Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode Six

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Originally, I wrote this with the 11th Doctor. It seemed easier at the time. In the television series, they had just made the transition to Matt Smith from David Tennant and I was already a fan of the bow-tied Timelord. While reading through this for a new publication on this blog, I made a startling discovery. With the exception of descriptive portions of the narrative that clearly fit #11, most of the dialogue I heard in my head was spoken in the 4th Doctor’s voice.

When I continued to read this story through to its final paragraphs, I realized that I had really written a 4th Doctor story all along. I easily made the edits, replaced bow ties with ridiculous scarves, and here you have it.

The series that follows this adventure, “Red Right Hand”, more perfectly fits the 11th Doctor – especially since Amy and Rory are involved. So, we’ll see how I need to handle that once we get to it. No worries. Would you like a Jelly Baby?

6. Behind the Curtain

I recall staring blankly at his extended hand and feeling suddenly very alone. No thoughts coursed through my brain as I stood there in a stupor, the recent events having evaporated all rational cognitive processes from my mind.

The Doctor, who until so recently had been known to me as Tristan, took a step forward, seeing that my hand was not on a path to meet his own. Instead, he placed a hand awkwardly on my shoulder and rubbed it vigorously.

“Yes, yes, I know. I have this effect on people,” he said boastfully, grinning with an unconvincing empathy. “I think I know what’s going on in that brain of yours, Watson.”

He maneuvered to stand directly in front of me and held eye contact.

Quietly he said, “Your mind has been evacuated. It’s empty in there, and you’re alone rattling around inside looking for something familiar. It’s shock, Watson, but it’s only shock because you’re intelligent enough not to be able to dismiss it. Anyone else in this situation would have already glossed over it with conjured irrational explanations.

“You’re a very, very smart man,” he emphasized. “That brain of yours, inside that confining skull -”

He smirked at me, and for a moment I felt like joining in his mirth.

“It’s bigger on the inside, isn’t it Watson?” he asked knowingly, his smirk widening into a disarming grin.

With a final slap on my back he bounded away and brandished his device, his sonic screwdriver, and held it as one would hold a flashlight, pointing it about as it emitted a high-pitched warbling sound.

“Reminds me of someone I know, bigger on the inside,” he remarked, then suddenly stood up very rigidly.

“And, er …” He bounded back to me and put his arm around my shoulders conspiratorially. “And by that I mean, the TARDIS is bigger on the inside,” he coughed nervously. “The old girl, the TARDIS … that wasn’t … ah, innuendo, you understand, Watson.”

He looked at me for a moment as a physician would, scanning for surface symptoms, angling his head as he did so.

“Well … I thought for sure that would snap you out of it.”

After I didn’t respond, he went back to operating his sonic screwdriver pointing it at different areas of the wooded area we were in, occasionally stopping to look at small readouts on the side of the device.

One thing he had said stuck with me. In my mind, addled as it was, there was a solid thing forming. I grasped on to it with all my mental effort and held it. The word melted through to other areas of my consciousness, leaving a residue of cognizance my brain used as fuel to power my recovery. The word pulsed through me and pushed its way through my lips.

“TARDIS?”

The Doctor stood still and his hand holding the sonic screwdriver fell to his side.

“Oh, Watson,” he said, still facing away from me. “That’s brilliant, my dear man.”

He spun around, his face beaming with pride. “Well done!”

He briskly walked passed me and marched through the underbrush, still scanning the area.

Slowly, I was regaining some awareness. “Where are you going?” I asked.

From a distance, he called out, “We have to get back to London. On the double, I might add.”

“The horses have run off back to their stable, no doubt. We’ll have quite a walk ahead of us,” I pointed out to him.

“AHA!” I heard him shout. His sonic device was squealing excitedly, and he suddenly jumped out from behind a tree.

“Nonsense! I’ve found us a door!” he exclaimed.

I cautiously walked over to the area he was indicating, no longer sure I would be surprised by anything I would see while in his company.

I saw only trees and underbrush.

“When I say door, I mean an ancillary data stream connecting this location to another future point, feeding it with information and statistics on our actions here and preparing the next area in our quest to be incrementally more challenging,” he explained, as if I understood.

“All we have to do is-” he paused a moment to make some adjustments on his sonic screwdriver. “Translate your pattern and mine into the language of the system and -”

He pointed the device at me and made adjustments to the tiny dials as he did so.

Turning the device away from me, the Doctor once again pointed it at the area where he had previously indicated a door existed, made some final adjustments, then turned to face me with a grave look.

“Now, listen to me very carefully, Watson. You haven’t been asking very many questions. You seem to be trusting me. Why is that?”

The Doctor’s manner had changed suddenly. His eyes reflected a dangerous graveness that made me feel as if I was on trial for some heinous crime.

“Not that long ago you were trying to smash my face in, and now you’re absorbing what I say and displaying no amount of doubt in it.”

The anger came flooding back to me in an instant. “I have just seen a man murdered in a fashion that would only suggest that some precognizance of events had occurred. My friend and companion, whom I felt I knew absolutely everything about, has secretly been hiding an exact duplicate of himself from me for God knows how long. That duplicate has turned out to some bizarre doppelganger who can change his appearance at a whim. A fantastical creature has just chased me through the woods with the intent of devouring me only after it has cooked me thoroughly by breathing fire like a dragon. You dispatched said creature with a magic wand-”

“It’s a sonic screw-”

“And now you’re telling me we’re about to walk through an imaginary door in the woods of northern England and suddenly end up in Piccadilly bloody Circus. I will tell you plainly, Doctor, I bloody well don’t want to know the answers! That’s why I’m not asking questions!”

My fists were clenched so tightly then that my fingernails were gouging cuts into my palms. I could feel veins pumping visibly at my temples.

“That’s not it, Watson. And you know it.”

He was studying me again, taking in as much of my reaction as he could.

“It’s starting to bleed through, I think,” he said in an off-handed manner.

“What are you talking about now?” I demanded, losing my patience.

“When I say daughter, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?” he asked quickly.

“Coraline.”

The name was spoken by me, but it felt as if the answer had come to me from a very long distance. An image flashed in my head of a young auburn-haired girl chasing butterflies in a garden. I recognized the garden but couldn’t place it. In my mind’s eye, the scene seem caged. There were impossible bars in the sky, confining the place I saw. It seemed a prison.

I couldn’t explain the name or the image, but both felt extremely familiar. A rush of feelings hit me at that moment, accompanied by a stream of what seemed like memories. I saw myself with the little girl and an older woman who she favored. I saw a mirror image of me staring forward. I saw the cage.

The Doctor slapped me with force and I quickly noticed I had been on the ground and out of breath before he had brought me to.

“Sorry. Terribly sorry. Not yet, Watson. Not yet. We need to get away from here first,” he apologized.

“What happened?” I asked him, feeling light-headed as I pushed myself up to stand.

“You fainted. It was expected.”

“I saw visions. Places and people,” I said, the words sounding ridiculous to me.

“I know it’s difficult, but you should ignore them for now.” He helped steady me and then lead me over to the area containing his “door”.

“I need you to trust me just a bit longer, my friend, Watson. I’ll tell you everything you need to know once we get to London and see Mycroft.”

I nodded vaguely, still reeling from the flood of mental flashes that had just overwhelmed me.

The Doctor pulled a small handheld rectangular device from his pocket and spoke to it, “Alright, Chief. Can you lock onto our signal?”

A voice answered him, emanating from the device the Doctor held in his hand.

“Locked on, Doctor.”

“Excellent. I’m feeding our patterns into the data stream now. If you’d be so kind, please make sure we end up with our good friend Mycroft, and not in Siberia,” he said with a sideways wink to me.

“I’ll try my best, sir,” came the response.

The Doctor turned to me and exuded a mysterious sense of infinite wisdom as he spoke to me, “I knew a fellow that said, ‘All the world’s a stage’. And, well, he’s partly right. There is that which is apparent to all of us, being enacted by us and before us by other people. We are all part of the same endless act. But with any successful production, dear Watson, there’s a great deal going on behind the curtains that we can’t see – that we shouldn’t see. I’ll say this: Don’t go looking for the men behind the curtain unless you’re prepared to face the possibility that you are merely a puppet in another man’s show.”

The Doctor wielded his sonic screwdriver again and aimed at a point in space. “Brace yourself, Watson. This ride may be a bit unsettling.” He activated the sonic screwdriver which emitted a painful high-pitched shriek. ” Chief, on my mark. Three … Two … One … Now!”

The sound of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver grew louder and I felt something akin to a violent push from behind me. My body did not change position, but a small circular hole grew in mid-air before me. I then realized the hole was not growing larger – I was growing smaller in proportion to it. The scene froze momentarily and then the woods around me begin to smear like someone had rubbed up against a wet painting of trees. All around me, the environment was stretching out to infinity. I could no longer feel my body, but I felt my soul being stretched out along a thin line as I, too, began to smear. With a deafening explosion of light and sound, I felt myself being pulled across a phenomenal distance at terrible speed. My sanity threatened to evaporate and my attempts to scream were blunted by the sudden realization that I no longer had a body.

With a lurch and a grotesque sense of being reassembled from scratch, I was whole again, in London, standing outside the home of Mycroft Holmes, my good friend’s similarly adept sibling. I promptly pitched forward in a faint and collapsed into a refuse bin set outside Mycroft’s front door.

When I awoke, I noticed I had been propped up in an alley next to Mycroft’s building. The Doctor was speaking into the rectangular device again.

“I haven’t told him yet, no,” he was saying. “The realization of the truth at this point could unravel everything. We have to keep him in the mindset he was in previously for just a bit longer. This all hinges on him.”

“Doctor, you’re risking his life,” the voice answered. “There must be another way.”

“There is no other way!” the Doctor shouted, obviously louder than he had wanted. He quickly turned towards me, but I remained still with my eyes shut, feigning unconsciousness.

“Trust me,” the Doctor said in a calmer tone. “I can get us all out of this, but you must do as I say. You probably have one last chance to do this before it’s on to us, and we need him focused and not thinking about his past.”

“Very well, Doctor,” the voice replied. “Give us a few minutes.”

Without warning, a desperate idea formed in my head. I know not why the thought suddenly occurred to me, but I felt I only had a short time to complete the task I felt needed to be done. An broken inkwell had been discarded in the alleyway and a minute volume of fresh ink was reserved in the broken glass. The Doctor still had his back turned to me and I stealthily reached out and stuck a finger in the ink. Rolling up my right sleeve, I wrote “Coraline” with my inked finger across my bared forearm. I quickly covered my arm again with my sleeve and feigned sleep again.

As I lay there, I sensed the Doctor approaching me and standing over my seated form. A strange tingling sensation began in my head and I felt distinctly as if heavy parts of my brain were dropping away. My mind felt lighter and I opened my eyes not understanding what had just happened.

The Doctor took my hand and helped me to my feet. “There we go. Upsy-daisy. Let’s go see our friend, Mycroft, shall we?” He bounded off down the alley towards the front street expecting me to follow, but he stopped short and looked at his hand.

“What’s this?” he queried to himself. “I don’t have a leaky pen on me again, do I?”

His left hand was smeared with ink and he began vigorously wiping it on his trousers.

“Pencils, Watson. Always use pencils, I say. Pens are very bad for the wardrobe – very bad indeed. I wonder where this ink came from.”

He spun on his heels and marched off again to the entrance of Mycroft’s building. When he was out of sight and around the corner of the alley, I looked down at my left hand and the ink smeared there. I had no recollection at all of how it had come to be on my hand. Calmly, I followed the Doctor without a word.

As I turned the corner, the Doctor was brazenly entering Mycroft’s door without knocking. I chased after him and only just slipped in the door before he slammed it shut behind him.

He turned and started violently, “Oh! Watson! You sneak!” he exclaimed.

“Nearly stopped both my hearts. I thought you were outside,” he panted, holding his chest. “Good gracious me.”

I huffed my displeasure at him and proceeded into Mycroft’s study ahead of him.

The elder Holmes’s study was large and impressive. Legal tomes lined shelves set into every wall, which were a rich and dark polished wood. The floor was adorned with impressive rugs covering the worn wooden slats. The furniture seemed pristine and untouched, and two large leather chairs seemed to have never been sat upon in their life.

Mycroft himself was a large fellow, boasting a rotund stature in opposition to his gaunt younger brother’s. When the Doctor and I entered the room, the elder Holmes was seated at a large desk facing a huge curtained window that normally offered a view of a poorly maintained, yet expansive garden. At least one of the windows was cracked open and a breeze gently rolled through the curtain like waves on the ocean.

Before I could clear my throat, Mycroft spoke to us in admonishing tones without turning to face us.

“I trust you haven’t tracked in the week’s rubbish, Watson,” he said, scribbling in a large opened ledger.

Mycroft’s powers of deduction surpassed even that of my friend’s; however, his excessive apathy to anything but his own business did not lend the same sense of nobility found in the younger Sherlock, exhibited by the latter through his repeated, if circumstantial, contribution to the welfare of society.

“So you heard us then?” the Doctor surmised.

“I can smell you,” he spat, still writing. “I assume that’s Tristan’s voice I hear, disguised as it might be.”

“Yes, Mycroft,” I sputtered. “We’ve come to -”

“Where is my brother? Too good to show his face here?”

“He’s in Yorkshire where you sent him,” I answered. “He sent us back to investigate the murders here.”

“Ridiculous!” Mycroft barked, refusing to stop his writing to turn around to face us. “Why would I send Sherlock to Yorkshire?”

“Careful, Watson,” the Doctor whispered to me.

I was at a loss. Sherlock had told me that it was specifically Mycroft who had turned him onto the cow case we had been on our way to investigate when our train was stopped.

“Sherlock said you had turned an acquaintance of yours to him for aid in a matter,” I explained.

“What acquaintance was this, Watson?” Mycroft had stopped writing and sat up straight, but still did not turn to face the Doctor and myself.

“He said you had met the gentleman on one of your occasional trips to Yorkshire.”

“Trips to Yorkshire? Me? Preposterous!” he snapped, pushing his mass up from the desk. “Now look -”

Mycroft spun as fast as his girth would allow and his eyes fell immediately on the Doctor.

“My God, Watson, what have you done?” whimpered Mycroft, his face completely drained of its color. He backed into his desk, overturning his inkwell which spilled black ink onto the rug. “You’ve brought the devil himself into my home!”

“Uh yes,” began the Doctor. “Bit of a mix-up here, I think. I’m -”

Mycroft turned a lethal gaze to me and pointed a stubby finger accusingly at the Doctor. “You’re in league with this villain?”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” the Doctor protested. “I’ve never been so insulted in my … well, there was that one time, but really? Name calling?”

Mycroft turned back to the Doctor. “How are you even alive? My brother said you fell to your death, you fiend!”

Holmes words set off sudden alarm bells in my head. The man standing next to me was no longer recognizable in my mind, though his appearance had not changed. Panic gripped me as I berated myself for having been such a blind and ignorant fool. Without a second wasted, I lunged for the bookcase to my right and opened a hidden compartment where I knew Mycroft stored a loaded handgun. Snatching it I spun around and aimed it directly at the man who I had been traveling with since I parted company with Sherlock.

“Moriarty!” I shouted victoriously. Hatred seethed within me, though my mind had not reconciled how our most dangerous nemesis had cheated death and managed to dupe both my brilliant friend and myself all this time.

“Whoa!” the Doctor shouted, throwing his hands up in the air. “Now wait a minute, Watson! Don’t listen to him!”

“Kill him, John!” Mycroft shouted. “Kill him now or he’ll wreak havoc across the globe! You’ve got him!”

My hand clenched tight around the gun and my finger began to tighten on the trigger. The villain had nearly killed all of us. His evil machinations had very nearly defeated my friend. Moriarty was the worst foe any of us had ever faced. At that moment, I knew that it was my duty to rid the world of his filth once and for all. I squeezed the trigger.

“Jeffrey don’t!” shouted the Doctor.

My finger straightened within at atom’s width of the trigger firing the gun. He had called me Jeffrey, and somehow I was convinced that Jeffrey was my name. Furthermore, I noticed ink on my right arm, peeking out from under my sleeve. With my left hand, I pulled back the sleeve and saw, in ink I had fingered onto my skin, the name “Coraline”.

Again, my mind was flooded by images of the girl, the woman, and the cage across the sky. My arms dropped to my sides and I saw the Doctor, paler than Mycroft had been, heave a sigh of relief. I knew it was not Moriarty in front of me, and I could not explain why I had suddenly felt it was.

“You humans,” he remarked. “Always finding a way over the wall. When did you write that -”

Both of us saw it at the same time in the periphery of our vision. The curtains were moving in a manner unlike waves on the ocean. Someone was there.

“Mycroft!” the Doctor shouted. “Behind the curtain!”

Both us bolted towards the doomed man, and I clearly remember seeing the gun emerge in slow motion from between the billowing curtains. Mycroft neither saw nor felt his death. The Doctor dove too late, and by the time he impacted the elder Holmes’s body, the bullet had done its fatal damage. Both men fell to the floor heavily before me and I began to fire wildly into the curtains, not caring who or what lay in wait behind them.

Having emptied the gun of bullets, I brazenly ran forward and ripped the curtains aside. No one was there. I stepped gingerly out the open window and gazed around the garden looking for the murderer. Scrambling over an exterior wall, I leaped down to the street and sprinted up and down the block, trying to discover where the person behind the curtain had gone. Whoever it was had made a swift retreat.

Reluctantly, I returned to the study to what I knew was another victim in this horrible game being played.

The Doctor was kneeling over the body and waving his sonic screwdriver over its crumpled mass. He then looked at the readings on the bizarre device.

“Poor Mycroft,” I sighed. “Sherlock will have my head for this.”

“No worries,” said the Doctor, leaping to his feet. He looked down at his trousers and noticed he had knelt in a puddle of spilled ink. “Oh no! Ink! Again! I swear I’m going to travel back and wipe the mind of the idiot that invented ink before he has a chance to ruin a pair of trousers. Pencils! Pencils!”

“No worries? He’s dead!” I shouted, my anger rising once again to a boil.

“He was never alive,” the Doctor said. “He’s an advanced positronic construct. Watch.”

He aimed the sonic screwdriver at the body and in a flash the flesh that was once Mycroft Holmes dispersed into glowing particles like dust motes in a ray of sunlight.

I was not shocked. I did not even blink at what I had just seen. What I needed to know more than anything was exactly who I was and why I was there.

“You called me Jeffrey.”

“That’s your name.”

“I’m not Dr. John H. Watson?”

“No,” he said quietly. “You’re not.”

“Who is Coraline?” I muttered, tears filling my eyes as I knew the answer already.

“She’s your daughter, Jeffrey. And she’s safe. So is your wife. I’ve seen them both.”

Staring at the Doctor I asked the most important question.

“Why am I here?” I demanded.

“Jeffrey,” the Doctor said with sadness. “You’re not really here.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode Five

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I warned you – several times in fact. I won’t apologize.

You will notice that the style begins to deteriorate from what was originally what I consider to be a very skillful representation of the tone and rhythm of the original Doyle adventures. I considered this as I wrote it, and, as you will glean (if you decide to continue reading), there is a logical explanation for said transformation as the story will reveal as the truth of things begins to surface. I’ll explain more of this later, though it may be more apparent than I give it credit.

I did not purposefully direct the story to this specific point from the beginning, as I have indicated before. There came a moment, a vision, and then I let the story veer towards that end. How could I not?

Will I ever write a straight Holmes story? I can, but it won’t be nearly as enjoyable for me.

I am a selfish bastard – and this is definitely NOT a Sherlock Holmes story.

5. Identity

It was not difficult for Tristan and I to secure a means of travel back to London. With speed a necessity, we settled upon a pair of horses from a livery not far from the campus. As I looked back over my shoulder as we rode away from Holmes, I was disappointed though not surprised that my colleague was already beyond concern for either Tristan or myself. His eyes were ponderous, and his gait as he stalked towards the office of a coach service revealed the return of his singular dedication to the case at hand.

“Do I detect a wee bit of weeping, Watson?” Tristan japed from beside me.

I ignored his comment and spurred my horse down the backcountry trail we would take back to London. I led the way for a good long while before Tristan pulled even with me so he could speak.

“Sorry, old chap,” he said to me, raising his voice above the wind and beat of hooves against the dirt road. “I’m only winding you up.”

I pretended not to hear him and attempted to focus on the road.

“There’s something I should tell you, Watson,” he continued. “Things are not what they seem.”

“Don’t you think I know that, you fool,” I yelled back at him. “I heard what he said just as well as you did.”

The man was truly tearing down every defense I had against the rise of my own ire – a fury which I had kept control of for years since my adolescence when it was allowed to run rampant. Everything the man said smacked of ruse and jest at my expense. Something did not sit well with me about his appearance. The similarity to Holmes was too perfect.

“That’s not exactly what I mean, Watson,” he said as he steered his steed through a patch of deep puddles. “We should be extremely cautious from this point on.”

I noticed then that his accent had changed a bit. In fact, it didn’t really seem like the same person I had heard speaking earlier – as if it were another man altogether in the saddle parallel to me.

He saw this dawning realization on my face and smiled slyly to me.

“You’ve figured it out then? Good boy, I knew you weren’t just a sidekick. No, never a doubt, Watson. I knew -”

I launched myself from my horse as soon as I had come within range of him. Our collision caused his horse to halt and rear up causing both of us hit the ground with force. Both horses galloped away into the woods on either side of the trail. By luck alone, Tristan was able to extricate himself from our tangle and stood over me, still smiling.

“Perhaps not,” he said to me, finishing his thoughts.

Slowly I stood and prepared to take the imposter on in hand-to-hand combat.

“Now look, Watson. I’ve no quarrel with you. In fact, I need to convince you that I’m here to help you, but you’re going to have to trust me.”

“Keep your poisoned words to yourself, imposter,” I shouted back at him. “You’re the villain here. I’m just surprised at your ability to have duped my friend for so long.”

Quickly, Tristan raised his hands and backed away from me.

“Me? A villain? Hardly,” he chuckled. “Just calm down and we’ll have a little sit-down and discuss this.”

Tension hung in the air like a fog. I felt myself overcome with emotion at the audacity of this man.

I heard a rustle in the bushes to my right and assumed it was one of our horses come back. Tristan, however, was distracted by the sound. I used this moment to launch myself at him.

I hit the man with force and once again we hit the ground in a tangle. I immediately maneuvered to pin him and then punched him with a quick right hook to the jaw.

“Who are you?” I demanded of him.

He rolled his eyes and moved his jaw back and forth. “Good right hand there. Goodness, yes.”

Again I hit him and I could tell my second punch hurt him.

“Alright, alright! I’ll tell you! Just stop hitting me, you violent man. Earthlings … such violence.” He closed his eyes and shook his head as if admonishing my entire race. “But first we should probably take care of the firebear behind you.”

“That’s it,” I growled and reared my fist back to hit him again.

Just then a deafening roar thundered through the woods from just behind me. With came a sudden blast of heat that stole the air from the vicinity. I suddenly found myself out of breath and I fell away from Tristan to face the nightmare behind me.

Tristan was quickly on his feet facing the monstrosity as I took in the ghastly sight from my vantage point on the ground.

The beast was vaguely reminiscent of a bear, but patches of its fur were interrupted with large patches of reptilian skin like that of a crocodile. Fin-like protrusions were set on either side of its head and the majority of its face was reptilian, especially the eyes, though the bulk of its head was definitely more akin to that of a bear. The beast’s back, while the creature was down on all fours, was almost eye level with me. Dragons sprung to mind, and suddenly I hoped against hope that the “fire” portion of the beast’s name was not derived from a similarity to those mythical beasts of legend.

“Don’t make any sudden movements, Watson. Get up slowly and do as I say.”

I did as he said, my heart pounding in my chest, my brain reeling at this impossibility of nature.

“It won’t attack us if we are still?” I ventured.

Tristan guffawed, “Ha! That would be convenient but no, dear Watson. It definitely knows we’re here and it definitely intends to eat us – well done, in fact.”

I reached my hand into my pocket carefully and fingered my knife, once again cursing myself for leaving my revolver on the train.

“Won’t do you any good, that knife,” Tristan said to me.

“What do you we do then? Wait for him to devour us like lobsters in a pot?”

“Just wait,” he replied. “Firebears can’t blow fire on call. They have to wait for a chemical to inflate a sack in their throats. They then expel the chemical while at the same time grinding flint like teeth in their jaws to ignite the chemicals. So I’d say we’ve got –”

The beast’s throat suddenly started to expand rapidly.

“Five seconds. Run!”

Tristan was already headed for the woods and I belatedly scrambled after him.

A sound like a steam engine expelling exhaust sounded from where we had just been standing and the woods lit up with flames. My coat caught fire and I could feel the intense heat licking my back as I ran in pursuit of Tristan. From behind me I heard the beast trundling after us – the sound of air inflating his throat like a child blowing up a balloon.

Tristan suddenly disappeared over a ridge and just as I heard the sound of the firebear’s second burst, I dove. There was a cliff over the ridge and I plummeted in complete panic for a few seconds before plunging into icy water. From underwater I saw the woods turn bright orange with the burst of fire that had followed me over the ridge. As soon as I surfaced, a hand covered my mouth and I was pulled back into a small cove at the point where the small cliff met the water.

Tristan whispered desperately in my ear. “Stay quiet and still. It doesn’t like water, but if its hungry, it will chance losing its fire.”

I yanked his hand away from my mouth and replied, “If it can’t blow fire, then it’s not so bad.”

“Have you fought a grizzly bear with a fork before, Watson? No? Well, scrumming with that chap up there would be like fighting ten grizzly bears with a feather. Now please be quiet and maybe it will abandon us.”

I pulled myself away from him and took up a position further into the little cove. It was then that I noticed that Tristan had changed. In fact, Tristan was in the process of changing as I watched. His appearance flashed from the Holmesish Tristan I had met to that of a ridiculous looking man with unruly brown, curly hair in a ratty brown coat and an unfathomably long scarf that was soaking up water and threatening to drown him. Finally, the Tristan appearance vanished completely.

Tristan, if that was his name, turned back to me and saw my face.

“Oh,” he whispered reaching down under the water to one of his pockets. “Not exactly waterproof, this.”

He pulled a device from beneath the water that I had never seen the like of before. He struggled with it briefly as it became tangled in his scarf, before holding it up for me to inspect.

“Perception filter,” he explained, letting the object fall out of his hand and into the water. “Not exactly useful anymore either.”

There was a roar that echoed through the woods, but it sounded further away.

Tristan nodded to himself and rose up further out of the water, slinging a sopping wet end of his scarf over a shoulder.

“That’s that then. We’ll just go the other way.”

“Now wait just a minute,” I said, half-swimming over to him and grabbing his coat. “You’re going to tell me who you are or I’m going to drown you right here.”

The man sighed and nodded. “Let’s get out of this water and I’ll tell you everything.”

I shoved him roughly toward the bank opposite us and he obliged.

Once we were out of the water, he shook like a dog, and began to wring out the ridiculous scarf. After a few moments, and seeming satisfied that he had wrung out every inch of the scarf, he then extended a hand to me.

“Hello, I’m –”

Fire erupted around us with no warning. I dove back into the water, but the man I knew as Tristan stood his ground. Once the initial burst had dissipated, I spied the firebear that had snuck up on us. Tristan faced it down and removed a slender tool from his pocket.

“Stay in the water, Watson,” he said to me. “I didn’t want to do this, but we have no choice. I’m terribly sorry, old bear.”

As he said these last words, the device in his hand began to emit a high-pitched squeal like I’ve never heard before. I clasped my hands over my ears, but the pain the sound caused in my head did not abate. The firebear was obviously affected by it as well. The beast shook its head side to side desperately in pain as the throat sac began to inflate. The sound increased in intensity and just as it reached an unbearable peak, Tristan shouted “Down!” and dove into the water beside me. I quickly dove under with him.

As soon as our heads retreated beneath the surface, the woods exploded with flame. The water soon became unbearably hot and as I looked up from underwater, I saw the surface ripple as chunks of steaming refuse hit it. I soon realized this was flesh of the firebear.

After I couldn’t hold my breath any longer I surfaced. Tristan was already out of the water and shaking his device to next to his ear, smiling.

“Sonic Screwdriver,” he said holding the device out to show me, beaming. “Now THIS is waterproof. Ha ha!”

He attempted to leave the water, but his scarf had become snagged on a submerged log. It became difficult not to smile at the scene – one might think that the scarf was an aquatic creature attempting to drag the man under the water’s surface. A delayed cognizance of the events that had just occurred washed over me, erasing the smirk from my face.

“Tristan , how did you -” I sputtered.

“Elementary my dear Watson,” he said, extricating the scarf from its captor. “Ha! Did you hear that? I said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’, ha ha!”

I only stared at him blankly.

“Sorry, yes. Nine hertz tone,” he explained, waving his Sonic Screwdriver at me. “Created a static resonance in the firesacs. Can’t stop that from causing a big BOOM, eh?

The man’s smile was as ridiculous as his scarf, disarmingly so. The word “lunatic” came to mind.

“Who –” I began to ask.

“Oh yes, as we were,” he said extending his hand out to me again.

“Hello,” he said to me, his eyes twinkling with mischief, yet deep with an unfathomable wisdom. “I’m the Doctor.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode Four

geh

It’s not that I didn’t want to complete this story in Doyle’s style – I was enjoying the challenge. The truth is that an idea came to me that I could not let go of. It nagged at the back of my mind until, slowly, it began to corrupt the beautiful little fan fiction I had created.

Some will say that this is where the story goes wrong. For me, this is where I began to do what I do best. I am not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and while this remains fan fiction of an entirely different variety, this is my palette from here on in.

This is NOT a Sherlock Holmes story.

4. Revelations

Holmes’ contact in Leeds was a gentleman named Kenneth Buchanan, a chemist who operated a small collection of laboratories attached to the university there. Holmes had been corresponding with Buchanan for several years in regard to his own independent experiments in chemistry, and apparently the two held a great deal of respect for each other. Most often, when Holmes was unable to manufacture the results he desired in an experiment, Buchanan would be able to direct him towards a solution. It is for this expertise in the field of chemistry that Holmes had chosen him to assist us in this most unusual case.

One would think, by observation of the gracious amounts of geniality displayed by the two masters, that they had been long friends. The truth was that neither had met each other in person. Buchanan was exceedingly pleased by our sudden visit and set right to inquiring as to the case his specialization would benefit.

The chemist was middle-aged, of short stature and dark in complexion. From above his lips sprouted an immense black moustache that was rivaled only by the hair on top of his head in its chaos. He wore spectacles perched on the knob of his nose and it was through these that he peered at the contents of the vial I produced for him.

“Interesting coloration,” he said. “I presume that this is most likely the byproduct of some reaction, and judging by uneven coarseness of the granules I’d have to say it’s likely a mixture of substances we’re looking at.”

“Precisely my feelings,” commented Holmes. “Being lacking in the proper instruments in the field, I held off judgment towards any specifics.”

“Well, we have all that you shall need here,” Buchanan responded while gesturing to his lab and its collection of retorts, crucibles, alembics, and Bunsen burners.

“Though I would enjoy the opportunity to see you gather your results in person, Dr. Buchanan, I regret that Dr. Watson and I have some other business to attend to. We shall rejoin with you in an hour at the most,” explained Holmes.

“Understood, my friend. I shall have something for you upon your return,” replied the chemist and set off immediately to work.

We departed the laboratory with Holmes appearing in good spirits despite the serious and personal nature of the case we were now entangled in.

“I have the greatest confidence that Buchanan will be able to provide a most important clue to the events on the rail, and perhaps to the entirety of our current problem.”

“He did seem rather keen on the idea of providing assistance to us,” I mused.

“Indeed. Buchanan is one of the best in his field, and boasts an attention to detail that I find refreshing. It is rare to find an individual with such an eye for hidden meanings in chemical residues. Our interests in this regard are in the best of hands.”

We passed quickly through the campus of the university, it having been only just incorporated following a number of years as a prominent school of medicine. Holmes had returned to his quickened pace and stalked through the streets with purpose. We departed from the sleek architecture of the blocks surrounding the campus university and soon found ourselves in the shadows of a neighborhood of lesser repute. The sun was finding rips in the clouds which allowed a fair amount of rays to beam down on us throughout the campus, but the district we had just entered seemed to repel sunlight unnaturally.

After several turns down dark twisting alleys, Holmes stopped in front of a low building with no windows. Being wedged between two larger buildings that appeared to be warehouses and having no street entrance, the place would have been easy to miss. This was probably due to its dark purpose – a haven for addicts – which I deduced from the acrid odor surrounding it.

“An opium den?” I whispered in surprise.

He elbowed me in the ribs with force and gave me a glare that immediately shut off any further attempt to question him or the purpose of our visit to such a low place. Just then, seeming to melt away from the wall of the place, a man appeared. I was shocked by his sudden appearance as just a moment before I would have sworn there was nothing in front of the building other than a pile of refuse.

The man was an Oriental – I thought most likely Chinese considering the number of them involved with these vile drug pits throughout England. My first thoughts were confirmed as he barked out a line of Mandarin at us. I noticed, to my surprise and sudden fear, that he was holding a cruel dagger just under the patchwork coat he wore. I surreptitiously slid my hand into my pocket where I kept a small knife of my own, cursing myself for having left my revolver on the train.

Holmes then responded in similar style to the man, and made a subtle gesture with his fingers at his waist. The Chinaman nodded and returned to his post, appearing once again as a pile of garbage. I had no time to ponder over the events that had just occurred as Holmes was then pulling me into a hell I had only entered once or twice before in similar dens back home.

The ceilings were uncomfortably low and most of the decorations were a dark tar-stained red. It was difficult to tell where the stains ended and the shadows began. Smoke hung like thin curtains drifting down from the hanging lamps sparsely scattered through the place. Holmes led me down a long corridor. I tried, but I could not keep my eyes from peering into the depths of the rooms to either side of us as we passed. All manner of men could be found here – fallen nobles, lost students, wastes of men, vaporous apparitions of humankind. Some stooped over low flames, some danced about chanting with eyes as luminous as the moon. One man stood naked in front of a broken mirror and wept.

I began to feel nauseous from the fumes, but Holmes pulled me forwards down an adjoining hallway. Finally we entered a room, but my relief turned to serious shock at what I witnessed there. The room was bare of furniture save for a ratty, old-fashioned chair with a high back. A small pit of coals lent the only light in the room, and there, lounging lazily in the chair with his feet propped up on a pile of dusty books was Sherlock Holmes!

Hearing us enter the room, he lifted his head from his semi-slumber and said in a voice I had heard a hundred times before,” Holmes! What brings thee to this hebetudinous warren of langorous lassitude?”

“Lord Almighty!” I exclaimed and, whether a result of shock or simply the heavy inhalation of fumes, promptly fainted.

I recovered after a few moments and a few pulls from a flask of brandy the other Holmes had on hand. I nearly fainted again seeing two of them standing over me, but soon I could see the difference in the hairlines and intricate details of the facial structures. The other man was nearly an identical twin.

I was still speechless and the real Holmes quietly smirked to himself waiting for my assessment of this development. The other man handed me a cigarette which I gladly accepted and inhaled deeply, hoping the touch of tobacco smoke would refresh my lungs after the assault from the opium fumes.

“Dear me, Watson, take it easy on that,” remarked Holmes a bit too late. I had just inhaled a large amount of marijuana smoke. I began to cough in spasms and the two men hauled me to my feet and forced another two swallows of brandy down my throat.

“May I introduce Mr. Tristan Brady,” said Holmes, gesturing to the man next to him. “Tristan, this is my associate Dr. Watson.”

“The ambit of such a momentous and fortuitous intersection of luminaries exceeds the limits of my skills in delineation,” spoke the man.

“You will have to forgive Tristan’s eloquent manner of speech,” chimed Holmes. “The only book he has ever read was Roget’s Thesaurus.”

“The only book I ever finished, you mean, old boy.”

“It is certainly a …” I hesitated a moment before continuing, “pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“A pleasure shared, I’m sure,” he replied, simply beaming. “The ever loyal Watson. At last we meet. Holmes speaks very highly of you. So much in fact that I sometimes wonder if you’ve both gone a bit Greek in all the time you have spent in each others’ company.”

At this he squeezed the plumpness of my stomach in jest.

“How dare you!” I exclaimed, extremely upset by his manner.

“Now, now, gentleman,” chided Holmes. “We have serious matters to attend to. Will you join us, Tristan? We are returning to Buchanan’s laboratory for the results of examination of evidence. We shall fill you in on the way.”

“By all means, lead the way, dear Holmes,” said Tristan.

As we exited the room Tristan winked and pursed his lips at me and it was all I could do to keep from giving the clown a bunch of fives.

“Watson’s moustache dost bristle like the hackles of dog when he’s fit to snap, eh?” he whispered to Holmes as we made our way back through the opium den. If I had not started to feel the shallow effects of the marijuana, I may have tackled him.

The walk was more leisurely as we made our way back to the campus. Holmes explained our adventures thus far and in turn relayed to me the relationship between the two strikingly similar gentlemen. Tristan had actually been an adversary of my friend in a case of theft some years back. Holmes had won out in the end, but not after he himself was nearly accused of the crimes by Scotland Yard. Tristan, discovering the famous Sherlock Holmes was on his trail, used his natural similarity to the man to his advantage and had proceeded to perpetrate several petty crimes in the guise of the famous detective. Once Holmes had sorted out the case, Scotland Yard dropped its case against my friend, but not before Holmes interceded on behalf of Tristan, succeeding in having his sentence commuted to community service as a tool against crime. Holmes paid him little, but apparently kept him in good supply of his drug of choice. When I questioned why I had never met the man before, Holmes explained how his look alike fit into to his methods.

“It is elementary. You have never met him, Watson, because I wish him only to be seen where I am not. Since you are often by my side on these cases, it is logical that you would never see the man,” he explained.

I accepted this explanation, but I did not accept the conduct of this jester we had picked up. His attitude towards me was as if I were a sideshow act to be ridiculed and chuckled at. If not for my friend Holmes’ need for the man, I would have promptly dispatched the poor fellow in the manner any former soldier would dispatch a pestering hoodlum such as he.

Suddenly it dawned on me what the course of action would be after we left Buchanan.

“Holmes!” I said, stopping on the sidewalk outside the laboratory. “I absolutely refuse to have this man accompany me back to London.”

“Me thinks the Watson dost protest too much,” came the retort from Tristan, and it was the last straw.

I lunged at the man with my fist cocked back, ready to deliver a punch that would lay out an ordinary man. I found out quickly that Holmes’ profile was not the only trait they shared. In a move so quick that I was unaware it had passed until I was on the ground, Tristan used my momentum against me, cast me over his shoulder and flat onto my back. I lay there dazed for a moment, attempting to reconstruct where my attack had gone wrong.

“Do get up, Watson, we have no time to dawdle.”

I had no idea which of them said it, but both stood over me with the same sly smirk on their faces.

When we returned to receive Buchanan’s verdict we found the laboratory in a state of violent disarray, even on fire in some areas. Buchanan himself was considerably singed and covered with soot.

“Rubidium!” the chemist exclaimed, his face a radiant presentation of triumph.

“Are you sure?” replied Holmes.

“Normally found in extracts of zinnwaldite and other ores, but rarely ever in this state!” Buchanan cheered. “I have never actually had it available to study here in the lab. It was only recently discovered, you know. The thirty-seventh element. It is felt that in a decade or so we may use it for any number of highly advanced medical and scientific experiments. Its properties are quite remarkable.”

“Remind me to apologize to you later, Watson,” Holmes said absently in my direction.

Tristan chuckled at this and I began to fume once again.

“Yes, yes, it’s a wonder the both of you were not blown to pieces on the way here – holding such a volatile substance in a glass vial without a protective oil to encase it. This can ignite merely with exposure to moisture,” Buchanan explained.

I was not amused.

“But the remaining question is how does this fit in with the series of events so far?” mused Holmes.

He began to pace, sidestepping the debris in his path.

“Now that we know it is Rubidium, I think we can rule out that it is the byproduct of a reaction. More likely this is excess from it being the catalyst in the reaction,” stated Buchanan.

“Could that mean that the man blew himself up?” I queried.

“That would not fit with Mitchell’s description of the event. I have full confidence that what he saw actually happened. The man simply vanished. Besides it would take a blast of excessive magnitude to completely vaporize a man, and such a blast would most likely have derailed the train.”

“This reminds me of the stories a friend of mine has written,” said Tristan. He had seated himself upon a writing desk and was twirling a test tube between his fingers. “Wells is his name. Future fiction they are calling it. More science than fiction, I say. His ideas aren’t too far from possibility.”

“Yes, I’m acquainted with him,” said Holmes. “However, I am not yet prepared to accept that there is anything but a simple solution to all of this.”

“Well, I am sorry I cannot help you further,” the chemist apologized. “Thank you though for the opportunity. I have saved a sample for further study. It will keep me busy for weeks.”

Holmes stopped pacing and moved to shake Buchanan’s hand in thanks.

“I cannot thank you enough for …” A reflection of light danced over Holmes face, and he suddenly turned his head towards the window. In a flash he was lunging at the chemist.

There was the sound of shattering glass and a second after Holmes hit the chemist with his full body, Buchanan’s head erupted in a fountain of blood.

Tristan and I both dropped to the ground below the level of the windows. Holmes was cursing himself as he examined the chemist’s wound.

There was silence for several moments before Tristan pushed himself to his feet and removed a revolver from a hidden holster under his coat. He peered out the window cautiously, using an unwindowed area of the wall for cover.

“There’s an open window across the courtyard. I don’t see anyone there,” he reported.

“No doubt he has done what he came to do,” spouted Holmes in fury.

I rushed over to Holmes and the chemist to see if there was anything I could do for the man, but Buchanan was already dead.

“Soft bullet,” Holmes explained, turning the skull side to side to show the small entry wound and the gaping bowl of an exit wound. “Maximum damage. Tristan, head over to that open window across the way and see what you can find. If you have the chance, send someone for the local authorities. Be careful, and try not to touch anything.”

Tristan nodded and left the laboratory, gun in hand.

“We have lost another good man to this damned scheme,” Holmes lamented. “I cannot help but blame myself. How in God’s name have I erred so much that death has seen fit to follow me in such a manner.”

Holmes sat up and sighed, running his hands over his long face, now pale and gaunt from overexertion. He chanced to turn his head slightly and in doing so he noticed something embedded in the high wooden examination table.

“What’s this then?”

He moved quickly to get a better look at it, then turned to face the shattered window. The object that had caught his attention was the bullet and its final resting place in the table, just below the thin granite top.

“The shooter could certainly have cleared the sill to hit the table at that angle,” I noticed.

“Indeed, Watson, but what does that say about the shooter’s aim?”

Holmes’ brow was furrowed as he stood. For several repetitions he walked back and forth from the window to the table, holding his hand at different angles to measure trajectory.

“Watson, stand here,” he said, pointing to approximately the point where Buchanan had been standing when Holmes had attempted to save him.

“Why would the assassin not aim at the point Buchanan’s head was while he was standing where you are? It’s readily apparent that I was not his target, and that in itself brings up a further line of questions. Why would our adversary not wish to kill me, thus taking me out of the equation? Either the man was a terrible shot and by some amazing coincidence happened to hit the mark as Buchanan fell …”

“Or the shooter knew that you were going to try and save him, and he aimed exactly where the chemist’s head was going to be at the exact moment he fired.”

The last voice was from Tristan who had returned with both the police and an ashen countenance.

“You need to come see this, Holmes.”

Holmes silently nodded and we both followed Tristan over to the building with the open window. The building was an annex of the library that acted as a holding area for books not officially entered in the library’s records. Literally thousands of books lined bookcase after bookcase. At the open window there was an apparatus which only slightly resembled a rifle. Its long barrel was thin but the butt end of the gun was heavy and square. A counter-balance hung from under the barrel to keep it from falling backwards on its stand. Holmes took great care to examine every detail of the scene.

“You two, please stand away from here, I don’t want this area disturbed.”

Tristan and I acquiesced and took up positions ten feet further away.

“This stand was preset so that the shooter only had to pull the trigger. The legs are kept steady by a strong adhesive on the stand’s feet. But why would the suspect leave such a telling scene? The adhesive, the weapons construction – it can all be traced in the end.”

Holmes peered down the barrel of the weapon which bore a remarkable telescopic sight.

“Just as I thought,” remarked Holmes. “He was aiming exactly where the bullet hit.”

Holmes then proceeded to examine the weapon itself. After a thorough examination, he depressed two buttons on its top, at which point a soft hissing sound began. The sound continued to grow in volume for several seconds before Holmes reached up and pulled the trigger. There was an audible and visible release of steam from the bottom of the butt of the weapon and a slight pop.

“A steam-powered rifle,” concluded Holmes. “There are pellets of a volatile substance in the rear section of the gun that are released into a water reservoir with water from another compartment by pressing these two buttons. After a sufficient build-up of pressure, the trigger releases the steam with enough velocity to propel the bullet at speeds high enough to kill a man.”

Tristan and I looked at each other, both only glimpsing the significance of the discovery in our minds.

“Two singular points are now clear, gentleman, and both point to one explanation,” Holmes stated while standing up straight. His face was grave but I detected the same twinkle in his eyes that accompanied a sudden break in the case.

“You were not too far off when you mentioned Wells, Tristan.  I put it to you both that, firstly, this adversary knows my every move before it happens, and secondly we are dealing with forces beyond our capacity to imagine. I bring to your attention also the small amount of familiar residue approximately where the shooter would have been standing to fire the weapon. Rubidium again.”

I was dumbfounded at his statement. Always the rational man, Holmes never gave a moment’s thought to the fantastic, the magical, the impossible.

“Our adversary, gentlemen, is not from this world.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode Three

frar

Hmm … Still seems like a Sherlock Holmes story …

I continue to connect this story with events played out in several of Doyle’s pieces, and yet, something smells fishy … almost jellyfish sticky.

3. A Web of Deceit

My friend began to exhibit the usual symptoms of keen interest in strange circumstances. His gait became noticeably different, stalking more than leisurely strolling. His eyes were afire with life, taking in every detail of every nook and cranny. His fingers twitched in purposeful patterns as if he were calculating important figures in his head.

The attendant who had been helpful to us so far escorted us back to the rear-most car where the lead engineer had been taken. A railway official had Mitchell seated in a folding chair at the end of the car on the ties, thus hiding him from any curious passengers. The lead engineer was given a glass of water and though his color was returning, he was still very agitated.

“I tell ye I saw a man standin’ there plain as day and then he just disappeared,” the man explained, presumably repeating the same story he had been conveying to his inquisitors.

“What was this man wearing?” asked Holmes as we walked up to the scene.

The official turned to face us, seeming rather upset at the interruption of his investigation.

“This is official business, sir,” he barked. “You should return to your cabin at once. We’ll be underway shortly.”

Our helpful friend stepped forward at this point and said, “This is Mr. Sherlock Holmes, sir, and his assistant, Dr. Watson.”

Whispers broke out among the other attendants, porters, and railmen at the scene. The official obviously recognized the name. His jaw jutted forward and his bottom lip pursed outward in annoyance.

“A freelance meddler, nothing more,” he said gruffly. “You show me some paperwork of authority from Scotland Yard and I will gladly turn over the investigation to you. Otherwise, you had best turn back towards the passenger cabins and wait until we are underway or I shall have you escorted back.”

Holmes stood his ground and removed a parcel of paper from his pocket with the official seal of Scotland Yard imprinted upon it. I glanced and saw that it had been signed by Inspector Lestrade. Holmes handed the document to the official whose eyes widened.

The official perused the text and quietly handed Holmes the document back.

“If you would be so kind as to give us some privacy, gentleman,” Holmes said to the crowd, “this is official business.”

The assorted rail workers turned and left the scene, but the official hesitated a moment, his face turning a thousand shades of red, before he stomped off in defeat.

“Where did you get that?” I asked my friend after we were alone with the engineer and our good attendant.

Holmes smirked and said, “Oh I keep several on hand for emergencies – some from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Agriculture, all clever forgeries. Lestrade’s signature is one of the easiest to mimic as it resembles the scrawling of a five-year-old.”

Even Mitchell chuckled at this, and I doubled over with laughter, “You old rogue. You would find yourself in a great deal of trouble if someone were to find out.”

“Indeed, Watson. That is why I only use them in the most desperate situations.” He then turned to our engineer and gave him a gentle smile before proceeding to question him about the events.

The engineer was happy to answer our questions, no matter what direction they took. Mitchell had been riding the rails since he was sixteen, and had a keen interest in locomotives all his life. He had never touched a drop of alcohol his entire life and had no vices to speak of. He was unmarried and traveled extensively as his position allowed.

Holmes returned to his initial line of questioning in regards to the clothes the vanishing man had been wearing.

“He had a long dirty coat,” Mitchell replied. “His pants were thick material, leather maybe, and his boots had heavy thick soles.”

“Rubber soles?”

“Aye, they had to have been as they were thickly treaded like mountaineering boots. And the feller wore goggles that he had set up on his forehead, holding down the brightest yellow hair you ever seen.”

“You mean blonde?” interrupted Holmes.

“Nay, when I say yellow I mean yellow as a canary. That’s all I can tell ye. I didn’t have long to look afore I had to pull the brakes.”

“Now, in regards to that precise moment and the moments following, were you the only man in position to be looking out the forward glass?” questioned Holmes.

“Aye, I was. The others had tasks to attend to that wouldn’t allow a view of the rails in front. No matter what they say, I’m the only that could have seen him.”

“So you engaged the brakes. Did you look away to do so?”

“I did not. I know my engine blinded. I set my hands on the lever and never once did my eyes leave that face. I thought for sure that he was a goner.”

“And the man vanished, you say. Did he make any gesture before you saw him disappear?” continued Holmes.

“Yeah, he did, in fact. He brought his hand up to his chest just before he went ‘poof'”

“Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. You’ve been most helpful,” concluded Holmes.

“So you believe me then?” the engineer asked, looking hopeful.

“I’m sorry,” replied Holmes. “Given the description of the circumstances in addition to your history, I’d have to say the apparition was a result of stress and overwork. You should really look into a holiday.”

Dejectedly Mitchell let his chin fall to his chest.

Holmes turned to the attendant still with us and asked if it was true that there was telegraph station only two miles to the west. The attendant verified it was true and Holmes instructed him to have our bags rerouted from York station to Leeds, giving him enough money cover the expense plus a generous tip.

“Up for some exercise, Watson?” Holmes asked as he grabbed my arm and turned me towards the direction of the telegraph station.

I nodded and began to walk with him away from the train. After a few minutes of walking we heard the train whistle sound and the engine roar to life as the train continued its journey without us.

“Surely the man’s testimony coupled with the evidence we found on the track was enough to prove his story,” I voiced after being able to stand the silence no longer.

“Very good, Watson. He was indeed telling the truth. Subtle facial and body language confirmed that at least he believed he was telling the truth, and our investigation of the scene corroborates.” he replied.

“But why the deception?”

Holmes’ face was serious and we walked several meters before he spoke.

“Watson, we are dealing with powers I’ve not come in contact with before. On many occasions, as you may well remember, the facts presented in our cases lean towards a supernatural or otherworldly cause, though in the end we always are able to bring light to the simple truth behind them. Recall the cases of the Speckled Band and the curse of Baskervilles, both odd circumstances leaning towards weird phenomena, but both simply and scientifically explained – both simply evil plots of desperate yet clever men.

“This time, however, I cannot account for the situation. The strange clothing, the boot print, the residue on the tracks, the timely telegram, the case of the cows, and the murder of Inspector Bridges are all somehow connected and at the moment I am at a loss as to what the connecting strands are in this web of deceit laid about us.”

“You mention only the Bridges incident,” I said, “Do you believe the telegram was entirely a fake and that a second official from Scotland Yard was not murdered?”

“We shall know soon enough. Assuming the messenger from the train was not an accomplice to the scheme, we should be receiving a telegram from Lestrade upon our arrival at the telegraph office either confirming or denying the murder.”

We continued our walk and soon discovered that the distance to the telegraph office was more likely three miles instead of two. At Holmes’ determined and unbroken pace, I was slightly winded by the time we walked up the steps and into the offices of the telegrapher.

“Yes, sir. We’ve just received a communication for a Mr. Tobias,” the telegrapher said to us after Holmes’ had given him the false name. “I’ve not typed it up yet, but here’s the text if you can read my handwriting.”

He handed the hand-written message to Holmes which read as follows:

“Tobias – Sorry haven’t written. Two dogs have died and now a pup as well. My condolences, as pup is Bradley. Your rooms have been redecorated. Come home soon. – Margaret”

I raised my eyebrows at the unusual message, but looking at Holmes’ face I saw a deep grief that I had not witnessed before. He seemed on the verge of tears and quickly exited the building without a word. I followed him in confusion, but waited for him to speak. He began to pace rapidly only stopping to bash his fist into a lamppost outside the telegraph office.

“Blast it all, Watson!” he exclaimed, pounding the lamppost in time with the syllables of his outburst.

“A coded message from Lestrade?” I asked.

“Yes, and a most disturbing one. This case has suddenly become very personal. Not since the Moriarty business have I felt so set upon,” he said, still pacing up and down the sidewalk. “What to do, what to do?”

“What did Lestrade have to say?”

“He says he did not send the first telegram, but confirms that a total of two policemen have been murdered. And not only that, Watson, the fiend has struck out at an innocent. He has murdered one of the Baker Street Irregulars, poor Bradley … but a child …” Holmes was obviously overcome with emotion at this point, and halted his ceaseless pacing.

I stood silent and waited for him to compose himself.

After a minute, he stood up straight, the stoic presentation of resolution across his face.

“We shall take a coach to Leeds and visit my chemist acquaintance there to ascertain the properties of the residue we have collected. There we will break company, Watson. I will continue on to the Dales in disguise and see what I may learn there of this treacherous series of events. You will return to London and immediately track down my brother Mycroft. The message also says that Baker Street has been raided. If this criminal is set on hitting at me directly, he may go for my closest acquaintances, so Mycroft and Lestrade may both be in danger, not to mention yourself, Watson. You must arm yourself at all times and be prepared for anything.”

I nodded my understanding, feeling a wave of dreadful foreboding wash over me. Again and again in the past had I moments of fear and trepidation when heading towards a climax of action while assisting Holmes, but this particular time I began to wonder if this would be the one adventure we would not survive.

Holmes went back in and sent a telegram to both farmers, Davison and Baker, to say that he was unavoidably detained and could not offer his assistance in the strange case.

We hired a hansom for the trip to Leeds and Holmes drove us at breakneck speed down the winding roads. He spoke in a near frantic voice as he drove and I had not seen him so flustered in all my years with him.

“Magicians can cleverly use smoke and mirrors to produce illusions. I’ve even known the necessity to use such methods myself on occasion, but the event on the rails is quite honestly beyond me. Our only lead is that vial you carry in your pocket.”

“What do you make of the engineer’s description of the vanishing man?” I asked.

“I can make nothing of it, Watson, and therefore I will leave it alone. We have been breaking one of my primary rules. We must follow the path of least resistance from now on, no matter how outlandish an ending it leads us towards. Our adversary obviously knew of my trip to Yorkshire before we left, which means he must have somehow gleaned the information from Mycroft. The murder of Bridges was an obvious attempt to get me to remain in London, whether for some sinister plan at that location or to keep me away from some crime about to occur in Yorkshire.

“Discovering I had left London, our adversary masterminded the interruption with the train and the delivery of the false telegram. Since we don’t know the particulars of the two most recent murders, we cannot assume they are related, but it is most likely the same murderer after the same end result of me returning to London.

I tried to listen as much as I could, but my attention was diverted time and again to the road as we shot over bridges and through curves recklessly, once even turning the cart up on one wheel.

“Once we get to Leeds, I will send another coded message to Lestrade to make preparations for our return. You and I will be returning on horseback under cover of night.”

“But Holmes,” I interjected, gripping the seat cushion in fear of flying out of the hansom. “You said you were going to the Dales.”

“I am going to the Dales, Watson,” he replied. “But I am also returning to London. I shall explain once we reach the laboratory in Leeds.”

The scenery shot by us in a blur. Considering our diversion away from the train, our enemies could not know our current whereabouts or our next destination. That did nothing to alleviate the feeling that even as we flew across the countryside we were being watched.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode Two

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I would venture to say that fans of fan fiction are a ferociously fickle faction of feral freaks. They tend to be too forgiving of continuity flaws, and to quick to give credit to blatant and predictable repetition. I respect the fan fictioneer that writes a story from a secondary character’s point of view, or fills in a gap between established canon – I cringe at the Fourth Doctor molesting Sarah Jane with his scarf. Taking someone’s created universe and weaving your own creativity with its threads requires a certain amount of respect to the source material. I believe if you know the original Sherlock – not the Americanized version, or the Downey Jr. brutish portrayal, or the Cumberbatchy brilliance – then you can see that I have a lot of respect for the original source material, in addition to a familiarity with the setting. It may not be entirely accurate, but at least it sounds like Doyle.

Again, it is too bad this is not a Sherlock Holmes story.

 

2. The Vanishing Man

I returned, shortly after a quick meal and a wash, packed and ready to go. The journey to York would take several hours and I had packed the necessary comforts for a long trip. It had been decades since I had ventured into Yorkshire, and I looked forward to taking in some of the greatest countryside views England has to offer.

As to the details of the case Holmes was so keen on advising, he kept silent – only once raising a finger in the middle of the question as it was exiting my mouth. We took a silent ride by hansom over to King’s Cross and were able to make entry directly to our train. It would be a long journey to York where we would then take a hackney coach into the rural areas. The locomotive jerked forward and we began our journey with Holmes staring out at the people still on the platform, taking in every detail of every person. After a good distance of travel had passed, which I had spent perusing the Times and reading a yellow-backed novel, Holmes supplied me with the details of the investigation we were about to begin.

“Farmers of the Dales are proud folk as you know,” he began. “Their livelihood fully depends, season to season, on the health of their stock. You will not find it as romanticized as the American way of ranching and farming – some families manage only a few assorted livestock, a milking cow, a few goats, perhaps a handful of pigs or sheep. There are, however, a few big-minded men that specialize in certain animals and it is a group of those men which this case revolves around.”

He paused to drag in a few deep inhalations from his pipe before continuing.

“Cows, Watson,” he remarked.

“Hmm?” I replied.

“What do you know about cows?” he expanded, still staring out his window.

“Very little, other than the obvious,” I admitted. “My family had pigs, and even then our farm was separate from our family home and was run by cousins of my mother. I can only remember one or two times that I was ever there.”

“Would you think that you have the observational capacity to be able to tell two cows apart if they were shown to you, taken into a closed barn, and then brought back out again?”

“I should think so,” I replied. “I am sure I could determine one or two details for each cow that would keep them separate in my mind.”

“Even if their markings had been manipulated? I would bring your focus back to our case of the missing horse some time ago, when even the horse’s owner could not tell the white diamond on his prized racehorse had been painted over to conceal its identity.”

“I do remember that,” I said. “Is this new case one of disguised identity as well?”

“Perhaps,” Holmes said, pulling breath through his pipe. “Here are the facts I have gleaned from the case so far.

“A Mr. Thomas Baker, a farmer and long time resident of these parts, lives in one quadrant of a rather expansive set of land. Situated as such, he shares boundaries with two other farmers and sits diagonal to another farm. All four farms are owned primarily by cattle farmers, with the exception of Baker, who is also a horse enthusiast.

“Mr. Baker sent word to me by telegram of the case, having procured my details through my brother Mycroft, who often will spend brief holidays in the area when he is not being completely lazy and anti-social. The telegram arrived yesterday and stated the following:

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes – On advice from your brother, one Mycroft Holmes, I have been made aware of your special skills in cases of mystery. I hope you will find the good graces to lend your skill towards one such case involving some of my stock. Yesterday morning, I took notice of two young heifers within my herd that were not mine, after which I set to counting the lot and found I was none short. Again this morning, the same has happened. I am not missing any stock by head, but two more cows I’ve noticed that aren’t mine. I would appreciate any help you can offer. I am willing to put you up if you should come, and will repay you what I can for your services. – Sincerely yours, Thomas Baker.”

“An odd set of circumstances, I should say,” I remarked. “Are any of the other farmers missing cattle?”

“Excellent question, Watson,” he exclaimed. “I have further information which may shed more light on your direction of inquiry. Shortly after receiving that telegram I received another from a Mr. Paul Davison of similar content. Though where it seems Mr. Baker is a man of some education, Mr. Davison seems more likely a simple farmer. Here is the text of the telegram:

“Dear Mr. Holmes – Acquaintance of mine gave me your name. Come quick. Foulness afoot. Will heavy your coffers. – Paul Davison”

“Not a very detailed explanation, is it?” I said.

“Not as such. However, I did manage to track down Mycroft and gain the additional information I have already spoken of, namely the layout of the farms and the general specializations of the farmers. Additionally, I can provide you with two other details that may change whatever theory you have begun to formulate about the case.

“Firstly, four stone walls mark the boundaries of the farms, and though each farm holds many internal walls sectioning the farms into smaller enclosed pastures with gates, nowhere along the shared walls are there gates allowing access between farms. All four farms are bordered at their outer extremities by dirt roads which form the quadrangle boundary of the four farms which are also walled with stone.

“Secondly, I have procured in advance the names and dispositions of the other two farmers. One, a Mr. James Prentice, is the oldest and holds the largest herd. It is his ancestors which originally held the entirety of land before his grandfather divided and sold three parts of it. The last piece of the puzzle is a Mr. O’Grady, an emigrant from Ireland. He is the newest to take claim here and holds the smallest herd. And listen to this Watson,” he said with a smirk. “Mr. O’Grady was run out of his former farm after his herd infected three others with a deadly disease causing their owners to lose their entire livelihood. It is believed by his former neighbors that the infection was not an accident, and in fact was only discovered after one farmer noted one of Mr. O’Grady’s herd mixed in with his own. That singular cow was the catalyst in the outbreak of infection.”

“Smacks of similar circumstances,” I surmised.

“Exactly, Watson,” Holmes replied. “We shall visit Mr. O’Grady first.”

Just as Holmes spoke those words we were thrown violently in our seats as the brakes were engaged. For several seconds we were jostled in our cabin and it took a moment or two to sort out our luggage in its now chaotic state. From the surrounding area and my recollection of stations and towns we had passed so far, I could tell we were just outside of Mansfield, having just recently passed Nottingham. There was a good seventy miles left to our journey, but it seemed with the amount of activity beginning to erupt all around the train that we might be delayed.

A porter tapped at our door before entering and inquiring as to our state.

“We are quite uninjured,” said Holmes. “I wonder if you could tell us why the engineer applied the brakes.”

The porter, who looked sharper than most of the lower class citizens who worked on the trains at that time, was of Indian descent. At Holmes specific question, he smirked and answered, “How did you know it was the engineer and not a passenger who stopped the train?”

“Elementary,” said Holmes, quite pleased with himself. “An alarm would have sounded a few seconds before the brakes were applied. In this case, the sudden application of the brakes could only mean that the engineer was forced to do so without notice and was unable to engage the warning alarm.”

“I’ve heard only that something was on the track and we were forced to stop to avoid hitting it. I don’t know whether we hit it or not,” replied the porter.

“A half of a sovereign for you if you can provide me with specific details,” Holmes offered.

The porter smiled and nodded before leaving us to ourselves.

“Should we not exit the train to offer our assistance?” I queried.

Holmes smiled and shook his head. “Let us determine the facts of the situation before we exert ourselves from the cabin. It may be something as simple as a fallen tree. Patience is warranted for the moment.”

Several rail attendants from the rearward cars walked by our window towards the engine, followed by a handful of curious passengers. After a few moments, a rough-looking man with a square-cut jaw was escorted back to the rear by two rail officials. His face was pale and he was stammering to his escorts and making wild gestures.

“Interesting,” remarked Holmes. “That was the lead engineer. It appears we may wish to investigate our sudden termination of movement a bit closer.”

Just then, the porter returned.

“There’s nothing there,” he told us, his face a picture of confusion. “The engine man swears he saw a man on the track and he hit the brakes, but then says the man vanished into thin air.”

“Most interesting,” Holmes said, a twinkle in his eye appearing that I knew all too well. He pressed a sovereign into the porter’s hand and rose to leave. “It appears we may be delayed, Watson. Let us have a conversation with this train’s masters to discern the facts.”

We exited the train amidst a gathering crowd of passengers who apparently had also seen the engineer being escorted to the rear. Holmes quickly singled out an attendant who then led us to the front engine.

The attendant, who was a tall man in his late thirties, knew Holmes by reputation and was extremely helpful to us.

“It’s a queer thing,” he told us, “The engineer is named Mitchell, and he’s worked trains for twenty years. I’ve never known him to panic like he did. The firemen say he screamed with fright before he threw the lever, but none of them had seen anything in the train’s path.”

We had reached the front of the train, and as was imparted to us, there was nothing there.

“Did you inspect the underside of the train for a body, or perhaps some debris that the man may have mistaken for a person?” asked Holmes, carefully noting as many details about the train’s position as he could.

“We did, sir,” replied the attendant. “Nothing was found.”

Holmes began to walk along the side of the train, backwards from the engine, paying close attention to the ground and the ties between the rails. Just past the fuel car, he suddenly dropped to his knees and bent down to the rails, removing a magnifying glass from his coat.

“Halloa! What have we here?” he piped.

The attendant and I joined him, but kept our distance so as not to interfere with his investigation.

“See this soft earth between the ties here, Watson?” he remarked as he ran his eyes over the area. “What do you notice?”

I bent over and tried to determine what detail he was referring to. There was a strange pattern in the dirt, vaguely in the shape of a footprint, but the pattern was one I had never seen on any type of shoe or boot before.

“A shoe print, it seems,” I said to him.

“And an unusual one at that,” he replied. “Rubber soled if I’m not mistaken, and with a tread pattern quite unlike anything you would find in England … or any other locale I would imagine. Most curious.”

The attendant and I looked at each other, both as confounded as the other as to the meaning of this discovery.

As Holmes continued his search of the area he said to us, “It is entirely probable, given your description of the faculties and history of the engineer who claimed to have seen a person on the tracks, and coupled with this evidence of a print only freshly made, that there indeed was someone on the tracks.”

“It is possible that while moving to engage the brakes, the engineer failed to see the person move from the path of the train,” I theorized aloud. “And perhaps the other engineers were too busy to have witnessed anything before the brakes were engaged.”

“Excellent, Watson,” he said, still bent over the rails. “You really do please me with your deductions. However, there are no tracks leading away from this point.”

I hung my head a bit dejectedly, but was at least pleased by his compliment to some small degree.

“What’s this?” Holmes suddenly exclaimed. “Watson, fetch one of your empty vials!”

I quickly hurried back to our cabin and retrieved a vial from my traveling medical kit. By the time I returned to Holmes, a gathering of people had formed in a semi-circle around him. Without a word he took the vial from me and using a penknife he scooped a small amount of powdery residue from one of the ties.

“You are sure there is no body to be found caught beneath the cars or off to the sides?” he asked one of the attendants who was crouched next to him.

“We found nothing, Mr. Holmes. No blood, no cloth, no footwear – nothing,” the attendant replied.

Holmes stood then and returned his eyeglass to a pocket. Turning round to face me, he pressed the vial into the palm of my hand with force, saying somewhat harshly in a whisper, “Watson, do not, for fear of death, lose this vial. It is of the utmost importance that as soon as we are able we find a laboratory to determine the exact components of this residue.”

His tone surprised me and I quickly slipped the vial carefully into an inside pocket.

The sound of hoofs broke the sudden intense silence following his command. From around the engine came a messenger riding horseback shouting, “Urgent telegram for Sherlock Holmes!”

“This is most unusual,” said Holmes, his brow furrowing in puzzlement. He raised his hand to the messenger who reined in his mount and leaped to the ground.

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes?” the messenger queried.

“That is correct,” Holmes replied.

“Telegram from Scotland Yard,” the messenger said, handing the envelope to my friend. “From an Inspector Lestrade.”

Holmes opened the envelope and ran his eyes over its contents in silence. He paused a moment and looked to the messenger and then to his horse.

“How far is the nearest telegraph station?” he asked the man.

“Only two miles west, sir,” came the reply.

Holmes nodded and procured a pencil with which he jotted down a few words. Folding the telegram, he handed it back to the messenger and flipped him a coin.

“Send that in reply,” he commanded. With a nod the messenger mounted his horse and galloped away.

Silence reigned for a moment as Holmes’ eyes grew distant with thought.

“What did the telegram say, Holmes?” I asked.

“There has been another murder. Scotland Yard is requesting our assistance.”

“Another officer?”

“Indeed. And the manner of murder is quite similar to the ghastly business of the former. But it is most disturbing, this business,” he said, putting a finger to his lips in thought.

“I should say so,” I said, “It looks as if it may be the work of a serial killer. Should we turn back?”

Holmes shook his head. “It’s not the murder that disturbs me, Watson. It is the manner in which we have received this communication. Lestrade did not know our whereabouts, and Mycroft would not have told him.”

“He has someone following us then?” I deduced.

“No, Watson. This communication did not come from Lestrade. In the many years we have worked with him we have received many telegrams coming directly by his instruction. He always signs Lestrade, or Inspector Lestrade, but never Inspector G. Lestrade.”

“What can it mean?” I asked, completely lost.

“It means that someone does not wish us to reach Yorkshire.”

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Prime Machine – Episode One

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Being in somewhat of a frantic explosion of creativity, I find it difficult to form a cohesive story to post here on a regular basis. Rest assured, the creative process has not been hampered, nor have I run into obstacles that will prevent me from continuing to write. No, it simply the case that I now have a novel and a short story that I am putting the finishing touches on, and very little of my time set aside for writing can be spared for the typical one-off randomness I tend to get up to here.

That being said, it bothers me that nothing happens here for extended periods of time. Therefore, as I’ve just received a request from fanfiction.net to complete a series I began there, I’ve decided to repost it here in it’s current form, and then continue it on until it’s end. Before I can do that, I must post the story that precedes it. Here that story is, in episodic form (to be continued, of course):

Note: This is written in the style of Doyle’s Holmes stories. I have read all of them and think that I have done a good job in capturing the tone and pace of the originals.

Also Note: Despite appearances, this NOT a Sherlock Holmes story. ; )

1. Baker Street and Turmoil

In the multitude of years I have been chronicling the adventures of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have taken great pains to present a fair and balanced portrayal of the events surrounding the cases he has sought out or found himself a part of. Many of these adventures I relate from personal experience, though a few I translate to written word from the singular description of Holmes himself.

Often throughout my life, and growing less so now that I reach a doddering old age of forgetfulness, I suddenly remember a case we had shared involvement in that I had forgotten for a great many years only to have every detail flood back with a connecting familiar scent, or locale. Such sudden remembrances have fueled my writing for years after I felt I had written all there was to be written about my friend.

Now though, unlike the smiles that accompany the fond memories of our adventures, my mood is dark as an unlit alley and my face is a portrait of fear and distaste for the past suddenly dredged up from a foul, murky lake bottom where I had hoped it would stay for eternity.

I cannot recall at what point I tied rocks to this memory and cast it away in disgust and loathing, nor how long ago the incident truly occurred. Only just now did the first shimmering glimpses of the case suddenly spring back into my mind’s eye, and I feel it necessary to relate them as they come, in fear that they may be lost forever as I, in my old age, grow ever nearer the long kiss of eternal sleep. Holmes has been lost to us for several years now, and it is for him and his memory that I trek back through this darkest adventure … towards whatever terrors may come.

My wife had only just passed on and the time was shortly after I gave in to Holmes’ demands and moved back in to share with him the dwelling on Baker Street. I found myself in a haze of depression that was unrelenting and my practice had begun to suffer until, through intervention by Holmes himself, I sold it. Holmes was my only friend during that time, save my personal psychiatrist who I saw on a regular basis to alleviate some of the fear, guilt, and loss I felt daily. On this particular day, being the first day that I can remember of the affair, I entered the door to our shared rooms and found him sprawled out lazily across an old ratty chair and footstool with his fingers steepled, and his eyes shut while he drew heavily on his pipe.

It was mid-morning and though the shades were drawn, the fire had on a good blaze and lit the room in bursts of orange and yellow. For a moment, it appeared that the room was in a terrible state of disarray – more so than usual – but I soon put to right the true situation of the room. In the middle, lying tipped over and somewhat smashed, was a brand new reclining chair. A moment’s thought brought the chair’s origin to mind. It had been a gift to Holmes after he had solved a difficult case of forged identities and false claims to birthrights in a small hamlet in Northern Scotland. The man who had hired Holmes had been a keen engineer, as most Scotsmen tend to be it seems, and had built the chair with an automatic lever system that both reclined the back of the chair and extended the equivalent of a small foot stool from the chair’s front. It really was quite ingenious; however, Holmes, being eccentric as he is about his furniture and his space in general, had obviously given the recliner a try, found it lacking it whatever traits he felt necessary for a recliner to have, and promptly tipped it over and begin destroying it for firewood. I deduced this more by obvious association of a wooden leg in the fire matching one still attached to the chair than by anything bearing resemblance to Holmes genius of deduction and observation.

As I sat putting together the state of the room, my friend had obviously allowed one eye to open and in a few seconds gathered enough facts to detail my entire week so far.

“You’ve been drinking at the public house again, Watson,” he spoke to me with eyes closed again. “And not only that, you’ve tried to hide it from me.”

“Holmes,” I began but could not continue as he interjected.

“You spent last night sleeping outside Jeffrey Tobin’s out of shame, and decided at some point very early this morning to come to Baker Street through the alleys, hoping to avoid the notice of the Baker Street Irregulars.”

I stood stunned.

“You should really get that hand looked at by a doctor other than yourself,” he continued. “It was the Rottweiler, was it not?”

I pulled my left hand from behind my back and stared silently at the bandages Holmes had no way of having been able to see.

My friend’s eyes were then upon me, but the lids were still heavy over them in that way they often were when Holmes was still going over the scene presented in his head. I sat down heavily in the remaining unbroken chair in the room and heaved a sigh of surrender.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“You really are quite off the game, Watson. Years ago you’d have been keen as a dog on hares to my methods in this singular case.” He rose suddenly and glided over to where I sat, looking down his stately nose at me.

“You only drink ale at the public house, but you drink in excess. And there you also smoke the poor tobacco offered you by Henry Juddholm. You’ve attempted to hide this by dipping your fingers in brandy and running them down your lapels to hide the stale smell of ale. This I noticed as the firelight gave away the streaks with a subtle shine and discoloration from the normal color of your coat. You have also gone out of your way to tip ashes from an expensive cigar onto your lap and midriff, but you failed to address the most telling part of your wardrobe. The bottom of your pants show stains where you’ve leaned too close to one of the public house’s leaking kegs, and additionally the ash from one of Juddholm’s atrocious cigarettes still lies lodged in a lace hole of your left shoe.”

I put my head in my hands, guiltily awaiting the rest of his sentence.

“There is a white mixture of dirt and mortar on the heel of your left shoe, a mortar made by only one who specializes in the restoration of historic districts who uses that particular blend to more closely resemble the aged mortar used in older surrounding buildings. The only such restoration project I know of between here and your usual haunts connects directly to our back alley through the series of dark corridors interwoven throughout the neighborhood.”

He began to pace, pausing intermittently to pick up various sheets of paper and artifacts only to gaze at the momentarily and then return them to their place.

“You often stand with one hand behind your back when hiding something, whether gun or warrant; but never your left hand. I therefore surmised that the object meant to be hidden had something to do with the hand being hidden itself. Having deduced your course through the alleys to us this morning and your likely time of intersection with the Uxbridge’s garden, I surmised that either one of the two Uxbridge dogs gave you a nasty bite as you squeezed through the narrow passage between the garden and the Smith house. Seeing as how the terrier sees you on a regular basis at the Drovers with his master, it could only have been the Rottweiler.”

“And Tobin’s place?” I queried painfully, but still in awe of his intellectual prowess.

“You have the distinct impression of burlap on the left side of your face. Which means since today is Wednesday, Jeffrey, as usual, had his rags out for collection in his usual burlap sack and set upon the very bench you used as a bed.”

“I can’t hide anything from you, Holmes,” I lamented.

“On the contrary, Watson,” he spoke in retort, “I am at a loss as to why, being so inebriated as you must have been last night, you have come at this hour to my doorstep.”

I sat bolt upright with a start. I had forgotten the reason I had come until just that moment. Quickly, I pulled out the morning’s paper from my coat and handed it to Holmes opened to the front page where a spectacular story was taking up most of the space.

Holmes’ eyes darted back and forth over the words I had read in shock earlier that morning. In the earliest hours after previous nightfall, while investigating a disturbance near one of London’s handful of opium dens, an Inspector Bridges, who was well known to both Holmes and I, had been brutally murdered and dismembered in a manner so foul that the entire area had to be evacuated not only to keep innocent eyes from seeing such a horrible sight, but to keep the bodily evidence intact over the fifty or so yards it was spread. Scotland Yard was bustling like an anthill that had been kicked by a wrathful child.

Holmes, much to my disappointment, merely scoffed and handed the paper back to me.

“Have you ever heard of such a thing?” I expelled. “What dastardly manner of criminal would have the nerve to do such a thing? There must have been a dozen people loitering around that area. Serial killers there have been who were less brazen than that.”

“A simple murder. An obvious location. No case of interest to me, though my heart goes out to his family. Scotland Yard has lost a good man,” Holmes said, sitting back down in his chair.

I stood slightly shocked at his bland reaction to the crime; but his manners, as I have said were eccentric. Many times he would pass up case after case of murder, espionage, rape, ransom, royal theft, and worse for a simple case of fraud.

“I realize, Watson, that you hope that I shall get involved in so spectacular a case,” he said as he stared into the fire. “Scotland Yard, however, is not at my door asking for my assistance. And as the case, so far, is singularly uninteresting save the method of murder, I was hoping you would assist me on another matter in the Yorkshire Dales.”

My eyes lightened at this news, “A better case then?”

“A simple case of fraud,” he said with a slight smirk. “We shall set off this afternoon, if you are willing.”

“I need a respite,” I responded. “I shall return refreshed at noon.”

Holmes absently waved his approval and I showed myself out. It was truly a highlight to the darkness I had found myself drowning in of late, but I had no idea the depths of darkness I was about to stumble into.

(to be continued)