by Katie

I awoke that wet, sunless March morning with a slight headache, having 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.

He was 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."

I 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."

Sherlock 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 unlit fire.

"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?"

"Nothing 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 anticipated.

"My dear fellow, when you begin to employ absurd semantics, I begin to grow worried."

"They 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.

I 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?"

"I 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 here."

"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 overmuch."

He 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.

"No, 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 me."

"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."

"This 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 trousers.

"I 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?"

"No. 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 regard."

"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 mutual satisfaction.

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 more presentable.

"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 found out."

"Of 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."

"I 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 hear.

"You are sure it is six days?"

"Perfectly sure."

"Holmes, I--I am sorry. How the devil can I not have noticed?" I reprimanded myself bitterly.

"Well, 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?"

"It 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."

"Yes, I realize you haven't.  I am an exceptionally light sleeper, as you well know by now.  But it is heartening nevertheless to hear it confirmed."  His black brows were making an effort to appear casual, 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 insisted.

"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 normal nightmare."

"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."

At 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?"


"There is surely something more than that!" he cried. "Do you not find it hints at darker shades of the tragic and the terrible?"

Mrs. 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--"

"Mrs. 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.

"Oh, 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 in!"

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 disturbed indeed."

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."

Scott 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.

"Well," 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. Eccles."

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."

"The 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.

"That's 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.

This 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.

"Forgive 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.

When my 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.

"Mr. 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?"

"Murder," 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."

At 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."

It 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.

Holmes smiled, always ready to find favour with an inspector who showed an ounce of observational skill. "You must have examined the house very carefully."

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.

"My 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?"

The 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 interest."

"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?"

"I 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?"

"Well, 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 cigars."

"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.

He 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 Eccles'."

"No, no," he mused thoughtfully. "Upon both parts."

"You think the young Spaniard had the same idea?"

"I 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 quick-witted Spaniard."

"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.

"I 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.

"There 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 noticed me."

"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.

"You're 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?"

"Only 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?"

I 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 so.

"Of course I am not alone," he sniffed. "I have observed a very persistent doctor in my bedchamber on more than one occasion.  The 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 things."

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.

"Do 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 paper.  I exited casually, the disjointed murmurs of "intolerable" and "home for such people" fading into the background.

The 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 hedgerows was sensational enough, but pieces of charred bone discovered in the fireplace sent an unexpected chill running through my shoulders. 

"Very interesting--very interesting indeed!" Holmes declared, examining a chicken which seemed to me to have been ripped in pieces.

"Yes, it is an unprecedented case," Baynes agreed.  He hooked two thumbs into his pockets.  "I am very glad of it, for we stagnate in the provinces.  Opportunities, Mr. Holmes, that is the way I regard this case.  Quite 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."

This 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?"

"Yes, and I'll work it out myself, Mr. Holmes.  For purely selfish reasons, I should be glad to say afterward that I solved it without your help."  Baynes then winked one of his unexpectedly brilliant eyes at my friend and gestured courteously towards the front door.

Holmes laughed good-naturedly at this, but I found myself mildly irritated.  Quitting 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 other.  It 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 we can safely say that the poor man had nothing to do with the matter, but I find myself curious regarding his motives nonetheless.  There is 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 suggest that Garcia, as the more quick-witted of the two, lured Eccles to Wisteria Lodge rather in spite of himself.  Eccles appears to be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative churchman--how often are such gentlemen exposed to the sort of plot you and I are investigating?"

"Well said, Mr. Holmes," Baynes nodded.  "Well said indeed.  More to Garcia than meets the eye, that much we know.  How did he strike you, Dr. Watson?"

I looked up, startled by my summons to the spotlight.  It was so seldom that I was included in a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and a policeman that I found myself utterly taken aback.  "Eccles?  He is in every degree orthodox."

"I thank you for your impression.  You appear to me to be an intuitive sort of fellow, Dr. Watson," Baynes stated appreciatively.  "Garcia 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." 

"Inspector 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 another time.  Until we meet again, and don't hesitate to call if you should 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 likewise 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 something."

"You are known for your abilities in the realm of brainwork."

"Are you mocking me?"

"Forgive my tone," I conceded, my teeth nearly chattering.  "If you would consent to think of something, you would render me a very happy man."

"A 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.

When 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 the 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 moonlight, but the moon was nowhere to be seen.  A light breeze swept over my 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.

The sound of heavy military boots beating against the stones startled me, and I whirled around in surprise.  It was a native guard, a Ghazi contingent such as I had never encountered until much later, and in another land entirely.  They were dragging a prisoner between them.  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.

They did so, staring at me with eyes bleached empty by the desert sun.  One 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 seen him in Arab sheets before, nor known his face so darkened by the sun, but in an instant I knew it was Holmes.

"We found him, sir," the rebel in the front of the formation panted.  "As you ordered.  We've done all we could think of, but he still won't 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 time."

Just before my eyes opened, I sensed someone striding across the inn's double-bedded room.  He caught me by the shoulders and shook me gently.


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 breath. 

I had experienced nightmares about my time in service before, though they had grow less frequent over time.  Equally as disconcerting, I'd had nightmares about something dreadful befalling Holmes.  As rare as they were, they were also familiar.  My pulse was racing and my brow had 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 something in a nightmare I would readily sacrifice my right arm to prevent in life.

"It was merely a bad dream," I said.  "Thank you for waking me."

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. 

"Watson, 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--"

"No, stop," he said softly, stemming my flow of words.  "Please, I had no intention of badgering you."  Releasing my shoulders, he somehow insinuated himself into bed beside me so that my head had very few options but to fall upon his compactly muscled chest.  I was deeply annoyed for all of five seconds, and then gratefully twined my limbs around his.  I could not recall the previous occasion I'd dreamt so vividly of war, but I prayed once more that it would finally be the last.

"You were in the Army, weren't you?"

"How did you know?  Did I say anything?"

"Never mind.  You were."

We were silent for perhaps five minutes, while my breathing returned swiftly to its normal rate and Holmes' eyes closed wearily.  He twined 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. 

"Was 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 events, any concrete faces.  It is all a terrifying blur, none of it linear or comprising any sort of narrative.  It was far more sensation than story."


"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."

"You worked out the majority of the case when we were at Wisteria Lodge," I growled at him, growing instinctively incensed.  Removing myself from 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 them.  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.  In fact, he is the only person who has any scientific knowledge of the poison at all."

"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."

"My 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 be 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?"

"Because you would not deserve to suffer so," he replied, his voice sinking dangerously.  "As for myself, there is a kind of justice at work in losing my mind."

"What justice?" I cried.  "Your mind is a thing of beauty and you know it, one of the finest minds in existence.  What sort of perverse justice could--"

"The kind that punishes men for mistakes quite beyond the pale of reason."

"But no harm came of it!  Why should you--"

I trailed off due to the sudden realization of why he was being so utterly impossible, for the answer was right before my eyes.  The 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 the poor 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 seen it before appeared quite beyond belief; Holmes may well be an ass, but when I am a fool, I am a comprehensive one. 

My companion, 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.

"I 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 preferable."

"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 smooth, his 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."

His 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 next morning, I had no doubt.  He kissed my chest and neck and shoulder as 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 open.  "What did I say to you just after it happened?"

He ignored me, pressing me into him with a single hand against my lower back.  The hand then slid lower, increasing its force as it shifted its angle.  Breathlessly, I repeated the question.  "What did I tell you?"

"You bleated some unadulterated claptrap about serving me bringing you pleasure. It most alarmed me. I assumed you were still mad," he snapped at last.

"At least you were listening."  A muffled moan escaped me when his lips explored my jaw where it curved up to my ear.  "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 Heaven's 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 than you, I would have prevented us both from taking such a mad step."

Throwing his forearms up against the wall, he fixed me before him like a butterfly on a card, eyes boring into me like steel pins.  There are 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 still.  His voice, when he spoke at last, was a violent hiss.  "If it had been 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 thinking, Watson.  That 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 my--" 

"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."

Both 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 his mouth.

All at once he stopped, gripping me lightly by the throat with the slim, powerful fingers of his right hand.  His thumb wandered into the hollow of my neck where he could feel the very efforts of my heartbeat.  He could have crushed my larynx with a flick 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 back to bed."

"I have not finished speaking to you."

"I beg leave to differ."

"You 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, no," he shook his head.  Bending down, he rested his brow against mine.  I could feel his own pulse hammering in the hand that still cradled my throat like a benevolent noose.  "That is not what I have been doing."

"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.

His 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 you are wrong nevertheless."

"Neither am I your spaniel, to be muzzled every time you desire it," I whispered brokenly. 

"John Watson, please," he murmured, his silver eyes closed.  "Come back to bed.  Let me love you.  Let me feel that you are still here."

My 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 have said it because I do know what it means to him, and there have not been invented any words to express it.  Shivering slightly, I kissed him, and then I did as I always do. 

I did precisely what he asked of me.

We 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 and I glimpsed the distant ceiling, when he muffled his cries with my sweat-slicked breast and neck, and I held him to me with nails in his lean back as if we would fall off the face of the world, I understood him nevertheless. 

Please, he was choking.  I would never.  I would never.  He mentioned deities we do not take the time to worship.  Generally it is my name, or an inarticulate battle for breath.  That 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 realized as he collapsed and I chanted loving phrases in his ear.  He had not 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 Holmes how he slept, and would receive a caustic or non-committal reply.  Or 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. 

There was 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 it, I 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.

It was a week or more before the case was finally resolved.  In the 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 inscrutably throughout the entire affair, but had worked out fully as much as Holmes by the time Miss Burnet escaped her captors.

"You've got the very evidence I want," Baynes declared when Holmes sent for him, his tiny eyes gleaming.  When we had delivered it, he shook Holmes' 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.

"There's 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 our bags.

"I do not particularly care for him, but at least he respects you," I pointed out, making an effort to be fair.

"You don't have to care tuppence for him any longer," my friend replied.  "We're going home."  Smoking his pipe in his shirtsleeves and dressing 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 was 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 that you?"

I could scarcely believe my eyes.  It was all I could do to prevent myself from crying out in dismay.  The man Holmes had hailed was indeed Scott Eccles, but he was a far cry from the dapper, comfortable creature who had spoken so coquettishly at Baker Street.  When he heard his name, he cringed visibly and seemed about to flee, but was hampered by a painful-looking limp and instead turned his face toward us.  One 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 extensive elsewhere.

"Mr. Eccles, what in God's name has happened?" my friend exclaimed.

"I--a mistake, Mr. Holmes.  A very great mistake."  He seemed for a moment to be nearly in tears, and then recovered himself.  "I took a wrong 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 you?"

These questions, kindly posed, seemed to pelt Eccles like sharp stones.  "I 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 occurred."

"Oh, 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 I haven't the resources.  Three men set upon me in the dark.  I know nothing more."

"But it would not cost you a shilling; you are already my client." 

"I really cannot be detained, sir."

"My fees are fixed," Holmes protested, but Eccles, seeming nothing less than panicked, commenced waving frantically.

"Very generous, very generous, but nothing you can do.  Good day to you both," he nodded, and then hobbled as fast as he could manage in the opposite direction.

Holmes stood chewing his lip for several long moments as we both looked after him.  At last he sighed, glanced 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."

"If he does not wish me to help him, there is nothing I can do.  To say 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."

"London 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 robbery and assault."

"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.

The 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.

Mr. Baynes soon appeared in our doorway, as bulky and out of place in London as he had been ponderous and dignified in the village.  Our 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."

He 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."

Baynes 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.

"Moral, Mr. 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."

"Ah, but that is not quite what I meant," Baynes replied. "I had intended to imply your own...flavour, perhaps, of immorality was a particularly grotesque one."

"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."

My 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."

"Oh, 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 company."

"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."

The rush 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 his arms.

"I 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 tastes, I 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 your...time."

"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."

As 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 nonetheless.

"Or what?" he asked, cutting to the point at once.

"Or I will expose you before Queen and country," Baynes stated with evil relish.

To 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.

"What could 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 daunting.  I 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."

My 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 be."

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," he finished.

I 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 Doctor is stunning, I'll own, but I am considered quite an adept in some fields."

"No, Mr. Holmes, although I thank you.  We will stick to the original 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."

Baynes 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.

"Oh, 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 hours.  How long had Scott Eccles endured?  Had he been bound first, or submitted 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 requested.

"That is easily done, sir. 661 Old Laurel Street is a private establishment which is well known to me."

"It 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."

"I 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 same."

"Make a note of it, Watson. And the address."


"Do as I tell you!" he snarled, and then threw his cigarette in the grate.

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.

"Mr. 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.

"Well, 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.

"If, 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 find out?"

"What 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."

"You 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?"

"You 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 cuttingly. 

Baynes threw open the door and glared at the pair of us.

"You 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.

In another moment, we were alone once more in the sitting room. Baynes had closed the door behind him with a vengeance.  Dead silence prevailed 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--"

"Don't 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 fireplace.

"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 your pocket."

"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."

"Yes, 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 half.

"I certainly cannot imagine a worse one."

"Let us refrain from trying."

"My 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 would not--"

"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.

"Yes, 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 country.

"Then surely you know that cannot ever be changed, radix pedis diaboli or no."

He 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. "

At 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?"

"If your moustache was not trimmed very neatly indeed, I should think you had never encountered a mirror before in your life," he replied, exasperated.

"That's quite enough of that."

"No, really, there is modesty and then there is deliberate ignorance."

"Well, in any event I am very glad the situation was not reversed.  I would 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 destroyed."

"Very gallant of you, I'm sure, but then I would expect nothing less from a war hero," he smiled.  "My virtue could not be in better hands."

"I believe you are mocking me," I theorized.

"I assure you I am doing nothing of the kind," he retorted.  "From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew you for a war hero.  I believe my first remark to you may even have been something to that effect.  Yes, come to think of it, it was.  I always did long for one of my own, you 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."

"Thank 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 like.  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."

"I 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."

Holmes 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--"

"For 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.

"What is--"

"My brother. We are going to see what he can do about this monster of an inspector."

"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."

"Well, 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 years?"

"It's possible you would deduce your brother was having a lengthy affair with another man," I granted with a sheepish expression.

"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 England."

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.

"I 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."

I 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."

"Watson," 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.

"I am 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.

I 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.

"We 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--"

"Furious? 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.

As 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.

The 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.

My 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.

When 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 doctor."

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.

"Mr. 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.

"I 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."

Perhaps 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 world.

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.

He 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."

I 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."

"There 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?"

"That 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 persuasive techniques?"

"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."

"You 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 would not?"

"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 your patient?"

"He is not well," I choked out. It was all I could manage.

"No," 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 the horrible."

"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.

"It 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 having been horribly maltreated.  His attacker cannot be convicted of any crime!"  I stopped myself, if only to stop my heart from pounding so.  "I examined him, and I treated him.  Pray, if that is the second most valuable thing I've accomplished, what in hell is the first?"

"Making Scott Eccles aware he is not alone."

I 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, however."

"Extraordinary," he remarked.

"What is extraordinary? That I feel quite dead to the world?"

"No, 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."

"You 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."

"As 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."

"That 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?"

"No, 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 Yard."

"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--"

"Of course they were not simple.  You are incredible. I can scarcely believe you could have accomplished such a thing so quickly."

There 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."

"It 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 said wryly.

"You know, my dear chap, it is becoming clear that you are a dangerous man to fall afoul of."

He laughed softly. "There are safer men to bully, it is true.  I am only saddened that it appears I am the first to have refused his repugnant orders.  His prior victims were chosen with rather more discernment.  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."

"A question."

"By all means."

"This source of yours. Is that the fellow responsible for your hair having been in the condition it was last evening?"

"Yes, 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 defense.

"The end justifies the means?" I asked him ruefully. "Your morals are not improving."

"No," he said contentedly. "They spiral ever downward."

"Oh forgive me," I exclaimed.  Sitting down on the carpet, I situated myself between my friend's knees.  "I had so very much to occupy my mind this morning that I forgot to inquire how you slept.  You were still in bed when I left, I could not help but note."

"Odd that you should mention it," he returned slowly.  "Very well indeed."

"No dark visions?" I asked, daring to hope it could be true.

"Not a one, and you will forgive me for re-emphasizing that such things require time, and are likely to dissipate of their own volition.  The drug seems to be wearing out its effect.  Perhaps the symptoms may recur periodically, but at the very least I can cease dreading their nightly return."

I exhaled a long sigh of relief and ran a hand over the muscle of his calf.  "They will never return, Holmes.  Thank 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."

"For a medical man, you are as mad as a March Hare," he declared.  Picking 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 self-doubt, 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 occasionally 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 flows so 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."

"Did you?" I replied idly, and then slowly allowed my curiosity to pique.  "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 innocently.

"If 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."

I am 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 is one 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 encountered many monsters in my life, I am still here.  I do not delude myself that my 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 take our 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 not appreciate hearing the sentiment stated aloud.