I saw a dusty figure standing by the rear window peering in at us.
“Darling, you’re all right,” I gasped, hurrying towards him. Keeping my hands away from any broken glass, I leaned on the window ledge. “Are you hurt?”
He shrugged and gave me a dopey grin. “Take more than one of Blackwood’s bombs to finish me off, though it did blow me right across the bloody room and out through the kitchen window.” Taking out a handkerchief he began dusting himself down.
“Give us a hand, Watson,” said Holmes, and pushing past me he clambered through into the garden.
As the inspector and I followed suit, I saw Holmes had already run across the grass to look up at the house. Picking our way through the rubble where parts of the roof had collapsed onto the back garden, we made our way to where Holmes stood.
Johnny entwined his fingers in mine and pulled me into a hug. “For a moment, there, old girl, I thought I must be back in Afghanistan.”
Brushing dust away from his eyebrows, I nodded. “But at least then you knew what you were dealing with.”
Holmes muttered his agreement. “Quite right, Mary. Except that I, at least, should have foreseen such an event.” He raised his hat at me and gave a little bow. “My apologies to you all. I must be the stupidest man in Londen.”
“Ow, no,” said Lestrade, picking at a rip in his jacket. “I won’t ‘ear of it. You wasn’t to know that fuckin arsehole would go an do sumfink like that, was you?”
“On the contrary, Inspector, I should have known. Blackwood has demonstrated his ingenuity and dastardliness to me on many occasions.” He shook his head. “For once, he has outsmarted me.”
“But we’re still alive,” I said, patting his arm.
“We are, my dear, but we won’t be for long once Blackwood learns of our escape.”
Lestrade stepped forwards, and poked Holmes with a finger. “Yer know what we ought ter do, doncha?”
Holmes raised an eyebrow.
“We ought ter do what your mate from the Secret Service did, that time. What was ‘is name? James Pond?”
Holmes stared at him for a moment, then he grinned. “Bond, Lestrade. James Bond.”
“I didn’t know you knew anyone in MI5, Holmes,” said Johnny.
“MI6, actually,” said Holmes. To Lestrade, he nodded slowly. “You might be right, Inspector. The incident you refer to gave Bond his nickname. They called him the spy who lived twice.”
“He pretended to be dead?” said I.
Sherlock Holmes winked at me. “As I always say, Mary is the smart one. Yes. And I think Lestrade has a good point—if Blackwood thinks we’re dead, it could give us time to track him down.”
“We’ll need to be quick, then,” said Johnny. “This place’ll be overrun with sightseers before you can say—”
“Hark.” Holmes straightened up, listening.
For a moment I couldn’t hear anything but the still-insistent ringing in my ears. Then I discerned shouts and yelled instructions coming from the front of the house.
“By God, Watson,” said Holmes, “you’re right. Most of the damage would’ve been at the front of the house and from that noise, I’d guess we only have a few seconds to make ourselves scarce before someone thinks to search the rear of the property and finds us four standing here like a collection of scarecrows.”
I glanced along the street in both directions. The house backed onto a narrow lane which in turn backed onto the gardens of another row of houses. “But where can we hide?”
Holmes walked back towards the house and stood on a pile of guttering that had fallen from the roof. Stretching up, he peered over the garden fence. A moment later he’d re-joined us.
“Over that fence, across the lane and through the passage next to the house over yonder. That should bring us out into Oxford Street.”
Lestrade laughed. “Yer do know Oxford Street’s about the busiest road in the whole of Londen, doncha?”
Holmes glared at him. “Of course I know that, Lestrade, but I also know of a tailoring outfit called Marks Brothers who owe me a favour.”
And with that, he was off, climbing over the fence, peering both ways and waving at us to hurry along.
Within five minutes we had traversed two gardens, a narrow alley and skirted round a rather smelly midden that brought us out into, as Lestrade had pointed out, the busiest road in Londen.
But before we stepped out in into Oxford Street itself, Holmes pulled the three of us into another alley that ran behind a row of shops. Following him down a set of wrought iron stairs into what I judged must be a cellar, we pushed through a wooden gate and into a small, darkened area and found ourselves facing a large metal door.
Holmes gave a sharp rap on the door and within seconds it swung open. A bearded fellow wearing a patterned smoking cap, looked out. Seeing Holmes, he grabbed my companion by the shoulders and hugged him.
“Oh my Gawd, Mr ‘Olmes, Mr ‘Olmes. It’s been so long since you was ‘ere. Come in, come in and ‘ave a brew.”
Holmes glanced at me. “A place to hide, Mary, and with any luck, I’ll get a new suit out of them to boot.”
“Maybe they’ll sort me out some new togs an all,” said Lestrade, pulling at his torn jacket.
Holmes peered through the doorway. “Well, come along, you lot. And don’t worry about clothes—by the time Mr Marks has finished with us, your own mothers wouldn’t recognise you.”
Leaving 221B Baker Street, the three of us took a Hackney and set off for Soho Square. We’d only gone a few yards when I heard a piercing scream and the cab skidded to a halt.
Holmes leaped out of the vehicle to see what the matter might be, but immediately climbed back in.
“What is it, Mr ‘Olmes,” said I. “Been an accident?”
The big-nosed detective gave his companion a sidelong look and muttered, “Nothing so trivial. No, I believe another party wishes to join us.”
At this, Mrs Mary Watson clambered into the cab and squeezed herself between me and her husband.
“Hello, darling. Mr Holmes. Inspector. I thought I’d save you the trouble of picking me up on the way.”
“Look, Mary…” said Doctor Watson, “we would’ve—”
“No, you wouldn’t. But I’m here, now, so you can lump it or like it.”
“I think the phrase is like is—”
“Shut the fuck up, Sherlock, before I punch your face in.”
“I was merely about to point out, Mary,” he continued, “that this case is a particularly dangerous one. I had privately advised John to leave you out of things.” He took Mary’s hand in his and I observed a very serious look come over his features. “I have placed you in danger too many times, Mary, and I simply could not bear for anything to happen to you. I know Johnny would be utterly distraught without you.”
Mrs Watson blushed slightly. “I see. That’s unusually thoughtful of you, Sherl, but if I am to die a horrible death, I should rather it occurred while in the service of my country and with my darling Johnny at my side.”
Holmes sniffed and let go her hand. “Fine. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The rest of the journey passed in total silence, and I will admit to feeling a bit of gooseberry sitting there with a very definite atmosphere between Mary and Mr Big Nose. However, I took the opportunity to go over what I knew about the case in my head, so as not to look a complete fool when we arrived at the scene.
The house in Soho Square remained as I had left it, with two constables standing guard outside.
As we alighted from the Hackney, Holmes took me aside.
“The dead man at St Giles, Lestrade…”
“What about ‘im?”
“You are aware of his identity?”
“Course I am— Rev G Burnsbean.”
“Ah. Then you didn’t recognise him?”
“I ain’t never seen ‘im before.”
“Rev G Burnsbean is an anagram, Lestrade. An anagram of Ben Ravenscroft.”
“What? The museum bloke? But—”
“But me no buts, Inspector, I shall fill you in on the details later. For now, I should like to know exactly how he died.”
Feeling a bit miffed at this new information, I took a moment to compose myself. “Right. Well, I didn’t let the papers know cos of the brutal nature of the slayin. See, the poor feller were nailed to the floor of the church. Ye know? Like a sort of crucifixion.”
“Exactly. And the killer also cut off his whasname.”
“Yes, so I heard. I suspect one of your subordinates has been leaking information to the Tittle Tattle Weekly.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Can’t trust nobody these days.”
We followed the Watsons up the steps to the front door, both of us deep in thought, though I admit my thoughts were more about how I might redeem myself in the eyes of the Great Detective, rather than the case itself.
Upstairs, I waved the other constables aside and waited at the bedroom door with the Watsons while Holmes examined the room.
The dead man had been laid out on the floor with his arms outstretched as if he too had been crucified, though without the addition of six-inch nails through his hands and feet and only a knotted rope around his neck.
Holmes crawled across the floor, avoiding the occasional spatters of white paint that specked the bare floorboards. Approaching the corpse, he slid one hand up the dead man’s trouser leg, withdrew it and smelled whatever substance his fingers had encountered. Then, jumping up, he strode back to the doorway.
“As I suspected, Lestrade, this is not Lord Blackwood.”
“What d’yer mean, it ain’t Lord Blackwood? I examined the body myself. It’s definitely ‘im.”
Holmes laid a calming hand on my shoulder and gave me what I suppose was a pitying look. “It may well have been Blackwood when you examined him, but at that time he wasn’t dead.”
“Yer mean he were alive?”
“Not only alive, but no doubt experiencing an inner thrill at your inability to recognise that fact.”
I blinked several times and waved a hand at the corpse. “But he’s right there—dead as a dodo.”
“No, Lestrade.” He turned and indicated the several white spots on the floor. “Not paint, as you probably assumed, but Plaster of Paris. What we have here is the perfect likeness of Blackwood dressed in his own clothes, painted up and placed in the same position on the floor immediately after your departure. But don’t take my word for it.” He turned to Doctor Watson. “Would you do the honours, John?”
Watson crossed to the body and carried out a quick examination. When he came back, he too gave me a pitying look. “Sorry, Lestrade. He’s right.”
At this point, Mary Watson broke into the discussion. “Is it just me, or does this not make any sense?”
Holmes nodded. “On the surface, Mary, no, no sense at all, but be assured Blackwood did not do this for no reason. It is unfortunate that at the moment we are unable to see that reason.”
Doctor Watson poked his companion’s chest with a finger. “Hang on Holmes, how could Blackwood have swapped himself for a Plaster of Paris dummy with all these police officers standing around?”
Holmes smiled and looked at the floor. A moment later he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a revolver. “Because, Watson, these are not police officers.”
With a sudden flurry of activity, the three cops standing by turned and fled down the stairs. Holmes rushed after them, firing warning shots over their heads, but a second later we heard the front door slam shut.
Hurrying downstairs, Mary, Lestrade and I found Holmes banging on the door.
“They’ve locked it. Damn it all, Watson, it was there right in front of me, and I didn’t see it.”
“To be fair, Holmes,” said Watson, “I didn’t see it either.”
“Thank you, old friend, but that is little comfort. Be a good fellow and break a window and fetch someone to open this bloody door.”
Watson scampered off and a moment later we heard the tinkle of broken glass and his voice calling to someone in the Square.
“I still don’t understand,” said Mary. “Why on earth would Blackwood leave a dummy lying on the floor?”
Holmes shrugged and shook his head. Then, with a low groan he muttered, “unless it isn’t just a dummy.” Grabbing mine and Mary’s hands he dragged us into the nearest room just as an explosion rocked through the building.
It’s hard to believe that little more than a week has passed since Holmes, Mary and I returned from our adventure in Pokebottom-on-the-Moor. Since then, each day has felt like an eternity, and only the necessity of keeping my medical practice going has prevented my pestering Holmes for news of Ravensburg.
However, this afternoon I received a note from my companion on that very subject. Hand delivered by urchin, it read:
Interesting article in The Times. Suggest you come at once.
I had of course regularly scanned the daily papers for clues to the whereabouts of either Ravensburg or Lord Blackwood (the latter having always proved to be a newsworthy subject) but nothing had caught my eye. I suspected Holmes of reading between the lines again. Whatever he’d noticed, I knew it must be important.
Cancelling the rest of my appointments, I made my excuses to Mary and set off for Baker Street.
“Ah, Watson,” murmured Holmes on my arrival. He nodded towards my usual seat by the fire. Sitting myself down, I waited somewhat impatiently while he spent several minutes stuffing his Meerschaum with hard shag. Finally, he lit the concoction and, puffing away, tossed me the day’s copy of The Times.
I opened the newspaper and cast my eye along the various columns but could not immediately see what he might be referring to.
“Really Watson,” he said, when a full minute had passed without my having located the relevant article. “You see but you do not observe—Coroner’s Session Continues at St Giles.”
I ran a finger down the page and found the tiny headline.
Yesterday, Mr. Michael J Benedict, Coroner for the North-Eastern Division, resumed his inquiry at the Bakers and Muffin-Tasters Institute, Old Compton Street, in respect of the death of Rev G Burnsbean, a visiting clergyman, who was found brutally murdered in the Parish Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, on the morning of Friday last.
Detective-Inspector Lestrade (Scotland-yard) watched the case on behalf of the Criminal Investigation Department and Commissioners of Police. Inspector Lestrade commented afterwards that this was, ‘A very brutal slaying that will haunt my dreams for years to come.’
I laid the newspaper on my knee. “Terrible business, for sure, Holmes, but I can’t see—”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Watson,” sighed Holmes, leaning forwards. “Look at it. Read the words. Understand the significance.”
I peered at the article again. “A church chappy has been murdered…”
“And Lestrade is involved…”
I shook my head. “Sorry, old chap, I don’t get it.”
Holmes let out another sigh. “Who has been murdered?”
“Rev G Burnsbean.”
He raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
I looked again at the name and then it hit me. “An anagram?”
Peering at the letters, I struggled to rearrange them in my head. Eventually, I looked up. “Of course—Ben Ravenscroft.”
“Finally,” muttered Holmes, relighting his pipe. “Now, what’s the implication of the location?”
“St Giles?” I frowned and tried to look thoughtful. “It’s a church.”
“Yes, and it’s close to…”
“Ahm, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road…” I blinked. “Soho Square.”
“And which of our evil genius contemporaries lived until recently in Soho Square?”
I felt a sudden lurch in my stomach. “Lord Blackwood.” Undoing two buttons on my waistcoat, I had another thought. “Christ, Holmes, d’you think he’s still there?”
“Absolutely—sitting in a comfy armchair awaiting our arrival.”
“No, Watson, not really.” He caressed his chin. “But I’m willing to bet he’s left a little something for us to find.”
I leaped out of my chair. “Then we must get over there before Lestrade tramples over the evidence.”
Holmes waved a hand at me to sit down. “Lestrade won’t have made the connection yet, though he may have useful information vis-à-vis the corpse.”
I stood up again. “To St Giles, then.”
“No, Watson. At this hour Lestrade will be on his way home via the nearest alehouse. I suggest we allow him time to partake of a few pints before he makes his appearance.”
“Makes his appearance where, Holmes?”
“Here, Watson.” He smiled sardonically.
We sat for a few moments, each of us contemplating the ramifications of a dead Ben Ravensburg, when Mrs Hudson bustled in with a tray of refreshments.
“Wish you two’d get off yer arses and solve some murders, stead of sittin round ‘ere munchin my muffins.”
“Really, Mrs Hudson,” said Holmes, helping himself to a mug of hot chocolate. “I sometimes think you must have an extraordinarily low opinion of my comrade and I. In fact, we have been pondering on a murder at St Giles.”
The old woman nodded solemnly. “Oh, yes—nasty affair. Apparently, someone cut off his paraphernalia.”
Holmes frowned. “His what?”
“His dick,” she said. “Don’t you lot read the bleedin papers?” She bustled out, leaving us both open mouthed.
I half-pointed to the door. “Mrs H doesn’t read The Times, does she?”
Holmes leaped out of his seat. “No, Watson, but she does read the Tittle-Tattle Weekly and I’ll wager one of their reporters has been talking to a certain interested party.”
“Lestrade wouldn’t give out that sort of information to a journalist.”
“Lestrade wouldn’t, but someone trying to attract our attention, might.”
“Blackwood,” I murmured.
A noise on the stair made us both sit up. Crossing the room, I yanked the door open to reveal Inspector Lestrade, sweating and pasty-faced.
Urging him to take a seat, we waited while he got his breath back.
“There’s been a bleedin murder, Mr ‘Olmes,” he panted.
“Yes, we know that, Lestrade,” said Holmes, rather irritably.
The police officer waved a hand. “Nah, not the one at the church. This is anovver one.”
Holmes and I exchanged glances.
Lestrade leaned towards us, his eyes wide. “It’s Lord Blackwood.”
“What?” said Holmes. “Again?”
He nodded, and reaching out, grabbed one of Mrs Hudson’s muffins. “Fink you’d better ‘ave a look at it,” he said, between mouthfuls.
“In the church, you didn’t find an old book, did you?”
Lestrade shook his head and took another mouthful.
I pushed myself back in my chair and let out a long breath. It had been difficult enough to come to terms with the idea that Blackwood might be alive, but for him to have somehow come back to life and then got himself murdered, seemed a little too much to bear.
After a moment, Holmes said, “I suppose Blackwood’s body is at his old house in Soho Square?”
Lestrade’s eyes went like saucers “Ow the fuckin ‘ell did yer know that?”
Ignoring him, Holmes went on. “I trust you did not leave the corpse unattended.”
“Course not—d’yer fink I’m stupid? I’ve got eight constables guarding it. There’s no fuckin way I’m letting that slippery sod do anovver vanishin trick.”
The feeling that something very bad lurked in our near future had begun to make itself known in the form of a tightening in my stomach. For a moment I thought I might have to excuse myself. But I clenched my buttocks and put on a brave face. Whatever we were about to encounter would take all our combined bravado as well as a large helping of ingenuity and guile. After all, Blackwood had already died twice and if, as we suspected, he had possession of Ravensburg’s book, we had no way of knowing what he might achieve.