“I’m back, Holmes!”
Watson entered the sitting room, closed the door behind him and placed his case on the floor.
“Lovely to see the Blackheath chaps again, of course, but splendid to be home once more. There are only so many risqué drinking songs one can take before—”
Watson frowned. Despite it being late morning, Holmes was sitting at the breakfast table, gazing thoughtfully into a jar of marmalade.
“Which is it today then? The thick cut or the thin?” Watson walked over and looked over Holmes’s shoulder. Nearly three quarters of the contents of the jar were gone. He raised one impeccably groomed eyebrow.
“Speaking as your friend and your physician, I strongly suggest you cut back. I understand it stimulates the palate but you are risking toothache and stomach ache, you know. Are you sure the game is worth the candle?”
Holmes looked up from his contemplation. “Hmm?” He glanced back at the jar. “Ah, no, Watson. I haven’t been eating it.”
“No..?” Watson took a seat at the table.
“No.” Holmes gave a faint smile. “It’s the strangest thing. I’m certain I put the jar away as usual yesterday but this morning I found it on the mantelpiece.” He got up and moved over to the mantelpiece to tap the exact spot. “And the way it had pushed my briarwood violently out of place suggested someone had put the jar there in a hurry on their way out.”
“Mrs. Hudson perhaps?” said Watson, making himself comfortable.
Holmes turned to look at him. “It is a possible theory. However, I hardly think our landlady would feel the need to indulge in my own personal marmalade in the middle of the night.”
“So… you are saying a stranger entered our rooms, started helping himself to our comestibles…” Watson sat up straight in surprise. “And you slept through all this?”
Holmes gave a small shrug. “It appears I didn’t scour out the teapot thoroughly enough after my last experiment with alkaloid poisons. My evening cup of tea was somewhat more potent than usual and I slept soundly until mid-morning.”
Watson winced ever so slightly. “Putting that to one side, Holmes… Who was this mysterious intruder?”
“Ah, not just one intruder—two.” Holmes returned to the table and sat down. He picked up the marmalade jar. “If you will observe, Watson. There are smears on opposite sides of the inner wall of the jar where two people have repeatedly dipped their fingers in.”
Holmes got up and went to stand by the sitting room door. He pointed at the frame. “Here is a fingerprint in marmalade.” He pointed to the floor. “And here is a faint footprint, left in a position that suggests the foot and finger belong to the same person.” He looked up at Watson. “But there are no other marks. All indications show… Only one person left.”
Watson’s eyes widened and his voice dropped to a whisper. “You don’t mean that one of the intruders is still here?”
Holmes nodded. “And I think the only place he could be is…” He looked towards Watson’s bedroom door.
“Great heavens!” Watson rose, crossed to the fireplace and selected the poker. He rapidly positioned himself outside his bedroom, looked at Holmes and gestured with his head towards the door.
Holmes nodded. He moved over to the door, paused and then flung it open wide. Watson raised his poker high—
And lowered it again.
A man in rough clothing lay sprawled and unmoving on his bedroom floor.
“Oh, dear,” said Holmes placidly. “I do believe he’s dead.”
Watson sighed. “Holmes… I was only gone one night.”
Lestrade straightened up from examining the body. “So a cut-and-dried case, you say.”
Watson nodded. “Clearly strangled.”
“And he is definitely Ormesher,” added Holmes. “George Plaistowe’s right-hand man.”
Lestrade frowned. “I don’t think I’ve heard of him.”
“Small time forger,” said Holmes. “But I’d been expecting him to try something. He sent a few threats after he thought I was getting too close.” Holmes sighed. “Not the brightest of men—I’d been investigating someone else and hadn’t actually been aware of his existence previously.”
“And you say they broke in in the middle of the night?” asked Lestrade. He began writing in his notebook.
Holmes shook his head. “Much earlier than that I expect. Firstly, they’d known Watson was going to be away—”
“How?” asked Watson. “Only you and Mrs. Hudson knew.”
Holmes smiled at him. “Mrs. Hudson, me, and anyone who took the time to look up who had registered to attend the Blackheath Football Club reunion.”
“Oh. Yes.” Watson smiled awkwardly.
“I would imagine that was the unfortunate Ormesher’s idea. Far too clever for Plaistowe.” Holmes returned his attention to Lestrade. “And once they knew which day Watson was away, they waited until Mrs. Hudson and I were out of the house as well before gaining entrance and concealing themselves upstairs. Presumably the plan was to make an attempt on my life once it was dark and they were sure we were both asleep. Until then, to pass the time they decided to eat the marmalade and…”
Holmes looked down at Ormesher’s body.
“I would imagine an argument broke out—Plaistowe accused Ormesher of taking more than his fair share, lost his temper and killed him. He then panicked and left as quickly as possible.” Holmes looked back at Lestrade. “No real mystery—I’m sure you and your men can track Plaistowe down without my help.”
Lestrade looked up from his note-taking. “Hang on though. They argued over marmalade?”
Holmes regarded him bemusedly. “Well, it is delicious.”
Lestrade shook his head and put away his notebook. “Right, well, as you say, no real mystery here. I’ve got all the information I need—the van to collect the body should be here in under half an hour.”
He led the way back into the sitting room.
“Perhaps then we can get back to normal,” said Watson. “I’m looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea.” He narrowed his eyes at Holmes slightly. “Though not out of your teapot.”
However Holmes appeared somewhat distracted. “Half an hour, you say? But Mrs. Hudson should be back from doing her shopping in approximately quarter of an hour.” He caught up with Lestrade. “I’d rather this was all sorted out before she got back. I really do not wish to distress our landlady. I have been lucky with all previous… situations—Mrs. Hudson has been out or away—but I wouldn’t want to push my luck.”
Watson looked puzzled. “Previous situa—? Surely we’ve only had one body here before.”
Holmes smiled. “Oh, Watson! There were occurrences before you.” He looked thoughtful. “Corpses on the premises do seem to happen on a regular basis for me.”
Lestrade drew his shoulders back. “Well, perhaps Mrs. Hudson should start getting used to it then! These things take time—I can’t just instantly make the body disappear.”
Holmes raised a finger. “But… couldn’t we simply move it ourselves? Get it out of the house and keep it in the nearest alleyway until your men arrive to collect it?”
Lestrade spluttered and Watson’s eyes widened. “Really, Holmes.”
“Indeed!” said Lestrade. “That is most irregular. Proper procedures do occasionally have to be followed, you know.”
“But I really don’t want to upset Mrs. Hudson! And I wouldn’t be available to assist with any cases if I was in the middle of having to move...” Holmes smiled awkwardly. “Again.”
Lestrade closed his eyes for a moment. He opened them again, and his shoulders slumped. “Oh, all right.”
“Excellent!” Holmes slapped his hands together. “So we have a quarter of an hour. That should be plenty of time.”
“It would have been...” Watson was looking down from the sitting room window. “But unfortunately here’s Mrs. Hudson coming now.”
“Oh, no.” Holmes crossed to the window and looked down too. “Ah, yes. It appears ‘Mr. Cadwell’s Corsets’ was unexpectedly closed.”
“How on earth…” began Lestrade but Holmes held up a hand without turning round. “However all is not lost. Mrs. Hudson returning prematurely does mean she’s been caught by Mr. Finnick out on his morning constitutional.”
Watson turned from the window and walked over to Lestrade. “Local widower. Lonely and a little sweet on our landlady. He can talk the hind leg off a Suffolk Punch.”
Holmes looked over his shoulder at them. “Yes, indeed. So I think we’re safe for a few minutes.” He looked back down at the street. “Now, Mrs. Hudson isn’t carrying any parcels—she must have arranged for all her purchases to be delivered. Which means she’s most likely to enter by the front door rather than going straight to the kitchen. So we can go down the stairs, through her quarters and out through the back door.”
“Will we still have time to get the body down the stairs though?” said Watson.
Holmes turned and pressed a finger to his lips. He raised it again and waggled it thoughtfully. “Wait here. I won’t be long.”
Holmes exited out of the sitting room door and there was the sound of him hurrying downstairs.
He was back shortly carrying two trays.
“Here we are! We can slide him down!”
The late Ormesher had been tightly wrapped in a bedsheet, one tray had been tied to his back and the other to his legs, and the descent had begun.
Watson was at the front of the party, keeping a watch for Mrs. Hudson; Holmes was stepping carefully down backwards, holding onto the feet and slowing the body’s progress; and Lestrade was bringing up the rear—firmly gripping a rope that had been tied round Ormesher’s arms and upper torso.
Holmes looked up at Lestrade and furrowed his brow. “Steer him, Lestrade! Steer him! Didn’t you ever toboggan as a child?”
Lestrade looked pained. “Not with a corpse, no.”
Holmes tutted and they all continued their awkward but mercifully swift way down.
At the bottom, they managed between them to get Ormesher laid out on the the hall floor. Watson and Holmes then lifted him up to carry him for the next part of the journey—Watson at the shoulders end and Holmes going backwards carrying the feet. With Lestrade leading the way to open doors, the procession made its way into Mrs. Hudson’s quarters.
“Just ahead of you there, Lestrade,” panted Holmes, looking over his shoulder. “That’s the kitchen.”
“Righto!” Lestrade opened the kitchen door and they all made their way across the room to the door that led outside.
“Just a little furth—” said Holmes. He abruptly froze.
“Holmes!” protested Watson. “I nearly dropped him!” But then Watson’s eyes widened as he heard what had caught Holmes’s attention.
Someone was inserting a key into the back door.
“Mrs. Hudson!” whispered Watson. “Why on earth isn’t she coming in through the front door?”
Holmes shook his head. “She must have told Mr. Finnick she’d forgotten to buy something, and then made her way round to the back to make her escape. Wretched woman!”
Lestrade looked scandalised. “Holmes!”
“I’m sorry!” said Holmes. “But sometimes that woman is too cunning for her own good.”
“Er, could we perhaps leave this discussion for another time..?” said Watson.
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
Holmes nodded apologetically, and he and Watson rotated Ormesher. Then together with Lestrade they made their way rapidly back into the hallway.
“I think I can hear her following us!” Lestrade glanced backwards anxiously.
“The broom cupboard!” said Holmes firmly. “Quickly! Everyone in.”
He and Watson rotated again—Watson going in first backwards. “Let’s try and get him upright, Holmes!”
Holmes gently lowered the body’s feet to the floor while Watson embraced its upper body and heaved it upwards.
Watson leant against the late Ormesher to hold him in place, Holmes took a position next to Watson, and Lestrade managed to jam himself into what little space was left. Holmes reached over to pull the door shut, and they were safe. They all smiled at one another in relief.
At this point a knock came at the cupboard door.
Watson looked at Holmes aghast. “Can’t you do the disappearing trick that Crocker chap taught you?” he whispered.
Holmes frowned at him. “I can do it on my own. Three people and a corpse is rather pushing it.”
The knock was repeated, a little more insistently.
Holmes looked hopelessly round at the others and then shrugged. “Er… Yes?”
“It’s Mrs. Hudson,” said the unseen lady cheerfully. “I was wondering if you wanted tea, sir.”
Holmes furrowed his brow. “Maybe… in ten minutes? Watson, Inspector Lestrade and I have something to sort out. We’re just on our way out.”
There was a pause.
“Via the broom cupboard..?” said Mrs. Hudson’s voice.
“Indeed,” said Holmes. “So, in ten minutes then?”
“Very good, sir.”
Mrs. Hudson’s footsteps retreated and shortly after there was the sound of the door to her quarters opening and closing.
“Excellent!” Holmes smiled in triumph. “She didn’t suspect a thing. We can just slip out now and make a swift exit through the front door. If you would do the honours, Lestrade…”
Lestrade cautiously opened the cupboard door and stepped out.
“It’s all clear…”
His eyes widened.
“No, it’s not! She’s coming back!”
He turned to reclaim his space in the cupboard but Holmes pushed him back out. “No, you distract her! Talk to her.”
Lestrade stared at him. “What about?”
“Anything, man! Just keep her attention on you for a few minutes.”
The broom cupboard door was pulled closed, and Lestrade swung round to greet the approaching Mrs. Hudson.
He took a few steps forward and attempted a smile. “Mrs. Hudson! Back again?”
Mrs. Hudson gave him a warm smile in return. “Good morning, Inspector! Nice to actually see your face this time.” She attempted to look round him at the broom cupboard. “I was just hoping to ask Mr. Holmes if he’d seen my tea trays. They both seem to have gone missing.”
“The tea trays…” Lestrade glanced involuntarily towards the cupboard, where the door was slowly opening. Watson peeped out and gave him an encouraging gesture. Lestrade turned slowly back to Mrs. Hudson.
He cleared his throat, and abruptly gestured to the wall opposite to the broom cupboard.
“That is a lovely…” He peered at the glass case now before him. “...stuffed heron… you have there.”
Mrs. Hudson beamed and thankfully faced away from the cupboard to look at the bird too. “Why, thank you, Inspector.”
“In fact, you have a lovely home in general.” Lestrade gestured vaguely. “I suppose it must have quite a history..?”
He looked behind him. The cupboard door had opened again and Watson was exiting with Ormesher slung over one shoulder. The trays and rope had been removed and Holmes was following on behind, fiddling with the sheet trying to get it properly back into place.
“Yes, history…” Lestrade stared hard at the sheet as Holmes and Watson passed behind him. “So, do you… have any ghosts, for instance?”
Holmes raised his eyebrows and Lestrade returned his attention abruptly to Mrs. Hudson. “No! Not ghosts. Of course not!” He laughed awkwardly. “I would imagine no-one has ever died in this house. What a ridiculous suggestion.”
“Well…” said Mrs. Hudson.
Lestrade glanced behind again. Watson and Holmes were almost at the front door.
He indicated the broom cupboard. “You know, I think Mr. Holmes may perhaps have left your tea trays in there. Should we have a look..?”
Mrs. Hudson nodded. “Of course, Inspector.”
Lestrade led Mrs. Hudson into the cupboard. “Yes, here they are.” He stooped and retrieved the trays from the floor and handed them over.
Mrs. Hudson took them graciously. “Thank you so much, Inspector. That’s most kind.”
She turned to lead the way out again.
Lestrade hurried after Mrs. Hudson, back into the hallway. But luckily Watson, Holmes and the late Ormesher had just that moment left, the door closing behind them.
Mrs. Hudson smiled at Lestrade. “Looks like we just missed Mr. Holmes and the Doctor. I take it Mr. Holmes has managed to smuggle the body out at last?”
Lestrade nodded happily. “Yes, indeed. Such a relief—I was beginning to think—”
He came to a halt and stared.
“Mrs. Hudson! You knew?”
Mrs. Hudson gave a little shrug. “Well, I may have had a small inkling. Mr. Holmes was obviously trying to hide something from me, and that something was big enough it had to be hidden in the cupboard so...” She smiled. “And the dear man does rather have a track record in these things. I’m forever seeing my address mentioned in the Police Gazette.”
Lestrade shook his head in a bewildered fashion. “And you still don’t mind him living here?”
Mrs. Hudson opened her eyes wide. “I am very happy indeed to have Mr. Holmes as a tenant. Dr. Watson too.” She pointed upwards. “Well, you’ve seen their rooms. They keep them immaculate! So neat and tidy. Mr. Holmes even cleans up after his experiments. I hardly have to lift a finger.”
Mrs. Hudson nodded thoughtfully.
“I am so lucky to have the tenants I have. Other ladies like me can’t always say the same, you know.”
She studied the trays cautiously.
“I might just give these a going-over with some borax though.”
She smiled up at Lestrade.
“So I’ll say good day to you then, Inspector. I expect you’ll want to be catching up with Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson now.”
Mrs. Hudson turned and disappeared back into her quarters.
Lestrade stared after her for a moment. Then he shook his head and made his own exit out through the front door.
He caught up with Holmes and Watson at Wheeler’s Alley.
Watson discreetly beckoned him over. “Lestrade! Is Mrs. Hudson all right?”
Lestrade slipped into the alley and joined them. “Well…” He tipped his head to one side thoughtfully. “I would say Mrs. Hudson is… untroubled, yes.”
“Splendid!” Holmes beamed down at the body lying at his feet. “There you are. I knew we could get away with it!”
“Yes...” said Lestrade. He smiled weakly. “I have to say you’re both very fortunate men indeed.”