[identity profile] spacemutineer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] acdholmesfest
Title: The Unabridged Version of The Engineer’s Thumb
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] alafaye
Author: [livejournal.com profile] jcporter1
Rating: R
Characters: Sherlock Holmes , Dr. Watson, Victor Hatherley, Inspector Bradstreet, Colonel Lysander Stark, Dr. Becher, Elise
Warnings: Descriptions of gruesome death, and near gruesome death.
Summary: "The Engineer’s Thumb" has been described in Dr. Watson’s own words as a weak case that didn’t showcase Holmes’ skills. Yet he was compelled to write it anyway, only with the good parts left out.
Disclaimer: I make no money or fame from this colorful retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story or the use of characterizations of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

I have never been satisfied with "The Engineer’s Thumb". The sound of my voice in that story falls flat on my ears. Mary, my wife and sometimes proofreader, even noted that it seemed as if someone else had written it. She was perceptive like that.

I even admitted in the introduction that there were better cases to write about; "Colonel Warburton’s madness", for instance, showed Holmes’ skills to a greater degree. My editor tells me that one should never apologize in the opening lines of a story, but let’s be frank; "The Engineer’s Thumb" was a case solved in less than a day and the criminals got away scot-free. It is hardly a case that grabs one’s attention yet, as I say in the last line of the opening: "the circumstances made a deep impression on me", and indeed they did, only I dared not write of the exact nature of said circumstances, and I think that omission of truth is what harmed the story. I wish to make this right if only for my own satisfaction.

Some of what I wrote was correct. It was 1889 and I had indeed abandoned Holmes in his Baker Street rooms for my new life with Mary. But he never forsook his "Bohemian" ways to come to join us for dinner, and I had not seen him in some months; closer to a year really. People have since asked me how it was I could simply turn my back on my dearest friend in such a casual manner. Didn’t I miss him? Didn’t I miss our adventures? The answer simply was "I was busy."

There are certain endeavors one enlists in that can demand your attention so fully that you simply don’t have the time to dwell on the past. One such undertaking is joining her Majesty’s service. I can tell you from the moment that my hand went up in oath to my Queen and Country I didn’t have a second to think about my life before the Army. From sun up to sun down I was training, drilling, shooting. At night I would try to secure as much sleep as possible before reveille was blown, but often that respite was shattered by standing night watches or undergoing surprise inspections. The effect was complete and utter exhaustion and a mind too tired to even dream. Did I ever think on my brother or father and our rural Scottish village? Not once.

I discovered, however, that memories of home and family were never really lost. They glowed, like candles seen through frosted windows, from the eyes of my patients as I did my best to hold their body and soul together.

"Tell my wife…"

"Oh please tell my brother I forgive him."

"I swear doctor, when I get back home I will hold my children to me and never let them go."

In this respect, marriage was also very much like the army.

From the moment you make your vow, you enter a strange new world. Everything becomes secondary to the union. Your own wishes no longer have value. Only the wishes of the marital unit matter. Setting up house, hiring servants, establishing routine, takes all of your attention and then at night comes the battle of the flesh. There is so much to learn about another bed mate. What pleases them? What can they do that pleases you? If you perform well, come the morning there are smiles and kisses on the cheek and rashers of bacon, if you perform poorly, the next morning can be quite frosty.

All of this takes time to master. Then there is the matter of children. We wanted children of course and Mary was quite determined to start right away as we were both now well into our adulthood. At first it seemed to be a project of little effort, for Mary admitted to me by the end of our first month together that she had conceived. That joy was only to last 24 days, however, for the seed did not flourish in the garden. I reassured Mary that, as a medical man, I knew these occurrences were common place. No doubt the loss of conception was brought about by the stress and excitement of the new marriage itself. We had two more such conceptions and losses in that first year. Later we would seek the advice of a specialist in these matters and would learn for a fact what I was already beginning to suspect, that Mary’s own familial history of a lonely childhood with no siblings and a mother who died from a lingering disease was working against us.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The point is that my marriage and new practice had taken so much of my energy that I had not had time to even think of Holmes in nearly a year. That changed the morning an injured hydraulics engineer was delivered to my office.

As I bandaged young Victor Hatherley’s mangled hand, I listened to his harrowing tale. When he expressed doubt that any police officer would believe his story I immediately thought of contacting Homes.

"I should strongly recommend that you come to my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes." I told the strapping young man.

"Oh, would you write me a letter of introduction?" Victor leant forward in supplication.

"I will do better than that." I smiled. In a thrice we were rattling along in a cab to Baker Street and I thrilled anew at the single minded clarity a case brought with it. I felt a year of dust was washed from my eyes. The streets of London that flashed past my cab window were vibrant and open to me once again. It had been too long since I had worked a case with Holmes. He would be delighted to see me, I imagined. I pictured him in his dressing gown opening his arms to me and a smile crawled across my face. Purpose and desire were working hand in hand once more. This was second nature to me.

Or perhaps it was first?

Mrs. Hudson was of course delighted to see me, but tutted at how long I had left between visits. She showed us up and patted my arm before leaving to fetch fresh tea. Holmes on the other hand, was cordial and smiling to young Victor, but as prim as a footman to me.

"Welcome sir, of course I will hear your case, that is my profession. But I don’t know why Dr. Watson felt compelled to take time out of his busy schedule to escort you here. A simple letter of introduction would have sufficed."

"Yes. That is all I asked for." Victor apologized and blushed. My cheeks burned red as well, but not from shame.

"Please have a seat." Holmes abandoned his toast and tea and swept the young man into my old wing backed arm chair and flung himself on the settee. "Perhaps, Dr. Watson, you would pour some tea for your guest?"

Suddenly my collar was quite too small. I fancy even the hairs of my mustache were bristling, but I bit the inside of my mouth and turned to open the door for Mrs. Hudson, removing the tray from her hands.

"Thank you Mrs. Hudson. Most hospitable of you. Let me help you with that."

"Such wonderful manners, Doctor. I have missed them."

"Eh hmm. Quite, if you two would mind letting this poor man get a word in edgewise I might be able to help him." Holmes’ voice was brittle.

Victor looked confused at the tension in the room.

"Should I come back?" He offered timidly.

"Oh, no, no. Please, I am all ears." Holmes smiled beatifically at the young man and sat back, steepling his fore fingers and closing his eyes. "Proceed."

This part you know. Victor recounted his misadventures with Colonel Lysander Stark. There was the odd interview with its vow to secrecy followed by the midnight train trip to Berkshire and the twelve mile journey in a blacked out cab drawn by a chestnut horse that hadn’t broken a sweat. As he spoke, I took the opportunity to study my friend. Time had not been kind to him. He was thinner, paler, and the dark smudges under his eyes and the palpable smell of tobacco smoke in the room told me that Holmes had not been sleeping much, if at all. A case perhaps? My eyes swept the room. Holmes had always existed in a fog of chaos, but now it had turned into a blizzard. The disarray of "things" simply abandoned where he had lost interest in them made the sitting room resemble that of a children’s play room with toys scattered everywhere and the toy box open and empty. Even his lab table, always the only clear area in the room, was stacked with tea cups, books, wadded up telegrams and an Indian club used by circus performers for juggling. When I heard Victor speak of his harrowing escape from the iron press through the tiny door in the wall, my attention turned back to the two men in the room and I caught Holmes watching me through narrow eyes as if reading my features. I quickly hid my expression behind furrowed brows and leaned forward to listen as Victor in a rush told us of the meat cleaver coming down upon his hand, separating his thumb, and his crash to the ground below.

"Were you pursued?" I asked so as to appear to be enrapt in his story and not in Holmes’ apparent descent into madness.

"That’s just the thing. I passed out from the trauma, and awoke under a shrub near the train station. Someone must have carried me there, but I know not who."

Holmes sat up and rolled to his feet in one swift move. Victor sat back in surprise. In the original publication I say that Sherlock Holmes pulled down a ponderous cuttings book; implying some form of order to the organization of his reference materials. In point of fact, he dove under my old writing desk and flung several hard bound books out in an arc before exclaiming "Aha!" and crawling back out with a large scrapbook. He sat back on his heels and opened the book.

"Here it is." Holmes plucked out a clipping and waved it before my face before handing it to Victor. "It’s an advertisement for a missing person. A 26 year old hydraulic engineer left his lodgings at 10 pm for the train station and wasn’t seen again. "

"Why Holmes…" I started, surprised at the coincidence.

"Just so." He moved to the door and called downstairs. "Mrs. Hudson!" then turned back to Victor.

"I will take your case."

"What?" Mrs. Hudson called upstairs. I noticed that in my absence decorum had broken down between housekeeper and tenant.

"Would you bring up victuals for my clients? Say bacon and eggs?" He looked at Victor for confirmation. Victor merely nodded. "And Dr. Watson’s usual stack of toast." He smirked at me. I scowled back, but my stomach rumbled at the thought for I had missed breakfast this morning with the early arrival of Mr. Hatherley.

"Won’t you be joining us?" I asked.

"I’m afraid I can’t. I am working a case at the moment. It is all but over. I have a few details to chase down, but I should be free of obligations by evening."

"And what should I do?" Victor implored. "Just wait here for your return?"

"Certainly not. You and Dr. Watson should go to Scotland Yard after breakfast. Take that clipping with you and throw my name around until you find an inspector willing to listen." As he spoke he slipped on his workman’s jacket and a bowler hat -his frequent disguise for obtaining information from cabbies and scullery maids. "I’m afraid your name won’t open as many doors as it once did, Watson. You have been away for too long."

And with that he was gone.

"Is he mad at us?" Victor asked.

After breakfast, Victor and I did as instructed and went to Scotland Yard. It was very much as Holmes had said it would be. Many young officers didn’t know me at all, and many who did would ask where Holmes was, and when disappointed that he wasn’t going to show up, would ask us to wait for the next available inspector. Gregson and Lestrade were busy with other cases. Even Dimmock was away, on leave to be married. It wasn’t until 2 o’clock that Inspector Bradstreet stepped out to the front and asked "Who’s next?"

Hatherley was flagging by then. Who can blame him? The hours without sleep and the shock of his injury compounded by the very harrowing ordeal in the press room combined to cause Victor to stumble drunkenly as we walked toward the inspector’s office. It was only my steadying arm around him that kept him from hitting the floor with his face. Bradstreet eyed him suspiciously, but upon hearing his tale and examining the clipping that Holmes had given us agreed grudgingly that it was something he should investigate. I suspect that if he would have thrown us out if not for the fact that Sherlock Holmes was on the case. As it was he declared that nothing could be done until morning and we made plans to take the trip to Berkshire in the morning.

Once on the street again, I managed to push Victor into a cab and we drove to my house. His bandage was beginning to weep a pink fluid and he was fish white around the gills. After tea and a small dose of morphine, I changed his bandage again and ensconced him on the day bed in my office. He caught my wrist with his good hand as I pulled a shawl up to his chin and made him comfortable.

"Please, Dr. Watson, might you leave a light on, just a candle? The darkness unnerves me."

"Of course, dear boy." I wondered to myself how many months would pass before he could sit alone in a dark room again. I left instructions with Mary to administer another dose by midnight if he awakened and then begged her leave to return to Baker Street.

"I must confer with Holmes about our trip tomorrow."

"Must you go as well, you have surely done enough and it is a police matter now."

"I am his doctor, dear, and he will likely need me close during the rigors of the morning."

She nodded in agreement and kissed me goodbye as I grabbed my coat and hat and left for the second time in a year for my old apartment.

Our old rooms were silent when I entered them. The fireplace was cold, a gas lamp turned low was the only illumination. The breakfast dishes had been cleared, but Holmes’ workman’s jacket was still missing from the coat rack. I went downstairs to ask Mrs. Hudson if any word had been left by Holmes but she had not heard from him either. Back upstairs I scribbled a note for my long neglected friend and looked about the mess of his rooms for some place to leave it where it might be seen. Finally I called to Billy the page.

"Will you make certain that Mr. Holmes received this note? We are to meet Inspector Bradstreet at the Paddington station in the morning.

"A second train trip in two days. Mr. Holmes is well traveled isn’t he Dr. Watson." Billy tucked the note into his waistcoat pocket.

"What do you mean a second trip?"

"Only he told the cab driver this morning, when he was leaving, to take him to the train station. I overheard him only, sir, I wasn’t eavesdropping. "

"Right, of course." I gave Billy a shilling and caught a passing cab. "Take me to King’s Cross." I instructed the driver.

It is testament to the greatness of our modern empire that within a moment’s notice one can be flying off at tremendous speeds to any destination. From Kings Cross I bought a train ticket to Eyford and had my dinner as the countryside sped by my window. Don’t ask me what it was exactly that told me Holmes had gone ahead to investigate, I had no real evidence. Only the timing of his journey and my experience with his sudden charges into action without a word to anyone told me I was right. And if I was wrong, well it would only mean a late night for me.

The sun was sitting on the horizon when we pulled into Eyford. I took advantage of the remaining daylight to search for a cab driver and horse matching young Hatherley’s description from this morning. As luck would have it, he was found right in front of the station, helping an elderly gentleman unload his luggage from the roof of his cab. This time the chestnut horse was not fresh and glossy, but a bit lathered from his exertions. I approached as the driver accepted his fare from the passenger.

"Are you for hire, sir?" I tugged on the brim of my hat in an ingratiating manner.

"I am." He looked to either side of me for my luggage, only to see there was none.

"I am looking for a friend. A young man, 26, he came here last night with an older man, very thin, and they hired a cab with a chestnut horse."

The driver spat on the tip of his right boot and polished his boot on the back of his left calf.

"What of it?" he growled.

"Only, see, my friend left behind his briefcase, with some important papers, and he asked me if I could retrieve them for him, I am going back to London tonight, you see. And my friend could not recall the address of the Colonel’s house. Only the remarkable color of your horse." I smiled and felt a bit clever at my misdirection.

"Sure. Colonel Stark. I can take you. It will be six shillings though."

"I understand. Yes. Victor did say it was a long way from the town center. Some twelve miles?" I climbed in and the driver closed the door behind me. I sat back well pleased. If Holmes had come here to investigate Colonel Stark, I should easily catch up to him. No doubt my friend with his working class disguise had been forced to walk or ride on the back of a farmer’s wagon to make the journey out, while I was flying along at a tremendous clip. I created a scenario in my head of Holmes opening Stark’s front door, the man in question handcuffed and snarling and I would simply tip my hat and say, "your carriage sir."

Holmes would no doubt play it off. He would smile ever so slightly and say "Watson, what the devil took you so long?" On our journey back I would wave off his praise as not necessary. "You see, Holmes, I have not been away so long as you think. I can still follow your lead. I noticed that you had eaten breakfast this morning, which is not your custom when working a case. Therefore you were not wrapping up loose ends of an old case, but getting a jump on the new Victor Hatherley’s case." We would stop for a late dinner, a bottle of wine. Then brandy back home - or rather, Baker Street. He would tell me by what ruse he had gotten the drop on two master criminals. I would complement his quickness and strategic mind. The late hour would demand I sleep in my old bed, and by morning a simple telegram to Bradstreet would put paid to the case.

The cab tilted to one side as the horse pulled into a drive way. We had only been driving for ten minutes. I stuck my head out the window and called to the cab driver.

"Beg your pardon sir." The cab driver answered as he pulled to a stop. "I have to drop off a parcel first. Previous business you understand. Then we can go on."

I sat back and waited. The carriage shifted with the driver’s dismount. There was a knock on a door. Voices. The crunch of boot on gravel, and then the carriage door was flung open and a very thin man with a very big caliber gun stood grimacing at me as if I were a bad smell.

"Out." He said, waving the gun to indicate my path up the porch steps.

"What is this? Robbery? Here, just take my wallet." I reached into my pocket to retrieve my revolver, but the man made a sharp noise in his throat, something like a cough and put the muzzle against my brow.

"Out. Now."

"Very good. Right." I held my hands up and squirmed across the seat and stepped down. The barrel pressed sharply into my kidneys.

"Up." I climbed the steps to the front door. My day dreams of swift victory still clouded my mind. I struggled to "see" as Holmes always told me. Of course, the significance of the glossy chestnut was that the distance was not twelve miles to Colonel Stark’s house. We were still within the city limits. Would the colonel risk a gunshot within hearing of his neighbors? I was about to chance a sudden break away when the cab driver shoved me hard and I fell forward into the house. By the time I had scrambled to my hands and knees, the door was shut and bolted. I began to feel the seriousness of my situation.

"What is the meaning of this? I demand an explanation!"

"It is you who will be explaining to me. Understood? Get up." The cab driver grabbed my arm roughly and tugged me to my feet.

"You want him in the study?" the driver asked.

"No. I have a quicker way to get information from him. Downstairs."

The cab driver snickered.

"Oh, you’re going to love this, mister." I could feel the staccato beat of his pulse through the grip on my arms. My fears began to interfere with my thoughts. Having heard Hatherley’s story twice in one day, I had no doubt what awaited me in the basement. My knee went out on me. The driver laughed.

"Stand up. I saw you walking just fine at the station. Come on, march."

With Stark’s gun at the base of my neck and the driver’s hands twisting my right arm so that I couldn’t reach my pocket, we staggered down the steps to the basement and the waiting maw of the hydraulic press.

"What do you want to know? I will tell you anything. Just ask." My legs were actively bracing against any forward momentum. I began to feel decidedly sick to my stomach. Worse, I pictured Holmes, how this would hurt him, how he would berate himself for not having been quicker to find the criminals, how … how… how we had so little time together…how I would miss him.

"You don’t want to do this. The police know everything. They will be here any moment."

"I don’t think so. " Stark chuckled. "You thought my house was a long country drive from the train station. The police have no idea where we are. "

"I am Dr. John Watson. Partner to Sherlock Holmes Esquire. We are working this case and he will bring you to justice. Your only hope is to stop this at once and flee."

I heard a high reedy laugh behind me and Colonel Stark tapped the guns muzzle on top of my head.

"How stupid do you think I am? Is it because I am a foreigner? Everyone knows Dr. Watson retired. You sir, are some pathetic low level police officer looking to make a name for himself. And you will, but not in the way you hoped, I’m afraid."

The driver shoved me bodily into the press room. I spun around. It was dark in there, and smelled of oil and metal scrapings and rust. The Colonel and the driver stood five feet away. I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t I risk it and go for my revolver? Even if I was shot, there likely would have been time for me to get a shot of my own back at him. Wounded was better than dead, right? But I had information. I knew about the trap door. I had a way out. At the moment that seemed a better idea.

The driver shut the massive iron door shut. The noise was deafening in the small space. Already my hat touched the piston of the press. A small sliding door opened and the Colonel looked in at me.

"Ready? You have one piece of information that I require. Give it to me, and you can leave here in one piece, as it were."

"What? What do you want to know?"

"Simply where is Victor Hatherley? That is all." He nodded to the side and a far off roaring started. Instantly my hat was pressed down onto my ears. I ducked and pulled it off.

"I don’t know. Let me out." I pounded on the door.

The piston scraped and lurched, dropping another half inch.

"Once the piston gets below this door slot, I will not be able to hear you anymore, well, I will hear you scream. But not words. Not clearly. So now is the time to speak. You see how quickly it moves. I would give you less than fifteen seconds before I cannot see you anymore. Tell me where he is and I will stop the press."

My skin was crawling under my wool suit. Sweat was sliding down my back and legs. But I knew about the door. I had only to wait until the press obstructed his vision, and I could make my escape in the same manner as Victor. Still it was a hard thing, to be still while a most unpleasant fate hung over one’s head.

"I swear to you I don’t know. London. He is in London. Where he is staying I cannot say."

"Then you are of no use to me, are you."

"You have to believe me."

"Oh I do. The hydraulic press would make a man turn on his own mother. Goodbye Dr. Watson, or whatever your real name is." And the press dropped down below the slot, and the last of the outside world was gone.

Unlike Victor, I did not have the luxury of a lantern. I could not see where the piston was, only feel it with my raised hand. It took all my nerve to let go of it and drop to my hands and knees to feel along the wooden walls. Moving quickly I felt the corner of the wall and moved along toward the center. With each new plank of wood, I would quickly run my hands up the seam searching for a hinge or bolt. Finally on the fourth plank I felt the rivet for the back of the door lock. A strong shove told me that it was locked and I could hear the rattle of a padlock on the hasp on the far side. Placing the muzzle of my gun directly against the wood, I fired. Wood splintered and I heard the clunk of hasp bouncing free, but the door refused to budge. Stifling a whine, I felt for the hinges on the door. This took precious time, and I could tell by the scrape of metal on wood that the piston was much lower.

There, the sharp end of a screw. I fired again and used the muzzle flash to find the next hinge. I was kneeling to fire, when the piston touched the hair on the top of my head. I fought the urge to panic and rechecked the location of the screw before pulling the trigger. The door rattled. It must be free now but all my shoving just rattled the wood of the door. Something was blocking it.

I felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. A mewling noise reached my ears, and I realized it was me. I bit my lip hard. Colonel Stark would not hear me scream. I dropped to my hands and shoved my face against the wood. The room on the other side was dark, but not as dark as the inside of the press. With scrutiny I could see the shadow of an iron bar, as thick as my thumb, in the gap of the door’s frame. Obviously after Victor’s escape, Stark had taken pains to reinforce the door. Not knowing where the bar’s cradle would be, I traced the muzzle of the revolver in line with the bar some five inches past the doors frame and pulled the trigger. The bar rattled, but did not fall. I tried again a few inches further. Again, muzzle flash and gun powder burning the air in front of me, but the damned bar remained. I traced my imaginary line from bullet hole to bullet hole and squeezed the trigger. This time the hammer of my revolver came down on an empty chamber. Five shots. I remembered with a groan that I always kept the live chamber empty for safety reasons. A civilian carrying a gun in his pocket had to guard against accidental misfires.

I know what you are thinking. Didn’t I carry extra rounds? Of course I did, in my trouser pocket. But it was at this moment that the press hitched and dropped a half an inch, right against my back. I realized I had mere seconds before the press made it impossible for me to change position. I recalled Hatherley’s words. "Did I lay on my back or my stomach?" A wave of panic shook me. My teeth chattered and I couldn’t catch my breath.

"No. No. No. No…." What would Holmes say? Would he even know the obliterated mash of gore was me? I am ashamed to admit that tears sprang to my eyes. What this would do to him. We had been apart for a year, and yet I knew, at that moment, that my death would destroy him. The piston pressed me further down, my knees spreading to make room. I had time. Even in the dark, I could fumble for bullets in my pocket and fill the empty chamber of my revolver with a shell. I could release myself from this madness with the pull of a trigger. Or I could fight. I made a decision and spun around, laying on my back and kicked violently at the door. Maybe I could splinter the wood. I had to try.

Far too quickly the press made lifting my knee to kick an impossibility, still I twisted my right leg to the side and kicked feebly. Each effort rattled the door against that damned immovable bar. With time, I might have kicked it to bits, but even now my breath was bouncing back into my face and I knew that time was the one thing I didn’t have.

To go like this. Why hadn’t I died on the battlefield? I cursed Murray for saving me. I could have been another name on the Maiwand Memorial. It would have been a neat and fitting end. This way was ignoble. I twisted my arm and put my service revolver against my head. Please god that I had simply miscounted. Please god let there be one round left in a chamber. I squeezed the trigger again and again…

Then there was light. Muzzle fire at last. I raced toward my end praying that it come before the crush of the press. I felt a swooping sensation, like flying, and then there was a bright light. After the pitch darkness of the press all I could make out was the outline of a head; the light created a halo around the face that bent over me. I felt strong arms cradle me.

"Murray?" I asked. It would be fitting if Murray pulled me into death after having pulled me into life.

"Watson. What are you doing here?" The voice was not Murray’s, for he only ever called me Captain. It was familiar, but too high, too strained. "How? You utter fool!"

"Holmes? Are we dead?" I felt the splash of a hot tear on my cheek; not my own. I raised a hand to my face to investigate.

"No. We are not dead." His voice returned to its normal timbre. At last my eyes adjusted to the light and I realized it was only a lantern, held over head by a man I did not know, and Holmes was holding me in his lap, no doubt where I had ended when the two men pulled me out. I struggled to sit up.

"Stark. We have to find him."

"I will find him. Dr. Becker, help me get him to the study." This last part was directed to the man with the lantern. They heaved me to my feet.

"He has an accomplice." I was shouting, a little, it was hard to tell over the roar of the press as it bottomed out against the floor. "The cab driver. You will need my help."

"Yes, of course." Holmes was patronizing me, even as I sagged between both men. The two men carried me like an invalid up the stairs and down a dark hallway. My mind felt sharp, but my body shivered violently.

"Shock." I diagnosed.

"Exactly right, John." We arrived at a door, and the other man spoke quietly.

"Elise, it’s me." The door opened and a dark haired woman stood back to let us in. By now my legs were functioning again. Holmes turned to me.

"You have your gun? Lock the door and wait. Stark will come along to let them out. You will be ready?"

I nodded grimly, and began to reload my revolver.

"I will wait by the front door, in case he tries to escape." Holmes brandished the three foot iron bar that had only recently sealed my fate. "It won’t be long Watson. Be sharp." And he turned and vanished.

I was eager to avenge my recent attack, and so stood at the ready, ear pressed to the door, listening for the footstep of the Colonel. Every few seconds a violent tremble would move through my body, from head to foot, but then it would pass. Some half an hour passed. The sun had set and Dr. Becker lit candles. There were still no sounds of footsteps.

"It’s been too long. I’m going to find Holmes. Lock the door behind me." I ordered and then entered the dark hallway and listened. The unmistakable sound of mechanics came from below me. The press was being operated again.

"Holmes!" I cried, horrified. How had I let him out of my sight when I knew the danger of Stark’s psychotic mania? Was it too late? I raced with careless speed down the dark hallway and flung myself down the unlit stairs in to the basement. The escape door to the press had been closed again, and the iron bar replaced across it. I lunged to the floor to open it.

"Watson, no." Holmes stepped forward from the shadows and caught me.

"You’re alive, thank god!" I could have kissed his thin lips, the joy I felt was so overpowering.

"Come away from here at once." His grip was like a vice and his jaw was set in stone. He turned me through sheer will power and dragged me back up the stairs. He didn’t stop pulling until we reached the front door and moved out into the cool night air. He held me steady, his hands on my upper arms. My head fell forward to rest on his shoulder.

"I thought Stark had you." My voice croaked unevenly.

"He thought he did as well. But that iron bar did a wonderful job of disarming the devil and knocking him cold."

"Where is he?" I whispered, afraid of the answer.

"Let’s just say, John, that the scales have been balanced." He did his best to smile, but the result was ghoulish. "The heartless monster has paid for his crimes."

"At what cost to you?" I searched his eyes for remorse, but found only cool silver. Many years later, when Holmes and I were searching for another counterfeiter, I would be wounded by gunshot. In that distant time I would shiver at the flint in Holmes’ voice as he told "Killer" Evans: "If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive. " For I knew the length he would go for me. I learned it that night in the basement of Dr. Becher’s house.

Holmes set his jaw. "It is a cost I am willing to pay." He took my arm and linked elbows. "Tell me, dear boy, why did you come here?" He waved a hand at the façade of the old house as we walked away from that terrible place on foot and without fanfare.

"I thought you might need my assistance." I said wryly.

"Mmhmm." He nodded his head judiciously. "How did you know I would be here?"

"Because you kept the newspaper clipping about the missing engineer. I know you only collect clippings of cases that trouble you. This case would be important to you. When Billy told me you had left for the train station this morning I suspected this is where you had come."

"How did you know I wasn’t working on my previous case, as I said?"

"You had eaten breakfast before Victor and I arrived. You only eat breakfast when the case is over."

Holmes patted my arm pleased. Presently we arrived at the station and he purchased us a first class passage for the trip back to London. Although I was feeling much improved from my earlier hysteria, I still shook periodically, and so was glad for the privacy of our own compartment. Holmes guided me to the long seat, and sat beside me. I leaned against his shoulder gratefully. The train pulled out of the station, and soon the motion of the train soothed my jangled nerves.

"Why did you call me Murray?" Holmes asked me, though his face was looking thoughtfully out the window. I thought on the question for some minutes, and he did not push me. Finally and haltingly I gave my answer.

"Prior to tonight, the worst moment in my life was at Maiwand. Our ranks were broken, there was confusion and dust and hell on earth. I was lying on my back, bleeding out into the sand, waiting for the long knife of a Ghazi to finish me off when Murray loomed over me, telling me to get up."

"I see. So when I pulled you from the press, I reminded you of Murray."

"It’s more complicated than that. He had to catch a pack horse and come back to me when every other man who could move was running for cover.

"A loyal man." Holmes remarked. "Heroic."

"Suicidal. He ran back into a massacre. He was just as likely to have been shot and hacked to bits by the Ghazi camp followers; I could have easily died on the journey back and it all would have been for naught. When I asked him why he risked it, he looked shocked and said "You are my Captain."

Holmes grunted. "You know Watson, having never been in the military I can’t pretend to…"

I patted his hand. "Understand? I didn’t understand it myself, until today. When Billy told me you had gone on this journey, I didn’t hesitate. I simply had to follow. Even in that hellish machine, my thoughts were with you."

He rested his chin on his chest. I could see flecks of dried blood on his paper collar. Stark’s no doubt. His voice rumbled so low as to be nearly inaudible.

"When I saw your gun in your hand, for a second, only a second, I thought you might have turned it on yourself."

I turned my head away and spoke toward the door. "It was you who stopped me. I had to do everything I could to get back to you. You are my captain."

Holmes turned his face toward mine, his eyes shown with unshed tears. "Extraordinary. You are extraordinary Watson."

I plucked the collar from his shirt and threw the last touch of Stark’s evil across the coach. "I follow an extraordinary commanding officer."

Holmes smiled. "Must there be saluting?"

I grinned back. "We will have a different sort of salute. Let me show you." I picked up his hand and turned it over. He watched me closely as I lifted his hand to my face and pressed my lips against his palm. He inhaled sharply, speechless for once. I looked directly into his eyes as I rested his hand, palm down, high on my thigh. Holmes made a sound as if he had been punched in the solar plexus.

"Oh." His lips parted as if to say more, but instead he leaned in and kissed me. It was chaste and dry, like a benediction, but his breath was hot and fast and his hand trembled against my thigh.

"But what about…" he whispered.

"This is who we are." I said, unable to stop myself from grazing my lips over his evening beard, just to see what it felt like. "Every other thing is what we do. This is who we are."

"Your words are nonsense, John." He muttered distractedly as he rubbed his cheek against my mustache before turning his mouth against my lips again. I kissed back this time, as I recall it now, and captured the back of his head in my left hand, so he couldn’t escape. It became unbearably warm in that compartment and I removed his jacket for him, and he mine, without our lips ever breaking contact.

It was amazing what we accomplished on that narrow bench.

There seemed some doubt as to who would take the lead, as we each were starving for the other, and our kisses became more violent. Lips were bruising and teeth clacked awkwardly, and then tongues found each other. My pulse hammered in my ears. I twisted my arm around his neck to hold him still as my tongue eagerly explored his. Holmes growled and using some trick of leverage he no doubt learned in the study of an obscure martial art, he twisted me and pinned me on my back. I reached up and grabbed his shirt front and tugged him down on top of me. He gasped as our bodies made full contact and the ridged proof of his attraction skidded across the top of mine. He froze for a moment, and I feared he would lose himself in introspection, so I rolled my hips up into his, sliding our horns together again.

"Oh John…" he panted and stiffened. Even between two sets of small clothes and two pairs of trousers the contact was almost too much for him. I pulled his head down to mine and kissed him, sucking his tongue into my mouth. He groaned and rolled his hips into mine, and then he wriggled his thin hips between my legs and it was my turn to gasp as he took command of the rhythm of our movements.

We have long since improved on our love making, but I don’t think it has ever been as sweet as that first time. Strangers to each other physically, we followed appetite and sensation where ever it took us. I hooked a leg around the back of his thigh, trapping him against me, and rutted shamelessly against him. He met each stroke with one of his own and the room filled with the sound of groans and scraps of words.

"oh there…"

My hand on his back was the first to know of his finish. A pool of sweat was suddenly dampening his shirt where it tucked into his trousers. He hitched roughly twice and bit my shoulder so hard I cursed. The sensation of his member pulsing and twitching against mine brought me to my own climax. I wrapped my fingers in the hair on the back of his head and forced his teeth to bite harder as I ground into his hip bone with my swollen cock. I hissed as the hot release finally broke free and soaked the front of my trousers.

There followed a moment of closeness I had never felt before, as our lungs bellowed to catch our breath and our thudding hearts slowed to something more normal. Before we spoke with our mouths, our bodies were making vows. It was a consummation. When he lifted his head and looked at me, his eyes for once were soft and questioning.

"Next time we will lock the door first." I said.

He smiled. "Yes. Next time."

As I write this it occurs to me that within a year he would have made his great escape. He would fake his death and risk his life tearing across Europe to track down Moriarty’s syndicate. I will later write that he didn’t tell me of his plans because he thought me unable to keep his secret. But the truth is that he knew I would follow him into Hell, or where ever his investigations took him, and he couldn’t bear the thought of putting us both at so much risk. It was the only time he broke my heart, but then, after my marriage to Mary, I suppose it made us even.

We were forced to take the morning train right back to Eyford. Holmes explained to me that we had to convince Inspector Bradstreet that we had never been there, as killing someone in a hydraulic press was against the law, even if that person so very richly deserved it. We picked up young Victor and met Bradstreet at the station. He was pleased to see Holmes and me working together again. We laid out the map of Eyford across our knees once on the train and made a great show of tracing out the 12 mile radius of Victor’s mysterious cab ride from the station. Holmes let everyone make their guess before pointing out that the horse was fresh and therefore Stark must have lived in the town. We arrived to find the house burned to the ground, and the counterfeiters vanished in the wind.

"Well at least you have had your revenge upon them." Holmes clapped Victor on the back. "There can be no question it was your oil lamp crushed in the press that set the blaze."

"Well, this is pretty business, I have lost my thumb and a fifty guinea fee, and what have I gained?"

"Experience," Holmes winked at me as he spoke. "Just put it into words and you will have a tale that will make your reputation as fine company."


Date: 2015-05-18 09:50 pm (UTC)
kerravonsen: Soolin with a half-smile: impress me (Soolin-impress-me)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
I had assumed that the R rating was for the "gruesome death", not for the sex, since there was no indication that this was slash (such as a Holmes/Watson pairing in the character list). This was quite disappointing, because up until that point I was enjoying this story greatly.

Date: 2015-06-01 05:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
I am so sorry to spring the slash. This is only my second time ever joining a group effort like this, and the first time for ACD, so I'm a novice at the proper etiquette. I hate to spoil someone's enjoyment.

Date: 2015-06-03 01:31 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: Soolin with a half-smile: impress me (Soolin-impress-me)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
Thank you for being so gracious about this.
I was almost afraid to make a comment, because I have gotten flack in the past for not wanting to read slash, but I really did want to tell you that, while the story was still bromance rather than romance, it was fabulous for me, a great filling in of backstory and characterisation.

Date: 2015-06-03 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Oh, I was glad to have your comment. Mistakes are how we learn. Plus I am always obliged to respect the "just good friends" H/W.
I have always, since I was 13, read them as romantic, but then I was born in a small town in Texas in 1961, so even though I had not yet learned what "gay" was, I did know that Holmes and Watson were as close as myself and my best friend. Later I learned that even though my bff and I would both say "I love you" to each other, we both meant different things. I was romantically in love, and she platonically in love. So as a young teen it was empowering to see the same relationship played out by Holmes and Watson. Only I in my wish fulfilling reading, Watson came back to Holmes romantically after Mary died.

Date: 2015-05-18 10:41 pm (UTC)
hagstrom: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hagstrom
Have to admit...I have no nails now, but the suspense was worth it! Really great fic, I love Watson's voice in the tale, you conveyed the terror of being crushed to death pretty well.
And have to agree with Holmes, a year separated from your best friend, I'd say John Watson had it pretty easy. Great job!

Date: 2015-06-01 05:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Thanks for reading and I hope your nails have grown back!

Date: 2015-05-19 12:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gardnerhill.livejournal.com
So THAT'S what happened to Col. Stark. Always a bad move to try to kill Watson.

Date: 2015-06-01 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
It's always troubled me that the bad guys escaped.

Date: 2015-05-19 01:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Very suspenseful!

Date: 2015-06-01 05:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Thanks for reading. :)

Date: 2015-05-19 01:55 am (UTC)
alafaye: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alafaye
Oh oh oh. This is...first times and on a train! And a retelling of a tale, one that breaks the heart--Watson, you fool, lying to your readers!--and then mends it all over.

Thank you!

Date: 2015-06-01 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
I'm so glad you liked it!

Date: 2015-05-19 08:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saki101.livejournal.com
It was a pleasure to have the full story of the engineer's thumb and of the state of affairs between Watson and Holmes before and after the matter! The scene inside the press was harrowing and it was most fitting that Col. Stark should experience its effects personally. Holmes does like to have the punishment fit the crime from time to time.

Thank you for this riveting tale!

Date: 2015-06-01 05:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
The punishment fitting the crime. I love that!

Date: 2015-06-02 01:06 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-05-19 09:12 am (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
Oh, a walk on the dark side! Mmm, very nice :)

Date: 2015-06-01 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Dark Holmes. We only get glimpses of him. His steel.

Date: 2015-06-01 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
*Bows* Thank you! That means a lot. :)

Date: 2015-11-07 09:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nodbear.livejournal.com
A great retelling and watson as heroic as ever. I like the way it 'fits' into the ACD timescale and reminds us all of the many things Dr Watson probably never told us !
Sorry to be so long finding and reading this but I am glad to have enjoyed it now.

Date: 2015-11-07 10:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nodbear.livejournal.com
A great retelling and watson as heroic as ever. I like the way it 'fits' into the ACD timescale and reminds us all of the many things Dr Watson probably never told us !
Sorry to be so long finding and reading this but I am glad to have enjoyed it now.


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