[identity profile] spacemutineer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] acdholmesfest
Title: The Adventure of The Woman in Mourning
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] stellinia
Author: [livejournal.com profile] capt_facepalm
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 8200
Characters: Watson, Holmes, mention of canonical characters, a meriad of original characters.
Warnings: Violence
Summary: This fic has it all! Holmes point-of-view, kiddie fic, canonical cameos, canonical death(s), romance, murder, vengeance, confounding aliases, secret societies, deductions, and kittens!!! (Just kidding... no kittens, but a cat is mentioned in passing.)
Author's Notes: Sir Arthur played fast and loose with his chronology, and so must I. More time passes between EMPT and NORW than is conventionally accepted in canon. Revisiting SCAN is heartily encouraged but is no guarantee to understanding this story. Sorry about that.



The Adventure of The Woman in Mourning

Chapter One - It Began with a Mysterious Letter


Ex-Presidente Murillo was grateful and his expression of gratitude took the form of his generous hospitality, but as much as I enjoyed my stay at his villa, I had grown tired of the Continent and was missing the solitary quiet of my Baker Street flat.

At last, I bid my host farewell, and following three grueling days of travel, I arrived home to my sanctum sanctorum just after midnight. Two notes in Mrs Hudson’s tidy hand awaited me on the silver salver by the staircase. My former fellow-lodger, Dr John Watson, had telephoned twice that same day asking me to call him as soon as I returned. Mrs Hudson annotated the latter with “He seems a wee bit anxious”.

Due to the lateness of the hour, I decided to wait until morning. Besides, if Watson had accepted my offer to return to Baker Street, I would have been at his immediate disposal and he would not need to be kept waiting. Tomorrow would be soon enough. I doused the light and went to bed.

The next morning I woke late; having been unsettled by recent erratic sleep opportunities, the consumption of too much coffee, and bad restaurant fare. I was not in the best frame of mind but it was already past nine o’clock, so I contacted Dr Watson at his Kensington residence.

‘I have a little mystery for you,’ Watson said after we exchanged pleasantries.

‘Can it wait? The crossing was a nightmare and the train was full of people who smelled of cheese. I’m quite exhausted but I expect to be revived by this evening. Could I see you then?’

‘Sooner would be better.’

‘Can you come to Baker Street?’

He hesitated for a moment and then said he would come by cab straight away.

To my surprise, when he arrived, Watson was not alone. A small boy gripped his hand and peeked out from behind him. The child had dark curls and expressive features that brought to mind someone I could not quite place.

‘Read this,’ said Watson, handing me an envelope. I reached for my lens but he intercepted my arm.

‘Your scientific observations can wait. Read the contents first. They are both revealing and confusing.’


Dearest John,

By now you may have heard of the sudden passing of my husband.

The arduous task of settling his affairs has fallen to me. There is so much to do so I need you to mind Henry while I organise everything and move house. I expect it will take two to three weeks.

Henry will be five years old this December and he is fluent in French. Don’t put up with any nonsense if he fusses about eating his vegetables.

I am dreadfully sorry for the imposition but that is what families are for after all.

Your loving sister,
Julia


I lowered the missive. ‘Watson, you don’t have a sister-’

‘That’s the least of it,’ he paused and gave me a look. I failed to follow his reasoning so he supplied the answer with a touch of exasperation. ‘I don’t speak French.’

Chapter Two - What Child is This

‘It’s a fine mystery, to be sure. Who would send me a child under such pretenses? Not trusting my memory, I searched through all my patient ledgers. There were no Julias and although there were several children named Henry, he is not one of them.’

‘Do you still have Mrs Watson’s correspondence?’ I asked reluctantly.

‘I thought of that too. I spent yesterday afternoon reading through her letters. Nothing.’

‘My dear fellow, I’m sorry.’

Neither of us spoke. The child’s inquisitiveness was a welcome diversion. Henry continued to explore the sitting-room. The world of 221B revealed itself to him under my magnifying lens. How fascinating the moult from a feather duster is in the eyes of a child.

Watson explained that the boy appeared in his parlour three mornings ago when he had been away. His maid, The Incorrigible, had admitted a man and the boy because the man said that the boy was Watson’s nephew. After a brief interval, the stranger excused himself to go outside for a cigarette and was never seen again. Watson returned from his errands to find his maid bewildered, the mysterious letter, and the inconsolable boy.

‘He’s lonely. He frets and is missing his parents. I do not know how to comfort him. Can I leave him with you this morning? I am behind on my home visits.’

‘Go. Let me interview this “nephew” of yours in the meantime. Perhaps I can learn something of use,’ I bade him leave, with my sincerest effort not to grimace. I do not list child-minding among my native talents.

In truth, Watson’s practice could little afford his absence for too many days on end. Although why he bothered was beyond my ken. His patients once numbered in the hundreds but due to hardships he endured over the past few years, Watson was obliged to refer many to other medicos. Those patients who remained either fiercely refused, such was their loyalty, or would not be found acceptable by other physicians (such was their poverty). More than once I had asked him find some young doctor to buy him out and once again throw his lot in with me. Each time I was firmly, albeit gently, rebuffed.

Watson returned in time to share a late luncheon and I informed him of my progress, or lack thereof.

‘Henry, or Henri, I should say, is really too young to be of much use. He knows his name to be Henri Dumont. His best friend is Bruna, which I eventually deduced to be the family dog. His parents’ names are Mama and Papa. He also mentioned M Crispin and Mlle Thérèse, who are likely the household staff.’

‘Crispin? I’ve heard that name recently.’ Watson paused, no doubt trying to recall where. ‘Do you have yesterday’s Times?’

I indicated the small pile of newspapers and correspondence that I had yet to examine.

‘Here it is,’ he said. ‘“The Metropolitan Police request information on the recent activities of Mr Aldeus Crispin, identified as the victim whose body was retrieved from the Thames yesterday morning. Mr Crispin, a native of France, had suffered a murderous attack and was found in the same vicinity where the Wellgate bodies were recovered last month. Any information can be referred to Inspector Falkiner, Bow Street.” Crispin? Do you suppose it is the same man? It could be a coincidence.’

‘I am increasingly suspicious of coincidences. Crispin is not a common surname. Perhaps I should see if this Falkiner would be willing to share what he knows.’

Watson shrugged. ‘I don’t know him but he would be a fool to refuse a collaboration. It’s at least worth trying.’

Henry had awakened from his nap and had been stalking my landlady’s ginger tom around the sitting room. Neither Watson nor I had been paying him much attention.

Mama!’ came an exclamation from the sideboard. I must have blanched because Watson looked awfully concerned. I shook my head and pointed at the child who held in triumph the framed portrait of The Woman, Irene Norton (née Adler).

Chapter Three - Should Old Acquaintences Be Forgot

‘Can it be?’ Watson asked, being the quicker of us to recover from our mutual shock.

Of course it was. The auburn curls; the astounding green eyes. Henry’s resemblance to his mother was unmistakable. The round shape of his ears and the way his face set when he was concentrating were distinctly the same as Godfrey Norton. Damn.

I assured Watson that it was true.

‘The Nortons moved from Marseilles to Lausanne two years ago and must have assumed the name Dumont. Godfrey Norton found a position with a reputable law office. M Boudreau, of Geneva, if memory serves... What?’

‘It’s just that, for a disinterested party, you seem to know a lot about Mrs Norton.’

‘We’ve corresponded,’ I admitted. ‘She sent me a postcard congratulating me on my miraculous resurrection.’

‘Do you think something has happened to her?’

‘No, but with this mention of her husband’s “sudden passing” I have the strongest premonition concerning Godfrey. Be a good fellow and see if you can get your hands on newspapers from the Continent. Switzerland--Geneva, specifically.’

Watson once again left me alone with his young charge and returned a short while later with copies of the most recent issues of the Tribune de Genève.

These proved inconclusive and necessitated a visit to the library where a collection of issues was archived. This endeavour would have to wait until the following morning. Watson and Henri returned to Kensington and I dined alone, except for my thoughts, which were dark and uncomfortable.

Chapter Four -  The Newspaper

I did not see Watson that following day. He had consulting room hours and involving him when he had a child in his care would be too problematic. My first action was to send a telegram to Inspector Falkiner in the hope that he would see me. His reply came immediately via the telephone, requesting my presence at my earliest convenience, and even offered to come to Baker St. I chose instead to meet him at the mortuary with the hope that I would have the opportunity to examine the body of the unfortunate Crispin. We agreed to meet that afternoon thus giving me the morning to delve into the archive of the Tribune de Genève at the library.

The weather necessitated a cab and so I arrived at the library in good time. The infrequent demand for the Swiss newspaper ensured that the collection was in excellent order. I worked my way back through time and found what I had been dreading. An article dated two weeks prior mentioned that the body of the unfortunate man found along the railway outside of Lausanne had been identified as Monsieur G. Henri Dumont, a clerk in a prominent Geneva law office. An article from the previous day announced the unfortunate occurrence where a man had been struck by a train in the night on a lonely section of track. I wasted no time in dispatching the following international telegram to the Lausanne gendarmerie hoping that the name of Sherlock Holmes would prompt a reply:

ÉTAIT LA MORT DE DUMONT SUSPECT [question]
SHERLOCK HOLMES [end]

Before luncheon the first reply telegram of many reached me back in Baker Street.

MURDER [stop]
WITHOUT A DOUBT [stop]
CAN YOU COME TO LAUSANNE [question]
CHAUDIER [end]

Chapter Five - Inspector Falkiner's Investigation

The mortuary was cold and adequately lit. Inspector Falkiner was of medium height and his premature grizzling hair and side whiskers belied his thirty some years. That we had not met before was not surprising. Lengthy tenure in Scotland Yard’s detective cadre was rare. Many acquired their position through patronage appointments rather than merit, and it was a select few who stayed the course once the job proved more demanding than first anticipated.

The police surgeon, Mr Phillips, was known to me; our paths had crossed several times in the past and I knew him to have expert knowledge and considerable skill in post-mortem inquiries. Inspector Falkiner and I circled each other, figuratively, neither of us wanting to let slip our knowledge before the other did. Mr Phillips put us to right, admonishing us that although Mr Crispin now had all the time in the world, his own time was not ours to waste.

Falkiner apologised and described the events that had led him to the Crispin case. Two days earlier the battered body of a man in his mid-thirties was found entangled on the anchor line of a river launch. Mr Phillips estimated that the body had been in the Thames for no more than two days. The cut of his clothes indicated a continental origin. The location of the body coincided with another of Falkiner’s unsolved cases so the case was referred to him.

Mr Crispin had remained unidentified until Inspector Falkiner happened to find on close examination the travelling documents sewn into the lapel of his jacket. I was surprised to learn that the inspector had observed Mr Phillips’ thorough post-mortem examination and this raised his esteem in my opinion. Not many of his peers could stomach that process (something the police surgeon was keen to exploit when a man failed to give him his proper due).

‘Someone didn’t like Mr Aldeus Crispin very much,’ said Phillips revealing the broken body on the autopsy table. ‘These wounds were antemortem. I cannot be sure which actually caused his death. He could not have survived any of these major wounds. Not for long, anyway. I suppose it was a mercy that he had expired before he was dropped into the river.’

I observed Falkiner closely.

‘Regrettably, I have seen worse,’ was all he said.

A second telegram from Lausanne was waiting for me upon my return to Baker St. It was a good thing that I had yet to fully unpack my valise; I would be on my way to Geneva the next morning. In the meantime, I sought out Dr Watson at his Kensington home.

The Incorrigible announced my arrival with the manner she reserved for myself and rabid dogs. Instead of sacking the waif when she served as house maid, the Watsons had retained Mary Jane Fegg in a well-meant but not completely successful attempt to domesticate the domestic. Such are the actions of sentimental people. Still, Watson could not maintain his home on his own. By returning one day each week, The Incorrigible had been able to keep the doctor’s residence and consulting room presentable, although her cooking certainly contributed to the loose fitting of Watson’s suits. I gave her one of my best insincere smiles. She glared daggers.

‘Holmes, welcome!’ Watson said raising himself from the parlour floor. ‘Henry is teaching me to play dominos.’

Henry beamed from where he sat cross-legged on a cushion surrounded by paying tiles.

‘That’s not how to play-’ I started.

‘-He’s teaching me the Swiss variant and I am winning this round. I have already captured his bishop.’

‘You’ve learned French in the past twenty-four hours. I will never get your limits.’

‘Very droll, Homes. In situations like this, we hav develope our own common language.’ The tiles clacked as they cascaded to their finale. Henry held up a chess piece, beaming with triumph. Watson sighed dramatically. ‘There goes my rook.’

We left Henry to his game and retired to Watson’s consulting room. There I gave him the results of today’s inquiries: the articles from Geneva, Monsieur Crispin’s postmortem findings, and my plans to take the early morning train from Victoria and meet with Inspector Chaudier in Lausanne two days hence.

‘I must find out what Chaudier knows. He is most insistent that I come, yet he does not commit to anything in his correspondence.’

‘Surely it must be Norton’s murderers who tracked Crispin and the boy to London. The evidence in Switzerland must be very important.’

‘Yes, that is my conclusion as well. You must take all precautions. The boy is the target and I do not think the enemy knows that he is with you. If they did, they would have made their move by now. My theory, and it is a good one, is that Crispin abandoned Henry in the morning with no plan to return. Later that day, he was accosted by his killers. They tortured him but there is a good chance he did not tell them what they wanted to know. Sheer brutality is not a reliable method for coercing information.’

‘Is Crispin the only link between myself and the Nortons?’

‘I believe so. Although I am connected to Mrs Norton, our correspondence was very limited and not enough to be of any consequence. Nevertheless, I promised that I would not keep you in the dark about such situations, so beware. By his wounds, Crispin had at two distinct attackers. There may have been others. They will be foreigners... likely French. They will scour London separately so you may only see one of them at a time. They will meet regularly to confer. If you spot two or more, then they have spotted you and you are in immediate peril. Take any measures to keep yourself safe. And the boy, of course.’

Chapter Six - The Swiss Investigation

I left from Victoria Station early the next morning and after a dismal thirty-three hours and five trains later, I stood on the crowded platform in Lausanne hoping that my telegram from Paris had reached Inspector Chaudier.

A cold wind from the Alps was blowing, causing white horses to form on Lac Léman despite the cloudless sky. I eschewed the National Hotel in favour of a quiet pension near l’avenue de Florimont because I needed a wash, a shave, and a cup of coffee (perhaps not in that order). Before I could attend to those needs, I contacted Chaudier by telephone and we arranged to meet that evening for a late supper.

I arrived early and waited in the restaurant, much refreshed, and tried to deduce the appearance of Chaudier from our brief telephone conversation and his terse telegrams. A short time later, a tall, white-haired man arrived and searched the dining room. I stood, gave him a curt bow, and he joined me at my table.

‘Monsieur Holmes, it is so good of you to come. I hope you had a pleasant trip, although perhaps given its nature, ‘pleasant’ would be too much to hope for.’

The inspector had excellent manners and declined to talk about the case until after our plates had been cleared away.

‘You asked me if Monsieur Dumont’s death was suspicious,’ Chaudier said. ‘It was not suspicious at all: it was most deliberate. Dumont had been beaten, both legs broken, and placed helpless on the railway track. He was conscious and aware when the train struck him.’

‘I suppose his injuries might show he was alive when the train struck him but how could you possibly know that he was conscious?’ I asked. Chaudier stirred more sugar into his coffee, placed his spoon down with care and with his voice kept low, he replied, ‘There was a witness: a young shepherd boy.’

I was astounded and begged for the opportunity to interview the lad.

‘That will not be possible. He is so distressed by what he saw that I fear for his sanity.’

‘What was he doing there that night?’

‘Keeping his flock off the tracks before moving them to higher pastures. He saw all of it. It may be important to note that Dumont’s killers spoke to each other in German. The boy recognised the language but not the meaning of the conversation. Dumont was alive. His killers stayed to make sure the train cut him to pieces, and the boy was too frightened to do anything but watch.

‘But I’m afraid I the news becomes even worse. The widow Dumont died last week when their house burned. The fire appears to have been intentionally set. Mrs Dumont and their young son perished in the conflagration. You said you knew the family. I am so sorry.’

I could hardly believe what I had been told. Chaudier could not hide his own sorrow and offered his sympathy again.

‘Were any remains found?’ I asked.

‘The fire was intense and burned for days. The bodies were so heavily charred that only some of the largest of the adult bones and most of the skull remained. The poor child’s body was completely reduced to ash. They have yet to be interred. Now that you are here, I am hoping you can make some identification. If you feel up to it, we can go tonight.’

We walked in sombre trepidation to the morgue. Chaudier unlocked the door and we each took up a lamp as he led me downstairs to the cold room. Two wooden boxes contained the mortal remains. Of the boy, only three small ivory buttons shaped like elephants and the ash from his bones had been found. Chaudier’s expression hardened. The next box contained the heavily-charred bones of an adult human female, some silver slugs which were once coins, and a golden band. I retrieved my lens and positioned the lamp.

‘The ring,’ said Inspector Chaudier, ‘Did you know the Dumonts well enough to identify it.’

‘Yes, this is without a doubt Madame’s wedding band,’ I replied. After all, had I not been witness to their marriage? Next I examined the maxilla and mandible. Once pearly white, the teeth had been baked to a dull brown. This was not Irene Norton! Chaudier was deep in remorse and did not spot my epiphany. I observed him closely and decided to take a chance.

‘Did you help Mr and Mrs Norton establish their false identities as the Dumonts when they took up residence here?

‘Yes! How did you know?

‘It is not easy to change one’s identity. They would have needed help. You wear a Freemason’s ring and I knew M Norton was also one of your brethren. The Nortons’ deaths have greatly affected you so you must have known them very well. It is simply logical. Who else knew?’

‘His employer, M Boudreau in Geneva. He is a senior lodge member and his reputation is above reproach. It was he who put me in charge of the case and who has paid for your consultation. At first, we suspected that M Dumont had been killed over some the the work he was doing for M Boudreau. However, Dumont had not been working on anything sensitive. In fact, his job was to translate French articles of law into English. He had no contact with clients or cases.’

My knowledge of coal-tar derivatives confirmed the accelerant used in the blaze and once my examinations were complete, Inspector Chaudier and I bade each other au revoir and I returned to my pension for the night. The next day, I would have to go to Geneva to meet Boudreau and judge for myself whether he was a likely suspect. But where was Irene Norton and whose body had been burned in her stead?

Chapter Seven - The Woman Returns

My interview with Claude Boudreau validated Inspector Chaudier’s description. Alas, one cannot trust the opinion of others and must make one’s own observations. I sent a coded telegram to Watson warning him that our enemy were German, not French. Then I settled into a quiet café for tea. An old woman with an even older walking stick took a seat nearby.

‘Good evening, Mr Sherlock Holmes. I am still better at spotting your disguises than you are at spotting mine,’ said the unmistakable voice of The Woman.

‘I am not disguised. This is how I look now: older and wiser,’ I replied.

‘I trust your meeting with Monsieur Boudreau was fruitless. Had I intercepted you earlier, I could have saved you the trip. Claude was a good friend to Godfrey and me.’

‘Indeed he must be. He implored me to find Godfrey’s killers and made it clear in no uncertain terms that he did not care if justice was served in the court of law, or outside of it.’

‘Did Henri make it to London safely?’

‘Yes. He could not be in better care, but I have to tell you, Crispin is dead. His killers found him after the boy was deposited at Dr Watson’s home. It was very clever of you to send Henri to someone you had no direct connection to, but if I am correct, it is only a matter of time before they are discovered.’

‘Poor Crispin! So loyal. Godfrey thought the world of him. He was the only one I could trust to convey Henri safely to London.’

‘Was he also a Freemason?’ I asked.

‘Yes. Chaudier recommended him when we first came to Lausanne and he had been with us ever since.’

‘So, tell me, who betrayed you and who was burned in the fire?’

‘They are one and the same. Can you not guess?’

‘Where is young Henri’s governess?’

‘Such a clever man! Yes, it was Thérèse. I only realised after Godfrey’s death that she had known our schedule; of when Godfrey would be alone. Her subsequent questioning of what I planned to do next, and where Henri would be suddenly made sense. She discovered my true identity and has sold that information to Von Kramm who had his henchmen kill Godfrey and now they are after me and my son.’

‘Von Kramm? Not Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Count von Kramm, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein, and hereditary King of Bohemia!’

‘Yes, Von Kramm, of course! Do you not remember the letter I wrote to you when Princess Clotilde died? A little investigation at that time would have revealed that she did not die in childbirth. Her worth to him was finished after he sired his heir and a spare on her. Once his succession and her dowry were secured, what other use could she be? But you never followed up on that, did you?’

‘Your intuitions, although better than most, were not enough for me to investigate His Majesty.’

‘It was not just intuition. I received a letter from him before Clotilde’s death. In retrospect, I should have published the embarrassing photograph when I had the chance.’

‘If you had told me of such a letter, I would have looked into it. Perhaps you never should have left London in the first place. His Majesty believed your promise that the photograph would remain private. He was satisfied--’

‘--Satisfied?! That is a word that can never be associated with him! Of course I had to leave London. My life was no longer private. He had me accosted several times and my home burglarised. It was only a matter of time before someone was hurt, or even killed. If the photograph was of no importance once he wed his Danish princess, why has he pursued me? Because I defied him, that's why. I severed our relationship in a way that precluded any future amity, and yet he hounds me; sending veiled threats, and this time he has succeeded. Godfrey is dead. They would have killed our son too, or taken him from me; anything to ruin my life. I am beyond disappointed that you failed to see through him.’

‘I did not like him,’ I confessed. ‘Perhaps I did not observe him close enough.’

‘Mr Holmes, you are the master of understatement. By the way, how did you know that I wasn’t in the fire? I would have thought my grief-stricken suicide note would have left no doubt.’

‘You left a note?’

‘Yes, addressed to Inspector Chaudier; poor man... blames himself for my death thinking that he should not have given me all the details of Godfrey’s death. Still, it was a necessary precaution.’

‘That explains a lot. He never mentioned the note to me, although considering Boudreau’s actions, he probably showed it to him. The monstrous death of their good friend, the nature of which drove his widow to suicide taking their son with her...neither spoke of it in order to protect your honour.’

‘So how then did you know it was not me?’

‘You are a remarkable woman, but not even you can regrow wisdom teeth. I remember quite a flutter in the newspaper when you had to cancel your performances for a week to have them removed. The thirty pieces of silver was a nice touch.’

‘They survived? I thought they would melt into slag. I wanted Thérèse to feel the full extent of the wrath her betrayal deserved.’

Realisation hit me. ‘You immolated her alive?’ I was horrified.

The Woman gripped my arm hard enough to leave a bruise. ‘How dare you, Mr Holmes!’ she hissed. ‘How dare you condemn my actions when you have no grounds for understanding them.’

I admitted to being puzzled. ‘If you accuse me of being unfeeling, then you are correct. Strong emotional attachment is a detriment to the pursuit of logic and reason, and something I can little afford. My friend Watson, is still devastated by the loss of his wife and see what Norton’s death, hideous as it was, has done to you: a woman of the keenest intellect and sensibility? I am glad to be free of such encumberances.’

Her eyes searched mine. ‘Then I pity you, Mr Holmes,’ she said and released my arm and thus ending our conversation.

Chapter Eight - Kensington

The next morning, Inspector Chaudier saw me to the station and thanked me once again for travelling such a long way for such a short consultation. I assured him that I appreciated the opportunity and wished him well. Before boarding the train I sent one more telegram to Watson informing him of my expected return and implying that Inspector Falkiner would be very interested to know that our German friends had killed two Freemasons.

Although we shared the same train, Mrs Norton and I travelled separately to London; she in her guise as the old crone, and I as myself.

Victoria Station was bustling upon my arrival. Through the chaos Inspector Falkiner hailed me as I stepped down from my compartment. He appeared hurried but not anxious. Brief salutations were exchanged before he got to the matter on his mind.

‘Did you send Dr Watson a message to meet you at Baker Street tonight?’

‘No, I intended to go to Kensington directly. Has something happened?’

‘Not yet. I hope. Dr Watson telephoned me three hours ago stating that he had received a false message asking him to meet you tonight at Baker Street. He told me he is taking precautions so I am having his house watched.’

Rain continued to fall as the inspector’s four-wheeler sped along. Falkiner had brought along a plainclothesman named Jepps who acted as jarvey. We stopped two streets away from Dr Watson’s residence and proceeded on foot.

The house appeared quite ordinary. The climbing roses had been trimmed back from the window and the red lantern hung over the door.

‘Something’s wrong.’ Falkiner and I said in unison.

‘I cannot see any sign of Curran or Radner. At least one of them should be across the street. You?’

‘The blinds are drawn,’ I replied. ‘That is unusual for this time of day. Stay here. I will enter the mews and see if I can spot anything.’

A battered brougham stood behind Watson’s house. The horse paid me no heed when I approached. I opened the carriage door which faced away from the house. Lying on the floor was a young man; a plainclothesman, by the economical cut of his garb. I checked for his heartbeat even knowing by the amount of blood pooled around him it would be futile. His neck was cool to the touch so he had been dead for over an hour. My hands came away bloody from the massive wound on the back of his head.

The back of the house showed nothing out of the ordinary. With a small dental mirror I stole a peek through the windows into the kitchen and the consulting room. There was no sign of movement nor could I hear anything when I pressed my ear against the door. Carefully I tried the lock and found it bolted from within. I crept away and rejoined Inspector Falkiner.

‘Have your constables reappeared?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘Then we should prepare ourselves for the worst. Which of your men had light-brown wavy hair?’

“Had? That would be Radner-’

‘-His body is in a carriage behind Dr Watson’s house. His skull’s been smashed. Your other man is likely dead as well.’

Falkiner swore. ‘If you join us, Mr Holmes, that would make three. We could rush the house immediately, or I can send Jepps or yourself to find more support. What will it be?’

‘Of course I am with you. Give me time to shinny up the drainpipe out back. I can enter through the bathroom window on the first floor.’ I looked at the grim faces of Falkiner and Jepps and asked, ‘Do you mean to act for Scotland Yard, or for your Society?’

‘You know what we have to do here or you would not have not told Dr Watson to inform me that Dumont and Crispin were Freemasons.’

‘Do what you have to do with my blessing. My concern is with my friend and the boy.’

‘We will do our best to keep them safe. Are you armed?’

I took out my revolver, confirmed it was loaded, and nodded an affirmative.

‘Good. We will give you two minutes to get inside. Good luck.’

My ascent was not graceful. The rain made climbing the drainpipe very tricky. I eased up the sash and eased my way in. I still had a minute before Falkiner and Jepps would act. To move more silently, I removed my shoes and proceeded toward the stairs in my stockinged feet, listening intently for any discernible sounds below.

Suddenly one of the front windows was smashed, followed by the sound of a loud crash. Gunfire! Someone screamed in agony and there were shouts of ‘Shoot him! Shoot him!’

Then silence.

‘Put down your guns Meine Herren, or I will blow the doctor’s brains out.’

From my vantage point, I saw Jepps slumped in the foyer clutching his side and Inspector Falkiner safe behind the cover of the dining room doorway. Another man lay immobile by the fireplace. In the middle of the room, using my friend as a shield, hunched one of the assassins, his pistol’s muzzle jammed against Watson’s temple. The boy was nowhere to be seen.

‘I am serious. I will shoot him. Throw down your weapons, NOW!’

Neither Falkiner nor Jepps complied. The thug snapped his gun and fired a shot which caught Jepps in the leg. The policeman screamed. Before Falkiner could shoot, the assassin’s gun was once again pressed against Watson’s head. I did not have a clear shot from where I stood in the shadows. My only advantage was that I had not yet been detected. Watson’s assailant began backing slowly deeper into the parlour. Watson’s movements were awkward and stiff. He had been hurt, perhaps quite badly.

Another three steps backward and I would have had a clear shot... but then the damnest thing happened. The thug lost his footing and suddenly he and Watson were on the floor fighting for the revolver. Falkiner and I rushed in but neither of us could shoot without the risk of hitting Watson. The frantic struggle ended with a muffled gunshot and the two combatants fell away from each other and lay panting for breath.

I rushed to Watson’s side and pried the gun from his hands just as they began to shake. The other man had sustained the bullet wound. Watson recovered his breath and with my help, crawled away from his attacker. My knee encountered several small hard objects and I pocketed them without thinking. Inspector Falkiner stepped forward, his pistol trained on the injured hitman.

‘What is your name?’ demanded Falkiner addressing his quarry.

The wounded man did not answer.

‘Were you working for the Count von Kramm?’

‘I am already shot, Mr Policeman. I surrender. Arrest me.’

Undeterred, Inspector Falkiner continued, this time in a slow, sinister tone.

‘Did you know that Dumont and Crispin were Freemasons?’

The man gaped as realisation set in, and the smirk vanished, replaced by fear..

‘My name is Karl Munzel. My dead comrade there is Ludz Rauch. We were hired to kill Herr Dumont and his son. I do not know the name of our employer. He insisted on anonymity and paid us in gold. We were told nothing about Freemasons, I swear it.’

‘Where are my constables?’

‘One is in the kitchen, the other is a carriage at the back door.’

I went to the kitchen. The constable lay near the oven, his throat had been cut and his blood had even sprayed the ceiling. I returned and shook my head to Falkiner’s inquiring look. The inspector turned back to Mr Munzel.

It is fair to say that I have seen people in the throes of anger and that kind of explosive rage has been frightening to observe, but nothing in my experience compared with the calm, controlled fury of Inspector Falkiner. Munzel knew in that instant that he was doomed.

‘I did not know! Lieber Gott, have mercy!’ he pleaded. ‘I swear that I did not know!’

‘You are lucky that I do believe you, Herr Munzel,’ Falkiner said and delivered the coup de grace.

Watson stared, shocked and dumbfounded. I, however, was not surprised.

‘Watson, where is the boy?’

‘Safe. Not here. I...’

Jepp’s cries were fading.

‘Doctor, is there anything you can do?’ asked the inspector.

I helped Watson over to the stricken policeman. Jepps had been shot in the abdomen and again in the knee. Both very painful wounds. Watson, still shaken by the recent events, proceeded slowly to unbutton the the man’s waistcoat and lift his shirt. Dark crimson seeped from the wound and Watson eased Jepps onto his side and continued his cautious examination.

‘Doctor...?’ Jepps could hardly speak.

‘It’s bad, man; but not hopeless. The bullet is still inside. You will have to be strong.’

‘Use this as a dressing,’ said Falkiner, pulling a handkerchief from his sleeve.

Watson instructed Jepps to hold it tight against the wound and asked for his home visit kit. I returned with it and he administered an injection of morphine before affixing the bandage. The pain eased from Jepp’s face as he slipped into unconsciousness.

‘He needs an ambulance immediately. He must get to hospital,’ Watson said.

Chapter Nine - Denouement

Falkiner left to get his four-wheeler and in the meantime I assisted in tying a tourniquet on Jepps’ leg. The inspector and I carried Jepps to the carriage and Watson managed on his own. We left the scene of the bloodbath with its four corpses behind.

Two staff surgeons at Middlesex Hospital attended to Jepps soon after our arrival. I suggested to Watson that he see a physician himself. He refused. Falkiner dispatched messages to Scotland Yard and returned to keep vigil.

‘I’m curious, Mr Holmes. How did you know?’

‘Know what?’

‘That I was a Mason?’

‘It was your pocket watch. You consulted it during our first meeting. Its face contains the symbols of your fraternity. They are very old; not the popular ones in current use. Therefore, the watch must be several decades old. Too old to be your father’s, so likely your grandfather’s. Your family must be very well established within the Freemasons. I will not ask what rank you hold because you will not tell me, but I suspect that 'lofty' would be an understatement.’

Falkiner gave me an appraising look but offered no reply.

My friend held a cold compress against the right side of his face where the worst of the bruising was.

‘We should go,’ said Watson. ‘Inspector Falkiner can keep vigil for his man. We do not need to be here.’

‘I’d rather stay a little longer. Hospitals intrigue me.’

‘No they don't. You hate them.’

‘True, but I would like to watch certain people for a little while longer.’ I let him assume that I meant the Inspector and the growing number of policemen who joined us. In reality, I wanted Watson to be near medical help if he needed it.

‘Where did you hide young Henri?’ I asked.

‘I invited the incredibly prolific Mrs Rosen and several of her children for a morning visit. You’ve met that mob. Difficult to keep track of them all even when you know them; quite impossible for a stranger, I’m afraid. She left with one child more than she came in with. Henry is quite safe with that family.’

‘You knew you had been discovered?’

‘I thought is was a good possibility. There was an unfamiliar carriage across the street all morning and I could not see any good reason why it should be hanging about unless it was to watch my home. Falkiner was not even aware of my rôle in this business before I contacted him. He had not yet had my house under surveillance. It had to be our enemies.’

I was not surprised by Watson’s ingenuity; he had wormed his way out of tight situations before.

A sister approached Inspector Falkiner and spoke quietly to him. He, in turn, murmured something to his men, and then approached me.

‘Jepps survived the surgery, but I’ve been asked to send for his family. There is little hope.’

‘Little hope is better than none at all,’ said Watson, and he meant it. Falkiner reluctantly agreed, and thanked him sincerely for the reminder.

There was little reason to stay so Watson and I made our way outside to take in the fresh evening air. Thankfully, the rain had stopped and I reached for my cigarettes. Instead of my vestas, I pulled out one of the small round objects that I had blindly pocketed back at Watson’s house. It was a glass marble. So, Munzel’s misstep and subsequent tussle with Watson had been precipitated by glass balls underfoot.

‘You were lucky that Herr Munzel stepped on this,’ I said, showing Watson the marble.

‘Luck? I knew they were there. That's why I maneuvered him into backing into the room... so that he would not see them.’

‘But what were they doing on the floor?’

‘Henry and I were playing whist.’

‘Whist is a card game.’

‘The Swiss variant requires marbles.’

I could not help but laugh.

Chapter Ten - A Family Reunion and Farewell

I whistled down a passing carriage and helped Watson climb in. I was taking us home to Baker Street.

We stopped and I was about to pay when our carriage door was opened and we were met by a now familiar voice. ‘Good evening, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Where is my son?’

‘He’s safe, Mrs Norton,’ said Watson. ‘I can take you to him.’

The Woman climbed aboard and we were off to the address Dr Watson had given. A short ride took us to the row house where the Rosen family lived.

‘Doctor Watson, so good to see you again!’ greeted our hostess. ‘I suppose you are here to collect your nephew? He’s been a little angel. And so clever! I never knew the Swiss variant of backgammon involved ginger biscuits. And this must be your lovely sister! You must be missing your little boy dreadfully. I put him to bed with the others some time ago, but I think you find the little imps are still awake.’

Mrs Rosen led Mrs Norton upstairs to the family’s bedrooms. Several of the children were up and they all wanted to know who had beaten Dr Watson and if I was going to kill them for it. I said it was now a police matter and I did not expect the perpetrators would get away with it.

The Woman descended the staircase carrying her son, his arms wrapped around her neck and a happy smile on his sleepy face. We thanked Mrs Rosen for taking such good care of Henry and declined the offer of tea saying that ‘Julia’ had to catch a night train.

Irene Norton did need to catch the Southampton train departing from Waterloo Station. I left Watson in the carriage and walked her to her platform. She carried her now sleeping son, and I her two valises. Her train would soon depart and I still had questions.

‘What will you do?’ I asked. ‘Returning to the stage would be too conspicuous. Where will you go?’

‘I will return to the United States, seclude myself from Von Kramm and his mercenaries, properly grieve my husband, and raise his son to be a good man like his father. I owe that to Godfrey. After that, who knows? Perhaps I will return to Europe and settle the score once and for all. For now, tell the world that I am dead and that you conclusively identified the woman’s body in Lausanne as mine.’

‘I have already done that. I only ask you for one thing: your scandalous photograph, if you have it.’

The Woman removed a large envelope from a hidden panel of her valise.

‘What do you want with this accursed thing?’

‘I propose to send it to the King of Scandinavia; to let him know that his daughter was married under false pretenses, and suggest that there were inconsistencies surrounding her death. Also the deaths of three known Freemasons will not sit lightly with him.’

‘Why? Von Kramm is not a Freemason.’

‘No, but the King of Scandinavia holds a prominent position in the Danish Grand Lodge and therefore has great influence in certain circles. Von Kramm will face social ostracism, if not financial ruin.’

We bid each other farewell then she and Henry boarded the train. I made my way back to the carriage to find Watson safely sleeping inside.

Epilogue

Sunlight streamed into the nursery of Dr Watson’s Kensington home. My friend, in sad contrast to his pleasant surroundings, sat in the chair by the cot with the folded bedding still in his hands.

The world is not a fair place. If it was, Dr and Mrs Watson would have had children of their own and their home would have been filled with the cacophony of family life, just as the Rosen household was. Instead, the silence weighed heavily upon this place.

‘Watson, I want you to publish your notes on the original Von Kramm case.’ I said at length.

He did not look up. ‘Won’t that will break our promise of confidentiality?’

‘Even though we were only bound to silence for a period of two years, any obligation owed to Von Kramm ended when his hired thugs kidnapped and murdered Godfrey Norton.’

Watson nodded in agreement. ‘I understand. It’s a warning shot across his bow and if I mention that Irene Norton is now deceased, he will finally stop pursuing her.’

‘Hopefully so.’

Watson stood and put the bedding away in a drawer.

‘This room seems emptier than ever,’ he said and we went downstairs.

We paused outside the ruined sitting room, its plaster pocked with bullet holes; its wooden floor and carpet stained with blood.

It was there that I spoke the words I had been rehearsing since the previous night.

‘Please hear me out and do not give me your answer until you have taken a few days to mull it over.’

‘Holmes, I...’ he started, anticipating the topic.

‘Just listen. This house will require extensive repairs. If you will not consider selling it, then why not rent it out and return to Baker Street. I’m not asking you to give up your practice entirely. Those patients whom you decide to retain could be treated through home visits. You will always be welcome at 221B. You must know that. Please say you will reconsider.’

He nodded and said he would think it over. Not an outright refusal as in the past. And there kindled an ember of hope, something so rare (unheard of for me, actually), and I smiled. After all, a good man once said that a little hope is better than none at all.

~ Fin ~

Date: 2015-05-22 06:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tripleransom.livejournal.com
Wow...just...wow! What a great story. Resourceful!Watson and Irene being as usual, one step ahead of Holmes (and everyone else) are two of my favourite things.

Thank you for making their game Whist instead of the anachronistic Bridge (even if the Swiss variant did involve marbles). I loved your characterisations of all the principals. It's only justice that the King gets what's coming to him. It serves him right.

Only one teeny thing - even a doctor's horse would most likely not have been so unperturbed with a bloody corpse lying a few feet away. Trust me to know something like that.

Well-plotted and well-done. It was a touch of genius to end it on that tentatively hopeful note, too. Bravo!

Date: 2015-06-02 02:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for your comment!

“…even a doctor's horse would most likely not have been so unperturbed with a bloody corpse lying a few feet away. Trust me to know something like that."

Should I be alarmed by the thought that you would have personal experience with placing bloody corpses so close to your horses? Oh well, each to their own.

Of course you need not have worried. The horse in this piece did not belong to Watson. He was hired by the two hitmen and was essentially the getaway-driver. He was in on the gig. Of course he had to remain nonchalant when Holmes approached. It is a mark of the secret society of L-Triple-E, the League of Extraordinarily Evil Equines, of whom Silver Blaze is grand poobah, (All Hail!) that they remain unperturbed and calm around their enemies. All calm horses should be suspect. They may be secretly contemplating murder. (Or maybe that’s just cats.)

Date: 2015-06-02 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tripleransom.livejournal.com
Well, I've never had any personal experience with an actual bloody corpse, but I have seen lots of blood and it does tend to upset them. But of course, now that you've explained it, it all makes perfect sense.

Date: 2015-05-22 07:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jeanniewal.livejournal.com

Lovely story - I particularly enjoyed all the Swiss-variant games!

Date: 2015-06-02 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! The Swiss variant games were a lot of fun to write.

Date: 2015-05-22 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saki101.livejournal.com
Such an excellent case and follow-up to SCAN! I loved the way Holmes was planning to deal with von Kramm and I loved Watson's ingenuity and Adler's resolve. Best of all, I loved that there was at least hope at the end.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! I wanted to weave a plot around several canon elements. As we know from canon, Watson does return to Baker Street. I just wanted to give him more time and more reason to do so.

Date: 2015-05-23 02:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
I love Holmes in France. Its always nice to see him rise to a more genteel manner of being.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Holmes is aware of all the social niceties... whether he acts upon them or not is another matter. I figure at this stage in his life he would wish to be seen as a respectable figure and would be more courteous with his colleagues than he would have been as a younger man.

(Or, if you wish, this was told from his point of view and he could have been an unreliable narrator.)

Date: 2015-06-02 03:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Of course! Unreliable narrator. That would be fun to watch, the inner dialogue superimposed over the outward action.

Date: 2015-05-23 12:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] inamac.livejournal.com
That was really exciting! Beautifully plotted and it rattled along at a good pace. Loved the canon references (it's always good to meet the Norton's even if under such tragic circumstances.) I was wary of reading 'kidfic' but Henri is a triumph! I would love to know the rules of the Swiss Variant games (especially Swiss Whist).

Date: 2015-06-02 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm glad you found this exciting. If there is one thing that I try to do it is to have some spirit of ACD adventure in my stories. Thank you also for persevering and not being turned off by the "kiddie fic" tag. With Henri I did not want to go overboard. I just wanted to portray a bright, energetic, imaginative four-year old.

Date: 2015-05-23 09:15 pm (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
Oh, a gripping story! I loved the bit of grim and dark, offset by Henri and his Swiss variants :) Thank you for a tale well-told.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! I wanted a balance between the dark and the light and resisted the urge to explore the depths on either end.

Date: 2015-05-23 11:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gardnerhill.livejournal.com
Thrilling Adventure Hour! This was a great tale - marvelous use of a grieving-but-tough Irene Norton nee Adler who can still outfox Sherlock Holmes, a Watson who thinks on his feet, suspense, tragedy, humor (a child who invents Calvinball, Mrs. Rosen's mob), and the perfect solution to the foul King of Bohemia.

My only question is when this episode is going to be filmed.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you for your kind comment!
I'm glad you picked up on the nature of Mrs Rosen's mob. Mr Holmes did not expound on how eager they were for him to take REVENGE!!! on Watson's attackers, nor on the nature of Watson's injuries.

I have secretly had it in for the King of Bohemia for a long time. Too bad I had to sacrifice Princess Clotilde and Godfrey Norton in this cause.

Date: 2015-06-02 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gardnerhill.livejournal.com
Heh heh heh. I'm 7th out of 9 kids in a Catholic family. Let's just say I'm familiar with the dynamics of Mrs. Rosen's home situation. (I also have a feeling that Henri may have endeared himself to the Rosen boys forever by teaching them some French swear words.)

Well, Holmes may have been taciturn but the fact he wanted to hang around the hospital on a shallow pretext just in case Watson was hurt worse than he let on is a strong indicator.

I also liked your very Victorian solution, both to the hired goons and to the King: Release the Masons!

Date: 2015-05-25 10:30 pm (UTC)
hagstrom: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hagstrom
I'm so glad I bookmarked this for a later reading, because I was quite enthralled with this!
I liked it all, the plot, a different point of view to how Watson related the story, Holmes' apparent lack of sentiment and his relationship with both the Woman and Watson.
And the boy sounded quite lovely with the swiss variants of games!

Date: 2015-06-02 02:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! I am glad you picked up on Holmes' apparent lack of sentiment. He is totally unaware of his sentimentality: the way he complains at the beginning that Watson has not moved back to Baker Street, his hopefulness at the end that Watson might reconsider, his denial to Irene that he has anyone in his life that would prompt him to murder and revenge, and a few other hints as well. I am glad you liked Henri. I figured that he would take after his very intelligent parents and be quite imaginative at aged four years, yet I did not want to deluge the readers with his precociousness.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
Thank you! I started with the premise that Irene Norton had to fake her death. I also wanted her to be formidable in her revenge because she should always be portrayed as a very strong, even fierce, potential opponent to anyone who might cross her. (Without making her into a super-villainess or perpetual nemesis to Holmes. They share mutual respect because they recognise each other's aspects very well.)

Date: 2015-06-02 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capt-facepalm.livejournal.com
You scared away readers by adding "kiddie fic" to your description.

Date: 2015-06-02 02:54 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-06-06 07:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stellinia.livejournal.com
No kittens, and for that I may never forgive you.

"‘Henry and I were playing whist.’

‘Whist is a card game.’

‘The Swiss variant requires marbles.’

I could not help but laugh." This might be my favorite part XD

This was an amazing case-fic. Holmes was very clever and resourceful, Watson was just perfect, and Irene clever as well. A true delight :) thanks for writing this!

P.S. So sorry for my late reply!! I totally forgot I hadn't commented on this.

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