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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes I. A Scandal in Bohemia II. The Red-headed League III. A Case of Identity IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery V. The Five Orange Pips VI. The Man with the Twisted Lip VII. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle VIII. The Adventure of the Speckled Band IX. The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb X. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor XI. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet XII. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches ADVENTURE I. A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory. I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police. From time to time I heard some vague account of his doings: of his summons to Odessa in the case of the Trepoff murder, of his clearing up of the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee, and finally of the mission which he had accomplished so delicately and successfully for the reigning family of Holland. Beyond these signs of his activity, however, which I merely shared with all the readers of the daily press, I knew little of my former friend and companion. One night--it was on the twentieth of March, 1888--I was returning from a journey to a patient (for I had now returned to civil practice), when my way led me through Baker Street. As I passed the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet, I was seized with a keen desire to see Holmes again, and to know how he was employing his extraordinary powers. His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him. To me, who knew his every mood and habit, his attitude and manner told their own story. He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem. I rang the bell and was shown up to the chamber which had formerly been in part my own. His manner was not effusive. It seldom was; but he was glad, I think, to see me. With hardly a word spoken, but with a kindly eye, he waved me to an armchair, threw across his case of cigars, and indicated a spirit case and a gasogene in the corner. Then he stood before the fire and looked me over in his singular introspective fashion. "Wedlock suits you," he remarked. "I think, Watson, that you have put on seven and a half pounds since I saw you." "Seven!" I answered. "Indeed, I should have thought a little more. Just a trifle more, I fancy, Watson. And in practice again, I observe. You did not tell me that you intended to go into harness." "Then, how do you know?" "I see it, I deduce it. How do I know that you have been getting yourself very wet lately, and that you have a most clumsy and careless servant girl?" "My dear Holmes," said I, "this is too much. You would certainly have been burned, had you lived a few centuries ago. It is true that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home in a dreadful mess, but as I have changed my clothes I can't imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice, but there, again, I fail to see how you work it out." He chuckled to himself and rubbed his long, nervous hands together. "It is simplicity itself," said he; "my eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey. As to your practice, if a gentleman walks into my rooms smelling of iodoform, with a black mark of nitrate of silver upon his right forefinger, and a bulge on the right side of his top-hat to show where he has secreted his stethoscope, I must be dull, indeed, if I do not pronounce him to be an active member of the medical profession." I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. "When I hear you give your reasons," I remarked, "the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours." "Quite so," he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. "You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room." "Frequently." "How often?" "Well, some hundreds of times." "Then how many are there?" "How many? I don't know." "Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed. By-the-way, since you are interested in these little problems, and since you are good enough to chronicle one or two of my trifling experiences, you may be interested in this." He threw over a sheet of thick, pink-tinted note-paper which had been lying open upon the table. "It came by the last post," said he. "Read it aloud." The note was undated, and without either signature or address. "There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o'clock," it said, "a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters received. Be in your chamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wear a mask." "This is indeed a mystery," I remarked. "What do you imagine that it means?" "I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?" I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written. "The man who wrote it was presumably well to do," I remarked, endeavouring to imitate my companion's processes. "Such paper could not be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong and stiff." "Peculiar--that is the very word," said Holmes. "It is not an English paper at all. Hold it up to the light." I did so, and saw a large "E" with a small "g," a "P," and a large "G" with a small "t" woven into the texture of the paper. "What do you make of that?" asked Holmes. "The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather." "Not at all. The 'G' with the small 't' stands for 'Gesellschaft,' which is the German for 'Company.' It is a customary contraction like our 'Co.' 'P,' of course, stands for 'Papier.' Now for the 'Eg.' Let us glance at our Continental Gazetteer." He took down a heavy brown volume from his shelves. "Eglow, Eglonitz--here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking country--in Bohemia, not far from Carlsbad. 'Remarkable as being the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass-factories and paper-mills.' Ha, ha, my boy, what do you make of that?" His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from his cigarette. "The paper was made in Bohemia," I said. "Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiar construction of the sentence--'This account of you we have from all quarters received.' A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper and prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts." As he spoke there was the sharp sound of horses' hoofs and grating wheels against the curb, followed by a sharp pull at the bell. Holmes whistled. "A pair, by the sound," said he. "Yes," he continued, glancing out of the window. "A nice little brougham and a pair of beauties. A hundred and fifty guineas apiece. There's money in this case, Watson, if there is nothing else." "I think that I had better go, Holmes." "Not a bit, Doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell. And this promises to be interesting. It would be a pity to miss it." "But your client--" "Never mind him. I may want your help, and so may he. Here he comes. Sit down in that armchair, Doctor, and give us your best attention." A slow and heavy step, which had been heard upon the stairs and in the passage, paused immediately outside the door. Then there was a loud and authoritative tap. "Come in!" said Holmes. A man entered who could hardly have been less than six feet six inches in height, with the chest and limbs of a Hercules. His dress was rich with a richness which would, in England, be looked upon as akin to bad taste. Heavy bands of astrakhan were slashed across the sleeves and fronts of his double-breasted coat, while the deep blue cloak which was thrown over his shoulders was lined with flame-coloured silk and secured at the neck with a brooch which consisted of a single flaming beryl. Boots which extended halfway up his calves, and which were trimmed at the tops with rich brown fur, completed the impression of barbaric opulence which was suggested by his whole appearance. He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as he entered. From the lower part of the face he appeared to be a man of strong character, with a thick, hanging lip, and a long, straight chin suggestive of resolution pushed to the length of obstinacy. "You had my note?" he asked with a deep harsh voice and a strongly marked German accent. "I told you that I would call." He looked from one to the other of us, as if uncertain which to address. "Pray take a seat," said Holmes. "This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, who is occasionally good enough to help me in my cases. Whom have I the honour to address?" "You may address me as the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian nobleman. I understand that this gentleman, your friend, is a man of honour and discretion, whom I may trust with a matter of the most extreme importance. If not, I should much prefer to communicate with you alone." I rose to go, but Holmes caught me by the wrist and pushed me back into my chair. "It is both, or none," said he. "You may say before this gentleman anything which you may say to me." The Count shrugged his broad shoulders. "Then I must begin," said he, "by binding you both to absolute secrecy for two years; at the end of that time the matter will be of no importance. At present it is not too much to say that it is of such weight it may have an influence upon European history." "I promise," said Holmes. "And I." "You will excuse this mask," continued our strange visitor. "The august person who employs me wishes his agent to be unknown to you, and I may confess at once that the title by which I have just called myself is not exactly my own." "I was aware of it," said Holmes dryly. "The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia." "I was also aware of that," murmured Holmes, settling himself down in his armchair and closing his eyes. Our visitor glanced with some apparent surprise at the languid, lounging figure of the man who had been no doubt depicted to him as the most incisive reasoner and most energetic agent in Europe. Holmes slowly reopened his eyes and looked impatiently at his gigantic client. "If your Majesty would condescend to state your case," he remarked, "I should be better able to advise you." The man sprang from his chair and paced up and down the room in uncontrollable agitation. Then, with a gesture of desperation, he tore the mask from his face and hurled it upon the ground. "You are right," he cried; "I am the King. Why should I attempt to conceal it?" "Why, indeed?" murmured Holmes. "Your Majesty had not spoken before I was aware that I was addressing Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia." "But you can understand," said our strange visitor, sitting down once more and passing his hand over his high white forehead, "you can understand that I am not accustomed to doing such business in my own person. Yet the matter was so delicate that I could not confide it to an agent without putting myself in his power. I have come incognito from Prague for the purpose of consulting you." "Then, pray consult," said Holmes, shutting his eyes once more. "The facts are briefly these: Some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw, I made the acquaintance of the well-known adventuress, Irene Adler. The name is no doubt familiar to you." "Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor," murmured Holmes without opening his eyes. For many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnish information. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes. "Let me see!" said Holmes. "Hum! Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto--hum! La Scala, hum! Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw--yes! Retired from operatic stage--ha! Living in London--quite so! Your Majesty, as I understand, became entangled with this young person, wrote her some compromising letters, and is now desirous of getting those letters back." "Precisely so. But how--" "Was there a secret marriage?" "None." "No legal papers or certificates?" "None." "Then I fail to follow your Majesty. If this young person should produce her letters for blackmailing or other purposes, how is she to prove their authenticity?" "There is the writing." "Pooh, pooh! Forgery." "My private note-paper." "Stolen." "My own seal." "Imitated." "My photograph." "Bought." "We were both in the photograph." "Oh, dear! That is very bad! Your Majesty has indeed committed an indiscretion." "I was mad--insane." "You have compromised yourself seriously." "I was only Crown Prince then. I was young. I am but thirty now." "It must be recovered." "We have tried and failed." "Your Majesty must pay. It must be bought." "She will not sell." "Stolen, then." "Five attempts have been made. Twice burglars in my pay ransacked her house. Once we diverted her luggage when she travelled. Twice she has been waylaid. There has been no result." "No sign of it?" "Absolutely none." Holmes laughed. "It is quite a pretty little problem," said he. "But a very serious one to me," returned the King reproachfully. "Very, indeed. And what does she propose to do with the photograph?" "To ruin me." "But how?" "I am about to be married." "So I have heard." "To Clotilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King of Scandinavia. You may know the strict principles of her family. She is herself the very soul of delicacy. A shadow of a doubt as to my conduct would bring the matter to an end." "And Irene Adler?" "Threatens to send them the photograph. And she will do it. I know that she will do it. You do not know her, but she has a soul of steel. She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men. Rather than I should marry another woman, there are no lengths to which she would not go--none." "You are sure that she has not sent it yet?" "I am sure." "And why?" "Because she has said that she would send it on the day when the betrothal was publicly proclaimed. That will be next Monday." "Oh, then we have three days yet," said Holmes with a yawn. "That is very fortunate, as I have one or two matters of importance to look into just at present. Your Majesty will, of course, stay in London for the present?" "Certainly. You will find me at the Langham under the name of the Count Von Kramm." "Then I shall drop you a line to let you know how we progress." "Pray do so. I shall be all anxiety." "Then, as to money?" "You have carte blanche." "Absolutely?" "I tell you that I would give one of the provinces of my kingdom to have that photograph." "And for present expenses?" The King took a heavy chamois leather bag from under his cloak and laid it on the table. "There are three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes," he said. Holmes scribbled a receipt upon a sheet of his note-book and handed it to him. "And Mademoiselle's address?" he asked. "Is Briony Lodge, Serpentine Avenue, St. John's Wood." Holmes took a note of it. "One other question," said he. "Was the photograph a cabinet?" "It was." "Then, good-night, your Majesty, and I trust that we shall soon have some good news for you. And good-night, Watson," he added, as the wheels of the royal brougham rolled down the street. "If you will be good enough to call to-morrow afternoon at three o'clock I should like to chat this little matter over with you." II. At three o'clock precisely I was at Baker Street, but Holmes had not yet returned. The landlady informed me that he had left the house shortly after eight o'clock in the morning. I sat down beside the fire, however, with the intention of awaiting him, however long he might be. I was already deeply interested in his inquiry, for, though it was surrounded by none of the grim and strange features which were associated with the two crimes which I have already recorded, still, the nature of the case and the exalted station of his client gave it a character of its own. Indeed, apart from the nature of the investigation which my friend had on hand, there was something in his masterly grasp of a situation, and his keen, incisive reasoning, which made it a pleasure to me to study his system of work, and to follow the quick, subtle methods by which he disentangled the most inextricable mysteries. So accustomed was I to his invariable success that the very possibility of his failing had ceased to enter into my head. It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes, walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my friend's amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to look three times before I was certain that it was indeed he. With a nod he vanished into the bedroom, whence he emerged in five minutes tweed-suited and respectable, as of old. Putting his hands into his pockets, he stretched out his legs in front of the fire and laughed heartily for some minutes. "Well, really!" he cried, and then he choked and laughed again until he was obliged to lie back, limp and helpless, in the chair. "What is it?" "It's quite too funny. I am sure you could never guess how I employed my morning, or what I ended by doing." "I can't imagine. I suppose that you have been watching the habits, and perhaps the house, of Miss Irene Adler." "Quite so; but the sequel was rather unusual. I will tell you, however. I left the house a little after eight o'clock this morning in the character of a groom out of work. There is a wonderful sympathy and freemasonry among horsey men. Be one of them, and you will know all that there is to know. I soon found Briony Lodge. It is a bijou villa, with a garden at the back, but built out in front right up to the road, two stories. Chubb lock to the door. Large sitting-room on the right side, well furnished, with long windows almost to the floor, and those preposterous English window fasteners which a child could open. Behind there was nothing remarkable, save that the passage window could be reached from the top of the coach-house. I walked round it and examined it closely from every point of view, but without noting anything else of interest. "I then lounged down the street and found, as I expected, that there was a mews in a lane which runs down by one wall of the garden. I lent the ostlers a hand in rubbing down their horses, and received in exchange twopence, a glass of half and half, two fills of shag tobacco, and as much information as I could desire about Miss Adler, to say nothing of half a dozen other people in the neighbourhood in whom I was not in the least interested, but whose biographies I was compelled to listen to." "And what of Irene Adler?" I asked. "Oh, she has turned all the men's heads down in that part. She is the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet. So say the Serpentine-mews, to a man. She lives quietly, sings at concerts, drives out at five every day, and returns at seven sharp for dinner. Seldom goes out at other times, except when she sings. Has only one male visitor, but a good deal of him. He is dark, handsome, and dashing, never calls less than once a day, and often twice. He is a Mr. Godfrey Norton, of the Inner Temple. See the advantages of a cabman as a confidant. They had driven him home a dozen times from Serpentine-mews, and knew all about him. When I had listened to all they had to tell, I began to walk up and down near Briony Lodge once more, and to think over my plan of campaign. "This Godfrey Norton was evidently an important factor in the matter. He was a lawyer. That sounded ominous. What was the relation between them, and what the object of his repeated visits? Was she his client, his friend, or his mistress? If the former, she had probably transferred the photograph to his keeping. If the latter, it was less likely. On the issue of this question depended whether I should continue my work at Briony Lodge, or turn my attention to the gentleman's chambers in the Temple. It was a delicate point, and it widened the field of my inquiry. I fear that I bore you with these details, but I have to let you see my little difficulties, if you are to understand the situation." "I am following you closely," I answered. "I was still balancing the matter in my mind when a hansom cab drove up to Briony Lodge, and a gentleman sprang out. He was a remarkably handsome man, dark, aquiline, and moustached-- evidently the man of whom I had heard. He appeared to be in a great hurry, shouted to the cabman to wait, and brushed past the maid who opened the door with the air of a man who was thoroughly at home. "He was in the house about half an hour, and I could catch glimpses of him in the windows of the sitting-room, pacing up and down, talking excitedly, and waving his arms. Of her I could see nothing. Presently he emerged, looking even more flurried than before. As he stepped up to the cab, he pulled a gold watch from his pocket and looked at it earnestly, 'Drive like the devil,' he shouted, 'first to Gross & Hankey's in Regent Street, and then to the Church of St. Monica in the Edgeware Road. Half a guinea if you do it in twenty minutes!' "Away they went, and I was just wondering whether I should not do well to follow them when up the lane came a neat little landau, the coachman with his coat only half-buttoned, and his tie under his ear, while all the tags of his harness were sticking out of the buckles. It hadn't pulled up before she shot out of the hall door and into it. I only caught a glimpse of her at the moment, but she was a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for. "'The Church of St. Monica, John,' she cried, 'and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.' "This was quite too good to lose, Watson. I was just balancing whether I should run for it, or whether I should perch behind her landau when a cab came through the street. The driver looked twice at such a shabby fare, but I jumped in before he could object. 'The Church of St. Monica,' said I, 'and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.' It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind. "My cabby drove fast. I don't think I ever drove faster, but the others were there before us. The cab and the landau with their steaming horses were in front of the door when I arrived. I paid the man and hurried into the church. There was not a soul there save the two whom I had followed and a surpliced clergyman, who seemed to be expostulating with them. They were all three standing in a knot in front of the altar. I lounged up the side aisle like any other idler who has dropped into a church. Suddenly, to my surprise, the three at the altar faced round to me, and Godfrey Norton came running as hard as he could towards me. "'Thank God,' he cried. 'You'll do. Come! Come!' "'What then?' I asked. "'Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won't be legal.' "I was half-dragged up to the altar, and before I knew where I was I found myself mumbling responses which were whispered in my ear, and vouching for things of which I knew nothing, and generally assisting in the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor. It was all done in an instant, and there was the gentleman thanking me on the one side and the lady on the other, while the clergyman beamed on me in front. It was the most preposterous position in which I ever found myself in my life, and it was the thought of it that started me laughing just now. It seems that there had been some informality about their license, that the clergyman absolutely refused to marry them without a witness of some sort, and that my lucky appearance saved the bridegroom from having to sally out into the streets in search of a best man. The bride gave me a sovereign, and I mean to wear it on my watch-chain in memory of the occasion." "This is a very unexpected turn of affairs," said I; "and what then?" "Well, I found my plans very seriously menaced. It looked as if the pair might take an immediate departure, and so necessitate very prompt and energetic measures on my part. At the church door, however, they separated, he driving back to the Temple, and she to her own house. 'I shall drive out in the park at five as usual,' she said as she left him. I heard no more. They drove away in different directions, and I went off to make my own arrangements." "Which are?" "Some cold beef and a glass of beer," he answered, ringing the bell. "I have been too busy to think of food, and I am likely to be busier still this evening. By the way, Doctor, I shall want your co-operation." "I shall be delighted." "You don't mind breaking the law?" "Not in the least." "Nor running a chance of arrest?" "Not in a good cause." "Oh, the cause is excellent!" "Then I am your man." "I was sure that I might rely on you." "But what is it you wish?" "When Mrs. Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now," he said as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided, "I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her." "And what then?" "You must leave that to me. I have already arranged what is to occur. There is only one point on which I must insist. You must not interfere, come what may. You understand?" "I am to be neutral?" "To do nothing whatever. There will probably be some small unpleasantness. Do not join in it. It will end in my being conveyed into the house. Four or five minutes afterwards the sitting-room window will open. You are to station yourself close to that open window." "Yes." "You are to watch me, for I will be visible to you." "Yes." "And when I raise my hand--so--you will throw into the room what I give you to throw, and will, at the same time, raise the cry of fire. You quite follow me?" "Entirely." "It is nothing very formidable," he said, taking a long cigar- shaped roll from his pocket. "It is an ordinary plumber's smoke- rocket, fitted with a cap at either end to make it self-lighting. Your task is confined to that. When you raise your cry of fire, it will be taken up by quite a number of people. You may then walk to the end of the street, and I will rejoin you in ten minutes. I hope that I have made myself clear?" "I am to remain neutral, to get near the window, to watch you, and at the signal to throw in this object, then to raise the cry of fire, and to wait you at the corner of the street." "Precisely." "Then you may entirely rely on me." "That is excellent. I think, perhaps, it is almost time that I prepare for the new role I have to play." He disappeared into his bedroom and returned in a few minutes in the character of an amiable and simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman. His broad black hat, his baggy trousers, his white tie, his sympathetic smile, and general look of peering and benevolent curiosity were such as Mr. John Hare alone could have equalled. It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime. It was a quarter past six when we left Baker Street, and it still wanted ten minutes to the hour when we found ourselves in Serpentine Avenue. It was already dusk, and the lamps were just being lighted as we paced up and down in front of Briony Lodge, waiting for the coming of its occupant. The house was just such as I had pictured it from Sherlock Holmes' succinct description, but the locality appeared to be less private than I expected. On the contrary, for a small street in a quiet neighbourhood, it was remarkably animated. There was a group of shabbily dressed men smoking and laughing in a corner, a scissors-grinder with his wheel, two guardsmen who were flirting with a nurse-girl, and several well-dressed young men who were lounging up and down with cigars in their mouths. "You see," remarked Holmes, as we paced to and fro in front of the house, "this marriage rather simplifies matters. The photograph becomes a double-edged weapon now. The chances are that she would be as averse to its being seen by Mr. Godfrey Norton, as our client is to its coming to the eyes of his princess. Now the question is, Where are we to find the photograph?" "Where, indeed?" "It is most unlikely that she carries it about with her. It is cabinet size. Too large for easy concealment about a woman's dress. She knows that the King is capable of having her waylaid and searched. Two attempts of the sort have already been made. We may take it, then, that she does not carry it about with her." "Where, then?" "Her banker or her lawyer. There is that double possibility. But I am inclined to think neither. Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting. Why should she hand it over to anyone else? She could trust her own guardianship, but she could not tell what indirect or political influence might be brought to bear upon a business man. Besides, remember that she had resolved to use it within a few days. It must be where she can lay her hands upon it. It must be in her own house." "But it has twice been burgled." "Pshaw! They did not know how to look." "But how will you look?" "I will not look." "What then?" "I will get her to show me." "But she will refuse." "She will not be able to. But I hear the rumble of wheels. It is her carriage. Now carry out my orders to the letter." As he spoke the gleam of the side-lights of a carriage came round the curve of the avenue. It was a smart little landau which rattled up to the door of Briony Lodge. As it pulled up, one of the loafing men at the corner dashed forward to open the door in the hope of earning a copper, but was elbowed away by another loafer, who had rushed up with the same intention. A fierce quarrel broke out, which was increased by the two guardsmen, who took sides with one of the loungers, and by the scissors-grinder, who was equally hot upon the other side. A blow was struck, and in an instant the lady, who had stepped from her carriage, was the centre of a little knot of flushed and struggling men, who struck savagely at each other with their fists and sticks. Holmes dashed into the crowd to protect the lady; but just as he reached her he gave a cry and dropped to the ground, with the blood running freely down his face. At his fall the guardsmen took to their heels in one direction and the loungers in the other, while a number of better-dressed people, who had watched the scuffle without taking part in it, crowded in to help the lady and to attend to the injured man. Irene Adler, as I will still call her, had hurried up the steps; but she stood at the top with her superb figure outlined against the lights of the hall, looking back into the street. "Is the poor gentleman much hurt?" she asked. "He is dead," cried several voices. "No, no, there's life in him!" shouted another. "But he'll be gone before you can get him to hospital." "He's a brave fellow," said a woman. "They would have had the lady's purse and watch if it hadn't been for him. They were a gang, and a rough one, too. Ah, he's breathing now." "He can't lie in the street. May we bring him in, marm?" "Surely. Bring him into the sitting-room. There is a comfortable sofa. This way, please!" Slowly and solemnly he was borne into Briony Lodge and laid out in the principal room, while I still observed the proceedings from my post by the window. The lamps had been lit, but the blinds had not been drawn, so that I could see Holmes as he lay upon the couch. I do not know whether he was seized with compunction at that moment for the part he was playing, but I know that I never felt more heartily ashamed of myself in my life than when I saw the beautiful creature against whom I was conspiring, or the grace and kindliness with which she waited upon the injured man. And yet it would be the blackest treachery to Holmes to draw back now from the part which he had intrusted to me. I hardened my heart, and took the smoke-rocket from under my ulster. After all, I thought, we are not injuring her. We are but preventing her from injuring another. Holmes had sat up upon the couch, and I saw him motion like a man who is in need of air. A maid rushed across and threw open the window. At the same instant I saw him raise his hand and at the signal I tossed my rocket into the room with a cry of "Fire!" The word was no sooner out of my mouth than the whole crowd of spectators, well dressed and ill--gentlemen, ostlers, and servant-maids--joined in a general shriek of "Fire!" Thick clouds of smoke curled through the room and out at the open window. I caught a glimpse of rushing figures, and a moment later the voice of Holmes from within assuring them that it was a false alarm. Slipping through the shouting crowd I made my way to the corner of the street, and in ten minutes was rejoiced to find my friend's arm in mine, and to get away from the scene of uproar. He walked swiftly and in silence for some few minutes until we had turned down one of the quiet streets which lead towards the Edgeware Road. "You did it very nicely, Doctor," he remarked. "Nothing could have been better. It is all right." "You have the photograph?" "I know where it is." "And how did you find out?" "She showed me, as I told you she would." "I am still in the dark." "I do not wish to make a mystery," said he, laughing. "The matter was perfectly simple. You, of course, saw that everyone in the street was an accomplice. They were all engaged for the evening." "I guessed as much." "Then, when the row broke out, I had a little moist red paint in the palm of my hand. I rushed forward, fell down, clapped my hand to my face, and became a piteous spectacle. It is an old trick." "That also I could fathom." "Then they carried me in. She was bound to have me in. What else could she do? And into her sitting-room, which was the very room which I suspected. It lay between that and her bedroom, and I was determined to see which. They laid me on a couch, I motioned for air, they were compelled to open the window, and you had your chance." "How did that help you?" "It was all-important. When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington substitution scandal it was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as she half-drew it out. When I cried out that it was a false alarm, she replaced it, glanced at the rocket, rushed from the room, and I have not seen her since. I rose, and, making my excuses, escaped from the house. I hesitated whether to attempt to secure the photograph at once; but the coachman had come in, and as he was watching me narrowly it seemed safer to wait. A little over-precipitance may ruin all." "And now?" I asked. "Our quest is practically finished. I shall call with the King to-morrow, and with you, if you care to come with us. We will be shown into the sitting-room to wait for the lady, but it is probable that when she comes she may find neither us nor the photograph. It might be a satisfaction to his Majesty to regain it with his own hands." "And when will you call?" "At eight in the morning. She will not be up, so that we shall have a clear field. Besides, we must be prompt, for this marriage may mean a complete change in her life and habits. I must wire to the King without delay." We had reached Baker Street and had stopped at the door. He was searching his pockets for the key when someone passing said: "Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes." There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting appeared to come from a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by. "I've heard that voice before," said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street. "Now, I wonder who the deuce that could have been." III. I slept at Baker Street that night, and we were engaged upon our toast and coffee in the morning when the King of Bohemia rushed into the room. "You have really got it!" he cried, grasping Sherlock Holmes by either shoulder and looking eagerly into his face. "Not yet." "But you have hopes?" "I have hopes." "Then, come. I am all impatience to be gone." "We must have a cab." "No, my brougham is waiting." "Then that will simplify matters." We descended and started off once more for Briony Lodge. "Irene Adler is married," remarked Holmes. "Married! When?" "Yesterday." "But to whom?" "To an English lawyer named Norton." "But she could not love him." "I am in hopes that she does." "And why in hopes?" "Because it would spare your Majesty all fear of future annoyance. If the lady loves her husband, she does not love your Majesty. If she does not love your Majesty, there is no reason why she should interfere with your Majesty's plan." "It is true. And yet--Well! I wish she had been of my own station! What a queen she would have made!" He relapsed into a moody silence, which was not broken until we drew up in Serpentine Avenue. The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps. She watched us with a sardonic eye as we stepped from the brougham. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I believe?" said she. "I am Mr. Holmes," answered my companion, looking at her with a questioning and rather startled gaze. "Indeed! My mistress told me that you were likely to call. She left this morning with her husband by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for the Continent." "What!" Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise. "Do you mean that she has left England?" "Never to return." "And the papers?" asked the King hoarsely. "All is lost." "We shall see." He pushed past the servant and rushed into the drawing-room, followed by the King and myself. The furniture was scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady had hurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter. The photograph was of Irene Adler herself in evening dress, the letter was superscribed to "Sherlock Holmes, Esq. To be left till called for." My friend tore it open and we all three read it together. It was dated at midnight of the preceding night and ran in this way: "MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES,--You really did it very well. You took me in completely. Until after the alarm of fire, I had not a suspicion. But then, when I found how I had betrayed myself, I began to think. I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you. And your address had been given me. Yet, with all this, you made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even after I became suspicious, I found it hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman. But, you know, I have been trained as an actress myself. Male costume is nothing new to me. I often take advantage of the freedom which it gives. I sent John, the coachman, to watch you, ran up stairs, got into my walking-clothes, as I call them, and came down just as you departed. "Well, I followed you to your door, and so made sure that I was really an object of interest to the celebrated Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Then I, rather imprudently, wished you good-night, and started for the Temple to see my husband. "We both thought the best resource was flight, when pursued by so formidable an antagonist; so you will find the nest empty when you call to-morrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace. I love and am loved by a better man than he. The King may do what he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruelly wronged. I keep it only to safeguard myself, and to preserve a weapon which will always secure me from any steps which he might take in the future. I leave a photograph which he might care to possess; and I remain, dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes, "Very truly yours, "IRENE NORTON, née ADLER." "What a woman--oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?" "From what I have seen of the lady she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty," said Holmes coldly. "I am sorry that I have not been able to bring your Majesty's business to a more successful conclusion." "On the contrary, my dear sir," cried the King; "nothing could be more successful. I know that her word is inviolate. The photograph is now as safe as if it were in the fire." "I am glad to hear your Majesty say so." "I am immensely indebted to you. Pray tell me in what way I can reward you. This ring--" He slipped an emerald snake ring from his finger and held it out upon the palm of his hand. "Your Majesty has something which I should value even more highly," said Holmes. "You have but to name it." "This photograph!" The King stared at him in amazement. "Irene's photograph!" he cried. "Certainly, if you wish it." "I thank your Majesty. Then there is no more to be done in the matter. I have the honour to wish you a very good-morning." He bowed, and, turning away without observing the hand which the King had stretched out to him, he set off in my company for his chambers. And that was how a great scandal threatened to affect the kingdom of Bohemia, and how the best plans of Mr. Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman's wit. He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late. And when he speaks of Irene Adler, or when he refers to her photograph, it is always under the honourable title of the woman. ADVENTURE II. THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE I had called upon my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, one day in the autumn of last year and found him in deep conversation with a very stout, florid-faced, elderly gentleman with fiery red hair. With an apology for my intrusion, I was about to withdraw when Holmes pulled me abruptly into the room and closed the door behind me. "You could not possibly have come at a better time, my dear Watson," he said cordially. "I was afraid that you were engaged." "So I am. Very much so." "Then I can wait in the next room." "Not at all. This gentleman, Mr. Wilson, has been my partner and helper in many of my most successful cases, and I have no doubt that he will be of the utmost use to me in yours also." The stout gentleman half rose from his chair and gave a bob of greeting, with a quick little questioning glance from his small fat-encircled eyes. "Try the settee," said Holmes, relapsing into his armchair and putting his fingertips together, as was his custom when in judicial moods. "I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little adventures." "Your cases have indeed been of the greatest interest to me," I observed. "You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination." "A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting." "You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for otherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reason breaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right. Now, Mr. Jabez Wilson here has been good enough to call upon me this morning, and to begin a narrative which promises to be one of the most singular which I have listened to for some time. You have heard me remark that the strangest and most unique things are very often connected not with the larger but with the smaller crimes, and occasionally, indeed, where there is room for doubt whether any positive crime has been committed. As far as I have heard it is impossible for me to say whether the present case is an instance of crime or not, but the course of events is certainly among the most singular that I have ever listened to. Perhaps, Mr. Wilson, you would have the great kindness to recommence your narrative. I ask you not merely because my friend Dr. Watson has not heard the opening part but also because the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxious to have every possible detail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar cases which occur to my memory. In the present instance I am forced to admit that the facts are, to the best of my belief, unique." The portly client puffed out his chest with an appearance of some little pride and pulled a dirty and wrinkled newspaper from the inside pocket of his greatcoat. As he glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance. I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy grey shepherd's check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. A frayed top-hat and a faded brown overcoat with a wrinkled velvet collar lay upon a chair beside him. Altogether, look as I would, there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features. Sherlock Holmes' quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. "Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else." Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion. "How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?" he asked. "How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour. It's as true as gospel, for I began as a ship's carpenter." "Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed." "Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?" "I won't insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin." "Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?" "What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?" "Well, but China?" "The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes' scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple." Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. "Well, I never!" said he. "I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all." "I begin to think, Watson," said Holmes, "that I make a mistake in explaining. 'Omne ignotum pro magnifico,' you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid. Can you not find the advertisement, Mr. Wilson?" "Yes, I have got it now," he answered with his thick red finger planted halfway down the column. "Here it is. This is what began it all. You just read it for yourself, sir." I took the paper from him and read as follows: "TO THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE: On account of the bequest of the late Ezekiah Hopkins, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, U. S. A., there is now another vacancy open which entitles a member of the League to a salary of 4 pounds a week for purely nominal services. All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years, are eligible. Apply in person on Monday, at eleven o'clock, to Duncan Ross, at the offices of the League, 7 Pope's Court, Fleet Street." "What on earth does this mean?" I ejaculated after I had twice read over the extraordinary announcement. Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits. "It is a little off the beaten track, isn't it?" said he. "And now, Mr. Wilson, off you go at scratch and tell us all about yourself, your household, and the effect which this advertisement had upon your fortunes. You will first make a note, Doctor, of the paper and the date." "It is The Morning Chronicle of April 27, 1890. Just two months ago." "Very good. Now, Mr. Wilson?" "Well, it is just as I have been telling you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said Jabez Wilson, mopping his forehead; "I have a small pawnbroker's business at Coburg Square, near the City. It's not a very large affair, and of late years it has not done more than just give me a living. I used to be able to keep two assistants, but now I only keep one; and I would have a job to pay him but that he is willing to come for half wages so as to learn the business." "What is the name of this obliging youth?" asked Sherlock Holmes. "His name is Vincent Spaulding, and he's not such a youth, either. It's hard to say his age. I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him. But, after all, if he is satisfied, why should I put ideas in his head?" "Why, indeed? You seem most fortunate in having an employé who comes under the full market price. It is not a common experience among employers in this age. I don't know that your assistant is not as remarkable as your advertisement." "Oh, he has his faults, too," said Mr. Wilson. "Never was such a fellow for photography. Snapping away with a camera when he ought to be improving his mind, and then diving down into the cellar like a rabbit into its hole to develop his pictures. That is his main fault, but on the whole he's a good worker. There's no vice in him." "He is still with you, I presume?" "Yes, sir. He and a girl of fourteen, who does a bit of simple cooking and keeps the place clean--that's all I have in the house, for I am a widower and never had any family. We live very quietly, sir, the three of us; and we keep a roof over our heads and pay our debts, if we do nothing more. "The first thing that put us out was that advertisement. Spaulding, he came down into the office just this day eight weeks, with this very paper in his hand, and he says: "'I wish to the Lord, Mr. Wilson, that I was a red-headed man.' "'Why that?' I asks. "'Why,' says he, 'here's another vacancy on the League of the Red-headed Men. It's worth quite a little fortune to any man who gets it, and I understand that there are more vacancies than there are men, so that the trustees are at their wits' end what to do with the money. If my hair would only change colour, here's a nice little crib all ready for me to step into.' "'Why, what is it, then?' I asked. You see, Mr. Holmes, I am a very stay-at-home man, and as my business came to me instead of my having to go to it, I was often weeks on end without putting my foot over the door-mat. In that way I didn't know much of what was going on outside, and I was always glad of a bit of news. "'Have you never heard of the League of the Red-headed Men?' he asked with his eyes open. "'Never.' "'Why, I wonder at that, for you are eligible yourself for one of the vacancies.' "'And what are they worth?' I asked. "'Oh, merely a couple of hundred a year, but the work is slight, and it need not interfere very much with one's other occupations.' "Well, you can easily think that that made me prick up my ears, for the business has not been over-good for some years, and an extra couple of hundred would have been very handy. "'Tell me all about it,' said I. "'Well,' said he, showing me the advertisement, 'you can see for yourself that the League has a vacancy, and there is the address where you should apply for particulars. As far as I can make out, the League was founded by an American millionaire, Ezekiah Hopkins, who was very peculiar in his ways. He was himself red-headed, and he had a great sympathy for all red-headed men; so when he died it was found that he had left his enormous fortune in the hands of trustees, with instructions to apply the interest to the providing of easy berths to men whose hair is of that colour. From all I hear it is splendid pay and very little to do.' "'But,' said I, 'there would be millions of red-headed men who would apply.' "'Not so many as you might think,' he answered. 'You see it is really confined to Londoners, and to grown men. This American had started from London when he was young, and he wanted to do the old town a good turn. Then, again, I have heard it is no use your applying if your hair is light red, or dark red, or anything but real bright, blazing, fiery red. Now, if you cared to apply, Mr. Wilson, you would just walk in; but perhaps it would hardly be worth your while to put yourself out of the way for the sake of a few hundred pounds.' "Now, it is a fact, gentlemen, as you may see for yourselves, that my hair is of a very full and rich tint, so that it seemed to me that if there was to be any competition in the matter I stood as good a chance as any man that I had ever met. Vincent Spaulding seemed to know so much about it that I thought he might prove useful, so I just ordered him to put up the shutters for the day and to come right away with me. He was very willing to have a holiday, so we shut the business up and started off for the address that was given us in the advertisement. "I never hope to see such a sight as that again, Mr. Holmes. From north, south, east, and west every man who had a shade of red in his hair had tramped into the city to answer the advertisement. Fleet Street was choked with red-headed folk, and Pope's Court looked like a coster's orange barrow. I should not have thought there were so many in the whole country as were brought together by that single advertisement. Every shade of colour they were--straw, lemon, orange, brick, Irish-setter, liver, clay; but, as Spaulding said, there were not many who had the real vivid flame-coloured tint. When I saw how many were waiting, I would have given it up in despair; but Spaulding would not hear of it. How he did it I could not imagine, but he pushed and pulled and butted until he got me through the crowd, and right up to the steps which led to the office. There was a double stream upon the stair, some going up in hope, and some coming back dejected; but we wedged in as well as we could and soon found ourselves in the office." "Your experience has been a most entertaining one," remarked Holmes as his client paused and refreshed his memory with a huge pinch of snuff. "Pray continue your very interesting statement." "There was nothing in the office but a couple of wooden chairs and a deal table, behind which sat a small man with a head that was even redder than mine. He said a few words to each candidate as he came up, and then he always managed to find some fault in them which would disqualify them. Getting a vacancy did not seem to be such a very easy matter, after all. However, when our turn came the little man was much more favourable to me than to any of the others, and he closed the door as we entered, so that he might have a private word with us. "'This is Mr. Jabez Wilson,' said my assistant, 'and he is willing to fill a vacancy in the League.' "'And he is admirably suited for it,' the other answered. 'He has every requirement. I cannot recall when I have seen anything so fine.' He took a step backward, cocked his head on one side, and gazed at my hair until I felt quite bashful. Then suddenly he plunged forward, wrung my hand, and congratulated me warmly on my success. "'It would be injustice to hesitate,' said he. 'You will, however, I am sure, excuse me for taking an obvious precaution.' With that he seized my hair in both his hands, and tugged until I yelled with the pain. 'There is water in your eyes,' said he as he released me. 'I perceive that all is as it should be. But we have to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint. I could tell you tales of cobbler's wax which would disgust you with human nature.' He stepped over to the window and shouted through it at the top of his voice that the vacancy was filled. A groan of disappointment came up from below, and the folk all trooped away in different directions until there was not a red-head to be seen except my own and that of the manager. "'My name,' said he, 'is Mr. Duncan Ross, and I am myself one of the pensioners upon the fund left by our noble benefactor. Are you a married man, Mr. Wilson? Have you a family?' "I answered that I had not. "His face fell immediately. "'Dear me!' he said gravely, 'that is very serious indeed! I am sorry to hear you say that. The fund was, of course, for the propagation and spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.' "My face lengthened at this, Mr. Holmes, for I thought that I was not to have the vacancy after all; but after thinking it over for a few minutes he said that it would be all right. "'In the case of another,' said he, 'the objection might be fatal, but we must stretch a point in favour of a man with such a head of hair as yours. When shall you be able to enter upon your new duties?' "'Well, it is a little awkward, for I have a business already,' said I. "'Oh, never mind about that, Mr. Wilson!' said Vincent Spaulding. 'I should be able to look after that for you.' "'What would be the hours?' I asked. "'Ten to two.' "Now a pawnbroker's business is mostly done of an evening, Mr. Holmes, especially Thursday and Friday evening, which is just before pay-day; so it would suit me very well to earn a little in the mornings. Besides, I knew that my assistant was a good man, and that he would see to anything that turned up. "'That would suit me very well,' said I. 'And the pay?' "'Is 4 pounds a week.' "'And the work?' "'Is purely nominal.' "'What do you call purely nominal?' "'Well, you have to be in the office, or at least in the building, the whole time. If you leave, you forfeit your whole position forever. The will is very clear upon that point. You don't comply with the conditions if you budge from the office during that time.' "'It's only four hours a day, and I should not think of leaving,' said I. "'No excuse will avail,' said Mr. Duncan Ross; 'neither sickness nor business nor anything else. There you must stay, or you lose your billet.' "'And the work?' "'Is to copy out the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." There is the first volume of it in that press. You must find your own ink, pens, and blotting-paper, but we provide this table and chair. Will you be ready to-morrow?' "'Certainly,' I answered. "'Then, good-bye, Mr. Jabez Wilson, and let me congratulate you once more on the important position which you have been fortunate enough to gain.' He bowed me out of the room and I went home with my assistant, hardly knowing what to say or do, I was so pleased at my own good fortune. "Well, I thought over the matter all day, and by evening I was in low spirits again; for I had quite persuaded myself that the whole affair must be some great hoax or fraud, though what its object might be I could not imagine. It seemed altogether past belief that anyone could make such a will, or that they would pay such a sum for doing anything so simple as copying out the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.' Vincent Spaulding did what he could to cheer me up, but by bedtime I had reasoned myself out of the whole thing. However, in the morning I determined to have a look at it anyhow, so I bought a penny bottle of ink, and with a quill-pen, and seven sheets of foolscap paper, I started off for Pope's Court. "Well, to my surprise and delight, everything was as right as possible. The table was set out ready for me, and Mr. Duncan Ross was there to see that I got fairly to work. He started me off upon the letter A, and then he left me; but he would drop in from time to time to see that all was right with me. At two o'clock he bade me good-day, complimented me upon the amount that I had written, and locked the door of the office after me. "This went on day after day, Mr. Holmes, and on Saturday the manager came in and planked down four golden sovereigns for my week's work. It was the same next week, and the same the week after. Every morning I was there at ten, and every afternoon I left at two. By degrees Mr. Duncan Ross took to coming in only once of a morning, and then, after a time, he did not come in at all. Still, of course, I never dared to leave the room for an instant, for I was not sure when he might come, and the billet was such a good one, and suited me so well, that I would not risk the loss of it. "Eight weeks passed away like this, and I had written about Abbots and Archery and Armour and Architecture and Attica, and hoped with diligence that I might get on to the B's before very long. It cost me something in foolscap, and I had pretty nearly filled a shelf with my writings. And then suddenly the whole business came to an end." "To an end?" "Yes, sir. And no later than this morning. I went to my work as usual at ten o'clock, but the door was shut and locked, with a little square of cardboard hammered on to the middle of the panel with a tack. Here it is, and you can read for yourself." He held up a piece of white cardboard about the size of a sheet of note-paper. It read in this fashion: THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED. October 9, 1890. Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter. "I cannot see that there is anything very funny," cried our client, flushing up to the roots of his flaming head. "If you can do nothing better than laugh at me, I can go elsewhere." "No, no," cried Holmes, shoving him back into the chair from which he had half risen. "I really wouldn't miss your case for the world. It is most refreshingly unusual. But there is, if you will excuse my saying so, something just a little funny about it. Pray what steps did you take when you found the card upon the door?" "I was staggered, sir. I did not know what to do. Then I called at the offices round, but none of them seemed to know anything about it. Finally, I went to the landlord, who is an accountant living on the ground-floor, and I asked him if he could tell me what had become of the Red-headed League. He said that he had never heard of any such body. Then I asked him who Mr. Duncan Ross was. He answered that the name was new to him. "'Well,' said I, 'the gentleman at No. 4.' "'What, the red-headed man?' "'Yes.' "'Oh,' said he, 'his name was William Morris. He was a solicitor and was using my room as a temporary convenience until his new premises were ready. He moved out yesterday.' "'Where could I find him?' "'Oh, at his new offices. He did tell me the address. Yes, 17 King Edward Street, near St. Paul's.' "I started off, Mr. Holmes, but when I got to that address it was a manufactory of artificial knee-caps, and no one in it had ever heard of either Mr. William Morris or Mr. Duncan Ross." "And what did you do then?" asked Holmes. "I went home to Saxe-Coburg Square, and I took the advice of my assistant. But he could not help me in any way. He could only say that if I waited I should hear by post. But that was not quite good enough, Mr. Holmes. I did not wish to lose such a place without a struggle, so, as I had heard that you were good enough to give advice to poor folk who were in need of it, I came right away to you." "And you did very wisely," said Holmes. "Your case is an exceedingly remarkable one, and I shall be happy to look into it. From what you have told me I think that it is possible that graver issues hang from it than might at first sight appear." "Grave enough!" said Mr. Jabez Wilson. "Why, I have lost four pound a week." "As far as you are personally concerned," remarked Holmes, "I do not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some 30 pounds, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject which comes under the letter A. You have lost nothing by them." "No, sir. But I want to find out about them, and who they are, and what their object was in playing this prank--if it was a prank--upon me. It was a pretty expensive joke for them, for it cost them two and thirty pounds." "We shall endeavour to clear up these points for you. And, first, one or two questions, Mr. Wilson. This assistant of yours who first called your attention to the advertisement--how long had he been with you?" "About a month then." "How did he come?" "In answer to an advertisement." "Was he the only applicant?" "No, I had a dozen." "Why did you pick him?" "Because he was handy and would come cheap." "At half-wages, in fact." "Yes." "What is he like, this Vincent Spaulding?" "Small, stout-built, very quick in his ways, no hair on his face, though he's not short of thirty. Has a white splash of acid upon his forehead." Holmes sat up in his chair in considerable excitement. "I thought as much," said he. "Have you ever observed that his ears are pierced for earrings?" "Yes, sir. He told me that a gipsy had done it for him when he was a lad." "Hum!" said Holmes, sinking back in deep thought. "He is still with you?" "Oh, yes, sir; I have only just left him." "And has your business been attended to in your absence?" "Nothing to complain of, sir. There's never very much to do of a morning." "That will do, Mr. Wilson. I shall be happy to give you an opinion upon the subject in the course of a day or two. To-day is Saturday, and I hope that by Monday we may come to a conclusion." "Well, Watson," said Holmes when our visitor had left us, "what do you make of it all?" "I make nothing of it," I answered frankly. "It is a most mysterious business." "As a rule," said Holmes, "the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify. But I must be prompt over this matter." "What are you going to do, then?" I asked. "To smoke," he answered. "It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won't speak to me for fifty minutes." He curled himself up in his chair, with his thin knees drawn up to his hawk-like nose, and there he sat with his eyes closed and his black clay pipe thrusting out like the bill of some strange bird. I had come to the conclusion that he had dropped asleep, and indeed was nodding myself, when he suddenly sprang out of his chair with the gesture of a man who has made up his mind and put his pipe down upon the mantelpiece. "Sarasate plays at the St. James's Hall this afternoon," he remarked. "What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?" "I have nothing to do to-day. My practice is never very absorbing." "Then put on your hat and come. I am going through the City first, and we can have some lunch on the way. I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want to introspect. Come along!" We travelled by the Underground as far as Aldersgate; and a short walk took us to Saxe-Coburg Square, the scene of the singular story which we had listened to in the morning. It was a poky, little, shabby-genteel place, where four lines of dingy two-storied brick houses looked out into a small railed-in enclosure, where a lawn of weedy grass and a few clumps of faded laurel-bushes made a hard fight against a smoke-laden and uncongenial atmosphere. Three gilt balls and a brown board with "JABEZ WILSON" in white letters, upon a corner house, announced the place where our red-headed client carried on his business. Sherlock Holmes stopped in front of it with his head on one side and looked it all over, with his eyes shining brightly between puckered lids. Then he walked slowly up the street, and then down again to the corner, still looking keenly at the houses. Finally he returned to the pawnbroker's, and, having thumped vigorously upon the pavement with his stick two or three times, he went up to the door and knocked. It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step in. "Thank you," said Holmes, "I only wished to ask you how you would go from here to the Strand." "Third right, fourth left," answered the assistant promptly, closing the door. "Smart fellow, that," observed Holmes as we walked away. "He is, in my judgment, the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring I am not sure that he has not a claim to be third. I have known something of him before." "Evidently," said I, "Mr. Wilson's assistant counts for a good deal in this mystery of the Red-headed League. I am sure that you inquired your way merely in order that you might see him." "Not him." "What then?" "The knees of his trousers." "And what did you see?" "What I expected to see." "Why did you beat the pavement?" "My dear doctor, this is a time for observation, not for talk. We are spies in an enemy's country. We know something of Saxe-Coburg Square. Let us now explore the parts which lie behind it." The road in which we found ourselves as we turned round the corner from the retired Saxe-Coburg Square presented as great a contrast to it as the front of a picture does to the back. It was one of the main arteries which conveyed the traffic of the City to the north and west. The roadway was blocked with the immense stream of commerce flowing in a double tide inward and outward, while the footpaths were black with the hurrying swarm of pedestrians. It was difficult to realise as we looked at the line of fine shops and stately business premises that they really abutted on the other side upon the faded and stagnant square which we had just quitted. "Let me see," said Holmes, standing at the corner and glancing along the line, "I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the other block. And now, Doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums." My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him. The swing of his nature took him from extreme languor to devouring energy; and, as I knew well, he was never so truly formidable as when, for days on end, he had been lounging in his armchair amid his improvisations and his black-letter editions. Then it was that the lust of the chase would suddenly come upon him, and that his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals. When I saw him that afternoon so enwrapped in the music at St. James's Hall I felt that an evil time might be coming upon those whom he had set himself to hunt down. "You want to go home, no doubt, Doctor," he remarked as we emerged. "Yes, it would be as well." "And I have some business to do which will take some hours. This business at Coburg Square is serious." "Why serious?" "A considerable crime is in contemplation. I have every reason to believe that we shall be in time to stop it. But to-day being Saturday rather complicates matters. I shall want your help to-night." "At what time?" "Ten will be early enough." "I shall be at Baker Street at ten." "Very well. And, I say, Doctor, there may be some little danger, so kindly put your army revolver in your pocket." He waved his hand, turned on his heel, and disappeared in an instant among the crowd. I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque. As I drove home to my house in Kensington I thought over it all, from the extraordinary story of the red-headed copier of the "Encyclopaedia" down to the visit to Saxe-Coburg Square, and the ominous words with which he had parted from me. What was this nocturnal expedition, and why should I go armed? Where were we going, and what were we to do? I had the hint from Holmes that this smooth-faced pawnbroker's assistant was a formidable man--a man who might play a deep game. I tried to puzzle it out, but gave it up in despair and set the matter aside until night should bring an explanation. It was a quarter-past nine when I started from home and made my way across the Park, and so through Oxford Street to Baker Street. Two hansoms were standing at the door, and as I entered the passage I heard the sound of voices from above. On entering his room I found Holmes in animated conversation with two men, one of whom I recognised as Peter Jones, the official police agent, while the other was a long, thin, sad-faced man, with a very shiny hat and oppressively respectable frock-coat. "Ha! Our party is complete," said Holmes, buttoning up his pea-jacket and taking his heavy hunting crop from the rack. "Watson, I think you know Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard? Let me introduce you to Mr. Merryweather, who is to be our companion in to-night's adventure." "We're hunting in couples again, Doctor, you see," said Jones in his consequential way. "Our friend here is a wonderful man for starting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him to do the running down." "I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase," observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily. "You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir," said the police agent loftily. "He has his own little methods, which are, if he won't mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly correct than the official force." "Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right," said the stranger with deference. "Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber." "I think you will find," said Sherlock Holmes, "that you will play for a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that the play will be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the stake will be some 30,000 pounds; and for you, Jones, it will be the man upon whom you wish to lay your hands." "John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He's a young man, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and I would rather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in London. He's a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His grandfather was a royal duke, and he himself has been to Eton and Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find the man himself. He'll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I've been on his track for years and have never set eyes on him yet." "I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night. I've had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I agree with you that he is at the head of his profession. It is past ten, however, and quite time that we started. If you two will take the first hansom, Watson and I will follow in the second." Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive and lay back in the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the afternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gas-lit streets until we emerged into Farrington Street. "We are close there now," my friend remarked. "This fellow Merryweather is a bank director, and personally interested in the matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also. He is not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in his profession. He has one positive virtue. He is as brave as a bulldog and as tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws upon anyone. Here we are, and they are waiting for us." We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found ourselves in the morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and, following the guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage and through a side door, which he opened for us. Within there was a small corridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also was opened, and led down a flight of winding stone steps, which terminated at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to light a lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling passage, and so, after opening a third door, into a huge vault or cellar, which was piled all round with crates and massive boxes. "You are not very vulnerable from above," Holmes remarked as he held up the lantern and gazed about him. "Nor from below," said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon the flags which lined the floor. "Why, dear me, it sounds quite hollow!" he remarked, looking up in surprise. "I must really ask you to be a little more quiet!" said Holmes severely. "You have already imperilled the whole success of our expedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit down upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?" The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a very injured expression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his knees upon the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely the cracks between the stones. A few seconds sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his pocket. "We have at least an hour before us," he remarked, "for they can hardly take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed. Then they will not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work the longer time they will have for their escape. We are at present, Doctor--as no doubt you have divined--in the cellar of the City branch of one of the principal London banks. Mr. Merryweather is the chairman of directors, and he will explain to you that there are reasons why the more daring criminals of London should take a considerable interest in this cellar at present." "It is our French gold," whispered the director. "We have had several warnings that an attempt might be made upon it." "Your French gold?" "Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources and borrowed for that purpose 30,000 napoleons from the Bank of France. It has become known that we have never had occasion to unpack the money, and that it is still lying in our cellar. The crate upon which I sit contains 2,000 napoleons packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is much larger at present than is usually kept in a single branch office, and the directors have had misgivings upon the subject." "Which were very well justified," observed Holmes. "And now it is time that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an hour matters will come to a head. In the meantime Mr. Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern." "And sit in the dark?" "I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and I thought that, as we were a partie carrée, you might have your rubber after all. But I see that the enemy's preparations have gone so far that we cannot risk the presence of a light. And, first of all, we must choose our positions. These are daring men, and though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do us some harm unless we are careful. I shall stand behind this crate, and do you conceal yourselves behind those. Then, when I flash a light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have no compunction about shooting them down." I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case behind which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern and left us in pitch darkness--such an absolute darkness as I have never before experienced. The smell of hot metal remained to assure us that the light was still there, ready to flash out at a moment's notice. To me, with my nerves worked up to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold dank air of the vault. "They have but one retreat," whispered Holmes. "That is back through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have done what I asked you, Jones?" "I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door." "Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent and wait." What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards it was but an hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must have almost gone and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were weary and stiff, for I feared to change my position; yet my nerves were worked up to the highest pitch of tension, and my hearing was so acute that I could not only hear the gentle breathing of my companions, but I could distinguish the deeper, heavier in-breath of the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note of the bank director. From my position I could look over the case in the direction of the floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light. At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it lengthened out until it became a yellow line, and then, without any warning or sound, a gash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a white, almost womanly hand, which felt about in the centre of the little area of light. For a minute or more the hand, with its writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then it was withdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark again save the single lurid spark which marked a chink between the stones. Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending, tearing sound, one of the broad, white stones turned over upon its side and left a square, gaping hole, through which streamed the light of a lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high, until one knee rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood at the side of the hole and was hauling after him a companion, lithe and small like himself, with a pale face and a shock of very red hair. "It's all clear," he whispered. "Have you the chisel and the bags? Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I'll swing for it!" Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of rending cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes' hunting crop came down on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone floor. "It's no use, John Clay," said Holmes blandly. "You have no chance at all." "So I see," the other answered with the utmost coolness. "I fancy that my pal is all right, though I see you have got his coat-tails." "There are three men waiting for him at the door," said Holmes. "Oh, indeed! You seem to have done the thing very completely. I must compliment you." "And I you," Holmes answered. "Your red-headed idea was very new and effective." "You'll see your pal again presently," said Jones. "He's quicker at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the derbies." "I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands," remarked our prisoner as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. "You may not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the goodness, also, when you address me always to say 'sir' and 'please.'" "All right," said Jones with a stare and a snigger. "Well, would you please, sir, march upstairs, where we can get a cab to carry your Highness to the police-station?" "That is better," said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow to the three of us and walked quietly off in the custody of the detective. "Really, Mr. Holmes," said Mr. Merryweather as we followed them from the cellar, "I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay you. There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the most complete manner one of the most determined attempts at bank robbery that have ever come within my experience." "I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr. John Clay," said Holmes. "I have been at some small expense over this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond that I am amply repaid by having had an experience which is in many ways unique, and by hearing the very remarkable narrative of the Red-headed League." "You see, Watson," he explained in the early hours of the morning as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, "it was perfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of the 'Encyclopaedia,' must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every day. It was a curious way of managing it, but, really, it would be difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubt suggested to Clay's ingenious mind by the colour of his accomplice's hair. The 4 pounds a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in the advertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other rogue incites the man to apply for it, and together they manage to secure his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I heard of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me that he had some strong motive for securing the situation." "But how could you guess what the motive was?" "Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The man's business was a small one, and there was nothing in his house which could account for such elaborate preparations, and such an expenditure as they were at. It must, then, be something out of the house. What could it be? I thought of the assistant's fondness for photography, and his trick of vanishing into the cellar. The cellar! There was the end of this tangled clue. Then I made inquiries as to this mysterious assistant and found that I had to deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London. He was doing something in the cellar--something which took many hours a day for months on end. What could it be, once more? I could think of nothing save that he was running a tunnel to some other building. "So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I surprised you by beating upon the pavement with my stick. I was ascertaining whether the cellar stretched out in front or behind. It was not in front. Then I rang the bell, and, as I hoped, the assistant answered it. We have had some skirmishes, but we had never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly looked at his face. His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have remarked how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of those hours of burrowing. The only remaining point was what they were burrowing for. I walked round the corner, saw the City and Suburban Bank abutted on our friend's premises, and felt that I had solved my problem. When you drove home after the concert I called upon Scotland Yard and upon the chairman of the bank directors, with the result that you have seen." "And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-night?" I asked. "Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that they cared no longer about Mr. Jabez Wilson's presence--in other words, that they had completed their tunnel. But it was essential that they should use it soon, as it might be discovered, or the bullion might be removed. Saturday would suit them better than any other day, as it would give them two days for their escape. For all these reasons I expected them to come to-night." "You reasoned it out beautifully," I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. "It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true." "It saved me from ennui," he answered, yawning. "Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so." "And you are a benefactor of the race," said I. He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use," he remarked. "'L'homme c'est rien--l'oeuvre c'est tout,' as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand." ADVENTURE III. A CASE OF IDENTITY "My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable." "And yet I am not convinced of it," I answered. "The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic." "A certain selection and discretion must be used in producing a realistic effect," remarked Holmes. "This is wanting in the police report, where more stress is laid, perhaps, upon the platitudes of the magistrate than upon the details, which to an observer contain the vital essence of the whole matter. Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace." I smiled and shook my head. "I can quite understand your thinking so." I said. "Of course, in your position of unofficial adviser and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled, throughout three continents, you are brought in contact with all that is strange and bizarre. But here"--I picked up the morning paper from the ground--"let us put it to a practical test. Here is the first heading upon which I come. 'A husband's cruelty to his wife.' There is half a column of print, but I know without reading it that it is all perfectly familiar to me. There is, of course, the other woman, the drink, the push, the blow, the bruise, the sympathetic sister or landlady. The crudest of writers could invent nothing more crude." "Indeed, your example is an unfortunate one for your argument," said Holmes, taking the paper and glancing his eye down it. "This is the Dundas separation case, and, as it happens, I was engaged in clearing up some small points in connection with it. The husband was a teetotaler, there was no other woman, and the conduct complained of was that he had drifted into the habit of winding up every meal by taking out his false teeth and hurling them at his wife, which, you will allow, is not an action likely to occur to the imagination of the average story-teller. Take a pinch of snuff, Doctor, and acknowledge that I have scored over you in your example." He held out his snuffbox of old gold, with a great amethyst in the centre of the lid. Its splendour was in such contrast to his homely ways and simple life that I could not help commenting upon it. "Ah," said he, "I forgot that I had not seen you for some weeks. It is a little souvenir from the King of Bohemia in return for my assistance in the case of the Irene Adler papers." "And the ring?" I asked, glancing at a remarkable brilliant which sparkled upon his finger. "It was from the reigning family of Holland, though the matter in which I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to you, who have been good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems." "And have you any on hand just now?" I asked with interest. "Some ten or twelve, but none which present any feature of interest. They are important, you understand, without being interesting. Indeed, I have found that it is usually in unimportant matters that there is a field for the observation, and for the quick analysis of cause and effect which gives the charm to an investigation. The larger crimes are apt to be the simpler, for the bigger the crime the more obvious, as a rule, is the motive. In these cases, save for one rather intricate matter which has been referred to me from Marseilles, there is nothing which presents any features of interest. It is possible, however, that I may have something better before very many minutes are over, for this is one of my clients, or I am much mistaken." He had risen from his chair and was standing between the parted blinds gazing down into the dull neutral-tinted London street. Looking over his shoulder, I saw that on the pavement opposite there stood a large woman with a heavy fur boa round her neck, and a large curling red feather in a broad-brimmed hat which was tilted in a coquettish Duchess of Devonshire fashion over her ear. From under this great panoply she peeped up in a nervous, hesitating fashion at our windows, while her body oscillated backward and forward, and her fingers fidgeted with her glove buttons. Suddenly, with a plunge, as of the swimmer who leaves the bank, she hurried across the road, and we heard the sharp clang of the bell. "I have seen those symptoms before," said Holmes, throwing his cigarette into the fire. "Oscillation upon the pavement always means an affaire de coeur. She would like advice, but is not sure that the matter is not too delicate for communication. And yet even here we may discriminate. When a woman has been seriously wronged by a man she no longer oscillates, and the usual symptom is a broken bell wire. Here we may take it that there is a love matter, but that the maiden is not so much angry as perplexed, or grieved. But here she comes in person to resolve our doubts." As he spoke there was a tap at the door, and the boy in buttons entered to announce Miss Mary Sutherland, while the lady herself loomed behind his small black figure like a full-sailed merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat. Sherlock Holmes welcomed her with the easy courtesy for which he was remarkable, and, having closed the door and bowed her into an armchair, he looked her over in the minute and yet abstracted fashion which was peculiar to him. "Do you not find," he said, "that with your short sight it is a little trying to do so much typewriting?" "I did at first," she answered, "but now I know where the letters are without looking." Then, suddenly realising the full purport of his words, she gave a violent start and looked up, with fear and astonishment upon her broad, good-humoured face. "You've heard about me, Mr. Holmes," she cried, "else how could you know all that?" "Never mind," said Holmes, laughing; "it is my business to know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook. If not, why should you come to consult me?" "I came to you, sir, because I heard of you from Mrs. Etherege, whose husband you found so easy when the police and everyone had given him up for dead. Oh, Mr. Holmes, I wish you would do as much for me. I'm not rich, but still I have a hundred a year in my own right, besides the little that I make by the machine, and I would give it all to know what has become of Mr. Hosmer Angel." "Why did you come away to consult me in such a hurry?" asked Sherlock Holmes, with his finger-tips together and his eyes to the ceiling. Again a startled look came over the somewhat vacuous face of Miss Mary Sutherland. "Yes, I did bang out of the house," she said, "for it made me angry to see the easy way in which Mr. Windibank--that is, my father--took it all. He would not go to the police, and he would not go to you, and so at last, as he would do nothing and kept on saying that there was no harm done, it made me mad, and I just on with my things and came right away to you." "Your father," said Holmes, "your stepfather, surely, since the name is different." "Yes, my stepfather. I call him father, though it sounds funny, too, for he is only five years and two months older than myself." "And your mother is alive?" "Oh, yes, mother is alive and well. I wasn't best pleased, Mr. Holmes, when she married again so soon after father's death, and a man who was nearly fifteen years younger than herself. Father was a plumber in the Tottenham Court Road, and he left a tidy business behind him, which mother carried on with Mr. Hardy, the foreman; but when Mr. Windibank came he made her sell the business, for he was very superior, being a traveller in wines. They got 4700 pounds for the goodwill and interest, which wasn't near as much as father could have got if he had been alive." I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention. "Your own little income," he asked, "does it come out of the business?" "Oh, no, sir. It is quite separate and was left me by my uncle Ned in Auckland. It is in New Zealand stock, paying 4 1/2 per cent. Two thousand five hundred pounds was the amount, but I can only touch the interest." "You interest me extremely," said Holmes. "And since you draw so large a sum as a hundred a year, with what you earn into the bargain, you no doubt travel a little and indulge yourself in every way. I believe that a single lady can get on very nicely upon an income of about 60 pounds." "I could do with much less than that, Mr. Holmes, but you understand that as long as I live at home I don't wish to be a burden to them, and so they have the use of the money just while I am staying with them. Of course, that is only just for the time. Mr. Windibank draws my interest every quarter and pays it over to mother, and I find that I can do pretty well with what I earn at typewriting. It brings me twopence a sheet, and I can often do from fifteen to twenty sheets in a day." "You have made your position very clear to me," said Holmes. "This is my friend, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Kindly tell us now all about your connection with Mr. Hosmer Angel." A flush stole over Miss Sutherland's face, and she picked nervously at the fringe of her jacket. "I met him first at the gasfitters' ball," she said. "They used to send father tickets when he was alive, and then afterwards they remembered us, and sent them to mother. Mr. Windibank did not wish us to go. He never did wish us to go anywhere. He would get quite mad if I wanted so much as to join a Sunday-school treat. But this time I was set on going, and I would go; for what right had he to prevent? He said the folk were not fit for us to know, when all father's friends were to be there. And he said that I had nothing fit to wear, when I had my purple plush that I had never so much as taken out of the drawer. At last, when nothing else would do, he went off to France upon the business of the firm, but we went, mother and I, with Mr. Hardy, who used to be our foreman, and it was there I met Mr. Hosmer Angel." "I suppose," said Holmes, "that when Mr. Windibank came back from France he was very annoyed at your having gone to the ball." "Oh, well, he was very good about it. He laughed, I remember, and shrugged his shoulders, and said there was no use denying anything to a woman, for she would have her way." "I see. Then at the gasfitters' ball you met, as I understand, a gentleman called Mr. Hosmer Angel." "Yes, sir. I met him that night, and he called next day to ask if we had got home all safe, and after that we met him--that is to say, Mr. Holmes, I met him twice for walks, but after that father came back again, and Mr. Hosmer Angel could not come to the house any more." "No?" "Well, you know father didn't like anything of the sort. He wouldn't have any visitors if he could help it, and he used to say that a woman should be happy in her own family circle. But then, as I used to say to mother, a woman wants her own circle to begin with, and I had not got mine yet." "But how about Mr. Hosmer Angel? Did he make no attempt to see you?" "Well, father was going off to France again in a week, and Hosmer wrote and said that it would be safer and better not to see each other until he had gone. We could write in the meantime, and he used to write every day. I took the letters in in the morning, so there was no need for father to know." "Were you engaged to the gentleman at this time?" "Oh, yes, Mr. Holmes. We were engaged after the first walk that we took. Hosmer--Mr. Angel--was a cashier in an office in Leadenhall Street--and--" "What office?" "That's the worst of it, Mr. Holmes, I don't know." "Where did he live, then?" "He slept on the premises." "And you don't know his address?" "No--except that it was Leadenhall Street." "Where did you address your letters, then?" "To the Leadenhall Street Post Office, to be left till called for. He said that if they were sent to the office he would be chaffed by all the other clerks about having letters from a lady, so I offered to typewrite them, like he did his, but he wouldn't have that, for he said that when I wrote them they seemed to come from me, but when they were typewritten he always felt that the machine had come between us. That will just show you how fond he was of me, Mr. Holmes, and the little things that he would think of." "It was most suggestive," said Holmes. "It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important. Can you remember any other little things about Mr. Hosmer Angel?" "He was a very shy man, Mr. Holmes. He would rather walk with me in the evening than in the daylight, for he said that he hated to be conspicuous. Very retiring and gentlemanly he was. Even his voice was gentle. He'd had the quinsy and swollen glands when he was young, he told me, and it had left him with a weak throat, and a hesitating, whispering fashion of speech. He was always well dressed, very neat and plain, but his eyes were weak, just as mine are, and he wore tinted glasses against the glare." "Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?" "Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again and proposed that we should marry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from the first and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I didn't quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn't want to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the company has its French offices, but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding." "It missed him, then?" "Yes, sir; for he had started to England just before it arrived." "Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was it to be in church?" "Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour's, near King's Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us he put us both into it and stepped himself into a four-wheeler, which happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from the box and looked there was no one there! The cabman said that he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him." "It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated," said Holmes. "Oh, no, sir! He was too good and kind to leave me so. Why, all the morning he was saying to me that, whatever happened, I was to be true; and that even if something quite unforeseen occurred to separate us, I was always to remember that I was pledged to him, and that he would claim his pledge sooner or later. It seemed strange talk for a wedding-morning, but what has happened since gives a meaning to it." "Most certainly it does. Your own opinion is, then, that some unforeseen catastrophe has occurred to him?" "Yes, sir. I believe that he foresaw some danger, or else he would not have talked so. And then I think that what he foresaw happened." "But you have no notion as to what it could have been?" "None." "One more question. How did your mother take the matter?" "She was angry, and said that I was never to speak of the matter again." "And your father? Did you tell him?" "Yes; and he seemed to think, with me, that something had happened, and that I should hear of Hosmer again. As he said, what interest could anyone have in bringing me to the doors of the church, and then leaving me? Now, if he had borrowed my money, or if he had married me and got my money settled on him, there might be some reason, but Hosmer was very independent about money and never would look at a shilling of mine. And yet, what could have happened? And why could he not write? Oh, it drives me half-mad to think of it, and I can't sleep a wink at night." She pulled a little handkerchief out of her muff and began to sob heavily into it. "I shall glance into the case for you," said Holmes, rising, "and I have no doubt that we shall reach some definite result. Let the weight of the matter rest upon me now, and do not let your mind dwell upon it further. Above all, try to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from your life." "Then you don't think I'll see him again?" "I fear not." "Then what has happened to him?" "You will leave that question in my hands. I should like an accurate description of him and any letters of his which you can spare." "I advertised for him in last Saturday's Chronicle," said she. "Here is the slip and here are four letters from him." "Thank you. And your address?" "No. 31 Lyon Place, Camberwell." "Mr. Angel's address you never had, I understand. Where is your father's place of business?" "He travels for Westhouse & Marbank, the great claret importers of Fenchurch Street." "Thank you. You have made your statement very clearly. You will leave the papers here, and remember the advice which I have given you. Let the whole incident be a sealed book, and do not allow it to affect your life." "You are very kind, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot do that. I shall be true to Hosmer. He shall find me ready when he comes back." For all the preposterous hat and the vacuous face, there was something noble in the simple faith of our visitor which compelled our respect. She laid her little bundle of papers upon the table and went her way, with a promise to come again whenever she might be summoned. Sherlock Holmes sat silent for a few minutes with his fingertips still pressed together, his legs stretched out in front of him, and his gaze directed upward to the ceiling. Then he took down from the rack the old and oily clay pipe, which was to him as a counsellor, and, having lit it, he leaned back in his chair, with the thick blue cloud-wreaths spinning up from him, and a look of infinite languor in his face. "Quite an interesting study, that maiden," he observed. "I found her more interesting than her little problem, which, by the way, is rather a trite one. You will find parallel cases, if you consult my index, in Andover in '77, and there was something of the sort at The Hague last year. Old as is the idea, however, there were one or two details which were new to me. But the maiden herself was most instructive." "You appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible to me," I remarked. "Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you missed all that was important. I can never bring you to realise the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace. Now, what did you gather from that woman's appearance? Describe it." "Well, she had a slate-coloured, broad-brimmed straw hat, with a feather of a brickish red. Her jacket was black, with black beads sewn upon it, and a fringe of little black jet ornaments. Her dress was brown, rather darker than coffee colour, with a little purple plush at the neck and sleeves. Her gloves were greyish and were worn through at the right forefinger. Her boots I didn't observe. She had small round, hanging gold earrings, and a general air of being fairly well-to-do in a vulgar, comfortable, easy-going way." Sherlock Holmes clapped his hands softly together and chuckled. "'Pon my word, Watson, you are coming along wonderfully. You have really done very well indeed. It is true that you have missed everything of importance, but you have hit upon the method, and you have a quick eye for colour. Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always at a woman's sleeve. In a man it is perhaps better first to take the knee of the trouser. As you observe, this woman had plush upon her sleeves, which is a most useful material for showing traces. The double line a little above the wrist, where the typewritist presses against the table, was beautifully defined. The sewing-machine, of the hand type, leaves a similar mark, but only on the left arm, and on the side of it farthest from the thumb, instead of being right across the broadest part, as this was. I then glanced at her face, and, observing the dint of a pince-nez at either side of her nose, I ventured a remark upon short sight and typewriting, which seemed to surprise her." "It surprised me." "But, surely, it was obvious. I was then much surprised and interested on glancing down to observe that, though the boots which she was wearing were not unlike each other, they were really odd ones; the one having a slightly decorated toe-cap, and the other a plain one. One was buttoned only in the two lower buttons out of five, and the other at the first, third, and fifth. Now, when you see that a young lady, otherwise neatly dressed, has come away from home with odd boots, half-buttoned, it is no great deduction to say that she came away in a hurry." "And what else?" I asked, keenly interested, as I always was, by my friend's incisive reasoning. "I noted, in passing, that she had written a note before leaving home but after being fully dressed. You observed that her right glove was torn at the forefinger, but you did not apparently see that both glove and finger were stained with violet ink. She had written in a hurry and dipped her pen too deep. It must have been this morning, or the mark would not remain clear upon the finger. All this is amusing, though rather elementary, but I must go back to business, Watson. Would you mind reading me the advertised description of Mr. Hosmer Angel?" I held the little printed slip to the light. "Missing," it said, "on the morning of the fourteenth, a gentleman named Hosmer Angel. About five ft. seven in. in height; strongly built, sallow complexion, black hair, a little bald in the centre, bushy, black side-whiskers and moustache; tinted glasses, slight infirmity of speech. Was dressed, when last seen, in black frock-coat faced with silk, black waistcoat, gold Albert chain, and grey Harris tweed trousers, with brown gaiters over elastic-sided boots. Known to have been employed in an office in Leadenhall Street. Anybody bringing--" "That will do," said Holmes. "As to the letters," he continued, glancing over them, "they are very commonplace. Absolutely no clue in them to Mr. Angel, save that he quotes Balzac once. There is one remarkable point, however, which will no doubt strike you." "They are typewritten," I remarked. "Not only that, but the signature is typewritten. Look at the neat little 'Hosmer Angel' at the bottom. There is a date, you see, but no superscription except Leadenhall Street, which is rather vague. The point about the signature is very suggestive --in fact, we may call it conclusive." "Of what?" "My dear fellow, is it possible you do not see how strongly it bears upon the case?" "I cannot say that I do unless it were that he wished to be able to deny his signature if an action for breach of promise were instituted." "No, that was not the point. However, I shall write two letters, which should settle the matter. One is to a firm in the City, the other is to the young lady's stepfather, Mr. Windibank, asking him whether he could meet us here at six o'clock tomorrow evening. It is just as well that we should do business with the male relatives. And now, Doctor, we can do nothing until the answers to those letters come, so we may put our little problem upon the shelf for the interim." I had had so many reasons to believe in my friend's subtle powers of reasoning and extraordinary energy in action that I felt that he must have some solid grounds for the assured and easy demeanour with which he treated the singular mystery which he had been called upon to fathom. Once only had I known him to fail, in the case of the King of Bohemia and of the Irene Adler photograph; but when I looked back to the weird business of the Sign of Four, and the extraordinary circumstances connected with the Study in Scarlet, I felt that it would be a strange tangle indeed which he could not unravel. I left him then, still puffing at his black clay pipe, with the conviction that when I came again on the next evening I would find that he held in his hands all the clues which would lead up to the identity of the disappearing bridegroom of Miss Mary Sutherland. A professional case of great gravity was engaging my own attention at the time, and the whole of next day I was busy at the bedside of the sufferer. It was not until close upon six o'clock that I found myself free and was able to spring into a hansom and drive to Baker Street, half afraid that I might be too late to assist at the dénouement of the little mystery. I found Sherlock Holmes alone, however, half asleep, with his long, thin form curled up in the recesses of his armchair. A formidable array of bottles and test-tubes, with the pungent cleanly smell of hydrochloric acid, told me that he had spent his day in the chemical work which was so dear to him. "Well, have you solved it?" I asked as I entered. "Yes. It was the bisulphate of baryta." "No, no, the mystery!" I cried. "Oh, that! I thought of the salt that I have been working upon. There was never any mystery in the matter, though, as I said yesterday, some of the details are of interest. The only drawback is that there is no law, I fear, that can touch the scoundrel." "Who was he, then, and what was his object in deserting Miss Sutherland?" The question was hardly out of my mouth, and Holmes had not yet opened his lips to reply, when we heard a heavy footfall in the passage and a tap at the door. "This is the girl's stepfather, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "He has written to me to say that he would be here at six. Come in!" The man who entered was a sturdy, middle-sized fellow, some thirty years of age, clean-shaven, and sallow-skinned, with a bland, insinuating manner, and a pair of wonderfully sharp and penetrating grey eyes. He shot a questioning glance at each of us, placed his shiny top-hat upon the sideboard, and with a slight bow sidled down into the nearest chair. "Good-evening, Mr. James Windibank," said Holmes. "I think that this typewritten letter is from you, in which you made an appointment with me for six o'clock?" "Yes, sir. I am afraid that I am a little late, but I am not quite my own master, you know. I am sorry that Miss Sutherland has troubled you about this little matter, for I think it is far better not to wash linen of the sort in public. It was quite against my wishes that she came, but she is a very excitable, impulsive girl, as you may have noticed, and she is not easily controlled when she has made up her mind on a point. Of course, I did not mind you so much, as you are not connected with the official police, but it is not pleasant to have a family misfortune like this noised abroad. Besides, it is a useless expense, for how could you possibly find this Hosmer Angel?" "On the contrary," said Holmes quietly; "I have every reason to believe that I will succeed in discovering Mr. Hosmer Angel." Mr. Windibank gave a violent start and dropped his gloves. "I am delighted to hear it," he said. "It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting. Unless they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that in every case there is some little slurring over of the 'e,' and a slight defect in the tail of the 'r.' There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the more obvious." "We do all our correspondence with this machine at the office, and no doubt it is a little worn," our visitor answered, glancing keenly at Holmes with his bright little eyes. "And now I will show you what is really a very interesting study, Mr. Windibank," Holmes continued. "I think of writing another little monograph some of these days on the typewriter and its relation to crime. It is a subject to which I have devoted some little attention. I have here four letters which purport to come from the missing man. They are all typewritten. In each case, not only are the 'e's' slurred and the 'r's' tailless, but you will observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as well." Mr. Windibank sprang out of his chair and picked up his hat. "I cannot waste time over this sort of fantastic talk, Mr. Holmes," he said. "If you can catch the man, catch him, and let me know when you have done it." "Certainly," said Holmes, stepping over and turning the key in the door. "I let you know, then, that I have caught him!" "What! where?" shouted Mr. Windibank, turning white to his lips and glancing about him like a rat in a trap. "Oh, it won't do--really it won't," said Holmes suavely. "There is no possible getting out of it, Mr. Windibank. It is quite too transparent, and it was a very bad compliment when you said that it was impossible for me to solve so simple a question. That's right! Sit down and let us talk it over." Our visitor collapsed into a chair, with a ghastly face and a glitter of moisture on his brow. "It--it's not actionable," he stammered. "I am very much afraid that it is not. But between ourselves, Windibank, it was as cruel and selfish and heartless a trick in a petty way as ever came before me. Now, let me just run over the course of events, and you will contradict me if I go wrong." The man sat huddled up in his chair, with his head sunk upon his breast, like one who is utterly crushed. Holmes stuck his feet up on the corner of the mantelpiece and, leaning back with his hands in his pockets, began talking, rather to himself, as it seemed, than to us. "The man married a woman very much older than himself for her money," said he, "and he enjoyed the use of the money of the daughter as long as she lived with them. It was a considerable sum, for people in their position, and the loss of it would have made a serious difference. It was worth an effort to preserve it. The daughter was of a good, amiable disposition, but affectionate and warm-hearted in her ways, so that it was evident that with her fair personal advantages, and her little income, she would not be allowed to remain single long. Now her marriage would mean, of course, the loss of a hundred a year, so what does her stepfather do to prevent it? He takes the obvious course of keeping her at home and forbidding her to seek the company of people of her own age. But soon he found that that would not answer forever. She became restive, insisted upon her rights, and finally announced her positive intention of going to a certain ball. What does her clever stepfather do then? He conceives an idea more creditable to his head than to his heart. With the connivance and assistance of his wife he disguised himself, covered those keen eyes with tinted glasses, masked the face with a moustache and a pair of bushy whiskers, sunk that clear voice into an insinuating whisper, and doubly secure on account of the girl's short sight, he appears as Mr. Hosmer Angel, and keeps off other lovers by making love himself." "It was only a joke at first," groaned our visitor. "We never thought that she would have been so carried away." "Very likely not. However that may be, the young lady was very decidedly carried away, and, having quite made up her mind that her stepfather was in France, the suspicion of treachery never for an instant entered her mind. She was flattered by the gentleman's attentions, and the effect was increased by the loudly expressed admiration of her mother. Then Mr. Angel began to call, for it was obvious that the matter should be pushed as far as it would go if a real effect were to be produced. There were meetings, and an engagement, which would finally secure the girl's affections from turning towards anyone else. But the deception could not be kept up forever. These pretended journeys to France were rather cumbrous. The thing to do was clearly to bring the business to an end in such a dramatic manner that it would leave a permanent impression upon the young lady's mind and prevent her from looking upon any other suitor for some time to come. Hence those vows of fidelity exacted upon a Testament, and hence also the allusions to a possibility of something happening on the very morning of the wedding. James Windibank wished Miss Sutherland to be so bound to Hosmer Angel, and so uncertain as to his fate, that for ten years to come, at any rate, she would not listen to another man. As far as the church door he brought her, and then, as he could go no farther, he conveniently vanished away by the old trick of stepping in at one door of a four-wheeler and out at the other. I think that was the chain of events, Mr. Windibank!" Our visitor had recovered something of his assurance while Holmes had been talking, and he rose from his chair now with a cold sneer upon his pale face. "It may be so, or it may not, Mr. Holmes," said he, "but if you are so very sharp you ought to be sharp enough to know that it is you who are breaking the law now, and not me. I have done nothing actionable from the first, but as long as you keep that door locked you lay yourself open to an action for assault and illegal constraint." "The law cannot, as you say, touch you," said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, "yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!" he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man's face, "it is not part of my duties to my client, but here's a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to--" He took two swift steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road. "There's a cold-blooded scoundrel!" said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself down into his chair once more. "That fellow will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest." "I cannot now entirely see all the steps of your reasoning," I remarked. "Well, of course it was obvious from the first that this Mr. Hosmer Angel must have some strong object for his curious conduct, and it was equally clear that the only man who really profited by the incident, as far as we could see, was the stepfather. Then the fact that the two men were never together, but that the one always appeared when the other was away, was suggestive. So were the tinted spectacles and the curious voice, which both hinted at a disguise, as did the bushy whiskers. My suspicions were all confirmed by his peculiar action in typewriting his signature, which, of course, inferred that his handwriting was so familiar to her that she would recognise even the smallest sample of it. You see all these isolated facts, together with many minor ones, all pointed in the same direction." "And how did you verify them?" "Having once spotted my man, it was easy to get corroboration. I knew the firm for which this man worked. Having taken the printed description. I eliminated everything from it which could be the result of a disguise--the whiskers, the glasses, the voice, and I sent it to the firm, with a request that they would inform me whether it answered to the description of any of their travellers. I had already noticed the peculiarities of the typewriter, and I wrote to the man himself at his business address asking him if he would come here. As I expected, his reply was typewritten and revealed the same trivial but characteristic defects. The same post brought me a letter from Westhouse & Marbank, of Fenchurch Street, to say that the description tallied in every respect with that of their employé, James Windibank. Voilà tout!" "And Miss Sutherland?" "If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, 'There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.' There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world." ADVENTURE IV. THE BOSCOMBE VALLEY MYSTERY We were seated at breakfast one morning, my wife and I, when the maid brought in a telegram. It was from Sherlock Holmes and ran in this way: "Have you a couple of days to spare? Have just been wired for from the west of England in connection with Boscombe Valley tragedy. Shall be glad if you will come with me. Air and scenery perfect. Leave Paddington by the 11:15." "What do you say, dear?" said my wife, looking across at me. "Will you go?" "I really don't know what to say. I have a fairly long list at present." "Oh, Anstruther would do your work for you. You have been looking a little pale lately. I think that the change would do you good, and you are always so interested in Mr. Sherlock Holmes' cases." "I should be ungrateful if I were not, seeing what I gained through one of them," I answered. "But if I am to go, I must pack at once, for I have only half an hour." My experience of camp life in Afghanistan had at least had the effect of making me a prompt and ready traveller. My wants were few and simple, so that in less than the time stated I was in a cab with my valise, rattling away to Paddington Station. Sherlock Holmes was pacing up and down the platform, his tall, gaunt figure made even gaunter and taller by his long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap. "It is really very good of you to come, Watson," said he. "It makes a considerable difference to me, having someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely. Local aid is always either worthless or else biassed. If you will keep the two corner seats I shall get the tickets." We had the carriage to ourselves save for an immense litter of papers which Holmes had brought with him. Among these he rummaged and read, with intervals of note-taking and of meditation, until we were past Reading. Then he suddenly rolled them all into a gigantic ball and tossed them up onto the rack. "Have you heard anything of the case?" he asked. "Not a word. I have not seen a paper for some days." "The London press has not had very full accounts. I have just been looking through all the recent papers in order to master the particulars. It seems, from what I gather, to be one of those simple cases which are so extremely difficult." "That sounds a little paradoxical." "But it is profoundly true. Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring it home. In this case, however, they have established a very serious case against the son of the murdered man." "It is a murder, then?" "Well, it is conjectured to be so. I shall take nothing for granted until I have the opportunity of looking personally into it. I will explain the state of things to you, as far as I have been able to understand it, in a very few words. "Boscombe Valley is a country district not very far from Ross, in Herefordshire. The largest landed proprietor in that part is a Mr. John Turner, who made his money in Australia and returned some years ago to the old country. One of the farms which he held, that of Hatherley, was let to Mr. Charles McCarthy, who was also an ex-Australian. The men had known each other in the colonies, so that it was not unnatural that when they came to settle down they should do so as near each other as possible. Turner was apparently the richer man, so McCarthy became his tenant but still remained, it seems, upon terms of perfect equality, as they were frequently together. McCarthy had one son, a lad of eighteen, and Turner had an only daughter of the same age, but neither of them had wives living. They appear to have avoided the society of the neighbouring English families and to have led retired lives, though both the McCarthys were fond of sport and were frequently seen at the race-meetings of the neighbourhood. McCarthy kept two servants--a man and a girl. Turner had a considerable household, some half-dozen at the least. That is as much as I have been able to gather about the families. Now for the facts. "On June 3rd, that is, on Monday last, McCarthy left his house at Hatherley about three in the afternoon and walked down to the Boscombe Pool, which is a small lake formed by the spreading out of the stream which runs down the Boscombe Valley. He had been out with his serving-man in the morning at Ross, and he had told the man that he must hurry, as he had an appointment of importance to keep at three. From that appointment he never came back alive. "From Hatherley Farm-house to the Boscombe Pool is a quarter of a mile, and two people saw him as he passed over this ground. One was an old woman, whose name is not mentioned, and the other was William Crowder, a game-keeper in the employ of Mr. Turner. Both these witnesses depose that Mr. McCarthy was walking alone. The game-keeper adds that within a few minutes of his seeing Mr. McCarthy pass he had seen his son, Mr. James McCarthy, going the same way with a gun under his arm. To the best of his belief, the father was actually in sight at the time, and the son was following him. He thought no more of the matter until he heard in the evening of the tragedy that had occurred. "The two McCarthys were seen after the time when William Crowder, the game-keeper, lost sight of them. The Boscombe Pool is thickly wooded round, with just a fringe of grass and of reeds round the edge. A girl of fourteen, Patience Moran, who is the daughter of the lodge-keeper of the Boscombe Valley estate, was in one of the woods picking flowers. She states that while she was there she saw, at the border of the wood and close by the lake, Mr. McCarthy and his son, and that they appeared to be having a violent quarrel. She heard Mr. McCarthy the elder using very strong language to his son, and she saw the latter raise up his hand as if to strike his father. She was so frightened by their violence that she ran away and told her mother when she reached home that she had left the two McCarthys quarrelling near Boscombe Pool, and that she was afraid that they were going to fight. She had hardly said the words when young Mr. McCarthy came running up to the lodge to say that he had found his father dead in the wood, and to ask for the help of the lodge-keeper. He was much excited, without either his gun or his hat, and his right hand and sleeve were observed to be stained with fresh blood. On following him they found the dead body stretched out upon the grass beside the pool. The head had been beaten in by repeated blows of some heavy and blunt weapon. The injuries were such as might very well have been inflicted by the butt-end of his son's gun, which was found lying on the grass within a few paces of the body. Under these circumstances the young man was instantly arrested, and a verdict of 'wilful murder' having been returned at the inquest on Tuesday, he was on Wednesday brought before the magistrates at Ross, who have referred the case to the next Assizes. Those are the main facts of the case as they came out before the coroner and the police-court." "I could hardly imagine a more damning case," I remarked. "If ever circumstantial evidence pointed to a criminal it does so here." "Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different. It must be confessed, however, that the case looks exceedingly grave against the young man, and it is very possible that he is indeed the culprit. There are several people in the neighbourhood, however, and among them Miss Turner, the daughter of the neighbouring landowner, who believe in his innocence, and who have retained Lestrade, whom you may recollect in connection with the Study in Scarlet, to work out the case in his interest. Lestrade, being rather puzzled, has referred the case to me, and hence it is that two middle-aged gentlemen are flying westward at fifty miles an hour instead of quietly digesting their breakfasts at home." "I am afraid," said I, "that the facts are so obvious that you will find little credit to be gained out of this case." "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," he answered, laughing. "Besides, we may chance to hit upon some other obvious facts which may have been by no means obvious to Mr. Lestrade. You know me too well to think that I am boasting when I say that I shall either confirm or destroy his theory by means which he is quite incapable of employing, or even of understanding. To take the first example to hand, I very clearly perceive that in your bedroom the window is upon the right-hand side, and yet I question whether Mr. Lestrade would have noted even so self-evident a thing as that." "How on earth--" "My dear fellow, I know you well. I know the military neatness which characterises you. You shave every morning, and in this season you shave by the sunlight; but since your shaving is less and less complete as we get farther back on the left side, until it becomes positively slovenly as we get round the angle of the jaw, it is surely very clear that that side is less illuminated than the other. I could not imagine a man of your habits looking at himself in an equal light and being satisfied with such a result. I only quote this as a trivial example of observation and inference. Therein lies my métier, and it is just possible that it may be of some service in the investigation which lies before us. There are one or two minor points which were brought out in the inquest, and which are worth considering." "What are they?" "It appears that his arrest did not take place at once, but after the return to Hatherley Farm. On the inspector of constabulary informing him that he was a prisoner, he remarked that he was not surprised to hear it, and that it was no more than his deserts. This observation of his had the natural effect of removing any traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of the coroner's jury." "It was a confession," I ejaculated. "No, for it was followed by a protestation of innocence." "Coming on the top of such a damning series of events, it was at least a most suspicious remark." "On the contrary," said Holmes, "it is the brightest rift which I can at present see in the clouds. However innocent he might be, he could not be such an absolute imbecile as not to see that the circumstances were very black against him. Had he appeared surprised at his own arrest, or feigned indignation at it, I should have looked upon it as highly suspicious, because such surprise or anger would not be natural under the circumstances, and yet might appear to be the best policy to a scheming man. His frank acceptance of the situation marks him as either an innocent man, or else as a man of considerable self-restraint and firmness. As to his remark about his deserts, it was also not unnatural if you consider that he stood beside the dead body of his father, and that there is no doubt that he had that very day so far forgotten his filial duty as to bandy words with him, and even, according to the little girl whose evidence is so important, to raise his hand as if to strike him. The self-reproach and contrition which are displayed in his remark appear to me to be the signs of a healthy mind rather than of a guilty one." I shook my head. "Many men have been hanged on far slighter evidence," I remarked. "So they have. And many men have been wrongfully hanged." "What is the young man's own account of the matter?" "It is, I am afraid, not very encouraging to his supporters, though there are one or two points in it which are suggestive. You will find it here, and may read it for yourself." He picked out from his bundle a copy of the local Herefordshire paper, and having turned down the sheet he pointed out the paragraph in which the unfortunate young man had given his own statement of what had occurred. I settled myself down in the corner of the carriage and read it very carefully. It ran in this way: "Mr. James McCarthy, the only son of the deceased, was then called and gave evidence as follows: 'I had been away from home for three days at Bristol, and had only just returned upon the morning of last Monday, the 3rd. My father was absent from home at the time of my arrival, and I was informed by the maid that he had driven over to Ross with John Cobb, the groom. Shortly after my return I heard the wheels of his trap in the yard, and, looking out of my window, I saw him get out and walk rapidly out of the yard, though I was not aware in which direction he was going. I then took my gun and strolled out in the direction of the Boscombe Pool, with the intention of visiting the rabbit warren which is upon the other side. On my way I saw William Crowder, the game-keeper, as he had stated in his evidence; but he is mistaken in thinking that I was following my father. I had no idea that he was in front of me. When about a hundred yards from the pool I heard a cry of "Cooee!" which was a usual signal between my father and myself. I then hurried forward, and found him standing by the pool. He appeared to be much surprised at seeing me and asked me rather roughly what I was doing there. A conversation ensued which led to high words and almost to blows, for my father was a man of a very violent temper. Seeing that his passion was becoming ungovernable, I left him and returned towards Hatherley Farm. I had not gone more than 150 yards, however, when I heard a hideous outcry behind me, which caused me to run back again. I found my father expiring upon the ground, with his head terribly injured. I dropped my gun and held him in my arms, but he almost instantly expired. I knelt beside him for some minutes, and then made my way to Mr. Turner's lodge-keeper, his house being the nearest, to ask for assistance. I saw no one near my father when I returned, and I have no idea how he came by his injuries. He was not a popular man, being somewhat cold and forbidding in his manners, but he had, as far as I know, no active enemies. I know nothing further of the matter.' "The Coroner: Did your father make any statement to you before he died? "Witness: He mumbled a few words, but I could only catch some allusion to a rat. "The Coroner: What did you understand by that? "Witness: It conveyed no meaning to me. I thought that he was delirious. "The Coroner: What was the point upon which you and your father had this final quarrel? "Witness: I should prefer not to answer. "The Coroner: I am afraid that I must press it. "Witness: It is really impossible for me to tell you. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with the sad tragedy which followed. "The Coroner: That is for the court to decide. I need not point out to you that your refusal to answer will prejudice your case considerably in any future proceedings which may arise. "Witness: I must still refuse. "The Coroner: I understand that the cry of 'Cooee' was a common signal between you and your father? "Witness: It was. "The Coroner: How was it, then, that he uttered it before he saw you, and before he even knew that you had returned from Bristol? "Witness (with considerable confusion): I do not know. "A Juryman: Did you see nothing which aroused your suspicions when you returned on hearing the cry and found your father fatally injured? "Witness: Nothing definite. "The Coroner: What do you mean? "Witness: I was so disturbed and excited as I rushed out into the open, that I could think of nothing except of my father. Yet I have a vague impression that as I ran forward something lay upon the ground to the left of me. It seemed to me to be something grey in colour, a coat of some sort, or a plaid perhaps. When I rose from my father I looked round for it, but it was gone. "'Do you mean that it disappeared before you went for help?' "'Yes, it was gone.' "'You cannot say what it was?' "'No, I had a feeling something was there.' "'How far from the body?' "'A dozen yards or so.' "'And how far from the edge of the wood?' "'About the same.' "'Then if it was removed it was while you were within a dozen yards of it?' "'Yes, but with my back towards it.' "This concluded the examination of the witness." "I see," said I as I glanced down the column, "that the coroner in his concluding remarks was rather severe upon young McCarthy. He calls attention, and with reason, to the discrepancy about his father having signalled to him before seeing him, also to his refusal to give details of his conversation with his father, and his singular account of his father's dying words. They are all, as he remarks, very much against the son." Holmes laughed softly to himself and stretched himself out upon the cushioned seat. "Both you and the coroner have been at some pains," said he, "to single out the very strongest points in the young man's favour. Don't you see that you alternately give him credit for having too much imagination and too little? Too little, if he could not invent a cause of quarrel which would give him the sympathy of the jury; too much, if he evolved from his own inner consciousness anything so outré as a dying reference to a rat, and the incident of the vanishing cloth. No, sir, I shall approach this case from the point of view that what this young man says is true, and we shall see whither that hypothesis will lead us. And now here is my pocket Petrarch, and not another word shall I say of this case until we are on the scene of action. We lunch at Swindon, and I see that we shall be there in twenty minutes." It was nearly four o'clock when we at last, after passing through the beautiful Stroud Valley, and over the broad gleaming Severn, found ourselves at the pretty little country-town of Ross. A lean, ferret-like man, furtive and sly-looking, was waiting for us upon the platform. In spite of the light brown dustcoat and leather-leggings which he wore in deference to his rustic surroundings, I had no difficulty in recognising Lestrade, of Scotland Yard. With him we drove to the Hereford Arms where a room had already been engaged for us. "I have ordered a carriage," said Lestrade as we sat over a cup of tea. "I knew your energetic nature, and that you would not be happy until you had been on the scene of the crime." "It was very nice and complimentary of you," Holmes answered. "It is entirely a question of barometric pressure." Lestrade looked startled. "I do not quite follow," he said. "How is the glass? Twenty-nine, I see. No wind, and not a cloud in the sky. I have a caseful of cigarettes here which need smoking, and the sofa is very much superior to the usual country hotel abomination. I do not think that it is probable that I shall use the carriage to-night." Lestrade laughed indulgently. "You have, no doubt, already formed your conclusions from the newspapers," he said. "The case is as plain as a pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer it becomes. Still, of course, one can't refuse a lady, and such a very positive one, too. She has heard of you, and would have your opinion, though I repeatedly told her that there was nothing which you could do which I had not already done. Why, bless my soul! here is her carriage at the door." He had hardly spoken before there rushed into the room one of the most lovely young women that I have ever seen in my life. Her violet eyes shining, her lips parted, a pink flush upon her cheeks, all thought of her natural reserve lost in her overpowering excitement and concern. "Oh, Mr. Sherlock Holmes!" she cried, glancing from one to the other of us, and finally, with a woman's quick intuition, fastening upon my companion, "I am so glad that you have come. I have driven down to tell you so. I know that James didn't do it. I know it, and I want you to start upon your work knowing it, too. Never let yourself doubt upon that point. We have known each other since we were little children, and I know his faults as no one else does; but he is too tender-hearted to hurt a fly. Such a charge is absurd to anyone who really knows him." "I hope we may clear him, Miss Turner," said Sherlock Holmes. "You may rely upon my doing all that I can." "But you have read the evidence. You have formed some conclusion? Do you not see some loophole, some flaw? Do you not yourself think that he is innocent?" "I think that it is very probable." "There, now!" she cried, throwing back her head and looking defiantly at Lestrade. "You hear! He gives me hopes." Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. "I am afraid that my colleague has been a little quick in forming his conclusions," he said. "But he is right. Oh! I know that he is right. James never did it. And about his quarrel with his father, I am sure that the reason why he would not speak about it to the coroner was because I was concerned in it." "In what way?" asked Holmes. "It is no time for me to hide anything. James and his father had many disagreements about me. Mr. McCarthy was very anxious that there should be a marriage between us. James and I have always loved each other as brother and sister; but of course he is young and has seen very little of life yet, and--and--well, he naturally did not wish to do anything like that yet. So there were quarrels, and this, I am sure, was one of them." "And your father?" asked Holmes. "Was he in favour of such a union?" "No, he was averse to it also. No one but Mr. McCarthy was in favour of it." A quick blush passed over her fresh young face as Holmes shot one of his keen, questioning glances at her. "Thank you for this information," said he. "May I see your father if I call to-morrow?" "I am afraid the doctor won't allow it." "The doctor?" "Yes, have you not heard? Poor father has never been strong for years back, but this has broken him down completely. He has taken to his bed, and Dr. Willows says that he is a wreck and that his nervous system is shattered. Mr. McCarthy was the only man alive who had known dad in the old days in Victoria." "Ha! In Victoria! That is important." "Yes, at the mines." "Quite so; at the gold-mines, where, as I understand, Mr. Turner made his money." "Yes, certainly." "Thank you, Miss Turner. You have been of material assistance to me." "You will tell me if you have any news to-morrow. No doubt you will go to the prison to see James. Oh, if you do, Mr. Holmes, do tell him that I know him to be innocent." "I will, Miss Turner." "I must go home now, for dad is very ill, and he misses me so if I leave him. Good-bye, and God help you in your undertaking." She hurried from the room as impulsively as she had entered, and we heard the wheels of her carriage rattle off down the street. "I am ashamed of you, Holmes," said Lestrade with dignity after a few minutes' silence. "Why should you raise up hopes which you are bound to disappoint? I am not over-tender of heart, but I call it cruel." "I think that I see my way to clearing James McCarthy," said Holmes. "Have you an order to see him in prison?" "Yes, but only for you and me." "Then I shall reconsider my resolution about going out. We have still time to take a train to Hereford and see him to-night?" "Ample." "Then let us do so. Watson, I fear that you will find it very slow, but I shall only be away a couple of hours." I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through the streets of the little town, finally returning to the hotel, where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin, however, when compared to the deep mystery through which we were groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room and gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the day. Supposing that this unhappy young man's story were absolutely true, then what hellish thing, what absolutely unforeseen and extraordinary calamity could have occurred between the time when he parted from his father, and the moment when, drawn back by his screams, he rushed into the glade? It was something terrible and deadly. What could it be? Might not the nature of the injuries reveal something to my medical instincts? I rang the bell and called for the weekly county paper, which contained a verbatim account of the inquest. In the surgeon's deposition it was stated that the posterior third of the left parietal bone and the left half of the occipital bone had been shattered by a heavy blow from a blunt weapon. I marked the spot upon my own head. Clearly such a blow must have been struck from behind. That was to some extent in favour of the accused, as when seen quarrelling he was face to face with his father. Still, it did not go for very much, for the older man might have turned his back before the blow fell. Still, it might be worth while to call Holmes' attention to it. Then there was the peculiar dying reference to a rat. What could that mean? It could not be delirium. A man dying from a sudden blow does not commonly become delirious. No, it was more likely to be an attempt to explain how he met his fate. But what could it indicate? I cudgelled my brains to find some possible explanation. And then the incident of the grey cloth seen by young McCarthy. If that were true the murderer must have dropped some part of his dress, presumably his overcoat, in his flight, and must have had the hardihood to return and to carry it away at the instant when the son was kneeling with his back turned not a dozen paces off. What a tissue of mysteries and improbabilities the whole thing was! I did not wonder at Lestrade's opinion, and yet I had so much faith in Sherlock Holmes' insight that I could not lose hope as long as every fresh fact seemed to strengthen his conviction of young McCarthy's innocence. It was late before Sherlock Holmes returned. He came back alone, for Lestrade was staying in lodgings in the town. "The glass still keeps very high," he remarked as he sat down. "It is of importance that it should not rain before we are able to go over the ground. On the other hand, a man should be at his very best and keenest for such nice work as that, and I did not wish to do it when fagged by a long journey. I have seen young McCarthy." "And what did you learn from him?" "Nothing." "Could he throw no light?" "None at all. I was inclined to think at one time that he knew who had done it and was screening him or her, but I am convinced now that he is as puzzled as everyone else. He is not a very quick-witted youth, though comely to look at and, I should think, sound at heart." "I cannot admire his taste," I remarked, "if it is indeed a fact that he was averse to a marriage with so charming a young lady as this Miss Turner." "Ah, thereby hangs a rather painful tale. This fellow is madly, insanely, in love with her, but some two years ago, when he was only a lad, and before he really knew her, for she had been away five years at a boarding-school, what does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol and marry her at a registry office? No one knows a word of the matter, but you can imagine how maddening it must be to him to be upbraided for not doing what he would give his very eyes to do, but what he knows to be absolutely impossible. It was sheer frenzy of this sort which made him throw his hands up into the air when his father, at their last interview, was goading him on to propose to Miss Turner. On the other hand, he had no means of supporting himself, and his father, who was by all accounts a very hard man, would have thrown him over utterly had he known the truth. It was with his barmaid wife that he had spent the last three days in Bristol, and his father did not know where he was. Mark that point. It is of importance. Good has come out of evil, however, for the barmaid, finding from the papers that he is in serious trouble and likely to be hanged, has thrown him over utterly and has written to him to say that she has a husband already in the Bermuda Dockyard, so that there is really no tie between them. I think that that bit of news has consoled young McCarthy for all that he has suffered." "But if he is innocent, who has done it?" "Ah! who? I would call your attention very particularly to two points. One is that the murdered man had an appointment with someone at the pool, and that the someone could not have been his son, for his son was away, and he did not know when he would return. The second is that the murdered man was heard to cry 'Cooee!' before he knew that his son had returned. Those are the crucial points upon which the case depends. And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all minor matters until to-morrow." There was no rain, as Holmes had foretold, and the morning broke bright and cloudless. At nine o'clock Lestrade called for us with the carriage, and we set off for Hatherley Farm and the Boscombe Pool. "There is serious news this morning," Lestrade observed. "It is said that Mr. Turner, of the Hall, is so ill that his life is despaired of." "An elderly man, I presume?" said Holmes. "About sixty; but his constitution has been shattered by his life abroad, and he has been in failing health for some time. This business has had a very bad effect upon him. He was an old friend of McCarthy's, and, I may add, a great benefactor to him, for I have learned that he gave him Hatherley Farm rent free." "Indeed! That is interesting," said Holmes. "Oh, yes! In a hundred other ways he has helped him. Everybody about here speaks of his kindness to him." "Really! Does it not strike you as a little singular that this McCarthy, who appears to have had little of his own, and to have been under such obligations to Turner, should still talk of marrying his son to Turner's daughter, who is, presumably, heiress to the estate, and that in such a very cocksure manner, as if it were merely a case of a proposal and all else would follow? It is the more strange, since we know that Turner himself was averse to the idea. The daughter told us as much. Do you not deduce something from that?" "We have got to the deductions and the inferences," said Lestrade, winking at me. "I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies." "You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very hard to tackle the facts." "Anyhow, I have grasped one fact which you seem to find it difficult to get hold of," replied Lestrade with some warmth. "And that is--" "That McCarthy senior met his death from McCarthy junior and that all theories to the contrary are the merest moonshine." "Well, moonshine is a brighter thing than fog," said Holmes, laughing. "But I am very much mistaken if this is not Hatherley Farm upon the left." "Yes, that is it." It was a widespread, comfortable-looking building, two-storied, slate-roofed, with great yellow blotches of lichen upon the grey walls. The drawn blinds and the smokeless chimneys, however, gave it a stricken look, as though the weight of this horror still lay heavy upon it. We called at the door, when the maid, at Holmes' request, showed us the boots which her master wore at the time of his death, and also a pair of the son's, though not the pair which he had then had. Having measured these very carefully from seven or eight different points, Holmes desired to be led to the court-yard, from which we all followed the winding track which led to Boscombe Pool. Sherlock Holmes was transformed when he was hot upon such a scent as this. Men who had only known the quiet thinker and logician of Baker Street would have failed to recognise him. His face flushed and darkened. His brows were drawn into two hard black lines, while his eyes shone out from beneath them with a steely glitter. His face was bent downward, his shoulders bowed, his lips compressed, and the veins stood out like whipcord in his long, sinewy neck. His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase, and his mind was so absolutely concentrated upon the matter before him that a question or remark fell unheeded upon his ears, or, at the most, only provoked a quick, impatient snarl in reply. Swiftly and silently he made his way along the track which ran through the meadows, and so by way of the woods to the Boscombe Pool. It was damp, marshy ground, as is all that district, and there were marks of many feet, both upon the path and amid the short grass which bounded it on either side. Sometimes Holmes would hurry on, sometimes stop dead, and once he made quite a little detour into the meadow. Lestrade and I walked behind him, the detective indifferent and contemptuous, while I watched my friend with the interest which sprang from the conviction that every one of his actions was directed towards a definite end. The Boscombe Pool, which is a little reed-girt sheet of water some fifty yards across, is situated at the boundary between the Hatherley Farm and the private park of the wealthy Mr. Turner. Above the woods which lined it upon the farther side we could see the red, jutting pinnacles which marked the site of the rich landowner's dwelling. On the Hatherley side of the pool the woods grew very thick, and there was a narrow belt of sodden grass twenty paces across between the edge of the trees and the reeds which lined the lake. Lestrade showed us the exact spot at which the body had been found, and, indeed, so moist was the ground, that I could plainly see the traces which had been left by the fall of the stricken man. To Holmes, as I could see by his eager face and peering eyes, very many other things were to be read upon the trampled grass. He ran round, like a dog who is picking up a scent, and then turned upon my companion. "What did you go into the pool for?" he asked. "I fished about with a rake. I thought there might be some weapon or other trace. But how on earth--" "Oh, tut, tut! I have no time! That left foot of yours with its inward twist is all over the place. A mole could trace it, and there it vanishes among the reeds. Oh, how simple it would all have been had I been here before they came like a herd of buffalo and wallowed all over it. Here is where the party with the lodge-keeper came, and they have covered all tracks for six or eight feet round the body. But here are three separate tracks of the same feet." He drew out a lens and lay down upon his waterproof to have a better view, talking all the time rather to himself than to us. "These are young McCarthy's feet. Twice he was walking, and once he ran swiftly, so that the soles are deeply marked and the heels hardly visible. That bears out his story. He ran when he saw his father on the ground. Then here are the father's feet as he paced up and down. What is this, then? It is the butt-end of the gun as the son stood listening. And this? Ha, ha! What have we here? Tiptoes! tiptoes! Square, too, quite unusual boots! They come, they go, they come again--of course that was for the cloak. Now where did they come from?" He ran up and down, sometimes losing, sometimes finding the track until we were well within the edge of the wood and under the shadow of a great beech, the largest tree in the neighbourhood. Holmes traced his way to the farther side of this and lay down once more upon his face with a little cry of satisfaction. For a long time he remained there, turning over the leaves and dried sticks, gathering up what seemed to me to be dust into an envelope and examining with his lens not only the ground but even the bark of the tree as far as he could reach. A jagged stone was lying among the moss, and this also he carefully examined and retained. Then he followed a pathway through the wood until he came to the highroad, where all traces were lost. "It has been a case of considerable interest," he remarked, returning to his natural manner. "I fancy that this grey house on the right must be the lodge. I think that I will go in and have a word with Moran, and perhaps write a little note. Having done that, we may drive back to our luncheon. You may walk to the cab, and I shall be with you presently." It was about ten minutes before we regained our cab and drove back into Ross, Holmes still carrying with him the stone which he had picked up in the wood. "This may interest you, Lestrade," he remarked, holding it out. "The murder was done with it." "I see no marks." "There are none." "How do you know, then?" "The grass was growing under it. It had only lain there a few days. There was no sign of a place whence it had been taken. It corresponds with the injuries. There is no sign of any other weapon." "And the murderer?" "Is a tall man, left-handed, limps with the right leg, wears thick-soled shooting-boots and a grey cloak, smokes Indian cigars, uses a cigar-holder, and carries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket. There are several other indications, but these may be enough to aid us in our search." Lestrade laughed. "I am afraid that I am still a sceptic," he said. "Theories are all very well, but we have to deal with a hard-headed British jury." "Nous verrons," answered Holmes calmly. "You work your own method, and I shall work mine. I shall be busy this afternoon, and shall probably return to London by the evening train." "And leave your case unfinished?" "No, finished." "But the mystery?" "It is solved." "Who was the criminal, then?" "The gentleman I describe." "But who is he?" "Surely it would not be difficult to find out. This is not such a populous neighbourhood." Lestrade shrugged his shoulders. "I am a practical man," he said, "and I really cannot undertake to go about the country looking for a left-handed gentleman with a game leg. I should become the laughing-stock of Scotland Yard." "All right," said Holmes quietly. "I have given you the chance. Here are your lodgings. Good-bye. I shall drop you a line before I leave." Having left Lestrade at his rooms, we drove to our hotel, where we found lunch upon the table. Holmes was silent and buried in thought with a pained expression upon his face, as one who finds himself in a perplexing position. "Look here, Watson," he said when the cloth was cleared "just sit down in this chair and let me preach to you for a little. I don't know quite what to do, and I should value your advice. Light a cigar and let me expound." "Pray do so." "Well, now, in considering this case there are two points about young McCarthy's narrative which struck us both instantly, although they impressed me in his favour and you against him. One was the fact that his father should, according to his account, cry 'Cooee!' before seeing him. The other was his singular dying reference to a rat. He mumbled several words, you understand, but that was all that caught the son's ear. Now from this double point our research must commence, and we will begin it by presuming that what the lad says is absolutely true." "What of this 'Cooee!' then?" "Well, obviously it could not have been meant for the son. The son, as far as he knew, was in Bristol. It was mere chance that he was within earshot. The 'Cooee!' was meant to attract the attention of whoever it was that he had the appointment with. But 'Cooee' is a distinctly Australian cry, and one which is used between Australians. There is a strong presumption that the person whom McCarthy expected to meet him at Boscombe Pool was someone who had been in Australia." "What of the rat, then?" Sherlock Holmes took a folded paper from his pocket and flattened it out on the table. "This is a map of the Colony of Victoria," he said. "I wired to Bristol for it last night." He put his hand over part of the map. "What do you read?" "ARAT," I read. "And now?" He raised his hand. "BALLARAT." "Quite so. That was the word the man uttered, and of which his son only caught the last two syllables. He was trying to utter the name of his murderer. So and so, of Ballarat." "It is wonderful!" I exclaimed. "It is obvious. And now, you see, I had narrowed the field down considerably. The possession of a grey garment was a third point which, granting the son's statement to be correct, was a certainty. We have come now out of mere vagueness to the definite conception of an Australian from Ballarat with a grey cloak." "Certainly." "And one who was at home in the district, for the pool can only be approached by the farm or by the estate, where strangers could hardly wander." "Quite so." "Then comes our expedition of to-day. By an examination of the ground I gained the trifling details which I gave to that imbecile Lestrade, as to the personality of the criminal." "But how did you gain them?" "You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles." "His height I know that you might roughly judge from the length of his stride. His boots, too, might be told from their traces." "Yes, they were peculiar boots." "But his lameness?" "The impression of his right foot was always less distinct than his left. He put less weight upon it. Why? Because he limped--he was lame." "But his left-handedness." "You were yourself struck by the nature of the injury as recorded by the surgeon at the inquest. The blow was struck from immediately behind, and yet was upon the left side. Now, how can that be unless it were by a left-handed man? He had stood behind that tree during the interview between the father and son. He had even smoked there. I found the ash of a cigar, which my special knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an Indian cigar. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this, and written a little monograph on the ashes of 140 different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco. Having found the ash, I then looked round and discovered the stump among the moss where he had tossed it. It was an Indian cigar, of the variety which are rolled in Rotterdam." "And the cigar-holder?" "I could see that the end had not been in his mouth. Therefore he used a holder. The tip had been cut off, not bitten off, but the cut was not a clean one, so I deduced a blunt pen-knife." "Holmes," I said, "you have drawn a net round this man from which he cannot escape, and you have saved an innocent human life as truly as if you had cut the cord which was hanging him. I see the direction in which all this points. The culprit is--" "Mr. John Turner," cried the hotel waiter, opening the door of our sitting-room, and ushering in a visitor. The man who entered was a strange and impressive figure. His slow, limping step and bowed shoulders gave the appearance of decrepitude, and yet his hard, deep-lined, craggy features, and his enormous limbs showed that he was possessed of unusual strength of body and of character. His tangled beard, grizzled hair, and outstanding, drooping eyebrows combined to give an air of dignity and power to his appearance, but his face was of an ashen white, while his lips and the corners of his nostrils were tinged with a shade of blue. It was clear to me at a glance that he was in the grip of some deadly and chronic disease. "Pray sit down on the sofa," said Holmes gently. "You had my note?" "Yes, the lodge-keeper brought it up. You said that you wished to see me here to avoid scandal." "I thought people would talk if I went to the Hall." "And why did you wish to see me?" He looked across at my companion with despair in his weary eyes, as though his question was already answered. "Yes," said Holmes, answering the look rather than the words. "It is so. I know all about McCarthy." The old man sank his face in his hands. "God help me!" he cried. "But I would not have let the young man come to harm. I give you my word that I would have spoken out if it went against him at the Assizes." "I am glad to hear you say so," said Holmes gravely. "I would have spoken now had it not been for my dear girl. It would break her heart--it will break her heart when she hears that I am arrested." "It may not come to that," said Holmes. "What?" "I am no official agent. I understand that it was your daughter who required my presence here, and I am acting in her interests. Young McCarthy must be got off, however." "I am a dying man," said old Turner. "I have had diabetes for years. My doctor says it is a question whether I shall live a month. Yet I would rather die under my own roof than in a gaol." Holmes rose and sat down at the table with his pen in his hand and a bundle of paper before him. "Just tell us the truth," he said. "I shall jot down the facts. You will sign it, and Watson here can witness it. Then I could produce your confession at the last extremity to save young McCarthy. I promise you that I shall not use it unless it is absolutely needed." "It's as well," said the old man; "it's a question whether I shall live to the Assizes, so it matters little to me, but I should wish to spare Alice the shock. And now I will make the thing clear to you; it has been a long time in the acting, but will not take me long to tell. "You didn't know this dead man, McCarthy. He was a devil incarnate. I tell you that. God keep you out of the clutches of such a man as he. His grip has been upon me these twenty years, and he has blasted my life. I'll tell you first how I came to be in his power. "It was in the early '60's at the diggings. I was a young chap then, hot-blooded and reckless, ready to turn my hand at anything; I got among bad companions, took to drink, had no luck with my claim, took to the bush, and in a word became what you would call over here a highway robber. There were six of us, and we had a wild, free life of it, sticking up a station from time to time, or stopping the wagons on the road to the diggings. Black Jack of Ballarat was the name I went under, and our party is still remembered in the colony as the Ballarat Gang. "One day a gold convoy came down from Ballarat to Melbourne, and we lay in wait for it and attacked it. There were six troopers and six of us, so it was a close thing, but we emptied four of their saddles at the first volley. Three of our boys were killed, however, before we got the swag. I put my pistol to the head of the wagon-driver, who was this very man McCarthy. I wish to the Lord that I had shot him then, but I spared him, though I saw his wicked little eyes fixed on my face, as though to remember every feature. We got away with the gold, became wealthy men, and made our way over to England without being suspected. There I parted from my old pals and determined to settle down to a quiet and respectable life. I bought this estate, which chanced to be in the market, and I set myself to do a little good with my money, to make up for the way in which I had earned it. I married, too, and though my wife died young she left me my dear little Alice. Even when she was just a baby her wee hand seemed to lead me down the right path as nothing else had ever done. In a word, I turned over a new leaf and did my best to make up for the past. All was going well when McCarthy laid his grip upon me. "I had gone up to town about an investment, and I met him in Regent Street with hardly a coat to his back or a boot to his foot. "'Here we are, Jack,' says he, touching me on the arm; 'we'll be as good as a family to you. There's two of us, me and my son, and you can have the keeping of us. If you don't--it's a fine, law-abiding country is England, and there's always a policeman within hail.' "Well, down they came to the west country, there was no shaking them off, and there they have lived rent free on my best land ever since. There was no rest for me, no peace, no forgetfulness; turn where I would, there was his cunning, grinning face at my elbow. It grew worse as Alice grew up, for he soon saw I was more afraid of her knowing my past than of the police. Whatever he wanted he must have, and whatever it was I gave him without question, land, money, houses, until at last he asked a thing which I could not give. He asked for Alice. "His son, you see, had grown up, and so had my girl, and as I was known to be in weak health, it seemed a fine stroke to him that his lad should step into the whole property. But there I was firm. I would not have his cursed stock mixed with mine; not that I had any dislike to the lad, but his blood was in him, and that was enough. I stood firm. McCarthy threatened. I braved him to do his worst. We were to meet at the pool midway between our houses to talk it over. "When I went down there I found him talking with his son, so I smoked a cigar and waited behind a tree until he should be alone. But as I listened to his talk all that was black and bitter in me seemed to come uppermost. He was urging his son to marry my daughter with as little regard for what she might think as if she were a slut from off the streets. It drove me mad to think that I and all that I held most dear should be in the power of such a man as this. Could I not snap the bond? I was already a dying and a desperate man. Though clear of mind and fairly strong of limb, I knew that my own fate was sealed. But my memory and my girl! Both could be saved if I could but silence that foul tongue. I did it, Mr. Holmes. I would do it again. Deeply as I have sinned, I have led a life of martyrdom to atone for it. But that my girl should be entangled in the same meshes which held me was more than I could suffer. I struck him down with no more compunction than if he had been some foul and venomous beast. His cry brought back his son; but I had gained the cover of the wood, though I was forced to go back to fetch the cloak which I had dropped in my flight. That is the true story, gentlemen, of all that occurred." "Well, it is not for me to judge you," said Holmes as the old man signed the statement which had been drawn out. "I pray that we may never be exposed to such a temptation." "I pray not, sir. And what do you intend to do?" "In view of your health, nothing. You are yourself aware that you will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes. I will keep your confession, and if McCarthy is condemned I shall be forced to use it. If not, it shall never be seen by mortal eye; and your secret, whether you be alive or dead, shall be safe with us." "Farewell, then," said the old man solemnly. "Your own deathbeds, when they come, will be the easier for the thought of the peace which you have given to mine." Tottering and shaking in all his giant frame, he stumbled slowly from the room. "God help us!" said Holmes after a long silence. "Why does fate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms? I never hear of such a case as this that I do not think of Baxter's words, and say, 'There, but for the grace of God, goes Sherlock Holmes.'" James McCarthy was acquitted at the Assizes on the strength of a number of objections which had been drawn out by Holmes and submitted to the defending counsel. Old Turner lived for seven months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past. ADVENTURE V. THE FIVE ORANGE PIPS When I glance over my notes and records of the Sherlock Holmes cases between the years '82 and '90, I am faced by so many which present strange and interesting features that it is no easy matter to know which to choose and which to leave. Some, however, have already gained publicity through the papers, and others have not offered a field for those peculiar qualities which my friend possessed in so high a degree, and which it is the object of these papers to illustrate. Some, too, have baffled his analytical skill, and would be, as narratives, beginnings without an ending, while others have been but partially cleared up, and have their explanations founded rather upon conjecture and surmise than on that absolute logical proof which was so dear to him. There is, however, one of these last which was so remarkable in its details and so startling in its results that I am tempted to give some account of it in spite of the fact that there are points in connection with it which never have been, and probably never will be, entirely cleared up. The year '87 furnished us with a long series of cases of greater or less interest, of which I retain the records. Among my headings under this one twelve months I find an account of the adventure of the Paradol Chamber, of the Amateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse, of the facts connected with the loss of the British barque "Sophy Anderson", of the singular adventures of the Grice Patersons in the island of Uffa, and finally of the Camberwell poisoning case. In the latter, as may be remembered, Sherlock Holmes was able, by winding up the dead man's watch, to prove that it had been wound up two hours before, and that therefore the deceased had gone to bed within that time--a deduction which was of the greatest importance in clearing up the case. All these I may sketch out at some future date, but none of them present such singular features as the strange train of circumstances which I have now taken up my pen to describe. It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, while I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves. My wife was on a visit to her mother's, and for a few days I was a dweller once more in my old quarters at Baker Street. "Why," said I, glancing up at my companion, "that was surely the bell. Who could come to-night? Some friend of yours, perhaps?" "Except yourself I have none," he answered. "I do not encourage visitors." "A client, then?" "If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady's." Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. He stretched out his long arm to turn the lamp away from himself and towards the vacant chair upon which a newcomer must sit. "Come in!" said he. The man who entered was young, some two-and-twenty at the outside, well-groomed and trimly clad, with something of refinement and delicacy in his bearing. The streaming umbrella which he held in his hand, and his long shining waterproof told of the fierce weather through which he had come. He looked about him anxiously in the glare of the lamp, and I could see that his face was pale and his eyes heavy, like those of a man who is weighed down with some great anxiety. "I owe you an apology," he said, raising his golden pince-nez to his eyes. "I trust that I am not intruding. I fear that I have brought some traces of the storm and rain into your snug chamber." "Give me your coat and umbrella," said Holmes. "They may rest here on the hook and will be dry presently. You have come up from the south-west, I see." "Yes, from Horsham." "That clay and chalk mixture which I see upon your toe caps is quite distinctive." "I have come for advice." "That is easily got." "And help." "That is not always so easy." "I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes. I heard from Major Prendergast how you saved him in the Tankerville Club scandal." "Ah, of course. He was wrongfully accused of cheating at cards." "He said that you could solve anything." "He said too much." "That you are never beaten." "I have been beaten four times--three times by men, and once by a woman." "But what is that compared with the number of your successes?" "It is true that I have been generally successful." "Then you may be so with me." "I beg that you will draw your chair up to the fire and favour me with some details as to your case." "It is no ordinary one." "None of those which come to me are. I am the last court of appeal." "And yet I question, sir, whether, in all your experience, you have ever listened to a more mysterious and inexplicable chain of events than those which have happened in my own family." "You fill me with interest," said Holmes. "Pray give us the essential facts from the commencement, and I can afterwards question you as to those details which seem to me to be most important." The young man pulled his chair up and pushed his wet feet out towards the blaze. "My name," said he, "is John Openshaw, but my own affairs have, as far as I can understand, little to do with this awful business. It is a hereditary matter; so in order to give you an idea of the facts, I must go back to the commencement of the affair. "You must know that my grandfather had two sons--my uncle Elias and my father Joseph. My father had a small factory at Coventry, which he enlarged at the time of the invention of bicycling. He was a patentee of the Openshaw unbreakable tire, and his business met with such success that he was able to sell it and to retire upon a handsome competence. "My uncle Elias emigrated to America when he was a young man and became a planter in Florida, where he was reported to have done very well. At the time of the war he fought in Jackson's army, and afterwards under Hood, where he rose to be a colonel. When Lee laid down his arms my uncle returned to his plantation, where he remained for three or four years. About 1869 or 1870 he came back to Europe and took a small estate in Sussex, near Horsham. He had made a very considerable fortune in the States, and his reason for leaving them was his aversion to the negroes, and his dislike of the Republican policy in extending the franchise to them. He was a singular man, fierce and quick-tempered, very foul-mouthed when he was angry, and of a most retiring disposition. During all the years that he lived at Horsham, I doubt if ever he set foot in the town. He had a garden and two or three fields round his house, and there he would take his exercise, though very often for weeks on end he would never leave his room. He drank a great deal of brandy and smoked very heavily, but he would see no society and did not want any friends, not even his own brother. "He didn't mind me; in fact, he took a fancy to me, for at the time when he saw me first I was a youngster of twelve or so. This would be in the year 1878, after he had been eight or nine years in England. He begged my father to let me live with him and he was very kind to me in his way. When he was sober he used to be fond of playing backgammon and draughts with me, and he would make me his representative both with the servants and with the tradespeople, so that by the time that I was sixteen I was quite master of the house. I kept all the keys and could go where I liked and do what I liked, so long as I did not disturb him in his privacy. There was one singular exception, however, for he had a single room, a lumber-room up among the attics, which was invariably locked, and which he would never permit either me or anyone else to enter. With a boy's curiosity I have peeped through the keyhole, but I was never able to see more than such a collection of old trunks and bundles as would be expected in such a room. "One day--it was in March, 1883--a letter with a foreign stamp lay upon the table in front of the colonel's plate. It was not a common thing for him to receive letters, for his bills were all paid in ready money, and he had no friends of any sort. 'From India!' said he as he took it up, 'Pondicherry postmark! What can this be?' Opening it hurriedly, out there jumped five little dried orange pips, which pattered down upon his plate. I began to laugh at this, but the laugh was struck from my lips at the sight of his face. His lip had fallen, his eyes were protruding, his skin the colour of putty, and he glared at the envelope which he still held in his trembling hand, 'K. K. K.!' he shrieked, and then, 'My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!' "'What is it, uncle?' I cried. "'Death,' said he, and rising from the table he retired to his room, leaving me palpitating with horror. I took up the envelope and saw scrawled in red ink upon the inner flap, just above the gum, the letter K three times repeated. There was nothing else save the five dried pips. What could be the reason of his overpowering terror? I left the breakfast-table, and as I ascended the stair I met him coming down with an old rusty key, which must have belonged to the attic, in one hand, and a small brass box, like a cashbox, in the other. "'They may do what they like, but I'll checkmate them still,' said he with an oath. 'Tell Mary that I shall want a fire in my room to-day, and send down to Fordham, the Horsham lawyer.' "I did as he ordered, and when the lawyer arrived I was asked to step up to the room. The fire was burning brightly, and in the grate there was a mass of black, fluffy ashes, as of burned paper, while the brass box stood open and empty beside it. As I glanced at the box I noticed, with a start, that upon the lid was printed the treble K which I had read in the morning upon the envelope. "'I wish you, John,' said my uncle, 'to witness my will. I leave my estate, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages, to my brother, your father, whence it will, no doubt, descend to you. If you can enjoy it in peace, well and good! If you find you cannot, take my advice, my boy, and leave it to your deadliest enemy. I am sorry to give you such a two-edged thing, but I can't say what turn things are going to take. Kindly sign the paper where Mr. Fordham shows you.' "I signed the paper as directed, and the lawyer took it away with him. The singular incident made, as you may think, the deepest impression upon me, and I pondered over it and turned it every way in my mind without being able to make anything of it. Yet I could not shake off the vague feeling of dread which it left behind, though the sensation grew less keen as the weeks passed and nothing happened to disturb the usual routine of our lives. I could see a change in my uncle, however. He drank more than ever, and he was less inclined for any sort of society. Most of his time he would spend in his room, with the door locked upon the inside, but sometimes he would emerge in a sort of drunken frenzy and would burst out of the house and tear about the garden with a revolver in his hand, screaming out that he was afraid of no man, and that he was not to be cooped up, like a sheep in a pen, by man or devil. When these hot fits were over, however, he would rush tumultuously in at the door and lock and bar it behind him, like a man who can brazen it out no longer against the terror which lies at the roots of his soul. At such times I have seen his face, even on a cold day, glisten with moisture, as though it were new raised from a basin. "Well, to come to an end of the matter, Mr. Holmes, and not to abuse your patience, there came a night when he made one of those drunken sallies from which he never came back. We found him, when we went to search for him, face downward in a little green-scummed pool, which lay at the foot of the garden. There was no sign of any violence, and the water was but two feet deep, so that the jury, having regard to his known eccentricity, brought in a verdict of 'suicide.' But I, who knew how he winced from the very thought of death, had much ado to persuade myself that he had gone out of his way to meet it. The matter passed, however, and my father entered into possession of the estate, and of some 14,000 pounds, which lay to his credit at the bank." "One moment," Holmes interposed, "your statement is, I foresee, one of the most remarkable to which I have ever listened. Let me have the date of the reception by your uncle of the letter, and the date of his supposed suicide." "The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks later, upon the night of May 2nd." "Thank you. Pray proceed." "When my father took over the Horsham property, he, at my request, made a careful examination of the attic, which had been always locked up. We found the brass box there, although its contents had been destroyed. On the inside of the cover was a paper label, with the initials of K. K. K. repeated upon it, and 'Letters, memoranda, receipts, and a register' written beneath. These, we presume, indicated the nature of the papers which had been destroyed by Colonel Openshaw. For the rest, there was nothing of much importance in the attic save a great many scattered papers and note-books bearing upon my uncle's life in America. Some of them were of the war time and showed that he had done his duty well and had borne the repute of a brave soldier. Others were of a date during the reconstruction of the Southern states, and were mostly concerned with politics, for he had evidently taken a strong part in opposing the carpet-bag politicians who had been sent down from the North. "Well, it was the beginning of '84 when my father came to live at Horsham, and all went as well as possible with us until the January of '85. On the fourth day after the new year I heard my father give a sharp cry of surprise as we sat together at the breakfast-table. There he was, sitting with a newly opened envelope in one hand and five dried orange pips in the outstretched palm of the other one. He had always laughed at what he called my cock-and-bull story about the colonel, but he looked very scared and puzzled now that the same thing had come upon himself. "'Why, what on earth does this mean, John?' he stammered. "My heart had turned to lead. 'It is K. K. K.,' said I. "He looked inside the envelope. 'So it is,' he cried. 'Here are the very letters. But what is this written above them?' "'Put the papers on the sundial,' I read, peeping over his shoulder. "'What papers? What sundial?' he asked. "'The sundial in the garden. There is no other,' said I; 'but the papers must be those that are destroyed.' "'Pooh!' said he, gripping hard at his courage. 'We are in a civilised land here, and we can't have tomfoolery of this kind. Where does the thing come from?' "'From Dundee,' I answered, glancing at the postmark. "'Some preposterous practical joke,' said he. 'What have I to do with sundials and papers? I shall take no notice of such nonsense.' "'I should certainly speak to the police,' I said. "'And be laughed at for my pains. Nothing of the sort.' "'Then let me do so?' "'No, I forbid you. I won't have a fuss made about such nonsense.' "It was in vain to argue with him, for he was a very obstinate man. I went about, however, with a heart which was full of forebodings. "On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was farther from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of 'death from accidental causes.' Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round him. "In this sinister way I came into my inheritance. You will ask me why I did not dispose of it? I answer, because I was well convinced that our troubles were in some way dependent upon an incident in my uncle's life, and that the danger would be as pressing in one house as in another. "It was in January, '85, that my poor father met his end, and two years and eight months have elapsed since then. During that time I have lived happily at Horsham, and I had begun to hope that this curse had passed away from the family, and that it had ended with the last generation. I had begun to take comfort too soon, however; yesterday morning the blow fell in the very shape in which it had come upon my father." The young man took from his waistcoat a crumpled envelope, and turning to the table he shook out upon it five little dried orange pips. "This is the envelope," he continued. "The postmark is London--eastern division. Within are the very words which were upon my father's last message: 'K. K. K.'; and then 'Put the papers on the sundial.'" "What have you done?" asked Holmes. "Nothing." "Nothing?" "To tell the truth"--he sank his face into his thin, white hands--"I have felt helpless. I have felt like one of those poor rabbits when the snake is writhing towards it. I seem to be in the grasp of some resistless, inexorable evil, which no foresight and no precautions can guard against." "Tut! tut!" cried Sherlock Holmes. "You must act, man, or you are lost. Nothing but energy can save you. This is no time for despair." "I have seen the police." "Ah!" "But they listened to my story with a smile. I am convinced that the inspector has formed the opinion that the letters are all practical jokes, and that the deaths of my relations were really accidents, as the jury stated, and were not to be connected with the warnings." Holmes shook his clenched hands in the air. "Incredible imbecility!" he cried. "They have, however, allowed me a policeman, who may remain in the house with me." "Has he come with you to-night?" "No. His orders were to stay in the house." Again Holmes raved in the air. "Why did you come to me," he cried, "and, above all, why did you not come at once?" "I did not know. It was only to-day that I spoke to Major Prendergast about my troubles and was advised by him to come to you." "It is really two days since you had the letter. We should have acted before this. You have no further evidence, I suppose, than that which you have placed before us--no suggestive detail which might help us?" "There is one thing," said John Openshaw. He rummaged in his coat pocket, and, drawing out a piece of discoloured, blue-tinted paper, he laid it out upon the table. "I have some remembrance," said he, "that on the day when my uncle burned the papers I observed that the small, unburned margins which lay amid the ashes were of this particular colour. I found this single sheet upon the floor of his room, and I am inclined to think that it may be one of the papers which has, perhaps, fluttered out from among the others, and in that way has escaped destruction. Beyond the mention of pips, I do not see that it helps us much. I think myself that it is a page from some private diary. The writing is undoubtedly my uncle's." Holmes moved the lamp, and we both bent over the sheet of paper, which showed by its ragged edge that it had indeed been torn from a book. It was headed, "March, 1869," and beneath were the following enigmatical notices: "4th. Hudson came. Same old platform. "7th. Set the pips on McCauley, Paramore, and John Swain, of St. Augustine. "9th. McCauley cleared. "10th. John Swain cleared. "12th. Visited Paramore. All well." "Thank you!" said Holmes, folding up the paper and returning it to our visitor. "And now you must on no account lose another instant. We cannot spare time even to discuss what you have told me. You must get home instantly and act." "What shall I do?" "There is but one thing to do. It must be done at once. You must put this piece of paper which you have shown us into the brass box which you have described. You must also put in a note to say that all the other papers were burned by your uncle, and that this is the only one which remains. You must assert that in such words as will carry conviction with them. Having done this, you must at once put the box out upon the sundial, as directed. Do you understand?" "Entirely." "Do not think of revenge, or anything of the sort, at present. I think that we may gain that by means of the law; but we have our web to weave, while theirs is already woven. The first consideration is to remove the pressing danger which threatens you. The second is to clear up the mystery and to punish the guilty parties." "I thank you," said the young man, rising and pulling on his overcoat. "You have given me fresh life and hope. I shall certainly do as you advise." "Do not lose an instant. And, above all, take care of yourself in the meanwhile, for I do not think that there can be a doubt that you are threatened by a very real and imminent danger. How do you go back?" "By train from Waterloo." "It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so I trust that you may be in safety. And yet you cannot guard yourself too closely." "I am armed." "That is well. To-morrow I shall set to work upon your case." "I shall see you at Horsham, then?" "No, your secret lies in London. It is there that I shall seek it." "Then I shall call upon you in a day, or in two days, with news as to the box and the papers. I shall take your advice in every particular." He shook hands with us and took his leave. Outside the wind still screamed and the rain splashed and pattered against the windows. This strange, wild story seemed to have come to us from amid the mad elements--blown in upon us like a sheet of sea-weed in a gale--and now to have been reabsorbed by them once more. Sherlock Holmes sat for some time in silence, with his head sunk forward and his eyes bent upon the red glow of the fire. Then he lit his pipe, and leaning back in his chair he watched the blue smoke-rings as they chased each other up to the ceiling. "I think, Watson," he remarked at last, "that of all our cases we have had none more fantastic than this." "Save, perhaps, the Sign of Four." "Well, yes. Save, perhaps, that. And yet this John Openshaw seems to me to be walking amid even greater perils than did the Sholtos." "But have you," I asked, "formed any definite conception as to what these perils are?" "There can be no question as to their nature," he answered. "Then what are they? Who is this K. K. K., and why does he pursue this unhappy family?" Sherlock Holmes closed his eyes and placed his elbows upon the arms of his chair, with his finger-tips together. "The ideal reasoner," he remarked, "would, when he had once been shown a single fact in all its bearings, deduce from it not only all the chain of events which led up to it but also all the results which would follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after. We have not yet grasped the results which the reason alone can attain to. Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilise all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopaedias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment. It is not so impossible, however, that a man should possess all knowledge which is likely to be useful to him in his work, and this I have endeavoured in my case to do. If I remember rightly, you on one occasion, in the early days of our friendship, defined my limits in a very precise fashion." "Yes," I answered, laughing. "It was a singular document. Philosophy, astronomy, and politics were marked at zero, I remember. Botany variable, geology profound as regards the mud-stains from any region within fifty miles of town, chemistry eccentric, anatomy unsystematic, sensational literature and crime records unique, violin-player, boxer, swordsman, lawyer, and self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco. Those, I think, were the main points of my analysis." Holmes grinned at the last item. "Well," he said, "I say now, as I said then, that a man should keep his little brain-attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it. Now, for such a case as the one which has been submitted to us to-night, we need certainly to muster all our resources. Kindly hand me down the letter K of the 'American Encyclopaedia' which stands upon the shelf beside you. Thank you. Now let us consider the situation and see what may be deduced from it. In the first place, we may start with a strong presumption that Colonel Openshaw had some very strong reason for leaving America. Men at his time of life do not change all their habits and exchange willingly the charming climate of Florida for the lonely life of an English provincial town. His extreme love of solitude in England suggests the idea that he was in fear of someone or something, so we may assume as a working hypothesis that it was fear of someone or something which drove him from America. As to what it was he feared, we can only deduce that by considering the formidable letters which were received by himself and his successors. Did you remark the postmarks of those letters?" "The first was from Pondicherry, the second from Dundee, and the third from London." "From East London. What do you deduce from that?" "They are all seaports. That the writer was on board of a ship." "Excellent. We have already a clue. There can be no doubt that the probability--the strong probability--is that the writer was on board of a ship. And now let us consider another point. In the case of Pondicherry, seven weeks elapsed between the threat and its fulfilment, in Dundee it was only some three or four days. Does that suggest anything?" "A greater distance to travel." "But the letter had also a greater distance to come." "Then I do not see the point." "There is at least a presumption that the vessel in which the man or men are is a sailing-ship. It looks as if they always send their singular warning or token before them when starting upon their mission. You see how quickly the deed followed the sign when it came from Dundee. If they had come from Pondicherry in a steamer they would have arrived almost as soon as their letter. But, as a matter of fact, seven weeks elapsed. I think that those seven weeks represented the difference between the mail-boat which brought the letter and the sailing vessel which brought the writer." "It is possible." "More than that. It is probable. And now you see the deadly urgency of this new case, and why I urged young Openshaw to caution. The blow has always fallen at the end of the time which it would take the senders to travel the distance. But this one comes from London, and therefore we cannot count upon delay." "Good God!" I cried. "What can it mean, this relentless persecution?" "The papers which Openshaw carried are obviously of vital importance to the person or persons in the sailing-ship. I think that it is quite clear that there must be more than one of them. A single man could not have carried out two deaths in such a way as to deceive a coroner's jury. There must have been several in it, and they must have been men of resource and determination. Their papers they mean to have, be the holder of them who it may. In this way you see K. K. K. ceases to be the initials of an individual and becomes the badge of a society." "But of what society?" "Have you never--" said Sherlock Holmes, bending forward and sinking his voice--"have you never heard of the Ku Klux Klan?" "I never have." Holmes turned over the leaves of the book upon his knee. "Here it is," said he presently: "'Ku Klux Klan. A name derived from the fanciful resemblance to the sound produced by cocking a rifle. This terrible secret society was formed by some ex-Confederate soldiers in the Southern states after the Civil War, and it rapidly formed local branches in different parts of the country, notably in Tennessee, Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Its power was used for political purposes, principally for the terrorising of the negro voters and the murdering and driving from the country of those who were opposed to its views. Its outrages were usually preceded by a warning sent to the marked man in some fantastic but generally recognised shape--a sprig of oak-leaves in some parts, melon seeds or orange pips in others. On receiving this the victim might either openly abjure his former ways, or might fly from the country. If he braved the matter out, death would unfailingly come upon him, and usually in some strange and unforeseen manner. So perfect was the organisation of the society, and so systematic its methods, that there is hardly a case upon record where any man succeeded in braving it with impunity, or in which any of its outrages were traced home to the perpetrators. For some years the organisation flourished in spite of the efforts of the United States government and of the better classes of the community in the South. Eventually, in the year 1869, the movement rather suddenly collapsed, although there have been sporadic outbreaks of the same sort since that date.' "You will observe," said Holmes, laying down the volume, "that the sudden breaking up of the society was coincident with the disappearance of Openshaw from America with their papers. It may well have been cause and effect. It is no wonder that he and his family have some of the more implacable spirits upon their track. You can understand that this register and diary may implicate some of the first men in the South, and that there may be many who will not sleep easy at night until it is recovered." "Then the page we have seen--" "Is such as we might expect. It ran, if I remember right, 'sent the pips to A, B, and C'--that is, sent the society's warning to them. Then there are successive entries that A and B cleared, or left the country, and finally that C was visited, with, I fear, a sinister result for C. Well, I think, Doctor, that we may let some light into this dark place, and I believe that the only chance young Openshaw has in the meantime is to do what I have told him. There is nothing more to be said or to be done to-night, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellow-men." It had cleared in the morning, and the sun was shining with a subdued brightness through the dim veil which hangs over the great city. Sherlock Holmes was already at breakfast when I came down. "You will excuse me for not waiting for you," said he; "I have, I foresee, a very busy day before me in looking into this case of young Openshaw's." "What steps will you take?" I asked. "It will very much depend upon the results of my first inquiries. I may have to go down to Horsham, after all." "You will not go there first?" "No, I shall commence with the City. Just ring the bell and the maid will bring up your coffee." As I waited, I lifted the unopened newspaper from the table and glanced my eye over it. It rested upon a heading which sent a chill to my heart. "Holmes," I cried, "you are too late." "Ah!" said he, laying down his cup, "I feared as much. How was it done?" He spoke calmly, but I could see that he was deeply moved. "My eye caught the name of Openshaw, and the heading 'Tragedy Near Waterloo Bridge.' Here is the account: "Between nine and ten last night Police-Constable Cook, of the H Division, on duty near Waterloo Bridge, heard a cry for help and a splash in the water. The night, however, was extremely dark and stormy, so that, in spite of the help of several passers-by, it was quite impossible to effect a rescue. The alarm, however, was given, and, by the aid of the water-police, the body was eventually recovered. It proved to be that of a young gentleman whose name, as it appears from an envelope which was found in his pocket, was John Openshaw, and whose residence is near Horsham. It is conjectured that he may have been hurrying down to catch the last train from Waterloo Station, and that in his haste and the extreme darkness he missed his path and walked over the edge of one of the small landing-places for river steamboats. The body exhibited no traces of violence, and there can be no doubt that the deceased had been the victim of an unfortunate accident, which should have the effect of calling the attention of the authorities to the condition of the riverside landing-stages." We sat in silence for some minutes, Holmes more depressed and shaken than I had ever seen him. "That hurts my pride, Watson," he said at last. "It is a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang. That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death--!" He sprang from his chair and paced about the room in uncontrollable agitation, with a flush upon his sallow cheeks and a nervous clasping and unclasping of his long thin hands. "They must be cunning devils," he exclaimed at last. "How could they have decoyed him down there? The Embankment is not on the direct line to the station. The bridge, no doubt, was too crowded, even on such a night, for their purpose. Well, Watson, we shall see who will win in the long run. I am going out now!" "To the police?" "No; I shall be my own police. When I have spun the web they may take the flies, but not before." All day I was engaged in my professional work, and it was late in the evening before I returned to Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes had not come back yet. It was nearly ten o'clock before he entered, looking pale and worn. He walked up to the sideboard, and tearing a piece from the loaf he devoured it voraciously, washing it down with a long draught of water. "You are hungry," I remarked. "Starving. It had escaped my memory. I have had nothing since breakfast." "Nothing?" "Not a bite. I had no time to think of it." "And how have you succeeded?" "Well." "You have a clue?" "I have them in the hollow of my hand. Young Openshaw shall not long remain unavenged. Why, Watson, let us put their own devilish trade-mark upon them. It is well thought of!" "What do you mean?" He took an orange from the cupboard, and tearing it to pieces he squeezed out the pips upon the table. Of these he took five and thrust them into an envelope. On the inside of the flap he wrote "S. H. for J. O." Then he sealed it and addressed it to "Captain James Calhoun, Barque 'Lone Star,' Savannah, Georgia." "That will await him when he enters port," said he, chuckling. "It may give him a sleepless night. He will find it as sure a precursor of his fate as Openshaw did before him." "And who is this Captain Calhoun?" "The leader of the gang. I shall have the others, but he first." "How did you trace it, then?" He took a large sheet of paper from his pocket, all covered with dates and names. "I have spent the whole day," said he, "over Lloyd's registers and files of the old papers, following the future career of every vessel which touched at Pondicherry in January and February in '83. There were thirty-six ships of fair tonnage which were reported there during those months. Of these, one, the 'Lone Star,' instantly attracted my attention, since, although it was reported as having cleared from London, the name is that which is given to one of the states of the Union." "Texas, I think." "I was not and am not sure which; but I knew that the ship must have an American origin." "What then?" "I searched the Dundee records, and when I found that the barque 'Lone Star' was there in January, '85, my suspicion became a certainty. I then inquired as to the vessels which lay at present in the port of London." "Yes?" "The 'Lone Star' had arrived here last week. I went down to the Albert Dock and found that she had been taken down the river by the early tide this morning, homeward bound to Savannah. I wired to Gravesend and learned that she had passed some time ago, and as the wind is easterly I have no doubt that she is now past the Goodwins and not very far from the Isle of Wight." "What will you do, then?" "Oh, I have my hand upon him. He and the two mates, are as I learn, the only native-born Americans in the ship. The others are Finns and Germans. I know, also, that they were all three away from the ship last night. I had it from the stevedore who has been loading their cargo. By the time that their sailing-ship reaches Savannah the mail-boat will have carried this letter, and the cable will have informed the police of Savannah that these three gentlemen are badly wanted here upon a charge of murder." There is ever a flaw, however, in the best laid of human plans, and the murderers of John Openshaw were never to receive the orange pips which would show them that another, as cunning and as resolute as themselves, was upon their track. Very long and very severe were the equinoctial gales that year. We waited long for news of the "Lone Star" of Savannah, but none ever reached us. We did at last hear that somewhere far out in the Atlantic a shattered stern-post of a boat was seen swinging in the trough of a wave, with the letters "L. S." carved upon it, and that is all which we shall ever know of the fate of the "Lone Star." ADVENTURE VI. THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal of the Theological College of St. George's, was much addicted to opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De Quincey's description of his dreams and sensations, he had drenched his tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see him now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble man. One night--it was in June, '89--there came a ring to my bell, about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at the clock. I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment. "A patient!" said she. "You'll have to go out." I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day. We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps upon the linoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in some dark-coloured stuff, with a black veil, entered the room. "You will excuse my calling so late," she began, and then, suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms about my wife's neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. "Oh, I'm in such trouble!" she cried; "I do so want a little help." "Why," said my wife, pulling up her veil, "it is Kate Whitney. How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when you came in." "I didn't know what to do, so I came straight to you." That was always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a light-house. "It was very sweet of you to come. Now, you must have some wine and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it. Or should you rather that I sent James off to bed?" "Oh, no, no! I want the doctor's advice and help, too. It's about Isa. He has not been home for two days. I am so frightened about him!" It was not the first time that she had spoken to us of her husband's trouble, to me as a doctor, to my wife as an old friend and school companion. We soothed and comforted her by such words as we could find. Did she know where her husband was? Was it possible that we could bring him back to her? It seems that it was. She had the surest information that of late he had, when the fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the farthest east of the City. Hitherto his orgies had always been confined to one day, and he had come back, twitching and shattered, in the evening. But now the spell had been upon him eight-and-forty hours, and he lay there, doubtless among the dregs of the docks, breathing in the poison or sleeping off the effects. There he was to be found, she was sure of it, at the Bar of Gold, in Upper Swandam Lane. But what was she to do? How could she, a young and timid woman, make her way into such a place and pluck her husband out from among the ruffians who surrounded him? There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of it. Might I not escort her to this place? And then, as a second thought, why should she come at all? I was Isa Whitney's medical adviser, and as such I had influence over him. I could manage it better if I were alone. I promised her on my word that I would send him home in a cab within two hours if he were indeed at the address which she had given me. And so in ten minutes I had left my armchair and cheery sitting-room behind me, and was speeding eastward in a hansom on a strange errand, as it seemed to me at the time, though the future only could show how strange it was to be. But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my adventure. Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the high wharves which line the north side of the river to the east of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search. Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like the forecastle of an emigrant ship. Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low, monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbour. At the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon his knees, staring into the fire. As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth. "Thank you. I have not come to stay," said I. "There is a friend of mine here, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him." There was a movement and an exclamation from my right, and peering through the gloom, I saw Whitney, pale, haggard, and unkempt, staring out at me. "My God! It's Watson," said he. He was in a pitiable state of reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. "I say, Watson, what o'clock is it?" "Nearly eleven." "Of what day?" "Of Friday, June 19th." "Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday. What d'you want to frighten a chap for?" He sank his face onto his arms and began to sob in a high treble key. "I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!" "So I am. But you've got mixed, Watson, for I have only been here a few hours, three pipes, four pipes--I forget how many. But I'll go home with you. I wouldn't frighten Kate--poor little Kate. Give me your hand! Have you a cab?" "Yes, I have one waiting." "Then I shall go in it. But I must owe something. Find what I owe, Watson. I am all off colour. I can do nothing for myself." I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying fumes of the drug, and looking about for the manager. As I passed the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt a sudden pluck at my skirt, and a low voice whispered, "Walk past me, and then look back at me." The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I glanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes. He made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as he turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided into a doddering, loose-lipped senility. "Holmes!" I whispered, "what on earth are you doing in this den?" "As low as you can," he answered; "I have excellent ears. If you would have the great kindness to get rid of that sottish friend of yours I should be exceedingly glad to have a little talk with you." "I have a cab outside." "Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him, for he appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should recommend you also to send a note by the cabman to your wife to say that you have thrown in your lot with me. If you will wait outside, I shall be with you in five minutes." It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes' requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery. I felt, however, that when Whitney was once confined in the cab my mission was practically accomplished; and for the rest, I could not wish anything better than to be associated with my friend in one of those singular adventures which were the normal condition of his existence. In a few minutes I had written my note, paid Whitney's bill, led him out to the cab, and seen him driven through the darkness. In a very short time a decrepit figure had emerged from the opium den, and I was walking down the street with Sherlock Holmes. For two streets he shuffled along with a bent back and an uncertain foot. Then, glancing quickly round, he straightened himself out and burst into a hearty fit of laughter. "I suppose, Watson," said he, "that you imagine that I have added opium-smoking to cocaine injections, and all the other little weaknesses on which you have favoured me with your medical views." "I was certainly surprised to find you there." "But not more so than I to find you." "I came to find a friend." "And I to find an enemy." "An enemy?" "Yes; one of my natural enemies, or, shall I say, my natural prey. Briefly, Watson, I am in the midst of a very remarkable inquiry, and I have hoped to find a clue in the incoherent ramblings of these sots, as I have done before now. Had I been recognised in that den my life would not have been worth an hour's purchase; for I have used it before now for my own purposes, and the rascally Lascar who runs it has sworn to have vengeance upon me. There is a trap-door at the back of that building, near the corner of Paul's Wharf, which could tell some strange tales of what has passed through it upon the moonless nights." "What! You do not mean bodies?" "Ay, bodies, Watson. We should be rich men if we had 1000 pounds for every poor devil who has been done to death in that den. It is the vilest murder-trap on the whole riverside, and I fear that Neville St. Clair has entered it never to leave it more. But our trap should be here." He put his two forefingers between his teeth and whistled shrilly--a signal which was answered by a similar whistle from the distance, followed shortly by the rattle of wheels and the clink of horses' hoofs. "Now, Watson," said Holmes, as a tall dog-cart dashed up through the gloom, throwing out two golden tunnels of yellow light from its side lanterns. "You'll come with me, won't you?" "If I can be of use." "Oh, a trusty comrade is always of use; and a chronicler still more so. My room at The Cedars is a double-bedded one." "The Cedars?" "Yes; that is Mr. St. Clair's house. I am staying there while I conduct the inquiry." "Where is it, then?" "Near Lee, in Kent. We have a seven-mile drive before us." "But I am all in the dark." "Of course you are. You'll know all about it presently. Jump up here. All right, John; we shall not need you. Here's half a crown. Look out for me to-morrow, about eleven. Give her her head. So long, then!" He flicked the horse with his whip, and we dashed away through the endless succession of sombre and deserted streets, which widened gradually, until we were flying across a broad balustraded bridge, with the murky river flowing sluggishly beneath us. Beyond lay another dull wilderness of bricks and mortar, its silence broken only by the heavy, regular footfall of the policeman, or the songs and shouts of some belated party of revellers. A dull wrack was drifting slowly across the sky, and a star or two twinkled dimly here and there through the rifts of the clouds. Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon his breast, and the air of a man who is lost in thought, while I sat beside him, curious to learn what this new quest might be which seemed to tax his powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in upon the current of his thoughts. We had driven several miles, and were beginning to get to the fringe of the belt of suburban villas, when he shook himself, shrugged his shoulders, and lit up his pipe with the air of a man who has satisfied himself that he is acting for the best. "You have a grand gift of silence, Watson," said he. "It makes you quite invaluable as a companion. 'Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant. I was wondering what I should say to this dear little woman to-night when she meets me at the door." "You forget that I know nothing about it." "I shall just have time to tell you the facts of the case before we get to Lee. It seems absurdly simple, and yet, somehow I can get nothing to go upon. There's plenty of thread, no doubt, but I can't get the end of it into my hand. Now, I'll state the case clearly and concisely to you, Watson, and maybe you can see a spark where all is dark to me." "Proceed, then." "Some years ago--to be definite, in May, 1884--there came to Lee a gentleman, Neville St. Clair by name, who appeared to have plenty of money. He took a large villa, laid out the grounds very nicely, and lived generally in good style. By degrees he made friends in the neighbourhood, and in 1887 he married the daughter of a local brewer, by whom he now has two children. He had no occupation, but was interested in several companies and went into town as a rule in the morning, returning by the 5:14 from Cannon Street every night. Mr. St. Clair is now thirty-seven years of age, is a man of temperate habits, a good husband, a very affectionate father, and a man who is popular with all who know him. I may add that his whole debts at the present moment, as far as we have been able to ascertain, amount to 88 pounds 10s., while he has 220 pounds standing to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank. There is no reason, therefore, to think that money troubles have been weighing upon his mind. "Last Monday Mr. Neville St. Clair went into town rather earlier than usual, remarking before he started that he had two important commissions to perform, and that he would bring his little boy home a box of bricks. Now, by the merest chance, his wife received a telegram upon this same Monday, very shortly after his departure, to the effect that a small parcel of considerable value which she had been expecting was waiting for her at the offices of the Aberdeen Shipping Company. Now, if you are well up in your London, you will know that the office of the company is in Fresno Street, which branches out of Upper Swandam Lane, where you found me to-night. Mrs. St. Clair had her lunch, started for the City, did some shopping, proceeded to the company's office, got her packet, and found herself at exactly 4:35 walking through Swandam Lane on her way back to the station. Have you followed me so far?" "It is very clear." "If you remember, Monday was an exceedingly hot day, and Mrs. St. Clair walked slowly, glancing about in the hope of seeing a cab, as she did not like the neighbourhood in which she found herself. While she was walking in this way down Swandam Lane, she suddenly heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see her husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoning to her from a second-floor window. The window was open, and she distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being terribly agitated. He waved his hands frantically to her, and then vanished from the window so suddenly that it seemed to her that he had been plucked back by some irresistible force from behind. One singular point which struck her quick feminine eye was that although he wore some dark coat, such as he had started to town in, he had on neither collar nor necktie. "Convinced that something was amiss with him, she rushed down the steps--for the house was none other than the opium den in which you found me to-night--and running through the front room she attempted to ascend the stairs which led to the first floor. At the foot of the stairs, however, she met this Lascar scoundrel of whom I have spoken, who thrust her back and, aided by a Dane, who acts as assistant there, pushed her out into the street. Filled with the most maddening doubts and fears, she rushed down the lane and, by rare good-fortune, met in Fresno Street a number of constables with an inspector, all on their way to their beat. The inspector and two men accompanied her back, and in spite of the continued resistance of the proprietor, they made their way to the room in which Mr. St. Clair had last been seen. There was no sign of him there. In fact, in the whole of that floor there was no one to be found save a crippled wretch of hideous aspect, who, it seems, made his home there. Both he and the Lascar stoutly swore that no one else had been in the front room during the afternoon. So determined was their denial that the inspector was staggered, and had almost come to believe that Mrs. St. Clair had been deluded when, with a cry, she sprang at a small deal box which lay upon the table and tore the lid from it. Out there fell a cascade of children's bricks. It was the toy which he had promised to bring home. "This discovery, and the evident confusion which the cripple showed, made the inspector realise that the matter was serious. The rooms were carefully examined, and results all pointed to an abominable crime. The front room was plainly furnished as a sitting-room and led into a small bedroom, which looked out upon the back of one of the wharves. Between the wharf and the bedroom window is a narrow strip, which is dry at low tide but is covered at high tide with at least four and a half feet of water. The bedroom window was a broad one and opened from below. On examination traces of blood were to be seen upon the windowsill, and several scattered drops were visible upon the wooden floor of the bedroom. Thrust away behind a curtain in the front room were all the clothes of Mr. Neville St. Clair, with the exception of his coat. His boots, his socks, his hat, and his watch--all were there. There were no signs of violence upon any of these garments, and there were no other traces of Mr. Neville St. Clair. Out of the window he must apparently have gone for no other exit could be discovered, and the ominous bloodstains upon the sill gave little promise that he could save himself by swimming, for the tide was at its very highest at the moment of the tragedy. "And now as to the villains who seemed to be immediately implicated in the matter. The Lascar was known to be a man of the vilest antecedents, but as, by Mrs. St. Clair's story, he was known to have been at the foot of the stair within a very few seconds of her husband's appearance at the window, he could hardly have been more than an accessory to the crime. His defence was one of absolute ignorance, and he protested that he had no knowledge as to the doings of Hugh Boone, his lodger, and that he could not account in any way for the presence of the missing gentleman's clothes. "So much for the Lascar manager. Now for the sinister cripple who lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was certainly the last human being whose eyes rested upon Neville St. Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and his hideous face is one which is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. He is a professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations he pretends to a small trade in wax vestas. Some little distance down Threadneedle Street, upon the left-hand side, there is, as you may have remarked, a small angle in the wall. Here it is that this creature takes his daily seat, cross-legged with his tiny stock of matches on his lap, and as he is a piteous spectacle a small rain of charity descends into the greasy leather cap which lies upon the pavement beside him. I have watched the fellow more than once before ever I thought of making his professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him. A shock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bulldog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular contrast to the colour of his hair, all mark him out from amid the common crowd of mendicants and so, too, does his wit, for he is ever ready with a reply to any piece of chaff which may be thrown at him by the passers-by. This is the man whom we now learn to have been the lodger at the opium den, and to have been the last man to see the gentleman of whom we are in quest." "But a cripple!" said I. "What could he have done single-handed against a man in the prime of life?" "He is a cripple in the sense that he walks with a limp; but in other respects he appears to be a powerful and well-nurtured man. Surely your medical experience would tell you, Watson, that weakness in one limb is often compensated for by exceptional strength in the others." "Pray continue your narrative." "Mrs. St. Clair had fainted at the sight of the blood upon the window, and she was escorted home in a cab by the police, as her presence could be of no help to them in their investigations. Inspector Barton, who had charge of the case, made a very careful examination of the premises, but without finding anything which threw any light upon the matter. One mistake had been made in not arresting Boone instantly, as he was allowed some few minutes during which he might have communicated with his friend the Lascar, but this fault was soon remedied, and he was seized and searched, without anything being found which could incriminate him. There were, it is true, some blood-stains upon his right shirt-sleeve, but he pointed to his ring-finger, which had been cut near the nail, and explained that the bleeding came from there, adding that he had been to the window not long before, and that the stains which had been observed there came doubtless from the same source. He denied strenuously having ever seen Mr. Neville St. Clair and swore that the presence of the clothes in his room was as much a mystery to him as to the police. As to Mrs. St. Clair's assertion that she had actually seen her husband at the window, he declared that she must have been either mad or dreaming. He was removed, loudly protesting, to the police-station, while the inspector remained upon the premises in the hope that the ebbing tide might afford some fresh clue. "And it did, though they hardly found upon the mud-bank what they had feared to find. It was Neville St. Clair's coat, and not Neville St. Clair, which lay uncovered as the tide receded. And what do you think they found in the pockets?" "I cannot imagine." "No, I don't think you would guess. Every pocket stuffed with pennies and half-pennies--421 pennies and 270 half-pennies. It was no wonder that it had not been swept away by the tide. But a human body is a different matter. There is a fierce eddy between the wharf and the house. It seemed likely enough that the weighted coat had remained when the stripped body had been sucked away into the river." "But I understand that all the other clothes were found in the room. Would the body be dressed in a coat alone?" "No, sir, but the facts might be met speciously enough. Suppose that this man Boone had thrust Neville St. Clair through the window, there is no human eye which could have seen the deed. What would he do then? It would of course instantly strike him that he must get rid of the tell-tale garments. He would seize the coat, then, and be in the act of throwing it out, when it would occur to him that it would swim and not sink. He has little time, for he has heard the scuffle downstairs when the wife tried to force her way up, and perhaps he has already heard from his Lascar confederate that the police are hurrying up the street. There is not an instant to be lost. He rushes to some secret hoard, where he has accumulated the fruits of his beggary, and he stuffs all the coins upon which he can lay his hands into the pockets to make sure of the coat's sinking. He throws it out, and would have done the same with the other garments had not he heard the rush of steps below, and only just had time to close the window when the police appeared." "It certainly sounds feasible." "Well, we will take it as a working hypothesis for want of a better. Boone, as I have told you, was arrested and taken to the station, but it could not be shown that there had ever before been anything against him. He had for years been known as a professional beggar, but his life appeared to have been a very quiet and innocent one. There the matter stands at present, and the questions which have to be solved--what Neville St. Clair was doing in the opium den, what happened to him when there, where is he now, and what Hugh Boone had to do with his disappearance--are all as far from a solution as ever. I confess that I cannot recall any case within my experience which looked at the first glance so simple and yet which presented such difficulties." While Sherlock Holmes had been detailing this singular series of events, we had been whirling through the outskirts of the great town until the last straggling houses had been left behind, and we rattled along with a country hedge upon either side of us. Just as he finished, however, we drove through two scattered villages, where a few lights still glimmered in the windows. "We are on the outskirts of Lee," said my companion. "We have touched on three English counties in our short drive, starting in Middlesex, passing over an angle of Surrey, and ending in Kent. See that light among the trees? That is The Cedars, and beside that lamp sits a woman whose anxious ears have already, I have little doubt, caught the clink of our horse's feet." "But why are you not conducting the case from Baker Street?" I asked. "Because there are many inquiries which must be made out here. Mrs. St. Clair has most kindly put two rooms at my disposal, and you may rest assured that she will have nothing but a welcome for my friend and colleague. I hate to meet her, Watson, when I have no news of her husband. Here we are. Whoa, there, whoa!" We had pulled up in front of a large villa which stood within its own grounds. A stable-boy had run out to the horse's head, and springing down, I followed Holmes up the small, winding gravel-drive which led to the house. As we approached, the door flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing question. "Well?" she cried, "well?" And then, seeing that there were two of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "No good news?" "None." "No bad?" "No." "Thank God for that. But come in. You must be weary, for you have had a long day." "This is my friend, Dr. Watson. He has been of most vital use to me in several of my cases, and a lucky chance has made it possible for me to bring him out and associate him with this investigation." "I am delighted to see you," said she, pressing my hand warmly. "You will, I am sure, forgive anything that may be wanting in our arrangements, when you consider the blow which has come so suddenly upon us." "My dear madam," said I, "I am an old campaigner, and if I were not I can very well see that no apology is needed. If I can be of any assistance, either to you or to my friend here, I shall be indeed happy." "Now, Mr. Sherlock Holmes," said the lady as we entered a well-lit dining-room, upon the table of which a cold supper had been laid out, "I should very much like to ask you one or two plain questions, to which I beg that you will give a plain answer." "Certainly, madam." "Do not trouble about my feelings. I am not hysterical, nor given to fainting. I simply wish to hear your real, real opinion." "Upon what point?" "In your heart of hearts, do you think that Neville is alive?" Sherlock Holmes seemed to be embarrassed by the question. "Frankly, now!" she repeated, standing upon the rug and looking keenly down at him as he leaned back in a basket-chair. "Frankly, then, madam, I do not." "You think that he is dead?" "I do." "Murdered?" "I don't say that. Perhaps." "And on what day did he meet his death?" "On Monday." "Then perhaps, Mr. Holmes, you will be good enough to explain how it is that I have received a letter from him to-day." Sherlock Holmes sprang out of his chair as if he had been galvanised. "What!" he roared. "Yes, to-day." She stood smiling, holding up a little slip of paper in the air. "May I see it?" "Certainly." He snatched it from her in his eagerness, and smoothing it out upon the table he drew over the lamp and examined it intently. I had left my chair and was gazing at it over his shoulder. The envelope was a very coarse one and was stamped with the Gravesend postmark and with the date of that very day, or rather of the day before, for it was considerably after midnight. "Coarse writing," murmured Holmes. "Surely this is not your husband's writing, madam." "No, but the enclosure is." "I perceive also that whoever addressed the envelope had to go and inquire as to the address." "How can you tell that?" "The name, you see, is in perfectly black ink, which has dried itself. The rest is of the greyish colour, which shows that blotting-paper has been used. If it had been written straight off, and then blotted, none would be of a deep black shade. This man has written the name, and there has then been a pause before he wrote the address, which can only mean that he was not familiar with it. It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles. Let us now see the letter. Ha! there has been an enclosure here!" "Yes, there was a ring. His signet-ring." "And you are sure that this is your husband's hand?" "One of his hands." "One?" "His hand when he wrote hurriedly. It is very unlike his usual writing, and yet I know it well." "'Dearest do not be frightened. All will come well. There is a huge error which it may take some little time to rectify. Wait in patience.--NEVILLE.' Written in pencil upon the fly-leaf of a book, octavo size, no water-mark. Hum! Posted to-day in Gravesend by a man with a dirty thumb. Ha! And the flap has been gummed, if I am not very much in error, by a person who had been chewing tobacco. And you have no doubt that it is your husband's hand, madam?" "None. Neville wrote those words." "And they were posted to-day at Gravesend. Well, Mrs. St. Clair, the clouds lighten, though I should not venture to say that the danger is over." "But he must be alive, Mr. Holmes." "Unless this is a clever forgery to put us on the wrong scent. The ring, after all, proves nothing. It may have been taken from him." "No, no; it is, it is his very own writing!" "Very well. It may, however, have been written on Monday and only posted to-day." "That is possible." "If so, much may have happened between." "Oh, you must not discourage me, Mr. Holmes. I know that all is well with him. There is so keen a sympathy between us that I should know if evil came upon him. On the very day that I saw him last he cut himself in the bedroom, and yet I in the dining-room rushed upstairs instantly with the utmost certainty that something had happened. Do you think that I would respond to such a trifle and yet be ignorant of his death?" "I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner. And in this letter you certainly have a very strong piece of evidence to corroborate your view. But if your husband is alive and able to write letters, why should he remain away from you?" "I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable." "And on Monday he made no remarks before leaving you?" "No." "And you were surprised to see him in Swandam Lane?" "Very much so." "Was the window open?" "Yes." "Then he might have called to you?" "He might." "He only, as I understand, gave an inarticulate cry?" "Yes." "A call for help, you thought?" "Yes. He waved his hands." "But it might have been a cry of surprise. Astonishment at the unexpected sight of you might cause him to throw up his hands?" "It is possible." "And you thought he was pulled back?" "He disappeared so suddenly." "He might have leaped back. You did not see anyone else in the room?" "No, but this horrible man confessed to having been there, and the Lascar was at the foot of the stairs." "Quite so. Your husband, as far as you could see, had his ordinary clothes on?" "But without his collar or tie. I distinctly saw his bare throat." "Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?" "Never." "Had he ever showed any signs of having taken opium?" "Never." "Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are the principal points about which I wished to be absolutely clear. We shall now have a little supper and then retire, for we may have a very busy day to-morrow." A large and comfortable double-bedded room had been placed at our disposal, and I was quickly between the sheets, for I was weary after my night of adventure. Sherlock Holmes was a man, however, who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for days, and even for a week, without rest, turning it over, rearranging his facts, looking at it from every point of view until he had either fathomed it or convinced himself that his data were insufficient. It was soon evident to me that he was now preparing for an all-night sitting. He took off his coat and waistcoat, put on a large blue dressing-gown, and then wandered about the room collecting pillows from his bed and cushions from the sofa and armchairs. With these he constructed a sort of Eastern divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him, silent, motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night. "Awake, Watson?" he asked. "Yes." "Game for a morning drive?" "Certainly." "Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the stable-boy sleeps, and we shall soon have the trap out." He chuckled to himself as he spoke, his eyes twinkled, and he seemed a different man to the sombre thinker of the previous night. As I dressed I glanced at my watch. It was no wonder that no one was stirring. It was twenty-five minutes past four. I had hardly finished when Holmes returned with the news that the boy was putting in the horse. "I want to test a little theory of mine," said he, pulling on his boots. "I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now." "And where is it?" I asked, smiling. "In the bathroom," he answered. "Oh, yes, I am not joking," he continued, seeing my look of incredulity. "I have just been there, and I have taken it out, and I have got it in this Gladstone bag. Come on, my boy, and we shall see whether it will not fit the lock." We made our way downstairs as quietly as possible, and out into the bright morning sunshine. In the road stood our horse and trap, with the half-clad stable-boy waiting at the head. We both sprang in, and away we dashed down the London Road. A few country carts were stirring, bearing in vegetables to the metropolis, but the lines of villas on either side were as silent and lifeless as some city in a dream. "It has been in some points a singular case," said Holmes, flicking the horse on into a gallop. "I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all." In town the earliest risers were just beginning to look sleepily from their windows as we drove through the streets of the Surrey side. Passing down the Waterloo Bridge Road we crossed over the river, and dashing up Wellington Street wheeled sharply to the right and found ourselves in Bow Street. Sherlock Holmes was well known to the force, and the two constables at the door saluted him. One of them held the horse's head while the other led us in. "Who is on duty?" asked Holmes. "Inspector Bradstreet, sir." "Ah, Bradstreet, how are you?" A tall, stout official had come down the stone-flagged passage, in a peaked cap and frogged jacket. "I wish to have a quiet word with you, Bradstreet." "Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Step into my room here." It was a small, office-like room, with a huge ledger upon the table, and a telephone projecting from the wall. The inspector sat down at his desk. "What can I do for you, Mr. Holmes?" "I called about that beggarman, Boone--the one who was charged with being concerned in the disappearance of Mr. Neville St. Clair, of Lee." "Yes. He was brought up and remanded for further inquiries." "So I heard. You have him here?" "In the cells." "Is he quiet?" "Oh, he gives no trouble. But he is a dirty scoundrel." "Dirty?" "Yes, it is all we can do to make him wash his hands, and his face is as black as a tinker's. Well, when once his case has been settled, he will have a regular prison bath; and I think, if you saw him, you would agree with me that he needed it." "I should like to see him very much." "Would you? That is easily done. Come this way. You can leave your bag." "No, I think that I'll take it." "Very good. Come this way, if you please." He led us down a passage, opened a barred door, passed down a winding stair, and brought us to a whitewashed corridor with a line of doors on each side. "The third on the right is his," said the inspector. "Here it is!" He quietly shot back a panel in the upper part of the door and glanced through. "He is asleep," said he. "You can see him very well." We both put our eyes to the grating. The prisoner lay with his face towards us, in a very deep sleep, breathing slowly and heavily. He was a middle-sized man, coarsely clad as became his calling, with a coloured shirt protruding through the rent in his tattered coat. He was, as the inspector had said, extremely dirty, but the grime which covered his face could not conceal its repulsive ugliness. A broad wheal from an old scar ran right across it from eye to chin, and by its contraction had turned up one side of the upper lip, so that three teeth were exposed in a perpetual snarl. A shock of very bright red hair grew low over his eyes and forehead. "He's a beauty, isn't he?" said the inspector. "He certainly needs a wash," remarked Holmes. "I had an idea that he might, and I took the liberty of bringing the tools with me." He opened the Gladstone bag as he spoke, and took out, to my astonishment, a very large bath-sponge. "He! he! You are a funny one," chuckled the inspector. "Now, if you will have the great goodness to open that door very quietly, we will soon make him cut a much more respectable figure." "Well, I don't know why not," said the inspector. "He doesn't look a credit to the Bow Street cells, does he?" He slipped his key into the lock, and we all very quietly entered the cell. The sleeper half turned, and then settled down once more into a deep slumber. Holmes stooped to the water-jug, moistened his sponge, and then rubbed it twice vigorously across and down the prisoner's face. "Let me introduce you," he shouted, "to Mr. Neville St. Clair, of Lee, in the county of Kent." Never in my life have I seen such a sight. The man's face peeled off under the sponge like the bark from a tree. Gone was the coarse brown tint! Gone, too, was the horrid scar which had seamed it across, and the twisted lip which had given the repulsive sneer to the face! A twitch brought away the tangled red hair, and there, sitting up in his bed, was a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned, rubbing his eyes and staring about him with sleepy bewilderment. Then suddenly realising the exposure, he broke into a scream and threw himself down with his face to the pillow. "Great heavens!" cried the inspector, "it is, indeed, the missing man. I know him from the photograph." The prisoner turned with the reckless air of a man who abandons himself to his destiny. "Be it so," said he. "And pray what am I charged with?" "With making away with Mr. Neville St.-- Oh, come, you can't be charged with that unless they make a case of attempted suicide of it," said the inspector with a grin. "Well, I have been twenty-seven years in the force, but this really takes the cake." "If I am Mr. Neville St. Clair, then it is obvious that no crime has been committed, and that, therefore, I am illegally detained." "No crime, but a very great error has been committed," said Holmes. "You would have done better to have trusted you wife." "It was not the wife; it was the children," groaned the prisoner. "God help me, I would not have them ashamed of their father. My God! What an exposure! What can I do?" Sherlock Holmes sat down beside him on the couch and patted him kindly on the shoulder. "If you leave it to a court of law to clear the matter up," said he, "of course you can hardly avoid publicity. On the other hand, if you convince the police authorities that there is no possible case against you, I do not know that there is any reason that the details should find their way into the papers. Inspector Bradstreet would, I am sure, make notes upon anything which you might tell us and submit it to the proper authorities. The case would then never go into court at all." "God bless you!" cried the prisoner passionately. "I would have endured imprisonment, ay, even execution, rather than have left my miserable secret as a family blot to my children. "You are the first who have ever heard my story. My father was a schoolmaster in Chesterfield, where I received an excellent education. I travelled in my youth, took to the stage, and finally became a reporter on an evening paper in London. One day my editor wished to have a series of articles upon begging in the metropolis, and I volunteered to supply them. There was the point from which all my adventures started. It was only by trying begging as an amateur that I could get the facts upon which to base my articles. When an actor I had, of course, learned all the secrets of making up, and had been famous in the green-room for my skill. I took advantage now of my attainments. I painted my face, and to make myself as pitiable as possible I made a good scar and fixed one side of my lip in a twist by the aid of a small slip of flesh-coloured plaster. Then with a red head of hair, and an appropriate dress, I took my station in the business part of the city, ostensibly as a match-seller but really as a beggar. For seven hours I plied my trade, and when I returned home in the evening I found to my surprise that I had received no less than 26s. 4d. "I wrote my articles and thought little more of the matter until, some time later, I backed a bill for a friend and had a writ served upon me for 25 pounds. I was at my wit's end where to get the money, but a sudden idea came to me. I begged a fortnight's grace from the creditor, asked for a holiday from my employers, and spent the time in begging in the City under my disguise. In ten days I had the money and had paid the debt. "Well, you can imagine how hard it was to settle down to arduous work at 2 pounds a week when I knew that I could earn as much in a day by smearing my face with a little paint, laying my cap on the ground, and sitting still. It was a long fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and I threw up reporting and sat day after day in the corner which I had first chosen, inspiring pity by my ghastly face and filling my pockets with coppers. Only one man knew my secret. He was the keeper of a low den in which I used to lodge in Swandam Lane, where I could every morning emerge as a squalid beggar and in the evenings transform myself into a well-dressed man about town. This fellow, a Lascar, was well paid by me for his rooms, so that I knew that my secret was safe in his possession. "Well, very soon I found that I was saving considerable sums of money. I do not mean that any beggar in the streets of London could earn 700 pounds a year--which is less than my average takings--but I had exceptional advantages in my power of making up, and also in a facility of repartee, which improved by practice and made me quite a recognised character in the City. All day a stream of pennies, varied by silver, poured in upon me, and it was a very bad day in which I failed to take 2 pounds. "As I grew richer I grew more ambitious, took a house in the country, and eventually married, without anyone having a suspicion as to my real occupation. My dear wife knew that I had business in the City. She little knew what. "Last Monday I had finished for the day and was dressing in my room above the opium den when I looked out of my window and saw, to my horror and astonishment, that my wife was standing in the street, with her eyes fixed full upon me. I gave a cry of surprise, threw up my arms to cover my face, and, rushing to my confidant, the Lascar, entreated him to prevent anyone from coming up to me. I heard her voice downstairs, but I knew that she could not ascend. Swiftly I threw off my clothes, pulled on those of a beggar, and put on my pigments and wig. Even a wife's eyes could not pierce so complete a disguise. But then it occurred to me that there might be a search in the room, and that the clothes might betray me. I threw open the window, reopening by my violence a small cut which I had inflicted upon myself in the bedroom that morning. Then I seized my coat, which was weighted by the coppers which I had just transferred to it from the leather bag in which I carried my takings. I hurled it out of the window, and it disappeared into the Thames. The other clothes would have followed, but at that moment there was a rush of constables up the stair, and a few minutes after I found, rather, I confess, to my relief, that instead of being identified as Mr. Neville St. Clair, I was arrested as his murderer. "I do not know that there is anything else for me to explain. I was determined to preserve my disguise as long as possible, and hence my preference for a dirty face. Knowing that my wife would be terribly anxious, I slipped off my ring and confided it to the Lascar at a moment when no constable was watching me, together with a hurried scrawl, telling her that she had no cause to fear." "That note only reached her yesterday," said Holmes. "Good God! What a week she must have spent!" "The police have watched this Lascar," said Inspector Bradstreet, "and I can quite understand that he might find it difficult to post a letter unobserved. Probably he handed it to some sailor customer of his, who forgot all about it for some days." "That was it," said Holmes, nodding approvingly; "I have no doubt of it. But have you never been prosecuted for begging?" "Many times; but what was a fine to me?" "It must stop here, however," said Bradstreet. "If the police are to hush this thing up, there must be no more of Hugh Boone." "I have sworn it by the most solemn oaths which a man can take." "In that case I think that it is probable that no further steps may be taken. But if you are found again, then all must come out. I am sure, Mr. Holmes, that we are very much indebted to you for having cleared the matter up. I wish I knew how you reach your results." "I reached this one," said my friend, "by sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag. I think, Watson, that if we drive to Baker Street we shall just be in time for breakfast." VII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLUE CARBUNCLE I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown, a pipe-rack within his reach upon the right, and a pile of crumpled morning papers, evidently newly studied, near at hand. Beside the couch was a wooden chair, and on the angle of the back hung a very seedy and disreputable hard-felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places. A lens and a forceps lying upon the seat of the chair suggested that the hat had been suspended in this manner for the purpose of examination. "You are engaged," said I; "perhaps I interrupt you." "Not at all. I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one"--he jerked his thumb in the direction of the old hat--"but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of instruction." I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals. "I suppose," I remarked, "that, homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked on to it--that it is the clue which will guide you in the solution of some mystery and the punishment of some crime." "No, no. No crime," said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. "Only one of those whimsical little incidents which will happen when you have four million human beings all jostling each other within the space of a few square miles. Amid the action and reaction of so dense a swarm of humanity, every possible combination of events may be expected to take place, and many a little problem will be presented which may be striking and bizarre without being criminal. We have already had experience of such." "So much so," I remarked, "that of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime." "Precisely. You allude to my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers, to the singular case of Miss Mary Sutherland, and to the adventure of the man with the twisted lip. Well, I have no doubt that this small matter will fall into the same innocent category. You know Peterson, the commissionaire?" "Yes." "It is to him that this trophy belongs." "It is his hat." "No, no, he found it. Its owner is unknown. I beg that you will look upon it not as a battered billycock but as an intellectual problem. And, first, as to how it came here. It arrived upon Christmas morning, in company with a good fat goose, which is, I have no doubt, roasting at this moment in front of Peterson's fire. The facts are these: about four o'clock on Christmas morning, Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest fellow, was returning from some small jollification and was making his way homeward down Tottenham Court Road. In front of him he saw, in the gaslight, a tallish man, walking with a slight stagger, and carrying a white goose slung over his shoulder. As he reached the corner of Goodge Street, a row broke out between this stranger and a little knot of roughs. One of the latter knocked off the man's hat, on which he raised his stick to defend himself and, swinging it over his head, smashed the shop window behind him. Peterson had rushed forward to protect the stranger from his assailants; but the man, shocked at having broken the window, and seeing an official-looking person in uniform rushing towards him, dropped his goose, took to his heels, and vanished amid the labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham Court Road. The roughs had also fled at the appearance of Peterson, so that he was left in possession of the field of battle, and also of the spoils of victory in the shape of this battered hat and a most unimpeachable Christmas goose." "Which surely he restored to their owner?" "My dear fellow, there lies the problem. It is true that 'For Mrs. Henry Baker' was printed upon a small card which was tied to the bird's left leg, and it is also true that the initials 'H. B.' are legible upon the lining of this hat, but as there are some thousands of Bakers, and some hundreds of Henry Bakers in this city of ours, it is not easy to restore lost property to any one of them." "What, then, did Peterson do?" "He brought round both hat and goose to me on Christmas morning, knowing that even the smallest problems are of interest to me. The goose we retained until this morning, when there were signs that, in spite of the slight frost, it would be well that it should be eaten without unnecessary delay. Its finder has carried it off, therefore, to fulfil the ultimate destiny of a goose, while I continue to retain the hat of the unknown gentleman who lost his Christmas dinner." "Did he not advertise?" "No." "Then, what clue could you have as to his identity?" "Only as much as we can deduce." "From his hat?" "Precisely." "But you are joking. What can you gather from this old battered felt?" "Here is my lens. You know my methods. What can you gather yourself as to the individuality of the man who has worn this article?" I took the tattered object in my hands and turned it over rather ruefully. It was a very ordinary black hat of the usual round shape, hard and much the worse for wear. The lining had been of red silk, but was a good deal discoloured. There was no maker's name; but, as Holmes had remarked, the initials "H. B." were scrawled upon one side. It was pierced in the brim for a hat-securer, but the elastic was missing. For the rest, it was cracked, exceedingly dusty, and spotted in several places, although there seemed to have been some attempt to hide the discoloured patches by smearing them with ink. "I can see nothing," said I, handing it back to my friend. "On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences." "Then, pray tell me what it is that you can infer from this hat?" He picked it up and gazed at it in the peculiar introspective fashion which was characteristic of him. "It is perhaps less suggestive than it might have been," he remarked, "and yet there are a few inferences which are very distinct, and a few others which represent at least a strong balance of probability. That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral retrogression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account also for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him." "My dear Holmes!" "He has, however, retained some degree of self-respect," he continued, disregarding my remonstrance. "He is a man who leads a sedentary life, goes out little, is out of training entirely, is middle-aged, has grizzled hair which he has had cut within the last few days, and which he anoints with lime-cream. These are the more patent facts which are to be deduced from his hat. Also, by the way, that it is extremely improbable that he has gas laid on in his house." "You are certainly joking, Holmes." "Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you these results, you are unable to see how they are attained?" "I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you. For example, how did you deduce that this man was intellectual?" For answer Holmes clapped the hat upon his head. It came right over the forehead and settled upon the bridge of his nose. "It is a question of cubic capacity," said he; "a man with so large a brain must have something in it." "The decline of his fortunes, then?" "This hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality. Look at the band of ribbed silk and the excellent lining. If this man could afford to buy so expensive a hat three years ago, and has had no hat since, then he has assuredly gone down in the world." "Well, that is clear enough, certainly. But how about the foresight and the moral retrogression?" Sherlock Holmes laughed. "Here is the foresight," said he putting his finger upon the little disc and loop of the hat-securer. "They are never sold upon hats. If this man ordered one, it is a sign of a certain amount of foresight, since he went out of his way to take this precaution against the wind. But since we see that he has broken the elastic and has not troubled to replace it, it is obvious that he has less foresight now than formerly, which is a distinct proof of a weakening nature. On the other hand, he has endeavoured to conceal some of these stains upon the felt by daubing them with ink, which is a sign that he has not entirely lost his self-respect." "Your reasoning is certainly plausible." "The further points, that he is middle-aged, that his hair is grizzled, that it has been recently cut, and that he uses lime-cream, are all to be gathered from a close examination of the lower part of the lining. The lens discloses a large number of hair-ends, clean cut by the scissors of the barber. They all appear to be adhesive, and there is a distinct odour of lime-cream. This dust, you will observe, is not the gritty, grey dust of the street but the fluffy brown dust of the house, showing that it has been hung up indoors most of the time, while the marks of moisture upon the inside are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training." "But his wife--you said that she had ceased to love him." "This hat has not been brushed for weeks. When I see you, my dear Watson, with a week's accumulation of dust upon your hat, and when your wife allows you to go out in such a state, I shall fear that you also have been unfortunate enough to lose your wife's affection." "But he might be a bachelor." "Nay, he was bringing home the goose as a peace-offering to his wife. Remember the card upon the bird's leg." "You have an answer to everything. But how on earth do you deduce that the gas is not laid on in his house?" "One tallow stain, or even two, might come by chance; but when I see no less than five, I think that there can be little doubt that the individual must be brought into frequent contact with burning tallow--walks upstairs at night probably with his hat in one hand and a guttering candle in the other. Anyhow, he never got tallow-stains from a gas-jet. Are you satisfied?" "Well, it is very ingenious," said I, laughing; "but since, as you said just now, there has been no crime committed, and no harm done save the loss of a goose, all this seems to be rather a waste of energy." Sherlock Holmes had opened his mouth to reply, when the door flew open, and Peterson, the commissionaire, rushed into the apartment with flushed cheeks and the face of a man who is dazed with astonishment. "The goose, Mr. Holmes! The goose, sir!" he gasped. "Eh? What of it, then? Has it returned to life and flapped off through the kitchen window?" Holmes twisted himself round upon the sofa to get a fairer view of the man's excited face. "See here, sir! See what my wife found in its crop!" He held out his hand and displayed upon the centre of the palm a brilliantly scintillating blue stone, rather smaller than a bean in size, but of such purity and radiance that it twinkled like an electric point in the dark hollow of his hand. Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. "By Jove, Peterson!" said he, "this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you have got?" "A diamond, sir? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it were putty." "It's more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone." "Not the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle!" I ejaculated. "Precisely so. I ought to know its size and shape, seeing that I have read the advertisement about it in The Times every day lately. It is absolutely unique, and its value can only be conjectured, but the reward offered of 1000 pounds is certainly not within a twentieth part of the market price." "A thousand pounds! Great Lord of mercy!" The commissionaire plumped down into a chair and stared from one to the other of us. "That is the reward, and I have reason to know that there are sentimental considerations in the background which would induce the Countess to part with half her fortune if she could but recover the gem." "It was lost, if I remember aright, at the Hotel Cosmopolitan," I remarked. "Precisely so, on December 22nd, just five days ago. John Horner, a plumber, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady's jewel-case. The evidence against him was so strong that the case has been referred to the Assizes. I have some account of the matter here, I believe." He rummaged amid his newspapers, glancing over the dates, until at last he smoothed one out, doubled it over, and read the following paragraph: "Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Robbery. John Horner, 26, plumber, was brought up upon the charge of having upon the 22nd inst., abstracted from the jewel-case of the Countess of Morcar the valuable gem known as the blue carbuncle. James Ryder, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to the effect that he had shown Horner up to the dressing-room of the Countess of Morcar upon the day of the robbery in order that he might solder the second bar of the grate, which was loose. He had remained with Horner some little time, but had finally been called away. On returning, he found that Horner had disappeared, that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small morocco casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, the Countess was accustomed to keep her jewel, was lying empty upon the dressing-table. Ryder instantly gave the alarm, and Horner was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not be found either upon his person or in his rooms. Catherine Cusack, maid to the Countess, deposed to having heard Ryder's cry of dismay on discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where she found matters as described by the last witness. Inspector Bradstreet, B division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Horner, who struggled frantically, and protested his innocence in the strongest terms. Evidence of a previous conviction for robbery having been given against the prisoner, the magistrate refused to deal summarily with the offence, but referred it to the Assizes. Horner, who had shown signs of intense emotion during the proceedings, fainted away at the conclusion and was carried out of court." "Hum! So much for the police-court," said Holmes thoughtfully, tossing aside the paper. "The question for us now to solve is the sequence of events leading from a rifled jewel-case at one end to the crop of a goose in Tottenham Court Road at the other. You see, Watson, our little deductions have suddenly assumed a much more important and less innocent aspect. Here is the stone; the stone came from the goose, and the goose came from Mr. Henry Baker, the gentleman with the bad hat and all the other characteristics with which I have bored you. So now we must set ourselves very seriously to finding this gentleman and ascertaining what part he has played in this little mystery. To do this, we must try the simplest means first, and these lie undoubtedly in an advertisement in all the evening papers. If this fail, I shall have recourse to other methods." "What will you say?" "Give me a pencil and that slip of paper. Now, then: 'Found at the corner of Goodge Street, a goose and a black felt hat. Mr. Henry Baker can have the same by applying at 6:30 this evening at 221B, Baker Street.' That is clear and concise." "Very. But will he see it?" "Well, he is sure to keep an eye on the papers, since, to a poor man, the loss was a heavy one. He was clearly so scared by his mischance in breaking the window and by the approach of Peterson that he thought of nothing but flight, but since then he must have bitterly regretted the impulse which caused him to drop his bird. Then, again, the introduction of his name will cause him to see it, for everyone who knows him will direct his attention to it. Here you are, Peterson, run down to the advertising agency and have this put in the evening papers." "In which, sir?" "Oh, in the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St. James's, Evening News, Standard, Echo, and any others that occur to you." "Very well, sir. And this stone?" "Ah, yes, I shall keep the stone. Thank you. And, I say, Peterson, just buy a goose on your way back and leave it here with me, for we must have one to give to this gentleman in place of the one which your family is now devouring." When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it against the light. "It's a bonny thing," said he. "Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison? I'll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to the Countess to say that we have it." "Do you think that this man Horner is innocent?" "I cannot tell." "Well, then, do you imagine that this other one, Henry Baker, had anything to do with the matter?" "It is, I think, much more likely that Henry Baker is an absolutely innocent man, who had no idea that the bird which he was carrying was of considerably more value than if it were made of solid gold. That, however, I shall determine by a very simple test if we have an answer to our advertisement." "And you can do nothing until then?" "Nothing." "In that case I shall continue my professional round. But I shall come back in the evening at the hour you have mentioned, for I should like to see the solution of so tangled a business." "Very glad to see you. I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe. By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mrs. Hudson to examine its crop." I had been delayed at a case, and it was a little after half-past six when I found myself in Baker Street once more. As I approached the house I saw a tall man in a Scotch bonnet with a coat which was buttoned up to his chin waiting outside in the bright semicircle which was thrown from the fanlight. Just as I arrived the door was opened, and we were shown up together to Holmes' room. "Mr. Henry Baker, I believe," said he, rising from his armchair and greeting his visitor with the easy air of geniality which he could so readily assume. "Pray take this chair by the fire, Mr. Baker. It is a cold night, and I observe that your circulation is more adapted for summer than for winter. Ah, Watson, you have just come at the right time. Is that your hat, Mr. Baker?" "Yes, sir, that is undoubtedly my hat." He was a large man with rounded shoulders, a massive head, and a broad, intelligent face, sloping down to a pointed beard of grizzled brown. A touch of red in nose and cheeks, with a slight tremor of his extended hand, recalled Holmes' surmise as to his habits. His rusty black frock-coat was buttoned right up in front, with the collar turned up, and his lank wrists protruded from his sleeves without a sign of cuff or shirt. He spoke in a slow staccato fashion, choosing his words with care, and gave the impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the hands of fortune. "We have retained these things for some days," said Holmes, "because we expected to see an advertisement from you giving your address. I am at a loss to know now why you did not advertise." Our visitor gave a rather shamefaced laugh. "Shillings have not been so plentiful with me as they once were," he remarked. "I had no doubt that the gang of roughs who assaulted me had carried off both my hat and the bird. I did not care to spend more money in a hopeless attempt at recovering them." "Very naturally. By the way, about the bird, we were compelled to eat it." "To eat it!" Our visitor half rose from his chair in his excitement. "Yes, it would have been of no use to anyone had we not done so. But I presume that this other goose upon the sideboard, which is about the same weight and perfectly fresh, will answer your purpose equally well?" "Oh, certainly, certainly," answered Mr. Baker with a sigh of relief. "Of course, we still have the feathers, legs, crop, and so on of your own bird, so if you wish--" The man burst into a hearty laugh. "They might be useful to me as relics of my adventure," said he, "but beyond that I can hardly see what use the disjecta membra of my late acquaintance are going to be to me. No, sir, I think that, with your permission, I will confine my attentions to the excellent bird which I perceive upon the sideboard." Sherlock Holmes glanced sharply across at me with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "There is your hat, then, and there your bird," said he. "By the way, would it bore you to tell me where you got the other one from? I am somewhat of a fowl fancier, and I have seldom seen a better grown goose." "Certainly, sir," said Baker, who had risen and tucked his newly gained property under his arm. "There are a few of us who frequent the Alpha Inn, near the Museum--we are to be found in the Museum itself during the day, you understand. This year our good host, Windigate by name, instituted a goose club, by which, on consideration of some few pence every week, we were each to receive a bird at Christmas. My pence were duly paid, and the rest is familiar to you. I am much indebted to you, sir, for a Scotch bonnet is fitted neither to my years nor my gravity." With a comical pomposity of manner he bowed solemnly to both of us and strode off upon his way. "So much for Mr. Henry Baker," said Holmes when he had closed the door behind him. "It is quite certain that he knows nothing whatever about the matter. Are you hungry, Watson?" "Not particularly." "Then I suggest that we turn our dinner into a supper and follow up this clue while it is still hot." "By all means." It was a bitter night, so we drew on our ulsters and wrapped cravats about our throats. Outside, the stars were shining coldly in a cloudless sky, and the breath of the passers-by blew out into smoke like so many pistol shots. Our footfalls rang out crisply and loudly as we swung through the doctors' quarter, Wimpole Street, Harley Street, and so through Wigmore Street into Oxford Street. In a quarter of an hour we were in Bloomsbury at the Alpha Inn, which is a small public-house at the corner of one of the streets which runs down into Holborn. Holmes pushed open the door of the private bar and ordered two glasses of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord. "Your beer should be excellent if it is as good as your geese," said he. "My geese!" The man seemed surprised. "Yes. I was speaking only half an hour ago to Mr. Henry Baker, who was a member of your goose club." "Ah! yes, I see. But you see, sir, them's not our geese." "Indeed! Whose, then?" "Well, I got the two dozen from a salesman in Covent Garden." "Indeed? I know some of them. Which was it?" "Breckinridge is his name." "Ah! I don't know him. Well, here's your good health landlord, and prosperity to your house. Good-night." "Now for Mr. Breckinridge," he continued, buttoning up his coat as we came out into the frosty air. "Remember, Watson that though we have so homely a thing as a goose at one end of this chain, we have at the other a man who will certainly get seven years' penal servitude unless we can establish his innocence. It is possible that our inquiry may but confirm his guilt; but, in any case, we have a line of investigation which has been missed by the police, and which a singular chance has placed in our hands. Let us follow it out to the bitter end. Faces to the south, then, and quick march!" We passed across Holborn, down Endell Street, and so through a zigzag of slums to Covent Garden Market. One of the largest stalls bore the name of Breckinridge upon it, and the proprietor a horsey-looking man, with a sharp face and trim side-whiskers was helping a boy to put up the shutters. "Good-evening. It's a cold night," said Holmes. The salesman nodded and shot a questioning glance at my companion. "Sold out of geese, I see," continued Holmes, pointing at the bare slabs of marble. "Let you have five hundred to-morrow morning." "That's no good." "Well, there are some on the stall with the gas-flare." "Ah, but I was recommended to you." "Who by?" "The landlord of the Alpha." "Oh, yes; I sent him a couple of dozen." "Fine birds they were, too. Now where did you get them from?" To my surprise the question provoked a burst of anger from the salesman. "Now, then, mister," said he, with his head cocked and his arms akimbo, "what are you driving at? Let's have it straight, now." "It is straight enough. I should like to know who sold you the geese which you supplied to the Alpha." "Well then, I shan't tell you. So now!" "Oh, it is a matter of no importance; but I don't know why you should be so warm over such a trifle." "Warm! You'd be as warm, maybe, if you were as pestered as I am. When I pay good money for a good article there should be an end of the business; but it's 'Where are the geese?' and 'Who did you sell the geese to?' and 'What will you take for the geese?' One would think they were the only geese in the world, to hear the fuss that is made over them." "Well, I have no connection with any other people who have been making inquiries," said Holmes carelessly. "If you won't tell us the bet is off, that is all. But I'm always ready to back my opinion on a matter of fowls, and I have a fiver on it that the bird I ate is country bred." "Well, then, you've lost your fiver, for it's town bred," snapped the salesman. "It's nothing of the kind." "I say it is." "I don't believe it." "D'you think you know more about fowls than I, who have handled them ever since I was a nipper? I tell you, all those birds that went to the Alpha were town bred." "You'll never persuade me to believe that." "Will you bet, then?" "It's merely taking your money, for I know that I am right. But I'll have a sovereign on with you, just to teach you not to be obstinate." The salesman chuckled grimly. "Bring me the books, Bill," said he. The small boy brought round a small thin volume and a great greasy-backed one, laying them out together beneath the hanging lamp. "Now then, Mr. Cocksure," said the salesman, "I thought that I was out of geese, but before I finish you'll find that there is still one left in my shop. You see this little book?" "Well?" "That's the list of the folk from whom I buy. D'you see? Well, then, here on this page are the country folk, and the numbers after their names are where their accounts are in the big ledger. Now, then! You see this other page in red ink? Well, that is a list of my town suppliers. Now, look at that third name. Just read it out to me." "Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road--249," read Holmes. "Quite so. Now turn that up in the ledger." Holmes turned to the page indicated. "Here you are, 'Mrs. Oakshott, 117, Brixton Road, egg and poultry supplier.'" "Now, then, what's the last entry?" "'December 22nd. Twenty-four geese at 7s. 6d.'" "Quite so. There you are. And underneath?" "'Sold to Mr. Windigate of the Alpha, at 12s.'" "What have you to say now?" Sherlock Holmes looked deeply chagrined. He drew a sovereign from his pocket and threw it down upon the slab, turning away with the air of a man whose disgust is too deep for words. A few yards off he stopped under a lamp-post and laughed in the hearty, noiseless fashion which was peculiar to him. "When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un' protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet," said he. "I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager. Well, Watson, we are, I fancy, nearing the end of our quest, and the only point which remains to be determined is whether we should go on to this Mrs. Oakshott to-night, or whether we should reserve it for to-morrow. It is clear from what that surly fellow said that there are others besides ourselves who are anxious about the matter, and I should--" His remarks were suddenly cut short by a loud hubbub which broke out from the stall which we had just left. Turning round we saw a little rat-faced fellow standing in the centre of the circle of yellow light which was thrown by the swinging lamp, while Breckinridge, the salesman, framed in the door of his stall, was shaking his fists fiercely at the cringing figure. "I've had enough of you and your geese," he shouted. "I wish you were all at the devil together. If you come pestering me any more with your silly talk I'll set the dog at you. You bring Mrs. Oakshott here and I'll answer her, but what have you to do with it? Did I buy the geese off you?" "No; but one of them was mine all the same," whined the little man. "Well, then, ask Mrs. Oakshott for it." "She told me to ask you." "Well, you can ask the King of Proosia, for all I care. I've had enough of it. Get out of this!" He rushed fiercely forward, and the inquirer flitted away into the darkness. "Ha! this may save us a visit to Brixton Road," whispered Holmes. "Come with me, and we will see what is to be made of this fellow." Striding through the scattered knots of people who lounged round the flaring stalls, my companion speedily overtook the little man and touched him upon the shoulder. He sprang round, and I could see in the gas-light that every vestige of colour had been driven from his face. "Who are you, then? What do you want?" he asked in a quavering voice. "You will excuse me," said Holmes blandly, "but I could not help overhearing the questions which you put to the salesman just now. I think that I could be of assistance to you." "You? Who are you? How could you know anything of the matter?" "My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don't know." "But you can know nothing of this?" "Excuse me, I know everything of it. You are endeavouring to trace some geese which were sold by Mrs. Oakshott, of Brixton Road, to a salesman named Breckinridge, by him in turn to Mr. Windigate, of the Alpha, and by him to his club, of which Mr. Henry Baker is a member." "Oh, sir, you are the very man whom I have longed to meet," cried the little fellow with outstretched hands and quivering fingers. "I can hardly explain to you how interested I am in this matter." Sherlock Holmes hailed a four-wheeler which was passing. "In that case we had better discuss it in a cosy room rather than in this wind-swept market-place," said he. "But pray tell me, before we go farther, who it is that I have the pleasure of assisting." The man hesitated for an instant. "My name is John Robinson," he answered with a sidelong glance. "No, no; the real name," said Holmes sweetly. "It is always awkward doing business with an alias." A flush sprang to the white cheeks of the stranger. "Well then," said he, "my real name is James Ryder." "Precisely so. Head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Pray step into the cab, and I shall soon be able to tell you everything which you would wish to know." The little man stood glancing from one to the other of us with half-frightened, half-hopeful eyes, as one who is not sure whether he is on the verge of a windfall or of a catastrophe. Then he stepped into the cab, and in half an hour we were back in the sitting-room at Baker Street. Nothing had been said during our drive, but the high, thin breathing of our new companion, and the claspings and unclaspings of his hands, spoke of the nervous tension within him. "Here we are!" said Holmes cheerily as we filed into the room. "The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Mr. Ryder. Pray take the basket-chair. I will just put on my slippers before we settle this little matter of yours. Now, then! You want to know what became of those geese?" "Yes, sir." "Or rather, I fancy, of that goose. It was one bird, I imagine in which you were interested--white, with a black bar across the tail." Ryder quivered with emotion. "Oh, sir," he cried, "can you tell me where it went to?" "It came here." "Here?" "Yes, and a most remarkable bird it proved. I don't wonder that you should take an interest in it. It laid an egg after it was dead--the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen. I have it here in my museum." Our visitor staggered to his feet and clutched the mantelpiece with his right hand. Holmes unlocked his strong-box and held up the blue carbuncle, which shone out like a star, with a cold, brilliant, many-pointed radiance. Ryder stood glaring with a drawn face, uncertain whether to claim or to disown it. "The game's up, Ryder," said Holmes quietly. "Hold up, man, or you'll be into the fire! Give him an arm back into his chair, Watson. He's not got blood enough to go in for felony with impunity. Give him a dash of brandy. So! Now he looks a little more human. What a shrimp it is, to be sure!" For a moment he had staggered and nearly fallen, but the brandy brought a tinge of colour into his cheeks, and he sat staring with frightened eyes at his accuser. "I have almost every link in my hands, and all the proofs which I could possibly need, so there is little which you need tell me. Still, that little may as well be cleared up to make the case complete. You had heard, Ryder, of this blue stone of the Countess of Morcar's?" "It was Catherine Cusack who told me of it," said he in a crackling voice. "I see--her ladyship's waiting-maid. Well, the temptation of sudden wealth so easily acquired was too much for you, as it has been for better men before you; but you were not very scrupulous in the means you used. It seems to me, Ryder, that there is the making of a very pretty villain in you. You knew that this man Horner, the plumber, had been concerned in some such matter before, and that suspicion would rest the more readily upon him. What did you do, then? You made some small job in my lady's room--you and your confederate Cusack--and you managed that he should be the man sent for. Then, when he had left, you rifled the jewel-case, raised the alarm, and had this unfortunate man arrested. You then--" Ryder threw himself down suddenly upon the rug and clutched at my companion's knees. "For God's sake, have mercy!" he shrieked. "Think of my father! Of my mother! It would break their hearts. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I'll swear it on a Bible. Oh, don't bring it into court! For Christ's sake, don't!" "Get back into your chair!" said Holmes sternly. "It is very well to cringe and crawl now, but you thought little enough of this poor Horner in the dock for a crime of which he knew nothing." "I will fly, Mr. Holmes. I will leave the country, sir. Then the charge against him will break down." "Hum! We will talk about that. And now let us hear a true account of the next act. How came the stone into the goose, and how came the goose into the open market? Tell us the truth, for there lies your only hope of safety." Ryder passed his tongue over his parched lips. "I will tell you it just as it happened, sir," said he. "When Horner had been arrested, it seemed to me that it would be best for me to get away with the stone at once, for I did not know at what moment the police might not take it into their heads to search me and my room. There was no place about the hotel where it would be safe. I went out, as if on some commission, and I made for my sister's house. She had married a man named Oakshott, and lived in Brixton Road, where she fattened fowls for the market. All the way there every man I met seemed to me to be a policeman or a detective; and, for all that it was a cold night, the sweat was pouring down my face before I came to the Brixton Road. My sister asked me what was the matter, and why I was so pale; but I told her that I had been upset by the jewel robbery at the hotel. Then I went into the back yard and smoked a pipe and wondered what it would be best to do. "I had a friend once called Maudsley, who went to the bad, and has just been serving his time in Pentonville. One day he had met me, and fell into talk about the ways of thieves, and how they could get rid of what they stole. I knew that he would be true to me, for I knew one or two things about him; so I made up my mind to go right on to Kilburn, where he lived, and take him into my confidence. He would show me how to turn the stone into money. But how to get to him in safety? I thought of the agonies I had gone through in coming from the hotel. I might at any moment be seized and searched, and there would be the stone in my waistcoat pocket. I was leaning against the wall at the time and looking at the geese which were waddling about round my feet, and suddenly an idea came into my head which showed me how I could beat the best detective that ever lived. "My sister had told me some weeks before that I might have the pick of her geese for a Christmas present, and I knew that she was always as good as her word. I would take my goose now, and in it I would carry my stone to Kilburn. There was a little shed in the yard, and behind this I drove one of the birds--a fine big one, white, with a barred tail. I caught it, and prying its bill open, I thrust the stone down its throat as far as my finger could reach. The bird gave a gulp, and I felt the stone pass along its gullet and down into its crop. But the creature flapped and struggled, and out came my sister to know what was the matter. As I turned to speak to her the brute broke loose and fluttered off among the others. "'Whatever were you doing with that bird, Jem?' says she. "'Well,' said I, 'you said you'd give me one for Christmas, and I was feeling which was the fattest.' "'Oh,' says she, 'we've set yours aside for you--Jem's bird, we call it. It's the big white one over yonder. There's twenty-six of them, which makes one for you, and one for us, and two dozen for the market.' "'Thank you, Maggie,' says I; 'but if it is all the same to you, I'd rather have that one I was handling just now.' "'The other is a good three pound heavier,' said she, 'and we fattened it expressly for you.' "'Never mind. I'll have the other, and I'll take it now,' said I. "'Oh, just as you like,' said she, a little huffed. 'Which is it you want, then?' "'That white one with the barred tail, right in the middle of the flock.' "'Oh, very well. Kill it and take it with you.' "Well, I did what she said, Mr. Holmes, and I carried the bird all the way to Kilburn. I told my pal what I had done, for he was a man that it was easy to tell a thing like that to. He laughed until he choked, and we got a knife and opened the goose. My heart turned to water, for there was no sign of the stone, and I knew that some terrible mistake had occurred. I left the bird, rushed back to my sister's, and hurried into the back yard. There was not a bird to be seen there. "'Where are they all, Maggie?' I cried. "'Gone to the dealer's, Jem.' "'Which dealer's?' "'Breckinridge, of Covent Garden.' "'But was there another with a barred tail?' I asked, 'the same as the one I chose?' "'Yes, Jem; there were two barred-tailed ones, and I could never tell them apart.' "Well, then, of course I saw it all, and I ran off as hard as my feet would carry me to this man Breckinridge; but he had sold the lot at once, and not one word would he tell me as to where they had gone. You heard him yourselves to-night. Well, he has always answered me like that. My sister thinks that I am going mad. Sometimes I think that I am myself. And now--and now I am myself a branded thief, without ever having touched the wealth for which I sold my character. God help me! God help me!" He burst into convulsive sobbing, with his face buried in his hands. There was a long silence, broken only by his heavy breathing and by the measured tapping of Sherlock Holmes' finger-tips upon the edge of the table. Then my friend rose and threw open the door. "Get out!" said he. "What, sir! Oh, Heaven bless you!" "No more words. Get out!" And no more words were needed. There was a rush, a clatter upon the stairs, the bang of a door, and the crisp rattle of running footfalls from the street. "After all, Watson," said Holmes, reaching up his hand for his clay pipe, "I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies. If Horner were in danger it would be another thing; but this fellow will not appear against him, and the case must collapse. I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul. This fellow will not go wrong again; he is too terribly frightened. Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaol-bird for life. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which, also a bird will be the chief feature." VIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE SPECKLED BAND On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran. The events in question occurred in the early days of my association with Holmes, when we were sharing rooms as bachelors in Baker Street. It is possible that I might have placed them upon record before, but a promise of secrecy was made at the time, from which I have only been freed during the last month by the untimely death of the lady to whom the pledge was given. It is perhaps as well that the facts should now come to light, for I have reasons to know that there are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth. It was early in April in the year '83 that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed. He was a late riser, as a rule, and as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me that it was only a quarter-past seven, I blinked up at him in some surprise, and perhaps just a little resentment, for I was myself regular in my habits. "Very sorry to knock you up, Watson," said he, "but it's the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you." "What is it, then--a fire?" "No; a client. It seems that a young lady has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who insists upon seeing me. She is waiting now in the sitting-room. Now, when young ladies wander about the metropolis at this hour of the morning, and knock sleepy people up out of their beds, I presume that it is something very pressing which they have to communicate. Should it prove to be an interesting case, you would, I am sure, wish to follow it from the outset. I thought, at any rate, that I should call you and give you the chance." "My dear fellow, I would not miss it for anything." I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and in admiring the rapid deductions, as swift as intuitions, and yet always founded on a logical basis with which he unravelled the problems which were submitted to him. I rapidly threw on my clothes and was ready in a few minutes to accompany my friend down to the sitting-room. A lady dressed in black and heavily veiled, who had been sitting in the window, rose as we entered. "Good-morning, madam," said Holmes cheerily. "My name is Sherlock Holmes. This is my intimate friend and associate, Dr. Watson, before whom you can speak as freely as before myself. Ha! I am glad to see that Mrs. Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. Pray draw up to it, and I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering." "It is not cold which makes me shiver," said the woman in a low voice, changing her seat as requested. "What, then?" "It is fear, Mr. Holmes. It is terror." She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal. Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature grey, and her expression was weary and haggard. Sherlock Holmes ran her over with one of his quick, all-comprehensive glances. "You must not fear," said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm. "We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt. You have come in by train this morning, I see." "You know me, then?" "No, but I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove. You must have started early, and yet you had a good drive in a dog-cart, along heavy roads, before you reached the station." The lady gave a violent start and stared in bewilderment at my companion. "There is no mystery, my dear madam," said he, smiling. "The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver." "Whatever your reasons may be, you are perfectly correct," said she. "I started from home before six, reached Leatherhead at twenty past, and came in by the first train to Waterloo. Sir, I can stand this strain no longer; I shall go mad if it continues. I have no one to turn to--none, save only one, who cares for me, and he, poor fellow, can be of little aid. I have heard of you, Mr. Holmes; I have heard of you from Mrs. Farintosh, whom you helped in the hour of her sore need. It was from her that I had your address. Oh, sir, do you not think that you could help me, too, and at least throw a little light through the dense darkness which surrounds me? At present it is out of my power to reward you for your services, but in a month or six weeks I shall be married, with the control of my own income, and then at least you shall not find me ungrateful." Holmes turned to his desk and, unlocking it, drew out a small case-book, which he consulted. "Farintosh," said he. "Ah yes, I recall the case; it was concerned with an opal tiara. I think it was before your time, Watson. I can only say, madam, that I shall be happy to devote the same care to your case as I did to that of your friend. As to reward, my profession is its own reward; but you are at liberty to defray whatever expenses I may be put to, at the time which suits you best. And now I beg that you will lay before us everything that may help us in forming an opinion upon the matter." "Alas!" replied our visitor, "the very horror of my situation lies in the fact that my fears are so vague, and my suspicions depend so entirely upon small points, which might seem trivial to another, that even he to whom of all others I have a right to look for help and advice looks upon all that I tell him about it as the fancies of a nervous woman. He does not say so, but I can read it from his soothing answers and averted eyes. But I have heard, Mr. Holmes, that you can see deeply into the manifold wickedness of the human heart. You may advise me how to walk amid the dangers which encompass me." "I am all attention, madam." "My name is Helen Stoner, and I am living with my stepfather, who is the last survivor of one of the oldest Saxon families in England, the Roylotts of Stoke Moran, on the western border of Surrey." Holmes nodded his head. "The name is familiar to me," said he. "The family was at one time among the richest in England, and the estates extended over the borders into Berkshire in the north, and Hampshire in the west. In the last century, however, four successive heirs were of a dissolute and wasteful disposition, and the family ruin was eventually completed by a gambler in the days of the Regency. Nothing was left save a few acres of ground, and the two-hundred-year-old house, which is itself crushed under a heavy mortgage. The last squire dragged out his existence there, living the horrible life of an aristocratic pauper; but his only son, my stepfather, seeing that he must adapt himself to the new conditions, obtained an advance from a relative, which enabled him to take a medical degree and went out to Calcutta, where, by his professional skill and his force of character, he established a large practice. In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler to death and narrowly escaped a capital sentence. As it was, he suffered a long term of imprisonment and afterwards returned to England a morose and disappointed man. "When Dr. Roylott was in India he married my mother, Mrs. Stoner, the young widow of Major-General Stoner, of the Bengal Artillery. My sister Julia and I were twins, and we were only two years old at the time of my mother's re-marriage. She had a considerable sum of money--not less than 1000 pounds a year--and this she bequeathed to Dr. Roylott entirely while we resided with him, with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage. Shortly after our return to England my mother died--she was killed eight years ago in a railway accident near Crewe. Dr. Roylott then abandoned his attempts to establish himself in practice in London and took us to live with him in the old ancestral house at Stoke Moran. The money which my mother had left was enough for all our wants, and there seemed to be no obstacle to our happiness. "But a terrible change came over our stepfather about this time. Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he shut himself up in his house and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path. Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court, until at last he became the terror of the village, and the folks would fly at his approach, for he is a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger. "Last week he hurled the local blacksmith over a parapet into a stream, and it was only by paying over all the money which I could gather together that I was able to avert another public exposure. He had no friends at all save the wandering gipsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land which represent the family estate, and would accept in return the hospitality of their tents, wandering away with them sometimes for weeks on end. He has a passion also for Indian animals, which are sent over to him by a correspondent, and he has at this moment a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over his grounds and are feared by the villagers almost as much as their master. "You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. She was but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has." "Your sister is dead, then?" "She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however, an aunt, my mother's maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady's house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my only companion." Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and his head sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across at his visitor. "Pray be precise as to details," said he. "It is easy for me to be so, for every event of that dreadful time is seared into my memory. The manor-house is, as I have already said, very old, and only one wing is now inhabited. The bedrooms in this wing are on the ground floor, the sitting-rooms being in the central block of the buildings. Of these bedrooms the first is Dr. Roylott's, the second my sister's, and the third my own. There is no communication between them, but they all open out into the same corridor. Do I make myself plain?" "Perfectly so." "The windows of the three rooms open out upon the lawn. That fatal night Dr. Roylott had gone to his room early, though we knew that he had not retired to rest, for my sister was troubled by the smell of the strong Indian cigars which it was his custom to smoke. She left her room, therefore, and came into mine, where she sat for some time, chatting about her approaching wedding. At eleven o'clock she rose to leave me, but she paused at the door and looked back. "'Tell me, Helen,' said she, 'have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?' "'Never,' said I. "'I suppose that you could not possibly whistle, yourself, in your sleep?' "'Certainly not. But why?' "'Because during the last few nights I have always, about three in the morning, heard a low, clear whistle. I am a light sleeper, and it has awakened me. I cannot tell where it came from--perhaps from the next room, perhaps from the lawn. I thought that I would just ask you whether you had heard it.' "'No, I have not. It must be those wretched gipsies in the plantation.' "'Very likely. And yet if it were on the lawn, I wonder that you did not hear it also.' "'Ah, but I sleep more heavily than you.' "'Well, it is of no great consequence, at any rate.' She smiled back at me, closed my door, and a few moments later I heard her key turn in the lock." "Indeed," said Holmes. "Was it your custom always to lock yourselves in at night?" "Always." "And why?" "I think that I mentioned to you that the doctor kept a cheetah and a baboon. We had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked." "Quite so. Pray proceed with your statement." "I could not sleep that night. A vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed me. My sister and I, you will recollect, were twins, and you know how subtle are the links which bind two souls which are so closely allied. It was a wild night. The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman. I knew that it was my sister's voice. I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. As I opened my door I seemed to hear a low whistle, such as my sister described, and a few moments later a clanging sound, as if a mass of metal had fallen. As I ran down the passage, my sister's door was unlocked, and revolved slowly upon its hinges. I stared at it horror-stricken, not knowing what was about to issue from it. By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the opening, her face blanched with terror, her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard. I ran to her and threw my arms round her, but at that moment her knees seemed to give way and she fell to the ground. She writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she had not recognised me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, 'Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!' There was something else which she would fain have said, and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor's room, but a fresh convulsion seized her and choked her words. I rushed out, calling loudly for my stepfather, and I met him hastening from his room in his dressing-gown. When he reached my sister's side she was unconscious, and though he poured brandy down her throat and sent for medical aid from the village, all efforts were in vain, for she slowly sank and died without having recovered her consciousness. Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister." "One moment," said Holmes, "are you sure about this whistle and metallic sound? Could you swear to it?" "That was what the county coroner asked me at the inquiry. It is my strong impression that I heard it, and yet, among the crash of the gale and the creaking of an old house, I may possibly have been deceived." "Was your sister dressed?" "No, she was in her night-dress. In her right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in her left a match-box." "Showing that she had struck a light and looked about her when the alarm took place. That is important. And what conclusions did the coroner come to?" "He investigated the case with great care, for Dr. Roylott's conduct had long been notorious in the county, but he was unable to find any satisfactory cause of death. My evidence showed that the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded, and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result. The chimney is wide, but is barred up by four large staples. It is certain, therefore, that my sister was quite alone when she met her end. Besides, there were no marks of any violence upon her." "How about poison?" "The doctors examined her for it, but without success." "What do you think that this unfortunate lady died of, then?" "It is my belief that she died of pure fear and nervous shock, though what it was that frightened her I cannot imagine." "Were there gipsies in the plantation at the time?" "Yes, there are nearly always some there." "Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band--a speckled band?" "Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gipsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which she used." Holmes shook his head like a man who is far from being satisfied. "These are very deep waters," said he; "pray go on with your narrative." "Two years have passed since then, and my life has been until lately lonelier than ever. A month ago, however, a dear friend, whom I have known for many years, has done me the honour to ask my hand in marriage. His name is Armitage--Percy Armitage--the second son of Mr. Armitage, of Crane Water, near Reading. My stepfather has offered no opposition to the match, and we are to be married in the course of the spring. Two days ago some repairs were started in the west wing of the building, and my bedroom wall has been pierced, so that I have had to move into the chamber in which my sister died, and to sleep in the very bed in which she slept. Imagine, then, my thrill of terror when last night, as I lay awake, thinking over her terrible fate, I suddenly heard in the silence of the night the low whistle which had been the herald of her own death. I sprang up and lit the lamp, but nothing was to be seen in the room. I was too shaken to go to bed again, however, so I dressed, and as soon as it was daylight I slipped down, got a dog-cart at the Crown Inn, which is opposite, and drove to Leatherhead, from whence I have come on this morning with the one object of seeing you and asking your advice." "You have done wisely," said my friend. "But have you told me all?" "Yes, all." "Miss Roylott, you have not. You are screening your stepfather." "Why, what do you mean?" For answer Holmes pushed back the frill of black lace which fringed the hand that lay upon our visitor's knee. Five little livid spots, the marks of four fingers and a thumb, were printed upon the white wrist. "You have been cruelly used," said Holmes. The lady coloured deeply and covered over her injured wrist. "He is a hard man," she said, "and perhaps he hardly knows his own strength." There was a long silence, during which Holmes leaned his chin upon his hands and stared into the crackling fire. "This is a very deep business," he said at last. "There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide upon our course of action. Yet we have not a moment to lose. If we were to come to Stoke Moran to-day, would it be possible for us to see over these rooms without the knowledge of your stepfather?" "As it happens, he spoke of coming into town to-day upon some most important business. It is probable that he will be away all day, and that there would be nothing to disturb you. We have a housekeeper now, but she is old and foolish, and I could easily get her out of the way." "Excellent. You are not averse to this trip, Watson?" "By no means." "Then we shall both come. What are you going to do yourself?" "I have one or two things which I would wish to do now that I am in town. But I shall return by the twelve o'clock train, so as to be there in time for your coming." "And you may expect us early in the afternoon. I have myself some small business matters to attend to. Will you not wait and breakfast?" "No, I must go. My heart is lightened already since I have confided my trouble to you. I shall look forward to seeing you again this afternoon." She dropped her thick black veil over her face and glided from the room. "And what do you think of it all, Watson?" asked Sherlock Holmes, leaning back in his chair. "It seems to me to be a most dark and sinister business." "Dark enough and sinister enough." "Yet if the lady is correct in saying that the flooring and walls are sound, and that the door, window, and chimney are impassable, then her sister must have been undoubtedly alone when she met her mysterious end." "What becomes, then, of these nocturnal whistles, and what of the very peculiar words of the dying woman?" "I cannot think." "When you combine the ideas of whistles at night, the presence of a band of gipsies who are on intimate terms with this old doctor, the fact that we have every reason to believe that the doctor has an interest in preventing his stepdaughter's marriage, the dying allusion to a band, and, finally, the fact that Miss Helen Stoner heard a metallic clang, which might have been caused by one of those metal bars that secured the shutters falling back into its place, I think that there is good ground to think that the mystery may be cleared along those lines." "But what, then, did the gipsies do?" "I cannot imagine." "I see many objections to any such theory." "And so do I. It is precisely for that reason that we are going to Stoke Moran this day. I want to see whether the objections are fatal, or if they may be explained away. But what in the name of the devil!" The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in the aperture. His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey. "Which of you is Holmes?" asked this apparition. "My name, sir; but you have the advantage of me," said my companion quietly. "I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran." "Indeed, Doctor," said Holmes blandly. "Pray take a seat." "I will do nothing of the kind. My stepdaughter has been here. I have traced her. What has she been saying to you?" "It is a little cold for the time of the year," said Holmes. "What has she been saying to you?" screamed the old man furiously. "But I have heard that the crocuses promise well," continued my companion imperturbably. "Ha! You put me off, do you?" said our new visitor, taking a step forward and shaking his hunting-crop. "I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler." My friend smiled. "Holmes, the busybody!" His smile broadened. "Holmes, the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office!" Holmes chuckled heartily. "Your conversation is most entertaining," said he. "When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught." "I will go when I have said my say. Don't you dare to meddle with my affairs. I know that Miss Stoner has been here. I traced her! I am a dangerous man to fall foul of! See here." He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands. "See that you keep yourself out of my grip," he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace he strode out of the room. "He seems a very amiable person," said Holmes, laughing. "I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own." As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again. "Fancy his having the insolence to confound me with the official detective force! This incident gives zest to our investigation, however, and I only trust that our little friend will not suffer from her imprudence in allowing this brute to trace her. And now, Watson, we shall order breakfast, and afterwards I shall walk down to Doctors' Commons, where I hope to get some data which may help us in this matter." It was nearly one o'clock when Sherlock Holmes returned from his excursion. He held in his hand a sheet of blue paper, scrawled over with notes and figures. "I have seen the will of the deceased wife," said he. "To determine its exact meaning I have been obliged to work out the present prices of the investments with which it is concerned. The total income, which at the time of the wife's death was little short of 1100 pounds, is now, through the fall in agricultural prices, not more than 750 pounds. Each daughter can claim an income of 250 pounds, in case of marriage. It is evident, therefore, that if both girls had married, this beauty would have had a mere pittance, while even one of them would cripple him to a very serious extent. My morning's work has not been wasted, since it has proved that he has the very strongest motives for standing in the way of anything of the sort. And now, Watson, this is too serious for dawdling, especially as the old man is aware that we are interesting ourselves in his affairs; so if you are ready, we shall call a cab and drive to Waterloo. I should be very much obliged if you would slip your revolver into your pocket. An Eley's No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots. That and a tooth-brush are, I think, all that we need." At Waterloo we were fortunate in catching a train for Leatherhead, where we hired a trap at the station inn and drove for four or five miles through the lovely Surrey lanes. It was a perfect day, with a bright sun and a few fleecy clouds in the heavens. The trees and wayside hedges were just throwing out their first green shoots, and the air was full of the pleasant smell of the moist earth. To me at least there was a strange contrast between the sweet promise of the spring and this sinister quest upon which we were engaged. My companion sat in the front of the trap, his arms folded, his hat pulled down over his eyes, and his chin sunk upon his breast, buried in the deepest thought. Suddenly, however, he started, tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed over the meadows. "Look there!" said he. A heavily timbered park stretched up in a gentle slope, thickening into a grove at the highest point. From amid the branches there jutted out the grey gables and high roof-tree of a very old mansion. "Stoke Moran?" said he. "Yes, sir, that be the house of Dr. Grimesby Roylott," remarked the driver. "There is some building going on there," said Holmes; "that is where we are going." "There's the village," said the driver, pointing to a cluster of roofs some distance to the left; "but if you want to get to the house, you'll find it shorter to get over this stile, and so by the foot-path over the fields. There it is, where the lady is walking." "And the lady, I fancy, is Miss Stoner," observed Holmes, shading his eyes. "Yes, I think we had better do as you suggest." We got off, paid our fare, and the trap rattled back on its way to Leatherhead. "I thought it as well," said Holmes as we climbed the stile, "that this fellow should think we had come here as architects, or on some definite business. It may stop his gossip. Good-afternoon, Miss Stoner. You see that we have been as good as our word." Our client of the morning had hurried forward to meet us with a face which spoke her joy. "I have been waiting so eagerly for you," she cried, shaking hands with us warmly. "All has turned out splendidly. Dr. Roylott has gone to town, and it is unlikely that he will be back before evening." "We have had the pleasure of making the doctor's acquaintance," said Holmes, and in a few words he sketched out what had occurred. Miss Stoner turned white to the lips as she listened. "Good heavens!" she cried, "he has followed me, then." "So it appears." "He is so cunning that I never know when I am safe from him. What will he say when he returns?" "He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track. You must lock yourself up from him to-night. If he is violent, we shall take you away to your aunt's at Harrow. Now, we must make the best use of our time, so kindly take us at once to the rooms which we are to examine." The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin. The central portion was in little better repair, but the right-hand block was comparatively modern, and the blinds in the windows, with the blue smoke curling up from the chimneys, showed that this was where the family resided. Some scaffolding had been erected against the end wall, and the stone-work had been broken into, but there were no signs of any workmen at the moment of our visit. Holmes walked slowly up and down the ill-trimmed lawn and examined with deep attention the outsides of the windows. "This, I take it, belongs to the room in which you used to sleep, the centre one to your sister's, and the one next to the main building to Dr. Roylott's chamber?" "Exactly so. But I am now sleeping in the middle one." "Pending the alterations, as I understand. By the way, there does not seem to be any very pressing need for repairs at that end wall." "There were none. I believe that it was an excuse to move me from my room." "Ah! that is suggestive. Now, on the other side of this narrow wing runs the corridor from which these three rooms open. There are windows in it, of course?" "Yes, but very small ones. Too narrow for anyone to pass through." "As you both locked your doors at night, your rooms were unapproachable from that side. Now, would you have the kindness to go into your room and bar your shutters?" Miss Stoner did so, and Holmes, after a careful examination through the open window, endeavoured in every way to force the shutter open, but without success. There was no slit through which a knife could be passed to raise the bar. Then with his lens he tested the hinges, but they were of solid iron, built firmly into the massive masonry. "Hum!" said he, scratching his chin in some perplexity, "my theory certainly presents some difficulties. No one could pass these shutters if they were bolted. Well, we shall see if the inside throws any light upon the matter." A small side door led into the whitewashed corridor from which the three bedrooms opened. Holmes refused to examine the third chamber, so we passed at once to the second, that in which Miss Stoner was now sleeping, and in which her sister had met with her fate. It was a homely little room, with a low ceiling and a gaping fireplace, after the fashion of old country-houses. A brown chest of drawers stood in one corner, a narrow white-counterpaned bed in another, and a dressing-table on the left-hand side of the window. These articles, with two small wicker-work chairs, made up all the furniture in the room save for a square of Wilton carpet in the centre. The boards round and the panelling of the walls were of brown, worm-eaten oak, so old and discoloured that it may have dated from the original building of the house. Holmes drew one of the chairs into a corner and sat silent, while his eyes travelled round and round and up and down, taking in every detail of the apartment. "Where does that bell communicate with?" he asked at last pointing to a thick bell-rope which hung down beside the bed, the tassel actually lying upon the pillow. "It goes to the housekeeper's room." "It looks newer than the other things?" "Yes, it was only put there a couple of years ago." "Your sister asked for it, I suppose?" "No, I never heard of her using it. We used always to get what we wanted for ourselves." "Indeed, it seemed unnecessary to put so nice a bell-pull there. You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor." He threw himself down upon his face with his lens in his hand and crawled swiftly backward and forward, examining minutely the cracks between the boards. Then he did the same with the wood-work with which the chamber was panelled. Finally he walked over to the bed and spent some time in staring at it and in running his eye up and down the wall. Finally he took the bell-rope in his hand and gave it a brisk tug. "Why, it's a dummy," said he. "Won't it ring?" "No, it is not even attached to a wire. This is very interesting. You can see now that it is fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is." "How very absurd! I never noticed that before." "Very strange!" muttered Holmes, pulling at the rope. "There are one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!" "That is also quite modern," said the lady. "Done about the same time as the bell-rope?" remarked Holmes. "Yes, there were several little changes carried out about that time." "They seem to have been of a most interesting character--dummy bell-ropes, and ventilators which do not ventilate. With your permission, Miss Stoner, we shall now carry our researches into the inner apartment." Dr. Grimesby Roylott's chamber was larger than that of his step-daughter, but was as plainly furnished. A camp-bed, a small wooden shelf full of books, mostly of a technical character, an armchair beside the bed, a plain wooden chair against the wall, a round table, and a large iron safe were the principal things which met the eye. Holmes walked slowly round and examined each and all of them with the keenest interest. "What's in here?" he asked, tapping the safe. "My stepfather's business papers." "Oh! you have seen inside, then?" "Only once, some years ago. I remember that it was full of papers." "There isn't a cat in it, for example?" "No. What a strange idea!" "Well, look at this!" He took up a small saucer of milk which stood on the top of it. "No; we don't keep a cat. But there is a cheetah and a baboon." "Ah, yes, of course! Well, a cheetah is just a big cat, and yet a saucer of milk does not go very far in satisfying its wants, I daresay. There is one point which I should wish to determine." He squatted down in front of the wooden chair and examined the seat of it with the greatest attention. "Thank you. That is quite settled," said he, rising and putting his lens in his pocket. "Hullo! Here is something interesting!" The object which had caught his eye was a small dog lash hung on one corner of the bed. The lash, however, was curled upon itself and tied so as to make a loop of whipcord. "What do you make of that, Watson?" "It's a common enough lash. But I don't know why it should be tied." "That is not quite so common, is it? Ah, me! it's a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all. I think that I have seen enough now, Miss Stoner, and with your permission we shall walk out upon the lawn." I had never seen my friend's face so grim or his brow so dark as it was when we turned from the scene of this investigation. We had walked several times up and down the lawn, neither Miss Stoner nor myself liking to break in upon his thoughts before he roused himself from his reverie. "It is very essential, Miss Stoner," said he, "that you should absolutely follow my advice in every respect." "I shall most certainly do so." "The matter is too serious for any hesitation. Your life may depend upon your compliance." "I assure you that I am in your hands." "In the first place, both my friend and I must spend the night in your room." Both Miss Stoner and I gazed at him in astonishment. "Yes, it must be so. Let me explain. I believe that that is the village inn over there?" "Yes, that is the Crown." "Very good. Your windows would be visible from there?" "Certainly." "You must confine yourself to your room, on pretence of a headache, when your stepfather comes back. Then when you hear him retire for the night, you must open the shutters of your window, undo the hasp, put your lamp there as a signal to us, and then withdraw quietly with everything which you are likely to want into the room which you used to occupy. I have no doubt that, in spite of the repairs, you could manage there for one night." "Oh, yes, easily." "The rest you will leave in our hands." "But what will you do?" "We shall spend the night in your room, and we shall investigate the cause of this noise which has disturbed you." "I believe, Mr. Holmes, that you have already made up your mind," said Miss Stoner, laying her hand upon my companion's sleeve. "Perhaps I have." "Then, for pity's sake, tell me what was the cause of my sister's death." "I should prefer to have clearer proofs before I speak." "You can at least tell me whether my own thought is correct, and if she died from some sudden fright." "No, I do not think so. I think that there was probably some more tangible cause. And now, Miss Stoner, we must leave you for if Dr. Roylott returned and saw us our journey would be in vain. Good-bye, and be brave, for if you will do what I have told you, you may rest assured that we shall soon drive away the dangers that threaten you." Sherlock Holmes and I had no difficulty in engaging a bedroom and sitting-room at the Crown Inn. They were on the upper floor, and from our window we could command a view of the avenue gate, and of the inhabited wing of Stoke Moran Manor House. At dusk we saw Dr. Grimesby Roylott drive past, his huge form looming up beside the little figure of the lad who drove him. The boy had some slight difficulty in undoing the heavy iron gates, and we heard the hoarse roar of the doctor's voice and saw the fury with which he shook his clinched fists at him. The trap drove on, and a few minutes later we saw a sudden light spring up among the trees as the lamp was lit in one of the sitting-rooms. "Do you know, Watson," said Holmes as we sat together in the gathering darkness, "I have really some scruples as to taking you to-night. There is a distinct element of danger." "Can I be of assistance?" "Your presence might be invaluable." "Then I shall certainly come." "It is very kind of you." "You speak of danger. You have evidently seen more in these rooms than was visible to me." "No, but I fancy that I may have deduced a little more. I imagine that you saw all that I did." "I saw nothing remarkable save the bell-rope, and what purpose that could answer I confess is more than I can imagine." "You saw the ventilator, too?" "Yes, but I do not think that it is such a very unusual thing to have a small opening between two rooms. It was so small that a rat could hardly pass through." "I knew that we should find a ventilator before ever we came to Stoke Moran." "My dear Holmes!" "Oh, yes, I did. You remember in her statement she said that her sister could smell Dr. Roylott's cigar. Now, of course that suggested at once that there must be a communication between the two rooms. It could only be a small one, or it would have been remarked upon at the coroner's inquiry. I deduced a ventilator." "But what harm can there be in that?" "Well, there is at least a curious coincidence of dates. A ventilator is made, a cord is hung, and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies. Does not that strike you?" "I cannot as yet see any connection." "Did you observe anything very peculiar about that bed?" "No." "It was clamped to the floor. Did you ever see a bed fastened like that before?" "I cannot say that I have." "The lady could not move her bed. It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope--or so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull." "Holmes," I cried, "I seem to see dimly what you are hinting at. We are only just in time to prevent some subtle and horrible crime." "Subtle enough and horrible enough. When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper, but I think, Watson, that we shall be able to strike deeper still. But we shall have horrors enough before the night is over; for goodness' sake let us have a quiet pipe and turn our minds for a few hours to something more cheerful." About nine o'clock the light among the trees was extinguished, and all was dark in the direction of the Manor House. Two hours passed slowly away, and then, suddenly, just at the stroke of eleven, a single bright light shone out right in front of us. "That is our signal," said Holmes, springing to his feet; "it comes from the middle window." As we passed out he exchanged a few words with the landlord, explaining that we were going on a late visit to an acquaintance, and that it was possible that we might spend the night there. A moment later we were out on the dark road, a chill wind blowing in our faces, and one yellow light twinkling in front of us through the gloom to guide us on our sombre errand. There was little difficulty in entering the grounds, for unrepaired breaches gaped in the old park wall. Making our way among the trees, we reached the lawn, crossed it, and were about to enter through the window when out from a clump of laurel bushes there darted what seemed to be a hideous and distorted child, who threw itself upon the grass with writhing limbs and then ran swiftly across the lawn into the darkness. "My God!" I whispered; "did you see it?" Holmes was for the moment as startled as I. His hand closed like a vice upon my wrist in his agitation. Then he broke into a low laugh and put his lips to my ear. "It is a nice household," he murmured. "That is the baboon." I had forgotten the strange pets which the doctor affected. There was a cheetah, too; perhaps we might find it upon our shoulders at any moment. I confess that I felt easier in my mind when, after following Holmes' example and slipping off my shoes, I found myself inside the bedroom. My companion noiselessly closed the shutters, moved the lamp onto the table, and cast his eyes round the room. All was as we had seen it in the daytime. Then creeping up to me and making a trumpet of his hand, he whispered into my ear again so gently that it was all that I could do to distinguish the words: "The least sound would be fatal to our plans." I nodded to show that I had heard. "We must sit without light. He would see it through the ventilator." I nodded again. "Do not go asleep; your very life may depend upon it. Have your pistol ready in case we should need it. I will sit on the side of the bed, and you in that chair." I took out my revolver and laid it on the corner of the table. Holmes had brought up a long thin cane, and this he placed upon the bed beside him. By it he laid the box of matches and the stump of a candle. Then he turned down the lamp, and we were left in darkness. How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil? I could not hear a sound, not even the drawing of a breath, and yet I knew that my companion sat open-eyed, within a few feet of me, in the same state of nervous tension in which I was myself. The shutters cut off the least ray of light, and we waited in absolute darkness. From outside came the occasional cry of a night-bird, and once at our very window a long drawn catlike whine, which told us that the cheetah was indeed at liberty. Far away we could hear the deep tones of the parish clock, which boomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall. Suddenly there was the momentary gleam of a light up in the direction of the ventilator, which vanished immediately, but was succeeded by a strong smell of burning oil and heated metal. Someone in the next room had lit a dark-lantern. I heard a gentle sound of movement, and then all was silent once more, though the smell grew stronger. For half an hour I sat with straining ears. Then suddenly another sound became audible--a very gentle, soothing sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continually from a kettle. The instant that we heard it, Holmes sprang from the bed, struck a match, and lashed furiously with his cane at the bell-pull. "You see it, Watson?" he yelled. "You see it?" But I saw nothing. At the moment when Holmes struck the light I heard a low, clear whistle, but the sudden glare flashing into my weary eyes made it impossible for me to tell what it was at which my friend lashed so savagely. I could, however, see that his face was deadly pale and filled with horror and loathing. He had ceased to strike and was gazing up at the ventilator when suddenly there broke from the silence of the night the most horrible cry to which I have ever listened. It swelled up louder and louder, a hoarse yell of pain and fear and anger all mingled in the one dreadful shriek. They say that away down in the village, and even in the distant parsonage, that cry raised the sleepers from their beds. It struck cold to our hearts, and I stood gazing at Holmes, and he at me, until the last echoes of it had died away into the silence from which it rose. "What can it mean?" I gasped. "It means that it is all over," Holmes answered. "And perhaps, after all, it is for the best. Take your pistol, and we will enter Dr. Roylott's room." With a grave face he lit the lamp and led the way down the corridor. Twice he struck at the chamber door without any reply from within. Then he turned the handle and entered, I at his heels, with the cocked pistol in my hand. It was a singular sight which met our eyes. On the table stood a dark-lantern with the shutter half open, throwing a brilliant beam of light upon the iron safe, the door of which was ajar. Beside this table, on the wooden chair, sat Dr. Grimesby Roylott clad in a long grey dressing-gown, his bare ankles protruding beneath, and his feet thrust into red heelless Turkish slippers. Across his lap lay the short stock with the long lash which we had noticed during the day. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor motion. "The band! the speckled band!" whispered Holmes. I took a step forward. In an instant his strange headgear began to move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent. "It is a swamp adder!" cried Holmes; "the deadliest snake in India. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. Let us thrust this creature back into its den, and we can then remove Miss Stoner to some place of shelter and let the county police know what has happened." As he spoke he drew the dog-whip swiftly from the dead man's lap, and throwing the noose round the reptile's neck he drew it from its horrid perch and, carrying it at arm's length, threw it into the iron safe, which he closed upon it. Such are the true facts of the death of Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran. It is not necessary that I should prolong a narrative which has already run to too great a length by telling how we broke the sad news to the terrified girl, how we conveyed her by the morning train to the care of her good aunt at Harrow, of how the slow process of official inquiry came to the conclusion that the doctor met his fate while indiscreetly playing with a dangerous pet. The little which I had yet to learn of the case was told me by Sherlock Holmes as we travelled back next day. "I had," said he, "come to an entirely erroneous conclusion which shows, my dear Watson, how dangerous it always is to reason from insufficient data. The presence of the gipsies, and the use of the word 'band,' which was used by the poor girl, no doubt, to explain the appearance which she had caught a hurried glimpse of by the light of her match, were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent. I can only claim the merit that I instantly reconsidered my position when, however, it became clear to me that whatever danger threatened an occupant of the room could not come either from the window or the door. My attention was speedily drawn, as I have already remarked to you, to this ventilator, and to the bell-rope which hung down to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy, and that the bed was clamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to the suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed. The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me, and when I coupled it with my knowledge that the doctor was furnished with a supply of creatures from India, I felt that I was probably on the right track. The idea of using a form of poison which could not possibly be discovered by any chemical test was just such a one as would occur to a clever and ruthless man who had had an Eastern training. The rapidity with which such a poison would take effect would also, from his point of view, be an advantage. It would be a sharp-eyed coroner, indeed, who could distinguish the two little dark punctures which would show where the poison fangs had done their work. Then I thought of the whistle. Of course he must recall the snake before the morning light revealed it to the victim. He had trained it, probably by the use of the milk which we saw, to return to him when summoned. He would put it through this ventilator at the hour that he thought best, with the certainty that it would crawl down the rope and land on the bed. It might or might not bite the occupant, perhaps she might escape every night for a week, but sooner or later she must fall a victim. "I had come to these conclusions before ever I had entered his room. An inspection of his chair showed me that he had been in the habit of standing on it, which of course would be necessary in order that he should reach the ventilator. The sight of the safe, the saucer of milk, and the loop of whipcord were enough to finally dispel any doubts which may have remained. The metallic clang heard by Miss Stoner was obviously caused by her stepfather hastily closing the door of his safe upon its terrible occupant. Having once made up my mind, you know the steps which I took in order to put the matter to the proof. I heard the creature hiss as I have no doubt that you did also, and I instantly lit the light and attacked it." "With the result of driving it through the ventilator." "And also with the result of causing it to turn upon its master at the other side. Some of the blows of my cane came home and roused its snakish temper, so that it flew upon the first person it saw. In this way I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott's death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience." IX. THE ADVENTURE OF THE ENGINEER'S THUMB Of all the problems which have been submitted to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for solution during the years of our intimacy, there were only two which I was the means of introducing to his notice--that of Mr. Hatherley's thumb, and that of Colonel Warburton's madness. Of these the latter may have afforded a finer field for an acute and original observer, but the other was so strange in its inception and so dramatic in its details that it may be the more worthy of being placed upon record, even if it gave my friend fewer openings for those deductive methods of reasoning by which he achieved such remarkable results. The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a single half-column of print than when the facts slowly evolve before your own eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each new discovery furnishes a step which leads on to the complete truth. At the time the circumstances made a deep impression upon me, and the lapse of two years has hardly served to weaken the effect. It was in the summer of '89, not long after my marriage, that the events occurred which I am now about to summarise. I had returned to civil practice and had finally abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms, although I continually visited him and occasionally even persuaded him to forgo his Bohemian habits so far as to come and visit us. My practice had steadily increased, and as I happened to live at no very great distance from Paddington Station, I got a few patients from among the officials. One of these, whom I had cured of a painful and lingering disease, was never weary of advertising my virtues and of endeavouring to send me on every sufferer over whom he might have any influence. One morning, at a little before seven o'clock, I was awakened by the maid tapping at the door to announce that two men had come from Paddington and were waiting in the consulting-room. I dressed hurriedly, for I knew by experience that railway cases were seldom trivial, and hastened downstairs. As I descended, my old ally, the guard, came out of the room and closed the door tightly behind him. "I've got him here," he whispered, jerking his thumb over his shoulder; "he's all right." "What is it, then?" I asked, for his manner suggested that it was some strange creature which he had caged up in my room. "It's a new patient," he whispered. "I thought I'd bring him round myself; then he couldn't slip away. There he is, all safe and sound. I must go now, Doctor; I have my dooties, just the same as you." And off he went, this trusty tout, without even giving me time to thank him. I entered my consulting-room and found a gentleman seated by the table. He was quietly dressed in a suit of heather tweed with a soft cloth cap which he had laid down upon my books. Round one of his hands he had a handkerchief wrapped, which was mottled all over with bloodstains. He was young, not more than five-and-twenty, I should say, with a strong, masculine face; but he was exceedingly pale and gave me the impression of a man who was suffering from some strong agitation, which it took all his strength of mind to control. "I am sorry to knock you up so early, Doctor," said he, "but I have had a very serious accident during the night. I came in by train this morning, and on inquiring at Paddington as to where I might find a doctor, a worthy fellow very kindly escorted me here. I gave the maid a card, but I see that she has left it upon the side-table." I took it up and glanced at it. "Mr. Victor Hatherley, hydraulic engineer, 16A, Victoria Street (3rd floor)." That was the name, style, and abode of my morning visitor. "I regret that I have kept you waiting," said I, sitting down in my library-chair. "You are fresh from a night journey, I understand, which is in itself a monotonous occupation." "Oh, my night could not be called monotonous," said he, and laughed. He laughed very heartily, with a high, ringing note, leaning back in his chair and shaking his sides. All my medical instincts rose up against that laugh. "Stop it!" I cried; "pull yourself together!" and I poured out some water from a caraffe. It was useless, however. He was off in one of those hysterical outbursts which come upon a strong nature when some great crisis is over and gone. Presently he came to himself once more, very weary and pale-looking. "I have been making a fool of myself," he gasped. "Not at all. Drink this." I dashed some brandy into the water, and the colour began to come back to his bloodless cheeks. "That's better!" said he. "And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used to be." He unwound the handkerchief and held out his hand. It gave even my hardened nerves a shudder to look at it. There were four protruding fingers and a horrid red, spongy surface where the thumb should have been. It had been hacked or torn right out from the roots. "Good heavens!" I cried, "this is a terrible injury. It must have bled considerably." "Yes, it did. I fainted when it was done, and I think that I must have been senseless for a long time. When I came to I found that it was still bleeding, so I tied one end of my handkerchief very tightly round the wrist and braced it up with a twig." "Excellent! You should have been a surgeon." "It is a question of hydraulics, you see, and came within my own province." "This has been done," said I, examining the wound, "by a very heavy and sharp instrument." "A thing like a cleaver," said he. "An accident, I presume?" "By no means." "What! a murderous attack?" "Very murderous indeed." "You horrify me." I sponged the wound, cleaned it, dressed it, and finally covered it over with cotton wadding and carbolised bandages. He lay back without wincing, though he bit his lip from time to time. "How is that?" I asked when I had finished. "Capital! Between your brandy and your bandage, I feel a new man. I was very weak, but I have had a good deal to go through." "Perhaps you had better not speak of the matter. It is evidently trying to your nerves." "Oh, no, not now. I shall have to tell my tale to the police; but, between ourselves, if it were not for the convincing evidence of this wound of mine, I should be surprised if they believed my statement, for it is a very extraordinary one, and I have not much in the way of proof with which to back it up; and, even if they believe me, the clues which I can give them are so vague that it is a question whether justice will be done." "Ha!" cried I, "if it is anything in the nature of a problem which you desire to see solved, I should strongly recommend you to come to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, before you go to the official police." "Oh, I have heard of that fellow," answered my visitor, "and I should be very glad if he would take the matter up, though of course I must use the official police as well. Would you give me an introduction to him?" "I'll do better. I'll take you round to him myself." "I should be immensely obliged to you." "We'll call a cab and go together. We shall just be in time to have a little breakfast with him. Do you feel equal to it?" "Yes; I shall not feel easy until I have told my story." "Then my servant will call a cab, and I shall be with you in an instant." I rushed upstairs, explained the matter shortly to my wife, and in five minutes was inside a hansom, driving with my new acquaintance to Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes was, as I expected, lounging about his sitting-room in his dressing-gown, reading the agony column of The Times and smoking his before-breakfast pipe, which was composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantelpiece. He received us in his quietly genial fashion, ordered fresh rashers and eggs, and joined us in a hearty meal. When it was concluded he settled our new acquaintance upon the sofa, placed a pillow beneath his head, and laid a glass of brandy and water within his reach. "It is easy to see that your experience has been no common one, Mr. Hatherley," said he. "Pray, lie down there and make yourself absolutely at home. Tell us what you can, but stop when you are tired and keep up your strength with a little stimulant." "Thank you," said my patient. "but I have felt another man since the doctor bandaged me, and I think that your breakfast has completed the cure. I shall take up as little of your valuable time as possible, so I shall start at once upon my peculiar experiences." Holmes sat in his big armchair with the weary, heavy-lidded expression which veiled his keen and eager nature, while I sat opposite to him, and we listened in silence to the strange story which our visitor detailed to us. "You must know," said he, "that I am an orphan and a bachelor, residing alone in lodgings in London. By profession I am a hydraulic engineer, and I have had considerable experience of my work during the seven years that I was apprenticed to Venner & Matheson, the well-known firm, of Greenwich. Two years ago, having served my time, and having also come into a fair sum of money through my poor father's death, I determined to start in business for myself and took professional chambers in Victoria Street. "I suppose that everyone finds his first independent start in business a dreary experience. To me it has been exceptionally so. During two years I have had three consultations and one small job, and that is absolutely all that my profession has brought me. My gross takings amount to 27 pounds 10s. Every day, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I waited in my little den, until at last my heart began to sink, and I came to believe that I should never have any practice at all. "Yesterday, however, just as I was thinking of leaving the office, my clerk entered to say there was a gentleman waiting who wished to see me upon business. He brought up a card, too, with the name of 'Colonel Lysander Stark' engraved upon it. Close at his heels came the colonel himself, a man rather over the middle size, but of an exceeding thinness. I do not think that I have ever seen so thin a man. His whole face sharpened away into nose and chin, and the skin of his cheeks was drawn quite tense over his outstanding bones. Yet this emaciation seemed to be his natural habit, and due to no disease, for his eye was bright, his step brisk, and his bearing assured. He was plainly but neatly dressed, and his age, I should judge, would be nearer forty than thirty. "'Mr. Hatherley?' said he, with something of a German accent. 'You have been recommended to me, Mr. Hatherley, as being a man who is not only proficient in his profession but is also discreet and capable of preserving a secret.' "I bowed, feeling as flattered as any young man would at such an address. 'May I ask who it was who gave me so good a character?' "'Well, perhaps it is better that I should not tell you that just at this moment. I have it from the same source that you are both an orphan and a bachelor and are residing alone in London.' "'That is quite correct,' I answered; 'but you will excuse me if I say that I cannot see how all this bears upon my professional qualifications. I understand that it was on a professional matter that you wished to speak to me?' "'Undoubtedly so. But you will find that all I say is really to the point. I have a professional commission for you, but absolute secrecy is quite essential--absolute secrecy, you understand, and of course we may expect that more from a man who is alone than from one who lives in the bosom of his family.' "'If I promise to keep a secret,' said I, 'you may absolutely depend upon my doing so.' "He looked very hard at me as I spoke, and it seemed to me that I had never seen so suspicious and questioning an eye. "'Do you promise, then?' said he at last. "'Yes, I promise.' "'Absolute and complete silence before, during, and after? No reference to the matter at all, either in word or writing?' "'I have already given you my word.' "'Very good.' He suddenly sprang up, and darting like lightning across the room he flung open the door. The passage outside was empty. "'That's all right,' said he, coming back. 'I know that clerks are sometimes curious as to their master's affairs. Now we can talk in safety.' He drew up his chair very close to mine and began to stare at me again with the same questioning and thoughtful look. "A feeling of repulsion, and of something akin to fear had begun to rise within me at the strange antics of this fleshless man. Even my dread of losing a client could not restrain me from showing my impatience. "'I beg that you will state your business, sir,' said I; 'my time is of value.' Heaven forgive me for that last sentence, but the words came to my lips. "'How would fifty guineas for a night's work suit you?' he asked. "'Most admirably.' "'I say a night's work, but an hour's would be nearer the mark. I simply want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machine which has got out of gear. If you show us what is wrong we shall soon set it right ourselves. What do you think of such a commission as that?' "'The work appears to be light and the pay munificent.' "'Precisely so. We shall want you to come to-night by the last train.' "'Where to?' "'To Eyford, in Berkshire. It is a little place near the borders of Oxfordshire, and within seven miles of Reading. There is a train from Paddington which would bring you there at about 11:15.' "'Very good.' "'I shall come down in a carriage to meet you.' "'There is a drive, then?' "'Yes, our little place is quite out in the country. It is a good seven miles from Eyford Station.' "'Then we can hardly get there before midnight. I suppose there would be no chance of a train back. I should be compelled to stop the night.' "'Yes, we could easily give you a shake-down.' "'That is very awkward. Could I not come at some more convenient hour?' "'We have judged it best that you should come late. It is to recompense you for any inconvenience that we are paying to you, a young and unknown man, a fee which would buy an opinion from the very heads of your profession. Still, of course, if you would like to draw out of the business, there is plenty of time to do so.' "I thought of the fifty guineas, and of how very useful they would be to me. 'Not at all,' said I, 'I shall be very happy to accommodate myself to your wishes. I should like, however, to understand a little more clearly what it is that you wish me to do.' "'Quite so. It is very natural that the pledge of secrecy which we have exacted from you should have aroused your curiosity. I have no wish to commit you to anything without your having it all laid before you. I suppose that we are absolutely safe from eavesdroppers?' "'Entirely.' "'Then the matter stands thus. You are probably aware that fuller's-earth is a valuable product, and that it is only found in one or two places in England?' "'I have heard so.' "'Some little time ago I bought a small place--a very small place--within ten miles of Reading. I was fortunate enough to discover that there was a deposit of fuller's-earth in one of my fields. On examining it, however, I found that this deposit was a comparatively small one, and that it formed a link between two very much larger ones upon the right and left--both of them, however, in the grounds of my neighbours. These good people were absolutely ignorant that their land contained that which was quite as valuable as a gold-mine. Naturally, it was to my interest to buy their land before they discovered its true value, but unfortunately I had no capital by which I could do this. I took a few of my friends into the secret, however, and they suggested that we should quietly and secretly work our own little deposit and that in this way we should earn the money which would enable us to buy the neighbouring fields. This we have now been doing for some time, and in order to help us in our operations we erected a hydraulic press. This press, as I have already explained, has got out of order, and we wish your advice upon the subject. We guard our secret very jealously, however, and if it once became known that we had hydraulic engineers coming to our little house, it would soon rouse inquiry, and then, if the facts came out, it would be good-bye to any chance of getting these fields and carrying out our plans. That is why I have made you promise me that you will not tell a human being that you are going to Eyford to-night. I hope that I make it all plain?' "'I quite follow you,' said I. 'The only point which I could not quite understand was what use you could make of a hydraulic press in excavating fuller's-earth, which, as I understand, is dug out like gravel from a pit.' "'Ah!' said he carelessly, 'we have our own process. We compress the earth into bricks, so as to remove them without revealing what they are. But that is a mere detail. I have taken you fully into my confidence now, Mr. Hatherley, and I have shown you how I trust you.' He rose as he spoke. 'I shall expect you, then, at Eyford at 11:15.' "'I shall certainly be there.' "'And not a word to a soul.' He looked at me with a last long, questioning gaze, and then, pressing my hand in a cold, dank grasp, he hurried from the room. "Well, when I came to think it all over in cool blood I was very much astonished, as you may both think, at this sudden commission which had been intrusted to me. On the one hand, of course, I was glad, for the fee was at least tenfold what I should have asked had I set a price upon my own services, and it was possible that this order might lead to other ones. On the other hand, the face and manner of my patron had made an unpleasant impression upon me, and I could not think that his explanation of the fuller's-earth was sufficient to explain the necessity for my coming at midnight, and his extreme anxiety lest I should tell anyone of my errand. However, I threw all fears to the winds, ate a hearty supper, drove to Paddington, and started off, having obeyed to the letter the injunction as to holding my tongue. "At Reading I had to change not only my carriage but my station. However, I was in time for the last train to Eyford, and I reached the little dim-lit station after eleven o'clock. I was the only passenger who got out there, and there was no one upon the platform save a single sleepy porter with a lantern. As I passed out through the wicket gate, however, I found my acquaintance of the morning waiting in the shadow upon the other side. Without a word he grasped my arm and hurried me into a carriage, the door of which was standing open. He drew up the windows on either side, tapped on the wood-work, and away we went as fast as the horse could go." "One horse?" interjected Holmes. "Yes, only one." "Did you observe the colour?" "Yes, I saw it by the side-lights when I was stepping into the carriage. It was a chestnut." "Tired-looking or fresh?" "Oh, fresh and glossy." "Thank you. I am sorry to have interrupted you. Pray continue your most interesting statement." "Away we went then, and we drove for at least an hour. Colonel Lysander Stark had said that it was only seven miles, but I should think, from the rate that we seemed to go, and from the time that we took, that it must have been nearer twelve. He sat at my side in silence all the time, and I was aware, more than once when I glanced in his direction, that he was looking at me with great intensity. The country roads seem to be not very good in that part of the world, for we lurched and jolted terribly. I tried to look out of the windows to see something of where we were, but they were made of frosted glass, and I could make out nothing save the occasional bright blur of a passing light. Now and then I hazarded some remark to break the monotony of the journey, but the colonel answered only in monosyllables, and the conversation soon flagged. At last, however, the bumping of the road was exchanged for the crisp smoothness of a gravel-drive, and the carriage came to a stand. Colonel Lysander Stark sprang out, and, as I followed after him, pulled me swiftly into a porch which gaped in front of us. We stepped, as it were, right out of the carriage and into the hall, so that I failed to catch the most fleeting glance of the front of the house. The instant that I had crossed the threshold the door slammed heavily behind us, and I heard faintly the rattle of the wheels as the carriage drove away. "It was pitch dark inside the house, and the colonel fumbled about looking for matches and muttering under his breath. Suddenly a door opened at the other end of the passage, and a long, golden bar of light shot out in our direction. It grew broader, and a woman appeared with a lamp in her hand, which she held above her head, pushing her face forward and peering at us. I could see that she was pretty, and from the gloss with which the light shone upon her dark dress I knew that it was a rich material. She spoke a few words in a foreign tongue in a tone as though asking a question, and when my companion answered in a gruff monosyllable she gave such a start that the lamp nearly fell from her hand. Colonel Stark went up to her, whispered something in her ear, and then, pushing her back into the room from whence she had come, he walked towards me again with the lamp in his hand. "'Perhaps you will have the kindness to wait in this room for a few minutes,' said he, throwing open another door. It was a quiet, little, plainly furnished room, with a round table in the centre, on which several German books were scattered. Colonel Stark laid down the lamp on the top of a harmonium beside the door. 'I shall not keep you waiting an instant,' said he, and vanished into the darkness. "I glanced at the books upon the table, and in spite of my ignorance of German I could see that two of them were treatises on science, the others being volumes of poetry. Then I walked across to the window, hoping that I might catch some glimpse of the country-side, but an oak shutter, heavily barred, was folded across it. It was a wonderfully silent house. There was an old clock ticking loudly somewhere in the passage, but otherwise everything was deadly still. A vague feeling of uneasiness began to steal over me. Who were these German people, and what were they doing living in this strange, out-of-the-way place? And where was the place? I was ten miles or so from Eyford, that was all I knew, but whether north, south, east, or west I had no idea. For that matter, Reading, and possibly other large towns, were within that radius, so the place might not be so secluded, after all. Yet it was quite certain, from the absolute stillness, that we were in the country. I paced up and down the room, humming a tune under my breath to keep up my spirits and feeling that I was thoroughly earning my fifty-guinea fee. "Suddenly, without any preliminary sound in the midst of the utter stillness, the door of my room swung slowly open. The woman was standing in the aperture, the darkness of the hall behind her, the yellow light from my lamp beating upon her eager and beautiful face. I could see at a glance that she was sick with fear, and the sight sent a chill to my own heart. She held up one shaking finger to warn me to be silent, and she shot a few whispered words of broken English at me, her eyes glancing back, like those of a frightened horse, into the gloom behind her. "'I would go,' said she, trying hard, as it seemed to me, to speak calmly; 'I would go. I should not stay here. There is no good for you to do.' "'But, madam,' said I, 'I have not yet done what I came for. I cannot possibly leave until I have seen the machine.' "'It is not worth your while to wait,' she went on. 'You can pass through the door; no one hinders.' And then, seeing that I smiled and shook my head, she suddenly threw aside her constraint and made a step forward, with her hands wrung together. 'For the love of Heaven!' she whispered, 'get away from here before it is too late!' "But I am somewhat headstrong by nature, and the more ready to engage in an affair when there is some obstacle in the way. I thought of my fifty-guinea fee, of my wearisome journey, and of the unpleasant night which seemed to be before me. Was it all to go for nothing? Why should I slink away without having carried out my commission, and without the payment which was my due? This woman might, for all I knew, be a monomaniac. With a stout bearing, therefore, though her manner had shaken me more than I cared to confess, I still shook my head and declared my intention of remaining where I was. She was about to renew her entreaties when a door slammed overhead, and the sound of several footsteps was heard upon the stairs. She listened for an instant, threw up her hands with a despairing gesture, and vanished as suddenly and as noiselessly as she had come. "The newcomers were Colonel Lysander Stark and a short thick man with a chinchilla beard growing out of the creases of his double chin, who was introduced to me as Mr. Ferguson. "'This is my secretary and manager,' said the colonel. 'By the way, I was under the impression that I left this door shut just now. I fear that you have felt the draught.' "'On the contrary,' said I, 'I opened the door myself because I felt the room to be a little close.' "He shot one of his suspicious looks at me. 'Perhaps we had better proceed to business, then,' said he. 'Mr. Ferguson and I will take you up to see the machine.' "'I had better put my hat on, I suppose.' "'Oh, no, it is in the house.' "'What, you dig fuller's-earth in the house?' "'No, no. This is only where we compress it. But never mind that. All we wish you to do is to examine the machine and to let us know what is wrong with it.' "We went upstairs together, the colonel first with the lamp, the fat manager and I behind him. It was a labyrinth of an old house, with corridors, passages, narrow winding staircases, and little low doors, the thresholds of which were hollowed out by the generations who had crossed them. There were no carpets and no signs of any furniture above the ground floor, while the plaster was peeling off the walls, and the damp was breaking through in green, unhealthy blotches. I tried to put on as unconcerned an air as possible, but I had not forgotten the warnings of the lady, even though I disregarded them, and I kept a keen eye upon my two companions. Ferguson appeared to be a morose and silent man, but I could see from the little that he said that he was at least a fellow-countryman. "Colonel Lysander Stark stopped at last before a low door, which he unlocked. Within was a small, square room, in which the three of us could hardly get at one time. Ferguson remained outside, and the colonel ushered me in. "'We are now,' said he, 'actually within the hydraulic press, and it would be a particularly unpleasant thing for us if anyone were to turn it on. The ceiling of this small chamber is really the end of the descending piston, and it comes down with the force of many tons upon this metal floor. There are small lateral columns of water outside which receive the force, and which transmit and multiply it in the manner which is familiar to you. The machine goes readily enough, but there is some stiffness in the working of it, and it has lost a little of its force. Perhaps you will have the goodness to look it over and to show us how we can set it right.' "I took the lamp from him, and I examined the machine very thoroughly. It was indeed a gigantic one, and capable of exercising enormous pressure. When I passed outside, however, and pressed down the levers which controlled it, I knew at once by the whishing sound that there was a slight leakage, which allowed a regurgitation of water through one of the side cylinders. An examination showed that one of the india-rubber bands which was round the head of a driving-rod had shrunk so as not quite to fill the socket along which it worked. This was clearly the cause of the loss of power, and I pointed it out to my companions, who followed my remarks very carefully and asked several practical questions as to how they should proceed to set it right. When I had made it clear to them, I returned to the main chamber of the machine and took a good look at it to satisfy my own curiosity. It was obvious at a glance that the story of the fuller's-earth was the merest fabrication, for it would be absurd to suppose that so powerful an engine could be designed for so inadequate a purpose. The walls were of wood, but the floor consisted of a large iron trough, and when I came to examine it I could see a crust of metallic deposit all over it. I had stooped and was scraping at this to see exactly what it was when I heard a muttered exclamation in German and saw the cadaverous face of the colonel looking down at me. "'What are you doing there?' he asked. "I felt angry at having been tricked by so elaborate a story as that which he had told me. 'I was admiring your fuller's-earth,' said I; 'I think that I should be better able to advise you as to your machine if I knew what the exact purpose was for which it was used.' "The instant that I uttered the words I regretted the rashness of my speech. His face set hard, and a baleful light sprang up in his grey eyes. "'Very well,' said he, 'you shall know all about the machine.' He took a step backward, slammed the little door, and turned the key in the lock. I rushed towards it and pulled at the handle, but it was quite secure, and did not give in the least to my kicks and shoves. 'Hullo!' I yelled. 'Hullo! Colonel! Let me out!' "And then suddenly in the silence I heard a sound which sent my heart into my mouth. It was the clank of the levers and the swish of the leaking cylinder. He had set the engine at work. The lamp still stood upon the floor where I had placed it when examining the trough. By its light I saw that the black ceiling was coming down upon me, slowly, jerkily, but, as none knew better than myself, with a force which must within a minute grind me to a shapeless pulp. I threw myself, screaming, against the door, and dragged with my nails at the lock. I implored the colonel to let me out, but the remorseless clanking of the levers drowned my cries. The ceiling was only a foot or two above my head, and with my hand upraised I could feel its hard, rough surface. Then it flashed through my mind that the pain of my death would depend very much upon the position in which I met it. If I lay on my face the weight would come upon my spine, and I shuddered to think of that dreadful snap. Easier the other way, perhaps; and yet, had I the nerve to lie and look up at that deadly black shadow wavering down upon me? Already I was unable to stand erect, when my eye caught something which brought a gush of hope back to my heart. "I have said that though the floor and ceiling were of iron, the walls were of wood. As I gave a last hurried glance around, I saw a thin line of yellow light between two of the boards, which broadened and broadened as a small panel was pushed backward. For an instant I could hardly believe that here was indeed a door which led away from death. The next instant I threw myself through, and lay half-fainting upon the other side. The panel had closed again behind me, but the crash of the lamp, and a few moments afterwards the clang of the two slabs of metal, told me how narrow had been my escape. "I was recalled to myself by a frantic plucking at my wrist, and I found myself lying upon the stone floor of a narrow corridor, while a woman bent over me and tugged at me with her left hand, while she held a candle in her right. It was the same good friend whose warning I had so foolishly rejected. "'Come! come!' she cried breathlessly. 'They will be here in a moment. They will see that you are not there. Oh, do not waste the so-precious time, but come!' "This time, at least, I did not scorn her advice. I staggered to my feet and ran with her along the corridor and down a winding stair. The latter led to another broad passage, and just as we reached it we heard the sound of running feet and the shouting of two voices, one answering the other from the floor on which we were and from the one beneath. My guide stopped and looked about her like one who is at her wit's end. Then she threw open a door which led into a bedroom, through the window of which the moon was shining brightly. "'It is your only chance,' said she. 'It is high, but it may be that you can jump it.' "As she spoke a light sprang into view at the further end of the passage, and I saw the lean figure of Colonel Lysander Stark rushing forward with a lantern in one hand and a weapon like a butcher's cleaver in the other. I rushed across the bedroom, flung open the window, and looked out. How quiet and sweet and wholesome the garden looked in the moonlight, and it could not be more than thirty feet down. I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between my saviour and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance. The thought had hardly flashed through my mind before he was at the door, pushing his way past her; but she threw her arms round him and tried to hold him back. "'Fritz! Fritz!' she cried in English, 'remember your promise after the last time. You said it should not be again. He will be silent! Oh, he will be silent!' "'You are mad, Elise!' he shouted, struggling to break away from her. 'You will be the ruin of us. He has seen too much. Let me pass, I say!' He dashed her to one side, and, rushing to the window, cut at me with his heavy weapon. I had let myself go, and was hanging by the hands to the sill, when his blow fell. I was conscious of a dull pain, my grip loosened, and I fell into the garden below. "I was shaken but not hurt by the fall; so I picked myself up and rushed off among the bushes as hard as I could run, for I understood that I was far from being out of danger yet. Suddenly, however, as I ran, a deadly dizziness and sickness came over me. I glanced down at my hand, which was throbbing painfully, and then, for the first time, saw that my thumb had been cut off and that the blood was pouring from my wound. I endeavoured to tie my handkerchief round it, but there came a sudden buzzing in my ears, and next moment I fell in a dead faint among the rose-bushes. "How long I remained unconscious I cannot tell. It must have been a very long time, for the moon had sunk, and a bright morning was breaking when I came to myself. My clothes were all sodden with dew, and my coat-sleeve was drenched with blood from my wounded thumb. The smarting of it recalled in an instant all the particulars of my night's adventure, and I sprang to my feet with the feeling that I might hardly yet be safe from my pursuers. But to my astonishment, when I came to look round me, neither house nor garden were to be seen. I had been lying in an angle of the hedge close by the highroad, and just a little lower down was a long building, which proved, upon my approaching it, to be the very station at which I had arrived upon the previous night. Were it not for the ugly wound upon my hand, all that had passed during those dreadful hours might have been an evil dream. "Half dazed, I went into the station and asked about the morning train. There would be one to Reading in less than an hour. The same porter was on duty, I found, as had been there when I arrived. I inquired of him whether he had ever heard of Colonel Lysander Stark. The name was strange to him. Had he observed a carriage the night before waiting for me? No, he had not. Was there a police-station anywhere near? There was one about three miles off. "It was too far for me to go, weak and ill as I was. I determined to wait until I got back to town before telling my story to the police. It was a little past six when I arrived, so I went first to have my wound dressed, and then the doctor was kind enough to bring me along here. I put the case into your hands and shall do exactly what you advise." We both sat in silence for some little time after listening to this extraordinary narrative. Then Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf one of the ponderous commonplace books in which he placed his cuttings. "Here is an advertisement which will interest you," said he. "It appeared in all the papers about a year ago. Listen to this: 'Lost, on the 9th inst., Mr. Jeremiah Hayling, aged twenty-six, a hydraulic engineer. Left his lodgings at ten o'clock at night, and has not been heard of since. Was dressed in,' etc., etc. Ha! That represents the last time that the colonel needed to have his machine overhauled, I fancy." "Good heavens!" cried my patient. "Then that explains what the girl said." "Undoubtedly. It is quite clear that the colonel was a cool and desperate man, who was absolutely determined that nothing should stand in the way of his little game, like those out-and-out pirates who will leave no survivor from a captured ship. Well, every moment now is precious, so if you feel equal to it we shall go down to Scotland Yard at once as a preliminary to starting for Eyford." Some three hours or so afterwards we were all in the train together, bound from Reading to the little Berkshire village. There were Sherlock Holmes, the hydraulic engineer, Inspector Bradstreet, of Scotland Yard, a plain-clothes man, and myself. Bradstreet had spread an ordnance map of the county out upon the seat and was busy with his compasses drawing a circle with Eyford for its centre. "There you are," said he. "That circle is drawn at a radius of ten miles from the village. The place we want must be somewhere near that line. You said ten miles, I think, sir." "It was an hour's good drive." "And you think that they brought you back all that way when you were unconscious?" "They must have done so. I have a confused memory, too, of having been lifted and conveyed somewhere." "What I cannot understand," said I, "is why they should have spared you when they found you lying fainting in the garden. Perhaps the villain was softened by the woman's entreaties." "I hardly think that likely. I never saw a more inexorable face in my life." "Oh, we shall soon clear up all that," said Bradstreet. "Well, I have drawn my circle, and I only wish I knew at what point upon it the folk that we are in search of are to be found." "I think I could lay my finger on it," said Holmes quietly. "Really, now!" cried the inspector, "you have formed your opinion! Come, now, we shall see who agrees with you. I say it is south, for the country is more deserted there." "And I say east," said my patient. "I am for west," remarked the plain-clothes man. "There are several quiet little villages up there." "And I am for north," said I, "because there are no hills there, and our friend says that he did not notice the carriage go up any." "Come," cried the inspector, laughing; "it's a very pretty diversity of opinion. We have boxed the compass among us. Who do you give your casting vote to?" "You are all wrong." "But we can't all be." "Oh, yes, you can. This is my point." He placed his finger in the centre of the circle. "This is where we shall find them." "But the twelve-mile drive?" gasped Hatherley. "Six out and six back. Nothing simpler. You say yourself that the horse was fresh and glossy when you got in. How could it be that if it had gone twelve miles over heavy roads?" "Indeed, it is a likely ruse enough," observed Bradstreet thoughtfully. "Of course there can be no doubt as to the nature of this gang." "None at all," said Holmes. "They are coiners on a large scale, and have used the machine to form the amalgam which has taken the place of silver." "We have known for some time that a clever gang was at work," said the inspector. "They have been turning out half-crowns by the thousand. We even traced them as far as Reading, but could get no farther, for they had covered their traces in a way that showed that they were very old hands. But now, thanks to this lucky chance, I think that we have got them right enough." But the inspector was mistaken, for those criminals were not destined to fall into the hands of justice. As we rolled into Eyford Station we saw a gigantic column of smoke which streamed up from behind a small clump of trees in the neighbourhood and hung like an immense ostrich feather over the landscape. "A house on fire?" asked Bradstreet as the train steamed off again on its way. "Yes, sir!" said the station-master. "When did it break out?" "I hear that it was during the night, sir, but it has got worse, and the whole place is in a blaze." "Whose house is it?" "Dr. Becher's." "Tell me," broke in the engineer, "is Dr. Becher a German, very thin, with a long, sharp nose?" The station-master laughed heartily. "No, sir, Dr. Becher is an Englishman, and there isn't a man in the parish who has a better-lined waistcoat. But he has a gentleman staying with him, a patient, as I understand, who is a foreigner, and he looks as if a little good Berkshire beef would do him no harm." The station-master had not finished his speech before we were all hastening in the direction of the fire. The road topped a low hill, and there was a great widespread whitewashed building in front of us, spouting fire at every chink and window, while in the garden in front three fire-engines were vainly striving to keep the flames under. "That's it!" cried Hatherley, in intense excitement. "There is the gravel-drive, and there are the rose-bushes where I lay. That second window is the one that I jumped from." "Well, at least," said Holmes, "you have had your revenge upon them. There can be no question that it was your oil-lamp which, when it was crushed in the press, set fire to the wooden walls, though no doubt they were too excited in the chase after you to observe it at the time. Now keep your eyes open in this crowd for your friends of last night, though I very much fear that they are a good hundred miles off by now." And Holmes' fears came to be realised, for from that day to this no word has ever been heard either of the beautiful woman, the sinister German, or the morose Englishman. Early that morning a peasant had met a cart containing several people and some very bulky boxes driving rapidly in the direction of Reading, but there all traces of the fugitives disappeared, and even Holmes' ingenuity failed ever to discover the least clue as to their whereabouts. The firemen had been much perturbed at the strange arrangements which they had found within, and still more so by discovering a newly severed human thumb upon a window-sill of the second floor. About sunset, however, their efforts were at last successful, and they subdued the flames, but not before the roof had fallen in, and the whole place been reduced to such absolute ruin that, save some twisted cylinders and iron piping, not a trace remained of the machinery which had cost our unfortunate acquaintance so dearly. Large masses of nickel and of tin were discovered stored in an out-house, but no coins were to be found, which may have explained the presence of those bulky boxes which have been already referred to. How our hydraulic engineer had been conveyed from the garden to the spot where he recovered his senses might have remained forever a mystery were it not for the soft mould, which told us a very plain tale. He had evidently been carried down by two persons, one of whom had remarkably small feet and the other unusually large ones. On the whole, it was most probable that the silent Englishman, being less bold or less murderous than his companion, had assisted the woman to bear the unconscious man out of the way of danger. "Well," said our engineer ruefully as we took our seats to return once more to London, "it has been a pretty business for me! I have lost my thumb and I have lost a fifty-guinea fee, and what have I gained?" "Experience," said Holmes, laughing. "Indirectly it may be of value, you know; you have only to put it into words to gain the reputation of being excellent company for the remainder of your existence." X. THE ADVENTURE OF THE NOBLE BACHELOR The Lord St. Simon marriage, and its curious termination, have long ceased to be a subject of interest in those exalted circles in which the unfortunate bridegroom moves. Fresh scandals have eclipsed it, and their more piquant details have drawn the gossips away from this four-year-old drama. As I have reason to believe, however, that the full facts have never been revealed to the general public, and as my friend Sherlock Holmes had a considerable share in clearing the matter up, I feel that no memoir of him would be complete without some little sketch of this remarkable episode. It was a few weeks before my own marriage, during the days when I was still sharing rooms with Holmes in Baker Street, that he came home from an afternoon stroll to find a letter on the table waiting for him. I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the Jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign throbbed with dull persistence. With my body in one easy-chair and my legs upon another, I had surrounded myself with a cloud of newspapers until at last, saturated with the news of the day, I tossed them all aside and lay listless, watching the huge crest and monogram upon the envelope upon the table and wondering lazily who my friend's noble correspondent could be. "Here is a very fashionable epistle," I remarked as he entered. "Your morning letters, if I remember right, were from a fish-monger and a tide-waiter." "Yes, my correspondence has certainly the charm of variety," he answered, smiling, "and the humbler are usually the more interesting. This looks like one of those unwelcome social summonses which call upon a man either to be bored or to lie." He broke the seal and glanced over the contents. "Oh, come, it may prove to be something of interest, after all." "Not social, then?" "No, distinctly professional." "And from a noble client?" "One of the highest in England." "My dear fellow, I congratulate you." "I assure you, Watson, without affectation, that the status of my client is a matter of less moment to me than the interest of his case. It is just possible, however, that that also may not be wanting in this new investigation. You have been reading the papers diligently of late, have you not?" "It looks like it," said I ruefully, pointing to a huge bundle in the corner. "I have had nothing else to do." "It is fortunate, for you will perhaps be able to post me up. I read nothing except the criminal news and the agony column. The latter is always instructive. But if you have followed recent events so closely you must have read about Lord St. Simon and his wedding?" "Oh, yes, with the deepest interest." "That is well. The letter which I hold in my hand is from Lord St. Simon. I will read it to you, and in return you must turn over these papers and let me have whatever bears upon the matter. This is what he says: "'MY DEAR MR. SHERLOCK HOLMES:--Lord Backwater tells me that I may place implicit reliance upon your judgment and discretion. I have determined, therefore, to call upon you and to consult you in reference to the very painful event which has occurred in connection with my wedding. Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, is acting already in the matter, but he assures me that he sees no objection to your co-operation, and that he even thinks that it might be of some assistance. I will call at four o'clock in the afternoon, and, should you have any other engagement at that time, I hope that you will postpone it, as this matter is of paramount importance. Yours faithfully, ST. SIMON.' "It is dated from Grosvenor Mansions, written with a quill pen, and the noble lord has had the misfortune to get a smear of ink upon the outer side of his right little finger," remarked Holmes as he folded up the epistle. "He says four o'clock. It is three now. He will be here in an hour." "Then I have just time, with your assistance, to get clear upon the subject. Turn over those papers and arrange the extracts in their order of time, while I take a glance as to who our client is." He picked a red-covered volume from a line of books of reference beside the mantelpiece. "Here he is," said he, sitting down and flattening it out upon his knee. "'Lord Robert Walsingham de Vere St. Simon, second son of the Duke of Balmoral.' Hum! 'Arms: Azure, three caltrops in chief over a fess sable. Born in 1846.' He's forty-one years of age, which is mature for marriage. Was Under-Secretary for the colonies in a late administration. The Duke, his father, was at one time Secretary for Foreign Affairs. They inherit Plantagenet blood by direct descent, and Tudor on the distaff side. Ha! Well, there is nothing very instructive in all this. I think that I must turn to you Watson, for something more solid." "I have very little difficulty in finding what I want," said I, "for the facts are quite recent, and the matter struck me as remarkable. I feared to refer them to you, however, as I knew that you had an inquiry on hand and that you disliked the intrusion of other matters." "Oh, you mean the little problem of the Grosvenor Square furniture van. That is quite cleared up now--though, indeed, it was obvious from the first. Pray give me the results of your newspaper selections." "Here is the first notice which I can find. It is in the personal column of the Morning Post, and dates, as you see, some weeks back: 'A marriage has been arranged,' it says, 'and will, if rumour is correct, very shortly take place, between Lord Robert St. Simon, second son of the Duke of Balmoral, and Miss Hatty Doran, the only daughter of Aloysius Doran. Esq., of San Francisco, Cal., U.S.A.' That is all." "Terse and to the point," remarked Holmes, stretching his long, thin legs towards the fire. "There was a paragraph amplifying this in one of the society papers of the same week. Ah, here it is: 'There will soon be a call for protection in the marriage market, for the present free-trade principle appears to tell heavily against our home product. One by one the management of the noble houses of Great Britain is passing into the hands of our fair cousins from across the Atlantic. An important addition has been made during the last week to the list of the prizes which have been borne away by these charming invaders. Lord St. Simon, who has shown himself for over twenty years proof against the little god's arrows, has now definitely announced his approaching marriage with Miss Hatty Doran, the fascinating daughter of a California millionaire. Miss Doran, whose graceful figure and striking face attracted much attention at the Westbury House festivities, is an only child, and it is currently reported that her dowry will run to considerably over the six figures, with expectancies for the future. As it is an open secret that the Duke of Balmoral has been compelled to sell his pictures within the last few years, and as Lord St. Simon has no property of his own save the small estate of Birchmoor, it is obvious that the Californian heiress is not the only gainer by an alliance which will enable her to make the easy and common transition from a Republican lady to a British peeress.'" "Anything else?" asked Holmes, yawning. "Oh, yes; plenty. Then there is another note in the Morning Post to say that the marriage would be an absolutely quiet one, that it would be at St. George's, Hanover Square, that only half a dozen intimate friends would be invited, and that the party would return to the furnished house at Lancaster Gate which has been taken by Mr. Aloysius Doran. Two days later--that is, on Wednesday last--there is a curt announcement that the wedding had taken place, and that the honeymoon would be passed at Lord Backwater's place, near Petersfield. Those are all the notices which appeared before the disappearance of the bride." "Before the what?" asked Holmes with a start. "The vanishing of the lady." "When did she vanish, then?" "At the wedding breakfast." "Indeed. This is more interesting than it promised to be; quite dramatic, in fact." "Yes; it struck me as being a little out of the common." "They often vanish before the ceremony, and occasionally during the honeymoon; but I cannot call to mind anything quite so prompt as this. Pray let me have the details." "I warn you that they are very incomplete." "Perhaps we may make them less so." "Such as they are, they are set forth in a single article of a morning paper of yesterday, which I will read to you. It is headed, 'Singular Occurrence at a Fashionable Wedding': "'The family of Lord Robert St. Simon has been thrown into the greatest consternation by the strange and painful episodes which have taken place in connection with his wedding. The ceremony, as shortly announced in the papers of yesterday, occurred on the previous morning; but it is only now that it has been possible to confirm the strange rumours which have been so persistently floating about. In spite of the attempts of the friends to hush the matter up, so much public attention has now been drawn to it that no good purpose can be served by affecting to disregard what is a common subject for conversation. "'The ceremony, which was performed at St. George's, Hanover Square, was a very quiet one, no one being present save the father of the bride, Mr. Aloysius Doran, the Duchess of Balmoral, Lord Backwater, Lord Eustace and Lady Clara St. Simon (the younger brother and sister of the bridegroom), and Lady Alicia Whittington. The whole party proceeded afterwards to the house of Mr. Aloysius Doran, at Lancaster Gate, where breakfast had been prepared. It appears that some little trouble was caused by a woman, whose name has not been ascertained, who endeavoured to force her way into the house after the bridal party, alleging that she had some claim upon Lord St. Simon. It was only after a painful and prolonged scene that she was ejected by the butler and the footman. The bride, who had fortunately entered the house before this unpleasant interruption, had sat down to breakfast with the rest, when she complained of a sudden indisposition and retired to her room. Her prolonged absence having caused some comment, her father followed her, but learned from her maid that she had only come up to her chamber for an instant, caught up an ulster and bonnet, and hurried down to the passage. One of the footmen declared that he had seen a lady leave the house thus apparelled, but had refused to credit that it was his mistress, believing her to be with the company. On ascertaining that his daughter had disappeared, Mr. Aloysius Doran, in conjunction with the bridegroom, instantly put themselves in communication with the police, and very energetic inquiries are being made, which will probably result in a speedy clearing up of this very singular business. Up to a late hour last night, however, nothing had transpired as to the whereabouts of the missing lady. There are rumours of foul play in the matter, and it is said that the police have caused the arrest of the woman who had caused the original disturbance, in the belief that, from jealousy or some other motive, she may have been concerned in the strange disappearance of the bride.'" "And is that all?" "Only one little item in another of the morning papers, but it is a suggestive one." "And it is--" "That Miss Flora Millar, the lady who had caused the disturbance, has actually been arrested. It appears that she was formerly a danseuse at the Allegro, and that she has known the bridegroom for some years. There are no further particulars, and the whole case is in your hands now--so far as it has been set forth in the public press." "And an exceedingly interesting case it appears to be. I would not have missed it for worlds. But there is a ring at the bell, Watson, and as the clock makes it a few minutes after four, I have no doubt that this will prove to be our noble client. Do not dream of going, Watson, for I very much prefer having a witness, if only as a check to my own memory." "Lord Robert St. Simon," announced our page-boy, throwing open the door. A gentleman entered, with a pleasant, cultured face, high-nosed and pale, with something perhaps of petulance about the mouth, and with the steady, well-opened eye of a man whose pleasant lot it had ever been to command and to be obeyed. His manner was brisk, and yet his general appearance gave an undue impression of age, for he had a slight forward stoop and a little bend of the knees as he walked. His hair, too, as he swept off his very curly-brimmed hat, was grizzled round the edges and thin upon the top. As to his dress, it was careful to the verge of foppishness, with high collar, black frock-coat, white waistcoat, yellow gloves, patent-leather shoes, and light-coloured gaiters. He advanced slowly into the room, turning his head from left to right, and swinging in his right hand the cord which held his golden eyeglasses. "Good-day, Lord St. Simon," said Holmes, rising and bowing. "Pray take the basket-chair. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson. Draw up a little to the fire, and we will talk this matter over." "A most painful matter to me, as you can most readily imagine, Mr. Holmes. I have been cut to the quick. I understand that you have already managed several delicate cases of this sort, sir, though I presume that they were hardly from the same class of society." "No, I am descending." "I beg pardon." "My last client of the sort was a king." "Oh, really! I had no idea. And which king?" "The King of Scandinavia." "What! Had he lost his wife?" "You can understand," said Holmes suavely, "that I extend to the affairs of my other clients the same secrecy which I promise to you in yours." "Of course! Very right! very right! I'm sure I beg pardon. As to my own case, I am ready to give you any information which may assist you in forming an opinion." "Thank you. I have already learned all that is in the public prints, nothing more. I presume that I may take it as correct-- this article, for example, as to the disappearance of the bride." Lord St. Simon glanced over it. "Yes, it is correct, as far as it goes." "But it needs a great deal of supplementing before anyone could offer an opinion. I think that I may arrive at my facts most directly by questioning you." "Pray do so." "When did you first meet Miss Hatty Doran?" "In San Francisco, a year ago." "You were travelling in the States?" "Yes." "Did you become engaged then?" "No." "But you were on a friendly footing?" "I was amused by her society, and she could see that I was amused." "Her father is very rich?" "He is said to be the richest man on the Pacific slope." "And how did he make his money?" "In mining. He had nothing a few years ago. Then he struck gold, invested it, and came up by leaps and bounds." "Now, what is your own impression as to the young lady's--your wife's character?" The nobleman swung his glasses a little faster and stared down into the fire. "You see, Mr. Holmes," said he, "my wife was twenty before her father became a rich man. During that time she ran free in a mining camp and wandered through woods or mountains, so that her education has come from Nature rather than from the schoolmaster. She is what we call in England a tomboy, with a strong nature, wild and free, unfettered by any sort of traditions. She is impetuous--volcanic, I was about to say. She is swift in making up her mind and fearless in carrying out her resolutions. On the other hand, I would not have given her the name which I have the honour to bear"--he gave a little stately cough--"had not I thought her to be at bottom a noble woman. I believe that she is capable of heroic self-sacrifice and that anything dishonourable would be repugnant to her." "Have you her photograph?" "I brought this with me." He opened a locket and showed us the full face of a very lovely woman. It was not a photograph but an ivory miniature, and the artist had brought out the full effect of the lustrous black hair, the large dark eyes, and the exquisite mouth. Holmes gazed long and earnestly at it. Then he closed the locket and handed it back to Lord St. Simon. "The young lady came to London, then, and you renewed your acquaintance?" "Yes, her father brought her over for this last London season. I met her several times, became engaged to her, and have now married her." "She brought, I understand, a considerable dowry?" "A fair dowry. Not more than is usual in my family." "And this, of course, remains to you, since the marriage is a fait accompli?" "I really have made no inquiries on the subject." "Very naturally not. Did you see Miss Doran on the day before the wedding?" "Yes." "Was she in good spirits?" "Never better. She kept talking of what we should do in our future lives." "Indeed! That is very interesting. And on the morning of the wedding?" "She was as bright as possible--at least until after the ceremony." "And did you observe any change in her then?" "Well, to tell the truth, I saw then the first signs that I had ever seen that her temper was just a little sharp. The incident however, was too trivial to relate and can have no possible bearing upon the case." "Pray let us have it, for all that." "Oh, it is childish. She dropped her bouquet as we went towards the vestry. She was passing the front pew at the time, and it fell over into the pew. There was a moment's delay, but the gentleman in the pew handed it up to her again, and it did not appear to be the worse for the fall. Yet when I spoke to her of the matter, she answered me abruptly; and in the carriage, on our way home, she seemed absurdly agitated over this trifling cause." "Indeed! You say that there was a gentleman in the pew. Some of the general public were present, then?" "Oh, yes. It is impossible to exclude them when the church is open." "This gentleman was not one of your wife's friends?" "No, no; I call him a gentleman by courtesy, but he was quite a common-looking person. I hardly noticed his appearance. But really I think that we are wandering rather far from the point." "Lady St. Simon, then, returned from the wedding in a less cheerful frame of mind than she had gone to it. What did she do on re-entering her father's house?" "I saw her in conversation with her maid." "And who is her maid?" "Alice is her name. She is an American and came from California with her." "A confidential servant?" "A little too much so. It seemed to me that her mistress allowed her to take great liberties. Still, of course, in America they look upon these things in a different way." "How long did she speak to this Alice?" "Oh, a few minutes. I had something else to think of." "You did not overhear what they said?" "Lady St. Simon said something about 'jumping a claim.' She was accustomed to use slang of the kind. I have no idea what she meant." "American slang is very expressive sometimes. And what did your wife do when she finished speaking to her maid?" "She walked into the breakfast-room." "On your arm?" "No, alone. She was very independent in little matters like that. Then, after we had sat down for ten minutes or so, she rose hurriedly, muttered some words of apology, and left the room. She never came back." "But this maid, Alice, as I understand, deposes that she went to her room, covered her bride's dress with a long ulster, put on a bonnet, and went out." "Quite so. And she was afterwards seen walking into Hyde Park in company with Flora Millar, a woman who is now in custody, and who had already made a disturbance at Mr. Doran's house that morning." "Ah, yes. I should like a few particulars as to this young lady, and your relations to her." Lord St. Simon shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows. "We have been on a friendly footing for some years--I may say on a very friendly footing. She used to be at the Allegro. I have not treated her ungenerously, and she had no just cause of complaint against me, but you know what women are, Mr. Holmes. Flora was a dear little thing, but exceedingly hot-headed and devotedly attached to me. She wrote me dreadful letters when she heard that I was about to be married, and, to tell the truth, the reason why I had the marriage celebrated so quietly was that I feared lest there might be a scandal in the church. She came to Mr. Doran's door just after we returned, and she endeavoured to push her way in, uttering very abusive expressions towards my wife, and even threatening her, but I had foreseen the possibility of something of the sort, and I had two police fellows there in private clothes, who soon pushed her out again. She was quiet when she saw that there was no good in making a row." "Did your wife hear all this?" "No, thank goodness, she did not." "And she was seen walking with this very woman afterwards?" "Yes. That is what Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, looks upon as so serious. It is thought that Flora decoyed my wife out and laid some terrible trap for her." "Well, it is a possible supposition." "You think so, too?" "I did not say a probable one. But you do not yourself look upon this as likely?" "I do not think Flora would hurt a fly." "Still, jealousy is a strange transformer of characters. Pray what is your own theory as to what took place?" "Well, really, I came to seek a theory, not to propound one. I have given you all the facts. Since you ask me, however, I may say that it has occurred to me as possible that the excitement of this affair, the consciousness that she had made so immense a social stride, had the effect of causing some little nervous disturbance in my wife." "In short, that she had become suddenly deranged?" "Well, really, when I consider that she has turned her back--I will not say upon me, but upon so much that many have aspired to without success--I can hardly explain it in any other fashion." "Well, certainly that is also a conceivable hypothesis," said Holmes, smiling. "And now, Lord St. Simon, I think that I have nearly all my data. May I ask whether you were seated at the breakfast-table so that you could see out of the window?" "We could see the other side of the road and the Park." "Quite so. Then I do not think that I need to detain you longer. I shall communicate with you." "Should you be fortunate enough to solve this problem," said our client, rising. "I have solved it." "Eh? What was that?" "I say that I have solved it." "Where, then, is my wife?" "That is a detail which I shall speedily supply." Lord St. Simon shook his head. "I am afraid that it will take wiser heads than yours or mine," he remarked, and bowing in a stately, old-fashioned manner he departed. "It is very good of Lord St. Simon to honour my head by putting it on a level with his own," said Sherlock Holmes, laughing. "I think that I shall have a whisky and soda and a cigar after all this cross-questioning. I had formed my conclusions as to the case before our client came into the room." "My dear Holmes!" "I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarked before, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn my conjecture into a certainty. Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau's example." "But I have heard all that you have heard." "Without, however, the knowledge of pre-existing cases which serves me so well. There was a parallel instance in Aberdeen some years back, and something on very much the same lines at Munich the year after the Franco-Prussian War. It is one of these cases--but, hullo, here is Lestrade! Good-afternoon, Lestrade! You will find an extra tumbler upon the sideboard, and there are cigars in the box." The official detective was attired in a pea-jacket and cravat, which gave him a decidedly nautical appearance, and he carried a black canvas bag in his hand. With a short greeting he seated himself and lit the cigar which had been offered to him. "What's up, then?" asked Holmes with a twinkle in his eye. "You look dissatisfied." "And I feel dissatisfied. It is this infernal St. Simon marriage case. I can make neither head nor tail of the business." "Really! You surprise me." "Who ever heard of such a mixed affair? Every clue seems to slip through my fingers. I have been at work upon it all day." "And very wet it seems to have made you," said Holmes laying his hand upon the arm of the pea-jacket. "Yes, I have been dragging the Serpentine." "In heaven's name, what for?" "In search of the body of Lady St. Simon." Sherlock Holmes leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily. "Have you dragged the basin of Trafalgar Square fountain?" he asked. "Why? What do you mean?" "Because you have just as good a chance of finding this lady in the one as in the other." Lestrade shot an angry glance at my companion. "I suppose you know all about it," he snarled. "Well, I have only just heard the facts, but my mind is made up." "Oh, indeed! Then you think that the Serpentine plays no part in the matter?" "I think it very unlikely." "Then perhaps you will kindly explain how it is that we found this in it?" He opened his bag as he spoke, and tumbled onto the floor a wedding-dress of watered silk, a pair of white satin shoes and a bride's wreath and veil, all discoloured and soaked in water. "There," said he, putting a new wedding-ring upon the top of the pile. "There is a little nut for you to crack, Master Holmes." "Oh, indeed!" said my friend, blowing blue rings into the air. "You dragged them from the Serpentine?" "No. They were found floating near the margin by a park-keeper. They have been identified as her clothes, and it seemed to me that if the clothes were there the body would not be far off." "By the same brilliant reasoning, every man's body is to be found in the neighbourhood of his wardrobe. And pray what did you hope to arrive at through this?" "At some evidence implicating Flora Millar in the disappearance." "I am afraid that you will find it difficult." "Are you, indeed, now?" cried Lestrade with some bitterness. "I am afraid, Holmes, that you are not very practical with your deductions and your inferences. You have made two blunders in as many minutes. This dress does implicate Miss Flora Millar." "And how?" "In the dress is a pocket. In the pocket is a card-case. In the card-case is a note. And here is the very note." He slapped it down upon the table in front of him. "Listen to this: 'You will see me when all is ready. Come at once. F.H.M.' Now my theory all along has been that Lady St. Simon was decoyed away by Flora Millar, and that she, with confederates, no doubt, was responsible for her disappearance. Here, signed with her initials, is the very note which was no doubt quietly slipped into her hand at the door and which lured her within their reach." "Very good, Lestrade," said Holmes, laughing. "You really are very fine indeed. Let me see it." He took up the paper in a listless way, but his attention instantly became riveted, and he gave a little cry of satisfaction. "This is indeed important," said he. "Ha! you find it so?" "Extremely so. I congratulate you warmly." Lestrade rose in his triumph and bent his head to look. "Why," he shrieked, "you're looking at the wrong side!" "On the contrary, this is the right side." "The right side? You're mad! Here is the note written in pencil over here." "And over here is what appears to be the fragment of a hotel bill, which interests me deeply." "There's nothing in it. I looked at it before," said Lestrade. "'Oct. 4th, rooms 8s., breakfast 2s. 6d., cocktail 1s., lunch 2s. 6d., glass sherry, 8d.' I see nothing in that." "Very likely not. It is most important, all the same. As to the note, it is important also, or at least the initials are, so I congratulate you again." "I've wasted time enough," said Lestrade, rising. "I believe in hard work and not in sitting by the fire spinning fine theories. Good-day, Mr. Holmes, and we shall see which gets to the bottom of the matter first." He gathered up the garments, thrust them into the bag, and made for the door. "Just one hint to you, Lestrade," drawled Holmes before his rival vanished; "I will tell you the true solution of the matter. Lady St. Simon is a myth. There is not, and there never has been, any such person." Lestrade looked sadly at my companion. Then he turned to me, tapped his forehead three times, shook his head solemnly, and hurried away. He had hardly shut the door behind him when Holmes rose to put on his overcoat. "There is something in what the fellow says about outdoor work," he remarked, "so I think, Watson, that I must leave you to your papers for a little." It was after five o'clock when Sherlock Holmes left me, but I had no time to be lonely, for within an hour there arrived a confectioner's man with a very large flat box. This he unpacked with the help of a youth whom he had brought with him, and presently, to my very great astonishment, a quite epicurean little cold supper began to be laid out upon our humble lodging-house mahogany. There were a couple of brace of cold woodcock, a pheasant, a pâté de foie gras pie with a group of ancient and cobwebby bottles. Having laid out all these luxuries, my two visitors vanished away, like the genii of the Arabian Nights, with no explanation save that the things had been paid for and were ordered to this address. Just before nine o'clock Sherlock Holmes stepped briskly into the room. His features were gravely set, but there was a light in his eye which made me think that he had not been disappointed in his conclusions. "They have laid the supper, then," he said, rubbing his hands. "You seem to expect company. They have laid for five." "Yes, I fancy we may have some company dropping in," said he. "I am surprised that Lord St. Simon has not already arrived. Ha! I fancy that I hear his step now upon the stairs." It was indeed our visitor of the afternoon who came bustling in, dangling his glasses more vigorously than ever, and with a very perturbed expression upon his aristocratic features. "My messenger reached you, then?" asked Holmes. "Yes, and I confess that the contents startled me beyond measure. Have you good authority for what you say?" "The best possible." Lord St. Simon sank into a chair and passed his hand over his forehead. "What will the Duke say," he murmured, "when he hears that one of the family has been subjected to such humiliation?" "It is the purest accident. I cannot allow that there is any humiliation." "Ah, you look on these things from another standpoint." "I fail to see that anyone is to blame. I can hardly see how the lady could have acted otherwise, though her abrupt method of doing it was undoubtedly to be regretted. Having no mother, she had no one to advise her at such a crisis." "It was a slight, sir, a public slight," said Lord St. Simon, tapping his fingers upon the table. "You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so unprecedented a position." "I will make no allowance. I am very angry indeed, and I have been shamefully used." "I think that I heard a ring," said Holmes. "Yes, there are steps on the landing. If I cannot persuade you to take a lenient view of the matter, Lord St. Simon, I have brought an advocate here who may be more successful." He opened the door and ushered in a lady and gentleman. "Lord St. Simon," said he "allow me to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Hay Moulton. The lady, I think, you have already met." At the sight of these newcomers our client had sprung from his seat and stood very erect, with his eyes cast down and his hand thrust into the breast of his frock-coat, a picture of offended dignity. The lady had taken a quick step forward and had held out her hand to him, but he still refused to raise his eyes. It was as well for his resolution, perhaps, for her pleading face was one which it was hard to resist. "You're angry, Robert," said she. "Well, I guess you have every cause to be." "Pray make no apology to me," said Lord St. Simon bitterly. "Oh, yes, I know that I have treated you real bad and that I should have spoken to you before I went; but I was kind of rattled, and from the time when I saw Frank here again I just didn't know what I was doing or saying. I only wonder I didn't fall down and do a faint right there before the altar." "Perhaps, Mrs. Moulton, you would like my friend and me to leave the room while you explain this matter?" "If I may give an opinion," remarked the strange gentleman, "we've had just a little too much secrecy over this business already. For my part, I should like all Europe and America to hear the rights of it." He was a small, wiry, sunburnt man, clean-shaven, with a sharp face and alert manner. "Then I'll tell our story right away," said the lady. "Frank here and I met in '84, in McQuire's camp, near the Rockies, where pa was working a claim. We were engaged to each other, Frank and I; but then one day father struck a rich pocket and made a pile, while poor Frank here had a claim that petered out and came to nothing. The richer pa grew the poorer was Frank; so at last pa wouldn't hear of our engagement lasting any longer, and he took me away to 'Frisco. Frank wouldn't throw up his hand, though; so he followed me there, and he saw me without pa knowing anything about it. It would only have made him mad to know, so we just fixed it all up for ourselves. Frank said that he would go and make his pile, too, and never come back to claim me until he had as much as pa. So then I promised to wait for him to the end of time and pledged myself not to marry anyone else while he lived. 'Why shouldn't we be married right away, then,' said he, 'and then I will feel sure of you; and I won't claim to be your husband until I come back?' Well, we talked it over, and he had fixed it all up so nicely, with a clergyman all ready in waiting, that we just did it right there; and then Frank went off to seek his fortune, and I went back to pa. "The next I heard of Frank was that he was in Montana, and then he went prospecting in Arizona, and then I heard of him from New Mexico. After that came a long newspaper story about how a miners' camp had been attacked by Apache Indians, and there was my Frank's name among the killed. I fainted dead away, and I was very sick for months after. Pa thought I had a decline and took me to half the doctors in 'Frisco. Not a word of news came for a year and more, so that I never doubted that Frank was really dead. Then Lord St. Simon came to 'Frisco, and we came to London, and a marriage was arranged, and pa was very pleased, but I felt all the time that no man on this earth would ever take the place in my heart that had been given to my poor Frank. "Still, if I had married Lord St. Simon, of course I'd have done my duty by him. We can't command our love, but we can our actions. I went to the altar with him with the intention to make him just as good a wife as it was in me to be. But you may imagine what I felt when, just as I came to the altar rails, I glanced back and saw Frank standing and looking at me out of the first pew. I thought it was his ghost at first; but when I looked again there he was still, with a kind of question in his eyes, as if to ask me whether I were glad or sorry to see him. I wonder I didn't drop. I know that everything was turning round, and the words of the clergyman were just like the buzz of a bee in my ear. I didn't know what to do. Should I stop the service and make a scene in the church? I glanced at him again, and he seemed to know what I was thinking, for he raised his finger to his lips to tell me to be still. Then I saw him scribble on a piece of paper, and I knew that he was writing me a note. As I passed his pew on the way out I dropped my bouquet over to him, and he slipped the note into my hand when he returned me the flowers. It was only a line asking me to join him when he made the sign to me to do so. Of course I never doubted for a moment that my first duty was now to him, and I determined to do just whatever he might direct. "When I got back I told my maid, who had known him in California, and had always been his friend. I ordered her to say nothing, but to get a few things packed and my ulster ready. I know I ought to have spoken to Lord St. Simon, but it was dreadful hard before his mother and all those great people. I just made up my mind to run away and explain afterwards. I hadn't been at the table ten minutes before I saw Frank out of the window at the other side of the road. He beckoned to me and then began walking into the Park. I slipped out, put on my things, and followed him. Some woman came talking something or other about Lord St. Simon to me--seemed to me from the little I heard as if he had a little secret of his own before marriage also--but I managed to get away from her and soon overtook Frank. We got into a cab together, and away we drove to some lodgings he had taken in Gordon Square, and that was my true wedding after all those years of waiting. Frank had been a prisoner among the Apaches, had escaped, came on to 'Frisco, found that I had given him up for dead and had gone to England, followed me there, and had come upon me at last on the very morning of my second wedding." "I saw it in a paper," explained the American. "It gave the name and the church but not where the lady lived." "Then we had a talk as to what we should do, and Frank was all for openness, but I was so ashamed of it all that I felt as if I should like to vanish away and never see any of them again--just sending a line to pa, perhaps, to show him that I was alive. It was awful to me to think of all those lords and ladies sitting round that breakfast-table and waiting for me to come back. So Frank took my wedding-clothes and things and made a bundle of them, so that I should not be traced, and dropped them away somewhere where no one could find them. It is likely that we should have gone on to Paris to-morrow, only that this good gentleman, Mr. Holmes, came round to us this evening, though how he found us is more than I can think, and he showed us very clearly and kindly that I was wrong and that Frank was right, and that we should be putting ourselves in the wrong if we were so secret. Then he offered to give us a chance of talking to Lord St. Simon alone, and so we came right away round to his rooms at once. Now, Robert, you have heard it all, and I am very sorry if I have given you pain, and I hope that you do not think very meanly of me." Lord St. Simon had by no means relaxed his rigid attitude, but had listened with a frowning brow and a compressed lip to this long narrative. "Excuse me," he said, "but it is not my custom to discuss my most intimate personal affairs in this public manner." "Then you won't forgive me? You won't shake hands before I go?" "Oh, certainly, if it would give you any pleasure." He put out his hand and coldly grasped that which she extended to him. "I had hoped," suggested Holmes, "that you would have joined us in a friendly supper." "I think that there you ask a little too much," responded his Lordship. "I may be forced to acquiesce in these recent developments, but I can hardly be expected to make merry over them. I think that with your permission I will now wish you all a very good-night." He included us all in a sweeping bow and stalked out of the room. "Then I trust that you at least will honour me with your company," said Sherlock Holmes. "It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes." "The case has been an interesting one," remarked Holmes when our visitors had left us, "because it serves to show very clearly how simple the explanation may be of an affair which at first sight seems to be almost inexplicable. Nothing could be more natural than the sequence of events as narrated by this lady, and nothing stranger than the result when viewed, for instance, by Mr. Lestrade of Scotland Yard." "You were not yourself at fault at all, then?" "From the first, two facts were very obvious to me, the one that the lady had been quite willing to undergo the wedding ceremony, the other that she had repented of it within a few minutes of returning home. Obviously something had occurred during the morning, then, to cause her to change her mind. What could that something be? She could not have spoken to anyone when she was out, for she had been in the company of the bridegroom. Had she seen someone, then? If she had, it must be someone from America because she had spent so short a time in this country that she could hardly have allowed anyone to acquire so deep an influence over her that the mere sight of him would induce her to change her plans so completely. You see we have already arrived, by a process of exclusion, at the idea that she might have seen an American. Then who could this American be, and why should he possess so much influence over her? It might be a lover; it might be a husband. Her young womanhood had, I knew, been spent in rough scenes and under strange conditions. So far I had got before I ever heard Lord St. Simon's narrative. When he told us of a man in a pew, of the change in the bride's manner, of so transparent a device for obtaining a note as the dropping of a bouquet, of her resort to her confidential maid, and of her very significant allusion to claim-jumping--which in miners' parlance means taking possession of that which another person has a prior claim to--the whole situation became absolutely clear. She had gone off with a man, and the man was either a lover or was a previous husband--the chances being in favour of the latter." "And how in the world did you find them?" "It might have been difficult, but friend Lestrade held information in his hands the value of which he did not himself know. The initials were, of course, of the highest importance, but more valuable still was it to know that within a week he had settled his bill at one of the most select London hotels." "How did you deduce the select?" "By the select prices. Eight shillings for a bed and eightpence for a glass of sherry pointed to one of the most expensive hotels. There are not many in London which charge at that rate. In the second one which I visited in Northumberland Avenue, I learned by an inspection of the book that Francis H. Moulton, an American gentleman, had left only the day before, and on looking over the entries against him, I came upon the very items which I had seen in the duplicate bill. His letters were to be forwarded to 226 Gordon Square; so thither I travelled, and being fortunate enough to find the loving couple at home, I ventured to give them some paternal advice and to point out to them that it would be better in every way that they should make their position a little clearer both to the general public and to Lord St. Simon in particular. I invited them to meet him here, and, as you see, I made him keep the appointment." "But with no very good result," I remarked. "His conduct was certainly not very gracious." "Ah, Watson," said Holmes, smiling, "perhaps you would not be very gracious either, if, after all the trouble of wooing and wedding, you found yourself deprived in an instant of wife and of fortune. I think that we may judge Lord St. Simon very mercifully and thank our stars that we are never likely to find ourselves in the same position. Draw your chair up and hand me my violin, for the only problem we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings." XI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BERYL CORONET "Holmes," said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking down the street, "here is a madman coming along. It seems rather sad that his relatives should allow him to come out alone." My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still lay as white as when it fell. The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the single gentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention. He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a massive, strongly marked face and a commanding figure. He was dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat, shining hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-grey trousers. Yet his actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity of his dress and features, for he was running hard, with occasional little springs, such as a weary man gives who is little accustomed to set any tax upon his legs. As he ran he jerked his hands up and down, waggled his head, and writhed his face into the most extraordinary contortions. "What on earth can be the matter with him?" I asked. "He is looking up at the numbers of the houses." "I believe that he is coming here," said Holmes, rubbing his hands. "Here?" "Yes; I rather think he is coming to consult me professionally. I think that I recognise the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you?" As he spoke, the man, puffing and blowing, rushed at our door and pulled at our bell until the whole house resounded with the clanging. A few moments later he was in our room, still puffing, still gesticulating, but with so fixed a look of grief and despair in his eyes that our smiles were turned in an instant to horror and pity. For a while he could not get his words out, but swayed his body and plucked at his hair like one who has been driven to the extreme limits of his reason. Then, suddenly springing to his feet, he beat his head against the wall with such force that we both rushed upon him and tore him away to the centre of the room. Sherlock Holmes pushed him down into the easy-chair and, sitting beside him, patted his hand and chatted with him in the easy, soothing tones which he knew so well how to employ. "You have come to me to tell your story, have you not?" said he. "You are fatigued with your haste. Pray wait until you have recovered yourself, and then I shall be most happy to look into any little problem which you may submit to me." The man sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting against his emotion. Then he passed his handkerchief over his brow, set his lips tight, and turned his face towards us. "No doubt you think me mad?" said he. "I see that you have had some great trouble," responded Holmes. "God knows I have!--a trouble which is enough to unseat my reason, so sudden and so terrible is it. Public disgrace I might have faced, although I am a man whose character has never yet borne a stain. Private affliction also is the lot of every man; but the two coming together, and in so frightful a form, have been enough to shake my very soul. Besides, it is not I alone. The very noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be found out of this horrible affair." "Pray compose yourself, sir," said Holmes, "and let me have a clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallen you." "My name," answered our visitor, "is probably familiar to your ears. I am Alexander Holder, of the banking firm of Holder & Stevenson, of Threadneedle Street." The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to the senior partner in the second largest private banking concern in the City of London. What could have happened, then, to bring one of the foremost citizens of London to this most pitiable pass? We waited, all curiosity, until with another effort he braced himself to tell his story. "I feel that time is of value," said he; "that is why I hastened here when the police inspector suggested that I should secure your co-operation. I came to Baker Street by the Underground and hurried from there on foot, for the cabs go slowly through this snow. That is why I was so out of breath, for I am a man who takes very little exercise. I feel better now, and I will put the facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as I can. "It is, of course, well known to you that in a successful banking business as much depends upon our being able to find remunerative investments for our funds as upon our increasing our connection and the number of our depositors. One of our most lucrative means of laying out money is in the shape of loans, where the security is unimpeachable. We have done a good deal in this direction during the last few years, and there are many noble families to whom we have advanced large sums upon the security of their pictures, libraries, or plate. "Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a card was brought in to me by one of the clerks. I started when I saw the name, for it was that of none other than--well, perhaps even to you I had better say no more than that it was a name which is a household word all over the earth--one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England. I was overwhelmed by the honour and attempted, when he entered, to say so, but he plunged at once into business with the air of a man who wishes to hurry quickly through a disagreeable task. "'Mr. Holder,' said he, 'I have been informed that you are in the habit of advancing money.' "'The firm does so when the security is good.' I answered. "'It is absolutely essential to me,' said he, 'that I should have 50,000 pounds at once. I could, of course, borrow so trifling a sum ten times over from my friends, but I much prefer to make it a matter of business and to carry out that business myself. In my position you can readily understand that it is unwise to place one's self under obligations.' "'For how long, may I ask, do you want this sum?' I asked. "'Next Monday I have a large sum due to me, and I shall then most certainly repay what you advance, with whatever interest you think it right to charge. But it is very essential to me that the money should be paid at once.' "'I should be happy to advance it without further parley from my own private purse,' said I, 'were it not that the strain would be rather more than it could bear. If, on the other hand, I am to do it in the name of the firm, then in justice to my partner I must insist that, even in your case, every businesslike precaution should be taken.' "'I should much prefer to have it so,' said he, raising up a square, black morocco case which he had laid beside his chair. 'You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?' "'One of the most precious public possessions of the empire,' said I. "'Precisely.' He opened the case, and there, imbedded in soft, flesh-coloured velvet, lay the magnificent piece of jewellery which he had named. 'There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,' said he, 'and the price of the gold chasing is incalculable. The lowest estimate would put the worth of the coronet at double the sum which I have asked. I am prepared to leave it with you as my security.' "I took the precious case into my hands and looked in some perplexity from it to my illustrious client. "'You doubt its value?' he asked. "'Not at all. I only doubt--' "'The propriety of my leaving it. You may set your mind at rest about that. I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely certain that I should be able in four days to reclaim it. It is a pure matter of form. Is the security sufficient?' "'Ample.' "'You understand, Mr. Holder, that I am giving you a strong proof of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon all that I have heard of you. I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I need not say that a great public scandal would be caused if any harm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost as serious as its complete loss, for there are no beryls in the world to match these, and it would be impossible to replace them. I leave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shall call for it in person on Monday morning.' "Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no more but, calling for my cashier, I ordered him to pay over fifty 1000 pound notes. When I was alone once more, however, with the precious case lying upon the table in front of me, I could not but think with some misgivings of the immense responsibility which it entailed upon me. There could be no doubt that, as it was a national possession, a horrible scandal would ensue if any misfortune should occur to it. I already regretted having ever consented to take charge of it. However, it was too late to alter the matter now, so I locked it up in my private safe and turned once more to my work. "When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence to leave so precious a thing in the office behind me. Bankers' safes had been forced before now, and why should not mine be? If so, how terrible would be the position in which I should find myself! I determined, therefore, that for the next few days I would always carry the case backward and forward with me, so that it might never be really out of my reach. With this intention, I called a cab and drove out to my house at Streatham, carrying the jewel with me. I did not breathe freely until I had taken it upstairs and locked it in the bureau of my dressing-room. "And now a word as to my household, Mr. Holmes, for I wish you to thoroughly understand the situation. My groom and my page sleep out of the house, and may be set aside altogether. I have three maid-servants who have been with me a number of years and whose absolute reliability is quite above suspicion. Another, Lucy Parr, the second waiting-maid, has only been in my service a few months. She came with an excellent character, however, and has always given me satisfaction. She is a very pretty girl and has attracted admirers who have occasionally hung about the place. That is the only drawback which we have found to her, but we believe her to be a thoroughly good girl in every way. "So much for the servants. My family itself is so small that it will not take me long to describe it. I am a widower and have an only son, Arthur. He has been a disappointment to me, Mr. Holmes--a grievous disappointment. I have no doubt that I am myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiled him. Very likely I have. When my dear wife died I felt that he was all I had to love. I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a moment from his face. I have never denied him a wish. Perhaps it would have been better for both of us had I been sterner, but I meant it for the best. "It was naturally my intention that he should succeed me in my business, but he was not of a business turn. He was wild, wayward, and, to speak the truth, I could not trust him in the handling of large sums of money. When he was young he became a member of an aristocratic club, and there, having charming manners, he was soon the intimate of a number of men with long purses and expensive habits. He learned to play heavily at cards and to squander money on the turf, until he had again and again to come to me and implore me to give him an advance upon his allowance, that he might settle his debts of honour. He tried more than once to break away from the dangerous company which he was keeping, but each time the influence of his friend, Sir George Burnwell, was enough to draw him back again. "And, indeed, I could not wonder that such a man as Sir George Burnwell should gain an influence over him, for he has frequently brought him to my house, and I have found myself that I could hardly resist the fascination of his manner. He is older than Arthur, a man of the world to his finger-tips, one who had been everywhere, seen everything, a brilliant talker, and a man of great personal beauty. Yet when I think of him in cold blood, far away from the glamour of his presence, I am convinced from his cynical speech and the look which I have caught in his eyes that he is one who should be deeply distrusted. So I think, and so, too, thinks my little Mary, who has a woman's quick insight into character. "And now there is only she to be described. She is my niece; but when my brother died five years ago and left her alone in the world I adopted her, and have looked upon her ever since as my daughter. She is a sunbeam in my house--sweet, loving, beautiful, a wonderful manager and housekeeper, yet as tender and quiet and gentle as a woman could be. She is my right hand. I do not know what I could do without her. In only one matter has she ever gone against my wishes. Twice my boy has asked her to marry him, for he loves her devotedly, but each time she has refused him. I think that if anyone could have drawn him into the right path it would have been she, and that his marriage might have changed his whole life; but now, alas! it is too late--forever too late! "Now, Mr. Holmes, you know the people who live under my roof, and I shall continue with my miserable story. "When we were taking coffee in the drawing-room that night after dinner, I told Arthur and Mary my experience, and of the precious treasure which we had under our roof, suppressing only the name of my client. Lucy Parr, who had brought in the coffee, had, I am sure, left the room; but I cannot swear that the door was closed. Mary and Arthur were much interested and wished to see the famous coronet, but I thought it better not to disturb it. "'Where have you put it?' asked Arthur. "'In my own bureau.' "'Well, I hope to goodness the house won't be burgled during the night.' said he. "'It is locked up,' I answered. "'Oh, any old key will fit that bureau. When I was a youngster I have opened it myself with the key of the box-room cupboard.' "He often had a wild way of talking, so that I thought little of what he said. He followed me to my room, however, that night with a very grave face. "'Look here, dad,' said he with his eyes cast down, 'can you let me have 200 pounds?' "'No, I cannot!' I answered sharply. 'I have been far too generous with you in money matters.' "'You have been very kind,' said he, 'but I must have this money, or else I can never show my face inside the club again.' "'And a very good thing, too!' I cried. "'Yes, but you would not have me leave it a dishonoured man,' said he. 'I could not bear the disgrace. I must raise the money in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must try other means.' "I was very angry, for this was the third demand during the month. 'You shall not have a farthing from me,' I cried, on which he bowed and left the room without another word. "When he was gone I unlocked my bureau, made sure that my treasure was safe, and locked it again. Then I started to go round the house to see that all was secure--a duty which I usually leave to Mary but which I thought it well to perform myself that night. As I came down the stairs I saw Mary herself at the side window of the hall, which she closed and fastened as I approached. "'Tell me, dad,' said she, looking, I thought, a little disturbed, 'did you give Lucy, the maid, leave to go out to-night?' "'Certainly not.' "'She came in just now by the back door. I have no doubt that she has only been to the side gate to see someone, but I think that it is hardly safe and should be stopped.' "'You must speak to her in the morning, or I will if you prefer it. Are you sure that everything is fastened?' "'Quite sure, dad.' "'Then, good-night.' I kissed her and went up to my bedroom again, where I was soon asleep. "I am endeavouring to tell you everything, Mr. Holmes, which may have any bearing upon the case, but I beg that you will question me upon any point which I do not make clear." "On the contrary, your statement is singularly lucid." "I come to a part of my story now in which I should wish to be particularly so. I am not a very heavy sleeper, and the anxiety in my mind tended, no doubt, to make me even less so than usual. About two in the morning, then, I was awakened by some sound in the house. It had ceased ere I was wide awake, but it had left an impression behind it as though a window had gently closed somewhere. I lay listening with all my ears. Suddenly, to my horror, there was a distinct sound of footsteps moving softly in the next room. I slipped out of bed, all palpitating with fear, and peeped round the corner of my dressing-room door. "'Arthur!' I screamed, 'you villain! you thief! How dare you touch that coronet?' "The gas was half up, as I had left it, and my unhappy boy, dressed only in his shirt and trousers, was standing beside the light, holding the coronet in his hands. He appeared to be wrenching at it, or bending it with all his strength. At my cry he dropped it from his grasp and turned as pale as death. I snatched it up and examined it. One of the gold corners, with three of the beryls in it, was missing. "'You blackguard!' I shouted, beside myself with rage. 'You have destroyed it! You have dishonoured me forever! Where are the jewels which you have stolen?' "'Stolen!' he cried. "'Yes, thief!' I roared, shaking him by the shoulder. "'There are none missing. There cannot be any missing,' said he. "'There are three missing. And you know where they are. Must I call you a liar as well as a thief? Did I not see you trying to tear off another piece?' "'You have called me names enough,' said he, 'I will not stand it any longer. I shall not say another word about this business, since you have chosen to insult me. I will leave your house in the morning and make my own way in the world.' "'You shall leave it in the hands of the police!' I cried half-mad with grief and rage. 'I shall have this matter probed to the bottom.' "'You shall learn nothing from me,' said he with a passion such as I should not have thought was in his nature. 'If you choose to call the police, let the police find what they can.' "By this time the whole house was astir, for I had raised my voice in my anger. Mary was the first to rush into my room, and, at the sight of the coronet and of Arthur's face, she read the whole story and, with a scream, fell down senseless on the ground. I sent the house-maid for the police and put the investigation into their hands at once. When the inspector and a constable entered the house, Arthur, who had stood sullenly with his arms folded, asked me whether it was my intention to charge him with theft. I answered that it had ceased to be a private matter, but had become a public one, since the ruined coronet was national property. I was determined that the law should have its way in everything. "'At least,' said he, 'you will not have me arrested at once. It would be to your advantage as well as mine if I might leave the house for five minutes.' "'That you may get away, or perhaps that you may conceal what you have stolen,' said I. And then, realising the dreadful position in which I was placed, I implored him to remember that not only my honour but that of one who was far greater than I was at stake; and that he threatened to raise a scandal which would convulse the nation. He might avert it all if he would but tell me what he had done with the three missing stones. "'You may as well face the matter,' said I; 'you have been caught in the act, and no confession could make your guilt more heinous. If you but make such reparation as is in your power, by telling us where the beryls are, all shall be forgiven and forgotten.' "'Keep your forgiveness for those who ask for it,' he answered, turning away from me with a sneer. I saw that he was too hardened for any words of mine to influence him. There was but one way for it. I called in the inspector and gave him into custody. A search was made at once not only of his person but of his room and of every portion of the house where he could possibly have concealed the gems; but no trace of them could be found, nor would the wretched boy open his mouth for all our persuasions and our threats. This morning he was removed to a cell, and I, after going through all the police formalities, have hurried round to you to implore you to use your skill in unravelling the matter. The police have openly confessed that they can at present make nothing of it. You may go to any expense which you think necessary. I have already offered a reward of 1000 pounds. My God, what shall I do! I have lost my honour, my gems, and my son in one night. Oh, what shall I do!" He put a hand on either side of his head and rocked himself to and fro, droning to himself like a child whose grief has got beyond words. Sherlock Holmes sat silent for some few minutes, with his brows knitted and his eyes fixed upon the fire. "Do you receive much company?" he asked. "None save my partner with his family and an occasional friend of Arthur's. Sir George Burnwell has been several times lately. No one else, I think." "Do you go out much in society?" "Arthur does. Mary and I stay at home. We neither of us care for it." "That is unusual in a young girl." "She is of a quiet nature. Besides, she is not so very young. She is four-and-twenty." "This matter, from what you say, seems to have been a shock to her also." "Terrible! She is even more affected than I." "You have neither of you any doubt as to your son's guilt?" "How can we have when I saw him with my own eyes with the coronet in his hands." "I hardly consider that a conclusive proof. Was the remainder of the coronet at all injured?" "Yes, it was twisted." "Do you not think, then, that he might have been trying to straighten it?" "God bless you! You are doing what you can for him and for me. But it is too heavy a task. What was he doing there at all? If his purpose were innocent, why did he not say so?" "Precisely. And if it were guilty, why did he not invent a lie? His silence appears to me to cut both ways. There are several singular points about the case. What did the police think of the noise which awoke you from your sleep?" "They considered that it might be caused by Arthur's closing his bedroom door." "A likely story! As if a man bent on felony would slam his door so as to wake a household. What did they say, then, of the disappearance of these gems?" "They are still sounding the planking and probing the furniture in the hope of finding them." "Have they thought of looking outside the house?" "Yes, they have shown extraordinary energy. The whole garden has already been minutely examined." "Now, my dear sir," said Holmes. "is it not obvious to you now that this matter really strikes very much deeper than either you or the police were at first inclined to think? It appeared to you to be a simple case; to me it seems exceedingly complex. Consider what is involved by your theory. You suppose that your son came down from his bed, went, at great risk, to your dressing-room, opened your bureau, took out your coronet, broke off by main force a small portion of it, went off to some other place, concealed three gems out of the thirty-nine, with such skill that nobody can find them, and then returned with the other thirty-six into the room in which he exposed himself to the greatest danger of being discovered. I ask you now, is such a theory tenable?" "But what other is there?" cried the banker with a gesture of despair. "If his motives were innocent, why does he not explain them?" "It is our task to find that out," replied Holmes; "so now, if you please, Mr. Holder, we will set off for Streatham together, and devote an hour to glancing a little more closely into details." My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I was eager enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by the story to which we had listened. I confess that the guilt of the banker's son appeared to me to be as obvious as it did to his unhappy father, but still I had such faith in Holmes' judgment that I felt that there must be some grounds for hope as long as he was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation. He hardly spoke a word the whole way out to the southern suburb, but sat with his chin upon his breast and his hat drawn over his eyes, sunk in the deepest thought. Our client appeared to have taken fresh heart at the little glimpse of hope which had been presented to him, and he even broke into a desultory chat with me over his business affairs. A short railway journey and a shorter walk brought us to Fairbank, the modest residence of the great financier. Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a little from the road. A double carriage-sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched down in front to two large iron gates which closed the entrance. On the right side was a small wooden thicket, which led into a narrow path between two neat hedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming the tradesmen's entrance. On the left ran a lane which led to the stables, and was not itself within the grounds at all, being a public, though little used, thoroughfare. Holmes left us standing at the door and walked slowly all round the house, across the front, down the tradesmen's path, and so round by the garden behind into the stable lane. So long was he that Mr. Holder and I went into the dining-room and waited by the fire until he should return. We were sitting there in silence when the door opened and a young lady came in. She was rather above the middle height, slim, with dark hair and eyes, which seemed the darker against the absolute pallor of her skin. I do not think that I have ever seen such deadly paleness in a woman's face. Her lips, too, were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed with crying. As she swept silently into the room she impressed me with a greater sense of grief than the banker had done in the morning, and it was the more striking in her as she was evidently a woman of strong character, with immense capacity for self-restraint. Disregarding my presence, she went straight to her uncle and passed her hand over his head with a sweet womanly caress. "You have given orders that Arthur should be liberated, have you not, dad?" she asked. "No, no, my girl, the matter must be probed to the bottom." "But I am so sure that he is innocent. You know what woman's instincts are. I know that he has done no harm and that you will be sorry for having acted so harshly." "Why is he silent, then, if he is innocent?" "Who knows? Perhaps because he was so angry that you should suspect him." "How could I help suspecting him, when I actually saw him with the coronet in his hand?" "Oh, but he had only picked it up to look at it. Oh, do, do take my word for it that he is innocent. Let the matter drop and say no more. It is so dreadful to think of our dear Arthur in prison!" "I shall never let it drop until the gems are found--never, Mary! Your affection for Arthur blinds you as to the awful consequences to me. Far from hushing the thing up, I have brought a gentleman down from London to inquire more deeply into it." "This gentleman?" she asked, facing round to me. "No, his friend. He wished us to leave him alone. He is round in the stable lane now." "The stable lane?" She raised her dark eyebrows. "What can he hope to find there? Ah! this, I suppose, is he. I trust, sir, that you will succeed in proving, what I feel sure is the truth, that my cousin Arthur is innocent of this crime." "I fully share your opinion, and I trust, with you, that we may prove it," returned Holmes, going back to the mat to knock the snow from his shoes. "I believe I have the honour of addressing Miss Mary Holder. Might I ask you a question or two?" "Pray do, sir, if it may help to clear this horrible affair up." "You heard nothing yourself last night?" "Nothing, until my uncle here began to speak loudly. I heard that, and I came down." "You shut up the windows and doors the night before. Did you fasten all the windows?" "Yes." "Were they all fastened this morning?" "Yes." "You have a maid who has a sweetheart? I think that you remarked to your uncle last night that she had been out to see him?" "Yes, and she was the girl who waited in the drawing-room, and who may have heard uncle's remarks about the coronet." "I see. You infer that she may have gone out to tell her sweetheart, and that the two may have planned the robbery." "But what is the good of all these vague theories," cried the banker impatiently, "when I have told you that I saw Arthur with the coronet in his hands?" "Wait a little, Mr. Holder. We must come back to that. About this girl, Miss Holder. You saw her return by the kitchen door, I presume?" "Yes; when I went to see if the door was fastened for the night I met her slipping in. I saw the man, too, in the gloom." "Do you know him?" "Oh, yes! he is the green-grocer who brings our vegetables round. His name is Francis Prosper." "He stood," said Holmes, "to the left of the door--that is to say, farther up the path than is necessary to reach the door?" "Yes, he did." "And he is a man with a wooden leg?" Something like fear sprang up in the young lady's expressive black eyes. "Why, you are like a magician," said she. "How do you know that?" She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes' thin, eager face. "I should be very glad now to go upstairs," said he. "I shall probably wish to go over the outside of the house again. Perhaps I had better take a look at the lower windows before I go up." He walked swiftly round from one to the other, pausing only at the large one which looked from the hall onto the stable lane. This he opened and made a very careful examination of the sill with his powerful magnifying lens. "Now we shall go upstairs," said he at last. The banker's dressing-room was a plainly furnished little chamber, with a grey carpet, a large bureau, and a long mirror. Holmes went to the bureau first and looked hard at the lock. "Which key was used to open it?" he asked. "That which my son himself indicated--that of the cupboard of the lumber-room." "Have you it here?" "That is it on the dressing-table." Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau. "It is a noiseless lock," said he. "It is no wonder that it did not wake you. This case, I presume, contains the coronet. We must have a look at it." He opened the case, and taking out the diadem he laid it upon the table. It was a magnificent specimen of the jeweller's art, and the thirty-six stones were the finest that I have ever seen. At one side of the coronet was a cracked edge, where a corner holding three gems had been torn away. "Now, Mr. Holder," said Holmes, "here is the corner which corresponds to that which has been so unfortunately lost. Might I beg that you will break it off." The banker recoiled in horror. "I should not dream of trying," said he. "Then I will." Holmes suddenly bent his strength upon it, but without result. "I feel it give a little," said he; "but, though I am exceptionally strong in the fingers, it would take me all my time to break it. An ordinary man could not do it. Now, what do you think would happen if I did break it, Mr. Holder? There would be a noise like a pistol shot. Do you tell me that all this happened within a few yards of your bed and that you heard nothing of it?" "I do not know what to think. It is all dark to me." "But perhaps it may grow lighter as we go. What do you think, Miss Holder?" "I confess that I still share my uncle's perplexity." "Your son had no shoes or slippers on when you saw him?" "He had nothing on save only his trousers and shirt." "Thank you. We have certainly been favoured with extraordinary luck during this inquiry, and it will be entirely our own fault if we do not succeed in clearing the matter up. With your permission, Mr. Holder, I shall now continue my investigations outside." He went alone, at his own request, for he explained that any unnecessary footmarks might make his task more difficult. For an hour or more he was at work, returning at last with his feet heavy with snow and his features as inscrutable as ever. "I think that I have seen now all that there is to see, Mr. Holder," said he; "I can serve you best by returning to my rooms." "But the gems, Mr. Holmes. Where are they?" "I cannot tell." The banker wrung his hands. "I shall never see them again!" he cried. "And my son? You give me hopes?" "My opinion is in no way altered." "Then, for God's sake, what was this dark business which was acted in my house last night?" "If you can call upon me at my Baker Street rooms to-morrow morning between nine and ten I shall be happy to do what I can to make it clearer. I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get back the gems, and that you place no limit on the sum I may draw." "I would give my fortune to have them back." "Very good. I shall look into the matter between this and then. Good-bye; it is just possible that I may have to come over here again before evening." It was obvious to me that my companion's mind was now made up about the case, although what his conclusions were was more than I could even dimly imagine. Several times during our homeward journey I endeavoured to sound him upon the point, but he always glided away to some other topic, until at last I gave it over in despair. It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our rooms once more. He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutes dressed as a common loafer. With his collar turned up, his shiny, seedy coat, his red cravat, and his worn boots, he was a perfect sample of the class. "I think that this should do," said he, glancing into the glass above the fireplace. "I only wish that you could come with me, Watson, but I fear that it won't do. I may be on the trail in this matter, or I may be following a will-o'-the-wisp, but I shall soon know which it is. I hope that I may be back in a few hours." He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon his expedition. I had just finished my tea when he returned, evidently in excellent spirits, swinging an old elastic-sided boot in his hand. He chucked it down into a corner and helped himself to a cup of tea. "I only looked in as I passed," said he. "I am going right on." "Where to?" "Oh, to the other side of the West End. It may be some time before I get back. Don't wait up for me in case I should be late." "How are you getting on?" "Oh, so so. Nothing to complain of. I have been out to Streatham since I saw you last, but I did not call at the house. It is a very sweet little problem, and I would not have missed it for a good deal. However, I must not sit gossiping here, but must get these disreputable clothes off and return to my highly respectable self." I could see by his manner that he had stronger reasons for satisfaction than his words alone would imply. His eyes twinkled, and there was even a touch of colour upon his sallow cheeks. He hastened upstairs, and a few minutes later I heard the slam of the hall door, which told me that he was off once more upon his congenial hunt. I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of his return, so I retired to my room. It was no uncommon thing for him to be away for days and nights on end when he was hot upon a scent, so that his lateness caused me no surprise. I do not know at what hour he came in, but when I came down to breakfast in the morning there he was with a cup of coffee in one hand and the paper in the other, as fresh and trim as possible. "You will excuse my beginning without you, Watson," said he, "but you remember that our client has rather an early appointment this morning." "Why, it is after nine now," I answered. "I should not be surprised if that were he. I thought I heard a ring." It was, indeed, our friend the financier. I was shocked by the change which had come over him, for his face which was naturally of a broad and massive mould, was now pinched and fallen in, while his hair seemed to me at least a shade whiter. He entered with a weariness and lethargy which was even more painful than his violence of the morning before, and he dropped heavily into the armchair which I pushed forward for him. "I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried," said he. "Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous man, without a care in the world. Now I am left to a lonely and dishonoured age. One sorrow comes close upon the heels of another. My niece, Mary, has deserted me." "Deserted you?" "Yes. Her bed this morning had not been slept in, her room was empty, and a note for me lay upon the hall table. I had said to her last night, in sorrow and not in anger, that if she had married my boy all might have been well with him. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me to say so. It is to that remark that she refers in this note: "'MY DEAREST UNCLE:--I feel that I have brought trouble upon you, and that if I had acted differently this terrible misfortune might never have occurred. I cannot, with this thought in my mind, ever again be happy under your roof, and I feel that I must leave you forever. Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search for me, for it will be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me. In life or in death, I am ever your loving,--MARY.' "What could she mean by that note, Mr. Holmes? Do you think it points to suicide?" "No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible solution. I trust, Mr. Holder, that you are nearing the end of your troubles." "Ha! You say so! You have heard something, Mr. Holmes; you have learned something! Where are the gems?" "You would not think 1000 pounds apiece an excessive sum for them?" "I would pay ten." "That would be unnecessary. Three thousand will cover the matter. And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your check-book? Here is a pen. Better make it out for 4000 pounds." With a dazed face the banker made out the required check. Holmes walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three gems in it, and threw it down upon the table. With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up. "You have it!" he gasped. "I am saved! I am saved!" The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged his recovered gems to his bosom. "There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder," said Sherlock Holmes rather sternly. "Owe!" He caught up a pen. "Name the sum, and I will pay it." "No, the debt is not to me. You owe a very humble apology to that noble lad, your son, who has carried himself in this matter as I should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to have one." "Then it was not Arthur who took them?" "I told you yesterday, and I repeat to-day, that it was not." "You are sure of it! Then let us hurry to him at once to let him know that the truth is known." "He knows it already. When I had cleared it all up I had an interview with him, and finding that he would not tell me the story, I told it to him, on which he had to confess that I was right and to add the very few details which were not yet quite clear to me. Your news of this morning, however, may open his lips." "For heaven's sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary mystery!" "I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it. And let me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you to hear: there has been an understanding between Sir George Burnwell and your niece Mary. They have now fled together." "My Mary? Impossible!" "It is unfortunately more than possible; it is certain. Neither you nor your son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him into your family circle. He is one of the most dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler, an absolutely desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience. Your niece knew nothing of such men. When he breathed his vows to her, as he had done to a hundred before her, she flattered herself that she alone had touched his heart. The devil knows best what he said, but at least she became his tool and was in the habit of seeing him nearly every evening." "I cannot, and I will not, believe it!" cried the banker with an ashen face. "I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night. Your niece, when you had, as she thought, gone to your room, slipped down and talked to her lover through the window which leads into the stable lane. His footmarks had pressed right through the snow, so long had he stood there. She told him of the coronet. His wicked lust for gold kindled at the news, and he bent her to his will. I have no doubt that she loved you, but there are women in whom the love of a lover extinguishes all other loves, and I think that she must have been one. She had hardly listened to his instructions when she saw you coming downstairs, on which she closed the window rapidly and told you about one of the servants' escapade with her wooden-legged lover, which was all perfectly true. "Your boy, Arthur, went to bed after his interview with you but he slept badly on account of his uneasiness about his club debts. In the middle of the night he heard a soft tread pass his door, so he rose and, looking out, was surprised to see his cousin walking very stealthily along the passage until she disappeared into your dressing-room. Petrified with astonishment, the lad slipped on some clothes and waited there in the dark to see what would come of this strange affair. Presently she emerged from the room again, and in the light of the passage-lamp your son saw that she carried the precious coronet in her hands. She passed down the stairs, and he, thrilling with horror, ran along and slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence he could see what passed in the hall beneath. He saw her stealthily open the window, hand out the coronet to someone in the gloom, and then closing it once more hurry back to her room, passing quite close to where he stood hid behind the curtain. "As long as she was on the scene he could not take any action without a horrible exposure of the woman whom he loved. But the instant that she was gone he realised how crushing a misfortune this would be for you, and how all-important it was to set it right. He rushed down, just as he was, in his bare feet, opened the window, sprang out into the snow, and ran down the lane, where he could see a dark figure in the moonlight. Sir George Burnwell tried to get away, but Arthur caught him, and there was a struggle between them, your lad tugging at one side of the coronet, and his opponent at the other. In the scuffle, your son struck Sir George and cut him over the eye. Then something suddenly snapped, and your son, finding that he had the coronet in his hands, rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your room, and had just observed that the coronet had been twisted in the struggle and was endeavouring to straighten it when you appeared upon the scene." "Is it possible?" gasped the banker. "You then roused his anger by calling him names at a moment when he felt that he had deserved your warmest thanks. He could not explain the true state of affairs without betraying one who certainly deserved little enough consideration at his hands. He took the more chivalrous view, however, and preserved her secret." "And that was why she shrieked and fainted when she saw the coronet," cried Mr. Holder. "Oh, my God! what a blind fool I have been! And his asking to be allowed to go out for five minutes! The dear fellow wanted to see if the missing piece were at the scene of the struggle. How cruelly I have misjudged him!" "When I arrived at the house," continued Holmes, "I at once went very carefully round it to observe if there were any traces in the snow which might help me. I knew that none had fallen since the evening before, and also that there had been a strong frost to preserve impressions. I passed along the tradesmen's path, but found it all trampled down and indistinguishable. Just beyond it, however, at the far side of the kitchen door, a woman had stood and talked with a man, whose round impressions on one side showed that he had a wooden leg. I could even tell that they had been disturbed, for the woman had run back swiftly to the door, as was shown by the deep toe and light heel marks, while Wooden-leg had waited a little, and then had gone away. I thought at the time that this might be the maid and her sweetheart, of whom you had already spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so. I passed round the garden without seeing anything more than random tracks, which I took to be the police; but when I got into the stable lane a very long and complex story was written in the snow in front of me. "There was a double line of tracks of a booted man, and a second double line which I saw with delight belonged to a man with naked feet. I was at once convinced from what you had told me that the latter was your son. The first had walked both ways, but the other had run swiftly, and as his tread was marked in places over the depression of the boot, it was obvious that he had passed after the other. I followed them up and found they led to the hall window, where Boots had worn all the snow away while waiting. Then I walked to the other end, which was a hundred yards or more down the lane. I saw where Boots had faced round, where the snow was cut up as though there had been a struggle, and, finally, where a few drops of blood had fallen, to show me that I was not mistaken. Boots had then run down the lane, and another little smudge of blood showed that it was he who had been hurt. When he came to the highroad at the other end, I found that the pavement had been cleared, so there was an end to that clue. "On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the sill and framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see that someone had passed out. I could distinguish the outline of an instep where the wet foot had been placed in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to form an opinion as to what had occurred. A man had waited outside the window; someone had brought the gems; the deed had been overseen by your son; he had pursued the thief; had struggled with him; they had each tugged at the coronet, their united strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected. He had returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of his opponent. So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the man and who was it brought him the coronet? "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Now, I knew that it was not you who had brought it down, so there only remained your niece and the maids. But if it were the maids, why should your son allow himself to be accused in their place? There could be no possible reason. As he loved his cousin, however, there was an excellent explanation why he should retain her secret--the more so as the secret was a disgraceful one. When I remembered that you had seen her at that window, and how she had fainted on seeing the coronet again, my conjecture became a certainty. "And who could it be who was her confederate? A lover evidently, for who else could outweigh the love and gratitude which she must feel to you? I knew that you went out little, and that your circle of friends was a very limited one. But among them was Sir George Burnwell. I had heard of him before as being a man of evil reputation among women. It must have been he who wore those boots and retained the missing gems. Even though he knew that Arthur had discovered him, he might still flatter himself that he was safe, for the lad could not say a word without compromising his own family. "Well, your own good sense will suggest what measures I took next. I went in the shape of a loafer to Sir George's house, managed to pick up an acquaintance with his valet, learned that his master had cut his head the night before, and, finally, at the expense of six shillings, made all sure by buying a pair of his cast-off shoes. With these I journeyed down to Streatham and saw that they exactly fitted the tracks." "I saw an ill-dressed vagabond in the lane yesterday evening," said Mr. Holder. "Precisely. It was I. I found that I had my man, so I came home and changed my clothes. It was a delicate part which I had to play then, for I saw that a prosecution must be avoided to avert scandal, and I knew that so astute a villain would see that our hands were tied in the matter. I went and saw him. At first, of course, he denied everything. But when I gave him every particular that had occurred, he tried to bluster and took down a life-preserver from the wall. I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before he could strike. Then he became a little more reasonable. I told him that we would give him a price for the stones he held--1000 pounds apiece. That brought out the first signs of grief that he had shown. 'Why, dash it all!' said he, 'I've let them go at six hundred for the three!' I soon managed to get the address of the receiver who had them, on promising him that there would be no prosecution. Off I set to him, and after much chaffering I got our stones at 1000 pounds apiece. Then I looked in upon your son, told him that all was right, and eventually got to my bed about two o'clock, after what I may call a really hard day's work." "A day which has saved England from a great public scandal," said the banker, rising. "Sir, I cannot find words to thank you, but you shall not find me ungrateful for what you have done. Your skill has indeed exceeded all that I have heard of it. And now I must fly to my dear boy to apologise to him for the wrong which I have done him. As to what you tell me of poor Mary, it goes to my very heart. Not even your skill can inform me where she is now." "I think that we may safely say," returned Holmes, "that she is wherever Sir George Burnwell is. It is equally certain, too, that whatever her sins are, they will soon receive a more than sufficient punishment." XII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE COPPER BEECHES "To the man who loves art for its own sake," remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, "it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves, but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I have made my special province." "And yet," said I, smiling, "I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against my records." "You have erred, perhaps," he observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood--"you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing." "It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter," I remarked with some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed to be a strong factor in my friend's singular character. "No, it is not selfishness or conceit," said he, answering, as was his wont, my thoughts rather than my words. "If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing--a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales." It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dipping continuously into the advertisement columns of a succession of papers until at last, having apparently given up his search, he had emerged in no very sweet temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings. "At the same time," he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat puffing at his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, "you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But in avoiding the sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial." "The end may have been so," I answered, "but the methods I hold to have been novel and of interest." "Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you are trivial. I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I think that I have touched bottom at last, however. This note I had this morning marks my zero-point, I fancy. Read it!" He tossed a crumpled letter across to me. It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus: "DEAR MR. HOLMES:--I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should or should not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governess. I shall call at half-past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you. Yours faithfully, "VIOLET HUNTER." "Do you know the young lady?" I asked. "Not I." "It is half-past ten now." "Yes, and I have no doubt that is her ring." "It may turn out to be of more interest than you think. You remember that the affair of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim at first, developed into a serious investigation. It may be so in this case, also." "Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved, for here, unless I am much mistaken, is the person in question." As he spoke the door opened and a young lady entered the room. She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover's egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world. "You will excuse my troubling you, I am sure," said she, as my companion rose to greet her, "but I have had a very strange experience, and as I have no parents or relations of any sort from whom I could ask advice, I thought that perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I should do." "Pray take a seat, Miss Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that I can to serve you." I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his new client. He looked her over in his searching fashion, and then composed himself, with his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to her story. "I have been a governess for five years," said she, "in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to America with him, so that I found myself without a situation. I advertised, and I answered advertisements, but without success. At last the little money which I had saved began to run short, and I was at my wit's end as to what I should do. "There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West End called Westaway's, and there I used to call about once a week in order to see whether anything had turned up which might suit me. Westaway was the name of the founder of the business, but it is really managed by Miss Stoper. She sits in her own little office, and the ladies who are seeking employment wait in an anteroom, and are then shown in one by one, when she consults her ledgers and sees whether she has anything which would suit them. "Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I found that Miss Stoper was not alone. A prodigiously stout man with a very smiling face and a great heavy chin which rolled down in fold upon fold over his throat sat at her elbow with a pair of glasses on his nose, looking very earnestly at the ladies who entered. As I came in he gave quite a jump in his chair and turned quickly to Miss Stoper. "'That will do,' said he; 'I could not ask for anything better. Capital! capital!' He seemed quite enthusiastic and rubbed his hands together in the most genial fashion. He was such a comfortable-looking man that it was quite a pleasure to look at him. "'You are looking for a situation, miss?' he asked. "'Yes, sir.' "'As governess?' "'Yes, sir.' "'And what salary do you ask?' "'I had 4 pounds a month in my last place with Colonel Spence Munro.' "'Oh, tut, tut! sweating--rank sweating!' he cried, throwing his fat hands out into the air like a man who is in a boiling passion. 'How could anyone offer so pitiful a sum to a lady with such attractions and accomplishments?' "'My accomplishments, sir, may be less than you imagine,' said I. 'A little French, a little German, music, and drawing--' "'Tut, tut!' he cried. 'This is all quite beside the question. The point is, have you or have you not the bearing and deportment of a lady? There it is in a nutshell. If you have not, you are not fitted for the rearing of a child who may some day play a considerable part in the history of the country. But if you have why, then, how could any gentleman ask you to condescend to accept anything under the three figures? Your salary with me, madam, would commence at 100 pounds a year.' "You may imagine, Mr. Holmes, that to me, destitute as I was, such an offer seemed almost too good to be true. The gentleman, however, seeing perhaps the look of incredulity upon my face, opened a pocket-book and took out a note. "'It is also my custom,' said he, smiling in the most pleasant fashion until his eyes were just two little shining slits amid the white creases of his face, 'to advance to my young ladies half their salary beforehand, so that they may meet any little expenses of their journey and their wardrobe.' "It seemed to me that I had never met so fascinating and so thoughtful a man. As I was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a great convenience, and yet there was something unnatural about the whole transaction which made me wish to know a little more before I quite committed myself. "'May I ask where you live, sir?' said I. "'Hampshire. Charming rural place. The Copper Beeches, five miles on the far side of Winchester. It is the most lovely country, my dear young lady, and the dearest old country-house.' "'And my duties, sir? I should be glad to know what they would be.' "'One child--one dear little romper just six years old. Oh, if you could see him killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!' He leaned back in his chair and laughed his eyes into his head again. "I was a little startled at the nature of the child's amusement, but the father's laughter made me think that perhaps he was joking. "'My sole duties, then,' I asked, 'are to take charge of a single child?' "'No, no, not the sole, not the sole, my dear young lady,' he cried. 'Your duty would be, as I am sure your good sense would suggest, to obey any little commands my wife might give, provided always that they were such commands as a lady might with propriety obey. You see no difficulty, heh?' "'I should be happy to make myself useful.' "'Quite so. In dress now, for example. We are faddy people, you know--faddy but kind-hearted. If you were asked to wear any dress which we might give you, you would not object to our little whim. Heh?' "'No,' said I, considerably astonished at his words. "'Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to you?' "'Oh, no.' "'Or to cut your hair quite short before you come to us?' "I could hardly believe my ears. As you may observe, Mr. Holmes, my hair is somewhat luxuriant, and of a rather peculiar tint of chestnut. It has been considered artistic. I could not dream of sacrificing it in this offhand fashion. "'I am afraid that that is quite impossible,' said I. He had been watching me eagerly out of his small eyes, and I could see a shadow pass over his face as I spoke. "'I am afraid that it is quite essential,' said he. 'It is a little fancy of my wife's, and ladies' fancies, you know, madam, ladies' fancies must be consulted. And so you won't cut your hair?' "'No, sir, I really could not,' I answered firmly. "'Ah, very well; then that quite settles the matter. It is a pity, because in other respects you would really have done very nicely. In that case, Miss Stoper, I had best inspect a few more of your young ladies.' "The manageress had sat all this while busy with her papers without a word to either of us, but she glanced at me now with so much annoyance upon her face that I could not help suspecting that she had lost a handsome commission through my refusal. "'Do you desire your name to be kept upon the books?' she asked. "'If you please, Miss Stoper.' "'Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you refuse the most excellent offers in this fashion,' said she sharply. 'You can hardly expect us to exert ourselves to find another such opening for you. Good-day to you, Miss Hunter.' She struck a gong upon the table, and I was shown out by the page. "Well, Mr. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and found little enough in the cupboard, and two or three bills upon the table. I began to ask myself whether I had not done a very foolish thing. After all, if these people had strange fads and expected obedience on the most extraordinary matters, they were at least ready to pay for their eccentricity. Very few governesses in England are getting 100 pounds a year. Besides, what use was my hair to me? Many people are improved by wearing it short and perhaps I should be among the number. Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a mistake, and by the day after I was sure of it. I had almost overcome my pride so far as to go back to the agency and inquire whether the place was still open when I received this letter from the gentleman himself. I have it here and I will read it to you: "'The Copper Beeches, near Winchester. "'DEAR MISS HUNTER:--Miss Stoper has very kindly given me your address, and I write from here to ask you whether you have reconsidered your decision. My wife is very anxious that you should come, for she has been much attracted by my description of you. We are willing to give 30 pounds a quarter, or 120 pounds a year, so as to recompense you for any little inconvenience which our fads may cause you. They are not very exacting, after all. My wife is fond of a particular shade of electric blue and would like you to wear such a dress indoors in the morning. You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasing one, as we have one belonging to my dear daughter Alice (now in Philadelphia), which would, I should think, fit you very well. Then, as to sitting here or there, or amusing yourself in any manner indicated, that need cause you no inconvenience. As regards your hair, it is no doubt a pity, especially as I could not help remarking its beauty during our short interview, but I am afraid that I must remain firm upon this point, and I only hope that the increased salary may recompense you for the loss. Your duties, as far as the child is concerned, are very light. Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with the dog-cart at Winchester. Let me know your train. Yours faithfully, JEPHRO RUCASTLE.' "That is the letter which I have just received, Mr. Holmes, and my mind is made up that I will accept it. I thought, however, that before taking the final step I should like to submit the whole matter to your consideration." "Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles the question," said Holmes, smiling. "But you would not advise me to refuse?" "I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for." "What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?" "Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?" "Well, there seems to me to be only one possible solution. Mr. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured man. Is it not possible that his wife is a lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter quiet for fear she should be taken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in every way in order to prevent an outbreak?" "That is a possible solution--in fact, as matters stand, it is the most probable one. But in any case it does not seem to be a nice household for a young lady." "But the money, Mr. Holmes, the money!" "Well, yes, of course the pay is good--too good. That is what makes me uneasy. Why should they give you 120 pounds a year, when they could have their pick for 40 pounds? There must be some strong reason behind." "I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would understand afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt that you were at the back of me." "Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you. I assure you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which has come my way for some months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the features. If you should find yourself in doubt or in danger--" "Danger! What danger do you foresee?" Holmes shook his head gravely. "It would cease to be a danger if we could define it," said he. "But at any time, day or night, a telegram would bring me down to your help." "That is enough." She rose briskly from her chair with the anxiety all swept from her face. "I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in my mind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair to-night, and start for Winchester to-morrow." With a few grateful words to Holmes she bade us both good-night and bustled off upon her way. "At least," said I as we heard her quick, firm steps descending the stairs, "she seems to be a young lady who is very well able to take care of herself." "And she would need to be," said Holmes gravely. "I am much mistaken if we do not hear from her before many days are past." It was not very long before my friend's prediction was fulfilled. A fortnight went by, during which I frequently found my thoughts turning in her direction and wondering what strange side-alley of human experience this lonely woman had strayed into. The unusual salary, the curious conditions, the light duties, all pointed to something abnormal, though whether a fad or a plot, or whether the man were a philanthropist or a villain, it was quite beyond my powers to determine. As to Holmes, I observed that he sat frequently for half an hour on end, with knitted brows and an abstracted air, but he swept the matter away with a wave of his hand when I mentioned it. "Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay." And yet he would always wind up by muttering that no sister of his should ever have accepted such a situation. The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I was thinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-night chemical researches which he frequently indulged in, when I would leave him stooping over a retort and a test-tube at night and find him in the same position when I came down to breakfast in the morning. He opened the yellow envelope, and then, glancing at the message, threw it across to me. "Just look up the trains in Bradshaw," said he, and turned back to his chemical studies. The summons was a brief and urgent one. "Please be at the Black Swan Hotel at Winchester at midday to-morrow," it said. "Do come! I am at my wit's end. HUNTER." "Will you come with me?" asked Holmes, glancing up. "I should wish to." "Just look it up, then." "There is a train at half-past nine," said I, glancing over my Bradshaw. "It is due at Winchester at 11:30." "That will do very nicely. Then perhaps I had better postpone my analysis of the acetones, as we may need to be at our best in the morning." By eleven o'clock the next day we were well upon our way to the old English capital. Holmes had been buried in the morning papers all the way down, but after we had passed the Hampshire border he threw them down and began to admire the scenery. It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man's energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the new foliage. "Are they not fresh and beautiful?" I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street. But Holmes shook his head gravely. "Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there." "Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?" "They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside." "You horrify me!" "But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger. Still, it is clear that she is not personally threatened." "No. If she can come to Winchester to meet us she can get away." "Quite so. She has her freedom." "What CAN be the matter, then? Can you suggest no explanation?" "I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them. But which of these is correct can only be determined by the fresh information which we shall no doubt find waiting for us. Well, there is the tower of the cathedral, and we shall soon learn all that Miss Hunter has to tell." The Black Swan is an inn of repute in the High Street, at no distance from the station, and there we found the young lady waiting for us. She had engaged a sitting-room, and our lunch awaited us upon the table. "I am so delighted that you have come," she said earnestly. "It is so very kind of you both; but indeed I do not know what I should do. Your advice will be altogether invaluable to me." "Pray tell us what has happened to you." "I will do so, and I must be quick, for I have promised Mr. Rucastle to be back before three. I got his leave to come into town this morning, though he little knew for what purpose." "Let us have everything in its due order." Holmes thrust his long thin legs out towards the fire and composed himself to listen. "In the first place, I may say that I have met, on the whole, with no actual ill-treatment from Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle. It is only fair to them to say that. But I cannot understand them, and I am not easy in my mind about them." "What can you not understand?" "Their reasons for their conduct. But you shall have it all just as it occurred. When I came down, Mr. Rucastle met me here and drove me in his dog-cart to the Copper Beeches. It is, as he said, beautifully situated, but it is not beautiful in itself, for it is a large square block of a house, whitewashed, but all stained and streaked with damp and bad weather. There are grounds round it, woods on three sides, and on the fourth a field which slopes down to the Southampton highroad, which curves past about a hundred yards from the front door. This ground in front belongs to the house, but the woods all round are part of Lord Southerton's preserves. A clump of copper beeches immediately in front of the hall door has given its name to the place. "I was driven over by my employer, who was as amiable as ever, and was introduced by him that evening to his wife and the child. There was no truth, Mr. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be probable in your rooms at Baker Street. Mrs. Rucastle is not mad. I found her to be a silent, pale-faced woman, much younger than her husband, not more than thirty, I should think, while he can hardly be less than forty-five. From their conversation I have gathered that they have been married about seven years, that he was a widower, and that his only child by the first wife was the daughter who has gone to Philadelphia. Mr. Rucastle told me in private that the reason why she had left them was that she had an unreasoning aversion to her stepmother. As the daughter could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine that her position must have been uncomfortable with her father's young wife. "Mrs. Rucastle seemed to me to be colourless in mind as well as in feature. She impressed me neither favourably nor the reverse. She was a nonentity. It was easy to see that she was passionately devoted both to her husband and to her little son. Her light grey eyes wandered continually from one to the other, noting every little want and forestalling it if possible. He was kind to her also in his bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the whole they seemed to be a happy couple. And yet she had some secret sorrow, this woman. She would often be lost in deep thought, with the saddest look upon her face. More than once I have surprised her in tears. I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition of her child which weighed upon her mind, for I have never met so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature. He is small for his age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large. His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice, little birds, and insects. But I would rather not talk about the creature, Mr. Holmes, and, indeed, he has little to do with my story." "I am glad of all details," remarked my friend, "whether they seem to you to be relevant or not." "I shall try not to miss anything of importance. The one unpleasant thing about the house, which struck me at once, was the appearance and conduct of the servants. There are only two, a man and his wife. Toller, for that is his name, is a rough, uncouth man, with grizzled hair and whiskers, and a perpetual smell of drink. Twice since I have been with them he has been quite drunk, and yet Mr. Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it. His wife is a very tall and strong woman with a sour face, as silent as Mrs. Rucastle and much less amiable. They are a most unpleasant couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in the nursery and my own room, which are next to each other in one corner of the building. "For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to her husband. "'Oh, yes,' said he, turning to me, 'we are very much obliged to you, Miss Hunter, for falling in with our whims so far as to cut your hair. I assure you that it has not detracted in the tiniest iota from your appearance. We shall now see how the electric-blue dress will become you. You will find it laid out upon the bed in your room, and if you would be so good as to put it on we should both be extremely obliged.' "The dress which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade of blue. It was of excellent material, a sort of beige, but it bore unmistakable signs of having been worn before. It could not have been a better fit if I had been measured for it. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look of it, which seemed quite exaggerated in its vehemence. They were waiting for me in the drawing-room, which is a very large room, stretching along the entire front of the house, with three long windows reaching down to the floor. A chair had been placed close to the central window, with its back turned towards it. In this I was asked to sit, and then Mr. Rucastle, walking up and down on the other side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest stories that I have ever listened to. You cannot imagine how comical he was, and I laughed until I was quite weary. Mrs. Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense of humour, never so much as smiled, but sat with her hands in her lap, and a sad, anxious look upon her face. After an hour or so, Mr. Rucastle suddenly remarked that it was time to commence the duties of the day, and that I might change my dress and go to little Edward in the nursery. "Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar circumstances. Again I changed my dress, again I sat in the window, and again I laughed very heartily at the funny stories of which my employer had an immense répertoire, and which he told inimitably. Then he handed me a yellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little sideways, that my own shadow might not fall upon the page, he begged me to read aloud to him. I read for about ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he ordered me to cease and to change my dress. "You can easily imagine, Mr. Holmes, how curious I became as to what the meaning of this extraordinary performance could possibly be. They were always very careful, I observed, to turn my face away from the window, so that I became consumed with the desire to see what was going on behind my back. At first it seemed to be impossible, but I soon devised a means. My hand-mirror had been broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece of the glass in my handkerchief. On the next occasion, in the midst of my laughter, I put my handkerchief up to my eyes, and was able with a little management to see all that there was behind me. I confess that I was disappointed. There was nothing. At least that was my first impression. At the second glance, however, I perceived that there was a man standing in the Southampton Road, a small bearded man in a grey suit, who seemed to be looking in my direction. The road is an important highway, and there are usually people there. This man, however, was leaning against the railings which bordered our field and was looking earnestly up. I lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mrs. Rucastle to find her eyes fixed upon me with a most searching gaze. She said nothing, but I am convinced that she had divined that I had a mirror in my hand and had seen what was behind me. She rose at once. "'Jephro,' said she, 'there is an impertinent fellow upon the road there who stares up at Miss Hunter.' "'No friend of yours, Miss Hunter?' he asked. "'No, I know no one in these parts.' "'Dear me! How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motion to him to go away.' "'Surely it would be better to take no notice.' "'No, no, we should have him loitering here always. Kindly turn round and wave him away like that.' "I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road." "Pray continue," said Holmes. "Your narrative promises to be a most interesting one." "You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there may prove to be little relation between the different incidents of which I speak. On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about. "'Look in here!' said Mr. Rucastle, showing me a slit between two planks. 'Is he not a beauty?' "I looked through and was conscious of two glowing eyes, and of a vague figure huddled up in the darkness. "'Don't be frightened,' said my employer, laughing at the start which I had given. 'It's only Carlo, my mastiff. I call him mine, but really old Toller, my groom, is the only man who can do anything with him. We feed him once a day, and not too much then, so that he is always as keen as mustard. Toller lets him loose every night, and God help the trespasser whom he lays his fangs upon. For goodness' sake don't you ever on any pretext set your foot over the threshold at night, for it's as much as your life is worth.' "The warning was no idle one, for two nights later I happened to look out of my bedroom window about two o'clock in the morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was. It was a giant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted, with hanging jowl, black muzzle, and huge projecting bones. It walked slowly across the lawn and vanished into the shadow upon the other side. That dreadful sentinel sent a chill to my heart which I do not think that any burglar could have done. "And now I have a very strange experience to tell you. I had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil at the bottom of my trunk. One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amuse myself by examining the furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things. There was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones empty and open, the lower one locked. I had filled the first two with my linen, and as I had still much to pack away I was naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer. It struck me that it might have been fastened by a mere oversight, so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to open it. The very first key fitted to perfection, and I drew the drawer open. There was only one thing in it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil of hair. "I took it up and examined it. It was of the same peculiar tint, and the same thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded itself upon me. How could my hair have been locked in the drawer? With trembling hands I undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair. I laid the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was it not extraordinary? Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at all of what it meant. I returned the strange hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of the matter to the Rucastles as I felt that I had put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they had locked. "I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Mr. Holmes, and I soon had a pretty good plan of the whole house in my head. There was one wing, however, which appeared not to be inhabited at all. A door which faced that which led into the quarters of the Tollers opened into this suite, but it was invariably locked. One day, however, as I ascended the stair, I met Mr. Rucastle coming out through this door, his keys in his hand, and a look on his face which made him a very different person to the round, jovial man to whom I was accustomed. His cheeks were red, his brow was all crinkled with anger, and the veins stood out at his temples with passion. He locked the door and hurried past me without a word or a look. "This aroused my curiosity, so when I went out for a walk in the grounds with my charge, I strolled round to the side from which I could see the windows of this part of the house. There were four of them in a row, three of which were simply dirty, while the fourth was shuttered up. They were evidently all deserted. As I strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Mr. Rucastle came out to me, looking as merry and jovial as ever. "'Ah!' said he, 'you must not think me rude if I passed you without a word, my dear young lady. I was preoccupied with business matters.' "I assured him that I was not offended. 'By the way,' said I, 'you seem to have quite a suite of spare rooms up there, and one of them has the shutters up.' "He looked surprised and, as it seemed to me, a little startled at my remark. "'Photography is one of my hobbies,' said he. 'I have made my dark room up there. But, dear me! what an observant young lady we have come upon. Who would have believed it? Who would have ever believed it?' He spoke in a jesting tone, but there was no jest in his eyes as he looked at me. I read suspicion there and annoyance, but no jest. "Well, Mr. Holmes, from the moment that I understood that there was something about that suite of rooms which I was not to know, I was all on fire to go over them. It was not mere curiosity, though I have my share of that. It was more a feeling of duty--a feeling that some good might come from my penetrating to this place. They talk of woman's instinct; perhaps it was woman's instinct which gave me that feeling. At any rate, it was there, and I was keenly on the lookout for any chance to pass the forbidden door. "It was only yesterday that the chance came. I may tell you that, besides Mr. Rucastle, both Toller and his wife find something to do in these deserted rooms, and I once saw him carrying a large black linen bag with him through the door. Recently he has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was very drunk; and when I came upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubt at all that he had left it there. Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle were both downstairs, and the child was with them, so that I had an admirable opportunity. I turned the key gently in the lock, opened the door, and slipped through. "There was a little passage in front of me, unpapered and uncarpeted, which turned at a right angle at the farther end. Round this corner were three doors in a line, the first and third of which were open. They each led into an empty room, dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and one in the other, so thick with dirt that the evening light glimmered dimly through them. The centre door was closed, and across the outside of it had been fastened one of the broad bars of an iron bed, padlocked at one end to a ring in the wall, and fastened at the other with stout cord. The door itself was locked as well, and the key was not there. This barricaded door corresponded clearly with the shuttered window outside, and yet I could see by the glimmer from beneath it that the room was not in darkness. Evidently there was a skylight which let in light from above. As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door and wondering what secret it might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps within the room and saw a shadow pass backward and forward against the little slit of dim light which shone out from under the door. A mad, unreasoning terror rose up in me at the sight, Mr. Holmes. My overstrung nerves failed me suddenly, and I turned and ran--ran as though some dreadful hand were behind me clutching at the skirt of my dress. I rushed down the passage, through the door, and straight into the arms of Mr. Rucastle, who was waiting outside. "'So,' said he, smiling, 'it was you, then. I thought that it must be when I saw the door open.' "'Oh, I am so frightened!' I panted. "'My dear young lady! my dear young lady!'--you cannot think how caressing and soothing his manner was--'and what has frightened you, my dear young lady?' "But his voice was just a little too coaxing. He overdid it. I was keenly on my guard against him. "'I was foolish enough to go into the empty wing,' I answered. 'But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I was frightened and ran out again. Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!' "'Only that?' said he, looking at me keenly. "'Why, what did you think?' I asked. "'Why do you think that I lock this door?' "'I am sure that I do not know.' "'It is to keep people out who have no business there. Do you see?' He was still smiling in the most amiable manner. "'I am sure if I had known--' "'Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put your foot over that threshold again'--here in an instant the smile hardened into a grin of rage, and he glared down at me with the face of a demon--'I'll throw you to the mastiff.' "I was so terrified that I do not know what I did. I suppose that I must have rushed past him into my room. I remember nothing until I found myself lying on my bed trembling all over. Then I thought of you, Mr. Holmes. I could not live there longer without some advice. I was frightened of the house, of the man, of the woman, of the servants, even of the child. They were all horrible to me. If I could only bring you down all would be well. Of course I might have fled from the house, but my curiosity was almost as strong as my fears. My mind was soon made up. I would send you a wire. I put on my hat and cloak, went down to the office, which is about half a mile from the house, and then returned, feeling very much easier. A horrible doubt came into my mind as I approached the door lest the dog might be loose, but I remembered that Toller had drunk himself into a state of insensibility that evening, and I knew that he was the only one in the household who had any influence with the savage creature, or who would venture to set him free. I slipped in in safety and lay awake half the night in my joy at the thought of seeing you. I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be back before three o'clock, for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on a visit, and will be away all the evening, so that I must look after the child. Now I have told you all my adventures, Mr. Holmes, and I should be very glad if you could tell me what it all means, and, above all, what I should do." Holmes and I had listened spellbound to this extraordinary story. My friend rose now and paced up and down the room, his hands in his pockets, and an expression of the most profound gravity upon his face. "Is Toller still drunk?" he asked. "Yes. I heard his wife tell Mrs. Rucastle that she could do nothing with him." "That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?" "Yes." "Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?" "Yes, the wine-cellar." "You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a very brave and sensible girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one more feat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional woman." "I will try. What is it?" "We shall be at the Copper Beeches by seven o'clock, my friend and I. The Rucastles will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, be incapable. There only remains Mrs. Toller, who might give the alarm. If you could send her into the cellar on some errand, and then turn the key upon her, you would facilitate matters immensely." "I will do it." "Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly into the affair. Of course there is only one feasible explanation. You have been brought there to personate someone, and the real person is imprisoned in this chamber. That is obvious. As to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the daughter, Miss Alice Rucastle, if I remember right, who was said to have gone to America. You were chosen, doubtless, as resembling her in height, figure, and the colour of your hair. Hers had been cut off, very possibly in some illness through which she has passed, and so, of course, yours had to be sacrificed also. By a curious chance you came upon her tresses. The man in the road was undoubtedly some friend of hers--possibly her fiancé--and no doubt, as you wore the girl's dress and were so like her, he was convinced from your laughter, whenever he saw you, and afterwards from your gesture, that Miss Rucastle was perfectly happy, and that she no longer desired his attentions. The dog is let loose at night to prevent him from endeavouring to communicate with her. So much is fairly clear. The most serious point in the case is the disposition of the child." "What on earth has that to do with it?" I ejaculated. "My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don't you see that the converse is equally valid. I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. This child's disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty's sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power." "I am sure that you are right, Mr. Holmes," cried our client. "A thousand things come back to me which make me certain that you have hit it. Oh, let us lose not an instant in bringing help to this poor creature." "We must be circumspect, for we are dealing with a very cunning man. We can do nothing until seven o'clock. At that hour we shall be with you, and it will not be long before we solve the mystery." We were as good as our word, for it was just seven when we reached the Copper Beeches, having put up our trap at a wayside public-house. The group of trees, with their dark leaves shining like burnished metal in the light of the setting sun, were sufficient to mark the house even had Miss Hunter not been standing smiling on the door-step. "Have you managed it?" asked Holmes. A loud thudding noise came from somewhere downstairs. "That is Mrs. Toller in the cellar," said she. "Her husband lies snoring on the kitchen rug. Here are his keys, which are the duplicates of Mr. Rucastle's." "You have done well indeed!" cried Holmes with enthusiasm. "Now lead the way, and we shall soon see the end of this black business." We passed up the stair, unlocked the door, followed on down a passage, and found ourselves in front of the barricade which Miss Hunter had described. Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar. Then he tried the various keys in the lock, but without success. No sound came from within, and at the silence Holmes' face clouded over. "I trust that we are not too late," said he. "I think, Miss Hunter, that we had better go in without you. Now, Watson, put your shoulder to it, and we shall see whether we cannot make our way in." It was an old rickety door and gave at once before our united strength. Together we rushed into the room. It was empty. There was no furniture save a little pallet bed, a small table, and a basketful of linen. The skylight above was open, and the prisoner gone. "There has been some villainy here," said Holmes; "this beauty has guessed Miss Hunter's intentions and has carried his victim off." "But how?" "Through the skylight. We shall soon see how he managed it." He swung himself up onto the roof. "Ah, yes," he cried, "here's the end of a long light ladder against the eaves. That is how he did it." "But it is impossible," said Miss Hunter; "the ladder was not there when the Rucastles went away." "He has come back and done it. I tell you that he is a clever and dangerous man. I should not be very much surprised if this were he whose step I hear now upon the stair. I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your pistol ready." The words were hardly out of his mouth before a man appeared at the door of the room, a very fat and burly man, with a heavy stick in his hand. Miss Hunter screamed and shrunk against the wall at the sight of him, but Sherlock Holmes sprang forward and confronted him. "You villain!" said he, "where's your daughter?" The fat man cast his eyes round, and then up at the open skylight. "It is for me to ask you that," he shrieked, "you thieves! Spies and thieves! I have caught you, have I? You are in my power. I'll serve you!" He turned and clattered down the stairs as hard as he could go. "He's gone for the dog!" cried Miss Hunter. "I have my revolver," said I. "Better close the front door," cried Holmes, and we all rushed down the stairs together. We had hardly reached the hall when we heard the baying of a hound, and then a scream of agony, with a horrible worrying sound which it was dreadful to listen to. An elderly man with a red face and shaking limbs came staggering out at a side door. "My God!" he cried. "Someone has loosed the dog. It's not been fed for two days. Quick, quick, or it'll be too late!" Holmes and I rushed out and round the angle of the house, with Toller hurrying behind us. There was the huge famished brute, its black muzzle buried in Rucastle's throat, while he writhed and screamed upon the ground. Running up, I blew its brains out, and it fell over with its keen white teeth still meeting in the great creases of his neck. With much labour we separated them and carried him, living but horribly mangled, into the house. We laid him upon the drawing-room sofa, and having dispatched the sobered Toller to bear the news to his wife, I did what I could to relieve his pain. We were all assembled round him when the door opened, and a tall, gaunt woman entered the room. "Mrs. Toller!" cried Miss Hunter. "Yes, miss. Mr. Rucastle let me out when he came back before he went up to you. Ah, miss, it is a pity you didn't let me know what you were planning, for I would have told you that your pains were wasted." "Ha!" said Holmes, looking keenly at her. "It is clear that Mrs. Toller knows more about this matter than anyone else." "Yes, sir, I do, and I am ready enough to tell what I know." "Then, pray, sit down, and let us hear it for there are several points on which I must confess that I am still in the dark." "I will soon make it clear to you," said she; "and I'd have done so before now if I could ha' got out from the cellar. If there's police-court business over this, you'll remember that I was the one that stood your friend, and that I was Miss Alice's friend too. "She was never happy at home, Miss Alice wasn't, from the time that her father married again. She was slighted like and had no say in anything, but it never really became bad for her until after she met Mr. Fowler at a friend's house. As well as I could learn, Miss Alice had rights of her own by will, but she was so quiet and patient, she was, that she never said a word about them but just left everything in Mr. Rucastle's hands. He knew he was safe with her; but when there was a chance of a husband coming forward, who would ask for all that the law would give him, then her father thought it time to put a stop on it. He wanted her to sign a paper, so that whether she married or not, he could use her money. When she wouldn't do it, he kept on worrying her until she got brain-fever, and for six weeks was at death's door. Then she got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and with her beautiful hair cut off; but that didn't make no change in her young man, and he stuck to her as true as man could be." "Ah," said Holmes, "I think that what you have been good enough to tell us makes the matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all that remains. Mr. Rucastle then, I presume, took to this system of imprisonment?" "Yes, sir." "And brought Miss Hunter down from London in order to get rid of the disagreeable persistence of Mr. Fowler." "That was it, sir." "But Mr. Fowler being a persevering man, as a good seaman should be, blockaded the house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments, metallic or otherwise, in convincing you that your interests were the same as his." "Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed gentleman," said Mrs. Toller serenely. "And in this way he managed that your good man should have no want of drink, and that a ladder should be ready at the moment when your master had gone out." "You have it, sir, just as it happened." "I am sure we owe you an apology, Mrs. Toller," said Holmes, "for you have certainly cleared up everything which puzzled us. And here comes the country surgeon and Mrs. Rucastle, so I think, Watson, that we had best escort Miss Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to me that our locus standi now is rather a questionable one." And thus was solved the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beeches in front of the door. Mr. Rucastle survived, but was always a broken man, kept alive solely through the care of his devoted wife. They still live with their old servants, who probably know so much of Rucastle's past life that he finds it difficult to part from them. Mr. Fowler and Miss Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day after their flight, and he is now the holder of a government appointment in the island of Mauritius. As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems, and she is now the head of a private school at Walsall, where I believe that she has met with considerable success. Publication Date: March 22nd 2008
Bob Moats Classmate Murders Chapter One Turning 40 and then 50 years old didn't really bother me, but turning 60 was something I just couldn't accept. I ignored it the day it happened, and tried my best to do so despite my family and friend's attempts to make sure I didn't forget. Damn them. I was now one month past 60, and it still bothered me. The only good thing about it, I was just one year and eleven months closer to social security. I grumbled around my tiny room tapping the keyboards on my computers, bringing them out of sleep mode, and wishing I had something better to do with my life. Actually anything at all would have been better since I was now doing nothing in the present time of my life. I was unemployed due to the stupidity of my former employers, an age old problem for most good workers, and the state unemployment agency decided I didn't qualify for benefits. Maybe it's the fact that I had quit my job because I really hated it, possibly that was the reason I was denied compensation. I wrote a nice letter in response to their request for more info explaining that my former employers were jerks and they were just abusing my good nature and forcing me to abuse my car in the duty of my job. I had spent the last 22 months as a security guard driving my car around a large suburban Detroit Cadillac dealership midnights from 7 P.M. till 6 A.M. the next morning, guarding car tires that were the main goal for addicts and the poor to steal. They'd steal them right off the cars. It amazed me that they would haul in a heavy hydraulic jack, tire irons and concrete blocks to remove about 2-4 tires that they would sell for a couple hundred dollars risking being caught. I was a good little trooper and managed to stop two attempts at theft, being told by my employer that I would get a whole twenty dollars as a reward, which I never did receive. Not the first lie they told. My poor car, a twenty year old Ford Crown Victoria was slowly feeling the same ailments I was, old age. I had to do a number of repairs on it during the time I was working and the heater would give out, usually when winter hit here in southeast Michigan. Well, to shorten boring details, I had enough of the car abuse and asked for time off to get the car fixed properly. They gleefully took it as my resignation and I was out of a job. My computers finally winked to life and I hooked the laptop to the internet dial-up connection and checked my email which usually consisted of spam and a number of forwarded jokes, dirty pictures and chain letters from Buck, my former co-worker and the only friend I have. I would delete the spam and the chain letters and then read the jokes, admire the nubile naked bodies of the women in the pictures from Buck, trying to remember the last sex I had about 12 years ago. It was fading from my memory banks, now a wistful image that I could no longer enjoy. Don't get me wrong, I have occasional sex, just not with another human being. Buck was another guard that I worked with and he was not a person that thieves would want to have facing them down. Buck was a big, mustachioed biker who carried a nickel plated .38 in his belt. We were not supposed to carry but he'd rather be caught with it than without it. Me, I just refused to get out of my car if confronted by criminals. Ok, I'm a coward. Buck was also a big teddy bear with a soft spot for others, he cared, a rare commodity in people now days. He would fuss over my problems and occasionally buy me a 30 pack of beer in exchange for loaning him my DVD collection of movies. Buck was my only friend that I had other than my computers and my beer. I looked up at the wall clock, it was just now 7:45 in the evening and all was quiet in the house. My parents were in bed, they usually were in bed by at least 6:30. My Dad was ill and my Mom was his caregiver. I helped Mom with things she couldn't handle, like getting my Dad into bed, doing the shopping and odd jobs around the house. It was an arrangement that suited my Mom, but being an unemployed, beer drinking, 60 year old man living with his parents, I wasn't exactly a prime candidate for any woman seeking a relationship. God, what a loser I was. I can see the profile in the online dating form: "Well, I live in my old bedroom in my parents house, poor credit score, over-weight, balding, gray beard, I drink at least 8 beers a night, I'm unemployed and I just became a senior citizen. I can be the man of your dreams, we just can't meet at my place." The clock now ran up to 8:00 P.M. and I opened the first of the six beers that I had to cut back to now that I was out of work and money. A thirty pack of beer now lasted five days and kept my expenses down. My Mom gave me a bit of money each week for gas to run for her, so I divided the allowance between the gas for the car and the fuel for me. I have a cardinal rule, I never drink beer before 8:00 at night and I never drive even after one can. I've seen the hell a person can go through after a cop pullover and a few beers. Tonight my email contained the usual crap, along with Buck's stuff, but one letter caught my eye. The sender was "" and the subject said in big letters: "JAMES, PLEASE HELP!" I knew a Dee Wittenfield in elementary school and she always called me James. Actually I had a huge crush on Dee and we even went steady for about a month before the school district broke into smaller divisions and she was sent to a different school. I went to the download on my mail program and recovered the letter. It read: "James, I know its been years since we've seen each other, but I talked to joyce harper and she said she heard you were working for a detective company. I got your email address off the alumni website and I don't know who to turn to but I'm afraid for my life, I can't call the police and I thought you might help me. if you could call me, I'm at 555-3682. I can't even go out of my apartment. please call, Dee." I printed out the letter and read it again. I pulled my trusty Palm Treo cell phone out of my pocket and dialed the number. It rang about four times then a male voice answered. "Hello?" "May I speak with Dee, please?" "Who's calling?" "I'm a friend of hers from high school, can I talk to her please?" "I'm afraid she can't come to the phone." He paused. "She was murdered earlier today." Hearing those words sent a shuddering chill through my body. The voice on the phone asked, "Who are you again?" I didn't know what to say. "I'm a friend from high school." I blurted out. "You said that already, but who are you?" He demanded. "Well, who's asking?" I demanded back. "Detective Sergeant Will Trapper, Clinton Township Police. Now, you wanna answer my question." "Oh." My mind was blank. "Uh, My name is Jim Richards, I knew Dee from high school." "Yeah, I got that much already. When was the last time you saw Miss Wittenfield?" "I guess it's been over 40 years." My brain tried to do the math but I just rounded it off. "You call now after 40 years, why?" "She sent me an email today to call her." There was a silence for a beat then he asked, "What did the email say?" I read it to him from the print out, he was silent again. "That's all she said?" I assured him that was it. "What happened to her, may I ask?" "We're investigating, that's all I can say right now. Wittenfield said in her email that you were with a detective company, who do you work for?" "Oh, it's actually a security company, I was a guard. They had a contract with Dooley Cadillac on Eight Mile and I worked there 4 nights a week watching the cars. I'm not working for them at the moment. I quit." "Why'd you quit?" "Long story, be happy to tell you about it sometime, unless you got about 20 minutes now to hear me rant about my employers." He let it go. He asked how I could be reached, I told him and he said I'd probably be called in to answer some more questions. I don't know what more I could have told him, other than Dee and I went steady for about a month 40 years ago. I hope that wasn't grounds for suspicion. I hung up the phone, in a daze. A girl I had a super crush on years ago had been murdered and she wanted me to help her. I sat there for a long while, my mind just numb. I knew Buck was working the midnight shift tonight at the dealership so I called him. He and I spoke to each other just about every night on the phone, but since I left working there our calls just amounted to when he was working, I didn't want to bother him at home. "Hey, Jimmy, wass up!" His voice was smooth with a touch of southern in it. I never did ask him about that. "Well, I've got a mystery on my hands." "Talk to me, man, I'm intrigued." I could hear his smile through the phone. I told him about the email and the phone call. I read the letter to him and he was quiet for a bit. "Wow, a murder mystery. When you gonna start investigating?" The smile came again. "Buck, she was a long ago love in my life and now her life is gone. I'm at a loss here as to how to feel or what I should do about it." "Well, she thought you could help her, maybe you should." Buck has this outlook on life to seize the day and damn the torpedoes. I loved good crime/mystery stories and I own over a hundred e-books that I read on my Palm TX when I have some free time. I read just about every Alex Cross book by James Patterson and I was up to my 20th "in Death" book by Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb about the futuristic police detective, Eve Dallas. My other crime heroes were Spenser, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone in separate books by Robert B. Parker and lately Travis McGee by John D. MacDonald were the tasty meat that I devoured. The thought of being a P.I. intrigued me. "Ok, so where do we start?" I posed the question. "Whoa, you offering me a job as junior detective?" He kidded. I ignored him and was studying the email printout. "You know she mentions a mutual friend, Joyce Harper, in her email, maybe she would know what Dee was afraid of." I commented. Buck was excited. "When do we start, Kemosabe?" "I'm not the Lone Ranger, Buck. I'd rather be Spenser." Buck had no idea who I was talking about. "Remember 'Spenser for Hire', 60's TV show with the late Robert Urich?" "Oh yeah and the "Hawk" his sidekick, one big mean mother fricker. Spen-sahh" "Yeah that one." I had to relate Hawk with Buck, now my sidekick in crime solving. I smiled at the "Spen-sahh" reference which was the name Hawk often had called Spenser on the show. "Ok, so how do you find this Harper woman?" Buck queried. "Well, for the last 5 years I have been the web guy for my high school alumni website and I have seen her name on the alumni board. I could go there and get her email address and contact her that way. Or do a Google search for her. Either way this town is small enough I can locate her." "So go look her up and talk to her, man." Being caught up in the flow, his excitement came through the phone. "I'll see what I can do tomorrow to locate her. But tonight I have to get through the fact I lost an old friend and not to old age." "Hey buddy, I understand. I've lost a few friends over the years." He spoke quietly. Buck was a biker, and I knew he lost some people he knew due to careless and often drunk drivers on the roads. People in cars don't watch out for those smaller vehicles on two wheels. "Yeah, I know. Well, I'll call you tomorrow night and let you know what happens." "Well, good night, buddy, you need me, just call! Don't get yourself murdered." He grinned through the phone. "Not about to, take care." I hung up and sat back in my rickety desk chair. It made it's annoying squeal that I often worried would wake my parents. I listened and heard nothing. I probably could oil the damn thing but that would have meant doing physical labor, I wasn't up to it anymore. I went to my computer's keyboard and brought up Google and typed in Dee Wittenfield. It came up with just over one million hits which was a bit of a lie, since Google looks for every instance of the name Dee and and every instance of Wittenfield. That can cover every Dee online, from Dee Wallace-Stone to Dee Dee Myers. My Dee Wittenfield was not to be found even after I searched through about ten pages. I knew then she wasn't a person to be found on the web. I tried Joyce Harper and she came up on the first page with her real estate agency. I added the address and phone number to my Palm Treo and put my computers back to sleep for the night. I wasn't in any mood now to be looking for more free software to download and pack into my already bloated computer. I turned off the desk lamp and was left with all the tiny LED lights from numerous computer accessories that made my room look like the starry night sky. I still sat in my aging chair and just took in the lights. My mind wandered back to a day on the school bus when I passed Dee a note asking if she wanted to go steady with me. I watched her reading the note and she looked up and smiled, nodding a yes to my note. I was in heaven, but fate took us apart when she was bussed off to a new school in the district just a few weeks later. We lost touch and then when we all joined back into the big high school, I was afraid to approach her, so I lost her again though she was still close by. She was a beauty and after graduation I often wondered what had happened to her. Now I knew and even though I never saw her all these years, I still remember her as a young beauty. I plopped down on the bed but didn't get much sleep that night. * Chapter Two I did finally doze off by around 4 A.M., I think, it was the last time I looked at the clock. The alarm on my Palm TX rattled me out of bed playing the James Bond theme that I ripped off the DVD of the latest movie "Quantum of Solace". It had a jazzy attack on what was the thread for every Bond movie beginning from "Dr. No". The gun barrel moving across the screen as Bond walks into view and shoots his weapon. The music blares, our blood stirs as the screen goes red with blood. I was already dressed since I forgot to get undressed last night, and it was just after nine o'clock. I whizzed out of my room almost knocking my Mother over in the hall way. I said my good mornings and gave a quick excuse for heading out the door. But I did pause long enough to ask her if there was anything she needed while I was out. After a bit of sorting through her gray matter, she said no. I think my Mom is tops but at 80 years old she was becoming a little slow getting her eggs in order. I refuse to get any older than I am now. Sitting in my car, I started up the map program on my Palm TX and did a quick find on the Harper Reality address. I got a pinpoint on the location on the tiny road map and headed there. Her business had what they used to call "banker's hours" and didn't open till 10. I wandered over to the small restaurant in the shopping plaza where Joyce had set up shop. It was a small diner and I scooped up the local paper off the counter and went to a booth. The front page screamed out about the murder yesterday of a local woman, giving a bit more detail than what Trapper had provided me with last night which actually was nothing. It said she was killed in her apartment by strangulation and there were no witnesses. My mind played a gruesome image of her having the breath squeezed out, and I had to shake my head to move it out. The waitress came over for my order and I said milk and a donut. I hated coffee since the army tried to make me drink their crap back during my tour of Germany, '69 to '71. I missed going to Vietnam twice after basic training and through two Advanced Individual Training sessions. I was a generator operator for a Pershing nuclear missile unit in Germany where I first learned to love beer. My milk and donut came and I wolfed it down as I read more of the story. It seemed that Dee had returned last year from living in Denver, away from her divorced husband. She resumed her maiden name as there were no children, although she had one son from a previous marriage, location unknown. She was working for the local school district as a secretary in the offices of the superintendent of schools. She was also active in helping with the girl's high school volleyball team. I remember Dee was really into sports, I was just into Dee. The clock on the wall said a couple of minutes before ten so I paid my bill, left a tip and ambled toward Joyce's office. The steady stride I once had in my younger days was now downgraded to a slow amble. The legs didn't ambulate as easy as they used to. My parents used to warn me about getting old and the body falling apart, I didn't listen. As I was approaching the office I saw Joyce at the door with keys in hand. She seemed to be having problems with the lock. "Joyce." I called to her. She whipped around looking spooked and squinted up her eyes, then she realized it was me, although we hadn't seen each other in years. "Jimmy, damn, you startled me." She looked frazzled. "Sorry, I was just at the diner waiting for you. Having problems with the lock?" "Oh, I'm having all kinds of problems today. It started when I heard about Dee." She managed the lock and opened the door for me. We both went in. "Yeah, I couldn't believe it when I called her place last night and ended up talking to the police." She looked at me a bit weird and asked, "You never talked to her about her problem?" "No, I didn't get her email till almost eight last night, then I called but I was too late." I said quietly. "Shit, she was hoping to get a hold of you. Fuck." Joyce said like a sailor. "What was it about? What did she have to be afraid of?" "She called me here day before yesterday, saying last week she got an email with a warning." She paused, thinking, "It said she was going to be the first classmate to die. She thought it was some kind of joke at first, but then it started to bother her, after a while it just wasn't funny." "Why didn't she call the police?" I questioned. "She got a couple more of those threatening letters afterwards, one saying if she told the police she would die faster." "Dying sooner or later, what's the difference! The police might have kept her alive!" "You know Dee was never the brightest bulb. She was scared. I told her to call the police but she just wouldn't listen." "I don't suppose you saw any of the letters?" "No, I never saw her in person, just on the phone. I hate to say it but my business keeps me busy so I never got to visit her." "Maybe lucky for you that you didn't." I responded. "Yeah" she choked, "I thought about that today when I heard it on the news." She looked a bit more shaken. "What are you going to do now?" "Well, I'm not a cop or a detective, but I may just snoop around a bit to see what I can do to help." Joyce was getting her office opened as she talked, she was flitting around turning on computers and lights and she finally sat down at her desk and waited for her computer to boot up. Joyce looked up at me and said, "I don't have any idea who would want to hurt Dee, she was a really sweet girl. And why was she the first classmate to go. Who's the classmate who wanted her dead and is there a second classmate to go? This is scary." I was wandering around her office seeing how successful she was as a realtor by all the plaques on the walls. I heard her make a small chortling sound and turned to see her staring at the computer screen, her face flush. I walked over and looked at the screen where she had opened an email and I read: "Joyce, congratulations, you are chosen to be the second classmate to die!" Joyce was still making gurgling noises and I had to shake her to bring her back to reality. "Joyce, relax, no harm is going to come to you. We will show this to the police and you will be safe!" She was still shaking, but looked at me. She was in her 60's also and graying worse than I, but I could almost see the rest of her hair turning a dull white as I spoke. "This is insane! Who would want to kill me?? I've done no one any harm! Neither did Dee! Who is this sick fuck who is threatening me!?" I took out my flash drive I always carry and told Joyce to download the email to it. She looked at me with wild eyes but took the drive and plugged it in and copied off the email to the drive and then returned it to me. I told her not to mention this to anyone. She sat back and wept. I picked up the phone and dialed information and asked for the Clinton Township police and asked them to connect me. I waited a bit then got the operator and asked for Detective Sergeant Trapper. It took a bit of waiting, so I went over and locked the front door to the office and rehung the closed sign. He came on the line and I reminded him who I was and related what had just happened. He told me to set my ass down and that he was on his way. Joyce and I sat in silence for a bit then she looked to me and asked, "Who would do this? I haven't hurt anyone." "This could be someone from our school who has serial killer tendencies. For some reason he's snapped and acting out, for what ever reason, his sick twisted mind is making him do this." I knew it wouldn't soothe her nerves but I had to say something, I probably could have toned it down a bit. She said no more and I was at a loss for any more words. A person has been threatened with murder, what do you say? Sgt. Trapper arrived and pounded the door till I opened it and let him in. He gave me a nasty look, like why was I popping up when there was a murder or threat of murder. I spent about an hour in a small room in Joyce's office explaining over and over why I was there and what did I have to do with it. Trapper didn't seem to like me for some reason. I tried to be as polite as possible, but he still had an annoyed look in his eyes when he questioned me more. Having read a great number of crime books I knew police were suspicious of any person in close proximity to a crime. It didn't make me feel any better. I could see Joyce through the open door, she was holding together better now that the police were there. After a bit they sent me out to sit and brought Joyce into the room and questioned her for a bit less than they did me. Trapper came out of the room. "Richards, get out of here, and stay available. We'll need you to come in and make an official statement tomorrow." "What are you going to do for Joyce?" I needed to know that she was going to be safe. "She'll get police protection until we wrap this up. Now get lost." I waved to Joyce and went out the door being held by a uniformed officer. I got in my car and sat a minute gathering my thoughts. There was really not much to go on, the little information Joyce provided along with the news article and Trapper's lack of info, I had nothing. I drove out of the plaza and into traffic, I was going back to my room to examine the email on my flash drive. Traffic was light and I turned into the drive of my parent's modest little house and guided the big Crown Vic into the garage. At the back door I was greeted by my mother and given all the day's news from the home front. I wanted to get into my room to check out the email but I had to give Mom her time too. I found an opening to get away and was safely into my room and closed the door. My Mom knew that a closed door meant privacy, as a door partly opened was an invitation for her to fill me in on what was going on with her reality shows, which I couldn't stand, I didn't need reality in my TV viewing. I woke my computer from sleep and plugged in the flash drive, waiting for the icon to pop up. I opened the drive and started up my mail program and imported the email. I opened the letter using the full header mode and studied it. Most people don't know that when an email goes out it picks up a lot of information telling everything from where the mail started, what program created it, where it went through the net from server to server and so forth. Like a postal letter that travels the world, it picks up stamps and info as to where it's been. The header on this email read: ________________________ Return-path: <> Envelope-to: Delivery-date: Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35:13 -0600 Received: from Pompo Deli by with local-bsmtp (Exim 4.69) (envelope-from <>) id 1LqUNJ-0004KZ-7o for; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35:13 -0600 X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.2.4 (2008-01-01) on Received: from ([]) by with esmtp (Exim 4.69) (envelope-from <>) id 1LqUNI-04Jx-Vp for; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 09:35:09 -0600 Received: by gk3 with SMTP id 3s4828gxk.8 for; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 08:35:08 -0700 (PDT) MIME-Version: 1.0 Received: by with SMTP id a200ybk.7.123266; Sun, 05 Apr 2009 08:35:08 -0700 (PDT) Date: Sun, 5 Apr 2009 11:35:08 -0400 Message-ID: <> Subject: Your next From: <> To: "Joyce Harper" X-user: X-Identified-User: {} {sentby:program running on server} X-Antivirus: AVG for E-mail 8.0.238 [270.11.39/2038] Content-Type: multipart/mixed; boundary="=======AVGMAIL-49D8E275=======" __________________________ Well, a bit Greek to anyone who didn't know how to look at a header but it told me a few things. The person who sent it called himself (or herself, I wasn't sexist) "whipit" a flashback to the days of DEVO. Or a bondage freak. It was sent from a place called Pompo Deli, I presume a cyber cafe using a mail program on their server for the web based gmail program through Google. Most likely a faked email setup for just this purpose. May be hard to track down for me as I'm not a total computer geek, but I now know a bit of where to start. One thing I noticed, the line: To: "Joyce Harper" suggests that the person sending the mail has an address book set up since the email printed out the full name of Joyce Harper. I'd like to know who else was in that address book. If I could have only seen the email sent to Dee, but I'm sure the police have seen all this too and were probably at Pompo Deli right now asking questions. Then again, maybe not, they didn't have time to take the email back to their lab for examination. My cell phone rang and I answered, "Hello?" "Richards, Trapper here, Did you bring a cup of coffee to Joyce Harper's office or did she bring it?" "Well, I hate coffee and I didn't bring it, I don't even know if she drinks it. She had a bunch of stuff in her arms when she got there, I didn't see a coffee cup. Why?" "She took a drink from a cup on her desk and started to convulse. We got an EMT wagon in but it was too late, we think she was poisoned. Nobody else came into the office before I got here?" "No, just her and I." "You need to come down to the station and make a statement. I don't like people dying on my watch and you seem to keep being around when it happens." "Yeah I can come down. I'm not hiding anything, I've told you everything I know which is not much. I'm being sucked into this too, you know." "Make sure you get there, I don't want to have to chase you down." His tone wasn't friendly. He hung up and I put my computers to sleep again and headed out to the car after checking with Mom for any needs. I was starting to not like the situation, I just knew I was going to end up a suspect. I hope my name doesn't make it to the papers, my Mom wouldn't like that. * Chapter Three Trapper was pacing around Joyce Harper's office fuming. He looked at the two uniformed officers, Becker and Davis, standing there looking about as vacant as two men could be. The ME people had left with the body of Joyce Harper and the office was quiet until Trapper exploded. "How in the hell did a cup of poisoned coffee just materialize without anyone seeing it?" One officer offered, "Maybe it was the CSU guy who came to copy the email off the computer, Sarge." Trapper's eyes glazed. "Just when was there a CSU guy in here, Becker?" "Right after I let Richards out the door. He came up and told me he was called to extract an email. You and Davis were in the back room with the vic." Becker winced. "One guy?" Trapper asked. "Yeah, just one." Becker replied. "When was the last time you ever saw less than two CSU guys at the scene?" "Well, now you mention it I thought it was strange." Trapper's eyes glazed again. "What was he carrying?" "One of those cases they all carry, I guess." "Did you watch him?" Trapper now moved into Becker's personal space, just short of nose to nose. "No, I was watching you and Davis with the Harper woman through the open door. The CSU guy was done in just a couple of minutes and I let him out." Becker wanted to move back from Trapper, but the desk blocked him. "Just enough time to leave a cup of spiked coffee and...." He paused and his face went blank. "Shit," he spit out and went to the computer and sat at the desk. He looked at the mail program still up on the screen and made a couple hits on the keyboard. "Shit! The email is gone! He left the coffee and deleted the email. I don't believe this, right in front of us." Trapper picked up the desk phone and dialed a number. "Yeah, dispatch, this is Trapper, was there a call for CSU to come to my location in the last couple of hours, yeah, OK. Thanks. No one was sent here." He mostly said to the air. "This was some real ballsy guy to waltz in and do what he did then skate out." He turned the chair toward Becker, "What did he look like?" "About my height, dark hair under a CSU cap, tinted glasses, oh I can tell they were prescription since they made his eyes look huge. He had a mustache and large nose." Becker strained to remember. "Glasses, mustache and a big nose, like those gag glasses, mustache and a big nose they sell in a novelty store?" Trapper said sarcastically. "No Sarge, his were real." Trapper looked frustrated. He stood, walked to the door, turned and said, "You two wait here, don't touch anything until the real CSU shows up, check their ID's and wait till they are done, then seal the place up. Can you do that?" They both nodded and Trapper stormed out. Back at the police station I was sitting on a hard wooden chair, making my butt sore so I had to shift a lot to get comfortable. About three more butt turns later Trapper showed up. He led me to his office. "Well, Richards you lucked out. It seems the killer dropped in to the Harper office and left a present while we all just stood around." He wasn't smiling and he briefly filled me in on the incident, then continued. "He left the coffee and deleted the email. We can't even examine that now." I hesitated, "Um, I could help you on that. Before you got there I had Joyce copy the email to my flash drive." He stared at me and grumbled, "You suppressed evidence?!?" "No, I copied evidence, It's only suppressed if I didn't tell you about it, which I'm doing now. You're lucky I copied it." "Ok, I don't care, give me the the flash drive!" He bellowed. I thought this might happen so I had copied the email off to a blank SD card I had. I handed it to him. "This is not a flash drive." He observed. "The email is on there, I moved it." I lied. Joyce's original email was now on my computer. "Oh and Dee's email to me is on there too, I cooperate with my police." "Ok, fine. We got one up on the classmate killer now", He looked hard at me, "I don't approve that you did this, but thanks." "Are you calling him the classmate killer now?" "Police have a way of naming perps so we are all on the same page, yeah." "Did anyone see the killer well enough to ID him?" I wondered. "We have a description but I'm sure he was disguised. What I can't figure is how he knew the routine and how he figured Harper would be the one to drink the coffee." "Where was it placed?" I asked. "On the desk next to her computer." "Joyce was so shook up maybe she thought she brought it and needed the caffeine." I theorized. "He must have known Joyce's habits and he was confident knowing that after Joyce had found the email she would have called the police. Your guys would have arrived and did what good cops do, and he waited and did his thing. I'm sure none of your people would have drank from the cup. He was just snubbing his nose at everyone. Guy's got guts." "It was planned. He couldn't just get a CSU outfit at the last minute. This was calculated." Trapper said in admiration of a bad deed. "Dee Wittenfield's murder wasn't very spectacular, where was the drama in that?" I wondered out loud, "But she didn't call the police. So the killer had no show to put on, he just did her in to start the ball rolling I guess." I thought more on it and said, "But Joyce said that Dee was warned not to call the police, why would he do that if he wanted to play?" "Maybe he figured she would call us after another threat. Maybe if she had called us, we would have been guarding her and he would still have slid in through the crapper window, while she was in the shower and strangled her." He went silent and focused his eyes past the walls. I was almost speechless, "My god, is that what happened??" "You didn't hear this," He hesitated and leaned toward me. "I wasn't there, it was a different crew assigned to the case, but after it happened they sent me and my people in to clean up." He went quiet again. "The papers were not told this bit of info, just what we wanted them to know. Same with the Harper case, it will be known that she was found poisoned. I hope you are cooperative about the suppression of certain facts that are to be kept from the press." "What, that two woman were killed while the police was on guard." I uttered. "Just when I was getting to like you Richards, Don't upset me." He growled. "I'm sorry, it's just that I'm not involved with murder everyday the way you guys are. Two personal friend's lives have been snuffed out and I don't know any way to do anything about it." I looked into his eyes and saw he understood. I was feeling tired, "Are you done with me, I missed my afternoon nap." I gave him a fake grin. "Yeah, get out of here, but don't leave town." He gave me a fake grin back. Then we both stopped grinning. I left his office and the station. Back to my car and out on the road, I was mystified by the events of the last two days. I had two friends go out in violence and I wasn't prepared for the drama. I got back to the house and into my room. I checked my email online, thankfully no pleas for help, I went out to the kitchen and made a light lunch, I never eat big meals. Which is why I can't figure why I have such a big gut. OK, I guess it would be called a beer belly, and I was proud of it. Back to my room to eat, and then I crashed on the bed. I really feel miserable anymore if I don't catch a nap in the afternoon. I hated it but I hate feeling miserable more. I slept poorly till it was time to put Dad to bed and back to my room. Around 7 P.M., I thought about Buck. He wasn't working tonight but I just had to talk to someone, so I called him at home. Buck answered the phone by the third ring and must have checked his caller ID, "Hey Jimmy, solved the case yet?" "No, and it got worse." I replied, then went over the details of the last two days and I swore him to secrecy about the suppressed info to the press. "Wow, man. Must be hard to be in the thick if it." He said impressed with my story. "I did read about your old girl friend in the paper today. Can't believe he did it right when the cops were there, guy's got brass." "Yeah, well I'm thinking this guy's not done yet. He called Joyce the second classmate to die, like there will be more. I have to find out what Dee and Joyce had in common to make him put them on his list." "Where you gonna start?" He asked. "I don't know, I would like to be able to see the emails he sent to Dee, though." "You'd have to get to her computer to do that, huh?" "Yeah, but I'm sure the police have her computer by now." While I was talking with Buck I was getting my laptop online. I opened my mail program, scanned down the list and my eyes caught an address that I recognized. It was from Dee. I felt that chill again and told Buck to hold on. I downloaded it and opened it up and read. I told Buck about it, then read it to him. "James, I'm waiting for the police to come to my place, I just called them. You haven't called so it's ok if you don't. I didn't give you much warning. I got a threatening email and I put off calling the police, so when Joyce said you worked for some detective company, I thought you might be able to help. After I sent you that last email I got another threat and I decided to call the police. I've attached the emails so you can see what I was worried about. I know it's been 42 years since I saw you last. I had hoped when we got into high school that you would contact me, but you didn't so I figured you weren't interested anymore. Life sucks doesn't it. Well, if you'd still like to call, or not, you have my number. Take care, Dee." "Damn internet, this email was delayed from the first email she sent me. Crap, and she was interested in me back then." I lamented. "Man, what a cruel blow. But she said she sent you the email threats?" I was already opening the attachments, there were just two. I read them to Buck. "Hello Dee Wittenfield, You don't know me but we are connected. I just wanted to send a friendly warning: You are honored to be the first classmate to die!" and the second: "Dee, I've been watching. Hiding in your room won't stop me, oh and don't call the police or I'll rid you sooner." "He was goading her to call the police." I said realizing when she didn't call them after the first email, he had to get her motivated. "He wanted to have the police there when he did it. Two blows, one to Dee and one to the cops." I was opening up the email headers to see if they were the same and told Buck what I was doing. "Yep, same headers as before. Came from whipit and sent out of the Pompo Deli. I think I need to take a trip there and check out the set-up." I told Buck. "Hey buddy, I'll meet you there, it's not far from me." He was excited. "Yeah, well don't go in till I'm there. See you shortly,” and hung up. I threw on some clothes and left a sticky note on my door in case Mom needed me in the night. I quietly slipped out the back door. It was a bit after 8 P.M. and my taste buds were missing that first beer of the night, but I knew they could wait till I got back. I drove out Groesbeck Hwy. toward Mt Clemens to where the Pompo Deli was located just below the city limits putting it in Clinton Twp., which was the jurisdiction of Sgt. Trapper. I had no idea of how to reach him this late and I didn't really want him around, to be honest about it. I pulled into the parking lot and spotted Buck's SUV, big man, big vehicle. He must have spotted me, since he got out as I was pulling up. Buck stood about one head taller than me and I was at five-ten, putting him well over six foot. I hoped he didn't have his .38 in his belt and asked. He said he didn't, but he then said it was in the car. He was licensed to carry concealed so it didn't bother him or me I guess. I wasn't expecting any trouble to need a gun. We entered the deli and it was about half full of people eating, talking and some working on their laptops. There were six desktop computers along a wall for those who didn't have a computer. Buck and I took a table by the workstations and the waitress was quickly there. I ordered a Pepsi and Buck got a Diet Sprite. Why diet I couldn't figure, he was thin enough, although most of him was muscle. "This is eerie, the killer was right here sending out his threats." I whispered to Buck. "Why are you whispering, it's noisy enough in here? No one is even close enough to hear." "I don't know." I said louder now. "It just seemed the right thing to do. Besides the killer could be here right now." "I hope he is, I'd like to kick his ass right up to his throat", he snarled. I was looking around the room, ruling out people by their looks. The killer had to be strong enough to choke Dee to death, so the wimpy geeks were ruled out. Honestly, I wouldn't know what a killer even looked like. All my crime books left that to my imagination. On TV, they were all the last person you would suspect, not very outstanding looking. One thing I did check, earlier at home, was the time and date the emails were sent from here. The waitress came back and dropped our drinks. I stopped her. "Hi, you are?" "Stacy." she replied. "Do you get a regular crowd in here, Stacy? I mean a lot of repeat customers?" I asked. "Yeah, we get a few of the same people, I just don't really get into their lives. They're mostly engrossed with the internet." "Did you work last Sunday night around 10 P.M.?" "Yeah, I was here, seems like I'm always here, with everyone calling in sick. You know they aren't sick and with jobs at stake now days, they shouldn't be messing around, know what I mean?" She rambled. "Yeah, I understand. But back to Sunday night, was anyone here on the computers acting strange?" "Honey, they all act strange. Especially when they are downloading porn. We just look away, so I don't pay much attention. Say, the police were in here this afternoon asking about the same questions, you a cop?" "No, just a concerned citizen. You read today's paper about the woman who was strangled yesterday?" She nodded. "Well, she got a threatening email that looks like it may have been sent from here." The waitress just stared at me, then look shocked. "You mean to say the killer was right here? The cops didn't say anything about that!" "Maybe, it looks that way. Could you help by keeping an eye out for suspicious people and let me know?" I handed her one of my website business cards and she took it like maybe I was the killer. "I think he was here three different times and may be back for more." She didn't speak, just walked away looking distressed. "I think you got that girl all flustered." Buck smiled. "Well, if I stir up some people, it may make the killer do something stupid." "Or do something stupid and kill you." He gave me his trademark big grin, making his mustache flair out like a walrus. We drank our drinks and Buck filled me in on all the goings on at the dealership making me more contented that I no longer worked there. After a while I told Buck that I was a bit tired and had a beer calling me at home so we said our so longs and went off into the night. I snuck back into the house, seeing the sticky note still on my door, went in and undressed again. I snapped open a can of beer and opened up my email program again to look at Dee's letters. I did a new scan of my email and noticed a new one had come in while I was gone. What hairs were left on my bald head were tightening up as I saw the sender's name, whipit. I downloaded and read the letter. "Richards, you're getting too nosey, drop it or you'll be on the list too!" * Chapter Four Now I was concerned. This was getting too close to my home. He didn't say I was going to die, but he implied I would be on the list if I didn't back off. Should I back off or was this a challenge to me? I figured Buck was still up and called him. I read the letter to him. "You want me to come down with my pistol and camp out in your drive?" He was concerned. "No, I'm not on the list yet and I think he is wanting to go after that list first without adding to his load." I had just put human life into a load, not meaning to do so. "Well, any suspicious activity around your place, you call and I'll be there!" "Thanks, Buck, but I'm only three blocks from my local police station, I'm going to call there and see if anyone wants to hear my story." I said to relieve him. We said our good nights and I called the Clinton Twp police, instead of my local cops. I asked if possibly Sgt. Trapper was around and was told he wasn't. I left my name and cell phone number and asked if they could call him and have him call me. It was an emergency, about the classmate killer. They said they would and I sat back staring at the email. About fifteen minutes later my cell phone rang, it came up on caller ID as "private number". I hate to answer those calls but figured Trapper wouldn't want people having his number. "Hello." I said into the phone. "Richards, what do you want?" He sounded tired. I related the whole night from when I left his office and I could hear his grumbling as I went on. "Who told you that you could start your own investigation!" He exploded. "You're not even licensed to investigate!" "I wasn't investigating, I was asking questions for my own benefit. Just to ease my mind." I countered. "Besides now you have something more to draw him out." "I'm not using you for bait, Richards, so get that idea out of your head and don't pursue it anymore!" "Well the date-time on the header of my email says that he was in the deli while I was there. He sent it out just after I left." I could imagine what the waitress would have said had she known that. "He would have had to know me or how would he have sent the email so quickly, and why did he assume I was asking questions about him?" I thought about the waitress, she could have gone around talking to people about my being there. "Well I doubt he's still there. But I'll have Becker drive me by there to have a look, we're in the area checking out a few leads on another case, the crap never rests. It will probably just chase him out, if he is still there." "Ok do that, let me know if anything develops." I said with a grin that he couldn't see through the phone. "Forget it Richards! You're not part of this and I don't want to find out you are nosing around again." "Ok, Sarge, I won't let you find out." I grinned again and hung up before he could reply. I'm sure I was pissing him off which may not be a good thing. But I had become part of this when the killer threatened me. I had to be careful though, I didn't want any backlash toward my parents. I pulled out the local business phone book and looked up the Pompo Deli and added the number to my cell phone book. I dialed the number and after a couple of rings and female voice came on. "May I speak to Stacy?" I asked. "You got her." She replied. "Stacy, I was in there a couple hours ago, I asked you about suspicious people, I gave you my card." "Yeah I remember you and the big bruiser with you." She replied. Bruiser, I never thought of that word to describe Buck, but I guess it would fit. "After we left did anyone ask about me?" "Yeah, as a matter of fact. Some guy asked if your name was Jim and I said yes, since it was on your card. He said he thought it was you and knew you from high school. I showed him your card and he asked if I knew you, I said no I had just met you and told him you were asking me about suspicious people. He was nice and talked a bit but I had to work, he thanked me and went back to his computer. Funny thing, he didn't look as old as you to be in high school with you, no offense to your age." "What did he look like." I asked ignoring her age comment. "Well, he had a baseball cap on, tinted glasses, really big nose and a mustache. He was sitting so I don't know how tall he was, and he left about 15 minutes later but I didn't see him go." The description fit the one Becker gave the Sarge earlier. Strange I didn't see him while I was there, but most the people at the computer workstations had their backs to me. "Stacy, there should be a police officer coming in shortly, tell him what you told me and which computer was the guy using. I would suggest not letting anyone touch that computer till the police see it." I could hear that same choking sound Stacy gave earlier when I told her about the classmate killer. "Oh GOD, are you telling me I actually talked to the killer??" "Stacy, calm down, I don't know if it's anything. Take a breath and wait for the police." She said she saw a patrol car coming in the drive and dropped the phone. She was gone but I could still hear the noise from the deli and Stacy in the back ground yelling help. I'm sure that got Trappers blood up. I hung up and sat back in my creaking chair. I've got to oil this damn thing. OK, I was trying to put a few things together in my head. What was the connection between Dee and Joyce other than they were in the same class. Same as me. I went over to my book shelf and down at the bottom was my senior year book. I had it there because I used it often as reference for when I was working on the alumni website. I plopped down on my bed and fluffed up the pillow behind me. I started from the front and slowly worked my way back checking the pictures as I skimmed. I went all the way through it and found nothing, so started again. Sometimes you see things better the second time around. I hated sports so I had breezed through that section the first time, but figured I better look a little closer this time. Then I saw her, Dee standing next to Joyce in a picture of six cheerleaders all in formation. I had forgot that Dee was a cheerleader. My fondest memories of her in that tiny skirt doing somersaults, as I took pictures. Not that I was a pervert, but I was the school photographer. Matter of fact the picture I was looking at was one of mine. I took the book to my desk. The computer was still online and I took one of my sticky notes and wrote down the names of the other cheerleaders. Hey, it was a start. I set the book aside and started with the first name, Linda Grolich, and did a search on her. I knew of Linda, but not to talk to her, she was royalty in high school, you know the stuck up princess, who looked down at everyone. She was also buddies with the head cheerleader, Sue Carter. The usual million hits came up so I started with page one and clicked my way through a couple of pages before I found something interesting. It seems that Linda had opened a dance studio in West Bloomfield, so I clicked the link to go to her webpage. There she was looking a lot older than her cheerleader picture, but still not bad for a woman of sixty. She had turned the dance studio over to her daughter about two years ago, but kept a tight rein on it. I copied her website off using a program called Local Website Archive, which can store an entire website in my computer. It finished downloading and I did a search on the next smiling cheerleader, Marge Holden. I had pretty good luck finding four out of six girls and had their websites stored away for later perusing. It was now just about 11:30 and I was wearing down. I checked my email one last time, then I stretched out on my bed after closing down the computers. My Treo rang and I saw it was a private number again. It was now 4 A.M. and Trapper was probably calling to chew me out about stirring up Stacy. "Hello" "Richards, it's Trapper." Here it comes. "Did you know a Marge Holden from school?" She was the second girl I found on the web. "Yeah, she now lives in Warren, owns a kennel." "How'd you know?" "Long story that I was going to tell you about tomorrow or I should say today. What about her?" "The Warren police just called me, she's dead. Killed while they were protecting her." Trapper wanted me to come in that morning so we could get our facts straight. I hung up and again tried to sleep. The killer wasn't wasting time, and half the class of 1967 cheerleading team was now dead. Around 6 A.M. my mother was knocking on my door, stirring me out of a great dream, where I was giving a massage to Pamela Anderson in Las Vegas. I called out, asking what she wanted. "There's a strange car in the drive, with a man sitting in it. He looks asleep." I shot out of bed and threw on a robe and went to the living room window over looking the driveway. I saw it but didn't believe it. Buck was parked in the drive and he did look sound asleep, or dead. I told Mom not to worry, I'd explain and went back to get dressed. I banged on the car window and Buck came to life bringing his .38 up with his hand. I yelled his name and he focused his eyes on me. The window slowly rolled down. "Hey Jimmy. You still alive?" "I guess if you hadn't been sitting here guarding my castle I probably would be dead by now. Thanks." I said with a smirk. "Well, it was bothering me, knowing you were threatened, so I stopped by around 1 A.M. and kept an eye out" He grinned. "Oh, like the eye you had out when I snuck up on you?" He just looked sheepish and got out of the car. "May as well come in while I calm my mother down. Don't say a word about the murders or my connection to it!" I warned. We went in and Mom recognized Buck from the time he helped me move some things out of the garage and took them to my storage rental unit. "Mom, Buck was out celebrating a birthday with a friend close by and was heading home but was feeling a bit woozy, so he parked in the drive to take a nap. Just so he wouldn't get stopped by the police on the road." "Shame on you Buck, drinking and driving. Well, you were smart to stop before you got into trouble." She went off to deal with my Dad. "Why'd you tell her that? I've been sober now for five years, now you got me drinking again." He grinned. "Come with me, I've got more to tell you since last night." We went into my room and I closed the door so Mom wouldn't hear. I sat and related all the new information since last night. He sat upright and let out a low whistle. I continued, "I have to go over to visit the investigating cop and give him everything I know, want to go with me." "Police don't like me. I got a history. I'll take you there but I'll just wait in the car, if you don't mind." When we worked together Buck had told me about his bad boy times, back when he was into heavy drinking, and had run-ins with the law. I understood his concern, although he was clean, sober and an upstanding citizen now. Just old feelings are hard to shake off. "That works for me. Let's go." I told a white lie to Mom that we were going out for breakfast, she insisted on making us breakfast but Buck said he had to take care of a couple of errands before we could eat and needed my help, so it would be his treat. She accepted that and scampered back off into Dad's room. "Good, now we both have lied to my mother." I smiled. Since it was still early, we decided to actually get breakfast, so we stopped at a Denny's by the police station. We ate and talked about the murders and I gave him a timeline on the whole mess. We talked till about 8:30. Buck paid, since he was still employed and we headed out. We got to the Clinton Twp. police station by about 9am and Buck parked. I said I'd be back soon as possible and Buck replied that he had his DVD player with him and was going to watch a movie. I went in and told the desk officer I was supposed to see Trapper, he got on the phone and sent me in to the waiting room. I ended up on the same wooden chair while I waited. Trapper came out and signaled me to follow him into his office. "Early yesterday, the Warren police received a call from a hysterical woman saying she got an email threatening her life. They sent a detective out and he recognized the M.O. and assigned an officer to watch her. He called my office but I was out on the Harper case. Some knucklehead didn't get the message to me. I swear I'm working with idiots. Last night around midnight, the protecting officer let the woman go into her kennel to calm a dog going nuts. The officer stood by the door but didn't follow her in, bad move. She was in there way too long so the officer went in, he found the woman lying in a dog cage, dead. Coroner was called and said it looked like blunt force trauma, blow to the head, hard enough to crush her skull. Their investigation didn't find the weapon, but they are still looking. The same detective from earlier got on the horn and tracked me down to confer on the facts between his murder and my two. I went there to observe. I called you to see if this woman was any classmate you knew. Now how'd you know about this woman's location and occupation?" I told him about looking through my yearbook and the cheerleading photo of Dee and Joyce together and checking the internet for more info on the other girls. I passed on the info on the other women and showed him the yearbook photo, which I copied on my scanner. He sat listening, then sighed. "I guess I'm not going to be able stop you from invest... sorry, asking questions to relieve your mind, so I want you to give me anything you come up with as soon as you get it. I'll give you my cell phone number. This nut job is moving too fast for us. You are now an unofficial civilian advisor on the case." "Do I get a badge?" I grinned. "Don't push it." He snarled. "Give me the names and locations of the other cheerleaders you have." I started to write them on the pad he had tossed to me. "Are we going to change the name to the "Cheerleader Killer" now?" I inquired. "No, classmate killer still sticks, besides we don't know officially yet if it's the cheerleaders he's after." I half joked, "Maybe it's some guy who tried out for cheerleading and was laughed off by the girls. Now he's getting his revenge." "Forty years later. That's a stretch. And that's also a weak reason for murder, otherwise more than half the cheerleaders in the U.S. would be dead by now." I handed him the list and asked if he was done with me. He said he was, but to keep in touch. He was going out to track down the list of survivors. I went back to the car and found Buck engrossed in some movie. He unlocked the car door and I got in, then told him more of the gory details. I was startled by a tapping on my window and turned to see Trapper standing there. "Damn it! You scared the crap out of me," I scolded. He said, "I forgot to give you my number, here's my card with my cell on the back. If you get anymore emails threatening your life, call me immediately" He looked past me and saw Buck. "Well, hello, George." He said to Buck, then to me, "Richards, are you cavorting with criminals too?" Buck took issue, "Trapper I haven't been in any trouble in years! I gave up my wild ways. And I was never a criminal! Just misguided youth." "Back when I was a patrol cop, George gave us a run for about ten miles down Gratiot Avenue in his Barracuda. Chased him through three cities and six parking lots before we finally corralled him by the mall, with tire spikes. It was a chase that made the papers and was the talk of the precinct for days. Luckily no one was injured." "Except me. After the chase." Buck lamented. "Well it seemed you were resisting arrest, George." Trapper smiled. "Bullshit", Buck said under his breath not loud enough for Trapper to hear. "Buck is a good friend of mine and still works for the security company I just left. He is now wearing the badge and protecting the property, so leave him be." I defended Buck. "Damn, George with a badge. That's like the reformed drunk owning a bar. OK George, I guess I'm all right with your reformation. Richards, keep me informed." he smiled, saluted Buck and walked off. "He was one of the few cops that did treat me nicely though, but he's still a cop." Buck said to the window. "If you got the time and can get past your past, I'd like to take a run by an address I have." I said. "Where to Spen-sahh?" He mocked. I grinned at the reference, "To visit a cheerleader who hopefully is still alive." * Chapter Five We drove out of the city, just north of Mt. Clemens and according to my map program on my Palm, we found the address. It was a beat up farm house looking like no one gave a crap whether it was falling down or not. The battered sign out front said "Sue's Beauty Shop". I presumed the shop was set-up in the front of the house so we went up to the door. The sign on the door said to walk in and be seated, we did. There was no one in the room. It had two styling chairs in front of two sinks and counters, with all the stuff to cut, curl and tease a woman's hair. An elderly woman came out, from where I presumed was the house part of the building and just looked at us. "I don't do men's hair, besides both of you are bald, so what do ya want?" I looked at her through the wrinkles and gaudy make-up and realized I was looking at Sue Carter, the head cheerleader and the Prom Queen. She now looked like a drag queen. I stood up. "Sue, you probably don't remember me, Jim Richards, from our class in high school?" "Yeah, I think I do, you were always running around with a camera." Her gaze looked a bit alcohol induced. "Yep, that was me. Could I ask you a few questions?" "Why, you a cop?" she slurred. "No, just a friend of Dee Wittenfield and Joyce Harper." Her eyes perked up a bit on hearing that. "Wow, there's two names I haven't heard in a while, what are those two bitches up to." She sat on one of the styling chairs and lit a cigarette. "Well, they're both dead." I could have said it politer but I didn't want to beat around the bush. That seemed to shake her just a bit, "No shit! Old age?" "No, murdered, both within the last two days." That really shook her now. Her eyes went wide and her mouth slowly opened, but no sound came out. The cigarette hung off her lip. "And Marge Holden was killed this morning, at her business." She sat quietly. "Seems someone is after the cheerleaders, huh, Sue?" She seemed to be thinking. I got closer and asked, "Have you gotten any threatening emails lately that you thought may be a joke?" "Honey, I don't get the internet out here, hell, I can't even get cable." No internet, how was the killer going to reach this one? "Oh god, it's him! I knew he'd get back at us!" She looked panicky and started to gag, the cigarette fell to the floor. I turned the chair toward the sink and she held her head over but didn't puke. I crushed out the cigarette with my foot. She held there for a minute then continued, "He threatened all of us so long ago and I was just waiting for him to strike, but after all these years. Why now?" "Who are you talking about, Sue?" "Mr. Rocco, the gym teacher." She gagged again, but nothing surfaced. I remembered him, Nathan Rocco, and how he just left the school one day and vanished. There was no talk about why and it was all pretty hushed. Sue turned in the chair and looked at me with dull eyes. "We did it. We didn't like him and wanted to get rid of him. I knew this would finally bite us in the ass. But not murder. God, am I in danger?" "Sue, calm down and tell me what happened." "Senior year, the six of us cheerleaders were fed up with his pandering and treatment of Mrs. Stone, our gym teacher and cheerleader advisor. He was a mean, rotten man and deserved to be accused of sexual misconduct. We told the principal, Mr. Varga that he had attempted to molest each of us at different times, and we were afraid to say anything. But all of us together figured safety in numbers." I sat in the other styling chair and listened. "The police were called in, they took him to the station and they worked him over good before turning him loose. No charges were made because it was all on our word and they had no proof. He was fired from the job and he left the state, but not before he told Linda Grolich that he would get back at us one day. Oh, man, it's come. We lied about it and he knew we did!" I was shocked that Dee and Joyce would have gone along with this plot to ruin a man, even if he was bad. I was now sixty, so Rocco would have had to be in his eighties or older by now. It didn't fit the person who we thought was the killer. Did he have a helper? "My life has been crap since I got out of high school. I married Darrien York, the big bad football jock, you know the jock and the head cheerleader. Old story. He was a bum without his football, couldn't hold a job for more than a year. We drifted from place to place keeping ahead of the evictions and I finally went to beauty school and got my license. The money was lousy and then I inherited this shack from my Dad when he died. I opened up shop here, looser zoning laws out here in the county. And here I've been for the last ten years. Darrien left me for some slut he met in a bar, good riddance. Now this. I'd welcome death right now." Her eyes watered and she got up and went into the other room. Buck said behind me, "The plot thickens." "I got to let Trapper know about this." I pulled out my cell phone just as Sue's phone rang a couple times. I waited for some reason, then I heard Sue let out a low scream and came running back in the shop. "The voice on the phone said I was next to die!! Oh my God." She fell to the floor curling up in a ball and bawling like a baby. I told Buck to help her up to the chair. He did. I dialed the number Trapper gave me and asked where he was. He said he was out looking for Penny Wickens and I gave him the address and told him to get here fast. He asked me who was crying, I said it was a long story, but bring troops with him. I told him I was with a cheerleader and a new threat just came in. He said it wasn't his jurisdiction, out of the county, but he would call the Sheriff's office and have them meet him here. I looked at her phone and she had caller ID, I went back through the list and wrote down the last number that came up. After about a half hour the sheriffs rolled in followed closely by Trapper and Officer Becker. Sue was a bit more in control and Buck was soothing her. As soon as Buck saw all the cops, he excused himself from Sue, and moved over to a corner of the room and quietly sat in a chair. "Richards, I told you not to investigate!" He growled. "I was just visiting an old school friend when all this happened." Sue looked terrible so Trapper asked a deputy to take her in the other room and let her rest, but to stay with her. He moved over to me. "What's the word?" The Sheriff moved next to Trapper as I filled them in on what I knew. I told him about the cheerleader's charges against Nathan Rocco and about as much as I could remember about him from school. Trapper told Becker to get on the radio to the station and see what he could find out about Nathan Rocco, and to make sure that the last two woman on the list were given protection. I stopped Becker and gave him the number off the caller ID. I said he might want to check where it came from. Trapper gave me a look and said "Who's in charge here?" I said, "Time is fleeting." He ignored me and said, "If Rocco was accused of sexual misconduct, he might be in the registry. Sheriff, If you don't mind giving me jurisdiction on this, it ties in with three murders I got going now." The Sheriff was more than happy to avoid the paper work and said so. Trapper went into what was the living room of the house and sat down next to Sue. She was looking slightly better than 15 minutes ago. "Miss Carter, What exactly did the voice say on the phone?" "It's Mrs. York, or was, but you can call me Sue. I said hello and I heard some breathing then a voice said 'Sue Carter, you are the fourth classmate to die. Congratulations'. That was all and he hung up. "Well, it's him, this time he's not getting in or out," Trapper said emphatically. "We are going to need a few men from your office Sheriff, if you can spare them." The Sheriff said no problem and Trapper went on, "I'm going to put in a couple of mine too, station them around outside if need be, he's going to slip up, I'm sure of it and we'll get him." I looked at my watch, time had just whizzed by and I had to get back to the house to help get Dad to bed. I excused myself and asked Buck to drive me home. As we were heading out the Sheriff stopped Buck and asked, "Hold on there, you Buck Carson?" Buck said he was and waited for some kind of crap. The Sheriff grinned, threw his arm around Buck's shoulder and said, "Hell boy, I went to school with your older brother Mark. How is the old fart?" Trapper was not amused that an officer of the law was being friendly with Buck but let it go. Nothing he could do. Buck replied, "Mark is doing good, he's been married, second time, about ten years now, four kids and living up in Anchorville. He's a fireman for the county." "Damn, Mark and I used to get in heaps of trouble when we were young. I haven't seen you since you were just head high to my waist. I heard you were a little hell raiser too." Buck just grinned, Trapper just grimaced. "Tell Mark that Tate Wallace said howdy." "I'll do that, Sheriff," Buck smiled. "Hell, call me Tate, we're like family. Have that old coot call me sometime." He handed Buck his card. "Nice to catch up with him." "Sure enough Tate, I'll call him tomorrow." Buck said. They shook hands and he gave that big walrus smile to Trapper as we headed out. Outside by the car I said "I'll bet that just made your day." "Sho nuff." Buck grinned and we left the property. Driving down Groesbeck Hwy., we sat quietly, reflecting on what had happened. "You think the killer will try a hit on Sue? With the city and county cops hovering around?" Buck inquired. "Well, he was gutsy enough to kill three other women while they were hovering, I guess he likes a challenge. But the cops are really on the watch for him now, doubt he will slip through." I said with my head back on the rest, totally wiped out from the day. At one time, in years past, I'd be wired for more to do and probably end up the evening at some bar, dancing the night away. Now I wanted to crawl into bed and just hide my head under the pillow. Growing up sucks. My mind went back over the day, murder and mayhem. I enjoyed reading about it but was it worth being right in the middle of the real thing. I had talked to a woman from my past just an hour before she was brutally murdered, not a pleasant memory. "What are you going to do now, Spen-sahh?" Buck broke my thoughts. "Go to bed and hope tomorrow I get no calls about more cheerleader deaths." "Not going to investigate any more? Man you're not going to disappoint me now, are you?" Buck sounded distressed. "Yeah, well, expect disappointment, I'm worn down. We'll see what tomorrow brings." "Ok, buddy. I have to work tonight so I won't be camped in your drive. Protect yourself." Buck pulled into my drive and we said our good nights and I went in. I got home with time to spare. I went into my room and checked my email to see if whipit had anymore threats for me, there were none. I guess I was a bit disappointed. I finished helping get Dad to bed and went back online. I just sat there staring at the monitor, almost in a trance before I caught a second wind and went to do a search on Nathan Rocco. After about three search pages I found an obituary with his name in it. I opened the link and read. "Nathan R. Rocco, 78, past away December 15, 2008, quietly after a lengthy illness. Mr. Rocco was a janitor at Heavenly Chapel Church in Bad Axe, MI for the last seven years and taught Sunday school for the youth. Divorced, he is survived by a daughter, Julia Waters of Chicago, Ill. Mr. Rocco had attended Michigan State University receiving a degree in physical education. He taught PhysEd for five years in the Macomb County school district before moving to Bad Axe. Donations can be sent to the Heavenly Chapel building fund to add a wing for improved classrooms." Dead now four months. Well, he couldn't be killing the women, unless his ghost was slipping through the walls to kill. There were no more search links to be found on Rocco, so I did a search on Julia Waters, his daughter. She came up pretty fast as she was a big time criminal lawyer in Chicago. She had received many awards and acclaim for her work for woman's rights and protections from abusive spouses. I read further but there was not much more info, and nothing about her father. Although it did say she came back to her hometown in Michigan once a year to visit family. Didn't say what that hometown was, I presumed Bad Axe, but it did say she was in her late thirties so Bad Axe couldn't be her original hometown. I wrote down the name of the law firm that she worked at and shut down the browser after checking my email again, nothing important or harmful. I looked up to the clock and it was now almost midnight. I had used up my quota of beer for the night. I put everything away that I had dragged out and put out on my bed during the day. The bed was the only flat surface in my crowded little room that wasn't piled up with my toys or property. Since I moved in with my parents I've been living out of boxes and the limited space in my room made for cluttered living. My mother is amazed that I can pile items upon items to form little towers that could topple over at any shake of my room. I usually drag things out that I need for the day and they are all laid out on the bed, then at bedtime I have to figure where to put all that stuff so I can crawl under the covers. I crawled into bed thinking about the day and how fate can screw with people's lives. I was thinking about Sue Carter and the miserable life she had. I hoped the police would at least keep her safe. Tomorrow I would try to get in touch with Penny Wickens, from her website she was the most successful of the cheerleaders. She had a small local talk show on cable TV and was high profile around the community for her charitable work. She would probably be well protected by now. The police wouldn't want the publicity of her murder on their hands. I wondered if I should share what I found about Rocco and his daughter with Trapper, or wait till I had more information. Probably wouldn't matter, he most likely has all the gory details by now, he does have the internet. Amazing thing the internet, it keeps us informed, entertained and yet it still has a dark side. Like email threats. My eyelids started to droop so I just let them go into the night. * Chapter Six By 9 A.M. I awoke feeling quite refreshed. No calls during the night to disturb my slumber and no mother banging on the door about some suspicious characters stalking around the house. My first goal of the day was to call Chicago to see if Julia Waters has been out of the state. I knew the police would be doing all the investigating, but this was too close to home for me to just let go. My curiosity was peaked and I couldn't get the thought of people I knew just being killed, and doing nothing about it. That wasn't me. I dressed and said my good mornings to my parents and went to the front porch to get the local newspaper. The delivery person had thrown it in the bushes again, and bending over for me was getting to be harder to do every day. Again I threatened to not age anymore. I brought the paper in for Mom but checked it first to see what they had said about Joyce Harper. The article was fairly brief, I'm sure at the request of the police. There was nothing much more there that I didn't already know, except I did know a bit more than reported. Marge Holden's murder was in another county so the local papers didn't carry it. I was sure the police didn't want the connection to the two murders in this county to be linked to minimize the panic. I realized this wasn't random serial killings, this was premeditated toward specific persons but the public would believe what they wanted, just like some people believe our government is doing a good job. The local police had stated that it looked like an accidental poisoning by Joyce Harper, looked like, their unofficial statement. Since Chicago was an hour behind us, I waited till about ten to call the Law office of Bander, Witt and Grey. I always disliked the names that law firms have by using the partners names, they should do like other business' do and give it a catchy name like, "Stab'em, Slab'em and We Get Them Off". I checked my email again for the tenth time, nothing still. I watched the clock slowly crawl up to 10 A.M. and picked my cell phone up, set the call number block on it and dialed the number. It rang twice and a voice spoke, "Bander, Witt and Grey. How may I direct you?" "Well, I just want some information, maybe you can help me?" I said with a smile on my face. I learned long ago from when I was sucked into selling life insurance, when you cold call on the phone, you put a really big smile on your face and it comes across on the other end. People tend to trust you. "I'll try sir, what is it you would like to know?" She replied pleasantly. "I'm on staff with a woman's shelter here in Michigan and a friend of mine said he heard your Miss Waters was in the Saginaw area talking to a group there this last week. I was wondering if she is still in the state and would she be able to come to speak to our group?" I lied. The voice on the phone hesitated and said, "Miss Waters has been in California for the last month with our new branch there. She's helping to open up the offices and isn't expected to be back for a couple of weeks. She has not been in Michigan since the funeral of her father last December for sure. Who are you, please?" "Well, I guess I was mistaken, thank you." and hung up the phone. Now I knew she wasn't involved locally, but could have set something up with an accomplice here. Being a criminal lawyer, she must know some unsavory people. I had just started my day and my brain was already weary from coming up with a good front for my call, I think I should start taking vitamins. My mother tries to get me to take Centrum Silver, but the name implies that I'm old, ok I am old, but why push it. I called Trapper and did my duty to report. He came on in his usual grumpy voice, "Speak!" "Good morning to you sunshine." I did that big smile thing. "What the hell do you want now Richards?" He wasn't smiling, I could tell. "Just some info I picked up while easing my mind. Not investigating, mind you, just looking." My smile widened. "Fine, whatever, what have you got?" I told him of my exploration on the internet and the obit of Rocco, which he already knew that Rocco was dead. I told him of the daughter and that she was in California for the times of the murders, but how she could have hired someone to do the deed. "Richards, stop theorizing, that's our job. I do appreciate the info on the daughter. I guess I should teach my men to use the internet for more than just for watching porn. I'm still trying to track down Linda Grolich, she's on vacation somewhere but no one seems knows where. I've got men hanging around Penny Wickens, she's not happy, but they are staying out of the way of the cameras so she's going along. Especially since her cheerleader pals are being knocked off, she doesn't want to be one. I still have to interview her, so don't go snooping around, eh?" "Me, snoop, hardly, I inquire". "Well, quit it. I've got enough of a headache without you getting killed. Remember you were threatened too." He hung up. I sat back and thought about that last statement. I was threatened and this person had succeeded in killing three people already with police standing around, I had no police protection. So I called Buck. He didn't answer his phone, I presumed since he worked midnight last night, he was sleeping. I checked my email again, nothing dire or threatening, but there was a couple of pictures of winsomely naked females playing soccer while drooling men stood on the side lines that Buck had included in his batch of email. The girls had their uniforms painted on their upper body but you could tell they were naked other than a thong to cover their lower private parts. I really shouldn't start my day with that image in my head, I have to remember to read Buck's mails later in the evening. I went to Penny Wickens website again, it was about her TV talk show, "Penny for Your Thoughts", I wonder who dreamed that up. They taped early in the day for broadcasting later in the afternoon. I went to see a taping of the Bozo the Clown show years back in Windsor, Canada, across from Detroit. It was amazing how they can make such a small studio look so huge on TV. I got the address of Penny's studio, it wasn't too far away and then gathered my toys: Treo cell phone, Palm PDA, flash drives, earbuds, Swiss army knife, business card case, etc. I was ready for anything. I left after consulting for Mom's needs. I did a search for the location of the studio on my Palm TX and set the Mapopolis GPS to guide me there. Traffic wasn't too bad this morning so it took me only thirty-five minutes to get there. I parked in the visitor lot after telling the gate guard that I was there to see Penny. He gave me a suspicious look and told me to wait while he called in. I gave him my name when he asked and he waited for whoever was on the other end to confer with Penny to see if I was legit. He smiled and sent me through. I thought about asking if they were hiring for more guards, I had the experience. I parked and went in the door marked main entrance and told the receptionist who I was after and she also called ahead to verify. I'll say the killer definitely wouldn't get in here without an appointment. The receptionist pointed me in the direction and I dutifully follow orders. I came down a long hallway with people buzzing up and down and around, then found the door with Penny's name on it. There was a big burly cop sitting on a metal chair by the door looking uncomfortable, he stood up as I approached. "You got business here?" he growled. "Jim Richards. Miss Wickens is expecting me." I hoped she had from all the calls ahead. He poked his head in the door and inquired. I heard Penny yell "Tell that S.O.B. to get in here!". Wow, that made me feel welcome. I smiled to the cop and slipped through the door. Penny was in a pink, furry robe and was having make-up put on. She pushed the make-up girl aside and bounced up and latched on me with a bear hug that would give me dreams for a month. Soft flesh, smelled great, with perky breasts, she looked as young as she did back in school, the wonders of cosmetic surgery. I'm sure she stopped aging at forty. Damn, Jimmy, you look... Old." She laughed, it was a nice laugh, soft and airy. "But still good looking." "Thanks and your fortunes have kept you looking young." I smiled, she punched me lightly on the shoulder and laughed again. "Sit down you old coot, tell me about yourself," she commanded as she went back to her make-up table. I was fixated on her. There are some people on TV who look good, but in real life they can be gorgeous. She was. I sat facing her and she bent over to pick up a brush she just dropped exposing a breast through the front of her robe. My crotch got tighter. "Well," I stammered as she grinned, "after high school I goofed off for about six months then Uncle Sam called me to action. I ended up in Germany. Out of the army, I goofed off again, then got married, the first time. Divorced four years later, goofed off for about a year having sex with as many young innocent girls as I could, then married again." "Damn, you are a glutton for punishment." she winked, "You still married?" "God no. I divorced about 12 years later after one son. I'm on the loose again, but I don't move as fast as I used to," I winked back. "I've been single now for about six years and very happy with it. I'm kind of a misogynist now days." "Damn, are you gay now," she looked disappointed. "Oh hell no. Nothing against the gays, I just have been burned too many times to get involved with women again. A little gun shy you might say." I kind of went blank on that. "Gun shy? Is your pistol still working?" She had a devil of a smile now. I really went blank on that, too. I had a feeling this conversation should be done in private. "Are you trying to embarrass me or is this part of your talk show 'Old Men and sex, is there life after the fall' or you just want to see me squirm?" "Jimmy, would I put you on the spot. You have an aura about you that says 'I'm horny' or am I wrong?" "Again, are you auditioning me for your show? Or is there dinner and a movie in there somewhere?" "I'm sorry Jimmy," she laughed again, "Being honest here, confession time, I had a serious crush on you back in school. You and your cute little camera, always roaming the halls. But you were so hung up on Dee, rest her soul, and that other girl, what was her name?" She snapped her fingers a few times, I guess, to help her remember. "Sara Lester, I chased her all through high school. I should say wasted my time chasing her through high school," I sighed. "I really never seemed to have much luck with women." "Only because you didn't get together with me." She gave me a cute coy smile and then turned her attention towards the mirror to get herself ready for her show. I just sat silently as her people fussed about her, getting her camera ready. I was a bit speechless with her confession about her crush on me. It seems like we always go after the ones who we shouldn't be with and the good ones get away. Point in case, Sara Lester is now weighing in around 280 pounds and is a bit mental, but I wanted her. The girl who wanted me is now a glamorous, beautiful star of her own TV show. Go figure. She stood and walked to the bathroom, but turned first to ask if I wanted to help her change into her clothes. She laughed and ran in but not quite closing the door. Yeah, I watched. And she knew it. She came back out a few minutes later looking all spiffy in her expensive clothes. Maybe if I had married her, I'd be broke by now. She reached down to me and took my hand. Her's was soft and very warm. "Time to go play savior of the city." She led me out the door and down the hall being followed by the burly, and now surly, cop. We went through a heavy metal door and into the studio. It was small like on the Bozo set, and the crew was busy adjusting the cameras and lights. The back stage was fairly dark and the stage hands were milling about on the other end, that I could see of them. They all said their "Hi's" and "Good mornings" to Penny and she beamed back to them. Some guy, I presumed was the floor manager, came up to her and gave her a couple of pages of paper. She studied them for a bit and then gave them back and told him she was ready. "Sit here where I can admire you from the stage." She guided me to a tall stool and let me get comfortable. The cop sat a bit over from me, on another metal folding chair like the one in the hall. I could almost hear him grumbling about that. For the next hour I watched the show being created, the guest today was a doctor talking about men's sexual dysfunctions. Oh, great. Penny peeked over to me every time he mentioned sex. I was feeling warm and not from the hot lights overhead. Penny opened the questioning to the audience, you know, "Penny for Your Thoughts" kind of thing. The doctor held up well through the inane questions that people were asking. Penny told the doctor that she had a question. 'When is a man too old for sex?' I squirmed as she looked to me. The doctor laughed and said that man is capable of sexual relations no matter what age, even after sixty, as long as he was healthy and could survive the ordeal. The audience chuckled and Penny laughed as she drew her attention back to the Doctor and away from me. There were a few more questions then the show wound down, as they rolled the end credits. After saying her good-byes to the Doctor, Penny bounced over to me and grabbing my hand again, she led me back to her dressing room. She told the burly surly cop to shoot anyone who even tried to knock on the door. She gave him a big wet one on his cheek, I've never seen a cop go so red. She pulled me in and locked the door. Oh,oh. She swung me around and pinned my back to the wall and searched for my tonsils with her tongue. Twelve years of being a monk had just shattered into sweet oblivion as we moved from wall to chair to couch and then floor. My heart was pounding out a conga beat, mostly from my lack of exercise, but partly from the moment. Her body was amazingly firm and smooth, not at all like a woman almost sixty. About thirty minutes later we took a breather. Penny slipped back into her robe as I gathered my wits and my clothes. "Were you trying to kill me?" I smiled. "No, sweet cakes, just seeing what I may have missed back when we were more flexible in our youth." "Disappointed?" "Hell, no. I may make you my fourth husband." She looked serious, then laughed. "How about a long engagement first?" I pleaded. "Sounds good, the anticipation is more fun that way." She went back to the bathroom and came out a few minutes later in her street clothes, silky blouse, short skirt and a big smile. "Are you still a misogynist now?" "Well, my opinion about women has been elevated to a new level." I watched her fussing at her dressing table, straightening out her make-up. Beyond the glamour she was a very handsome woman, I could get used to her. "So, are we a couple now?" I smiled. "Sure Sweety, but I'll need a pre-nup." "Well, don't expect much of my fortune. There is none," I joked, her laugh was infectious. "Well, we just got through the honeymoon night. It's uphill from here." She was tying her hair up on her head, just the way I liked women to have their hair up. "You know, it's been twelve years since I last tasted a woman," I confessed. "Damn, you sure could have fooled me. You must have a great memory." She looked at me in wonder. "I do now, and that will go with me to the grave." I hoped it wouldn't be too soon. She picked up an envelope from her dressing table and opened it. She read the paper from the envelope and went pale. A small choke came from her throat and looked at me with wide eyes. I grabbed the paper and read. "Star light, star bright. Your star is going out tonight. You're the next classmate to die!" * Chapter Seven The police were insistent about not wanting anyone around Sue Carter, but the old woman was just as adamant about doing her work. She said she had to take care of customers to make some money, unless the police were going to fund her. They weren't too happy about it, but Trapper warned his men to closely check each person who came in, just to calm Sue down. Trapper went off looking for Linda Grolich and warned his two officers to stay at their post around the house to make sure no one got in without them knowing. One of the sheriff's men was inside with Sue, so Trapper figured she would be safe. Sue's business was not booming so her and the young deputy sat a good while before a car drove up the drive. One of the outside officers stepped up to the vehicle and saw that a very elderly lady was driving. His muscles relaxed a bit as he watched her struggle to get out of the car as he opened the door for her. She thanked him and struggled up the couple of rickety steps of the porch, then the officer rushed around her to open the door as she slowly waddled in. The well wrinkled, gray haired woman stepped into the salon and saw Sue and the younger officer sitting. "My, all the police, is it all right to get a little trim on my hair?" "Sure ma'am. Come on and sit down. Just ignore the police, they're here to sell tickets for some policeman thing, but you don't have to buy anything to have your hair done," Sue said with a smile. The woman set her oversized hand bag on a chair and toddled to the seat. Sue helped the woman onto the styling chair and helped straighten her up. The woman thanked Sue and inquired if Sue had a bit of coffee to offer. Sue paused and looked at the young deputy and asked, "Do you know how to make coffee, officer?" The young cop replied he did and Sue instructed him where to find the coffee maker in the kitchen. He dutifully headed into the other room and Sue picked up the hair cloth to cover the woman. "Just a little off the ends, dear," smiled the woman as Sue swing the cloth around the woman and fastened it at the neck with a clip. Sue picked up a comb from the back bar and walked around to the front of the woman, leaning in to get a look at the woman's hair from the front. Sue looked a little puzzled and asked, "Ma'am, are you wearing a wig?" The woman smiled and said, "Why yes dear, It's my disguise." and brought her hand up and across Sue's throat with the open straight razor she took from her pocket. It was a very good slash, little blood spurted but was caught by the hair cloth, as the woman pushed Sue back and down. The woman pulled the hair cloth off and bundled it up with the razor and gracefully stuffed it into her large purse. She pulled a small handgun from an outer pocket of the purse and quietly sprinted to the other room, gun held out. She came to the tiny kitchen and found the officer standing in front of the coffee maker humming to himself. The woman didn't want to fire the weapon so picked up a small skillet from the stove and whacked the deputy across the back of the head. He went down with little noise as the old woman quickly went to the back door. She removed a small package from her pocket and took out ten wrapped firecrackers from it and then lit the long end of one with a lighter. She threw the crackers out the back door and ran toward the front gathering up her bag. She waited for the first cracker to pop, setting off the rest sounding like an machine gun. She watched through the window as the two outside cops drew weapons and sprinted around back. She broke through the front door, was in her car and heading out the drive before the police understood the situation. They busted through the back door, guns at front and found the deputy, down but still alive. They rushed carefully into the salon and found Sue Carter bleeding out on the floor. They called for an ambulance and back up. Then called Trapper, something they regretted having to do. After the coroner took the now deceased body of Sue Carter away, Trapper stood in the salon looking frustrated and pissed. The Sheriff's forensic lab people and Trapper's CSU people were bumping into each other, looking for any trace of the woman that they could find. Finally, the Sheriff called his men out and told them to let it be and go back to the station leaving Trapper's men to feign for themselves. "I'm not believing this! Three big strong cops against one little old lady! Do you know how this looks?" roared Trapper. Everyone just stood silently taking in the abuse. That went on for another five minutes before the Sheriff quietly called Trapper outside. "I don't blame you one bit, losing four women like this, but you got two more out there that you'll really need to be on your toes about. I'm done here, it's all yours. I'm going to take my bruised deputy, who also happens to be my nephew, not that I'm overly proud of it, and head back to fighting crime in the sticks and leave murder to you big city cops," He grinned wide, tipped his smokey the bear hat as he headed to his car, signaling his nephew to follow. Trapper just let all the air go out of his body and stood there for a while taking in the sunshine. Becker came out and said the CSU couldn't find anything that would point to the woman. She had taken everything she came in contact with. Trapper looked at him and rasped, "Not a one of the officers who were here could really ID her, old, gray hair, walked slow, etc. And the car she drove was reported stolen from a used car lot in Mt. Clemens early this morning. If we find it, I'll bet my pension that it'll be wiped clean." He sat on the hood of the nearest patrol car and just stared at the house. "Murder doesn't bother me, I've seen it way to much to be bothered. What bites my ass is this guy, person, old lady, whatever, is doing this while we're watching the vic. That makes us look incompetent. I'm not retiring in two years with this blot on my record. Becker you're in charge here, I'm going to see if I can still find Linda Grolich where ever she's vacationing. Maybe we shouldn't protect her, it might just get her killed!" He winced as if in pain, slid off the car hood and walked to his vehicle and then drove off. Becker stood there for a bit watching him, then went back into the house. I was trying to comfort Penny, but she was shaking so badly I could hardly hold her so I sat her on the couch. I called Trapper and told him about the note and he told me about Sue Carter. I definitely wasn't going to tell Penny about Sue at the moment. He asked about the cop watching her and I told him he was on the job, but the note was dropped off while we all were in the studio. He said to sit tight and he'd be there shortly with reinforcements. I put my phone away and Penny reached up to me and pulled me to the couch and snuggled under my arm. She was still shaking, but not as bad. "You'll protect me won't you?" Her eyes were misting now. "You're my girl now. Would I let anything harm you? Hell, no!" I was trying to reassure myself as well as her. We had locked the door to her dressing room again, until there was a banging on it. I asked who it was and the now familiar voice of Trapper bellowed, "Open up Richards!" "What's the password?" That got a smile out of Penny briefly. Trapper started cussing, so I opened the door. "Richards, if I really could find a good reason to haul you in, I would," he threatened. Penny stepped up next to me and said "Over my dead body you will!" Then she realized what she said and started to cry on my shoulder. I moved her back to the couch where just an hour ago we were in bliss. Trapper entered with two of the biggest uniformed cops I have ever seen, they would even make Buck look puny. He surveyed the room. "Ok, fill me in," asked Trapper more politely now. I gave him all the details prior to Penny locking the door, skipping over the intimate details, and on to when she found the envelope. Trapper sat on the chair and just went thoughtful for a bit. "We need to get her to a safe location, one where the killer won't find her. I'm not making her the fifth murder victim." Penny looked at him and said, "Fifth? Who else has died besides Dee, Joyce and Marge?" Trapper was hesitant but volunteered, "Sue Carter was killed about three hours ago." Penny started shaking again, I held her closer and more firm. She put her face into my shoulder and wept quietly. Trapper got up and said he was going to ask some questions around the studio. See if anyone saw someone go in or out of the dressing room. He went out. The two giant cops just stood by staring at us sitting on the couch. I looked at the one closest and said with a big smile, "When do they throw the meat into your cage?" He gave me a smile back, "They don't feed us, we go out and hunt for our food, usually elephant." The other big cop grinned and said, "I like water buffalo better." Penny was peeking out from my shoulder, listening to our conversation and began to giggle. Everyone laughed. It was good. "Sweety, will you stay with me?" She said in my ear like a child. "Well, I'll have to make a few phone calls, I'll do what I can to stay around." I explained to her about my situation with my parents, she understood and told me how good it was of me to do that. I think I scored a few more points with her, not that I was counting. Trapper came back, "Amazing, no one saw anything. I talked to the floor manager and he said a couple of people in the audience had asked to use the restroom. They don't usually closely watch where these people may wander off to. So I guess someone could have slipped down the hall and left the note. They don't keep track of names of people in the audience, but I'm sure he would have used a fake name anyway. There are no security cameras around which also amazes me. We are no where." He turned to the giant cops and said that he wanted them to stick to Penny like glue. If anything happened to her, they would be cut off at the knees bringing them down to his level so he could smack their faces. He asked Penny what her agenda was for the day. She said that she was done at the studio and would just be going home. Trapper asked if she would have any problems with the officers hanging around her house. She said it was fine with her. She told Trapper that I was going to protect her tonight, too. He just grimaced and asked who was going to protect her from me. He told her that he was going to set up a couple officers outside her home also, so not to worry. "As I understand it, four women have been murdered while under police protection and you don't want me to worry." She sounded like she was interrogating a guest on her show. Trapper's face contorted, "Well, we will be on our toes this time. I promise." She looked at me, "You have some calls to make and then we'll go home." I liked the way she said we would go home. I went off into the bathroom and called my brother to ask if he could get Dad to bed, he said he would. Then I called Mom and told her that I had plans to do something with Buck and that my brother was filling in with Dad. She asked if I would be late, I said I probably would stay at Buck's so not to worry about me. She was placated and I hated to tell her a tale, but she would have fretted all night if she knew I was camping out in a place where a serial killer may visit. I thought about that and I called Buck. "Hey, Jimmy, still alive?" Buck said as he heard my voice. "Barely, Sue Carter was killed today and a threat was made at Penny Wickens." I replied. "Whoa, what happened to Sue?" I told him the gory details and then told him about my morning with Penny leaving the intimate details just barely suggested. He congratulated me and asked when Penny and I were getting married. "I just got to know her today after forty years of not knowing she was crazy about me. I'm not rushing anything yet." There was a knock on the door, Penny called in to ask if I was ok. I said yes and that I was arranging for extra calvary. She said she missed me and would wait. I smiled. I asked Buck if he had any plans for tonight, he wasn't working. He said he would help with anything I needed. I told him to hold on and went to the door. I opened it and called Penny in. I sat on the closed toilet and she plopped down on my lap. I asked Buck to get a paper and pen and then asked Penny for her address and directions. I gave them to Buck and then asked him to bring his little silver persuader with him and pick up a couple of good DVDs. We arranged to meet around 7 P.M. and hung up. Penny kissed me on the nose and thanked me for doing what I was doing. Then she said she hoped there wouldn't be anyone around later tonight. She'd send everyone outside if we couldn't get privacy. We gathered her stuff and took our little posse out to her car. One cop went to get their patrol car and he picked up the other cop with us. I was surprised they could fit in the car. They followed us to Penny's home on Lake St. Clair and she pulled into the garage. I told her to wait in the car and lock the doors after I got out. Both of the cops and I went into her house and made a sweep of the place and made sure it was safe, then we went out and brought her in. Her black cat scared the hell out of me by jumping up on the counter in front of me, I jumped back and into one of the giant cops. He laughed out loud and picked up the cat. "Hey I wasn't scared, just surprised," I defended myself. Penny put her things away and gave us a tour of the house so we knew where everything was. She told the officers they probably should camp out in the family room since it was in the center of the house and easily accessible to the rest of the house. They thanked her and sat at the snack bar just between the kitchen and the family room. She turned on the TV and gave them the remote, then grabbed my hand and led me to the back porch. It was enclosed with a fantastic view of the lake. I loved the water but hated contact with it. I was not into water activities. We sat on a porch glider and swung slowly back and forth, the cat joined us and plopped down on my lap. I told her about my first sexual encounter, it was on an old metal porch glider like this one, it was in the girl's parent's basement and it squeaked and groaned with our gyrating, I was surprised her parents didn't come down to find out what all the racket was. She laughed and wondered what sex on a porch glider would be like. We'd have to try it sometime when there was less people around. I thought about Buck and excused myself to go warn the officers about him. I noticed another patrol car pulling in the drive and the giant cops and I went out to greet them. The newcomers stationed themselves outside blocking the only drive onto the property, a long way from the main road. I warned them about Buck and they said they would watch out for him. I left the four of them to plot world domination and went back to the house. Penny was standing at the door and hugged me as I came in. God, she felt so good, I didn't want her to let go. We went to the kitchen and she asked what I'd like to eat. "Wow, you can cook?" I kidded. "I'm hot in the kitchen too, besides the bedroom." That coy smile came back. I said to surprise me and she went to work pulling food stuff out of the fridge and cupboards. I sat at the snack bar and watched her. Even flitting around the stove she looked luminous. I do believe I was falling in love. Every now and then she would stop to give me a kiss then back off to cook. She made a quick stew with ingredients she had on hand and after a while it was ready. She asked me to get plates out for everybody, and told me where to find the utensils. I called the officers and they took turns filling their plates with the stew, I hoped there would be some left for Penny and I. There was, so Penny and I sat at her dining table and ate while talking. I wanted to hear her life story after high school and she gave me all the details. I filled in a few more of the holes in my life that I hadn't covered earlier and then we just sat there staring into each others eyes for a very long time. The two giants came back in and said that Buck was arriving. I was surprised that it was already 7:00 and went out to greet him taking Penny with me. Buck had seen Penny's show so he was a fan already and was delighted to meet her. Penny was shorter than I was so Buck towered over her and lifted her off the ground when he gave her a friendly hug. She laughed and said she enjoyed the ride. Buck got a big chuckle out of that. He pulled out a 30 pack of my favorite beer from the trunk and handed it to me. I called him a saint and he said more of a devil. We went into the house and one of the giants recognized Buck and told him he was an admirer of Buck's classic cars that he had seen at local car shows. Buck went to various car shows to display his restored 1961 T-Bird and had won numerous awards. Buck was surprised to have to look up at the giants but they started to get along great. We finally found out the giants' names, Tim and Deacon. Deacon's real name was Francis but he warned us not to use it, he was named after Francis Albert Sinatra, a favorite of his Italian mother. We all talked for a while then Penny and I gathered the dishes and went into the kitchen to wash them. It was almost 8 P.M. and I asked Penny if she would be upset if I had a beer. She said she would be if I didn't offer her one. Ok, now I was really in love. I knew Buck didn't drink anymore and the cops couldn't so we had the 30 all to ourselves. We finished the dishes and stood in the living room making sure everybody was comfortable. Penny and I excused ourselves, grabbed a couple more beers and went back out to the porch where we just talked until the sun went down. Buck and the cops were talking cars and Buck was relating some of his wild days adventures with the police. The giants were amused by his stories. I decided to go back in the house as we could be targets on the porch from someone out in the dark. She locked the porch door and we went into the living room plopping down on the couch, Penny snuggled under my arm and we just sat there in the quiet. * Chapter Eight Buck came over and slid down on an armchair and gave us his walrus smile. "I got a couple of DVDs like you requested Jimmy. A new James Bond movie and that cute robot movie." "Buck is a softy for animated robot movies," I said to Penny. "Well, Wall-E is my favorite too, I can watch it again." She excused herself to go make some popcorn. Buck and I talked a bit about the day's events and plotted for the night's possibilities. Buck said he would camp out on the couch. The giants from behind us said they would take turns napping on a recliner. "Where you gonna sleep Jimmy?" Buck grinned. "For sure not on the couch with you," I laughed. Penny came back in with a big bowl of popcorn and five plastic bags of popcorn, she handed me another beer and set one down for herself on an end table, yep definitely love. She asked Deacon if he would take two of the popcorn bags out to the officers in the car, he did gladly, then she gave one to Buck and Tim. I thought what a great woman this person was, she thinks of others and not just herself. Penny took the Wall-E disc and put it in her DVD player and turned on the huge LCD TV mounted on the wall and we all settled in for movie night at Penny's. Every now and then Penny would toss a popcorn at my head and pretend she didn't, so I started to toss a few back. After a while it turned into a popcorn battle, with more on our bodies than in our mouths. I called for a truce and she called me a wimp. Taking offense, I said that I would be leaving now and she leaned over and quietly said I had better not, she had plans for me later. I said I was staying. A short time later Penny and I started talking like Wall-E and Eve, Buck asked us to grow up or he'd send us to bed, without the popcorn. We started mimicking more, saying "send us to bed" in robot talk. Buck just shook his head and watched the movie while he could. It was almost 11:00 when the movie finished and Penny said she needed to get her sleep for work tomorrow. She looked at me and said, "There's a soft chair in my room that you can sleep on while guarding my precious body." "Hmm... yeah that would work. Excuse us gentlemen, don't get up, we'll see our way out." Buck gave me a wink as we headed down the hall, Penny giggling under her breath. "Think they fell for it?" she whispered happily. "Oh I'm sure they don't suspect a thing," I chuckled. I couldn't believe this fifty eight year old woman was acting like a giggly teenager, I was really hooked on her now. Once in her bedroom she went after me like a sex maniac. I was stripped down and we were rolling on the bed in record time. Then we took things slow. Real slow. Oh boy, twice in one day, this woman would kill me if she could. After a session of fantastic love making, we cuddled and rested. She was asleep quite fast and thankfully she didn't snore. I laid there holding her for a long while, I was not a good sleeper. Some nights it would take me hours before I would drift off then wake a couple hours later. I was just drifting off around 2 A.M. when I heard a noise. Being a light sleeper also helped. I sat up listening, it seemed like it was outside the bedroom window. I quietly woke Penny, who sprung wide awake, and told her to get out of bed and throw on a robe. She did. There was a bathroom off her bedroom that had no windows to the outside, I told her to go in and lock the door. She did. I was pulling on my pants and shirt and shoes when I heard a noise outside again. I softly went to the bedroom door and listened. I could hear the TV playing quietly and went down the hall but not out into the living room. From the hall I could see that Buck was nowhere in the room, Deacon was sitting at the snack bar watching TV, and Tim was crashed out on the recliner. I came further down the hall just as I heard glass breaking and from the kitchen a figure stormed in firing a stun gun, hitting Deacon and incapacitating him. Tim jumped up groggily and before he had time to think the figure fired a second stun gun hitting Tim in the chest and knocked him out. I turned quickly back down the hall and hid behind the almost closed door in Penny's bedroom. I could hear soft footsteps coming down the hall and up to the door, I was trying not to breathe or pee my pants and wondering where Buck was. There was a long pause at the door, then it slowly opened. I waited till it was half open then I threw my body full force into the door bashing whoever was on the other side. I heard a howl then the door came back at me forcing me against the wall. I was trapped, he was strong. His head came around the end of the door, he wore a ski mask. "Well, Richards, you didn't heed my last warning to you? Now you can die with the TV bitch." He shoved the door again crushing me, which took my breath away. "Yes, I'm going to enjoy this. Maybe I'll have my way with Wickens, she is a looker, eh? I'll let you watch." He brought his hand around the door edge, he had another stun gun. He laughed and suddenly there was a sound from the hall, I looked over to the crack in the door and could see Buck. He lunged forward at the killer and they both fell into the room and wrestled around on the floor. There was a small pop and Buck fell back with the stun gun cord in his side. He roared at the killer and wouldn't go down. He reared back up but the killer swung at him, Buck ducked, fell back and that gave the killer the opening to jump up and head out the door. I caught my breath and went to Buck who was trying to find his legs but they seemed to go in different directions. His gun was tucked into his belt, I grabbed it and fired once into the ceiling to see if the outside cops were still awake. I went to the door and carefully looked down the hall with the gun held out, I heard a noise coming from the kitchen. Summoning up my nerves, I ran out and was ready to fire the gun when the outside cops came busting through the front door. I held my hands up and yelled my name, and said the killer went out the back, they ran that direction. I went back to the bedroom, Buck was sitting on the floor in a daze. He was babbling nonsense and then laid over on his side and lost consciousness. He was still mumbling but I knew he was going to be all right . I wasn't going to have Penny come out of the bathroom until I was sure the killer was dead, caught or gone. I yelled to her through the door and told her to just wait till I said it was safe, I could hear her say she would. I went back out and into the kitchen and saw that the large window was busted in, the killer must have jumped through it into the room when he did his commando raid. I heard a shot from out back by the water, then two more shots. I tried to see what was happening in the dark of the backyard, when I suddenly felt dizzy and short of breath. I moved back to the snack bar and had to sit and try to catch my breath. I heard a female voice from the hall calling my name. Penny came down the hall and saw me looking pale and heaving my breath. She ran to me and I had trouble talking, I was in pain, the patrolmen came back in and rushed over to me. They did a check on me and determined I had broken ribs that was causing pressure on my lung. They had called for EMT's already and laid me down on the couch. Penny was fretting over me as the patrolmen checked the giants, now looking rather small on the floor. I felt sorry for them when Trapper would get here. About 4 A.M. the medics had me bandaged up like a mummy and Buck and the giants were all sitting together on the couch looking a bit frazzled. Trapper was talking to the outside cops, and then he came over to me where I was sitting in an armchair, Penny sitting on the arm. "Ok, Richards, lets hear your part in this attempt." He was a bit friendly, probably since Penny wasn't murdered. Chalk one up for the good guys. I told him everything from when I heard a noise outside Penny's room, in the backyard. He looked a bit puzzled and asked "Why were you in Miss Wicken's room?" We both smiled and Trapper just said "Oh, aww..all right let that go, so where was our hero Buck while the killer was bashing you with the door?" He looked over to Buck. I looked over to Buck, too, wondering the same thing. He grinned and said "I went out for a breath of fresh air and was talking to the cops out front. I had just came back in and saw Tim and Deacon on the floor and went to the bedroom to check on you guys, that's when I ran into the nut job." "Why didn't you have your gun out?" I asked. "I was concerned over not shooting you or Penny so waited till I assessed the situation. By that time he was standing in front of me, I had no time to draw, I just jumped at him. I hate men in ski masks," he grinned. "George, why did you have a gun?" Trapper asked. "I'm licensed to carry concealed, for protection from the criminal element." "Whatever, just keep it concealed from me. The officers who ran out the back said the killer was escaping in a boat, that's how he got here unseen. We were watching the road and front, he knows the layout here." He turned to Penny, "Have you had anyone in the house recently who could get a look at the place?" Penny thought and said "There was a man came out two weeks ago to give me an estimate on carpeting. He drew out a floor plan with measurements. He was the only person to be in the house in a long time. I never did get the estimate, I just figured they weren't interested in doing the job and then I forgot about it." "I'll need the name of that carpet store," He asked her. She said she would write it down and went to get the address. Trapper looked at the giants and said, "Richards explained your part in this, I'm going to assume you men did your jobs the best you could under the circumstances. You two will still be assigned to protection. Just stay on your best." The giants smiled and nodded. "Miss Wickens, I'm still having a hard time locating Linda Grolich, but after this I think the killer may wait to get back to you till this all settles. He will probably try for Grolich now, I just hope he has as much trouble finding her as I am." "Well, Sergeant, if it helps, I talked to Linda about a year ago, we ran into each other in a restaurant, and after talking a while she told me about a cabin she had up in Lakeport. She said she goes there every so often to get away from people." Penny related. "Oh, man, that helps. I'll do some checking with the Lakeport police and see what they can track down." Looking to Penny again, "I really think we should put you in a safe house till this is over." Penny paused, "I understand your concern, but with this crack team of protectors I have here, I'd rather stay in my home. I can take some time off from my show. Phil, the station's weather man can do a decent job of filling in for me, he has in the past. But not great enough that he would replace me." She had a cute little smile, an evil smile, but cute. "Well, that's up to you. I'll leave things the way they are for now, that may throw off the killer figuring we would change things. I'm going to call Lakeport to see if I can find Grolich and alert the police about the situation." He told the outside officers to wait for a relief team and asked the giants if they needed relief. They both said they were fine with staying. Trapper said that was fine with him and went out. We just all sat there, not knowing what to say and too tired to say anything. Penny slipped down on the armchair with me making me flinch from the ribs, she apologized and started to get up but I pulled her back down. We snuggled. "You'll need to get that window in the kitchen boarded up and the front door jam fixed. Oh, and there's a bullet hole in your bedroom ceiling," I said to her. She smiled, "I'll leave the bullet hole to remind me of your gallant attempt to protect me." Buck offered, "I need to go home for a bit to get a few things, I'll measure the window and get a sheet of plywood for it at Home Depot, and some wood for the door. I'll bring it all back then we can have a construction party. I saw a barbecue out back, seems like a shame not to use it." The walrus smile came out. Penny got up and took some money out of her purse and gave it to Buck, "Get the wood and some nice steaks with this. Big juicy steaks." Buck said, "Yes ma'am, as you wish, I'm at your command." He got up, swayed a bit, but steadied himself, then left. The giants got up and said they needed fresh air so went out with the other two officers to wait for their relief. Penny and I were finally alone in the house, it felt good. She tightened her hug on me. "Jim, I really like having you around. For more than just sex." She grinned and kissed me on the cheek. "Although that's a good reason. I was really in a bad way over you back in high school. You were my first serious crush, the kind you don't get over easily. I was so jealous of the way you used to talk about Sara in the lunch room. You probably don't remember but I used to hang around with the small circle of friends you had." "I do remember, I used to hang with the underclassmen, my class was so annoying. You were a doll even back then, so I do remember. I thought cheerleaders were only accessible to the jocks and that one jock, Jeff Lyons, seemed to be always around you. I even fantasized about you occasionally. It was hard not to notice you, especially in your short cheerleader skirt. You honestly had the best legs of all the cheerleaders," I confessed. She looked at me for a bit then said, "We've got some catching up to do. I'll have to buy a new cheerleader outfit and you can bring your camera." "Hmm.. interesting thought. I like it!" We made out like teenagers for a while. * Chapter Nine After a half hour, we came up for air. Since we were getting a little hot and heavy, we stopped so not to embarrass anyone walking in and finding us possibly rolling naked on the rug. Besides, I wanted to have a talk with Penny about the Rocco incident. It could lead to finding out who is doing all this. I really didn't want to change the mood, but I needed to know. "Penny, I have to ask you about something that I really don't want to hear about, involving you." She looked at me with a puzzled expression, I continued, "It's about Rocco, and the charges that were made about inappropriate behavior toward the cheerleaders." Penny stiffened a bit, then got up. She didn't say anything for a moment, just walked over and sat on a stool at the snack counter. "I've always tried to push that whole thing out of my mind. Dee and I were so against it, but Sue and Marge kept at us for days, until we broke down and gave in. Linda and Joyce were mean girls anyway, so they thought it was all just fun." She went quiet for a bit as though trying to think. "Sue didn't like Mr. Rocco, she didn't like the way he would always treat Mrs. Stone, our gym teacher. He was always pawing at her, in their office when he thought no one was looking, but Sue saw them a couple of times." I got up and went to stool next to her, and said, "I always thought Mrs. Stone was a bit on the lesbian side. Even though she was married." "Her husband was a teacher at another school in the district. No, she may have been a bit butch looking, but not a lesbian. Definitely not. Mr. Rocco was a mean, ornery person towards the students. He treated the football team like they were idiots. In gym, he would torment the slow kids, and the overweight ones, pushing them way too hard. He sent many a boy out crying. He was not well liked by just about everyone. I guess, I justified what we did as punishment for him being such a rotten person." She looked at me and had such a sad expression. "I never realized that we could ruin his career and his life. He left the school and we were told not to talk about it by the school administration. Linda told us later that he had gotten mean with her, in the locker room, before he left and threatened all of us. She was scared, but he didn't harm her, just the threat." "What was Mrs. Stone's reaction, did she know you girls made up the charges?" "Oh God, no. We never talked to her about it, and she never brought it up. It was so weird, like it never happened. But Mrs. Stone was never quite the same after that, she became moody and sullen. She wasn't even happy when we found out she was pregnant a couple of months later. Her husband would stop by, about twice a week, to see if she was all right. At least he was happy." We both were silent for a while. I was deducing things in my head, which didn't do much. Penny took a big breath and continued, "Mrs. Stone worked up to the last month of her pregnancy and then just disappeared. She never came back after her son was born. We wanted to visit her, but she told us to stay away. As for Mr. Rocco, Sue told us she heard one of the teachers in the office, saying that he heard that Rocco was in jail, in Lansing for drunk, disorderly and assault. He was working as a janitor in some factory and he came in drunk to work one day. He had a fight with his boss. They called the cops and took him away, but not before he had broke a pop bottle over his boss's head causing a severe concussion. He went into a coma. Rocco was sent to jail for a year. God, did we push him to that?" "Hey, he had the meanness in him. It would have only been a matter of time before he may have hurt someone at school. You can't blame yourself for his actions." I tried to comfort her, she was still looking so sad. "You really think so? I've had nightmares about screwing up some man's life, and what he would end up like. It's been my shame for years." "I remember Rocco from my gym class. He kept calling me four-eyed Richards, because of my glasses. It was annoying and after way too many insults, I wanted to pound on him for it, but he was the teacher and bigger than me and I was a wimp back then." I smiled and the corners of her mouth turned up a little. "Ok, we need to assess this situation and figure out who, and why, someone is killing off the cheerleaders. The connection has to be Rocco, unless you remember someone else who hated the cheerleaders?" She grinned and said, "Yeah, all the homely girls in school." We laughed and then went quiet. "You really think this has to do with Rocco? Why would he wait till now to attack us?" She looked sad again. "Well, he can't attack you, he died last December." I said. She looked surprised, "Well, if it's not him, then who?" "I did some checking, he has a daughter in Chicago. She's a criminal lawyer and I'm wondering if this is some death bed promise for revenge on the girls, who he believed may have brought him down." I saw the look in her eyes, it was blame this time. "Penny, get it out of your head, that what you did caused his miserable life. He was destined to it." She was just staring off into the distance, I snapped my fingers in front of her face and said, "I need to use your computer. May I?" She finally got a smile, and said, "Sweety, you don't have to ask, it's now community property." "Wow, what happened to the pre-nup?" I joked. "Hell with it, I trust you." She kissed me, then got up and went to the computer desk across the family room and turned on the computer. She turned to me and looking deeply into my eyes, for a long beat of our hearts, she said "and I love you. Silly woman that I am, but I do." I got up from my stool and went to her, putting my arm around her and whispered in her ear, "I do love you too, and I won't let your past harm you, in anyway. I promise that with my heart." While we waited for the computer to boot up, and while we clung to each other, I thought about love. It could latch on to us fast, when we least expected it, you know like 'love at first sight'. Penny and I have known each other for over forty years, and yet didn't. This one day we spent together, talking about our lives and loves, and what we did and didn't have, brought me closer to her than if we had seen each other every day for years. I didn't take love for granted, been hurt by it too many times, this time it felt real, like in our souls. Soul mates, if that's what it was, I knew it to be. The computer was beeping, so I went to the desk chair and sat. I brought up a browser and typed in "Julia Waters" in Google. Penny was watching over my shoulder and asked who she was, I told her. She asked if I knew anything about her. I said she was born years after Rocco left our school. Must have had some good times in his life. And from my call to her law firm, the last time she was in Michigan, was for her father's funeral last December. The search brought up the usual million hits. I flipped through the pages stopping at anything related to her. Penny brought a dining room chair over and sat beside me. I took her hand whenever I paused to read something. I knew she was hurting over bad memories, and reading about someone attached to those memories didn't help. I finally found an article written recently, in a Chicago newspaper, that went into more detail about her life in Michigan. "Here we go, a little more info about her." I read the story, then looked at Penny. "She had a very miserable childhood growing up with her father. Her mother ran off when she was twelve, because her father beat on her mother so bad that she ended up hospitalized numerous times. Her mother wouldn't press charges, so the police always turned him loose and Julia wanted to escape from it all, but wouldn't leave her mother. After her mother finally left one day and disappeared, Julia ran away from her father's home numerous times, but was always brought back. When she finally reached legal age to go out on her own, she left. She lived with a cousin back in Lansing, and went to Michigan State for a law degree. She worked two jobs and was still able to complete her courses. She very rarely visited her father, after he moved to Bad Axe, Michigan. When she graduated, she moved to Chicago to work for a small law firm there. After a few years, she made a name for herself and moved up to the prestigious law firm of Bander, Witt and Grey." "At least she made something of herself," commented Penny. "Yeah, she started working with abused women about five years ago, and has been praised for fighting against abusive spouses. It says 'spouses' because she stressed that men can also be victims of bad relationships. I know how that is, I had lived with an abusive woman for two years. I got far away from her when I finally had it." I looked at her and grinned, "You're not abusive are you?" "Shut up and keep reading, or I'll smack you upside your head." She looked serious, then her mouth cracked a tiny smile. I kissed it. "It does mention that she came back to Michigan for her father's funeral. She admits that she wasn't fond of her father, a polite way to say she hated him, but respected him for the good years he gave her. She said he wasn't always bad, just had problems from an incident that happened to him years ago, that left him bitter about life." Penny took a breath and said, "He didn't forget. I am so ashamed of all us for what we did." "You guys were just teenagers. You weren't supposed to be smart. At least, you realize what you did was wrong, and you just have to get over it. Nothing you can do about now." I hope she didn't beat herself up over this. I wish it never had happened, that someone is out on a vendetta possibly over this. "I really should write her, or call, or something to apologize for it." Her eyes were welling up, I reached up to a tissue box, on the computer desk and gave her a tissue. "Something to think about for later, but for now we have to keep you alive to be able to apologize." I pushed back from the desk and thought a bit. "We need to stop him, before he gets to you and Linda. We have to play detectives and solve this mystery." "You haven't done much of this detecting have you?" "I take offense to that, ma'am I have read just about all the good crime, detective and P.I. novels written, so I feel I'm qualified to investigate this case." I said whole heartily, but with a grin. The stress was making her giddy, I think she finally snapped. "Does that make me your moll? Am I a floozy in a tight dress, just swooning over your masculine wiles? Tell me Mike Hammer, can you save me?" Boy, could she put on a show. I haven't heard talk like that since late night, black and white, TV crime shows. The kind you can tell were filmed on a cheap set, in some small studio. "Listen doll, I ain't gonna tell you again, don't talk, unless I tell you to, while I scrutinizing this case." She laughed out loud, which sounded better than she did for the last half hour. I took the adult position, "OK, back to reality. Remind me today to make some calls to track down Julia Waters whereabouts for the last week. I was told she was in California, but is that what she wanted people to believe? California is three hours behind us, so I'll call this afternoon." It was now almost 8 A.M. and Penny said she had to call the studio to explain her absence. She got up and went into the kitchen to use the phone. I just stared at the computer screen which still had the article about Julia Waters on it. It had a picture of her, not very beautiful, kind of a plain, ordinary looking woman. I needed to track down the new offices of Bander, Witt and Grey in California, and talk to Miss Waters. I wasn't sure what story I was going to make up, but I would find out if she came back here during the murders of four women who screwed up, but didn't deserve this fate. Maybe I should just come out with the truth, it sometimes works. The giants came back in, and said that the relief cops had arrived. Changing of the guard, but Tim and Deacon elected to stay. "Are you guys all right with pulling an extra shift?" I inquired. "We need to make some extra points with the Sarge, especially after letting that scumbag slip by us. You feeling better now?" Tim asked. "Yeah, my ribs don't hurt quite as bad now, as long as I don't breathe or move I'm all right." I smiled. Penny came back into the room and said she took a couple days off from work. She didn't tell them she was hiding out from a killer, but it would make a good show when it was over. I silently told myself that I hoped she was still alive to put on that show. I vowed that I would not let anything hurt her, this was very personal now. I needed to talk to Buck about getting a gun, on the side. Penny asked me if I had seen her cat? Shadow, was it's name. I said no, but it may have slipped out with everyone going in and out. She looked concerned, then said it had gotten out before and was days till it came back. She frowned. Penny asked the cops if they would like some breakfast, and they started drooling, really they did. It was like watching two huge St. Bernard's in front of a gigantic bowl of dog kibble. They even offered to help, but Penny told them to just guard the house. She went off to the kitchen. "Man, that is some woman." Deacon drawled. He must have come from the south, I deduced. He looked at me, "If you two don't make it, let me know." He said with a really huge smile on that huge head of his. He actually looked kind of cute. "I have no intentions of letting her go, sorry. You can fight me for her and I sure you'll win, but my heart will still be hers." I got up and went to him real close, "Got that big guy?" He put his face close to mine and said, "You just better watch your back tonight, shorty." We both laughed out loud and hard. Penny poked her head back in the room and asked what was so funny? "We're fighting over you," I answered. "I'm betting on the big guy," she replied, looking serious. "Yeah, well, I love you too." I looked back to Deacon and said, "This is not over, mister." "Shoot your best shot, Mr. I'm-afraid-of-cats!" He shot back. "Oh, low blow. Thanks, Gargantua." He took a pretend poke towards me. I went into the kitchen crying that Deacon was brutalizing me. Penny chased me out telling me to grow up and telling Deacon to stop fighting with the little kid. She scored more points with me. * Chapter Ten Buck came back around 11:30, hauling out a big sheet of plywood from his mini-van. He headed around the back with it. I went out and met him coming back around the house, and we went to get the rest of his shopping. I grabbed the steaks, and said he could do the heavy work. After all I was injured and had to take care of my body. He said for what, more sex?. I ignored his comment and headed back to the house. Penny gave Buck a big hug when he came in, he looked at me and stuck his tongue out. She took the steaks from me and headed to the kitchen again after giving me a kiss. "I get the kiss, you get the hug," I smirked. "She'll get tired of you once she finds out how boring you are," He smirked back. With all the male population in this house salivating over Penny, I hoped we didn't all kill each other before we catch the real killer. My cell phone rang, it said private number, I took a gamble, "Yes Trapper?" He was quiet for a couple seconds, then said, "Richards, the Lakeport police have located Linda Grolich, she's all right for now, how's things with Wickens?" "All's well here. We're getting ready to patch up the holes in the house and barbecue some nice steaks." "Do you have enough meat for the hulk brothers?" I could tell he was smiling. "If not, they can chew on the furniture. Are you with Grolich?" I wondered. "No, I'm heading up there to see her now. It's an hour ride up that I'm not looking forward to, at least I'm not driving. I'm going to see if we can get her back down here so she and Wickens are closer together, making it easier to watch them." I told Trapper to hold on and went to the kitchen. I told Penny that they found Linda and were going to talk her into going back home to be closer to us. Penny suggested that Linda could come and stay here in the guest room. That way the cops could keep the place surrounded. I asked if she really wanted more people in the house, she smiled and said she was having fun. I was amazed, her life was in danger and she thought it was fun. I got back on the phone. "Trapper, Penny said it would be OK with her, if Linda stayed here in her guest room. See if she would be amenable to that." "Well, if it's all right with Wickens and Grolich agrees, that would make our lives easier and more confusing for the killer. He'd really have to do his homework to figure on killing two woman in one place." "There's always a bomb." I half joked. "Wonderful, give me a bigger headache. I don't think he'd do that, he would be killing cops and so far he hasn't tried to kill any. I think he just wants to murder the women and embarrass the police." "Well, whatever. Let us know what Grolich says." I finished and Trapper hung up. I've noticed he doesn't like to say good-bye. "I'm not going to regret inviting Linda here? You aren't going to chase after her now?" Penny looked me in the eyes closely and snarled. "I've already seen a picture of her on her website, I'm not interested." "Oh, is it just my good looks that makes you want me?" She inquired, as she pounded on the steaks with a very large meat hammer. I feared for my life. "No, darling, I love you for your brain, well, maybe your cute butt, too." I confessed. "Better. Now I'm going to let the steaks marinate in beer for a while." She had just elevated to sainthood. She took a couple cans out of the fridge and popped the tops like a pro. She poured the contents into a deep pan, soaking the raw meat. I told her I was going back to the computer to see if I could located Waters' law firm in California. See turned me and pushed me toward the computer. I sat on the desk chair and she plopped down on my lap. "Kind of hard to type and molest you at the same time," I grimaced. "You can't multi-task? I'm not getting up." She bit my neck and growled in my ear. It sent a chill up my spine, so I had to draw my attention to the computer. I reached around her being sure to run my arm across her breasts. She giggled and did a little lap dance on me. This was not going to be easy. I managed to bring up an article about the new law firm in San Francisco and noted the phone number. I started to get up and she protested about being comfortable. I slid her off my lap, took her hand and led her to the bedroom. Buck and the bruisers were outside playing carpenters, so we had time to do some investigating. "The bedroom? So early in the day?" she panted in my ear. "Knock it off. We have to play Nick and Nora Charles now." Referring to the classic detective stories about "The Thin Man". She looked at my beer belly and said, "Not exactly the thin man are you?" I stared at her for a moment, then went to get the phone, as I sat on the bed. She climbed on the bed and straddled me from behind and nibbled on my free ear, I swatted at her. I dialed the number and waited. "Law offices of Bander, Witt and Grey. How may I direct you?" Came an efficient voice sounding much like the one in Chicago. "May I speak with Julia Waters, please?" Doing the big smile thing. "Miss Waters is not available at the moment, may I ask who is calling?" Miss Efficiency inquired. "Yes, I'm personal assistant to Penny Wickens. She has a TV talk show, "Penny for Your Thoughts", here in the Detroit area, and she is interested in having Miss Waters, as a guest, to talk about spousal abuse." Penny squeezed me from behind reminding me that my ribs were still trying to heal. "I can't speak for her, although I'm sure Miss Waters would be willing to talk about the subject, but she is presently out of the state. She's on a much needed rest somewhere in Cabo for now." More info than a receptionist should give out, but glad she did. "Wow, Cabo is great. Sorry I missed her, has she been gone long?" I dug. "Just for the last week, she should be back in Chicago, directly from Cabo. You can call her office in Chicago to see when she is due back. Do you have the number there?" "Yes, I do, that's how I found out she was in San Francisco." "Of course, I hope you can reach her. She is passionate about spreading the word on abuse." She was giving that big smile, too. I thanked her and said I would call Chicago, said good-bye and hung up. "OK, plot thickens, she's been off somewhere for the last week." I twisted to Penny. She pulled me back on the bed, "Do I have to pay you as a personal assistant now?" She said biting me on the ear again. I wrestled her, but had to pull away when I felt pain in my ribs. She let me go and looked concerned. I laid on the bed catching my breath. "I hope this won't interfere with any rough housing we may do tonight," I grinned. "Oh, you expect it now. I may start making you earn it." She got up from the bed and left me alone. "Hey, not nice." I protested. She peeked around the door and said, "I never said I was nice." Then she disappeared again. I followed her out to the kitchen and she stuck her finger in the beer and made me lick it. I sucked on her finger for a bit then stopped. "I don't know where that finger has been, but I like the taste." "Maybe some time I could marinate myself in beer, would you like that?" She teased. The image in my head was delightful. "On a serious note, I have to do something for a couple of hours. First change my clothes, and then I really need to explain you to my mother. I think you'll be safe with Buck and the Gorgo twins, till I get back. Although I don't know how safe they'll be from you." I kissed her cheek. "I think I can survive, till you get back. I want to meet your parents when this is over, my parents are both long passed, so you lucked out. Go do your thing and get back to me." We locked lips for a bit. Then I headed out the door, around to the back, and told Buck what I was going to do. He said I shouldn't leave Penny alone to his charms. I said he better watch himself or I'd sic the giants on him. They agreed to keep an eye on Buck and Penny, and with that I left. While I was outside, I introduced myself to the relief cops and told them I'd be back. As I was driving down Gratiot Avenue, I reviewed the past few day's events. It seemed like a dozen days had passed, time doesn't fly when there's murder involved. I was surprised that my mother hadn't called me, to see if I was still alive. She was a worrier, something that was nice, but it bugged me a bit. I'm sixty years old, and still feel like a child. Parents always say, 'you'll always be my little boy', but I don't buy it. I am a responsible, mature person, not a damn child. Let us children grow up and turn us loose. Do birds call on their young after they throw them out of the nest? I think not. Because the young birds are smart, they move far away from Mom and pop. My lack of sleep was catching up on me. I pulled into the driveway and almost didn't get out of the car. Yeah, I was nervous about talking to my Mom about my relationship with Penny. I don't share feelings easily. Penny was the first girl I ever even confessed my love to, and meant it. It was crazy, I've only been back in touch with her for two days after forty years, and I was ready to run off with her. Stupid love, anyway. I got out of the car and into the house. Mom was cheerful this morning, which was good. I went into my room and grabbed a change of clothes, being sure not to let Mom see my bandages, so I changed quickly. I went back out to the kitchen where Mom was sitting at the table which served as her desk, and pharmacy, for all the pills that she gave my Dad. I sat down across from her and said I needed to talk. I didn't tell her the whole story, she would have had a coronary, if she knew I was involved with murder. Maybe I'd tell her after the dust settled. So I told her I met a woman, her name was Penny, we hit it off and liked each other, and would be seeing each other a lot more. I told her I would still be around to help with Dad, and running errands, but I would be spending more time with Penny. Surprisingly, Mom was happy. She was worried I was turning into a hermit, always in my room. It wasn't healthy for a grown man to be alone. She told me to go have a happy life and she wanted to meet Penny. I told her it was Penny Wickens from the talk show and Mom got all excited. Now she really wanted to meet her. I said that it would be a while but she would have a chance to get together. Penny was a bit busy right now. Mom was satisfied, I told her I had some running to do, and then back to Penny. I said I would come back to help get Dad to bed, and excused myself. I wanted to get back to Penny's to be sure she was all right. I asked if Mom needed anything, she didn't. I packed up my laptop and a few other things I would need and head out. I stopped at a store and bought some Pepsi and chips, I needed them to survive each day. I drove into Penny's drive and waved to the cop in front, I presumed the other was out back. They had to also watch the water now. I noticed Deacon was prowling around outside, I asked him what he was doing. He said he was making sure all was good out here, and getting some fresh air. I went in, Penny was in the kitchen, assembling potato salad. "Well, back in time to start the barbecue. Buck and Tim are out back getting the fire going." She handed me the plate of steaks and steered me to the back door. I said 'Hi' to everyone. Deacon had now drifted around back and joined us. Buck took the plate from me and insisted he was the grill master. I didn't argue. Penny and I sat together on her picnic table and watched the festivities. Tim and Deacon went off to visited with the other cop by the water, talking strategy, or cars. I was trying to keep an eye out for anything suspicious outside the yard. A person could fire a high power rifle from the woods, next to her property. Penny could see I was a bit tense. "Sweetie, stop worrying, I'll be all right. The killer seems to only hit at night and usually up close." She comforted me a bit with her braveness. I sort of knew she was right, but killers don't have set rules. "Yeah, well, this killer won't get close to you." I gritted my teeth, and pulled her closer to me. "Did your talk with your mother go well?" she asked. "Yeah, better than I thought it would. But now she really wants to meet you, since I told her who you were." I smiled. "Well, I want to meet her, she brought you into this world, just for me." She grinned. After a while the steaks were ready. Everybody got their plate full of steak and potato salad and sat, or stood, around the picnic table. After we ate, everyone helped clean up. Buck, Penny and I went into the house. The cops decided to stay outside for a while. The three of us went to the family room and sat, feeling full from all the food. I told Penny that around 6:00, I would have to run back to my house to get my Dad to bed. She said she wished she could go, but was sure the cops would object. I said I wouldn't be gone long. We had about four hours before I had to go, so I suggested we take a nap. She grinned and thought that would be nice. Buck was already involved watching the James Bond DVD on the TV. So he waved us off and we went to the bedroom. We snuggled and kissed a bit, but we decided to actually take a nap. We had a long sleepless night. I set the alarm on my Palm TX for two hours and we slipped off to dreamland. * Chapter Eleven The phone rang about an hour later, Penny answered it. She held it out to me as I lay on the bed, still half asleep. "Hello?" I slurred. "Richards, Trapper here. We got Grolich and we're taking her home, she doesn't want to go anywhere else. I couldn't convince her. Tell Wickens it was a nice gesture, but it's a no-go. We're going to transport her to Bloomfield, where she lives, and get the local police involved. She confirmed the Rocco incident, so I'm betting he's the connection. She hasn't seen her emails yet, so we're bracing for a threat." "Yeah, well, I called San Francisco to see where Rocco's daughter's been, they say she went to Cabo for the last week. Might want to check airlines, to see if she made a side stop here." "Again, officially, stop investigating. But unofficially, thanks for the info, it helps. I'll check back with you later to see if all is well there. Call me if trouble pops up." He hung up, again without a good-bye. I relayed the information to Penny, who was now sitting on the edge of the bed. She was disappointed that she wouldn't have another female in the already overly testosteroned house. I kissed her hand and said I could put on a dress if it would make her happy. She looked at me and said I'd be an ugly woman. I slapped her behind and asked if she was still sleepy. She wasn't, so I got up and we went out to the family room. Buck was not there. I looked out the front window and saw him and two of the cops leaning on the car talking. I was glad he was getting over his police phobia. Penny and I sat on the couch and listened to the silence. She giggled, then said, "Wanna get married after this is over?" I stared at her a bit, then said, "I thought we were having a long engagement, first." "I thought so too, but you're old, and could die before I get to inherit your fortune." I grimly said, "You mean my twenty year old car and the clothes on my back? You'd have to take care of my parents, if I'm gone though." "OK, so let's do it." "We'll discuss it after we catch the killer." "What if we never catch him, what if he escapes and disappears?" "We'll see, if that happens." "Spoil sport." Buck and Tim came back through the newly repaired front door, spotted us and sat down. They said they had the guard schedule all plotted out for the night, front and back of the house. Buck didn't have to work for a couple more nights, so he was more than happy to camp out here. Penny thanked him. We just sat and talked for the next two hours, Deacon and Tim floating in and out of the house to guard. About 5:45, I told Penny that I was going to the house to do my thing, she kissed me and walked me to my car. I really hated to leave her, not just because of the killer, but because I just didn't want to leave her. But I did. I traveled again back down Groesbeck Highway and turned onto Fifteen Mile Road, just as a car crossed over the lane heading right towards me. I panicked, but kept my head, steered the car to the right, up over the curb, across railroad tracks, stopping just before dropping down an embankment and into a gully. I looked back and saw the car had slowed and saw what looked like a woman at the wheel. She was watching me. She then sped off, leaving me with my heart beating up in my throat. A guy in a pickup truck had seen the incident and stopped to see if I was all right. He helped me get my car back over the tracks and onto the road. He said the car was a black '99 Pontiac SSE Bonneville, but couldn't read the license plate on the back of the car. He said the plate was covered with mud, looked like it was smeared on. I thanked him and drove off toward my parents. I was watching around for that car using the image in my head. I wouldn't know one car make from another, but I'll remember that one. The killer tried to make a metal sculpture out of me. That worried me. I arrived at my parents house, pausing to watch for the car, but didn't see it. I was concerned for my parents, I would have to talk to Trapper about the attack and them. Would the killer go after them to spite me? Would he bother to take time from killing the cheerleaders to waste on me, I really thought not. I helped Mom with the nightly routine, then excused myself again, and headed back to Penny's, watching the roads carefully. I got back about 6:50 and took Buck aside and told him what happened. He was pissed. I told him not to say anything to Penny about it. I met Penny in the kitchen, and gave her a real big lip lock, glad to be alive. I wasn't going to mention the attack, it would just worry her. I told her I had a call to make and went into the bedroom and called Trapper. I related the incident and he agreed it sounded like a deliberate attack. He said they had Grolich under house arrest for her own good. She also received an email threat when they got back to her home. The Birmingham police were on the scene, with warnings about prior murder M.O., they said they would be vigilant. Trapper told me to cover my ass and hung up. I sat on the bed thinking. Penny softly knocked on the door. "Come on in," I said. "You OK? You looked a little pale when you got back. Parents OK?" she asked, as she sat next to me. "Everyone's fine, I'm just a little worn down. Showing my age, that's all." I gave her a big smile and kissed her cheek. "I told you we should get married right away. Us old people should go for the gusto while we can," she grinned. "Who you calling old? I'm only thirty-nine," I stated. "In dog years," She countered. I looked at her, got up and left her alone, in the room. "Hey, not nice." she yelled. I peeked back around the door and said, "Us old people aren't nice." Then went to the family room. She came in and went to the kitchen, I followed. "Just where a woman should be, in the kitchen. Take your shoes off, you should be barefoot, too." I laughed. She threw a plastic cup at my head, I ducked. She pulled a package of smoked sausages out of the fridge and told me to tell everyone, who may be hungry, that she was nuking sausages, in the microwave and serving with the rest of the potato salad. All those who responded came and ate. Then Buck, Penny and I went to the family room again to sit and watch James Bond on DVD. Buck just stretched out on the recliner and said he was going to nap. I looked at Buck and then said to Penny, "Gee, dear, aren't you so proud of our son? Just look how big he has grown." Penny laughed. Buck lifted his head from the recliner and raised a finger in salute. "Hey, young man, don't you go giving the finger to your father!" Penny scolded. Buck raised both fingers in reply. We just laughed. The phone rang and Penny got up to answer. She handed the phone to me. "Hello?" "Richards, it's Trapper, got some bad news, I got a call from the chief of police and was informed we don't have the man power to keep four men on protection. I explained that an attempt was already made and would happen again. He was sympathetic, but we are short handed on the roads. Since the last millage didn't pass, we had to cut our staff. He said I could keep one man on, but the rest have to go back to duty. Sorry, man, nothing more I can do." "Crap, that's just fine. They need to write tickets, but not to save lives." I said bitterly. "Jim, I understand how you feel. My hands are tied. I have to pull three back, let them decide who stays. Worse yet, I can't put anyone on Grolich. Chief feels the Birmingham police should shoulder the burden. If either woman gets killed, I'm going to rub it in his face. Subtlety, but it will be a rub. Watch yourselves." He hung up. "Shit." I very rarely swear out loud, but this was a good reason. Penny asked what was wrong. Buck raised the chair and waited. I told them what Trapper said, Buck cursed, but Penny took it in stride. "I've still got you two strong men to watch me. Wasn't it the two of you who protected me last night?" If she was trying to make me feel better, it wasn't working. Deacon came into the house just then, and said they got the call on the car radio. He said that he had volunteered to stay on. The others were leaving. We went out to thank them and say good-bye. We just stood in the front yard, I looked at Buck, wondering what now. Buck spoke first, "Can't let this get us down. We can do it, just have to be a bit more watchful, but we can do it." "I have every bit of confidence in the three of you to save my skin," Penny smiled. She was still such a little cheerleader, even now. She continued, "Let's just get through this night. I'm going to call the studio and tell them I'm coming back to work tomorrow. I need the change. Besides there are more people there who can be on watch. I'll just have to level with them." I had to agree with that. We would stick close and with everybody watching, she would probably be safe then. "OK, it's a plan, but we'll have to figure something different for tomorrow night. Different place maybe." I said. "Deacon, that OK with you?" "I always wanted to watch a TV show being made, I like it," he grinned. Buck went to his van and took a small case out of the back. He handed it to me and I opened it to find an army .45, in excellent shape. I closed the box and said I would take good care of it. We went in and after going around turning on all the lights in the house, and out of the house, we all sat in the family room talking. I suggested to Penny that her and I should be in the guest room tonight to throw off any attempts by the killer. Buck said he'd take the master bedroom, but wouldn't sleep, just sit by the door with his .38. I told him to sit his chair up against the door, so he could sleep but if someone attempts to come in, he'd know. He liked that idea. I said that we could just all sit in the family room all night partying, but we'd be miserable in the morning. Everyone agreed on the group party. Penny leaned over to me whispering that we'd have to pass on sex tonight, if we did that. I looked at her and said I thought we could manage for one night. We'd just have to make up for it later. For the next six hours, Buck and Deacon took turns looking out windows. Everyone was on edge and was ready for a sneak attack. Buck had his gun tucked in his belt. I had the .45 tucked behind me, in my belt. I made Penny lay down on the couch to sleep, she had to look good for the camera tomorrow. She argued but gave in, she was tired. I prowled from front room to kitchen and back. Buck said we should maybe sleep in shifts, telling me to go first. I was really wasted by now, it was 3 A.M. and so I stretched out on the recliner. I told Buck to wake me in an hour. He didn't. I woke by 7:30 and scolded Buck for not waking me, he just grinned. Penny was already up and in the bathroom getting ready. We all piled into Buck's van, it was the only vehicle that would support both Buck and Deacon. We headed down the I-94 freeway, to I-696, then down the Southfield Freeway, to the TV studio. Penny guided us through the gate guard, who was glad to see her back. We went in the studio entrance, Penny using her passcard. Penny was greeted by her gaggle of helpers, assistants and make-up people. She asked the floor manager to call everyone to sit in the audience seats, she had to say something. The floor manager looked from me up to Buck, then up to Deacon, and back down to Deacon's big gun. He went off calling people. After a couple minutes everyone was seated and Penny came up front. "Thank you all for your patience. I have to ask everyone to be on their toes today. My life has been threatened and the killer was here the other day, during my last show. These two men and the officer are my body guards," she smiled at me, "but it would really help if you could be on the look out for suspicious activity or people doing what they shouldn't be doing. Besides, if you keep me alive then Phil won't be doing my show anymore." The crew all cheered at that and Phil gave everyone the finger, but smiled. I interrupted, "Please be on the look out for any audience member moving away from the group, or someone you don't know wandering the building. If you do, call security and keep the person in sight, but do not attempt to stop them. This person has already murdered four women." The group murmured, then Penny spoke. "Ok, everyone, we have a show to get on tape. Stay alert, but go about your business." She headed back to her dressing room as we stuck close. She was so commanding, I felt turned on. I whispered it to her, she said she'd deal with me later. She went to the dressing table and sat quietly, while her hair and make-up people did their magic. The hair stylist was making eyes at Deacon, he turned red. Everyone was so deathly quiet otherwise. The floor manager stopped in, giving Penny her guest sheet and question cards. Penny looked at the sheet and smiled. She looked at me, and said, "Today we have the director of the "Detroit Light House", a shelter for battered women. Isn't that ironic? I will ask him if he knows of Julia Waters." I took the sheet and read the bio on the guy. He had worked mostly around Michigan at various shelters, but it didn't say anything about his connections. He was a person of interest as the police would say. "He may be of interest to talk to, after the show. Maybe fill us in on Julia." I said. The call came in for ten minutes till taping. Penny headed out with her groupies following, we followed the groupies. She went to the stage and greeted Benjamin Brooks, the director of Light House. She told him to sit in the guest chair and explained how things worked. He just sat nodding his head and then the lights went on, to warm up to full power. The audience was already in their seats, I scanned the group looking for anyone suspicious. Buck went around the other side of the stage and planted himself on a stool. Deacon went behind the set and watched from the stage crew's monitor of the set. The crew greeted him and explained what went on back stage. I made a walk around the set, checking all the nooks and crannies to see if there was a way anyone could attack Penny, without being seen. The show was starting. The floor manager became the floor director now and called for all cameras to take their marks. He went to the audience and prompted them as to how to watch the applause signs and respond. He ran them through a couple of tests and was satisfied. He called up to the control booth and turned it over to them. The sound engineer tested and adjusted all the mics. He was satisfied. The opening music came up and the opening credits rolled on the monitor. A short montage of shots, of Penny, around the Detroit area ran, then it went live to her. "Good afternoon, Metro Detroit, I'm Penny Wickens, welcome to "Penny for Your Thoughts." Penny shouted. The applause sign lit and the audience responded. "Today we have as our guest, Benjamin Brooks, director of the Detroit Light House, a non-profit shelter for abused women." Applause again. "Welcome, Mr. Brooks," she smiled. "Please call me, Ben, my father was Mr. Brooks," he smiled back. "Well, call me Penny. Ben, please tell us the purpose of the Light House." For the next half hour, Ben went on about his aspirations for Light House, sounding a bit pompous. He definitely was in it for the glory. Penny finally broke the ice. "Ben, do you know of Julia Waters, and her work in Chicago, with battered and abused women?" He seemed to be thrown by the question for a brief moment, he recovered, then flashed his expensive teeth and replied, "Why, yes, I know of her work. She is an inspiration to all shelters around the country. She has helped establish important legislation, in regards to spousal abuse," he paused. Before he could say anything more, I heard a small screeching noise and looked up to where it came from. I looked over to Buck, he heard it too, and was looking up. Suddenly I saw Buck leap off the stool and crashed into Penny, Ben and their chairs, knocking them off to the side. Barely seconds after, a light bar came crashing down in the same spot where Penny and the guest sat. I jumped forward to the stage, Deacon came tearing through the curtain from behind the set and we stood looking up. I couldn't see anything in the dark. I yelled to get lights turned up over head. The stage crew was scrambling around, and someone flipped on the work lights. The stage lit overhead but we couldn't see anything on the catwalk. Then I saw a flash of movement off the side of the rigging. Buck was up, helping Penny and Ben up off the floor. I called to Buck, pointed to the direction of the movement, and headed that way. I yelled to Deacon to watch Penny, he moved over to her. Buck and I went around back and heard a door slamming, we went that way. We were chasing a ghost, ever ahead of us, but we followed. Down halls and through other sets in the station. I didn't realize how many rooms and places there were in the small looking building. We came to the last door we heard close, crashed through it with guns drawn. We came face to face with the gate guard, on break, smoking a cigarette, now looking shocked. "Wow, this no smoking thing is getting serious," he said, shaking. * Chapter Twelve Penny and her guest were resting in her dressing room. The audience was told it was just an accident and asked them to be patient, while they fixed the problem. I called Trapper and relayed the incident to him, he said he couldn't do much, since we were in Southfield, but to have the local police call him for any questions about the connections with his cases. I told him we weren't planning on bringing in the local police. We already knew it wasn't going to help. He had to agree and said to keep him informed. I asked how Linda was holding up, he said they moved her to a safe house despite her protests. Penny and her guest were relaxed now and ready to finish the show. The show must go on, was the old adage. They went out to the applause of the audience, no sign this time. The show was finally finished and the audience left feeling excited by what had happened. We asked Ben to join us in the dressing room for a talk. Outside the dressing room, I stopped Buck. "OK, something is bothering me. How did the killer know we would be back here and how did he have time to get the "accident" set up." "Beats me, he must be psychic," Buck said, rubbing his bald head. "I need to check and see if Penny's phone was somehow being tapped, it's the only way he could have known. She called here yesterday about coming back. That would give the killer plenty of time to figure out his moves." "Makes sense to me," Buck agreed. We went into the dressing room, I sat next to Brooks. I reached into my pocket and turned on my Palm Treo, pushed the side button which started the record function. I started the conversation. "Ben, first I want to tell you that was no accident out there." His eyes narrowed, but said nothing. "There is someone killing former female classmates from my old high school. Penny is one and has had two attempts on her life, counting today. There have been four women already killed by this person and we believe it may be connected to Julia Waters." Now his eyes went wide and spoke, "I have nothing to do with Miss Waters, I have no connection to her." "I'm not accusing you of anything. We just want to know, if you can tell us anything about her," I assured him. "Julia Waters is a woman of high stature, in our community. She has crusaded to fight abuse of women, and men also. I can not believe she would be involved in something as low as murder," he defended with an air of arrogance. He continued, "Besides, I don't know much about her. I know she came to Michigan often, as her late father lived here, and has been in the Detroit area numerous times staying at her summer home in Lake Orion." That caught my attention. I looked at Buck since I knew Buck used to live in that area for a few years and had friends there. Buck asked if Brooks knew where in town she lived, he said he didn't. Buck said he'd make a few calls and see what he could find. He went out to make a call. "You never spoke to her?" I asked Ben. "No, I heard her speak, at a symposium once, but never got to talk one on one." He was looking nervous now. His eyes were darting around and wouldn't make eye contact with me. I took that cue, "You seem to be holding something back, Benjamin. You seem nervous about something. Maybe you knew Julia better than you admit." Deacon thankfully moved behind me in Brooks' line of vision. The sight of the huge cop made him squirm a bit more. "Interesting you would know about that summer home, since you said you didn't know her that well." He said nothing. I continued, "You also mentioned her late father, he just passed away four months ago. Do you keep up on people you hardly know?" He stood up and said, "I don't have to answer your questions, you aren't the police, well, maybe he is," looking to Deacon. Deacon moved forward, towering over Brooks and spoke softly, "Yeah, I am, and I think you need to go to meet the investigating officer of four murders. He's gonna need to officially ask you some more questions. Do you think your colleagues might wonder about that?" "Is that a threat!" He demanded. "No, it's police protocol, you may even make the papers, that we were questioning you in regards to a quadruple murder investigation." Deacon was playing it to the hilt. Brooks sat back down. I peeked around Deacon and asked if there was anything more he'd like to say. Deacon stepped back and Brooks just stared at the floor. He then looked up to me, in the eyes and said, "Julia and I were having an affair about six months ago. We did meet at the symposium and she sort of attached herself to me. She was staying at her summer house and she would call me at my home, not even caring if my wife was there, and demand we see each other. She was crazy. You remember that movie 'Fatal Attraction'? God, it felt like that. Finally, the day she got a call about her father dying, she stopped bothering me. She went to Bad Axe, to see him. After that, I didn't hear from her again, except she called me about two days ago. She said she was in town and wanted to see me. I told her it was over and she just laughed and said I was nothing to her and hung up. That's why you surprised me with your question about her, Miss Wickens. I wasn't expecting you to know about her." "Could also explain why you were included in the murder attempt today. That light bar would have gotten you and not just Penny." I was deducing. "She wouldn't try to kill me, would she?" The panic was in his eyes now. "Damn that bitch!." "Gee, Ben, sounds like you might want to cooperate with the police now. Just to save your own neck." I kept at him. He was silent for a long time. Buck came back to the door and signaled me to come out. I did. "What'cha got?" I asked. "Well, my friend Stryder said he knows Julia Waters real well. Seems most the boys in and around Lake Orion knows Julia. If you know what I mean," he grinned, handed me a paper with Waters' address, then asked, "How's Mr. Fancy Pants doing?" "Well, he was also knowing her real well too, and he confirmed that she's back in town." I looked back into the room, Brooks was quiet on the couch and Penny was watching me from her chair. I smiled to her, she waved her little finger at me. "Think we need to take a ride up to Lake Orion?" Buck asked. "Yeah, but I think we need to bring Trapper in on this, with some reinforcements." I was being cautious. "I'm also amazed, that Brooks just happened to be on the show today, him being involved with Waters. Something more is going on. I'm calling Trapper in on this now." I said and took my phone out and went down the hall, Buck went into the dressing room. I got hold of Trapper and briefed him on everything since I last talked to him about the attempt. He said he would see if he could get a search warrant for Waters home, I gave him the address that Buck gave me. I asked him about Brooks, he said he would send a car to pick him up and take him in to protective custody, which meant a warm cell for the night. Trapper said he would call when he got the warrant, knowing our little gang would just show up there anyway. He hung up again without a good-bye. I went back to the dressing room. I told Brooks that I talked to the investigating officer and he was sending protection for him. He thanked me, and went quiet again. I took Penny by the hand and led her out into the hall. "Penny, who sets up your guests for the show?" I asked. "Davey Morgan is the person who schedules the guests. Why?" She replied. I asked where we might find him. She took my hand and we walked through the maze, that Buck and I had ran through earlier. We got to an office and went in. There was a girl sitting at a desk, and stood when Penny and I walked in. "Hi, Penny, glad you're all right," she beamed. "Thanks, Joy, is Davey in? I need to ask him about today's guest." "Yeah, that was strange, he set up this guy Brooks, at the very last minute, bumping another guest and then said he had to leave. Brooks came in and I had to take him to the studio," she looked a bit overwhelmed. "So, just when did you see him today?" I asked. "Not since early this morning. He left around 8:30 and didn't come back till after the big excitement in the studio, then left for the day, he said he wasn't feeling well." I looked at Penny, asking "How well do you know this Davey?" "He's been with us for about three months. He does good work." I looked at Joy, gave her one of my website cards, and asked her to call me if Davey came back again. She said she would. I grabbed Penny again and we went back to the dressing room. I told Buck about what we had just found out. I sat facing Penny. "OK, earlier someone tried to drop a bunch of lights on you and Brooks. Buck and I chased an unknown person and we lost him somewhere in the studio. Maybe he never left. This Davey schedules Brooks, gets him in here and then disappears till after the accident. We were watching for a stranger in our midst and we didn't look at people who belonged here." I was guessing. She was quiet then looked sad, "Someone I had gotten to know tried to kill me. That is so bad." I looked up to Buck, saying, "I don't know the connection between Davey Morgan and Julia Waters, but Brooks being here today, next to Penny, is more than coincidence. Maybe Julia figured she could kill two birds with one stone. Bagging her cheerleader and her ungrateful lover. She and Davey must be in it together. Davey must have been the masked man in Penny's home and Julia could have been the little old lady who slashed Sue." My cell phone rang, it was Trapper, telling me he found a cooperative judge and had a warrant. He had to call the Lake Orion police to get their help, just to make it official. I filled Trapper in on Davey Morgan, and our theories, he asked me to get Morgan's address also. I said I would and we would meet him at Waters' home. I'm sure he wanted to argue about it, but just said to not get in the way. Shortly a car came to get Brooks and he went off, not in a good mood. We piled into Buck's van and head out to I-75 North to Lake Orion. It would take a while, so we just listened to the radio playing crappy music and lots of commercials. Buck finally popped in a tape by Creedence Clearwater Revival and we sang along to John Fogerty, the best we could. I checked my map program on my Palm and gave Buck the directions to Waters' address, as we neared Lake Orion. We pulled into the long drive up to what amounted to be a cabin. There were two police cars and one unmarked car in front of the building. Trapper was standing next to Becker out front with some big-bellied sheriff, talking. We pulled up and Trapper came over to the van and said "Well, it's the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Oh, and the Incredible Hulk," looking at Deacon. "You can look around, but don't touch anything. The sheriff's people just got here, but so far no one is answering. The sheriff has a locksmith coming, to open it up." Buck smiled and said, "Be just as easy to bust the door window." "Yeah, I agree but the sheriff doesn't want to piss off Waters. I think he may be dicking her too," Trapper grinned. We got out of the van and just stood by. After a short while, a truck drove up and the locksmith got out. He proceeded to open the front door and the cops went in. Buck said he would just stay outside and watch for attacking terrorists. I knew better. Penny and I wandered in and I asked one of the deputies, if I could get some of his rubber gloves, he obliged. I gave a pair to Penny and pulled mine on. Penny went up to the fireplace mantle and looked at the assorted pictures, in frames. She picked one up as I came up beside her. It was a picture of a little girl about six standing next to a man and woman, I presumed were Waters' parents, the man sort of looked like Rocco. Penny just stared at the picture till I took it from her and said not to dwell on the past. She kissed me on the cheek and went off into the kitchenette. The cops were buzzing around digging into closets, drawers and cupboards. Becker called Trapper to the bedroom, I tagged along. He brought up a box from the closet and showed Trapper the contents. In all, Trapper deduced, a rope for strangulation, a small bottle of strychnine poison, a mallet with blood on the head and a straight razor. "Most serial killers will take a souvenir of the victims, this one collects the murder weapons." I speculated, Trapper agreed. "Becker, bag the evidence and call in CSU. We got a killer. Sheriff, if you have no problem with us taking over jurisdiction?" The sheriff hesitated, but had to agree when he saw the contents of the box. He whistled and said he couldn't believe that Waters would be a killer. "Can you also put a call out to watch for Waters?" The sheriff went out to his car to radio dispatch and let his people know. Deacon came in from another room, calling for Trapper. We went into a back bedroom. In the room there was a video camera, on a tripod, aimed at a makeshift curtain. Deacon pointed to a VCR, on a dresser, next to a television. Trapper found four tapes sitting on the dresser, each marked with the name of the cheerleaders. Wickens and Grolich were missing. Trapper put the tape marked "Carter" into the VCR, and turned on the machine, and the TV. The screen lit with Waters' face, she was sitting on a stool. "I want to tell everyone about my Father. He was a hard, mean man, but he had a good side. In 1967, he was a gym teacher, and six cheerleaders decided to make my father's life a living hell, by accusing him of sexual misconduct. He didn't do it. My father was beaten by police, and fired from a job he loved. For years he couldn't find work, then he met my mother. She worked at a local church, as a secretary, and managed to get him hired in as custodian. They married, and I came along shortly after. My father was miserable for most of my childhood. He drank too much, and would often beat my mother if things weren't going right. But he had a decent side, in that he did care, but only when he was sober. He even taught Sunday school. I was twelve when my mother finally had it, and just ran away. My father became distant from me. I left his house when I was old enough, and he couldn't stop me. The rest of my life is not important. I never knew about the accusations in 1967 until my father was on his death bed. He and I talked about it, and how it led him to be the way he was. He made me promise to avenge the life that he was forced into. He also made another confession. He had a son, by the girl's gym teacher, from the school that fired him, Alice Stone." Penny was shocked, and looked at me, I put an arm around her. "He never knew until years later, when Alice Stone finally tracked him down, and told him. It was after I moved out, so I didn't know about him either, until my father lay dying. The years of hard drinking was killing him, diseased inside. He died painfully. Now you will meet the last living cheerleader, giving her confession for this murder of my father. She will apologize for this crime, and atone for it by dying on camera. A tribute to my father. Now I present to you, the last bitch, Sue Carter." The tape went blank. "I guess she had one for each woman set up, because she couldn't be sure who would be last to go. This woman is nuts." Trapper said quietly. I said that two tapes were missing. The last two women still alive. Trapper said, "She must have the tapes with her. I didn't know why, unless she knew we were on to her, and took them. Becker, bag and tag everything here." He walked out of the room. I guided Penny out, she was shaking a little. Penny and I went out to tell Buck about the find. Trapper came over to us, and pulled me aside. "Listen, Richards, I just want to say, off the record, that I appreciate your help in this. Now, do you have the address for this Morgan guy." he asked. I gave him the paper, with the address, that Penny acquired for me. Trapper said that Morgan was probably the half brother she mentioned on the tape. "That's my guess too, she found him and dragged him into it," I said. "Penny called Joy, in the booking office, on our way up here, and Morgan hasn't returned. Joy said she called his apartment, under the pretense to see how he was feeling, and got no answer." "Since this guy lives in my jurisdiction, it will make life easier to get a warrant, and these tapes will help. Don't go doing anything till then, you got that?" he warned. I agreed. I figured that since the heat was on, both Waters and Morgan would be lying low for now. They still had Grolich to contend with, if Waters wanted to continue her vendetta. And Penny. I went back to the van, everyone was standing around, and I said we may as well head back. It was now after three, and there was nothing more to do here. The ride back would take an hour, and I had to get my mind set for my nightly Dad duty. I was going to take Penny with me this time, but use her car, since Waters knew mine. I felt that Waters probably would back off to regroup for now. Besides, it would thrill Mom to meet Penny, and get Penny away from her house for a while. We drove back while trying to work out the time line of all that happened the last three days. Penny was quiet most the trip back. We got back to Penny's house, and Deacon went in, followed by Buck, to make sure there were no uninvited guests. They signaled that it was clear, so Penny and I went in. I jumped when something attached itself to my ankle, and I made a loud yell. Everyone looked down at the cat that was straddling my ankle, and Deacon said, grinning, "You still have a problem with cats." * Chapter Thirteen Penny pulled Shadow off my leg, and scolded him. I glared at Deacon, and said that I loved cats, and cats loved me. He said he could see that, by the way the cat was humping my leg. I just snorted, and followed Penny into the kitchen, where she was opening a can of cat food. I went to pet Shadow, but every time I reached, the cat moved a couple of inches away. I gave up trying to pet him as he went over to feed. Penny laughed, and said that I could pet her anytime, and she wouldn't move away. We had another hour before I had to go, so we sat on the porch and just relaxed. Buck and Deacon were out wandering around the house, talking cars, I imagined. They both came in, through the porch door, a while later and sat with us. I told them I was taking Penny with me, so they could relax, and watch TV, or whatever. Buck said that he would probably run home to get a fresh change of clothes. I looked at Deacon and said he could just sit here and pet the cat. He used his middle finger to scratch his forehead. He said he would run home too, and change. Buck smiled, and said that Deacon was getting a bit ripe. Deacon scratched his forehead again for Buck. We all laughed. Penny and I went to her car and left. On the way I gave her the rundown on my Mother. I asked her not to mention the events of the last few days, and explained my concern, she understood. We came up with a devious story of how we met, and what we've been up to. We got to the house without trouble, but I was on the look out for suspicious activity. I took Penny up to the house, and my Mother flew the door open, and welcomed us in, but mostly Penny. I just stood back as Mom gushed over her. She had us come into the kitchen, and wanted us to visit, but I said we had to do some errands, but maybe this weekend we could stop to visit for a while. She accepted that. She took Penny in to meet my Dad, he acknowledged her barely, and then I had Penny wait in the living room, while I got him into bed. After that was done, Mom came out with me and talked for about ten minutes, then she said she had to get my Dad comfy and tucked in. Penny gave my Mom a hug, and said we'd be back. Mom told her she watched her show almost every day. Penny smiled, and said she'd give her a wave on her next show. We left, and I didn't feel like going back to her place yet, so I drove to a nearby park, and we just sat on a picnic table, watching kids play. She asked about my son, and I told her a little about him. She looked wistful, and lamented about not being able to have children of her own. She had problems internally, when she was young, and had lost her ability to reproduce. I told her I would share my son with her, she smiled, and got a little tear in her eyes. I kissed the tears, and then she put her head on my shoulder. We sat there for about a half hour more, then headed back. Buck was already there, and Deacon drove in about ten minutes after us. Penny called the studio, but the staff had gone for the day since it was after 7 P.M., but she did manage to track down Joy at home. Joy said that Morgan never came back, and that they had a nutritionist as guest tomorrow. Joy was concerned about Morgan, but said she would keep the guest roster up and running. Penny thanked her, and hung up. I was sitting with the A-Team in the family room when she came back in. She had found the cat along the way, and brought him over to me on the couch. Shadow moved over to my lap, made a circle then plopped down. I smiled at Deacon. "See, cats do like me," I said with a smirk, just as Shadow started to claw at my leg. I winced in pain and Penny picked him up, and laughed. I grinned, "OK, they like me too much. Now I'm a scratching pole." The rest of the evening was uneventful. We sat, talked, watched TV and then around 11, Penny's head was drooping. I laid her out on the couch, and got a blanket to cover her. Sleepily, she grabbed my hand and kissed it, saying, good night sweet prince, sex later, and drifted off. Buck and Deacon were turning on lights, and checking around the house. All seemed quiet, so we settled in for the night. Twelve miles to the Southwest, Linda Grolich sat at a desk typing on the laptop that the Bloomfield police allowed her to bring to the safe house. She was busy sending out emails to her friends and family saying that she was taking a short vacation, location unknown, as she wanted privacy. She had a detail of three police detectives, who sat around the apartment playing cards. Linda was not happy with the arrangements, but she saw the video that Waters had made when Trapper stopped by around 9 P.M., and played it for her and the detectives. It made her think again about protection. She did a bit of exploring on the internet for Julia Waters and couldn't believe the prestigious lawyer would stoop to murder for something that happened over forty years ago. She underestimated Waters and her death bed promise. Linda hadn't changed in all those years, she still was arrogant and above everyone else. But this brought her down a bit. She told the detectives that she was going to take a shower and turn in. They couldn't watch her in the shower, but told her to keep the door open a bit so they could hear anything that wasn't right. She agreed, but closed the door anyways. She showered and pampered her body with lotions and creams to keep her good looks. She dressed in her nicest silk pajamas, and headed to her bed. She laid down on the aging bed in the safe house, probably used by criminals, she thought and shivered. After a half hour of counting her blessings and good fortunes, she finally dozed. In the dark of the room, the closet door opened slowly, and a dark figure crept out. The knife in the hand of the figure poised over her heart, as the other hand picked up a towel from the chair next to the bed, and slowly covered her face and mouth. That same instant the knife plunged into her chest, through the ribs, and into her beating heart. She struggled for only a moment, then went still. Heart beating no more. The figure went over to the window, and opening it, crawled back out to the rope ladder that was attached to the roof. The figure climbed up and over, pulling the ladder up, and then exited through a stairwell, and back down to the rear entrance of a service room. Out by a waiting car in the alley, Julia Waters opened the door for her dear half-brother, Davey. He just said, "It's done, one to go." The next morning, we all stumbled around getting ready to go to the station. We ate a hurried breakfast this morning, since our regular meals were sadly neglected the past twenty-four hours. We piled into Buck's van and headed to the TV station. We got to the gate and the guard recognized Buck and me from the smoking attack, he just gave a grim little smile, and passed us through. We entered Penny's dressing room and the groupies all hustled to make her happy. The hairdresser still flirted with Deacon, who now wasn't turning red. I think he was enjoying the attention. The floor manager brought Penny her guest sheets, and said they hadn't located Morgan, but they would watch out for him. Word travels fast. Penny looked radiant as she stepped up to the stage and met with Dr. Cheryl Stopelmoor, the health and beauty consultant that came in, at the last minute, when the nutritionist canceled. I asked John, the floor manager if this woman was checked out and he said she had been on the show a couple of times before, so she was good. I relaxed and Buck took point on the same stool he was on yesterday. Deacon was back stage again, and made a point of having the stage crew check, and re-check, the lighting rigs. He asked a couple of the men to stay up there, and yell if anyone popped up who didn't belong there. They kept a man up there. The show started, and Buck and I watched carefully every movement in the room. Penny interviewed the guest, who must have used the beauty products on herself, as she was as stunning as Penny. Penny opened up the segment for questions from the audience, it went well. Penny thanked her guest, gave a shout out to my mother, "Hi to Mrs. Richards!", waved, and the end credits rolled. The guest politely left, and Penny came to me and grabbed on. She whispered in my ear that she was so frightened something would happen. She didn't know how much more of this she could take. I hugged her tight, to the point of making my ribs scream, and said I was here. So was Buck and Deacon. I said my mother would cast her in bronze for the greeting. That made her smile, and we went to the dressing room. We just settled in when my cell phone rang, caller ID said private number. I said, "Hello Trapper." ""Richards, bad news, Grolich is dead." My heart stopped for a second. I turned away from Penny and asked what happened. He said, "someone got in and stabbed her through the heart. Three cops didn't hear or see a goddamn thing. They were playing cards in the living room, Grolich went to bed, and this morning she didn't come out, so they went in, found her. Six stories up, and only one door into the apartment, fucking amazing. They found signs of movement on the roof. They think he came down, into the window and back out that way. I really put my butt in a sling spouting off at the chief, he just blamed the Bloomfield cops. Asshole. I still can't get any extra men for Wickens. I can't figure how they knew where the safe house was." "Waters is a lawyer, she may have used her connections to find out," I suggested. Trapper agreed, and said he'd check it out and hung up. Buck came down the hall, I stopped him at the door of the dressing room, pushing him back out into the hall. I told him about Grolich. He cursed loudly. "You gonna tell Penny?" He asked. "She deserves it. She is the last one left," I said. Buck thought a minute and said, "Well, they won't kill her right away, Waters wants her on video, remember?" I looked at him for a second, then said, "That's hardly cause to celebrate." I had the same thought, but how would they get her on tape now. Kidnapping would be the only option. I related my thoughts to Buck, he agreed. "We have to button her down so tight, no one will get near her," I swore. We went back into the room. I asked all the groupies to leave, it was just the three of us. I sat next to Penny and held her hand. "I got something to tell you," I started. She interrupted, "Linda is dead." I nodded. A choke caught in her throat, she took a breath and started to hyper-ventilate. There was a bag of bagels on the desk, I dumped them, and had her breathe into the bag. After a few moments she calmed. "What happened?" she asked. I told her what Trapper said. She looked to me with tears in her eyes. "I'm going to die, aren't I?" she cried. "Like hell you are! We aren't going to let anything happen to you," I promised. Buck spit, "These bastards will have to deal with me, before I let them hurt you!" She started rocking back and forth, hugging herself, crying. I grabbed her and pulled her to me. Buck went to the restroom to get a glass of water and brought it to her. She drank it between sobs. Deacon came to the door, he'd been out making sure the audience left. He stopped as Buck moved him back into the hall, and told him about Grolich. He was stunned. "So that means Penny is the last," Deacon said. Buck replied, "Yeah, and we can't get anymore help from you people." Deacon took offense, and said, "Don't put this on me. I'm a cop, yeah, but right now, I would lay down my life for her. Politics is the fucker, not the cops." Buck apologized. He said he was just pissed. Deacon accepted, and wondered what to do now. Penny and I came out of the room, "You guys could be a little quieter. Let's get Penny out of here. We need to think of somewhere else to take her, besides her home." Buck beamed, "She can stay at my place for now. Waters has no idea where I live." "Staying at your place is almost a death sentence," I smiled, "but I think it's a good idea." I looked to Penny and said, "We need to tell your people that they will have to deal with Phil a bit longer. You are going into seclusion." Penny talked to her producer, he was understanding. We took our leave and headed out. Penny said she needed to stop at her place for essentials and the cat. Deacon grinned, and said that I could hold the cat on the way to Bucks. I stuck my tongue out. We all took our guns, from under the seats, and slipped them in our belts. We arrived at Penny's place around noon, and she gathered what she needed and put the cat in a kitty carrier. I was thankful for that. While still at Penny's, I called my brother and asked him to help get Dad to bed, he said he would. I told him to give my apologies to Mom, and I'd explain later. We piled back into the van and headed out I-94 to New Baltimore and finally into Buck's drive. Deacon followed us with his patrol car. Buck's house was fairly secluded, back off M-29, the main road into town. I said, "Ok, no one tells anyone where Penny is, understood. Not even Trapper, anybody's phone could be tapped, or someone slips the info, and the cover is blown. We don't know where she is, if asked, understood?" Everyone agreed. We got Penny into the spare bedroom, in the back of Buck's modest little home. The house was small, but livable. While Penny was setting up her new room, Buck was on the phone. I couldn't hear him, but he was grinning that walrus smile. Buck then started to clean up his living room and Penny went to help. Buck apologized for the mess, Penny pulled him down and kissed him on his bald head. She said it was her home for now. He stuck out his tongue at me and said that she kisses him, too. About an hour later, there was such a roar out front, I thought we were under attack from nearby Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Deacon and I went to the front window and saw about eight motorcycles and three hot rods come flying onto the front lawn. Buck grinned and said, "My own personal army." * Chapter Fourteen We went out and Buck started greeting his buddies and their women. They all gave Deacon the eye as the huge cop came forward. Buck went over to Deacon, and threw his arm around the big man, saying that Deacon was a brother to us now. Respect that, he demanded. They all came over to greet Deacon, and then Buck introduced Penny and me. He asked everyone to sit out on the front porch, and lawn, and related the story of the last three days. Everyone sat in awe of the tale of murder and mayhem, and looked to Penny, every so often, with respect. Penny was in awe of the gathering on the lawn, her new protectors. Deacon leaned over to me and said, "This is far better than police protection," he grinned. I had to agree. The tale was told, they agreed to help, and the group started pulling out tents, and other camping equipment, from the cars. It looked like Woodstock after a while. Someone cranked up a boom box, and had Cream blasting out, "Sunshine of Your Love", talk about flashbacks. They had Penny sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of it all, treating her like a princess. One biker came over and said, with reverence, that he watched her show everyday. She suppressed a giggle, then signed the biker's helmet when he held it, and a magic marker, out to her. He was in heaven now. So was Penny. I stayed back, letting her enjoy the moment, and forgetting the horror of it all. She would look around to me every so often, then finally got up and came to me. "Days ago, you were just a forty year teenage crush for me, now you are my savior, and with Buck, my super heroes." I said, "I hope you don't love me for just being a savior. I hope there's more to it." She hugged me tight, and said, "You better believe it, stud." One of the women broke off from her group, a girl about half Penny's age, and came over to Penny, "Excuse me, but we were wondering if you could talk to us about all the celebrities you've interviewed? I want to hear about Hugh Jackman, I saw the show he was on," she beamed. Penny looked to me, smiled, then said to the woman she'd be delighted. They went off and Penny was given a lawn chair, as the group of women, and a few men, gathered at her feet. Buck came over, "Looks like Penny's got some new friends." "Buck, you've been a real good friend to me, but this tops it all, thank you so much." I gave him a hug, he looked a bit surprised, then smiled and patted me on the back. "My pleasure, man. So, you and I are free now to really do some investigating." I said with a sigh, "I now feel safe leaving Penny alone. Yes, we are going to have to do something about this." I looked to Deacon and said, "We should go and have a war counsel." Buck, Deacon and I went around back of the house, where it was private, sat on the porch steps, and talked. "OK, we know that Waters' house has been discovered, so she will not be going back there. Morgan's house will be looked at, when Trapper gets the warrant. So where would they hide out now?" I inquired. "Motel?" Buck offered. "Is Morgan from around here, I mean does he have any relatives?" Deacon asked. I said I didn't know, excused myself and went to interrupt Penny, talking to the the wide-eyed group. I asked her if she knew where Morgan was from, she thought a bit, then said he once mentioned he came from the Midwest, but no particular place. I went back to Buck and Deacon. I said I thought we should go to Morgan's apartment to check it out. We went back around, Buck said he put his friend, Luther, in charge of the compound, as he now called it. We went to Luther and told him we were leaving for a while, and not to let anyone on the property they didn't know. He said, "No fear, man. The lady will be safe with us." I went to tell Penny we would be back, she kissed me from the chair, and went back to her stories. This time we took Deacon's patrol car, looked more official, even if it wasn't authorized. I told Buck to sit in the back so he would look at home. He grunted, but did, and we headed out. I checked the address of Morgan's apartment on my Palm and got the location. It was in the north end of Clinton Township, not too long of a trip. We got there, went to the manager's office, to ask about Morgan. The lady inside told us the police had already been there, she told them she hadn't seen Morgan today. They had a warrant and looked through the apartment, then left. She looked at Deacon and assumed we were cops too, so I played it up. "We just need to know a few more details, did Morgan put any references on his rental application?" I asked, like a cop. She had his file still on the desk from the earlier police visit. Opened it and read off a couple of names. I asked her if she could write the names and addresses on a paper, she did so. I also asked if we could get into the apartment, under the previous warrant. She took the keys from her desk and handed them to me, I handed them to Deacon, to make it official. She gave me the paper and I thanked her, saying we would return the keys. We entered the apartment and started our search. We had no rubber gloves, so carefully handled things. I found his desk and went through the bills and letters scattered there. I hit the replay button on his answering machine and listened. Just a couple of guys calling about bar hopping, Saturday night. One from a female voice saying, you know who, call me. It kind of sounded like Waters voice that I heard on the VHS tape, but couldn't be sure. As I was pulling open drawers on the desk, there was a banging on the door. Buck and Deacon came in the living room and I signaled them to get back a little. I went to the door and could hear a voice yelling, "Open up Davey, it's Mick." I looked through the peephole and saw a rather small kid with his hat on sideways. I hated that. I opened the door and said "Hey, Mick, how's it going, come on in." Mick paused for a minute and asked where Davey was, I said, "on the crapper, come on in." He smiled, then strutted in. I closed the door and Buck and Deacon came around the corner. He saw Deacon's uniform and turned to go out, but I blocked him. He raised a fist to hit me, but Deacon grabbed it and swung him around. "That's attempted assault, slimeball. I guess I'll have to run you in." Deacon twisted the kid's arm around his back and slapped a cuff on it. "Whoa, whoa, Officer Deacon. Let's see what this fine young man needs, before we incarcerate him," I acted the part. "Just what is it you want with Davey?" The kid looked scared, but defiant. "I ain't talking to no pigs." "Wow, double negative. You are a genius. Maybe you'd like a night in a cold cell, with some big biker, you like that idea?" Buck stepped around and grabbed the boy's mouth and squeezed it, saying, "Yeah, my buddies would like his lips." I wanted to laugh, but held it, when the kid's eyes went big. I could see a dark stain growing around his crotch. "OK, Slasher, let the boy be. Now, let's try this again, what do you want from Davey." I asked, as Buck released his grip. "OK, OK. I came to see if he still needed my van for tomorrow night. That's all. Really!" I wondered why Davey would need a van. For kidnapping, maybe. "Since he's not here, do you know where else he hangs?" Deacon asked. "He sometimes hangs out with his looney sister, up in Lake Orion. But they aren't staying there now, Davey says it's infested with cockroaches and needs fumigating. I don't know where else he'd be. Maybe his Mom's house." That caught our attention. "Where does his Mom live?" Mick paused, looking like he was having a bad gas attack, and then said, "Somewhere out in Chesterfield. I don't know exactly." Buck was a bit surprised, Chesterfield was just down a bit from his house. "Is Alice Stone his Mother?" Deacon asked. "Her last name is Morgan, that's all I know." "Anything else you want to say, what about Davey using your van, what for?" I grilled him good, right up to his face. "He said he had to pick up some package and needed the room in the van. That's all, honestly." I nodded to Deacon and he removed the cuff. "I think you should just disappear for a while, Mick, stay away from Davey, if you know what's good for you. We're looking for him for murder, you want to be a part of that?" I pushed. Mick's eyes grew again and he said he wouldn't go anywhere near Davey. I opened the door and he shot out. We all laughed. Deacon said I did good, and loved Buck's Slasher part. "I think I like this investigating," I smiled. I thought about something I had read, the immortal Travis McGee once said 'Don't get hooked on the feeling... investigating can be a disease'. We locked up, took the keys back, and went to find a phone book. We found one at a convenience store on the way back up Gratiot Avenue. The highway ran through Chesterfield, which had a lot of big box stores, banks, bars and a few subdivisions. We found, amazingly, two Alice Morgans in the book. I also checked under Alice Stone, but found nothing. We took the first Alice, and ran by her home. The thing about subdivisions that bugged me, was the conformity and similarity of the houses. We arrived at the house, and got out of the patrol car. People nearby the house were watching us, as we plodded to the front door. We rang the bell, and after a minute or two, a young woman, about thirty, answered. I had placed Deacon up front to add to the air of legitimacy, and I stepped forward and asked for Alice Morgan. She looked a bit worried, then said she was Alice. I apologized for the intrusion, and asked if she knew of an Alice Stone. She looked blank, then suddenly her eyes lit up. "You mean my Aunt, her name is Alice also," she said. "She married my Uncle a few years ago and we used to laugh about having two Alices so close in the family." "Great, does she have a son, named Davey?" I asked. "Yes, she does. What is this about, if I may ask?" she inquired. "We are investigating a crime and need to speak to your Aunt," I said. "I wish I could tell you where she was, but she disappeared about three months ago, and we, and the police, have no idea where she is," she said sadly, "They think there was foul play. My Uncle thinks her son did her in. But it's all speculation. Things got weird when Davey's half-sister came into town." I looked to Buck and Deacon, and then said to her, "Do you mean, Julia Waters?" "I think that was her name, she came into their lives and the trouble began." "What do you mean, trouble?" "Well, from what my Uncle Bob said, Alice thought the Waters woman was a bad influence on Davey. They were hanging together way too much, out at bars and drinking, and there were hints of sexual contact between the two. My god, brother and sister, that's not normal. My Aunt told her she should go away, but Uncle Bob said she kept calling Davey and wanting to see him." Alice related. "Davey finally got tired of what he called their interference and got an apartment." I said quietly to Buck and Deacon that Julia was priming Davey for the murders. I turned back to Alice and asked, "Do you know where Davey and Julia may be staying? We can't locate them." "I don't have any idea, maybe at his apartment. I never liked Davey much, he was just creepy acting. I don't even know who his friends are. I doubt my Uncle would either. If it weren't for my Uncle, Davey would be staying at the house. It was Alice's home when she and my Uncle married, he moved in with her. Davey and my Uncle didn't get along too well either, and Davey got his own apartment after his mother disappeared. This will sound morbid, but if anything happens to my Uncle, I'm sure Davey would take over the house. I've warned him to watch out for Davey." I thought that Davey was too busy killing cheerleaders to bother with his step-father. I thanked her and Deacon gave her one of his cards in case she heard anything about Davey. We left and went to the second address for Alice, to talk to her husband. It was a nice house on a well spaced street, the yard was well groomed and the man was out trimming hedges. We pulled into the drive and he just stared. He looked to be in his seventies, and came towards us as we got out of the patrol car, asking if we heard anything about Alice. I explained that we were on another case, and didn't know about his wife's disappearance, until we talked to his niece. He looked sad and asked what we needed. I asked him about Davey. "He's evil, that's all I'll say. Him and his slut of a sister. You cops should arrest them for incestuous fornication. My dear Alice is missing, and I think the two of them know what happened." I could see his eyes welling up, he took a handkerchief out of a back pocket and wiped. Then he blew his nose with it. "We were just wondering if you may know where they would be staying?" I asked. "I have no idea and don't care, long as they stay the hell away from me," he barked out angrily. I didn't think we'd get anything more from him. We gave our sympathies and then took our leave. Back in the car, I looked at the addresses of the references from the apartment manager, and then looked at my watch. It was now around 4 P.M. and we hadn't accomplished much in finding our prey. Some good leads, but nothing concrete. We decided to call it a day and headed back. The ride was quiet, we each in our own thoughts. When we arrived, there was no one in the yard, I got a little panicky, jumped out of the car when it came to a stop, and ran to the house. I was amazed to find about twenty people all crammed into the living room, watching Penny's show that was recorded earlier. Penny saw me, and came over giving me a kiss and grinned. Buck and Deacon came in behind me, saw what was going on and joined the group to watch the show. Buck said to Penny, that it was interesting to see the finished product and was thrilled when he saw a shot of himself on the screen. Everyone screamed and yelled whenever the camera caught a glimpse of him. Deacon said next time he would sit out front. Penny laughed and whispered in my ear, "I have my first fan club. Luther is the president and some girl called Mouse, is the vice president. The station is going to be running old shows after today, while I'm gone, I guess they didn't want Phil doing the show. Any luck with whatever you went off to do." I took her out to sit on the porch and told her of our adventures. She said that she couldn't believe what I had told her about Davey, he had seemed so nice. I said that you couldn't trust anyone now days, except me, I added. She looked happy and contented and I put my arm around her as we just sat there taking in the sunshine. * Chapter Fifteen I called my Mother and explained that Penny had invited me to visit with her family for a reunion and I had called my brother to fill in for me for a few days. She was all thrilled that Penny said hi to her on the show. I told her since we were going to be out of town, they would be running past shows. She said to say hi to Penny, then we hung up. I relayed the message to Penny and we got up when everyone piled out of the house. People were chattering to her about the show and the guest, especially the women, who were interested in the beauty products. I had to back off before I got swept up in all the estrogen. I went to Buck and Luther, they were just standing in the yard talking, and Luther held his hand out to shake mine. I did. "That's some woman you got here, real classy and smart," he drawled. Were all the people I came in contact lately, from the south, I wondered? "Thanks, I think I'll keep her," I grinned. Buck piped up, "Yeah, but she'll get smart and drop you for me." He laughed. "Luther and I were just discussing our plans for guarding my fortress tonight. Penny should sleep well with us on duty." "So, will I." I said under my breath. To them I said, "I don't think we should have any problems from the crazy siblings, unless they followed us here from the studio. No way they could know where we are." Buck concurred, but said we shouldn't get careless about it. Remember they found the safe house with Grolich. I agreed. Penny had finished with her admirers as they wander off to start foraging for food. She came to me and excused us from Buck and Luther, and pulled me toward the house. She took me into her new bedroom and pushed me back on the bed. I humorously protested, but not for long. "We're not going to do it," she whispered breathlessly, "not with my fan club so close. I just want a little lip action to remind me why I like you." She bit my lower lip gently and pulled. I moved in for the kill and we rolled around for about twenty minutes. We rested and then she dozed off on me. I didn't know whether to be insulted, or cuddle my poor tired little girl. I took the latter. After a bit, I slid my arm out from under her, and went out to the front lawn again. I asked the nearest person where Buck was, she said he and Luther went to get pizza. I was a bit ashamed I wasn't there to help, but knowing Buck, he wouldn't care. Besides, he was the one still employed, I was near broke. The two of them drove back in from New Baltimore, with a pile of pizza boxes, enough to feed the army camped out on the lawn. Everyone was whooping and hollering so loud it must have woke Penny, she came out. Buck handed her a paper plate with a couple slices of pizza, and a beer, and accepted the kiss on his cheek she gave him. He just smirked at me. I grabbed some pizza and some beer and plopped down next to Penny. After a while, everyone had their fill, and they had started a bonfire, in the firepit that Buck had in the front yard, just as the sun was sinking. I took a blanket off a chair from the back porch, and spread it out for Penny and I. We sat by the fire, just dreaming. I kissed her cheek and she put her head on my shoulder and sighed, "Could this get any better?" I didn't think so, but I would try to see if we could top it. Deacon had pulled his patrol car across the front drive, by the road, to discourage any bad guys or local cops snooping around at a party of bikers. Besides, we were fairly secluded as the neighbors were spread far apart. So we weren't going to bother anyone. Around midnight, most people had drifted off to their tents, or fell asleep on chaise lounges or blankets. Penny and I got up, she kissed Buck on the top of his head, while he was trying to do a yoga mediation position on the ground. We said good night, grabbed a couple of beers, and toddled off to the back bedroom. In the near dark of the room, the only light coming in through the thin curtains was from the floodlights, in the back yard, we stood facing each other. She kissed my cheek and I kissed hers, then she kissed my neck, I kissed hers. She slowly unbuttoned my shirt and kissed my chest, from the neck down to my waist. We sat on the bed and I unbuttoned her blouse and proceeded to slowly work my way around her bra with my lips and tongue, tasting her sweetness. I tugged at her bra strap with my lips and pulled it down one shoulder, then worked the other off. She reached around and tried to undo the bra clasp, I reached around and moved her hand and popped open the fasteners with one hand. She looked surprised and said, "Handy aren't you?" I undressed her, she undressed me. We lay together in silence, and took our time pleasuring each other, more and more until our sweaty bodies could take no more. We lay in silence again and she slept, I laid back, popped open a beer, and was thankful for such a woman. Who said old folks couldn't make love? I think I finally drifted off around 2 A.M., as it was the last time I looked at the clock. I woke in the morning, and reached over to Penny, she wasn't there. I pulled on my clothes and went out to see what was going on, as it was so deathly quiet. Penny and Buck were sitting at his small dining table, having coffee and donuts. Buck asked if I wanted some and I told him what I thought about coffee. He took that as a no. I bent down to Penny, gave her a smooch, sat next to her and grabbed a donut. I saw Deacon was passed out on the couch, his feet hanging off the end. I asked if everyone else was still sleeping, looking at the clock in the kitchen, it was 7:40 A.M., a time I'm not usually up by. "Yeah, most of these people don't open their eyes till around noon," Buck yawned. That caused Penny to yawn widely, I stuck my finger in her mouth and she bit it. I pulled back yelling, "Hey, not nice." "Well, sticking your finger in my mouth isn't either." she grinned, then leaned over to say in my ear, "I remember things you did with that finger last night, sailor." I smiled sheepishly and changed the subject. "I'm going to call Trapper at a decent hour, and fill him in on our findings. Maybe he has some news for us, like both Waters and Morgan were killed, in a shoot out with the law," I hoped. Buck laughed, "I have a feeling those two will be a bit hard to catch." "Maybe you can talk them to death in their sleep," the voice came from Deacon on the couch, "I know it's killing me, listening to you while I'm trying to sleep." Buck threw a donut at Deacon, it landed on his neck, he picked it up and started eating it. "See, you put a donut in front of a cop and they shove it in their mouths," Buck roared. Deacon pulled his service revolver out of it's holster, and held it up in the air yelling, "Say that one more time, scumbucket!" Penny piped up, "Now boys, stop fighting or I won't have sex with either one of you." Buck's eyes went wide and Deacon sat up on the couch in a flash. She laughed out loud. They couldn't top that, so we sat in silence, for a while, as Penny grinned and giggled. Around 11 A.M. everyone was up and straightening the mess they made last night. Luther was supervising, making sure it was as clean as they found it. Deacon, Buck and I were looking over the list of references the apartment manager gave me, as we decided how we wanted to handle it. To take a line from Buck's philosophy, I said, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead". I told Penny we were heading out again, she gave me a kiss and subtlety brushed my crotch, saying protect yourself. I just stared at her as she ran off laughing. I was getting hard, covering myself with the file folder I got to keep our papers in. I would get back at her. We drove Deacon's patrol car down to Roseville, where the first address was, from the references. It was a bust, the address was a bump and paint shop, and the person named wouldn't be there. The manager said he had no idea who we were talking about when we mentioned Morgan. We left, the second address in Fraser was also a bust. It was a dollar store. We had to ask anyways, in case Morgan worked there, they said he hadn't, didn't know him. Our boy was playing fast and loose with references, shows no one checks them. We sat in the patrol car feeling a bit annoyed. I pulled out my Palm cell phone and dialed the next reference. It was a massage parlor, I laughed, said he was stroking everyone. I dialed the next on the list, back in Clinton Township, and a woman answered, it sounded like Waters. I couldn't be sure, but I had the tingle. You know the tingle, it comes through intuition and paying attention. I felt it came from when I heard the voice on the VHS tape, it sure sounded like her on the phone. I waved at Deacon and pointed to the address on the list, signaled him to go. He did. I asked to speak to Davey, she paused a long time, then asked who this was. "I'm a friend of Mick's. He said he was having trouble with his van and couldn't let Davey use it, but asked me if I could let him use mine. I don't like loaning out my wheels to just any one, but Mick vouched for Davey." I was working off the top of my head. She paused again, then said, "Davey isn't here right now, your number doesn't come up on my caller ID, give it to me and I'll have him call you." I had three cell phones, don't ask why, I gave her the least used one and said I would be at that number later in the day. She paused for a moment, hopefully writing down the number, then said she'd give it to him and hung up. I told my team about the call. Deacon asked why she didn't wonder where we got their number from, it was a good question. I had a feeling she might be suspicious now. I called Trapper and hurriedly explained what was going on, I gave him the address, he said to not do anything till he got there. He also said he'd shoot me in the balls if we did. We parked down the street and waited for about 10 minutes, when three township patrol cars came roaring in, followed by Trapper and Becker in their unmarked car. We got out and followed everyone up to the house. The police covered the front and back of the house and Trapper banged on the front door, yelling the usual police line, "Open up, it's the police." There was no response, he called again. Nothing, so they took a battering ram to the door and stormed in. The police scoured through the house yelling clear in each room. Nothing and no one in the house. Buck, who stayed by the car, Deacon and I went back to the car, waited for Trapper. He stormed over and said the bitch left. The coffee was still warm, the TV still on, cigarette in the ashtray, but she was gone. I didn't know if he would yell at us, but he just looked at our ragtag little group and said she was on the run. Then he just strode off. I was a bit shocked that we wouldn't hear a blast from him, and Deacon just whispered, “Fuck”. The cops inquired at the neighbors as to the type of car Julia may be driving, and got a fairly decent description. They put out out a BOLO, "Be On (the) Look Out", and searched the house. I asked Deacon to check, with the other cops, to find out what kind of car Waters fled in. Trapper waved me over to him, and said he appreciated the heads up on the killers, but warned me not to get too close. He didn't want to have to scrape me up off the pavement. I said he'd be the first to know anything we find. He was called to the house, and left me standing alone. Deacon and Buck came over, the big cop said the car was identified as a Blue Dodge Charger, about 2004 or 2005. I said the black Bonneville must belong to Morgan, or he borrowed it. A car pulled up to the house as we stood there, a man of about forty got out and asked us what the hell was going on. Deacon asked he who he was, the man said "I own this house, I got a call from a neighbor, friend of mine, saying the cops were crawling all over the place. Are the renters in trouble?" The man evidently was the landlord. I walked to him and asked who the renter was, he said he rented it to a man, named John Stafford. I pulled the list of references out and the name was on the list. At least Morgan had one real friend on the list. I pointed out Trapper to the man and told him he was in charge, the man hustled off. We heard a lot of commotion from the back yard and went there. There was a lot of yelling, from the cops, and found that they had discovered a body, in the garage, under some tarps. Trapper brought the landlord over and he identified the body as that of John Stafford. Well, so much for staying with friends, I mused. I looked at my partners and said, "They are now no longer just killing cheerleaders." That worried me. Buck said, "Could be Stafford was getting too nosy as to their intentions. So they took him out." We got back in Deacon's patrol car, and left before anyone questioned why we were using it for unauthorized purposes. We drove to a nearby restaurant to get some lunch. "Well, we now know they are still in the area and we are eliminating every place they can stay so far," I said. Buck added, "Not to mention, they are having to leave their possessions every time they get chased out." Deacon swallowed a big bite of sandwich and said, "They either have a big stash of cash or using credit cards." "Since Waters' father died, maybe she came into some inheritance," I wondered. "Deacon can you sneak around and find out if there has been any checking on credit cards." He agreed to make a few calls. We ate in silence for a bit, then paid and back to the car. We sat there wondering what to do now. I said there was one last name on the reference list, but there was no time for them to move in there, so it would be a waste of time to follow it up. We decided to go back to Buck's place and wait it out. * Chapter Sixteen We got back to Buck's place around 3 P.M., I found Penny relaxing on a chaise lounge in the back yard, taking in the sun. There were other females spread out on towels and blankets around the yard, in various forms of undress. I tried not to look. Penny wore a skimpy, green tank top, shorts and flip-flops and looked delicious, I wanted to bite her all over. She took my hand as I came up, and yanked me down to kiss me, then warned me about looking at the half-naked women. I pulled over another lawn chair and sat, relating our journey of the day, and admiring her still great legs. "I'm sure Waters is really pissed by now. She's going to want to get back at you, if she finds you were behind her having to move so many times," she said, with a touch of worry in her voice. "Screw her, she brought this on herself, misguided loyalties. How fast she forgot the crap her father put her, and her mother through." I was pissed about it. "In the years I've interviewed people, I've concluded that we're guided by emotion and not logic. Most people are gullible, I see it all the time. I'm sure Daddy dear died a horrible death, and the cheerleaders are to blame. Boo-Hoo, he was a drunk, and mean, before we did what we did. But she got sucked into his death bed confessions," she looked angry. It was the first time she spoke of the incident. Maybe she was willing to get over it now. Plus, seeing how Julia Waters turned out, she had no sympathy for the woman. Neither did I. "Yeah, she's risking a great career as a lawyer and advocate for abused women, just to commit multiple murders and will most likely end up on death row. Stupid." I just shook my head. "What are you going to do now?" She wondered. "Well, we decided it was a waste of time tracking her, so we are going to sit back and wait. Waters can't finish her vendetta without you, so you're the bait." She looked a bit startled by that comment. "I'm not real keen on putting my body out like a minnow. What if she bites and you lose her. I'm dead?" "We have enough fire power between the weapons Buck and I have, and I've seen the arsenal the bikers are hiding around. They get started on her, they'll need a big scoop to scrape up all the parts left." I grinned. She didn't. "Really, stop worrying, we aren't going to let anything happen to you." "You better not, or you'll never get any more sex from me," she threatened. "I thought of that, you are the only woman who'd put up with rolling in the hay with me." "Remember that, Sweety. Oh, and don't forget Morgen. Waters may be the driving force, but it's been Davey doing most the killings." That was something I thought I'd let go for now, one killer is bad, two killers is trouble. Buck came around the house and eyeing the sun bathers, stopped in his tracks and said, "Whoa, sea of flesh. I like." His walrus smile spread around his face. "Quit drooling Buck, it doesn't make you look good," Penny laughed. I asked, "What's up?" "Need you up front, man. We're plotting strategy." He took one more lingering look around the yard, I pushed him towards the front, he just said, "OK, OK, I'm going." Deacon and Luther were sitting on the porch as Buck and I came around. We grabbed lawn chairs and sat facing them. Deacon spoke first, "I was listening to the police bands and heard they were chasing Waters up I-94, but lost her when she ran a couple cars, and a semi truck, into a big tie-up on the freeway. Cops had to stop, she kept going." "Damn," I huffed out. "No mention of her brother?" "They said she was alone in the car." I wondered what he was up to. We sat and decided how to divide up the watch for the night. We had enough men to cover the entire night, once an hour, so we made a roster. Luther called over his men and told them what the schedule would be, everyone agreed. Deacon told all of them that he had a duty, as a cop, to object to any weapons they may have, so he said he just wouldn't look, he smiled and then said, just don't miss and hit him. The men cheered him. After everyone went off, the four of us were talking, when this short biker came over. "Hey, Luther, you said to be on the look out for any thing strange. Well, I'm almost sure there's some guy in the woods watching us." Luther introduced Deacon and me to Boon, and then asked which side of the yard and how long ago. Boon, carefully pointed to the right and said about five minutes ago, we thanked him and said for him to just stroll off as though nothing was going on. He did. We ambled down the drive and then Buck and Luther went out to the road and down towards the side property. Deacon and I walked over to the edge of the property, we both had our hands on our weapons. Buck and Luther ran into the woods, and we did the same, when we saw them break for it. Guns held out, we combed the area, but found nothing. Then we found a spot covered with cigarette butts and a couple of candy wrappers. There was good cover from Buck's property, a good spot to watch from. From the next lot over, we heard a car start up and ran in that direction. A black car sped off, from a beaten down trail, off the main road. Buck said it was a black Bonneville. "Damn, how did he find us?" I screamed, "Some one is telling them! Has to be." "Jimmy, no one knew we were here. Other than our own group, but I can vouch for every one of them." Buck defended. "Yeah, well, Davey was just here, explain that?" Luther looked surprised, "Davey? Is this guy's name Davey Morgan?" We never mentioned his name before, we just referred to him as her brother, and mostly talked about Julia. I said, "Yeah, how'd you know?" "Son of a bitch!" Luther spit, then went back to the yard. He broke out of the woods yelling, "Cindy! Cindy Stewart! Where the fuck are you!" Cindy was laying out in the backyard when Luther, followed by us, came up and yanked her up by her hair. She screamed as Luther released her. "Talk to me woman! When did you last talk to Davey!" He shouted in her face. "Talk fast, bitch!" Cindy's eyes went wide and wild. "I guess yesterday. Why?" Buck calmed Luther down and looked at Cindy. "Davey Morgan is one of the killers were hiding from." She made a little noise and looked struck. Buck said to Luther "How does she know him?" Luther stepped back and said, "Cindy came to me last month saying she met a guy at a bar, and they had a thing going. She wanted some advice on what to do about it since she was married to Ricky, and told me his name, Davey Morgan, when I asked if I might know him. I didn't and told her to be careful, Ricky was not one to share his woman." "Cindy, what exactly did you tell Morgan?" Buck asked. "Tell us everything." She had tears in her eyes and talked, "I called Davey ‘cause I missed him, I told him Ricky brought me here to help protect some TV talk show host. Davey asked me who, I told him." "How did you call him, where was he?" I asked. "I called him on his cell phone, I used mine." She was crying now. "Cindy, I need his number, get it for me." She ran off to get her cell phone. I continued, "Some cell phones have GPS tracking, his may. Deacon, see if you can check on it." Deacon said he'd call a friend, in the forensic lab, to see if it was possible. I said, "Son of a bitch, talk about coincidences. OK, we have to change plans now." She came back and gave me the number, I gave it to Deacon. Then I had an idea. Since Davey didn't know we knew about Cindy and him, we may be able to set a trap. I took my three amigos to the side and told them my idea, they thought it may work. We looked at Cindy, she just said, "What?" We all went into the house and I told Cindy we wanted her to call Davey, pretend she didn't know about his connection and tell him she was getting away for the night, and wanted to meet with him at a bar in New Baltimore. She was afraid he'd kill her, but we said we'd be watching. She agreed reluctantly. I said we should wait for a while, too soon after we chased him off. We sat Cindy down and told her not to move from that spot. Luther called Boon in and told him to watch Cindy, if she moved, shoot her in the foot. She looked in panic at Luther, then to Boon, and back again to Luther. He grinned at her and we went out. I told Penny what had just happened, she looked around in panic. I said he was gone and told her of our plan. "You think Davey will fall for it?" she asked. "Well, so far he doesn't know we know. It may work, we have nothing to loose, so we'll see." She hugged me and said don't let go. We waited about two hours, then turned Cindy loose after coaching her. She dialed the number and then after a couple of rings, he answered, she put it on speaker so we could hear. He must have seen the caller ID, he said "What's up, baby?" "I really need you Davey. I'm getting so hot just thinking about you, it's been so long. You miss me?" She poured it on. He paused, "I miss your fine body, woman. What do you want to do about it?" "Davey, I'm sneaking out of this stinking place tonight. There's a bar in New Baltimore that I can get to, want to meet there? I may not even come back here, it sucks. We could just run off together." I whispered in her ear not to over do it. He paused, thinking I guess, then said it sounded like a winner. He asked the name of the bar. She told him what we told her. She said she'd be there by 9 P.M. and would be wearing her sexiest outfit. I could almost hear him drool. Idiot. He said he'd be there and hung up. Cindy looked at us and we decided to go scout out the bar for best attack. I asked Luther to round up four of his best men, with their bikes, and follow us to the bar. We headed down 23 Mile Road and arrived at the "Bore's Head" bar, scaring half the people in the parking lot, when the hot rods and motorcycles roared in. We parked off to the side and Buck, Luther and I scouted out the lot. Deacon sat in his patrol car across the street, in a restaurant parking lot, waiting for us to signal him to ride to the rescue. We figured on grabbing Davey while in the lot, so not to endanger any patrons inside the bar. We had Cindy stand out front and the rest of us just milled about the lot where most people were starting to party, before heading in the place. It got to be 9:00 and we waited, no sign of Davey. Buck and I sat in his van and watched the road for the black Bonneville, Luther was hanging off his Harley about 20 feet from Cindy, talking to Boon. It was now 9:30 and I was beginning to feel uneasy. We waited another 15 minutes, then I said to Buck, "Something's wrong. He should be here by now." He agreed. I called Deacon on his cell phone and told him Buck and I were going back to his place and check. He said he'd continue watching here in case Davey still showed up. Buck went to Luther and told him our plan. We left the parking lot and headed back to Buck's. We pulled into Buck's drive and got out, there was no one in front and it was way too quiet, I started to worry. We drew our guns and slowly went around back. There was no one there either. We went up to the back door and I looked in the window. I could see the people we left, sitting on the floor in the living room, feet and hands tied. "Shit!" I yelled and yanked open the door and ran to the room. Everyone was tied and gagged, I pulled a gag out of Mouse's mouth and she cried, "They got Penny!" My heart stopped. I got on my cell and called Deacon telling him to get the hell back here and bring everyone with him, Penny was taken. Buck and I untied the eight people in the room and I started grilling Mouse. She said, “they were all in the back except Missy and Frank, they were up front. We saw a man and a woman come around the house with guns pointed at Missy and Frank's heads, saying they kill them if anyone moved. The woman told Penny to get over by her, Penny said not to hurt anyone. She seemed to know the guy, as she was scolding him for all this, and how could he do what he did. The guy told her to shut up and he grabbed Penny and pointed the gun at her head. They ordered us all into the house and the guy pulled out some rope he had, in a pack on his back. He ordered Frank to tie everyone and then he tied Frank. They left and you guys showed up.” I asked how long ago, she said not long, about 20 minutes. Deacon and Luther came flying in and we filled them on the details. I asked Frank if he saw the car they came in, he said a black Bonneville. Luther told the men to get on their bikes and spread out to see if they could spot them. He said to Boon to hit the freeway toward Detroit and call if he sees them. They all headed out. My heart was in my throat and I was having trouble breathing. I felt like someone ripped off both my arms and I couldn't do anything. I had let her down. * Chapter Seventeen Deacon got on his radio and reported a kidnapping to the county Sheriff’s, and New Baltimore police, and to put an all points bulletin out. He called Trapper from his cell phone, I was in no mood to talk, and reported to him. I could almost hear Trapper yelling in the phone at Deacon's ear, he moved it back. Deacon knew I was hurting, so when Trapper wanted to talk to me, Deacon said I was out somewhere. I sat at the dining table, my mind was spinning, Buck sat across from me, knowing nothing he could say would do any good. I had to pull myself together, I had to find Penny. I looked at Buck and said, "They want to make their little film so they won't kill her right off. The police got their video equipment from the cabin, so they would have to buy new equipment or steal it. Where would they go to tape it?" My mind went blank again, nothing coming out that would help. I took a breath and let it out, "OK, let's do this by steps, first, they need a place to tape. Second, they need the equipment. Third, and this is the thing that scares me, they would have to force Penny to confess and apologize for what the cheerleaders did. I'm afraid that Penny won't cooperate with them, and they would have to hurt her. She'd fight them all the way." Luther came in and said he put the word out to all the Harley riders he knew, and said they'd spread the word to others to be on the look out for the car. He said it was a big network, in an hour, every hog hopper in the state would be watching. I thanked him and went back to thinking. I couldn't, my mind was just so filled with the thought of harm coming to Penny. Buck could see I was on the edge. He finally spoke, "Jimmy, stop beating yourself up. It happened and there's no one to blame, least of all yourself! Can you just get yourself back into finding her now. This is serious and we will need to stay focused, time doesn't wait, man." I looked at him and got angry, not at Buck, but Waters and Morgan. The anger was welling up in me and I had to do something. "OK, let's put our heads together and work it out." Boon ran in and said someone from the Warren Chapter Harley Riders called in saying a black '98 Bonneville was seen on I-696, around Van Dyke Avenue, heading west. They said there was a man and woman in the car, but didn't see anyone else. They're relaying between hogs following the car. Buck and I jumped up and we went out, I started heading to my car, Buck yelled to follow him. He went to the garage, off to the side, and he pulled open the door, and told me to get in, pointing to his souped up T-Bird. Deacon yelled that he would run blocker with sirens and lights, he radioed the sighting and reported he was in route. We sped out 23 Mile Road to I-94 and down the freeway until we hit the junction for I-696 and headed west. Luther and most of his men were keeping up with us on their hogs. It must have been a sight for drivers as we were roaring past, cop car in front, followed by classic cars and then bikers. The last call from the Warren riders was that they lost sight of the car between I-75 and Woodward. We continued out, it was now about 11 P.M. and traffic was thankfully light, we made good time. All the way, I kept wondering why they were heading that way, what was out there. I watched the scenery flashing by and realized I had seen this twice now when we went to Penny's studio, for her show. I yelled, "Of course!" startling Buck, "They are going to the TV station. Morgan worked there and has a passcard and there's plenty of equipment to finish their video. It has to be where they're going!" I called Deacon on his cell and told him my thought. He said he'd head that way and that he would call Trapper about our progress. About three more miles down the road, traffic started to back up. We had already passed the last exit and were in the walled section of I-696, the concrete ditch as it was called, no way out. Deacon carefully went up on the shoulder, followed by us, and rode down to where a tractor trailer semi- truck hauling dirt, was over turned. It was completely across the freeway from side to side. Deacon got out and found the truck driver, we came up behind him. "Fucking black car was weaving in front of me, then the bastards started shooting at my front tires and my windshield. Hell, I hit the brakes and the whole damn truck just jack-knifed and went over. I'm lucky I'm alive and didn't kill anyone else. Son of a bitch!" The truck driver was furious. Someone had called the Oak Park police as they came down the shoulder stopping behind our caravan. They didn't look happy, but Deacon told them about Waters and where we were heading, until this happened. They helped get traffic over and Deacon and I got in his patrol car, Buck in his car and while the bikers helped directed traffic, we drove the wrong way back on the I-696 shoulder, to the last exit off Woodward Avenue. Driving up the on ramp scaring the hell out of motorists, we spun around onto Woodward and then headed back to the service drive along I-696. We got to an overpass that took us over to 10 Mile Road and out past Greenfield Road toward Southfield. The TV station was on 10 Mile so we got there shortly after. At night, there would be just a skeleton crew and a few news and weather people hanging around the building. We pulled up to the guard shack and it was empty. Deacon got out of the car, went over to push the button to raise the gate and found the guard dead on the floor of the booth. He raised the gate and got on his radio and called the Southfield police to report the murder and our reason for being there. We drove in and parked up front. The lobby was closed and the doors were locked. Buck just said fuck it and pulled out his .38 and blasted the glass in the door, shattering it. Deacon just stood looking at him, saying "nice play, grace". "What, you wanted to wait for a locksmith?" He went through the door, followed by me and Deacon. From the lobby I had no idea where we were going, so we just headed down the hall and kept a watch for movement. Just as we got to a door, someone opened it and walked into three guns pointed at his head. He quietly said "Shit," and we asked him if he knew Davey Morgan. He said he'd heard about Morgan but hadn't seen him. I asked where they store small VHS camera equipment and he said in the electronics office locker. He told us the directions and we left him, after warning him to get out of the building before he gets killed, and take anyone else with him. He nodded and headed fast out the way we came in. In another part of the building, way back in a secluded prop room, Morgan was tying Penny to a prop bed, spread out. She was gagged and was just coming out of unconsciousness, having been drugged by Waters. Julia was setting up the video camera they had stolen from the electronics locker and popped in the tape marked "Wickens". Julia then walked over to a long extension cord, laying on a prop table, and yanked off the female end, stripping the wires with a knife, she had in her pocket. She cleaned the ends and bared the wires, separating the ends so they didn't touch as she plugged the other end into the wall socket. She carefully tapped the wire ends together and produced a nice spark, she grinned. Davey ripped open Penny's tank top and cut her shorts with the blade he carried, then stood back admiring her almost naked body. "Can I have fun with her before she dies?" He said. "No, dear brother. You can't." She snarled. "You've already had enough fun fucking that biker chick." "Yeah, well, it was fortunate she was involved with this bitch, we might have never found her." "OK, that is the only time I'll look past your screwing another woman. Only I get that pleasure," she smiled seductively. "This plan works even better, we film the confession from her, and get it on her own TV station as one of their breaking news stories. These media bastards love gruesome news, they feed on it and pander to the masses of mindless scum, soaking in the gory details." Occasionally, Davey was a little afraid of Julia, her mind would go off in strange directions, but she was a good lay, so he played along. Penny was making small noises now. Julia went to her carrying the plugged in extension cord. She got real close to Penny's face and snarled, "You will do what I ask or I will make you regret it." She snapped the ends together and a spark flashed in front of Penny's eyes. She panicked, but with the duct tape on her mouth she couldn't scream. Julia brought the wires to Penny's abdomen and touched the skin quickly, causing Penny to tremble in pain. Julia laughed. "Now my dear Penny, I'm going to tell you what you're going to do. You will listen and obey, or this will happen," she hit Penny again with the wires, Penny stiffened again. "Again, over and over till you get your part right." She hit Penny again, a bit longer this time. Penny writhed in agony, until Julia backed away. "Davey, remove the tape from her mouth." She snapped the wires together so Penny could see and said, "Don't scream, or cry out, or I'll make you suffer." Davey yanked the tape, causing Penny to cry out in pain. "Davey, that wasn't nice. You're hurting her." Julia laughed. Back in the electronics room Deacon found the cabinet that had video cameras. We did a quick inventory and deduced one camera was not in it's assigned spot. We went back out the electronics room door and we decided to split up, three people looking would be better than everyone together. Buck said we should fire a shot to let the others know we found something. I said that might work but most of the studio was sound proofed. I said to use our cell phones. I went down one hall, Buck down another and Deacon went through a door to another part of the studio. I walked through the darkened halls that led to the back of the building. I went down a side hall, that had three doors. In the dark, I didn't see a short step stool in front of me and banged my knee and leaned into a table with electrical things on it. The table tipped a bit and dumped the contents on the floor making a horrible racket. I looked around at the doors, waiting to see if anyone would come out. No one did, but I didn't know that Julia and Davey had heard the noise. Julia told Davey to watch Penny. She went through the prop room to the entrance, listening at the door. She opened it a crack and peeked out. She saw me going into one of the other three doors marked "Studio C". I had gone in a ways and walked around the set, it looked like a sport's show setting, I didn't see Julia slip quietly in. I took my cell phone out and called Buck, he said he hadn't seen anything or anyone, I told him I was in studio C. Just as I was going to say good-bye, Julia came up behind me, with a baseball bat she must have picked up from the set, and started hitting me with it. I dropped my phone trying to ward off Julia's attack, but she kept up. I fell off to one side, and found a spotlight housing on the floor, picking it up I started to swing up at Julia, hitting her around the knees, causing her to scream in pain. The housing had pointed edges and I must have made contact with her leg. She limped away from me, dropping the bat, by the door, as she went out. She went back into the prop room and took her gun away from Davey. She told him to stay there again, and she went back out, carefully. I had already came out behind her from Studio C, and went into the other door, this time with my gun drawn. I was lucky to have picked the door that Julia wasn't behind, she came out just missing me. I went into this room, it looked like a small storage room, the walls lined with shelves containing what looked like video tape canisters. I found another door, at the back of the room, I opened it carefully and went through after listening for sounds. I heard something and went in. Davey was pacing and irritable, mumbling about how Julia treats him like some puppet. Penny could see he was losing it, and stiffened when he walked to her, sat on the edge of the bed by her. "Hey, pretty Penny. You always looked so good when you pranced around the station." He moved his hand up her stomach, to her breasts and back down between her legs. She spit at him and he smacked her. "Look bitch, you aren't in any position to do that. I'm in charge here!" "I think Julia would argue that," She hissed. He picked up the extension cord and started hitting her with it all over her body, causing her to scream in pain, bouncing on the bed. He stopped. "You bounced so nice on that bed. I'm going to give you something to bounce for." He started to undo his belt and his pants, before he dropped them he came to the edge of the bed. He let his pants fall and pulled down his briefs. Penny closed her eyes expecting the worse to come. "Now bitch, see what a real man is like." he hissed. "Only if she can find a real man, cause you aren't." I said and he turned, looking me in the eyes with terror, as I fired my gun, into his chest, until he went down. I just stood there not believing I had actually shot a human being. Just as I looked over to Penny, I was shocked to hear a blood curdling scream behind me. I turned to see Julia standing behind me, she must have followed me through the storage room. She was pointing her gun and howling that I killed her brother. I was sure I couldn't raise the gun in my hand in time to stop her from shooting me, but I figured what the hell. I started to bring my gun up when something came flying from around a set wall, hitting Julia square in the head, forcing her body forward and down to the ground. Buck came barreling around, baseball bat in hand, standing over her body waiting for movement, but there was none. I was shaking, but managed to say, "What's the matter, your gun doesn't work?" He grinned and said it was more dramatic this way. Deacon came flying in, from the front, saw Davey on the floor first and asked who shot him? "I did," I said in a daze, still hurting from the beating I took from Julia. He came to me, taking the gun from my hand, and wiped it with his handkerchief, holding it in his hand, saying, "Jim, you never touched this gun! You understand?" He looked to Buck and said,"I came in here, saw Morgan threatening Penny and I shot him, OK, understood?" We nodded. I ran to Penny covering her with a blanket, from the side of the bed, and untied her hands. She was sobbing and shaking worse than I had seen her shake. I just held on and whispered, “It's all over, baby, it's all over.” Buck and Deacon came to the edge of the bed, then they heard a noise behind them. Julia had risen, aiming her gun at Penny and fired just as Deacon jumped in front of the bed. Buck brought out his .38 and blasted Julia, Deacon was on the floor, but took the gun I had and fired until the gun was empty. Julia fired again, but this time at the ceiling, as she was dropping backwards to the floor. Deacon was hit in the groin towards his hip, he looked up and smiled, "It's over now." * Chapter Eighteen Trapper was beside himself after he got there. The Southfield police let him have lead, since the mess was attached to his series of murders. They took charge of the gate guard's murder, but said that the bodies of Morgan and Waters could be transported to Clinton Township, for autopsy and processing. The EMTs were busy putting Penny on a gurney, she was under sedation, so she wasn't really aware of her surroundings. Then, they were busy trying to figure where'd they get a gurney big enough to handle Deacon, we all laughed. They did manage to get him out to the ambulance and hauled him off. Trapper had Buck, and I, in an office, in the building. It was now about 2 A.M. and everyone was tired, but we answered his questions and gave him our statements. He interrogated Deacon before they took him off to the hospital, and was going to base his findings on that, but wanted to hear our side. We related everything from the incident at the New Baltimore bar to the shooting of Julia Waters. Trapper, said to downplay Buck's involvement in the shooting. It would get complicated for Buck. We got our stories together and called it a night. I asked the one of the Southfield cops where they took Penny to and he said they were transporting her up to Mt. Clemens General Hospital. I asked Buck to drive me there and we got to the hospital around 3 A.M. and they let us go into the room. Trapper had called the hospital and said that we were coming there to protect Penny, so that allowed us in after hours. Buck laid down in the empty bed next to Penny's and I pulled a chair over to her and took her hand and held it tightly. I could feel her hand squeeze mine, then relaxed. I slept with my head on her bed. Around 8:30 A.M. Trapper came in and shook me. Penny was still sleeping and I didn't want to disturb her. We woke Buck and went to a waiting room that was empty. He worked on his report all night, as he wanted to get it sewed up. "So, the only thing I'm a bit fuzzy on is Sue Carter's murder, who was the old lady?" Posing the question to us. I offered, "Maybe Julia was in make up. It definitely wouldn't be Morgan." "I thought that, but in my investigating, which I am authorized to do," smirking at me, "we found out that Waters was in a motel, in Warren, doing the bump and tickle with John Stafford, the murdered renter they lived with. We found receipts for the motel in his car, and the clerk verified they were there." I was puzzled, "Why didn't they just use his house? Why a motel?" "My assumption was Davey was there and she didn't want him to see. That's all I can figure, and maybe why Stafford was killed, Davey was jealous and found out about the tryst. We'll never really know now since they are all dead. But still doesn't answer about the old lady murderer. I guess it was just Davey, in a very good disguise. That's going to be in my report." Trapper stood and said he was going to visit Deacon on the next floor. He told us Deacon was hit in his hip bone, shattered it, may not be the same again, but would walk with a limp. He gave us the room number and said to visit, we said we would. He left, and Buck and I went back to Penny's room. We walked in to find an old nurse preparing a hypo. She looked startled when we came in, she kept her face away from us. I asked what she was giving her and she mumbled something I couldn't hear, I moved closer. I saw a strand of black hair hanging down from her gray hair. I could see she was well wrinkled, reminding me of the description of the old lady killer of Sue. I turned away and got on my cell phone and hit speed dial for Trapper, he answered, I just said, "get down here, fast," and hung up. I turned back and said to the nurse, “I'd like to call a doctor to get a second opinion on the shot.” She whipped around and had a gun pointed at us. I looked at Buck and said "And I thought this was really over." She pulled off the wig she was wearing and yelled, "Damn you Richards, you were a smart ass in school and you haven't changed! It will be my pleasure to kill you, too." I looked closer at the hag in front of us, it struck me, Alice Stone! I said, "Why, Alice, everyone thinks you're missing?" "They can all go to hell. I waited years to exact my revenge on the damn cheerleaders for what they did to Nathan. He made me swear to leave them alone, made me promise. I waited till he was dead before I made my move. Julia was already a wreck over her father's confession, but it took me a lot of talking to convince her to follow my plan. My stupid son was all primed for the kill, he was always a bit sadistic. I plotted out everything, I had Julia already involved in one murder, she just went along with the rest. The woman was just a whore, she did anything for a bit of dick. But I did it, killed five of them, now I'm going to finish off Wickens and I can finally be happy." "You killed Sue Carter, didn't you?" I asked. She smiled, "That bitch was my one greatest kill, I wanted it for myself. She hounded Nathan and I, whenever we tried to be alone, stupid little bitch. I enjoyed slitting her throat." "Your son's death doesn't count for something?" I asked. "Yes, makes me want to kill you all the more!" She raise the gun to fire just as Trapper busted in from a side door, calling for her to freeze, she turned the gun at Trapper, he fired twice, she went down. "The Calvary finally arrives." Buck said. The shots brought nurses and doctors in, and Trapper, holding his badge up, told them to all get out of the crime scene. He got his cell phone out and called for reinforcements. Penny stirred, and said with eyes still closed, "Can I have some quiet here?" I went and kissed her lips and said "Anything for you, babe". The End For every ending, there’s a new beginning. Watch for Jim, Penny, Buck and Deacon, together again, heading for Sin City. Coming out in “The Vegas Showgirl Murders” ---------------------------------- The following is an excerpt from the next book, “The Vegas Showgirl Murders”. Chapter One It took about a month for Penny to finally get past the terror of the classmate murders, she hurt deeply. The evil half-siblings, Waters and Morgan were both dead and gone, along with Alice Stone, and I stayed by Penny everyday, nursing her back to normalcy. Buck would visited her home a couple times a week to see how she was doing, talking to her about everything else, distracting from the subject. Deacon wanted to come by, but was still recovering from numerous surgeries to replace his hip and joints, and would be in therapy for a while. Penny and I did visit Deacon as often as his schedule allowed, since Penny owed her life to him as much as the rest of us. After we would visit Deacon, Penny would get a little depressed, seeing Deacon in such a way. I would remind her he was a cop, and they can get hurt in any number of ways, and they accept it. It helped a little, but she needed to heal. I finally convinced Penny to go back to the studio and do her show again. The first day we rolled into the studio, she was shaking, but her groupies were there to make her beautiful, the crew welcomed her back with a big cake and the audience love was there. Her faithful viewers wrote in supporting letters, after hearing of her ordeal, and her biker fan club came to her first show and cheered her on. Luther gave her a big bouquet of flowers from the gang, Penny broke down on camera and cried. She was going to be alright. When the story broke about the murders to the news wires and networks, we had received contact from a few production companies who felt it might make a good cable movie. Buck wanted Hulk Hogan to play him. Penny just thought we were all nuts, but added she'd like to see Jaclyn Smith play her. I wanted to play myself, everyone just laughed. My mother was reading the story I was starting to write, about the murders. I decided to make a book out of it, so I sat down and started banging it out on my laptop, while it was fresh. She was glad I didn't tell her about the killers when it was happening. My brother had agreed to take over my duties at our parent's house and I sort of moved in with Penny. Sort of, meaning it wasn't a permanent move, yet, because Penny and I wanted to take it slow. I was there to take care of her at first, then it just felt comfortable. Newly promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant, Trapper also helped me to enroll in a course at the local community college towards getting a P.I. license. I just had to do it. He gave me his blessing and also helped get me a CCW permit. I couldn't carry a gun yet till I had finished the course, that was his conditions. Penny thought I was living out some adolescent fantasy, a hero worship for Magnum, P.I. sort of thing, I just wanted this before I died of old age. Which I felt I was getting closer to everyday. One afternoon Penny came home all excited. She told me that there was interest in putting her show into syndication nation wide. Her studio had been working towards it, since she was now known across the country for the ordeal we went through, and they had reserved a booth at the big summer NABP convention in Las Vegas. I had lived in Las Vegas for about sixteen months back in 2003 and I knew a bit about the NABP National Association of Broadcast Programing, conventions. Stations across the country go to promote their shows to the networks and the networks try to promote their shows and to sign up stations to become affiliates. That was a simplification, but summed it up. Penny said they were sending her and me out to Vegas, all expenses paid to work and promote her show. She said I was going along to protect her from harm. She laughed, I was offended. We had about four months to get her ready for the big event, and it would give me time to finish my course. She said that she would start to get more important guests now on her show, to add some flair to promote it. In the past she would occasionally book big name stars when they came into Detroit, but now the stars were wanting to get on her show to meet Penny. I hoped all the hoopla over the classmate murders didn't die out before we went to Vegas, stories come and go, and are soon forgotten. "Vegas, Baby!" Buck yelled out when he heard our news. I grinned and said, "Don't get too excited, you weren't invited." Buck looked crushed. Penny came in as I was saying that, and offered, "Well, Buck, we're being flown out on the corporate jet, so if you wanted to go, it would be a free ride. But you'd have to find a place to stay out there, I'm not sharing my luxury room at the MGM Grand with anyone but Jim." Deacon, who was sitting on Penny's couch, spoke up, "Well, if I can get the same offer for the flight out, Buck and I could stay at my sister's house, she lives in Las Vegas. I'd like to visit her." Buck's eyes went wide, and sat there with that walrus smile of his. Buck was now starting to bringing Deacon with him on his weekly visits to Penny and me. Deacon was finally released from the hospital, but still doing therapy for his hip, and had a cane to walk with for now. He bought a heavy, black cane with a serpent's head on the top, it suited him. What he didn't tell anyone, but me, it was a sword cane, twist and pull the handle and out came a long, thin pointy blade. Penny smiled, "Deacon, the plane has a weight limit." She giggled. "You know, I'm getting a little tired of all the big guy jokes. Besides, I'm not big, you're just all puny." "OK, Deacon, you've earned our respect. We will no longer make jokes at your expense. OK, King Kong?" I joked. He grabbed a book off the couch and threw it at me, it missed and came crashing down next to the sleeping cat, startling it out of it's dreams. The cat snarled and ran off. "Oh good, I'm not the only one who annoys cats now," I laughed. Penny stepped in before we started fighting, "Deacon, I'll check with the studio and see, but I'm sure you and Buck could hitch a ride." Buck whooped, and said, "Sin City, here we come!" He paused, "Deacon, what's your sister look like?" "Just stay away from her. Besides she's an amazon and a showgirl." Deacon warned. "Showgirl? Does she do the nude shows?" Buck's mouth was hanging open. "No, and I'd strangle her if she did." He growled. "Murder doesn't become you, Deacon." I said, then whispered something to Penny. She nodded. "Buck, can you help me get some luggage out of my garage and let the kids sit here and fight?" She asked. "I can do that” he got up and followed Penny out. I moved over next to Deacon on the couch. I sat for a minute, not really knowing what to say, I wasn't a very open person. I finally said, "Deacon, I asked Penny to get Buck out of here for a while, since I wanted to talk to you. I just wanted to say I really appreciate what you did for Penny, jumping in front of that bullet. I honestly know I would have lost it, if I had lost her. You saved me, as well as Penny. I just wanted to say a big thank you." Deacon was quiet for a bit, then he just said, "My pleasure. I would have missed both of you." Then he smiled. Continued in the book... Read More Previews at Rev. 122109 Publication Date: September 20th 2010
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