MAN OF QUESTIONABLE MORALS
I awoke that wet, sunless March morning with a slight
been up half the night through with Sherlock Holmes over claret,
brandy, and innumerable cigars mere hours before, and was surprised to
find myself the solitary occupant of the bed. This was very puzzling.
It was no unusual thing for my companion to receive early morning
callers, anxious supplicants who had taken the first train desperate
for a solution to their conundrums, but had one arrived he would surely
have wakened me. In addition, it was the light from his window which
had roused me from sleep, and the clock on the bedstead showed it to be
just after seven, an hour at which Sherlock Holmes is very seldom
conscious. When five minutes had not brought his return, I reluctantly
threw on my dressing gown and a few items of clothing and emerged into
the still-shadowy sitting room in search of him.
perched upon the sofa half asleep, his dark lashes standing out boldly
against the habitual paleness of his skin, one long limb having
tightened the folds of his dressing gown and the other cradling his
unruly black head. I approached him silently, more confused by the
answer to where he was than I had been by the question. He stirred
slightly when I reached down to run my fingers through his hair.
"Are you quite comfortable?" I asked softly.
"No," he murmured. His eyes opened, then closed again as he yawned
briefly. "That is to say, I am reasonably comfortable."
"What on earth are you doing?"
"Nothing more nor less than what I appear to be doing."
sat next to him and ran a hand along his elegant neck. He shifted the
angle of his body like a cat seeking a ray of sunshine and was curled
up with his head in my lap a moment later. "You appear to be resting."
Silence greeted my remark.
"Why haven't you started the fire? Your hands are freezing."
Holmes is less a creature of habit than are some men. There are many
versions of Sherlock Holmes, after all, and each of them has his
quirks. There are the sleuth, the dreamer, the lover, the genius, the
Bohemian, and there is something of a rogue, something of a loafer, and
something of a workhorse, and doubtless scores of others I have not
listed. However, I know all of these men very well indeed, and none of
them tend to quit the comfort of a warm bed to doze off in front of an
"My dear chap, you are all right, aren't you?"
I thought he had fallen asleep again, but soon realized he was merely
considering the question.
"I am not entirely sure."
"Holmes," I said, anxious and impatient all at once, "what is wrong?"
is wrong, Watson. To say that something is wrong would be to
acknowledge an event, as it were, a shift in status, and I am not even
certain any such mutations have taken place."
I turned his
upper body so that his face, instead of looking away from me, pointed
toward the ceiling. He made less protest about this than I had
"My dear fellow, when you begin to employ absurd semantics, I begin to
weren't absurd semantics," he replied crossly. "Nothing has happened,
or at least, what happened was so negligible that to give voice to it
is very likely more effort than it deserves."
"Nevertheless I prevail upon you to make that effort," I insisted.
was wearing trousers, dressing gown and a partially done-up shirt, and
my friend, whose eyes were beginning to clear from fog to pewter,
lifted a lazy hand and began undoing the very few buttons I had
bothered to attend to.
"Do you know, Watson, that there are a number of factors which make you
absolutely irresistible in the early morning?"
have marked it, but cannot claim to know to which specific factors you
refer," I returned as his slender white hand wandered over the plane of
my stomach. The man's hands, curse him, are devastating and he knows
it. "You may inform me of them after you tell me what you are doing out
"I am out here because I would have woken you were I in
there." I drew in my breath slightly as his sensitive fingers traced
the edge of my right pectoral muscle.
"I cannot say that I would have minded your waking me in this manner
smiled sleepily. Unable to resist the sight of him so languidly
sensual, I reached into his open shirt collar and began a series of
reciprocal ministrations. His skin is absolutely remarkable, I noted
for perhaps the thousandth time. Apart from the occasional scar
obtained through high adventure and the pocked wasteland that is his
left forearm, it is as flawless as porcelain, humanized by the
occasional genial mole.
"You are trying to distract me," I sighed.
"It's working," he shrugged as a fingernail raked light as a cobweb
over my nipple.
it isn't." I leaned down at the waist and kissed him deeply, his mouth
opening readily as I effectively trapped his hand between us. "Speak to
"Very well," he said, his lips inches from mine. "Factor
one: your hair, my dear fellow, looks as if you have just gone three
rounds, Queensbury rules. Dashing simply isn't the word. It very much
makes me want to tie you face down to a desk. Factor two: you are clad
in a most lascivious fashion for a doctor, but no doubt you were aware
of that already. I do not know what you wish me to do when you parade
about with three buttons of your shirt fastened like some
green-carnationed lounger. And factor three," he added, turning his
head slightly and unmistakably towards my lap, "it warms my heart you
are already so very glad to see me."
"You noticed that, did
you?" I laughed in spite of myself. "Well, you are a master of
observation. Holmes, if nothing is wrong, take the ten seconds to
assure me of it and we shall say no more about it."
degree of evidence of your feelings for me is really most gratifying,"
he ignored me, stroking with scientific curiosity. "But my dear fellow,
that cannot be comfortable."
"It isn't. Now, tell me what is troubling you."
"I have a better idea," he purred, unfastening my hastily done
would be glad to learn of it, if it truly is a better idea," I said, my
voice low and thick despite my own best efforts. "But I have my
doubts." I was quite powerless, in addition, to make any effort to
forestall my friend's effort to free me from the increasingly vexing
confinement of my trousers.
"I can guarantee that it is."
"Are you going to tie me face down to a desk, for example?"
I am quite comfortable, and the desk yards away and facing a window.
Perhaps later, provided we move the desk. My God," he said cheerily
when he had managed to shift my clothing to his satisfaction. His
fingers began exploring newly exposed flesh with delicate enthusiasm.
"You have missed me, haven't you? And it was only an hour ago I
wandered out here. You appear to hold me in the most passionate
"I would not presume to contradict you," I began to
say, but silenced myself with a moan when his lips continued where his
hand had left off. For all his amused self-assurance, passionate regard
is in fact an understatement when applied to my feelings for the
incorrigible devil, and from that moment forward I could do nothing but
grasp him by the hair and bite my lip to the point of bleeding in an
effort not to shout through our distressingly thin walls. With my left
hand thus occupied, my right instinctively tore my friend's clothing
open and grasped him firmly, so that by the time five minutes had
passed, we were both panting and limp, splayed in a sweating heap of
I stared at the ceiling first as my
eyesight returned, and then down at my companion, whose lids still
fluttered slightly. My fingers remained in his hair and I caressed the
top of his head gently, leaning my own head back with a sigh. I could
hear the traffic on the street outside increasing, and shivered when I
glanced once more at the cold fireplace. Lifting Holmes off my legs, I
departed for the wash room and returned with a cloth to make him rather
"I don't suppose it is worth asking if
you'll come back to bed any longer," I remarked at length
philosophically. "It is quite fully morning."
He drew himself
onto his side and adjusted the dressing gown as I made myself at home
at the edge of the sofa, laying back against its arm. When I had done
so, he shifted once more until his head was on my chest and his body
nestled against the length of mine.
"This is the moment when you confess your darkest machinations," I
suggested, sliding a hand up and down his back.
"I once cheated on a Greek examination."
"You didn't," I exclaimed.
"Yes, I did. But only once. There was a fencing competition the same
day and I was quite mad with terror."
"Then afterward, quite naturally, you were mad with terror you'd be
course not," he sniffed. "It was flawlessly executed. But it was so
easy I vowed never to take such a fool's route to high marks again."
"You," I said through the laughter I could not suppress, "are a man of
very questionable moral fibre."
"Perhaps so. But I did win the fencing match."
"I had assumed you did. Continue your confession."
"I have committed a number of acts of felonious housebreaking."
"Yes, I have seen you. Go on."
am most alarmingly attracted to men. One man in particular, in fact. I
am beset by more filthy urges centered around that poor fellow than you
could possibly imagine."
"This portion of your confession I would like to discuss in more depth,
but later," I murmured. "Please tell me what happened."
He sighed in frustration. "My sleep has been...disturbed."
"Disturbed? What do you mean?"
"I have been having some rather remarkable nightmares. For
six days now."
I could not help it. I gripped his shoulder and my lips immediately
sought out the top of his head.
"This is why I did not tell you," came the dry voice I expected to
"You are sure it is six days?"
"Holmes, I--I am sorry. How the devil can I not have noticed?" I
reprimanded myself bitterly.
just now you would have noticed if you'd indulged in perhaps one less
brandy last night, or should I say this morning. The other
occasions...once I was not at home, and I think for two nights you had
taken yourself to your own room because you thought you'd caught a
chill and very sensibly wanted nothing to do with me. On two other
occasions, I managed to disguise it by beating a hasty exit."
"Six times?" I demanded, my heart increasing its rate in concert with
my chagrin. "And you didn't tell me?"
"This," he repeated even more acidly. "This, Watson. This is why I
didn't tell you."
"Is it..." I ventured. "Is it the same as before?"
feels just as if I've taken it again, yes," he mused clinically. "It's
a sensation of utter misery. As if I'd been loosed from hell to speak
of horrors, so to speak."
"I don't understand it, for I've experienced not a one," said I.
"Nothing of the kind."
I realize you haven't. I am an exceptionally light sleeper,
well know by now. But it is heartening nevertheless to hear
confirmed." His black brows were making an effort to appear
but there remained a barely visible crease between his piercing eyes.
"In any case, I really don't see the need to discuss the residual
symptoms of radix pedis
diaboli poisoning any further."
"We need to discuss it because it could well be very serious," I
doubt it is as bad as it seems. Perhaps it will occur less frequently
over time. In any event, I brought it upon myself, so an appalling
dream or two is hardly an unbearable consequence."
"Bearable or not, it cannot be doing you any good."
"We have finished speaking of it."
"But Holmes, you must tell me--"
"Yes, yes, yes," he snapped. "It is an aftereffect. It isn't like a
"In what way do you mean?"
"Because I cannot move, for one, and for another, it...it doesn't feel
if it's ever going to stop."
that very moment, when all I wished was to wring every particle of
evidence out of the man I loved above anything else in the world so
that I could better determine whether or not he was losing his mind,
footsteps made themselves heard upon our stairs. Holmes tripped nimbly
to his feet and was in the basket chair before I had managed to
rearrange my limbs into a more conventional pose.
Mrs. Hudson's head followed her gentle knock, and her brows lifted in
surprise at the sight of us.
"Oh, you're awake already. There's a gentleman to see you, Mr. Holmes."
My friend reached for his pipe lazily, his deep annoyance at me
reflected in his address to the long-suffering Mrs. Hudson.
"What does he want?"
"He says he has had a most grotesque experience, and he desires you to
explain it to him."
"Grotesque," my friend said with the relish of a man of letters. "An
admirable word. How do you define it, Mrs. Hudson?"
is surely something more than that!" he cried. "Do you not find it
hints at darker shades of the tragic and the terrible?"
Hudson's calm, composed expression shifted very slightly towards
amusement, as she rested a hand on the door frame. "For you, Mr.
Holmes, undoubtedly it does."
Drawing upon his pipe with an
expression of tolerant irony, he queried, "What precisely do you mean
by that remark, my dear lady?"
"Nothing, Mr. Holmes. I
understand your assessment, but I cannot say it encompasses the word's
definition for others. Shall I send him up?"
He gave an
irritated shrug and inclined his head in the affirmative. "Can you
really ask whether I am ready to look into some new problem? My mind of
late has greatly resembled a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces.
By all means, send him up."
"Shall I prepare some--"
Hudson, men who knock sleepy people up at half past seven in the
morning do not deserve tea, and you know it full well. Now, by all
means, please depart."
Mrs. Hudson departed, but only after
having flashed a sympathetic look in my direction. Our landlady was
very fond indeed of her famous, not to say infamous, lodger, but she
clearly thought that sending me soothing signals on occasion would help
ease the slights, intentional and unintentional, to which we were both
privy living within the same building as Sherlock Holmes, not to
mention, in my case, the same bed. I suppose I can only remark to this
that residing with my friend would be a very trying experience indeed
if he did not love me wholeheartedly and I did not love him in return.
"Do not imagine we have finished our previous conversation," I
suggested to him.
I do not imagine it. I know it," he drawled. "Now, get your notebook
like a good fellow and pray that something interesting is about to walk
through our door, for there is his step on the other side of it. Come
Our guest appeared at first glance to be orthodox and
conservative to the last degree, his greying side-whiskers neatly
trimmed and his conservatively cut suit evoking an aura of placid
British complacency. But further inspection showed that this was the
effect he desired to have, and not the essence of the man himself. A
second look revealed expensive spats, and elegantly crafted spectacles
with shimmering golden rims. He was most agitated about something, for
he had not yet shaved, and perhaps it was this feature which gave me an
immediate impression of dissolution. It was then, however, that he laid
eyes on my friend.
Holmes is a man upon whom nonchalance sits
like a well-worn glove. There are times, however, particularly mere
minutes after a carnal encounter such as we'd just indulged in, when a
slight flush warms his aristocratic features, his remarkable eyes
sparkle like mercury, and his coal-black hair, smoothed back, gives his
brow such an air of intelligent and slightly scornful languor that
women virtually fall swooning at his feet. The men who are so inclined
do not fall swooning, but they stare wolfishly in exactly the manner
that Scott Eccles was doing at that moment.
"I have had a most
singular and unpleasant experience, Mr. Holmes," he declared at once.
He did not grant me so much as a glance.
"Pray sit down, Mr.
Scott Eccles," my friend invited. His high tenor had not yet lost that
huskiness associated with sleep, nor its sultry slowness. "No one can
glance at your toilet and attire without seeing that you have been very
Our guest looked down at himself and then
rather shamefacedly adjusted a spat, pulling it over a shoddily
buttoned dress boot. "You are right, Mr. Holmes. I am terribly sorry.
But I will tell you the whole queer business and I hope it will be
enough to excuse me."
"You are already excused, I assure you,
Mr. Eccles. Just sit there, if you will, and tell us something about
yourself, and how you came to these circumstances."
Eccles mopped his forehead with a finely embroidered handkerchief and
did as Holmes bid him with an exceedingly grateful look. Glancing at
the clock upon the wall, I wondered idly how many minutes would pass
before he acknowledged there was another man in the room. The exercise
was not so detrimental to my ego as might be thought, for I am quite
content as I am, and the admiration my friend so often received usually
caused my pride to grow rather than shrink.
"I am a bachelor, Mr. Holmes," he began, "but being of a sociable turn
I cultivate a large number of friends."
"A bachelor. Yes, I had imagined so. Do go on," Holmes said suavely.
our client continued with a ready smile, "it was at the home of a
mutual friend in Kensington that I met some weeks ago a young fellow
called Garcia. He was, I understood, of Spanish descent and connected
in some way with the Embassy. He spoke perfect English, was pleasing in
his manners, and I don't mind saying, Mr. Holmes, that he was as good
looking a man as I ever saw in my life."
"What a very charming
sort of friend to have cultivated," my friend mused, after having shot
a twinkling glance in my direction. "I myself--but you were saying, Mr.
Mr. Eccles appeared to be enjoying this portion of
the tale immensely, for we had clearly not yet reached any events which
failed to put him in an attractive light before my slim, urbane,
grey-eyed consulting detective. The same consulting detective was
flicking his gaze toward mine periodically as if to say, I cannot help
it, it is all upon his part, and it is none of my doing.
"You see, Mr. Holmes, in some way we struck up quite a friendship, this
young fellow and I."
inevitable attraction between the intelligent, worldly youth and the
experienced man of affairs, no doubt. I have seen it many times."
I was beginning to have difficulty containing the laughter which so
greatly desired to escape.
it precisely!" Eccles exclaimed. "He seemed to take a fancy to me from
the first, and within two days of our meeting he came to see me at Lee.
Well, one thing led to another--"
"As it so often does," I reflected quietly.
garnered me a mildly surprised look from Eccles and a series of violent
coughs from Holmes, who appeared to have choked on something.
"Yes, I suppose so..." was all our guest managed to say.
me," Holmes said, still gasping for breath a little. "This is Doctor
Watson, as you no doubt have already guessed. He is my friend and
partner. Now, do tell us what things led to other things which gave
cause for you to consult me."
Just as a crestfallen look
crossed Eccles' face at the rather explicit way in which Holmes had
introduced me, we heard a second knock at the door.
friend had called out permission to enter, our old friend Inspector
Gregson of the Yard appeared, followed by a heavyset man whose weight
would have seemed ponderous if he had not been blessed with a pair of
extraordinarily bright, almost cunning eyes. These eyes darted out from
beneath a rotund, ruddy countenance, and they at once scanned our rooms
before lending their attention first to Eccles, then to myself, and
finally coming to rest upon Holmes. Gregson made his introductions
quickly, seeming to be eager to approach the reason for their visit.
Baynes and I wish a statement, Mr. Eccles," he said cordially, "as to
the events which led up to the death of Mr. Aloysius Garcia, of
Wisteria Lodge, near Esher."
"Dead?" Eccles gasped, all the colour draining from his face. "Did you
say he was dead?"
"Yes, sir--he is dead."
"But how?" he cried. "An accident?"
said Baynes quietly, "if there ever was one upon this earth. Please
calm yourself, Mr. Eccles. All will be well. We do not wish to imply
that you are suspected," he continued, "but nevertheless a letter of
yours was found in the dead man's pocket and we know that you had
planned to pass last night at his house."
"I--I never meant to--yes, I had planned to stay the night at his
house, but that letter can have nothing to do with--"
Baynes looked at Eccles thoughtfully. "How well did you know this
Garcia, if you don't mind my asking, Mr. Eccles?"
"Not well at all," he protested.
"And yet you went to the country with the express purpose of spending
the night at Wisteria Lodge."
the look of horror upon our client's face that he had somehow become
entangled in a murder investigation and that his replies were not
making sufficient sense, Holmes lifted a hand. He had sat forward
eagerly at the first mention of Garcia's death, his every instinct
alert. "Wait a bit, if you will," he requested. "All you desire is a
plain statement, is it not? Surely Mr. Eccles can simply proceed with
his narrative, and the four of us will offer him any questions which we
may require to clarify matters. Now, Mr. Eccles, as you were saying."
was a mystifying tale to be sure--an invitation, a ruined dinner, our
client wakened once in the darkness by his host merely to inquire if he
had rung, the entire household vanished by morning. It was like an
episode from a fairy tale. When Eccles had finished, and the inspectors
had put one or two more questions to him, I could still see no way out
of the matter.
"What can we learn of the note which was rolled up and thrown in the
fire?" Gregson inquired.
The country detective drew a much-folded and wrinkled scrap of paper
from his pocket.
smiled, always ready to find favour with an inspector who showed an
ounce of observational skill. "You must have examined the house very
Baynes' piercing eyes, obscured slightly by his
bloated cheeks, flew back to my friend. "It was a dog-grate, Mr.
Holmes, and he over-pitched it. 'Our own colours, green and white.
Green open, white shut. Main stair, first corridor, seventh right,
Green baize. Godspeed, D.'"
"But what can that mean?" questioned Eccles, clearly at the outer
limits of his toleration for anxiety and discomfort.
good man, that is what we are all of us determined to discover," Holmes
replied firmly. "Be of good cheer, for I am entirely at your service. I
suppose you have no objection to my collaborating with you, Mr. Baynes?"
inspector's round face brightened, and he slowly offered my friend his
hand. "What possible objection could I have?" he asked. "Highly
honoured, sir, I am sure. I shall watch your work with the greatest
"As will I, Inspector," Holmes returned equitably.
"As will I. You appear to have been very prompt and businesslike in all
you have done."
The moment our several guests had filed out
the door and I had seen them through the bow window safely reach the
street, I glanced back at my companion. His face looked grave, but his
grey eyes sparkled at me nevertheless.
"What do you make of our new client, Watson?"
can make nothing of this mystification of Scott Eccles," I replied.
"However, I can make a number of inferences about the man himself."
"Indeed? Pray, what sort of inferences?"
he was hovering on the brink of asking you to dine with him at his
club, for one. Short of inviting you to his home for supper and
"Why would he do such a thing?" my friend inquired with a coy flutter
of his long eyelashes.
"Because he is a sodomite if I ever laid eyes on one," I stated,
smiling back at him.
threw back his head and laughed. I could see the muscles of his slender
white neck contract and then relax. "Do you mean to say that there was
something...unnatural...about this strange and sudden friendship
between the young Spaniard and Scott Eccles?"
"Perhaps not on the young Spaniard's part, but certainly upon Scott
"No, no," he mused thoughtfully. "Upon both parts."
"You think the young Spaniard had the same idea?"
did not say so. What could Eccles supply? I see very little charm in
the man, certainly not the sort of charm which would appeal to a
"Have you known a great many
Spaniards?" I asked him amusedly. "Or is this a fact you picked up
somewhere in your vast study of all things relating to human nature? I
once knew a chap who positively could not resist men with the most
mincing and effeminate ways, but simply because I did not understand it
does not mean I assumed it could not be so."
I had taken a seat in the bow window. Holmes lit his pipe once more and
strolled over to face me judiciously.
have known several Spaniards, though none in the sense which I imagine
you to mean. And Garcia's 'unnatural' interest in Eccles was, I
believe, based upon the fact that he is just the type of person whom a
Spaniard would imagine the very face of British respectability." So
stating, he sat easily in the other side of the window and drew his
legs in so that he quite resembled a Turkish potentate reclining in his
palatial tent. "You and I know rather better, of course, but to a
foreigner the subtle signs would be utterly lost."
"They were not particularly subtle," I sighed.
you are mistaken," he smiled at me. The folds of his dressing gown had
fallen apart once more, and with the top of his shirt imperfectly
buttoned, he looked impish indeed. "You only noticed him because he
"That must have been it," said I, rather needled.
"I could not possibly have deduced it on my own from the man's attire,
attitude, and mannerisms."
"Perhaps I am mistaken," he replied peaceably. He yawned, covering his
mouth with a half-closed hand.
exhausted," I observed softly, growing furious once more that I had
noticed so little amiss during the previous week. There were dark,
angry circles under his eyes and his fine skin looked thinner, as if it
were made of paper.
He shrugged. "Can you be ready to make for Esher today?"
"You haven't any patients?"
the one sitting in front of me," I pointed out by way of returning to
the conversation we'd been having before the interruption of a case,
but at this remark Holmes' brow lifted sharply and he hopped out of the
window, striding toward his desk.
"Will you just drop the cravat I left in your room last week in your
bag? I've a few telegrams to send."
"Of course. But Holmes--"
"Watson, I'm fine," he said. "Pack your things." Then he turned again
to his telegraph forms.
"What will you do if it happens tonight?" I asked the defensively
poised wall of his slender back.
"Wake up, I imagine."
"Holmes," I insisted earnestly.
"Surely you don't expect me to remain asleep?"
set my hand upon the edge of his shoulder. "You are not alone. Do not
act as if you were," I reminded him. I occasionally had
reason to do
"Of course I am not alone," he sniffed. "I have observed a
very persistent doctor in my bedchamber on more than one
man will not be put off, no matter how absurd his fixations are. In
fact, if he did not happen to be possessed of certain salient assets, I
would be a great deal more brusque with him. Now, kindly pack your
I did as he asked, making for the stairway. There
are battles worth fighting, after all, and there are battles best
delayed in the hopes of securing greater tactical advantages.
not imagine I will cease," I called back to him, "for you are right
about one thing. I love you quite persistently. It
would not be too
much to say that I have an absurd fixation."
When I looked
behind me to see whether his scowl had altered, it was nowhere to be
found. He was busily scribbling on a telegraph form, feigning supreme
exasperation. "The poor fellow is mad," I heard him mutter as he
glanced up at me, his eyes flicking instantaneously back to the
I exited casually, the disjointed murmurs of "intolerable" and "home
for such people" fading into the background.
weather upon our arrival in Surrey did not improve my spirits, for the
wind sighed disconsolately, sending slivers of bitter rain into our
faces when we engaged rooms at the Bull. I will be forgiven,
doubtless, for failing to repeat elements of the very grotesque case of
Wisteria Lodge which have already been recorded for more public
consumption. Evidence of a giant having his way with the
sensational enough, but pieces of charred bone discovered in the
fireplace sent an unexpected chill running through my
interesting--very interesting indeed!" Holmes declared, examining a
chicken which seemed to me to have been ripped in pieces.
it is an unprecedented case," Baynes agreed. He hooked two
his pockets. "I am very glad of it, for we stagnate in the
Opportunities, Mr. Holmes, that is the way I regard this
the rainbow of opportunities. I am a man who takes his
chances when he
sees them, as I'm sure you will agree is the only way."
brief philosophical speech was delivered calmly and pleasantly, while
my friend cast a final look round the kitchen. "Your powers,
if I may
say so, do seem superior to your aforementioned opportunities," he
acknowledged. "I take it you have a theory, then?"
I'll work it out myself, Mr. Holmes. For purely selfish
should be glad to say afterward that I solved it without your
Baynes then winked one of his unexpectedly brilliant eyes at my friend
and gestured courteously towards the front door.
good-naturedly at this, but I found myself mildly irritated.
the deathly quiet house, we walked back through the gate in the cold
drizzle and turned on to the path leading back to town. I
drew my coat
lapels together and buttoned them, longing for a glass of spirits and
an idle hour before the fire. I completed the image with a
book in one
hand and one of Sherlock Holmes' limbs resting beneath the
was an activity devoutly to be wished, I reflected.
"By the way,
Mr. Holmes," Baynes said suddenly, "I wonder what Scott Eccles could
have been thinking to journey out here that night. I believe
safely say that the poor man had nothing to do with the matter, but I
find myself curious regarding his motives nonetheless. There
something in it which smells peculiar."
"I can see what you
mean," Holmes replied, staring at the moistened gravel beneath us, "but
as you say he is quite clearly harmless. I would venture to
that Garcia, as the more quick-witted of the two, lured Eccles to
Wisteria Lodge rather in spite of himself. Eccles appears to
dyed-in-the-wool conservative churchman--how often are such gentlemen
exposed to the sort of plot you and I are investigating?"
said, Mr. Holmes," Baynes nodded. "Well said
indeed. More to Garcia
than meets the eye, that much we know. How did he strike you,
I looked up, startled by my summons to the
spotlight. It was so seldom that I was included in a
between Sherlock Holmes and a policeman that I found myself utterly
taken aback. "Eccles? He is in every degree
thank you for your impression. You appear to me to be an
sort of fellow, Dr. Watson," Baynes stated appreciatively.
can't have wanted him purely for conversation, in other words."
"No," I faltered, "but it seems apparent that Garcia's web is far wider
and more sinister than Eccles knew."
"That's it exactly," Baynes smiled. "Eccles got more than he
bargained for when he arrived at Wisteria Lodge."
Baynes, you appear dangerously close to discussing the case with us,"
Holmes pointed out with a trace of aloof amusement.
"Oh, not at
all!" he laughed. "No, no fear of that, sir. None
at all. I'm
grateful to you both for indulging my little whims, gentlemen, and I
hope all at the inn is to your liking. Now, don't
forget--we're to go
our own ways. Hunting with you is a pleasure I'll defer for
time. Until we meet again, and don't hesitate to call if you
feel the need," he said by way of goodbye, and then he turned his
ponderous form in the direction of a side road I did not doubt led back
towards his own lodgings.
"That man is peculiar," I remarked,
drawing my thick woolen scarf as closely around my neck as I could
manage. While the rain did not seem to be increasing, it
pelted on without any sign of tiring.
"The balance of men you
know who are talented at criminal detection are peculiar," my companion
replied demurely. "Are you cold?"
"Doubtless you deduced it," I said irritably.
"And doubtless when we arrive back at the inn I shall think of
"You are known for your abilities in the realm of brainwork."
"Are you mocking me?"
my tone," I conceded, my teeth nearly chattering. "If you
consent to think of something, you would render me a very happy man."
reward in itself," came the sardonic reply, but by virtue of long habit
I believed him in earnest, a policy which improved my lot in life by
factors as opposed to degrees.
I opened my eyes later that night, I was in India under the cloudless
stars. I looked up from a sand-swept street in awe not that
constellations were so numerous, but that the fogs of London could
obscure them so thoroughly that I counted several I knew but had not
witnessed in many years. Their glare could have passed for
but the moon was nowhere to be seen. A light breeze swept
face, bringing with it a whiff of cardamom and of lamb roasting over an
open spit, and it occurred to me I did not know this junction but ought
to retrace my steps back to my companions.
sound of heavy military boots beating against the stones startled me,
and I whirled around in surprise. It was a native guard, a
contingent such as I had never encountered until much later, and in
another land entirely. They were dragging a prisoner between
The fact that they were in India and not where they belonged only
deepened my sense that something was very wrong, and I stood as tall as
I could make myself and commanded them to halt.
did so, staring at me with eyes bleached empty by the desert
of them kicked the prisoner they had clearly dragged from a great
distance, striking him just below the ribs. His feet and
shins were a
bloody pulp, his breath coming in shallow gasps. I had never
in Arab sheets before, nor known his face so darkened by the sun, but
in an instant I knew it was Holmes.
found him, sir," the rebel in the front of the formation
you ordered. We've done all we could think of, but he still
talk. What are your orders?"
"Drag him to the nearest
ditch and bury him," I heard myself saying. "Have
him dig a few feet himself, if he can manage it, and save yourself the
trouble. If he doesn't know, he doesn't know. No
sense in wasting
before my eyes opened, I sensed someone striding across the inn's
double-bedded room. He caught me by the shoulders and shook
Breathing heavily, I seized the hand that had pulled me partially
upright. "I am all right. Just give me a moment."
"Watson, look at me," Holmes ordered. "What happened?"
"I...." Glancing around me, I took a slower, more steadying
had experienced nightmares about my time in service before, though they
had grow less frequent over time. Equally as disconcerting,
nightmares about something dreadful befalling Holmes. As rare
were, they were also familiar. My pulse was racing and my
developed a sheen of sweat, but I felt nothing of the tongue-freezing
horror I knew Holmes was searching my face for traces of, nothing of
the senseless monstrosity that characterized our last and most
dangerous foe. I felt only the fading guilt of having done
in a nightmare I would readily sacrifice my right arm to prevent in
"It was merely a bad dream," I said. "Thank you for waking
To my surprise, the grip on my shoulders only tightened. "Are
you telling me the truth?"
"Of course I am," I protested. As little as I wished it, I
remained confused and sleep-befuddled.
if you are lying to me, I will explore avenues of interrogation not
hitherto conceived," he swore, still unaccountably angry.
"I thought I was the one whose motives are wholly transparent," I
snapped in return. "Let go of me. Why are you--"
stop," he said softly, stemming my flow of words. "Please, I
intention of badgering you." Releasing my shoulders, he
insinuated himself into bed beside me so that my head had very few
options but to fall upon his compactly muscled chest. I was
annoyed for all of five seconds, and then gratefully twined my limbs
around his. I could not recall the previous occasion I'd
vividly of war, but I prayed once more that it would finally be the
"You were in the Army, weren't you?"
"How did you know? Did I say anything?"
"Never mind. You were."
were silent for perhaps five minutes, while my breathing returned
swiftly to its normal rate and Holmes' eyes closed wearily.
his long fingers into my hair.
"The Ghazis had taken a prisoner. Was it you?"
"Holmes, if I didn't know you rather better, I would tie you to a stake
and burn you for a witch myself," I sighed.
that what you saw, before?" he asked very quietly, after another long
interim, when I thought he had nearly fallen asleep. "Were
you in the
Afghan War when...."
"No," I replied after some consideration.
"The root showed me something else. But I cannot recall any
any concrete faces. It is all a terrifying blur, none of it
comprising any sort of narrative. It was far more sensation
"What about you?" I dared to ask. "Can you recall what you
saw? What you have seen since?"
"Yes," he said. His voice was weary, and very sad, and barely
audible. "I can certainly recall it."
"Wait a moment," I said, the truth slowly dawning on me. "Why
were you sitting across the room in that chair?"
"Not for any particular reason."
"Holmes," I breathed, sitting up fully, "do not toy with me."
"I was thinking about the case."
worked out the majority of the case when we were at Wisteria Lodge," I
growled at him, growing instinctively incensed. Removing
the bed, I stood over him determined not to wave my hands in the air in
impotent fury. "You were hot on the trail. It
happened again, didn't
it, and you buried it somehow, and thought it best to spend three or
four hours in a chair rather than disturb me?"
"I...." He ran
his hand over his white face and then abruptly sat up, crossing his
legs under him gracefully. "I am growing rather accustomed to
Come back to bed, please."
"I am going to contact Dr.
Sterndale," I stated flatly. I very nearly sought out my clothing and
made for the telegraph office, but reminded myself in time that were we
far from London, where such establishments keep long hours.
"He can do
something about this. He knows the drug better than anyone.
he is the only person who has any scientific knowledge of the poison at
"That is a capital notion," Holmes replied, tossing his
dark head in undisguised disdain while he reached for a cigarette on
the bedside table. "And so very easy. Why did I not think of it myself,
if I am accounted so clever? Just take a message for me, Doctor, and
address it to 'Dr. Leon Sterndale, darkest depths of Africa.' His ship
sailed days ago, but we shall take care to instruct the courier not to
grow disheartened that the man he is seeking is determined never to be
found, and resides in a jungle."
I glared at him, balling my
hands into fists. "Explain to me, if you can, Holmes, why I deserve
derision for making an effort to ease your suffering."
"Because your preoccupation with it is not logical. It is a palpable
waste of your time."
time is my own to waste, surely you will agree. That root has killed
two people and driven two into Bedlam for life. Would you not
worried sick about such a thing if I were afflicted so?"
"Indeed I would," he agreed. "In fact, I believe I should be
so distraught as to make an utter nuisance of myself."
"Then how can you expect me to act callously in your own case?"
you would not deserve to suffer so," he replied, his voice sinking
dangerously. "As for myself, there is a kind of justice at
losing my mind."
"What justice?" I cried. "Your mind is a thing
of beauty and you know it, one of the finest minds in
sort of perverse justice could--"
"The kind that punishes men for mistakes quite beyond the pale of
"But no harm came of it! Why should you--"
trailed off due to the sudden realization of why he was being so
utterly impossible, for the answer was right before my eyes.
master of all he surveyed in the world of criminal science was still
consumed by horror that he had nearly killed me. Not only had
devil nearly killed me, but I myself had snatched us from the jaws of
danger, and had we indeed perished or been driven mad, it would be
difficult to imagine a more monstrous demise. Why I had not
before appeared quite beyond belief; Holmes may well be an ass, but
when I am a fool, I am a comprehensive one.
viewing me at a loss for words and thinking I was about to attempt some
newly invasive tack, slammed his hand against the bedclothes in a fury,
crushed the remains of the cigarette into the wood table, and then
strode towards me with steps as swift and silent as a wild cat.
cannot discuss this with you," he snarled, inches from my face. "I will
not discuss this with you. Any human being in the world would be
"Yes, I can see that now," I replied, and then
gasped as his mouth descended on my neck and he kissed me so hard I
stumbled back against the wall. His lips were cool and
tongue, when I felt it, forceful and burning.
"Look at me," I demanded, as soon as I could breathe.
"Holmes, I must make one thing perfectly clear to you."
"Doubtless it can wait."
hands and lips tugged ferociously at my flesh, robbing my mouth of any
sense even as his own found my shoulder blades after he had torn my
shirt from my breast. There would be an angry red mark the
morning, I had no doubt. He kissed my chest and neck and
if he were literally starving for me. Several marks, I
reflected as my
hands blindly reached for him, my knees deeply grateful he had thrown
me back against a supportive surface. I forced my eyes to
did I say to you just after it happened?"
He ignored me,
pressing me into him with a single hand against my lower
hand then slid lower, increasing its force as it shifted its
Breathlessly, I repeated the question. "What did I tell you?"
bleated some unadulterated claptrap about serving me bringing you
pleasure. It most alarmed me. I assumed you were still mad," he snapped
"At least you were listening." A muffled moan
escaped me when his lips explored my jaw where it curved up to my
"I blame you for nothing. I swear it."
"Every time this happens
to me, every time I see this sickening world again, I am reminded of
just what I was risking to solve a case," he said furiously.
"Additionally, it is rather harrowing all on its own. For
sake leave it and come back to bed."
"Holmes, I am as much to
blame," I persisted. "If I had truly possessed any more sense
you, I would have prevented us both from taking such a mad step."
his forearms up against the wall, he fixed me before him like a
butterfly on a card, eyes boring into me like steel pins.
times when, tender as he may be, I am reminded conclusively of just how
much stronger than me my lover is, and some bestial part of my libido
surges in almost worshipful response. I held myself perfectly
His voice, when he spoke at last, was a violent hiss. "If it
you, if someone had done such a thing to you, if someone had taken you
from me and subjected you to the sort of torture Miss Brenda Tregennis
suffered, if someone had murdered you by literally breaking your
sanity, I have not a doubt in my mind that I would have acted precisely
as our lawless lion hunter has done. That is what I was
is what drove
me to such steps. I had to know who could do such a
thing. Now, ask
yourself what would have happened if your gruesome death had been
"Stop it," I cried.
"It would have killed me," he lashed out. "I mean that
literally. God damn you, how much longer must we speak of it?"
"I love you," I pleaded. "I love you equally, but we lived,
Holmes. You must forget it. We lived."
his palms left the wall to grasp me by the hair, and then with great
tenderness he struck my head once, barely perceptibly, against the
plaster. "Not on my account."
"You truly so grudge me the
opportunity to rescue you for a change?" I questioned, frantic to ease
his mind. "Tell me you'll forget it. It isn't
important any longer."
Reaching for the back of his raven head, I kissed him, my lips parting
with a sigh of pleasure as he tilted my head back and claimed me with
All at once he stopped, gripping me lightly by the
throat with the slim, powerful fingers of his right hand. His
wandered into the hollow of my neck where he could feel the very
efforts of my heartbeat. He could have crushed my larynx with
of the wrist, but he knows his own strength to the minutest degree and
all I felt was a command in his fingers to follow him. "Come
"I have not finished speaking to you."
"I beg leave to differ."
cannot use fornication as a means of silencing me," I argued
desperately, although I knew full well he was aware of my arousal, and
I remained utterly helpless to resist him even were I so inclined.
no, no," he shook his head. Bending down, he rested his brow
mine. I could feel his own pulse hammering in the hand that
cradled my throat like a benevolent noose. "That is not what
"That is all that you have been doing!"
"I will tell you once more that it is not."
"I am not a fool, even if I am not you," I returned bitterly, speared
by his denial.
other hand struck the wall behind me with a vengeance, but I moved not
a muscle and his voice was calm. "You may not be a fool, but
"Neither am I your spaniel, to be muzzled every time you desire it," I
Watson, please," he murmured, his silver eyes closed. "Come
bed. Let me love you. Let me feel that you are
final words departed me. I had no breath for them.
At that moment, I
could not even have said that I knew already how he loved me, or that I
knew what it meant to him to keep me from harm. I could not
it because I do know what it means to him, and there have not been
invented any words to express it. Shivering slightly, I
and then I did as I always do.
I did precisely what he asked of me.
are never as vocal as we would prefer it when inhabiting a country
inn. But that night, as my eyes fluttered open when I died
glimpsed the distant ceiling, when he muffled his cries with my
sweat-slicked breast and neck, and I held him to me with nails
lean back as if we would fall off the face of the world, I understood
Please, he was choking. I would never. I
would never. He mentioned deities we do not take the time to
Generally it is my name, or an inarticulate battle for
night he was begging for absolution, and I think I would have traveled
to Hell to obtain it for him. I could not bestow it myself, I
as he collapsed and I chanted loving phrases in his ear. He
been speaking to me.
In the ensuing mornings, we fell into a pattern which might better be
termed a dance, for when one would give ground, the other would take it
as if we were partners in a formal waltz. I would inquire of
how he slept, and would receive a caustic or non-committal
alternately, when I managed to bite my tongue, his head would rest
itself upon me at some point in the day, and I would know without
asking he was being driven harder in his sleep than most men could
stand when awake. Thus the circles beneath his beautiful eyes
deepened, and thus I ached with knowing that the only thing in my power
to do--that is, to leave, and determine whether he might do better in
my absence--would be construed as utter desertion.
one morning when, as I turned wearily in my slumber, a queer feeling
wakened me, and I opened my eyes to discover him staring at nothing as
if the world had dissolved. Terrified of jolting him out of
could do nothing more than keep watch until a tiny spasm in his fine
features signaled the end of the ordeal for that night, and he simply
winced in exhaustion and reached for my hand.
"You belong here, with me," I whispered to him. "You are
mine. Stay here."
"I am doing my best," he managed, before he fell back into the
half-slumber of the utterly spent.
was a week or more before the case was finally resolved. In
interim, what with the false arrest, the imprisoned governess, the
stirring revelations regarding the Tiger of San Pedro, and our own
intense private worries, I myself was assuredly the worse for wear when
our stay in Esher came to an end. Baynes acted most
throughout the entire affair, but had worked out fully as much as
Holmes by the time Miss Burnet escaped her captors.
the very evidence I want," Baynes declared when Holmes sent for him,
his tiny eyes gleaming. When we had delivered it, he shook
hand, turned and shook mine just as graciously, gave orders to see that
the poor weakened Miss Burnet should be cared for before delivering a
statement, and removed his heavy bulk from our room at the inn.
something in Inspector Baynes I can't quite understand," my friend said
the next day, tossing me a hair brush from across the room as we packed
"I do not particularly care for him, but at least he respects you," I
pointed out, making an effort to be fair.
don't have to care tuppence for him any longer," my friend
"We're going home." Smoking his pipe in his shirtsleeves and
gown, he stared out the window with no more life in his face than a
statue whose features have weathered away.
When we arrived back
in London, after a few days had passed, we were called by telegram to
sign statements regarding the murder of Garcia. The weather
improving, and I convinced Holmes to walk most of the way to the Yard,
thinking the exercise might brighten his spirits whether he desired it
to or no. So it was that we came to be approaching the
entrance to the
building on foot when my friend suddenly caught my arm in his wiry grip.
"That cannot be--Mr. Eccles!" he called out. "Mr. Eccles, is
could scarcely believe my eyes. It was all I could do to
myself from crying out in dismay. The man Holmes had hailed
Scott Eccles, but he was a far cry from the dapper, comfortable
creature who had spoken so coquettishly at Baker Street. When
his name, he cringed visibly and seemed about to flee, but was hampered
by a painful-looking limp and instead turned his face toward
eye was swollen fully shut, rich with purple bruises, and I could
easily tell by the way he moved that his injuries were still more
"Mr. Eccles, what in God's name has happened?" my friend exclaimed.
mistake, Mr. Holmes. A very great mistake." He
seemed for a moment to
be nearly in tears, and then recovered himself. "I took a
turning. A gang set upon me. Now, as I have given
my evidence in the
Garcia case, I must be going."
"But are you quite all right?" Holmes insisted. "And did you
lose anything by it? Have you any idea who's done this to
questions, kindly posed, seemed to pelt Eccles like sharp
lost my dignity by it, that's undisputed," he whispered, "but nothing
more. No, I have no idea who--"
"I can help you," the detective offered softly. "Tell me what
no! I could not possibly," he whimpered. "I--I am
not a rich man, Mr.
Holmes. It would be a wild goose chase, I am sure of it, and
the resources. Three men set upon me in the dark. I
"But it would not cost you a shilling; you are already my
"I really cannot be detained, sir."
"My fees are fixed," Holmes protested, but Eccles, seeming nothing less
than panicked, commenced waving frantically.
generous, very generous, but nothing you can do. Good day to
both," he nodded, and then hobbled as fast as he could manage in the
Holmes stood chewing his lip for several
long moments as we both looked after him. At last he sighed,
at his pocket watch, and turned back to take my arm.
"An alarming story, that," he said. "Did you see the mark on
his cheek just below his temple?"
"Why, yes," I replied slowly, as I pictured it. "There was a
laceration, as if he had been struck with something pliant."
"But that did not cause the bruising."
"No. Dear God, Holmes, these roughs must not have been
concerned with how much time they were taking."
he does not wish me to help him, there is nothing I can do.
nothing of the fact he may well have been right--likely enough the
search for such scoundrels would have been futile in any
case. But I
do hate to see any client of mine come to such a bad pass."
can be a dangerous place. He mentioned a mistake--perhaps his
interests took him to a part of town in which gentlemen are not
welcome. Or perhaps his clothing made him a target for
"Perhaps," Holmes acknowledged. "Perhaps." He
cleared his features as if dismissing the topic once and for all, but I
could not help but notice he was even more than usually laconic that
afternoon, and scanned the newspapers a second time before abandoning
them for a glass of port and his beloved violin.
next day, after the dishes had been cleared from our midday meal and
Holmes had finally mustered the energy to exchange his dressing gown
for a frock coat and tuck a simply tied black knot under his collar,
Mrs. Hudson rapped at the door.
"It's that inspector," she said to us. "The one called
Baynes, Mr. Holmes. Shall I send him up?"
"Certainly. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," my friend replied,
frowning a little in confusion.
Baynes soon appeared in our doorway, as bulky and out of place in
London as he had been ponderous and dignified in the village.
guest breathed heavily from his ascent, but held out a vigorous palm to
his fellow detective.
"So glad you're in, Mr. Holmes! And the Doctor too, I
see. That's all to the good."
"Do sit down," Holmes offered.
"Thank you, sir. Thank you; I felt the need to speak to you
at once, and I heartily apologize for any interruption."
sat down with all his air of slightly puffy composure and regarded us
in undisguised curiosity. I was struck once more that I did not like
this shrewd country inspector, not in the slightest degree, not for the
way he leaned back against our cushions as a man will do when he has a
right to take what liberties he pleases, and not for the way his beady
eyes kept darting between my friend and me.
"It was cleverly
done," Holmes complimented him after an awkward silence, leaning
against the mantel and lighting a cigarette. "Arresting the wrong
fellow. It does not show that strict adherence to formalities that so
slows your colleagues. I cannot say I thought it strictly moral, but
the ends, sir, provided your justification, as it were."
only stared at Holmes, drawing a copious snuff box out of his pocket
and taking a pinch of it. I had already determined not to bandy any
words with this peculiar official, but when he remained silent Holmes
and I exchanged a tiny glance of bemusement.
Holmes?" he said at last, with a smile. "Moral, sir? No, there I do not
disagree with you. It was not strictly moral. But you, sir, and your
companion, no doubt, are well versed in many arenas in which morality
plays no part."
I had reached for a notebook upon my desk lest
there be any talk of the case, but at this incredible statement I
turned back to Baynes in astonishment. A queer prickling of
apprehension washed over me, and I found myself glancing once more at
Holmes. He stood perfectly calm, smoking quietly while the tendrils of
smoke wreathed above him.
"Naturally we are," he said with an easy smile. "We are criminal
investigators. As are you, I need not remind you."
but that is not quite what I meant," Baynes replied. "I had intended to
imply your own...flavour, perhaps, of immorality was a particularly
"An admirable word, grotesque," my friend
answered with a tight quirk of the lips which did not reach his eyes.
"Pray tell us what you mean by it."
"I mean, of a similar ilk to that of Mr. Scott Eccles."
heart was pounding quite madly by now, beating against my ribs like a
hammer, but I sat upon the edge of the settee with a grim determination
to remain calm. For Holmes, on the other hand, remaining calm appeared
to cost no effort whatever.
"It is an interesting implication,
but I cannot grasp its sense," he said. "Mr. Scott Eccles appears to
have no outstanding vices other than being unforgivably dull."
on the contrary, Mr. Holmes," Baynes argued, "he is a man quite teeming
with vice. The things he is willing to do with other members of the
same gender, for example, are not ones easily discussed in polite
"Scott Eccles? Now you are surely joking," Holmes
exclaimed with a light laugh. "And not a very good joke, may I add, if
it does not offend you, Inspector."
"It does not, for it is
not a joke. You ought to know that I took the liberty of searching your
hotel room during your stay, you see," he continued sweetly. "While you
were out. There were certain unmistakable...traces."
of fear I had experienced when I understood what Baynes knew turned
into a sickening influx of sympathetic pain when I realized, all too
vaguely and yet all too clearly, what had happened to Scott Eccles. I
nearly choked upon the very thought of it. There are men who would
prefer not to think of men of my disposition, certainly. I hold no
quarrel with them. And there are also men who are angered by such
things, to my regret. But here sat a monster, my instincts screamed at
me. Here sat an absolute depravity of a man, and a man who seemed to
think us helpless before him. What he intended I knew not, but I did
know that our current situation was in many ways worse than any other
Holmes and I had ever faced together.
Holmes drew upon his cigarette, pulled out his pocket watch, looked at
it, and snapped it shut again.
"What do you want? You have five minutes," he said quietly, crossing
want what you want, Mr. Holmes," the fiend smiled. "That's the beauty
of it, you see. I want nothing out of concordance with your
assure you. I do not want money if that's what you're thinking. It's
services I'm after. I merely want you, and the Doctor
here--separately, of course--to give me a small portion of
"Our time?" Holmes repeated. A flicker of loathing crossed his
features, but at once his mask returned. "Separately?"
"Well, let us rather term it your undivided attention, perhaps."
if my heart were not fluttering rapidly enough, at this remark it
skipped a beat entirely. Holmes had turned quite two shades paler than
even his usual colour, but his cigarette hand was perfectly steady
"Or what?" he asked, cutting to the point at once.
"Or I will expose you before Queen and country," Baynes stated with
my shock and even greater horror, Holmes merely stood there, continuing
to smoke as if the proposal was distasteful yet not out of the
question. I, conversely, was picturing myself striking the miserable
creature before throwing him bodily down the stairs. I opened my mouth
to speak, but at once my companion, who had clearly been watching me in
his peripheral vision, gave me such a fiercely forbidding look with
eyes sharp as steel that my jaw closed instantly.
be simpler?" Baynes continued, still smiling. He was enjoying himself
immensely. "It is not as if deviants of your type harbour any emotional
attachments, so this little task I speak of need not seem
am not asking you to do anything you have not shown a relish for in the
past, after all."
"Surely you do not mean here and now."
"No, of course not. But soon, Mr. Holmes," he chuckled. "Very soon."
friend left the mantelpiece briefly to pace before it. "I am afraid you
must indicate to me just how...invasive these sessions are likely to
Baynes considered this question, possibly the most
sickening question I had ever heard my friend pose in years of murder
investigations. "In your case, not particularly," he reflected, gazing
over Holmes' sensual mouth and stroking his own lip with one swollen
finger. "Please do not feel slighted, but I should not think we require
longer than half an hour. But your friend," and here his devil's eyes
darted in my direction, "is a fellow rather more after my own heart."
"Is he indeed?" Holmes asked with unearthly ease.
"Let us say, three or four hours with him and we shall call it even,"
have faced a great many dangers in my life with aplomb, but I am not
ashamed to say that what had begun as extreme anxiety was spinning into
a vortex of nightmarish horror rivaled only by devil's foot root. There
was no room for thought, only animal reaction. I stared at Holmes with
every protest I could place in my eyes, but he failed to look at me. He
merely nodded slowly.
"Are you certain you wouldn't prefer I
deal with the brunt of the exchange?" he inquired. "The
stunning, I'll own, but I am considered quite an adept in some fields."
Mr. Holmes, although I thank you. We will stick to the
request, or your will both find yourselves in a very tiresome situation
indeed. What do you say?"
"I do not see what choice we have in the matter."
clapped his hands together merrily. "No choice at all, Mr. Holmes! No
choice at all, merely a hardship which for the two of you is no
hardship at all."
"If I find you have harmed him--" Holmes added warningly, with a
measure of pleading in his voice.
Mr. Holmes, what do you think me? A monster? He will recover," he
finished with a gruesome smile which caused my heart to drop into the
region of my kidneys.
I would thrash him senseless, I thought,
and I would lose no time about it. Then I hesitated, stomach lurching
in protest. How could I even entertain the notion of retaliation when
he could so readily expose the one man whose life meant more to me than
all of London, and Heaven and Earth besides? Three or four
long had Scott Eccles endured? Had he been bound first, or
by force of will? It could not be borne, and I knew
it. I tasted my
own bile at the back of my throat.
"Give me an address where this transaction is to take place," my friend
"That is easily done, sir. 661 Old Laurel Street is a private
establishment which is well known to me."
is not unknown to me either," Holmes acknowledged. "I take it you are
often in the city if you claim it is a familiar haunt."
find that the city does, indeed, have its uses, Mr. Holmes. As it
happens, I will be in town until Friday. When you arrive tomorrow
night, ask for a Mr. Godwin to admit you. Say that you have an
appointment with a Mr. Starr. When your friend comes the next night,"
he added, flashing me a hellishly cold smile, "he may ask for the
"Make a note of it, Watson. And the address."
"Do as I tell you!" he snarled, and then threw his cigarette in the
I made the note. My hands were steady, just as Holmes' were. But my
hands were not the part of me torn with blinding pain.
Baynes," Sherlock Holmes said after I had finished writing all the
hateful instructions, "you have been remarkably frank with us. Please
permit me to do the same for you, so as to save all parties concerned
the maximum of discomfort."
"By all means, Mr. Holmes," our enemy grinned.
then, Inspector Baynes, I thank you very much for this data you have
provided me. And I also thank you for having made a distinction between
Dr. Watson and myself. Because you have drawn a line between us, I
shall do the same for you."
We both stared at Holmes in
puzzlement, for his voice was growing more ringing by the moment. "If
you ever in your life make such a proposal to me again, or if I hear
tell of your having made such a proposal to another man, you will find
very suddenly that you have committed a series of crimes. There will
be, I assure you, incontrovertible evidence to this effect. The jury
will find you guilty and you will spend 20 years in the dock, unless my
mind alters and you are sent to an Australian penal colony."
The demon opened his mouth to protest, but Holmes silenced him with an
upraised hand and a voice nearly shaking with rage.
however, you make any such overtures to Dr. Watson again, you will find
yourself part of another sort of investigation entirely. I will see to
it, sir, I swear to you I shall, that your body will be rendered quite
unrecognizable before it is dead, and that after it is dead it will be
scattered to the four corners of the earth in such minuscule lumps that
the rats of London will not consider a morsel of you worth their time.
Do you understand me?"
Our guest rose from the sofa trembling with anger and distress.
"You cannot bluff me, Mr. Holmes!" he cried. His entire being appeared
to have deflated somehow.
"You think it a bluff, do, you?" Holmes said icily. "Should you like to
can you be thinking? It is madness! Your career, your work--I will ruin
you," the Inspector vowed, but sweat was standing out upon his brow,
which had turned ashen as our fireplace.
"Try to ruin me," my
beloved friend suggested. His voice was furiously passionate. "I would
like nothing better than an excuse to enact my latter proposal."
filthy sodomites are all cowards," he sneered at us. "A word from me
and your very life is over! Is that truly what you intend to choose?"
ask me that as if the proposal is still under discussion. From one
filthy sodomite to another, having heard that I purpose to rip you to
pieces, have you truly any desire to make yourself so vulnerable before
me as you intended to do tomorrow night?" Holmes asked him
Baynes threw open the door and glared at the pair of us.
have not heard the last of this, Mr. Holmes," he said more quietly,
more hatefully than any statement I have ever heard pronounced. "It was
a mistake to threaten me."
"It was not a threat. It was a vow. As God is my
witness, I will tear you apart," my friend swore.
another moment, we were alone once more in the sitting room. Baynes had
closed the door behind him with a vengeance. Dead silence
for perhaps five seconds.
"Bravo!" I cried out with all the passion of my roused soul.
"Put your gun in your pocket," Holmes replied frigidly. I approached
him with two hesitant steps.
"My dear fellow, I--"
touch me," he ordered. I stopped in my tracks. He then grasped the
nearest object, which just so happened to be the poker which Dr.
Grimesby Roylott had once abused, bent it savagely in half almost to
the point of snapping it, and then tossed it disgustedly in the
"I am sorry," he began again, running his hands
over his face. He was quite haggard, I noted with dismay. I have no
doubt I looked the same. "I was not myself. I meant to say, please,
when you venture to leave our rooms, for God's sake put your gun in
"Holmes," I said gently, my eyes misting despite my best efforts to
spare him the sight, "may I--"
"I am sorry for the second time. Of course," he said, and a moment
later I had him in my arms.
I am afraid we did nothing but hold each other for a solid minute.
Finally, I could keep it in no longer.
"I have never in my life admired one of your performances more."
"You were worried," he countered with a tiny smile.
"Of course I was."
of course you were." He laughed once, without a trace of humour. "Dear
God," he muttered to himself, and then, as if it were the logical next
step, lowered himself down to the floor next to the hearth and the
twisted metal within. I could think of no better arrangement. I joined
him a moment later and we both sat upon the rug attempting to make
sense of what had just occurred.
"That was possibly the most
revolting conversation of my adult life," he said. He was beginning to
regain a trace of colour, but only because he had just bent a poker in
"I certainly cannot imagine a worse one."
"Let us refrain from trying."
dear fellow, I feel nothing but wholehearted admiration for every word
you said, but do you really think you are capable of beating a man to
death and then hacking him to pieces?"
"I hope I never find
out," he returned bitingly. "In the meanwhile, I cannot be expected to
take part in casually scheduling your rape without revealing a measure
of distaste at the prospect."
"No," I said, flushing deeply--not at his words, but at those of
Baynes, which I recalled all too clearly.
We sat in silence for some moments.
"Thank you for trusting me," he said at last, and with a simple
gratitude that quite took my breath away.
"Holmes, you did not think--after what happened in Cornwall--that I
"Not consciously, no. But what a man intends to do in such a moment and
what he does are two different matters."
"I trust you with my life," I told him fervently.
I know," he said, his voice breaking, and then I understood what my
blindly following his orders once more had meant to him. He was
suddenly quite as moved as he had been that terrible day in the
"Then surely you know that cannot ever be changed, radix pedis diaboli or
returned with an effort to the glib persona which nearly everyone but
me mistakes for the real man. "I do, and you put me in an embarrassing
position, squiring around a chap who cannot manage to learn from his
worst mistakes. I've bandied your life about so in the past, one would
think you'd have gathered enough data to know leaving it in my hands is
a bad idea. If you had an iota of sense--"
"Then I'd be married, and have a thriving medical practice. "
this remark, he laughed freely, a laugh I had not properly heard in
some weeks, and I was so grateful for the sight that I felt if I loved
him any more my heart would break with it.
"I am very surprised that he was not more interested in you than in
me," I confessed.
Holmes shook his head, looking completely mystified. "I never
do get your limits, my darling," he quipped.
"What on earth do you mean?"
your moustache was not trimmed very neatly indeed, I should think you
had never encountered a mirror before in your life," he replied,
"That's quite enough of that."
"No, really, there is modesty and then there is deliberate ignorance."
in any event I am very glad the situation was not reversed. I
not have been able to conduct a conversation bargaining your body for
our freedom without bashing his head in with the poker you just finally
"Very gallant of you, I'm sure, but then I would
expect nothing less from a war hero," he smiled. "My virtue
be in better hands."
"I believe you are mocking me," I theorized.
assure you I am doing nothing of the kind," he retorted.
moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you for a war hero. I
first remark to you may even have been something to that
come to think of it, it was. I always did long for one of my
know," he added, eyes sparkling with mischief.
"If I am a war hero, I am a very poor one. But such as I am,
you're welcome to me."
you. My collection may be small, but I would not trade it for
anything," he said softly. "And I can fix the poker, if you
I've grown rather fond of it."
In the midst of our return to normalcy, the terrible revelation
returned to me. "My dear Holmes...."
He searched my face with new concern. "You are still worried."
am still dreadfully, exceedingly worried. I am able to face my troubles
like a man, but that does not make me any less worried. Holmes," I
breathed, as a wave of nausea threatened to unseat me again, "what has
happened to Scott Eccles?"
He released a slow breath, reached out, and grasped me by the hand. "I
don't know, my dear fellow."
"Do you think--"
"So we are in agreement."
looked nearly as ill as I felt. "He was violated somehow. And no, there
is nothing we can do for him. But stop a moment--forgive me, love, but
why the devil am I prating like a fool when I could be putting an end
to this?" He jumped up, strode to the desk and retrieved a telegraph
form, and then seized my notebook to assure himself of his facts.
"You cannot call down a raid on that house!" I protested angrily,
scrambling to my feet. "Think of the harmless--"
all your having trusted me five minutes ago," he chided me, scribbling
on the telegraph form. When he had finished, he handed it to me for
approval. "Read it."
"'There is a Police Inspector in your
midst,'" I quoted. "'He goes by the code name of Starr. Have him
followed if you desire proof. As you value your freedom, remove him
from your house. --A Friend.' Well, yes," I concluded ruefully. "That
ought to do the trick."
Holmes had returned to his telegraph form book and was busily
scribbling another message.
"My brother. We are going to see what he can do about this monster of
"Oh. But you mustn't--" I eyed him curiously. "I mean to say, Holmes,
about your brother--does he know about us?"
"I have told you he is my superior in observation and deduction," he
said with wry evasion, beginning to recover himself.
"That is not an answer."
what would I deduce if I watched my own brother keep the same company
day in and day out, allowing the same man every privilege of his time
and intimacy, only possessing eyes for him over the course of many
"It's possible you would deduce your brother was
having a lengthy affair with another man," I granted with a sheepish
"No," he said forcefully. "Given the evidence I
just provided, I would deduce he was more dedicated to spending his
life with him than are ninety percent of the legitimate marriages in
Tears started into my eyes once more, senselessly,
but before I could speak Holmes glanced up and said, "Hush," his tone
at once firm and fond, and rang for the page.
"Not a word. Here are the telegrams. I am going out, and you are
staying here, so please give them to Billy when he answers."
"Why am I staying here?" I inquired.
"Because it is just possible that I may alter my appearance at one of
my rooms and--"
"You are not pursuing Baynes without me!" I cried.
shouldn't dream of it," he replied, seeming to have entirely recovered
both his energy and his hauteur. "But I am disguising myself and
infiltrating a men's bordello without you. I have the password, after
all. Apparently one has only to ask for a Mr. Godwin to be admitted."
eyed him furiously, shocked as I had been countless times at how
quickly Sherlock Holmes could move me from blissful regard to heated
animosity and vice versa.
"Did you really just stand there and
tell me, having dragged me through the mud and the snow and the rain on
countless occasions, that your case leads you to a perfectly
comfortable club filled with men who will doubtless throw themselves at
your feet, but that I am remaining behind?"
"You will wait up for me, won't you?" he smiled. It was the smile of a
cat who knows it is revered as a sacred animal.
"The devil I will."
he said firmly. He closed the gap between us and then suddenly passed
me by and had encircled me from behind. I could feel one slim limb
snake around my waist as another grasped me by the hand and pulled it
so that my arm was fully extended. Then, very slowly, my hand was
pulled back until his lips met the backs of my fingers.
going to a den of vice as a complete stranger, a stranger justly
curious about an old acquaintance of his. I will ask a great many
prying questions of many close-mouthed individuals. I will certainly
flirt with them, and thus a partner in the enterprise is rather less
than desirable. They must think me alone. Some of them will be quite
forgettable, not doubt, but then some will surely be exceedingly
attractive and some of these, it is true, may take note of my not
inconsiderable charms. Hands may wander. Eyes will be lowered, voices
hushed. I will resist all, however, for while I am eliciting the
information I seek, surrounded by wanton men ripe for the plucking, I
shall be thinking of all the ways in which you will be enacting
vengeance on me when I arrive home."
Somewhere during this
languid speech several slow kisses had been delivered to my hand, and
at once point I am sure he bit the back of my neck, but I cannot be
expected to recall when. As soon as he had finished, he flicked the
wrist which still held my hand and spun me away from him as if we were
waltzing, stepping with one lean leg behind him as a punctuation mark.
have danced with the world's most revered consulting detective twice in
my life: the first time he had scoffed after a long-dreaded society
function that there had not been a man present who could move with any
subtlety and I took the liberty of doubting him; and the second time he
had traded the activity for two months of silence on the subject of his
at times nonexistent appetite. He dances like he fences, which is to
say effortlessly. It grew several degrees less possible to despise him.
"On the next occasion, I infiltrate the brothel and you remain at
home," I declared.
can discuss the possibility, certainly," he smiled. Then he strode to
the door, rummaging his pockets for his keys. "If you go anywhere, put
your gun in your pocket, and return here by midnight. I will certainly
be back by that hour."
"You realize thinking of you in a den like that makes me--"
Aroused? Possessive? Yes, I realize it. I am counting on it," he stated
with aplomb, and in another moment the impossible rogue who had just in
the space of five minutes both declared us married and announced his
intention of seducing a variety of strangers for information had shut
the door behind him.
Holmes reported back to me in
great detail that night, for he was given no choice but to do so. I
made that very clear to him, I am afraid. He strode wearily through the
door smelling of more than one variety of French cologne and allowed
himself to be mercilessly interrogated rather than find himself alone
for a number of hostile days. Baynes was indeed known at that
establishment, and my friend surmised that his twisted desires demanded
a constantly growing roster of victims, for it did not appear that he
ever received the same guest twice. While I was pleased that Holmes
evaded no questions about what he had discovered on Old Laurel Street,
I ought not to have been surprised that he steadfastly refused to
reveal what he intended to do with his new information, and so I
remained quite as concerned over Baynes as I had been that afternoon.
for the techniques Holmes had employed to gather data, he was all too
willing to provide salient details of his minor successes. By the time
I had allowed him to regale me with stories in which he was the object
of all too many strangers' desires for nearly an hour, and he had
dropped the casually wicked remark that I was surprisingly angry for a
man who clearly did not intend to take any actions to prove his point,
I was so maddened by combined feelings of arousal and ownership that I
took him to bed in a far more dictatorial manner than was usual for us.
This, I realized all too clearly, had been his exact intention all
along, but Sherlock Holmes is so very rarely in the mood to be
dominated that one must grasp the opportunity when it exists.
next morning I rose, bathed, and dressed long before he did. Then I
paced the carpet trying to work out if what I wanted to do would cause
more help or harm. For nearly half an hour I could not decide, but at
last I threw the end of my cigar in the fireplace and determined that
to try, as difficult as it was, would be better than to remain idle. To
remain idle was absolutely impossible.
"I am going out," I called to my friend from the sitting room. "I shall
see you this evening."
"Put your gun in your pocket," came the affable reply.
hand was already upon the doorknob, but I made an abrupt about-face and
retrieved the weapon from my desk. I did not think I would need it, but
bringing it along served two very important functions: if Holmes was
right, it could save my life; and if Holmes was wrong, at least he
would not fret himself into a foul humour by the time I'd returned.
the cabman had taken me to the location I'd specified, I sat in the
hansom as the horses stamped in the still-frosty air quite at a loss
over how to proceed. My welcome, I knew, would be minimal, not to say
non-existent, and I wondered as I sat what the devil I was doing there,
on that quiet, respectable, poplar-lined street in Lee, and what is
more why I felt secretive and sly in not having confessed my errand to
Holmes. At last I shook myself and reflected that Holmes informs me of
his intentions two or three times out of ten, and reluctantly descended
from the cab.
I knocked at the shining wood door attempting to
ignore the discomfort which had seeped into my breast. I might not be
wanted, after all. In fact, I would very likely not be wanted. But I
had to know for myself that this was true, and so rang the bell and
handed my card to the elderly housekeeper, who graciously instructed me
to wait in the hall. A few short minutes passed before my host came
slinking into the foyer with a haunted terror in his visage. The
housekeeper had not returned, and I surmised she had been sent to a
distant corner of the house.
"What do you want?" he asked
without preamble, licking his lips nervously. "The case is over. My
evidence has already been entered. You could not possibly desire more
of me, and I tell you without hesitation that I want nothing more to do
with the matter. Are you alone?" he added suddenly, panic streaking
across the eye which was not swollen shut.
"Holmes is not
here," I said gently. "Neither is--that is to say, I am entirely alone.
Mr. Eccles, I have come because I thought you might have need of a
He was silent for some time, schooling his features
into a more casual arrangement. "I--I need no doctor. You presume too
much, sir. You presume a great deal."
"I am sorry if that is
true," I told him. I took in his appearance once more and my heart
fairly writhed for the man. He looked as if he had not shaved in days,
and eaten in perhaps the same period. He held himself awkwardly in
every way, as if battered nearly to pieces, and his eye must have
startled his housekeeper out of her wits when she'd first witnessed it.
"Mr. Eccles, I must make a confession to you. I thought it possible
that you may want me here, in light of recent events."
"What events?" he demanded, trembling all over.
Eccles," I said once more. It is a technique Holmes uses. He states the
names of clients as if lowering an anchor, although his voice is far
more ethereally charming and soothing than mine could ever be.
Picturing his spare form and his brow quirked in sympathy, I made a
great effort to sound like him.
"I believe that you have been
made the victim of an evil person, and I believe that the nature of the
attack made it impossible for you to consult a doctor. I am here
because I am a doctor. And I am also here," I finished, trying with all
my might to exude an air as calming and clarifying as Holmes, "because,
as I think you know, I am like you."
The poor fellow stared at
me for some moments, fear and pain fighting for supremacy in his jowled
face. "What do you mean by that?" he whispered at last.
mean that there is nothing you could tell me that will shock or dismay
me, and that I am here to listen. To listen, and to tend to your
injuries if I you will allow it. I hope you will allow it, sir," I
added. I did not sound like Holmes anymore, for the emotion I could not
hide had at last crept into my voice. "I hope it very much."
I cannot emulate my lover's hypnotic charms to any great effect. I am a
poor actor, and I have no doubt but that I made a bad job of it. I have
often wished for a measure of his ease in times of trial, for his air
of total assurance that he can make it right in the end. No matter how
much I tried to impress Scott Eccles with these qualities, doubtless
the result was but a poor shadow of the kind of relief merely talking
with Holmes himself can provide. But in the end, it did not make a
difference, for I believe it was the fact that Scott Eccles could see
my distress writ plain upon my features which at last led him to grasp
me by the hand and hold it as if it were the only thing left in the
When I arrived home that night, Holmes was lying on the sofa with a
monograph in his hand and a glass of spirits at his elbow.
looked up when I opened the door. "Where have you been?" he asked
curiously. Then, when I had entered and he could see my features in the
light, he sat up suddenly. "That devil of police inspector has not--"
"No, no," I said wearily. "I have seen nothing of Baynes, if that is
what you're thinking."
"Good," he declared dryly. "I can confine my criminal career to
housebreaking and reserve murder for another day."
said nothing, tossing my coat over the back of a chair and pulling at
my shoulder, which had begun to nag at me far more than was usual due
to the tension running through every muscle in my body.
"My dear boy, come over to this settee, sit upon it like a good fellow,
and tell me what errands have so marred your day."
it is," I sighed. When I sat next to him and leaned my head on his
shoulder, he handed me his glass and I drained it at once.
"There is what?"
tone. The one you use when clients are terrified and women are
hysterical and I am out of sorts. I tried to borrow it for a brief
period this afternoon, but I don't imagine I carried it off very well.
I envy you that tone very much sometimes, you know. It would be useful
for a doctor."
"Well, we must be grateful each for his own
qualities," he said philosophically. With his arm around my shoulders
and my head resting on him, I was beginning to feel more myself, and
also as if I might break down into a very unwelcome fit of emotion if I
was not cautious. "Upon whom did you attempt to employ my dulcet
"Upon Scott Eccles," I said hoarsely. The only sound in the room was
the fire crackling for several seconds.
"I see," he said at last. "My poor Doctor. And this is the result."
don't approve," I said. I meant the tone to be cold. Instead, I could
hear my voice nearly faltering. "You said there was nothing we could do
for him, and I thought, perhaps I could--but for you the case is over,
the client out of our lives. I should have known you wouldn't approve."
"Of course I approve," he told me, sounding vaguely hurt.
"Would you truly be sitting here if you thought me the sort of chap who
"I am sorry," I said miserably. "That was unfair. I am not angry at
you. But I am so very, very angry, Holmes."
He held my head to his shoulder with light, tender fingers. "How is
"He is not well," I choked out. It was all I could manage.
Holmes replied softly. It was his mesmeric voice once more, and I could
feel it pour over me like soothing oil on my rigid shoulders. "No, I am
not surprised to hear that. He could not be otherwise. Did he allow you
to tend to him?"
"Yes. His injuries are...grotesque." I laughed bitterly.
"There has always seemed to me to be but one step from the grotesque to
"You were right. I patched him up as best I could.
Then I left him with instructions."
"Then that is the second most valuable thing you have done today," he
murmured into my ear.
did not feel very valuable. It felt quite useless," I protested, so
enraged at the world that I felt I could not bear it. "Dear God,
Holmes, the man cannot even consult a physician other than one who
forces his way inside. He cannot speak to the police about
horribly maltreated. His attacker cannot be convicted of any
I stopped myself, if only to stop my heart from pounding so.
examined him, and I treated him. Pray, if that is the second
valuable thing I've accomplished, what in hell is the first?"
"Making Scott Eccles aware he is not alone."
breathed in deeply and tried to relieve what felt like a band of iron
around my chest. I turned my face still closer to Holmes' shoulder, and
the fabric of his dressing gown, smelling of pipe smoke and vaguely of
fine milled soap.
"Do you know," my friend said, still in his most calming manner, "how
very valuable that is?"
"I suppose so, abstractly," I sighed. "I cannot seem to feel it,
"Extraordinary," he remarked.
"What is extraordinary? That I feel quite dead to the world?"
that is nothing like extraordinary. It is extraordinary that I
occasionally assume I could not possibly admire you any more than I
already do, and then you go and do something like this."
admire me?" I could not stop myself from repeating incredulously. I had
admired Sherlock Holmes for so very long that it quite shocked me to
learn the feeling could be mutual. That he loved me I never doubted,
but admiration is a separate state, and one which did not seem to apply
well to myself.
"Yes, I admire you. I have always admired
you." His eyes, I saw when I looked up at him, were slightly amused at
my shock. "You did not guess as much?"
"No. You have never
seen the need to write short tales in which I am the hero, or follow me
about learning my trade," I said. "But the sensation is more than
mutual, I promise you."
"Shall I tell you what I have been doing, then?" he asked.
"By all means."
I told you before, when I went to the private club on Old Laurel, there
were a number of fellows who informed me that they'd suspected Baynes
of being rather a sinister character. The fact that the men who would
meet him there were never the same twice was not surprising to anyone,
but I have no doubt but that their fear and desperation were more
evident than Baynes should have liked. In any event, one chap informed
me that the Inspector had once victimized a young man whose dress and
manner led him to believe the fellow was of a higher class than the
sort of people Baynes habitually consorted with. Of course, for the
aristocracy, keeping such a vice secret is of even more paramount
importance than it would be for the likes of you or I, so the lad quite
naturally sought no revenge against his abuser."
"I do not consider you a vice," I corrected him. I drew his hand up and
kissed the tips of his fingers. "But continue."
is very kind of you. Habit. Preference. I beg your pardon. Well, to be
brief, I have discovered the identity of the poor chap. It was an easy
deduction to make after my source provided me with a few more details
and I had scrounged around a little in the records for unresolved
assaults on that date. In fact, I had only to trace him through Baynes
if I had desired to do so, for his palatial manse was on the list of
exceptionally large houses in that part of the country where we just
solved the Wisteria Lodge affair. He is from a very prominent family,
and one that was appalled when they learned, for so they were told,
that their offspring had been set upon by street roughs and barely
escaped with his life."
"You have surely not disabused them of that notion?"
indeed. But Baynes made an unforgivable error, my dear fellow. He was
in charge of the investigation into this poor lad's thrashing. He must
have thought it quite neat, as he naturally failed to solve the case.
However, Lord Harringby has just been informed by yours truly that his
son's investigation was very poorly and shoddily performed, which is
quite easy to prove because it has the virtue of being true. Therefore
I am enormously happy to announce that Baynes is quite likely to be an
ex-inspector within a matter of some few days, and at least he will no
longer wield the additional power which comes of employment by the
"Well done indeed," I cried with more enthusiasm than I
had imagined I possessed a moment before. I leapt to my feet with the
joy of the news, and stood there gazing at Holmes' spare, perfect form,
astonished by my own display of energy.
"The links were simple enough when one--"
course they were not simple. You are incredible. I can
believe you could have accomplished such a thing so quickly."
is nothing my friend enjoys more in the world than spontaneous,
heartfelt praise. When a stranger or a client sings of his miraculous
powers unexpectedly, he smiles without thinking and nods his head in
appreciation, though his eyes remain metallic and aloof. When a friend
from the Yard is shocked into admiration, a very slight blush creeps
across his cheekbones and he looks for all the world as if he had just
been given a four thousand pound reward. As for the way he looks when I
do it, I would not trade the innocently delighted expression for
anything under the sun.
"It was nothing. A crude enough ploy, surely."
was inspired!" I crowed. "I can hardly credit it. You knew nothing
whatever of this man's previous atrocities other than Scott Eccles, and
within two days you have discovered a perfectly legitimate way to ruin
his career. The act may not even be tied to you."
"He will guess at something, as it is a profound coincidence," Holmes
"You know, my dear chap, it is becoming clear that you are a dangerous
man to fall afoul of."
laughed softly. "There are safer men to bully, it is true. I
saddened that it appears I am the first to have refused his repugnant
orders. His prior victims were chosen with rather more
But now that I have sent him away with a decidedly bruised ego, I swear
to you I will not stop persecuting the scum until he has been rendered
both miserable and harmless."
"By all means."
"This source of yours. Is that the fellow responsible for your hair
having been in the condition it was last evening?"
the men are one and the same. You see that the results stemming from
his information are remarkably valuable," he pointed out in his own
"The end justifies the means?" I asked him ruefully. "Your morals are
"No," he said contentedly. "They spiral ever downward."
forgive me," I exclaimed. Sitting down on the carpet, I
myself between my friend's knees. "I had so very much to
mind this morning that I forgot to inquire how you slept. You
still in bed when I left, I could not help but note."
"Odd that you should mention it," he returned slowly. "Very
"No dark visions?" I asked, daring to hope it could be true.
a one, and you will forgive me for re-emphasizing that such things
require time, and are likely to dissipate of their own
drug seems to be wearing out its effect. Perhaps the symptoms
recur periodically, but at the very least I can cease dreading their
I exhaled a long sigh of relief and ran a hand
over the muscle of his calf. "They will never return,
God. You banished them just as you banished Baynes."
"The toxin ran its course, you profoundly fanciful and endearing
idiot," he countered irritably.
"You did it," I repeated, smiling. "You and you alone."
a medical man, you are as mad as a March Hare," he declared.
up the monograph once more, he returned his attention to arguments
logical and concrete in nature.
But for once in our lives, I
knew better than Holmes. There is nothing so terrifying as
and when conjoined with a malevolent hallucinogenic, nothing so
destructive to the mind. I had trusted him. I had
trusted him, he had
seen me do it, and he was himself again. My friend has
experienced disturbing nightmares since he threw ex-Inspector Baynes
our of our flat, but none which lead him to question his reason, now
that he no longer so agonizingly questions his ability to defend our
little realm of two. For defending us is the one role which
deep through him that without it, his entire world is reduced to the
senseless grotesque of nightmare.
"Oh," he remarked offhandedly. "I was telling you how I spent
my day. I also re-arranged one or two pieces of furniture."
you?" I replied idly, and then slowly allowed my curiosity to
"Which ones?" I could see nothing from my angle on the floor.
"Mmm. The bookshelf."
"I exchanged its position with the desk."
"Really?" I queried, savouring the question. "The desk no
longer faces the window?"
"No," he replied, utterly absorbed in his slim volume. I
allowed him to turn two pages before I spoke once more.
"I've a length of silk cord in a drawer upstairs," I observed
I were you, I would fetch it," he stated calmly, "as well as refilling
the glass which I allowed you to drain on your arrival."
not a man to follow another man's instructions without weighing their
benefits, nor am I a gull to be duped into blindly taking whatever
actions are suggested to me by my neighbors. However, there
man--albeit a man whose morals do not stand up to the most minute
scrutiny--whose orders are, the vast majority of the time, both sound
and potentially quite beneficial. It did not take me long to
do as he
asked. It never has, I am afraid; but despite having
monsters in my life, I am still here. I do not delude myself
friend is infallible, or that one day we might not encounter a foe too
difficult to face down. One day, we will quit the city and
leisure in the countryside, and one day much later each of us will
answer what Holmes refers to somewhat ironically as the call to
something higher. Until that day occurs, however, I am at his
service. It is my greatest joy and privilege, even if he does
appreciate hearing the sentiment stated aloud.