The Hopeless Stairway Part 1 The Hopeless Stairway Part 1
More Sherlock Holmes fan fiction! The Hopeless Stairway Part 1

There were two children seated at 221 that October afternoon, both eyeing my recently chosen flatmate Mr. Sherlock Holmes with interest. “Tell me about this murder of yours, little ones,” said Holmes. “We are the Taliskers from Brighton, detective. My name is Dorothea Talisker and this is my wee brother, Gregson,” said a little girl with wispy blonde hair and translucent skin. “Brighton, England…” enunciated Holmes, drawing it out like a chanting monk. He shot a glance from beneath his winglike eyebrows at me.

My mind was a tad muddled that afternoon. A morning walk to the British Museum of Art on an ever increasing stipend of scotch may have been the culprit. After a week of hospital demonology, with my hands plumb to the bloody gateways between this life and the next, perhaps I overindulged in art and whiskey that morning. At any rate, I was in need of hydration and did not immediately fixate upon the idea of Brighton, England when prompted.

“Have you been there, Doctor Watson?” Holmes persisted. “Not even as a lad,” I remarked. I knew of it, of course, and the great pleasure palace located there. It was widely considered a desirable holiday location. But my adult life had not been filled with very many holidays. “A patient or two has given me the impression of some kind of fishing industry…” I offered to Holmes and our guests. But I feared my words were as ephemeral as the occasional creaking of wood in 221 as it settled on its foundation for the cold seasons on the horizon.

The young girl continued in her mild voice: “There at the foot of the stairs is where we first came across her, sir. Two days ago. And dead. It was very shocking and my hands still tremble a bit to remember. We did not hear her falling because we had both been outside for the morning. Did we hear anything, Gregson?” The boy sat up in his chair. “No, we did stumble across her corpse freshly.” “Not so gruesome, Gregson,” shushed the girl. “Well her body was still warm when I touched it. Like when Benjamin died.” “Please, please, children,” interrupted Holmes, “a full recital of the facts as you please, less noise.”

The consulting detective seemed perturbed that his demeanor did not have a greater influence upon the young and he yelled for Mrs. Hudson our new help. It was a tad familiar of him, and it made me uncomfortable as well as my eardrums. Mrs. Hudson bounded in. “Could you please bring us tea and biscuits, gingerbread for the children here…hastily?” She was an Oriental–Isabella Hudson–near forty, who had a prodigious bust. Outside Big Ben was tolling. She seemed surprised by the presence of the two young doves and hurried out to gather the tea.

“So you found her together? Dorothea? The dead woman?” “Yes, as I said. In the rear of the house. There are old steps that lead up to the third floor. Nearly straight up. Very vertical. And there are little wooden rods to hold the carpet square to the wood that sometimes come loose.” “How many steps, precisely?” asked Holmes. “That is plum difficult, sir, to make…I mean–“ “Perhaps one hundred, Dorothea?” She shrugged.

Gregson Talisker was staring out the window vaguely. “Are you alright, young sir?” I asked him. But he ignored me entirely. Holmes: “So it sounds like there is a very steep and long stairway, perhaps notable before this incident as offering danger to those attempting to walk from top to bottom? Is this true?” “Well, they are odd stairs;” remarked Gregson, steadying his gaze on Holmes. “it is an odd house. But you see we found her with her neck ripped ’round. Her eyes were open and red rimmed.”

“My goodness,” I said, scandalized by the gory details.

Just at that moment, Mrs. Hudson came bustling back with the tea cart The warm October sunlight outside seemed quite agreeable then. The children went seizing after the food with half-civilized ferociousness, and I guessed that they must have been quite famished and accustomed to close care for they did not artfully recognize the graces of the tea service. “Perhaps a few more biscuits?” I suggested, as Mrs. Hudson closed the door. “And the gingerbread!” I whispered hopefully.

I heard a match struck, and turned to see Sherlock Holmes tending his pipe. He sent a grave hiss of black shag towards the window. “Do your parents know that you have come here today to speak with me?” The two stopped eating and turned. “Not exactly, no. My idea was to catch an afternoon train, and we’d be back for supper,” said Gregson. “So you are the mastermind of this junket!” said Holmes, accusingly, but with an undertone of professional admiration. “No one will believe us that it was the ghost that did it,” said Gregson. “But I have seen this apparition, and so has Dorothea. Haven’t you? Holmes paused with his pipe halfway to his mouth and stared. “It’s much as the homeless on the pier have described them,” said Gregson, with a note of awe in his voice that was strange. I felt an October chill. Just the slightest cold sweep of molecules riding along the wavy canvas of autumn. “Spirits do exist, Mr. Holmes.” Holmes rolled his eyes. “What about the dead girl, young squire? We haven’t discussed her origins or her occupation. Let us tether ourselves to reality before we go flapping off towards the lunar realms.” “I thought we said,” muttered Dorothea, confused. Holmes continued to smoke his pipe but did not pick up the slack. “Why yes it was our poor old nanny,” said Dorothea. “Your nanny?” “‘Nanny’ is what we are told to call her. Her name was Hodgkins. Miss Alberta Hodgkins, yes.” “I see,” said Holmes. “So you wish me to come to Brighton to investigate the death of your nanny in the belief–held by you both–” Holmes opened his eyes disbelievingly, “that she was killed by a haunting agent?” “That is the case, sir. We know it sounds daft.” “That’s crass slang,” shrugged Holmes, and looked into the Persian slipper. His face drooped. “Empty?” he sagged. “Watson?” “Hmm?” I asked, while port wine splashed beautifully into a glass. “Any of your precious Arcadian left?” I pulled out my purse and tossed it to him, and he restuffed, relit, and continued his inquiry in greater comfort: “How precisely did you find me children?” Once more, Dorothea took the lead. “The men outside Scotland Yard were supremely helpful. Detective Lestrade, sir. He claimed that you were  ‘ghost magistrate’ for the police department of London. He said you had apprehended any number of specters. One of a chimney sweep only last weekend who had fallen into a–“ “Into a cauldron of boiling cider!” said Gregson, looking at Holmes with respect.

Scarlet was Holmes’ visage then, like a piece of meat only passed over a white hot stove then served. Marbled fury. Belittled once again by the constabulary of the Yard. A few moments of thick silence fell on the office then. And no one uttered a word. Until at last Holmes stated flatly: “I believe that I have the matter well comprehended. And as you have both lunched and should be thinking about catching the next train to Brighton, Doctor Watson and I bid you a respectful farewell.” “So you will help us get to the bottom of it then?” Gregson asked. “We shall discuss your predicament in due course.” And then Sherlock Holmes showed them the door.

I waited a few moments awkwardly with the port in my hand. Lestrade was a peculiar man. But he did have some excellent characteristics.

I watched Dorothea and Gregson make their way hand in hand down the street until they were lost in the variegated crowd of weekenders; the sound of hooves ringing on the pavement was clear, as it always was at this address. After several minutes of wandering around the flat, with nothing much to do, but with the tale of risen souls sparking in my mind like flint, I said: “I think they are well on their way to the station by now…” Holmes, his legs outstretched, pipe lazily fitted at the corner of his mouth, kept a meditative expression. He did not respond. “Napping are we?” “We are,” said a bored sounding detective. “But you have just been offered a rather interesting one.” “Interesting you say?” “Why…” I struggled to refine the jumble of ideas into a concise pitch. But all I could come up with was: “…medically interesting. For example, the children suffering from some fever, perhaps undiagnosed. It’s possible. Clearly they were connecting fantasy with a gruesome murder.” “Why murder, roommate?” said Holmes, blowing out a whale of a plume of smoke towards the ceiling. I paused, “Well…” “You mean the ghost?” It was true that I had been perhaps–not taken in exactly, but my skepticism had been derailed so that as I watched the Taliskers weaving their way down Baker Street it seemed plain: there was a phantom of crime as assuredly bestride Brighton as Big Ben would assuredly toll the blue crisp pattern of my days that fall. Charismatic children, I suppose. “She probably got drunk and fell down. A maid, Watson. In Brighton? It’s difficult to fathom the cause, but nothing in the account–or perhaps I should say the rendition–by the two leads us to a supposition of murder.” “Hmm,” I was a little abashed, quite honestly, to have been carried away perforce by my passions. My desire for another diverting adventure. “But…” said Holmes. My ears perked up. “There are,” he mulled, “some….points of interest. I suppose.” “And what are those?” “Two children being pushed in front of a train by a bitter Londoner, for example.” “That would be interesting” I nodded in agreement.

The train to Brighton was uneventful, giving me time to observe the fields and watch the coastline come slowly in view–a thin, amber and grey squiqqle on the window like a composer falling asleep at his sheets. Holmes rested his eyes, and it did not surprise me to see him conserve his strength. For what did we have to go on but the dreamy ramblings of two overly creative children. Hysteria is what I might have diagnosed had I been speaking to adults who came along talking of ghosts and dead friends. We don’t call those symptoms hysteria when children exhibit them, however.

Brighton we glimpsed little or nothing of until the white, wooden, scaffolding of the station began whipping by our windows, and I saw happy faces making leisure of the fall weekend.

 

We stepped into Brighton’s salty, sunny air, disembarking from the monolithic steel behemoth. Trains were still a real pleasure for me. I had not grown so accustomed, and urbane, that it failed to feel like a special experience whenever I could afford to ride in one. “We are only here to ascertain one small piece of information, Doctor.” “And what is that?” “Whether or not there is any truth to this ghost story the Taliskers. Namely, whether or not a young woman has fallen to her death in Brighton this week. If so, there may be fire as well as smoke. Simple enough?” “And whether she was governess to the children…” I added redundantly, my senses were filled up by the pleasant sights, sunshine, ruddy English health bloomed all around me on the boardwalk that was connected to the train depot. “Not necessarily,” Holmes confided. “The fantastic elements of their story makes me believe this could all be a single piece in an elaborate game played by the pair in which our roles have been underestimated by the miscreants. Or it could have been their mother who died, I suppose. That would explain your fever theory: powerful dissociation.They were not credible by any stretch of the imagination in my judgment.” “You think they were hiding something?” “How could I know that unless I had the skill to read a man’s thoughts. I cannot be certain!” “What is the itinerary then, old man?” “Let us inquire of the police about the location of the Talisker’s domicile.” “Do you really think we should intrude upon their calm? They may still be distressed over the loss of their maid…”

The woman who greeted us at the door of the Talisker’s hilltop home was visually prepossessing, yet her expression was haggard. Coloring makeup was thickly applied; her hair was a tangled mess, like an old thicket, bags were under her eyes like pools of water beneath a forgotten wall on a gloomy moor. Indeed, it looked as though the earth was even then pulling her body towards its center of mass. “Hello, madam.” “Yes, gentlemen?” I thought I smelled cooking seafood–spiced with citrus–wafting under the door. Recognizing a woman of skill in the kitchen, of an aristocratic house, and who looked to have burned the tallow of her mental and physical reserves low–before Holmes angled in with some chilly line of questioning I stepped forward: “Has a young lady recently been deceased at this address? I am a doctor from London by the name of John Watson.” “Yes,” she responded sadly, “our maid has died. And we are hard pressed to find a new one. I have been in charge of the children for the past several days.” “And they went missing earlier this afternoon?” Holmes forced his way into the conversation–I thought to demonstrate a command of the situation; my medical instincts had overridden his narcissism in that instance, and I did not begrudge myself for taking the initiative, however. “How do you know about that? Yes, my lord, they went to the pier, and arrived home later than was agreed upon at breakfast. It’s Gregson, the boy, who carries his sister along with his games. He has a frivolous and undisciplined mind, like his father. And he has his sister wrapped around his finger.” “You appear to have been quite distressed by their tardiness, or is it the death of your help that has you quite sleepless by the looks of you?” “Holmes…” I breathed, eyeing him disapprovingly. But he did not acknowledge my subtle clues for gentleness. It was a character trait that I had tried and failed to weaken through various forms of remonstrance when the opportunity arose since we had begun our lease. “Fell down some stairs did she? Third story to the main level?” Holmes gored the thin fabric of civility once again. The woman stopped breathing, and she looked at Holmes, quite a bit taller than herself and who must have appeared a stout, peculiar, dark tree filling up the box emptiness of her doorway that evening. Men from London. “Have you been speaking to my children?” she asked suspiciously.

I resigned myself to the awkwardness. I had done my duty to try and make a politic introduction with the Talisker family, and had failed. So I stepped slowly away from the door, avoiding the brewing drama and going into my jacket pocket for a flask. Holmes voice thinned over the drive but was still clear enough: “Yes. Your children arrived at my office around tea time this afternoon with a rather interesting story about a death, to which I have just alluded.” The woman sighed and shook her head. “The jackrabbits. All the way to London…” “Something ridiculous madam about a ghost pushing their governess down stairs. I don’t take on such bizarre and grotesque cases usually; and I am not here to be remunerated. Actually, to some degree my assistant and I are just making sure the children made it home safely. The city is no place for the young unless they are quite handy about slashing out gentlemen’s pockets. Neither of them display the dexterity needed to cut away a watch chain, say. It requires an impressive amount of wrist strength. And there are other dangers perhaps better left unmentioned. Not ghosts, madam.” “And what is your trade?” she ignored Holmes’ cautionary words. “I am the world’s first consulting detective.” “Consulting…” “It means the police, military forces, foreign governments even, or yes the public who are in special need–all are free to engage my services in the resolution of problems large or small. That is my second, Doctor Watson of Charing Cross Hospital and a veteran of Her Majesty’s foreign wars.” “For a fee,” nodded the woman to herself, ungratefully I might add. She glanced back into the house now, dismissing Holmes as a figure of any relevance. It irked me slightly.  But another sip and glance out at the Atlantic’s red and pale waters dispelled my misgivings like a cloud of sand enveloping a small fish. Holmes said, “May we have a look at the stairs then?” with some impatience. “Now?” “We have travelled all this way by train. Your children are safe. Would it be enormously problematic for us to gain entrance to your beautiful home to make a quick survey?” It was beginning to darken now. Little stars I could see overhead opening their sapphire eyes. As I stood listening to Holmes argue with Mrs. Talisker, I made a closer study of the habitation in the starlight. Window shudders were markedly dark. The stonework looked quite moldy and ancient. As my eyes searched, I realized there was a small person peering down from a second story window at me. It was young Gregson. He waved, and I raised my free hand to him. Gregson then began pointing to something behind me. He seemed keen that I should look back. But when I turned, I saw nothing except the path leading down towards a chapel. An odious breeze came along, sending a little jetty of dust towards the road. Finding nothing, I turned to seek further guidance from the boy. But the window was now empty. He had gone.

The sound of the front door being shut gathered my attention and unfroze my blood. Holmes came stumbling through the dimness. Mrs. Talisker had apparently told him off; that there would be no inspection of the stairs: “She says that it would disturb the children! That their imaginations tend to run wild. This much we know…she also alleges we would only be causing her ‘more stress’ according to this fabulist of a female. Can you imagine such nonsense. A dead woman already buried in fresh earth? And no inspection allowed. My reputation has failed to traverse the boundaries of London, it would appear. It’s not as though we are two novices.” It did not surprise me that he should be turned out given his pushy way. And I told him so. “Well by the state of her it seemed obvious the children were taxing her mightily. And then you along making demands in the middle of the night. You have to admit that they are an energetic pair. To come all the way to London and track you down, and then back on the train to Brighton before dark?  You must learn the art of ingratiating yourself, I fear, or that will become a pattern of your investigations.” “Yes, these are children we are talking about. Their reserves of energy are well documented in the folklore of nations, doctor. Thank you,” he said sarcastically, ignoring my prognosis for a lighter touch with the public. “Have a drink,” I suggested, and he stopped vibrating and unscrewed the cap, turning back towards the house. “It is a most interesting house. The chapel and graveyard have been in the family for many generations, according to the lady.” “It’s odd that you mention the house.” “Why?” He turned on his heels and we began the slow descent down the hill. I told him about Gregson’s appearance at the window; his pointing to some phantom lurking behind me
of which I saw no evidence. “A practical joke?” “Perhaps…” said Holmes darkly, “or perhaps something more wicked.” “Wicked!? It was little more than a game…” For the first time since the children had arrived at our office that afternoon, Holmes seemed to be taking the case on its own terms. It was a subtle difference in his behavior. But I could tell that the bloodhound in him had scented something of interest.

 

It was not until we came in sight of a public house and saw Holmes feeling around in his pockets for his pipe and looking conversational once more that I dared interrupt the machinery of his mind. “I thought you said that we should be back to London this evening?” “There are several late trains. You may yet rest your head in Baker Street by the light of this very moon.” I scoffed at his soft characterization as he pushed open the large wooden door and we entered The Painted Wheel. “I guess I could go ahead and have a bite to eat,” I suggested, finishing off the scotch and taking in the establishment. Dark ale being quaffed by three merchants laughing uproariously at some sly word looked a merry treat.

When the beer arrived to the table and Holmes had comfortably begun to smoke, I hazarded further discourse: “Well leaving aside the silly concept of spirits from the next life causing mischief, it looks as though we have stumbled upon an interesting chain of events.” “There is an element of novelty about it. Specifically the boy’s trick he played on you. It is very troubling to me for what it could signify about the relationships and dynamics of the Talisker’s. There could be something quite nefarious to this family,” he smoked thoughtfully. “But, they are only children, after all. Not true clients in any sense of the word. They do not have any kind of autonomy of their own, neither pecuniary nor psychological nor legal. I’m not sure that it would be within the rule of law to be employed by them. You see how this becomes a rather tricky avenue, Doctor? The possibility of being accused of professional negligence and being quite dead to rights on the matter could pose a risk to my fledgling practice were their parents to come by a piece of evidence suggestive of impropriety on my or indeed both of our parts. I’m not sure we have any cards to play, even if there is something very wrong at work on that hill.” “You are suggesting that we walk away from this case after we have finished our drinks?” “I did not say that.” “You quite said that. And let me play sober Jack because your words trouble me. It was an interesting sojourn to Brighton. But if you say there is a danger of legal consequences; I cannot stress enough my own prudence as a humble doctor. We must be back to Baker Street this evening. Sunday promises more fair weather. I might purify my lungs in Hyde Park,  have a pint, and then a warm evening meal before work on Monday. Yes, that should do fine. A civil proceeding against my person, on the other hand…” “Ah,” muttered Holmes, but his eyes gleamed gold like a ghoul rifling through the pockets of a rich man. “I was thinking,” said the young detective, with a suspiciously innocent tone ” that we might go back over to the house. I really must get a look at these stairs and draw my own conclusions.” “That will have to wait for another day.” “Will it?” asked Holmes sardonically. He pulled out his rectangular lockpick’s kit that I had seen for the first time at the British Museum, turning it over in the light, mulling it playfully and increasing my  frustration intentionally. Yes intentionally. “We have already had two ales…” said I, mustering my best disapproving voice trying to keep the weasel out of the sound. “Two ales is nothing,” Holmes shrugged. “In fact, I should have another and so should you. It’s good training, Doctor. Even if we are discovered, I doubt that it should be a lethal infraction.” “You never know. We didn’t see Mr. Talisker. He could be a very large and able person with any number of blunderbuss, cutlass, or flintlock at the ready; he could be the god damn wrestling champion of Cambridge for all we know. Really. Break into the home. I’m not sure. And with children upstairs in their beds? And a recent murder? Won’t that shine some suspicion on us? Have much explaining to do if the local constabulary should catch wind of our errand. I don’t want to spend Sunday morning in the Brighton jails. Probably smells of fish left on the beach at low tide.” “You have a gift for poetry, Watson. You can just keep watch while I engage in the work of the evening.” That strange gleam was still in his eyes, and I knew there was no hope of arguing him down. The symphony of adrenaline began to tune their instruments in my blood. Holmes held up his fingers. Two more beers from the bartender and two whiskeys for luck.

 

An hour of walking along the road and we were in view of the steep pathway at the apex of which the Talisker house perched like a meridian orb. Holmes hid in the grass with his gloved hands flexing and I squatted a few feet away awaiting orders. “Can you make do?” he asked, gamely, nodding towards the corkscrewing hillside. “Yes, of course.” We cut laterally up the gradient into thicker and thicker growths where our feet dislodged and turf columns broke away beneath our boots. The higher we climbed the more we gambled with every exertion and movement. After several minutes, I could not see the bottom of the hill through the dark. My resolution warred with the awareness imbibed spirits scuttled through my brain. I thought about the many beers bought at the The Painted Wheel, fear peaking in that the wheat would cloud my judgment if only for a moment and that should make the difference. Self-conscious fear. There were healthy exposed roots that my fingers searched for quickly to aid pulling my weight along the rocks.

Eventually Holmes came to a stop. It was then that I noticed my whole body was covered in sweat. We had made it to the rear of the house where many more lights burned on this–the seaside wall– of the building. “What are you proposing after that risky summit?” “I was hoping we might have found some sheltering bough of tree for you to harbor under. But as you can see we are on a line. Did you remember to bring your pistol with you?”  “No, of course not. Children and ghosts? I’m a doctor.” “True.” Holmes began to sneak up the hill now towards the house. My eyes watched him for many minutes until he reached the plateau. Then he did something strange. He removed his shoes while he sat in the obscurity of the grass outside the reach of the oil lamps and inched forward on tiptoe. I had already seen him easily knock his way through a Shropshire lock at the British Museum, sluicing through its works with impunity. At that time he had admonished the curator of an ill-fated coin exhibition. Yet, the minutes ticked by while his shadow concentrated, bent over the door. Finally, he disappeared through and I I sat alone waiting in the cold.

My only real fear, apart from tumbling down this infernal hill, was that there might be a guard dog of some kind. It was not something that had occurred to me as a possibility until Holmes was already through the door so consumed was my mind by making a tolerable show at climbing. But it was the sound of a dog’s warning that I was most in dread of. Eventually, my sinews and muscles were able to relax a bit and I found a ridge to lean against comfortably. It was very tempting to light my pipe as Holmes had been gone for some time. But with the wind curling around the hill, it was doubtful my match would have stayed lit. It was quite a sight to stare out upon the water from this height, and with the leaves rustling to and fro making a comforting but haunted moan, and the cold stars staring down meanly upon the violent and cruel earth, perhaps there was a poetry to me as Holmes had suggested earlier. As such, I began to mull Holmes’ words earlier about his reputation not having transcended the limits of London, and that it in failing to do so I now found myself pipeless and alone in the middle of the night stranded on the side of a hill like a worm about to be picked off by a circling bird. Whereas, if Holmes’ name had cut a bit more glass, perhaps the woman would have allowed us to make the necessary investigation of the stairwell and my roommate would not have felt it necessary to jeopardize both of our lives this evening. He was merely too avid a craftsman. As his “second” perhaps it was my responsibility. By putting pen to paper about our few little adventures so far, perhaps it would help his business were they to find publication. I resolved to begin a diary as soon as possible. There was a smell pencil and a few blank receipts in my wallet. Surely if I were to make a stab at literary fame it would be best to get right down to the matter and begin practicing my craft here and now. A quick search revealed the aforementioned pencil, and the receipts were unfolded in the wind. Perhaps I was a budding talent. I licked the end of the pencil feeling fairly good about myself.

A light came on suddenly on the second story and the pencil froze in my mouth. Then I heard the sound that I had most feared: a booming low rumbling bark of a hound of ferocity. “This is not ideal,” I said to the moon. Then I heard footsteps sprinting across gravel and Holmes’ hat came scrambling through the air as his body hurled over the embankment. He hissed, “The door is still open!” as he skipped down the hill madly and I spun around terrified. The receipts I crammed into my pocket when another loud bark shook the air. “He’s very large,” said Holmes, as he passed me at a high rate of speed crawling like a petrified spider down the side of the hill. Never have I seen the human anatomy piston it’s legs so quickly and in so many directions. My Afghan instincts took over then, and instead of following Holmes I allowed my body to fall down the hill slowly keeping my eyes on the house, waiting for the dog to come leaping over. As my body gained speed the beast did appear with a large head and pointed ears and tendrils of toothy spit flying raggedly across the grass at us. Wanting our blood absolutely to slake its heinous appetite. Evil creature. But it did not venture down the awful hillside. My speed increased alarmingly over the last ten feet and then the my progress ended but the ground did not follow suit and my body fell through the air and landed in a heap. It happened so fast that when my life flashed before my eyes I only got so far as the bottle of port from that afternoon. Then Holmes had me by the lapels and on my feet and we were running away from the road, away from the Taliskers, and towards the sanctuary of ocean surf.

 

The Brighton beach was lit by white stars. The tide was out. The sand was a neatly swept bar as far as the eye could see. There were no animal tracks; no birds did I see resting in the hollows of the dried out birch tress that swept along the contours of the sea and whose dead branches flicked like old things as we passed. The ocean here was as effulgent as it was along any anonymous mile of English coast. A brackish three foot swell that gulped and splashed onto the banks and cowered back into the Atlantic. Holmes and I walked along enjoying the ground falling away beneath our feet, stretching out the webbing between our toes. I looked out across the empty expanse of ocean, thinking to myself that the formless pitch of darkness out there might have been Ireland and that I had the vision of some prehistoric bird who could see things a hundred miles away. It wasn’t Ireland of course, just water. “So what did you find?” Holmes pulled out his own flask for the first time and offered me a sample. Rum is what he had squirreled away into his jacket, not having so much as looked at the hefty container for the entire afternoon. “It is a mighty awkward staircase. Beautifully carpentered. The sharpest, most beautiful edges sanded clean. There must be servants The house itself is gorgeously particular in every detail.” “I see. And you saw nothing that might connect to the murder?” “I did not say that. In fact, one could scarcely find a more suitable murder weapon than those steps. There is no handrail to grab onto, for example. And the incline is beyond exaggeration. If you were pushed the fall would break your back without question. A very fresh crack in the tile floor I saw through my glass; most probably where the woman’s head hit the floor. Such a massive trauma no doubt fractured her skull. If she did not die on the way down I’m afraid this is the spot of her demise. Additionally, and most interestingly, there was a strange odor of lavender, but–“ “Perfume?” “I must have a sample.” “A sample?” “We need to exhume the corpse, Watson. Her clothes, her fingernails. Also a bit of the floorboard I was about to pry up a sliver with my knife when that animal awakened.” “Dear lord. Are you certain? About the corpse, I mean.” “Yes. But first there is another piece of business I must engage in first. It cannot be done without a return trip to London.” “And what is this business?” “I believe that is enough excitement for one day, doctor.”

We went back to the train station and caught our late ride. I began writing in my seat as raindrops began to fall against the window in the red carpeted car. Scotch at my side kept the chill of the earth at bay while the train went rocking along soundlessly through station after station. Holmes slept.

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Agent Smith

Agent Smith is moving to Singapore after he gets his cheap gold watch.