Foreword by J.S. Watson
When my beloved father, the revered Dr. John H. Watson, passed away, it was my unhappy but necessary task to put his personal effects into order. Many of my father’s most important papers were filed in a travel-worn and battered dispatch box in the vaults of Cox and Co., of Charing Cross. Nearly all of them are records of cases that illustrate the curious problems which Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the peerless consulting detective and my father’s dearest friend, had at various times to examine. Knowing that the public is still keenly interested in the adventures my father shared with Mr. Holmes, I took it upon myself to read and categorise these notes.
Amongst these cases, I discovered many curious incidents which may one day be published, yet the most striking of all I have wasted no time in delivering straight to the offices of The Strand Magazine.
I have not edited my father’s words in any way, nor will I ever find cause to do so. His readers will, I am sure, realise by the end of his tale why an account of this business has never seen the light of day. As to the rest, I doubt not that there will be some who scarcely credit the extraordinary events of the case. Yet how often have we thought and said the same of the remarkable adventures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes?
“Wake up, Watson!”
How many times had I been awoken by that masterful voice? Sprung from slumber to find Holmes at my bedside, candle in hand, hurrying me into my clothes even as he leapt down the seventeen steps of 221B Baker Street to call for a cab. How many of my adventures with the great detective began in just such a fashion?
It should be no surprise therefore that I was out of my bed in a twinkling, reaching for my trousers, my nightshirt already half-way removed. I was filled with the old familiar joy, which dispelled the last vestiges of my sleep like the slap of cold rain.
“What time is it, Holmes?” I asked.
“Half-past five,” my friend replied. “Come, Watson. Time, I fear, is already against us.”
It was the darkness that brought me to my senses.
I had been looking to see the expression on my friend’s face, for the tone of his voice conveyed to me the absolute seriousness of the affair. But the room was as black as a coal-mine. There was no candle to illuminate Holmes’ lean features, nor light to dance in his piercing grey eyes.
There was no Holmes at all.
For how could there be? Sherlock Holmes had been dead for almost two years; lost in the swirling chasm of the Reichenbach Falls, along with Professor Moriarty, his deadliest foe.
I was not in my old room at Baker Street. Painful memories had made it impossible for me to so much as knock at the well-remembered door. Nor was I residing at the same address as I had been in 1891. My darling wife, Mary, had also passed away, succumbing to the lung infection that to this day I blame myself for failing to diagnose. That house also held too many memories for me.
I was alone in the world, even as I had been upon my return to these shores after my discharge from the army. My meeting with Sherlock Holmes had redeemed my meaningless existence.
Was it then a dream that I had heard? Some trick of my mind, bereft as I was of both my closest friend and my beloved wife? I could not deny that I longed for the days when Holmes and I would plunge into the London fog in pursuit of a desperate villain, or in the hopes of preventing some abominable crime.
“Quickly, man. We must not delay!”
I heard Holmes’ voice again, as loudly and clearly as if he had been standing at my side.
Was I mad? Or was I yet dreaming, and this was no more than a vivid reminder of all that I had lost and still yearned for in my heart?
“Holmes?” I asked, my voice faltering. “Is that really you?”
“There is no time for this, Watson,” he said, and I heard the suppressed annoyance in his voice.
“But… you’re dead.”
“My dear Watson, I assure you that I am quite alive.”
I glanced quickly around, fumbling for the candle and matches I kept on my bedside table.
“But where are you?” I asked.
“Tibet?” I was jerked up short. “Then how — ”
“Watson, there is no time!” If I were indeed only conjouring Holmes’ voice from the depths of my memory, I had imbued it with all the sharpness it has possessed of old, when he would bark impatiently at a Scotland Yard inspector who impeded him. “I give you my word that I will explain everything later. But even as we speak we are losing precious moments. Into the street, Watson, I beg of you. There is not a moment to lose. The game’s afoot!”
There was no gainsaying that voice. Like all great men, Holmes could command the limbs and wills of we ordinary mortals. With that voice beside me, I had walked unafraid into darkness and danger, confident in my friend’s incredible powers and the knowledge that he did nothing without good reason. Ever he found me a willing follower, and did so once again.
Perhaps I merely wished to believe it was truly Holmes, and one last adventure was beginning. “Once more unto the breach,” as brave Harry would have it. But more than anything, it was my friend’s voice that had me throwing on my overcoat, taking my old service revolver from the drawer of my desk, and emerging into the early morning fog of the capital with more animation in my person than I had possessed in two long years.
My head was spinning with questions as I hailed a Hansom with two short blasts on my cab whistle. I know from long practice, however, that Holmes, even had he been there in person, would not have answered them. When he was engaged upon a case, he could spare no attention for any other topic. Thus I only asked one question as the sound of hooves and the creak of wheels told of the approaching cab.
“Where are we going, Holmes?”
“The Savoy Hotel,” said he, then “I beg that hereon in, you do not address your remarks to me out loud. It will only cause confusion, and that we cannot afford.”
“Then what am I to do?” said I, still speaking, though now in a whisper.
“Form your words inside your head, and say them silently, as if I could hear them.”
“You can read minds?” I gasped.
“Nothing so unsystematic.” Even from afar I could hear Holmes’ scorn. “Our brains are bubbling whirlpools of half-formed thoughts and ideas, words and sentences crisscrossing like tangled fishing lines. Do but direct a conscious thought to me, and I will understand it. Try to do so now, before the Hansom arrives.”
Like this? I essayed a thought, forming the words with the same application as if I were writing up a case.
“Just so. Now, where is that cab?”
It is just now drawing near. Can you not hear it?
“I can hear nor see nothing save what you direct to my attention, Watson. That is why your assistance to-day will be more vital than ever before. You, my dear Watson, will be my eyes.”
The cab drew up and I sprang in, directing the driver to take me to the Savoy. I saw through the windows that a thin light was beginning to penetrate the mist and coal-smoke of the capital. In this wan illumination, I saw the carts and wagons of farmers on their way to market. Save for these hardy tradesmen, there was almost no traffic on the roads. Knowing that we had little time before arriving at our destination, I pressed my companion for details on the business at hand.
“A man is dead, Watson. He was found early yesterday morning alone in his rooms at the Savoy, with the doors and windows locked on the inside and no signs of violence. The doctor diagnosed a sudden heart attack, but Mycroft does not accept that theory.”
Mycroft? I was astonished. Holmes had intimated that his brother had some employment with the government, though I knew no more than that. How was Mycroft concerned with the death of a guest at the Savoy?
Who is this man?
“His name is Lucien Auget, and by all appearances he is a French businessman with many interests in London. What is known only to a select few is that Auget, whose mother was an Englishwoman, was one of Her Majesty’s government’s most highly-placed and trusted agents in France.”
“A spy, Watson, and one in possession of vital information. Information, alas, that he was unable to communicate to my brother’s superiors before his untimely demise.”
It’s murder, then, I surmised.
“That is what we must discover, Watson. Save Mycroft, there is none other whom I would trust to report everything that is to be found in that room.”
I flushed with pride at my friend’s words, though they also sparked in me a hint of apprehension. How often had I looked at the same people or locations as Holmes, yet seen not one-tenth of all that he observed? Nor was I aught but a beginner at drawing inferences from what I saw, being merely the chronicler and biographer of my friend’s remarkable powers of deduction. It was no small burden that my friend had placed on me.
Something of my doubts must have communicated themselves to Holmes, for he said then: “Fear not, my friend. We shall solve this mystery together, you and I.”
Emboldened by Holmes’ words, I returned to the statement of the case.
“The body was discovered at eight o’ clock yesterday morning, that is the sixth,” Holmes informed me. “Auget took all his meals in his room, a fact that would be unusual if we did not know exactly upon what business he was engaged. When the maid knocked at a quarter past seven, Auget did not answer. She left the tray, planning to return later. When she did so, the tray was untouched. The girl called the floor manager, who, after repeatedly knocking and calling for Auget, and receiving no reply, sent for the spare key and unlocked the door.
“Auget was lying in the centre of the room, all life fled from his body. There were no signs of violence, or that anyone else had entered the room. The only detail that the floor manager noted was that the faucet in Auget’s en-suite bathroom was still running. It had apparently been turned on prior to Auget’s death. A Scotland Yard inspector was summoned at once, and by and by a doctor, who, after examining the body, diagnosed a sudden heart attack, and death by natural causes.
Yet your brother disputes this.
“He does. The government has agents in Scotland Yard, of course. As soon as the death of Auget was reported, Mycroft asked for my assistance.”
I needed not the deductive powers of my companion to reason that there was one man at least who knew that Sherlock Holmes was still alive. Though I tried my utmost to concentrate on the mysterious death at the Savoy, I could not help but feel a bitter disappointment that Holmes, though it was quite natural for him to confide in his elder brother, had not until now revealed himself to me. How much heartache he could have spared me. I would have said so then and there, but Holmes was already moving on with his recital of the facts as he knew them.
“Mycroft assures me that Auget was in the peak of health, with no family history of heart attacks. The British government would not stake so much on an agent with so doubtful a constitution.”
Then what killed him? I wondered.
“Think, doctor. You know of a dozen things that can induce cardiac arrest, and I, with my knowledge of poisons, could list dozens more. If Mycroft says it was murder, then murder it is, unless we can conclusively prove otherwise.”
Was the doctor able to determine how long Auget had been dead?
“Seven or eight hours was the verdict.”
So whatever occurred took place around midnight. Were there any other guests on that floor of the hotel?
“Excellent, Watson! I know no more than I have told you, so that is just one of the questions to which you must speedily supply the answers.”
But the other guests — if there were any — may have left the hotel yesterday.
“Mycroft assures me that they would be detained by the Yard, and that the room would be preserved until we have seen it. There is a government man posing as a police constable awaiting us at the hotel. He has orders to follow any instructions you may give him, as well as to compel any cooperation you need from the staff of the Savoy and any guests who have been kept for questioning.”
Holmes was interrupted by the arrival of the Hansom at the Savoy. I alighted, paid the driver, and gazed up at the magnificent building. The electrical lights on the outside shone out in the early-morning gloom like sedentary fireflies, glowing over the broad facade and making the name of the hotel, spelled out in gilt letters on the arch above its wide front doors, glow as though they were fresh from a blacksmith’s forge. The walls themselves seemed to glow, for they were built of glazed brickwork that would keep off the unsightly discolouration of the London fog.
“Let us be about out business, Watson.” Holmes’ voice interrupted my perusal, and I obeyed his commands and walked forward. A glass door was opened for me by a young man in uniform. In the sumptuous and spacious foyer, illuminated with more electric lights, I found a man in quite a different uniform, that of the Metropolitan Police, waiting for me. He was in every respect a nondescript individual, unremarkable in height and build for a policeman, with a face that could have belonged to a man of anywhere between twenty-five and forty. The fellow was evidently on the lookout, for he took note of my arrival at once and came forward to greet me.
“Dr. Watson?” he said, in a low voice that barely carried more than a few metres. “A very great honour, sir.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Constable…”
“Palmer, sir.” We shook hands, and he gave me an almost imperceptible nod, which I took to be his way of communicating that he was the government man Holmes had told me to expect.
“I’ll take you upstairs right away, Doctor,” Palmer said briskly. He waved away a smartly-dressed hotel employee, who had been hovering nearby, and took me through the well-appointed foyer, past comfortable chairs and couches, past marble columns and busts depicting the heroes of post-Revolutionary France, to the foot of a set of stairs.
Set into the rail of the stairwell, between two immense steel columns, was a metal gate, the bars of which were burnished to a bright sheen and crafted into curving, concentric circles. It fronted the sturdy wooden frame of an elevator, one of the new electric models pioneered by the American engineer F.J. Sprague. It was manned by another member of the hotel staff, who opened the gate to admit the constable and I.
I had not had the opportunity to ride in one of these new elevators, and the entire process quite fascinated me. Holmes lay quiescent, permitting me to enjoy the experience. The conductor, whom I now noticed to be tall, wiry, and dark-haired, somewhat swarthy in the manner of southern Europeans, joined us in the elevator box.
“Which floor, Messieurs?” he asked, his accent and choice of words clearly marking him as French.
“The sixth,” said I, though given that I was with Constable Palmer, our conductor had guessed my answer and his hand was already moving towards one of the buttons on a gleaming panel next to the interior door of the elevator, which he had closed. Each button corresponded to one of the Savoy’s nine floors, and our friend pressed the one marked “6.”
How can I describe the feeling as the constable, the conductor, and I were launched into the air with a shuddering jerk? I grabbed at the handrail the moment we began to ascend, and something of my emotions, a mixture of excitement and alarm, must have shown on my face, for the conductor smiled slightly before his professional training took over and his face returned to a polite, passive expression.
I had scarcely grown accustomed to the sensation when the elevator lurched to a halt. I glanced up in amazement at the brass dial above the door, where an arrow indicated at which floor the elevator now stood. I could not believe the contraption had taken us so quickly to the sixth floor. Yet it was not so; the arrow merely pointed to the third.
“Excusez-moi, Messieurs,” said our conductor, and I caught his irritation, which he made no attempt to hide. “The elevator has been giving trouble all this week. We have three times called for the service man. Please accept my sincerest apologies.”
“It is no matter,” said I generously, for it was no fault of his. “We shall walk the rest of the way.”
“Of course, Monsieur.” The man opened the door, then, finding that the elevator had not aligned itself exactly with the third floor, but had instead halted a foot above it, courteously alighted in order to assist the constable and I to do the same, whereupon he continued to offer apologies to me as we left him and took the stairs to the sixth floor.
“At last!” Holmes spoke, and I could once more hear his impatience. “Have the goodness to ask your companion to show me his boots, then he may stand to one side while we conduct an examination of the corridor.”
I carried out Holmes’ request, and Constable Palmer complied. I knew enough of my friend’s methods by now to understand — he wanted me to examine the carpet and mat in the corridor, and needed the constable’s footprint to compare with any others we might find.
“Describe it to me, Watson,” he said, and I did so, framing the words in my mind. I give this example to convey to my readers how our investigation proceeded so that I need not trouble them with a laborious recital of each future circumstance.
First the corridor. Here all was “mess and confusion,” to use Holmes’ very words. There were indeed the marks of many feet, but they were so crowded around the door that no individual mark could be found. In the corridor itself, I could identify the heavier boots of the policemen and see specks of mud that they had brought with them from outside. I could also discern the more shallow marks, quite unmuddied, of soft shoes, pointed at the toes.
“Doubtless those of the hotel staff,” Holmes said. “You must check later to be sure.” It occurred immediately to me that Homes would have already cast his keen eye over the shoes of our elevator conductor for this very purpose, and this thought was definite enough for my friend to notice. “Nil desperandum, Watson. There will be time enough for that. In any case, with all the comings and goings, I did not expect any revelations from this quarter. Now, to the door itself, and the keyhole.”
I bent to look. There seem to be no new scratches here, I said. A few old marks, as any keyhole might bear. The lock has certainly not been forced. There is nothing to discover about the lock.
“It is a capital mistake to form such a conclusion when we only have half the available data,” said Holmes, his voice taking on the air of a schoolmaster, as often it did when he was giving a demonstration. “Well, there is little more to be learned here. Let us examine the interior of the suite.”
The door was unlocked. I pushed it open and walked inside. As I did so, I was careful to step to the side so as not to further obscure any traces that might have remained. I looked at the carpet, but to no avail; there was only more mess, the overlapping prints of the same kind that had trampled all over the corridor, police boots and soft shoes.
“The lock then,” Holmes prompted me, and I gave it my full attention.
Here is something, said I. There are scratches here, fresh ones. But why on the inside? Was Auget trying to get out? Fleeing in terror from something inside his rooms, and in such a panic that he failed to fit the key into the lock?
My thoughts went immediately to the dreadful business of Dr. Grimesby Roylott and the adventure of the Speckled Band. I knew that the venom of some snakes caused heart failure. Were we dealing with a similar evil here?
“This is all speculation, Watson,” said Holmes sharply. “Imagination, as I have told you before, is an essential quality in a detective, but wild suppositions are quite useless. Tell me more of the lock and of these scratches.”
They are remarkably thin, almost as if they were made by the blade of a knife or the point of a needle rather than by a blunt key.
“That is more valuable. It is a great pity you do not have a magnifying glass.”
Holmes, of course, never went to the scene of a crime without one. I did not possess anything of the kind.
Would you like to see the rest of the room first, or the body?
“The body. Make particular note of his clothes. Was he in shoes or slippers? Was he dressed for a rendezvous, or for bed?”
I went to ascertain these details. Auget’s body lay under a sheet, which I removed with all decorum. Beneath lay a man of perhaps thirty-eight or forty years of age, clean-shaven save for a thin, dark moustache. His hair was of a similar hue, cut in a fashion somewhat more debonair than was common in London, though which I knew from my travels was quite in keeping with our French cousins. As Mycroft had suggested, he appeared to have been strong and fit. His comely features were twisted with an expression of anguish that I knew all too well from victims of a cardiac arrest. I made a further examination and noted other corroborating signs — flushed skin, save for a blue-grey cyanosis around the nose, jaw clenched, the right hand forming a fist across the chest. I relayed all this to Holmes, and then, my recollections of the Speckled Band still fresh, I checked Auget for any visible signs of snakebite. I found nothing. However, as I unclenched the fingers of Auget’s right hand, which had frozen in an iron grip, I saw a red mark in the centre of his palm.
This looks like a burn, I said. It is a new injury, no more than a day old. How did Auget burn himself? Or did someone burn him?
“Keep sight of that fact, Watson,” Holmes replied. “We may discover something later that bears upon it. Now, as to Auget’s clothes.”
He was barefoot and wearing a hotel dressing gown over his shirt and trousers.
“From this we may infer that Auget was not expecting a visitor,” said Holmes. “That rules out one line of investigation.”
Holmes, I said, a sudden idea striking me, is it not possible that Auget was poisoned some time ago? It could have been slipped into his supper as it was being carried to his room by the killer, or one of his confederates. The maid?
“Good, Watson. That is a worthwhile theory to pursue. Make a point of speaking to the maid. Consider, however, that a man like Auget played a deadly game of espionage. Habit would have engendered in him an extreme caution against just such an attempt. Describe to me again his symptoms in detail, and it may be that I can rule out a number of common poisons. There are only a few that can act so rapidly that our man could not at least have called out for assistance once he was aware that he had indeed been poisoned. Each of these betrays their presence by certain subtle signs.”
I conducted as good a post-mortem as I could without recourse to a complete autopsy. Holmes aided me with prompts from his vast store of toxic pathology. Yet at the end, neither of us could find any definite proof of poison.
“Let us see what the room can add to our notes,” said Holmes after we had exhausted our combined knowledge.
I tried first the window, which was closed and fastened. There were no signs of entry. Next I checked the chimney above the small coal fire in the room, but found it too small for anyone to enter by, even had the fixed grille some way up not provided an impenetrable barrier. I even checked in cupboards and under the bed, just in case any clues were waiting there to be discovered, but there was no result. Holmes remained silent throughout, absorbing the room as I described it to him.
Well, Holmes, I said, after we had made a thorough examination of the bathroom and the faucet, which, though it had since been turned off, had still been running when the hotel employees entered the room. Are you any closer to solving the mystery?
“There is a distinct paucity of data,” Holmes replied, choosing, as ever, not to reply to a direct question of mine while a case was in a state of flux. “We must make every attempt to gather more cards into our hand. It is time we answered an earlier question of yours, Watson; that is, who was staying on this floor on the night Auget met with his most unfortunate end.”
We returned to the corridor, and I informed Constable Palmer as to our next objective.
“Only one room was occupied, sir,” the agent replied. “A Mr. Boot and his wife.”
“I shall see them immediately,” said I, and the constable conducted me to the room in which the couple had been confined for almost twenty-four hours.
Mr. Boot, whom my readers from the East Midlands may know thanks to his excellent chemist’s shop, was rather indignant over his situation. It was some time before I could calm him down and, with the aid of Holmes, ascertain a few key pieces of information.
The couple had arrived that day from Nottingham and had gone back to their room after dinner. There they were disturbed by maintenance on the elevator, which had not ended until past ten o’clock. Mrs. Boot believed she had heard a knock on a nearby door at around half-past ten.
“I assumed it was the maid bringing a late supper,” Mr. Boot said, but his wife disagreed.
“I thought it sounded louder than that,” she said. “More urgent. I thought he’d had a visitor.”
They had heard no other noise, nor seen anything out of the ordinary. I thanked Mr. Boot and his wife for their time and patience, and promised to bring what influence I had to bear on Scotland Yard to recompense them for their inconvenience.
“I’ll see they are taken care of,” Constable Palmer said when we had exchanged the Boots’ room for the corridor and I mentioned the matter to him.
I was about to ask Holmes what our next stop was to be, when I noticed that the elevator had finally made it all the way up to the sixth floor. Its door was open, and I could see the back half of a maintenance man protruding from the box. I went over to see what he was doing, Constable Palmer following at my heels.
“Sorry, gents, it’s out of order,” said the engineer, a whippet of a man with oil stains on his puckered forehead.
“So I have observed myself,” said I.
“Fourth time I’ve been out here in the last few days,” the man remarked, with something of a rueful grin. “They ought to keep me on a retainer, eh?” He took off one glove and wiped his brow, smearing the greasy smudge across even more if his skin.
I now noted that the gloves the fellow wore were not the usual sort worn by those who tinkered with and repaired engines powered by steam or coal. They were almost entirely rubber, as indeed were the high white boots that covered his feet and lower legs. It was not hard for me to comprehend why. Of course. The electricity.
“‘Fraid you’ll have to take the stairs, gents,” the engineer said, bending down to pick up a large spool of copper wire. “And if you’ll excuse me, I ought to get on with fixing this ‘ere box. Might be a few sparks, and the current’s been known to jump.” He patted his boots with his free hand. “You’ve not got this stuff to keep you safe.”
The constable and I followed the man’s warning, stepping back and retreating down the corridor to the stairwell. I was about to question Holmes as to our next move, but he was, as ever, one step ahead of me.
“We must speak to the maid and learn what time she brought Auget’s supper, and if it was indeed she who knocked on his door at half past ten.”
“I need to speak to the maid for this floor,” I said to Palmer as we descended the stairs.”
We reached the lobby, and the constable went to enquire at the front desk. It was not long before she arrived. Mademoiselle Rigal, who, like so many of the Savoy’s staff, was French, was an attractive young woman with hair the colour of dark honey. Though she evidenced some distress at having to answer yet more questions about Auget’s death, her answers were clear and concise. She had taken Auget his supper at eight o’clock; she had not returned to his room; in fact, her day had finished at nine. The night service would have handled any calls after that. We also questioned the night staff, but to no result; Auget had not called for anyone that night.
“So there was no member of staff on that floor at all at that hour,” Holmes said thoughtfully. “That is worthy of note.”
I confess that I did not understand Homes’ meaning, yet he did not deign to explain himself and spoke no more.
For myself, I tried to emulate my companion and attempt to put the events of the case in order. Were Holmes here in the flesh, he might have retreated to the smoking room of the Savoy with his pipe, but I had no such recourse, having, with an effort, overcome my own tobacco habit some years previously. In fact, I found it hard to think in the electric glare of the Savoy’s light bulbs. They had not troubled me while I was upstairs, but now that I had the chance to slow down and catch my breath, their unflickering potency began to irritate my senses. I felt the need for some air and the natural light of the early morning sun. Holmes had remained silent for some time, no doubt engaged upon that same quiet contemplation that I now sought.
As I returned to the lobby, I saw the engineer step out of the door of the now-working elevator. He was burdened by all the tools, spare parts, and protective garments that I had earlier observed, and a heavy burden it was. The staff of the Savoy were solicitous towards guests, but as none seemed inclined to assist a mere paid workman, I stepped forward to lend the fellow a hand.
“Cor, you’re a gent, sir,” the man said gratefully as I took the copper wire and a box of tools from his arms. “I normally have a lad with me, but he don’t come on the job for another half-hour. If y’can just get me to the front street, I’ll be much obliged.”
“Why don’t you leave your things here and come back later?” I asked.
“It’s against regulations,” the man said with a grimace. “Tell you the truth, I did leave me clobber here the night before last. I’d not finished, but it was getting late and they were worried about disturbing the guests, so they just told me to come back in the morning. Thought it’d be alright, but when me foreman found out, he gave me a right talking to. Called me irresponsible, he did. Won’t be making that mistake again, I tell you. More than my job’s worth. Here, be careful with that, sir!”
He gave this last exclamation as I stopped dead in my tracks. The events of the past few hours had gotten me into the habit of relaying almost everything that I saw and heard to Holmes. Now, as the engineer spoke, Holmes’ voice thundered with such urgency that I almost dropped the tool box.
“Watson! Find out who looked after the equipment that night!”
“When you left your equipment here,” I asked the man, speaking more loudly than I needed to in order to drown out Holmes’ demands and his irrepressible need to act, “who looked after it?”
“Why, I gave it to the chap who minds the elevator.”
Holmes was practically bellowing instructions at me, yet I hardly needed them. I shoved the box and the wire back into the man’s arms, causing him to spill his entire load. Before the crash of metal had been replaced by his shouts of anger, I had turned and was advancing across the lobby. Constable Palmer came forward and I seized him by the sleeve, dragging him with me. We marched together to the elevator. Its operator had heard the crash and was looking to see what was the matter.
We did not wait a second.
“Constable,” said Holmes and I together, “arrest that man!”
At the same time I drew my revolver, cocking and aiming it in a single movement. If the man had thought of bolting, the sight of my pistol froze him to the spot. In those seconds of hesitation, Constable Palmer had reached his side.
“Are you quite sure, sir?” he asked.
“Yes,” said I. “This is the murderer of Monsieur Lucien Auget.”
The following afternoon, I sat with a certain amount of grateful relief in the easy chair of my consulting room. It was the first time I had been granted some time to myself; time to think and, hopefully, to talk.
From the arrest at the Savoy the previous day, Constable Palmer and I had escorted our prisoner — one Davide Pillon, originally of Lyon — directly to Scotland Yard. The interviews and paperwork had taken quite some time, and after it was mostly in order I had been treated to a drink by Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson and several other acquaintances from ‘the old days.’ Holmes, who had supplied many of the details I gave to the Yard, had excused himself, though not without promising me that we would talk again when the investigation could proceed unaided. This was now the case.
So I sat, a tumbler of brandy within easy reach on the side table, feeling the rigours of the past few days fade from my muscles. They were replaced by weariness, but also by that deep, warm sense of contentment that I knew well from my days with Holmes. Yet behind this I sensed another wave of emotion gathering pace and building slowly until it washed over me. After Holmes and I spoke again, then it would be over. My last adventure would end. I had hastily written up my case notes during the hours of waiting at Scotland Yard; now I had to close the tale, and that I was by no means eager to do.
“Well, Watson.” Holmes finally returned, his voice tinged with the same lassitude that he always fell into after a case was concluded. I tried to imagine him sitting in the chair across from me with his dressing gown on, his long legs stretched out to the fire, his black clay pipe nestled in the palm of his hand as it dangled from the corner of his mouth.
I truly believe I could see him.
Well, Holmes, said I.
“I must express my sincerest congratulations. I could not have done it without you.”
I was merely your conduit.
“You do yourself an injustice, my friend, as ever.”
Of course, it is all clear to me now, I remarked, though I still cannot entirely follow your reasoning.
“Then I shall endeavour to enlighten you,” said Holmes. I believe we both knew that we were delaying that moment when we had to part. Holmes, I am grateful to say, seemed in no more haste to arrive at that moment than I was.
“The lock was my first clue,” he began. “I realised at once that something must have been carefully threaded through from the outside, where there were no marks, to the inside, which the murderer could not see, and this action caused the scratches. If I may make a confession, I was on the wrong track at first. My first hypothesis was that some kind of poison-coated needle had been used.
“Then your post-mortem told against poison, and I was forced to reconsider. It was then that I realised the significance of the running tap.”
The tap that was never turned off.
“That suggested to me that Auget had been washing his hands or face when the knock at the door came. Water, of course, is an excellent conductor of electricity, and as you had already encountered all the modern electric wonders of the Savoy, I decided that Auget must have received enough of a shock to induce cardiac arrest. The burn mark you discovered on his hand was certainly caused by electricity and suggested to me that he had grasped an object holding an electric charge.
“Then you encountered our friend the engineer and saw his equipment. The copper wire immediately presented itself as a means of carrying a current from the damaged elevator — which I firmly believe was deliberately sabotaged. Our murderer fed the wire through the keyhole, scratching the inside with the charged tip. He waited until he heard the faucet running in Auget’s room to ensure the greatest chance of administering a lethal shock, then knocked urgently to bring Auget to the door. He grasped the handle, was thrown several feet across the room, and we know the rest.”
So you were convinced that the murderer was an enemy agent?
“Who else would have known of Auget and his purposes? But the question remained — who was that agent? Since Auget had come from France, I decided that the assassin was most likely French, or at least Continental, as well. It was clearly not Mr. Boot, nor the engineer, as creating aliases of that sort would have been far too difficult. Since the Savoy is well known for hiring French staff, it would have been easy for our man to find a place there. A corroborating factor is that a staff member would have access to the elevator, not to mention the corridor itself, and be familiar with the workings of the Savoy — such as when the maid went off duty, giving him a clear run at Auget.”
But the Savoy has an extensive staff. How could you be sure you had the right man?
“I had already begun to suspect the fellow in charge of the elevator — who was in a better position to learn all that he needed of its workings and to damage it in such a way that it would be stuck on the sixth floor, giving him access to a supply of electricity? But the method of assassination had to be considered. Our man had at least as good a chance of electrocuting himself as Auget. Electricity is a random force, apt to bite the hands that wield it.
“So when you saw the equipment the engineer carried, I had to assume our man had gained possession of it in some way and used it to protect himself. When the engineer admitted to leaving his gear at the Savoy, I knew whomever had taken charge of it was likely the murderer. The engineer named the elevator operator, confirming my theory and giving me the last link in the chain.”
You seem to have explained everything, said I, then I smiled. Although there are still a few points upon which I would appreciate a little further clarification.
“Ask away, my friend. We have some little time ahead of us.”
Time before what? I asked, but Holmes, infuriating as always, did not supply a direct answer, saying instead,
“How may I enlighten you further?”
Well, I must admit to being curious from the first as to exactly what you are doing, and how this trick of yours is accomplished!
“It is no mere trick, Watson. I have no time, nor indeed the permission, to instruct you in the deep mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism, but I may say to you that one of the disciplines that I have obtained some small facility for is etheric projection.”
I seem to recall some mention of astral projection from a mystic I saw during my time in Afghanistan, I began.
“It is not the same thing at all. Astral projection allows one’s mind to pass through time as well as space, with the aim of being as one with the cosmos. Etheric projection, on the other hand, permits one to project one’s consciousness through physical space. I am at this moment sitting in a small meditation chamber in Lhasa, yet my mind is there with you in London.”
This is astonishing, Holmes! This knowledge will throw open the doors of human science!
“This knowledge, and more besides, is not to be made public,” Holmes said sharply. “I have already said too much, and I pray that you question me no more upon the subject.”
Then at least you will allow me to ask how it is that you are alive, and in Tibet, I begged.
I could already feel the lonely darkness gathering about me. I knew in my heart that Holmes was preparing to leave me again. Perhaps he was concealing the real truth — that in some way he was speaking from beyond the grave. Or had the events of the past few days been nothing more than a dream after all, a hallucination visited upon me by my scarred and desperate heart?
“That is a long story, Watson. One that I fear I do not have time to tell you in full. Let us just say for the moment that I did not fall into the Reichenbach chasm, though the late Professor Moriarty did. I saw at once the expediency of being ‘dead,’ and resolved to make myself so. Since then, I have been travelling. This business alone has forced me to take a hand once more in the affairs of the world.”
That is hardly adequate, I said, and I could feel myself getting angry. It has been two years, and you did not once attempt to contact me to tell me that you were alive.
“There is reason for that too, Watson. Please believe me.”
“Damn it all!” I said aloud. Then I mastered myself. What possible reason can you have for being so cold? I could feel tears forming in my eyes.
“One that I do not have time to explain to you now.”
Why? Why are we running out of time?
Even as I spoke, there was a soft rap at my door. It was the maid, who announced that I had a visitor and handed me his card. I stared at it in astonishment.
It read, in plain block capitals:
“Show Mr. Holmes in at once,” I said. Did you know about this? I asked Holmes a moment later. The succession of shocks threatened to overwhelm me.
“I was aware,” Holmes admitted.
I made an intuitive leap. You have been speaking to Mycroft in the same way.
“Who do you suppose taught me the technique in the first place?” Holmes said with a certain wry amusement. “Did you not wonder how news of the Savoy murder reached me here in Tibet? Lhasa is ill-provided with telegraph offices.”
Any further explanation, if indeed any was forthcoming, was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Holmes, senior. Mycroft was a bulky, corpulent man, well groomed, though presently red in the face with the unfamiliar exertion of movement.
“Dr. Watson,” he said in a voice deeper, though no less piercing, than that of his brother. “It is good to see you again.”
“And you, Mr. Holmes,” I said. “May I offer you a brandy?”
“Thank-you, no,” said Mycroft, settling his frame into a chair. “I shall not be staying.”
“My brother is here,” Holmes said, “because in addition to etheric projection, Mycroft is a master of hypnosis. In a few moments, he will use this to ensure that you remember nothing of the past few days. The same will apply to the Scotland Yarders, even Constable Palmer. No one must know that you have any connection to this case. I beg that you submit yourself to this process.”
But why, Holmes? I was falling apart. I was not to retain the memory of this case or even that Holmes was alive.
“It is for your own safety, my dear Watson. Mine own as well, but yours in particular. If you value our friendship, please allow Mycroft to do what he must.”
“And this is to be all?” I said aloud so both brothers could hear my distress. “You are going to abandon me again?”
“I must,” said Holmes. Then, even as my heart broke, he added, “For now.”
My eyes widened.
“I will promise you this,” said Holmes. “I will return. One day, perhaps a year from now, I will return.”
Those words gave me all the strength I needed. Holmes would come back! I would not be on my own forever.
“Then I will do it,” said I. “May I write up these few notes?” I turned to Mycroft. “You may file them with Cox & Co.”
“As you like,” Mycroft said. “You will not even remember writing them. But if you wish to do so, then I shall take that brandy you so kindly offered.”
I poured him a generous measure, then hastily scribbled these last few lines.
“I am ready,” I told Mycroft when I had finished.
“Please take a seat,” he bade me. I did so, watching as Mycroft heaved himself to his feet.
It has been a joy to accompany you on a case again, Holmes, I said, yet it is more wonderful still to know that you will come back.
“The pleasure was all mine, my dear Watson. Indeed, this case has made me even more eager to return to London. Look out for me.”
I shall. I smiled. Good-bye, Holmes.
“Au revoir, Watson.”
PAT WOODS hails from Nottingham, England, and came to Taiwan for an adventure that turned into a lifetime commitment. He lives with his wife Zi, writes for a local ESL publishing company, is an active performer in Taipei’s comedy and amateur dramatics scene, and tries to find time to write fantasy and other fiction between all that. He is a member of Taipei Writer’s Group, contributed to their most recent anthology, Night Market, and blogs with them at taipeiwritersgroup.wordpress.com. He has also written for Five59 Publishing’s Other Realms anthology.