This was one of a over small number of adventures in which someone other than what I have heard described as 'the Sherlockians' – Sir Peter Greenwood, our policemen friends Inspector Baldur and the Henriksens, the Harvelles and Singers, &c – came back into our lives. And for my friend, it came as a great shock. After all the false alarms in a whole number of cases, it showed that perhaps the preternatural does indeed exist, and that it need not always be feared. The truth, they say, is out there somewhere.
We had not seen Miss Charlotta Bradbury since her move to Northamptonshire and Sherlock’s solving of the Red Circle case about a year and a half back, so it was with pleasure that I heard Mrs. Lindberg announce her name one fine July morning. As usual, she all but threw herself at Sherlock, and even though I knew there was nothing between them, I instinctively growled. She smirked knowingly at me, but mercifully said nothing.
“Yes, I am on the scrounge again”, she said, collapsing into the fireside chair in an untidy heap. “Running Middleton’s from the middle of nowhere is a lot harder than I had hoped, and some people seem to view it as some sort of free information agency, as if they could press a button and get whatever they want to know without paying for it! A pity I cannot have installed some sort of telephone system, where people can pull a lever, pay me somehow or other, and just get what they want.”
“Technology does tend to raise expectations”, Sherlock said with a smile. “How may we be of service today, Miss Bradbury?”
She reached for a cream cake (honestly, she almost matched our friend Henriksen’s freakish abilities to detect baking days at 221B; the man had incredibly timed his recent visit from the Lakes to one such day!) and proceeded to get jam all down the front of her dress. I sighed; she was almost as much of a grub as the blue-eyed genius sat opposite me! Wiping it off, she grinned and began.
“Half the battle with Middleton’s isn’t so much getting the information”, she said, “but sorting out the grains of wheat from the bushels of chaff. We get so many reports in from so many people, I am seriously thinking of having an extension built, just to house all the paperwork! Luckily my staff are great, and I always pay them a bonus if they spot anything out of the ordinary.”
“It may be something and nothing, but I recently had cause to get some facts for a man living in a place called Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast. I did not need to go there myself, but one of my agents had to, so as to get the facts on a certain gentleman whose activities were immoral if not illegal. I tell you, I shall certainly never look at certain bathroom items the same away ever again! It was all sorted out, but whilst he was there my man naturally picked up lots of other local gossip as well. Most of it was what you would expect, but one thing struck me as odd, and I do not like odd.”
“Go on”, Sherlock said.
“One of the villagers was worried that, last year, a local girl had gone off to join some sort of commune at Dunwich, a few miles up the coast”, she said. “My fellow's report of the area was so positive, I have myself been looking at moving to the area myself; ever since they went and built that new army base at Redford, my little slice of Mercian peace and quiet is damn noisy!”
“You do not wish to investigate the matter yourself?” I asked curiously. Our visitor shook her head.
“I just gather information and sell it”, she said. “I leave the investigating to geniuses – genii? - like Blue-Eyes here. But I am due to go up there at the end of next week to finish the Aldeburgh case off, so if it is not all sorted by then, you can tell me how things are going.”
“This "Færie Dell" place has been going for quite some time”, I told Sherlock the following day. I had gone to the library to do some research on the place for him, as he had sprained his ankle for reasons that….. well, I am not going into all the details, save to say it involved a certain piece of equipment left on the floor by a momentarily untidy doctor (look, I had had other things on what remained of my mind at the time!), and that a certain detective had not spotted, had stepped on and fallen over. It had quite put a damper on our morning’s activities, although bandaging up a patient’s leg had never been quite so much fun, and certainly had never taken quite so very long.
Those blue eyes smouldered at me, and I made sure to keep the table between me and my mercifully incapacitated patient.
“Down, boy!” I ordered. “You need complete rest for at least forty-eight hours.”
“I do not mind being on my back”, he smirked, “provided I can have you on top of me.”
I waved an admonitory finger at him.
“Not whilst you are recovering”, I told him playfully. “Though perhaps once you are fully recovered, then we might play doctor and patient again.”
His eyes twinkled, but he subsided back into full repose, so I went and sat opposite him.
“The place was one of those so-called 'Century Cults'”, I went on. “There were a whole lot of them about three years ago – a bit like that terrible Millennium Falcon thing, I suppose - all convinced that the end of the nineteenth century was to be the end of the world. Which with the mess the world is in right now is, I suppose, understandable. Almost makes me glad I am going to miss the same thing when years start beginning with a two; that will be so many times worse! Most of these cults disappeared when 1901 amazingly arrived bang on schedule, but “Færie Dell” did not. It is only a small thing, but it is still going.”
“The library had information on it, then?” Sherlock asked. “One would have assumed that a small quasi-religious grouping in rural Suffolk would not interest them much.”
“The 'local girl' who went there was a daughter of one of the principal families in the area”, I said, “so it made the national papers. Miss Felicity Wyndham-Connaught; her father is Lord Harringay, who sits in the House of Lords and speaks out a lot there. He is known as Old Windy, because his speeches do go on. Anyway, there was a huge fuss when the daughter slipped away from home without telling the parents, and they went to law to get her back. She came very unwillingly, it was said; they shuttled her off to the Continent to keep her from the clutches of the cult leader. Luxembourg or some such place, I think that they sent her.”
“Who is the leader of this 'cult'?” Sherlock asked.
“He is known to his followers as just ‘Gila’, which is the name of a venomous lizard found in the south-western United States of America”, I said. “His real name, as far as the newspapers could ascertain, is Mr. Emmanuel, from Oklahoma in the west of the United States. Quite what he is doing on the Suffolk coast is a mystery. It cannot be the money, for he apparently refuses all donations from his ‘ladies’; indeed, it is hard to see how the place pays for itself, especially if the nosy London papers cannot ferret it out. All the ladies take names starting with the letter ‘G’ on arrival. None are compelled to stay, according to interviews done with some of them by the local police force after the disappearance, but none expressed the slightest wish to leave. They run the gamut from rich to poor, across all social classes.”
“Very strange”, Sherlock said thoughtfully. “This 'Gila' must be quite something.”
Neither of us had any idea at the time just how true that statement was.
“Færie Dell” (honestly!) was an open establishment, which meant that anyone could turn up at any time. Indeed, the problem with the Wyndham-Connaught girl had not so much been locating her as persuading her to leave; the social pages of the "Times" (which I may have occasionally glanced at on the odd occasion, and a certain blue-eyed genius could stop sniggering right this minute!) stated that she had broken off all communication with her parents when they had sent her abroad, and only the efforts of her relations over there had effected a reconciliation.
At the time of the story, the papers had made much play of Mr. Emmanuel’s nationality, calling him ‘another venomous lizard exported from the United States”, but this had elicited an angry response from the American ambassador in London, and the appellation had been swiftly dropped. I myself was unsure about the whole thing; Mr. Emmanuel did not seem to be gaining very much from his commune, and clearly no-one was being kept there against their will. Unless, that was, there was some means of persuading them that had not been made clear as yet. Drugs, perhaps, but the police had found nothing but contented people there.
Sherlock’s ankle had taken some time to recover, and it was not until the middle of the following week that I judged him ready for travel. That was Wednesday, which we mostly spent on other things (horizontal other things, but also vertical and even upside-down at one point), so it was not until Thursday that we finally decamped to Liverpool Street Station, for a Great Eastern Railway express to Ipswich. From that town we took a slower train that chuntered unhurriedly along the line through some pleasant countryside, and we finally alighted at Darsham, the nearest station to Dunwich.
I was sure that Sherlock knew it, but I was quite looking forward to seeing Dunwich, or what remained of it, anyway. Like many people, I knew that in the Middle Ages it had been a great port, as large as London by some accounts, but a run of terrible storms in the late thirteenth century had torn away huge parts of the city, and its remaining citizens had not unnaturally lost confidence in it, drifting away to other towns. A strange choice of place for anyone to choose to come to, let alone someone who had travelled halfway round the world.
We arrived at “Færie Dell”, and sent up our cards and a request to speak with Mr. Emmanuel. A reply came back almost immediately; he was currently occupied, but was pleased that we had called, and definitely wished to talk with us. If we could but wait for but half an hour, he would be down. The lady who talked with us was somewhat oddly dressed, I thought, in long flowing blue and green robes that would have been more suited to the climate of India than East Suffolk, but I supposed that it was each to their own.
After what seemed like an interminable wait, the lady reappeared and announced Mr. Emmanuel. A tallish dark-haired man walked into the room, and for once even Sherlock was surprised. I, on the other hand, was speechless.
It was none other than Mr. Jimmy Collins!
Fifteen years ago since we had first clapped eyes on Sherlock's twin in that Nottinghamshire forest by the village of Gotham, and apart from the welcome removal of his terrible broken expression back then, he seemed not to have changed a bit. Indeed, he was possibly the only person of my acquaintance who could look worse than his twin of a morning. Then again, my friend did have certain advantages in that department.
“Greetings Sherlock, John”, our host said affably. “I have been expecting you both. I hope that your ankle is better, brother. It is good to see you both again, alive and well.”
A faint memory stirred in my mind. He smiled at me – about the only difference between the twins was that this man's eyes were a regular blue rather than Sherlock's almost preternatural colouring – and nodded.
“We seem fated to meet at railway stations”, he observed. “Faversham, doctor?”
“You were the guard who helped me!” I said, remembering. “Mr. Albert West.”
“You needed to be at that mine quite quickly”, he said. “I merely expedited the process.”
“But how did you know to be there?” I asked.
“Ill-disposed as I once was to believe in the preternatural”, he said, “my being rescued by dear Miss Allen at Apollo's former temple seems to have made the preternatural believe in me. Yes, I have some quite potent precognitive powers. And to answer the doctor’s next question, yes, I do sometimes bet on the horses. That is how this place pays for itself.”
I blushed. I had been thinking exactly that. And now I had two of them at it!
“One should try not to alter history in any way, shape or form”, our host said, “but of course, when one has a gift such as this, one is always tempted. And I was able to use it to a limited extent to monitor you, Sherlock, which was why I made sure that I was there at Faversham. And, later, in the same county, at Tonbridge.”
The mysterious carriage door that opened from an empty compartment, I remembered. He nodded at me.
“And not forgetting Brightlingsea”, he prompted. “It was, I must say, quite pleasurable to see the expression on Mr. Alistair Campbell's face when I appeared in that compartment, especially as he thought Sherlock to be many miles away. I believe that particular personage is currently not that far away from there. Or at least, what the fishes have left of him.”
I sat there in stunned silence. Sherlock, of course, seemed quite calm.
“I must say, brother”, our host said, “that your life has been a series of spectacular ups and downs thus far – especially yesterday! - and I am quite relieved to see that you appear to be heading for calmer waters.”
He had an almost hypnotic voice; either that or else I really wanted to believe him.
“What about Miss Wyndham-Connaught?” I asked. “Surely you failed there?”
“On the contrary”, he said. “I succeeded, albeit that I had to use somewhat devious means. I knew that there was a son of a family friend who would prove an excellent match for her, but that they were unlikely ever to meet, as the man's father had rather tiresomely moved to the Low Countries. However, when the willful daughter runs away from home and fights all efforts to get her to return, well.... what else is a loving father to do but to move her as far away as possible from the source of all the trouble? Flick sent me a telegram only the other week, and she is over the moon after her father accepted her choice of future husband. She and Franz will do well together, provided they move to Switzerland as I advised them to.”
“And now you wished to see me”, Sherlock said thoughtfully. “Any particular reason, brother?”
Mr. Emmanuel smiled.
“If I told you everything, you might well become complacent”, he said cheerily. “No, Sherlock. You still have just over a year before you and your friend here can sail off into the sunset, and enjoy the long and happy retirement that you have so richly earnt. I do have something to tell you, but I cannot reveal it for another twenty-four hours. If you can find a place to stay overnight, then you should come back here tomorrow afternoon with your friend Miss Bradbury, and we can finalize what needs finalizing. Gilda?”
The middle-aged lady who had remained quietly in the background (and was still wearing the weirdly-coloured bed-sheet!) crossed to the door. Clearly it was time for us to leave. Sherlock looked at his twin, then smiled and left, with me close behind.
“I still find that creepy”, I complained, as we sat on the beach at Dunwich that evening. This was one of the things I liked to do when we were in the country, to go out and look at the star-filled skies, something that was becoming increasingly rare in a London that seemed to grow bigger and dirtier with each passing day. It was almost dark now and we had the beach to ourselves, a brief passing shower having driven everyone else off to the village.
Sherlock yawned, but said nothing.
“Do you think that your brother really can foresee the future?” I wondered, gazing out onto a flat calm North Sea.
Sherlock stood up, and I heard rather than saw him clambering up onto the sandbank behind us, presumably to get a better view.
“If you had his power, would you not do exactly as he has done?” he asked.
“What, bet on the horses?”
“It must be both a blessing and a curse, in some ways”, Sherlock mused.
“How can knowing the winner of the 3.15 at Ascot at three o'clock be a curse?” I asked reasonably. “Except perhaps for the bookies.”
“Because if there is someone that you love, you may not always be able to help them”, Sherlock said seriously. “Remember Mrs. Moseley, who could not save her husband despite her precognition? Those times that Jimmy saw me suffering and he could do nothing about it; he could only help me by helping you. I know that, had the positions been reversed, I would have suffered dreadfully at such inaction.”
I smiled as I heard him descend the sandbank. Then he came around to stand in front of me, and I stopped smiling very quickly. Somehow, without my hearing a thing, he had got himself completely naked.
“John”, he growled, “let us have sex on the beach!”
I stared at him in shock. True, it was dark and there was no-one about or likely to be about, but the sandy shore stretched on endlessly north and south, and we would have no warning if anyone came into view. Or through the gated gap in the sandbank.
Sherlock grinned at me, and lowered himself in front of me, beginning to pluck at my clothes. I had never been one for exhibitionism, but suddenly I was very aroused, and keen to join the party. Especially when Sherlock stopped pawing at me and began to saunter casually towards the sea.
Somehow I managed to get myself undressed, and hastened after him. He was standing waist-deep in the waves, and I thought instinctively of that painting with Venus rising from the foamy waves – except that my man was way more beautiful than any goddess of love. I ran into the sea to join him, then ran out again a whole lost faster, biting my lip to avoid screaming at the cold.
All right, there may have been a very slight and somewhat high-pitched manly expression of surprise. For some little time.
“Come on in, John”, he grinned. “The water's lovely!”
I scowled at him, gritted my teeth and made my second, rather more careful entrance to Neptune's bloody freezing kingdom. I half expected to see a few icebergs floating merrily by, but I had forgotten what a human heater my man was, and as soon as I was plastered against that gorgeous body, I quickly began to warm up. Indeed, I was so intent on touching him at as many points as possible that I did not even notice where his hand was going, until it wrapped around both our hardening cocks and began to jerk us both off. I instinctively leant back in my ecstasy, which proved to be a mistake as my top half immediately all but froze, and I hugged Sherlock hard to regain the lost warmth. What with that and the cold trying to break in between us, my orgasm took me completely by surprise, and I sagged against him when it was done, totally spent.
He proved how strong that slender frame was by all but carrying me onto the beach and laying me out, then folding himself on to of me before rolling us both over several times on the soft sands. I was covered by the time he was done, and I groaned. That would mean another dip in the sea to clean myself off.....
That would mean another dip in the sea to clean myself off.....
I would have run back down the beach, but my legs were annoyingly uncooperative. So I just lay there on top of him, smiling down at my beautiful, beautiful mate.
Miss Bradbury had come up by the first train of the day to Aldeburgh, completed her business there, and then hired a cab to take her on to Dunwich just after lunch. She was clearly suspicious of Mr. Emmanuel, and the three of us returned to “Færie Dell” somewhat apprehensively.
Mr. Emmanuel – Jimmy - wanted a private word with Sherlock first, which I could understand, so Miss Bradbury and I sat in the waiting-room and... well, waited. The same lady from last time – Gilda, if I recalled – was the one who ushered Sherlock in, and she was still wearing that frankly ridiculous bed-sheet, doing some paperwork or other at a desk in the corner. Miss Bradbury seemed unusually quiet, I recall; normally she was buzzing with energy each time we met. I was considering remarking on the fact, until something in the newspaper caught my eye.
“Oh my Lord!” I burst out. She looked at me in surprise.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Listen to this”, I said. “There was drama in Baker Street, London, last night, when that busy thoroughfare was witness to a gunfight more more suited to a Wild West boulevard. Only by the miraculous workings of Providence did the only victim turn out to be the man who had caused it all, a Mr. Julian Ritchings.”
“Who is he?” Miss Bradbury asked.
“Sherlock got him put away back in 'Ninety-Six; he was part of the Gorton Street Gang that robbed the West Central Bank”, I told her. “Two of them swung for killing the guards, but his lawyer, a smarmy little oik called Cable, managed to persuade the judge that his client had been forced into it, and he only got seven years. He must have been after Sherlock!”
“Except thanks to Mr. Emmanuel, neither of you was there”, she pointed out.
I nodded and read on. It had been the most amazing good fortune (though evidently not for Mr. Ritchings) that he had been stopped outside 221B by a group of policemen who had just raided a house nearby, and had confiscated a whole set of loaded guns. Of course the London bobby was, quite rightly, not armed, but in this case the criminal had been exceptionally – and fatally - unlucky.
Or had he?
Soon after, we were shown in to Mr. Emmanuel. He greeted us, and bade us sit down.
“I see from the newspaper that the doctor is carrying that you have read the news from London”, he said with an affable smile.
I wondered how he had managed to have us here on exactly the right date, which would have meant that he knew what had caused Sherlock's leg injury, which meant..... no, not going there!
Then I remembered. He had asked after that injury the day before. And he had smiled when he had mentioned recent 'ups and downs'. Damnation!
“I am not some producer of these 'films', monitoring every movement of your lives, doctor”, he smiled. “If I were, I might have filmed certain events on a nearby beach last night. Miss Bradbury?”
I blushed even deeper. Miss Bradbury had seemed distracted again, but snapped to attention.
“Yes?” she said.
“Two things”, Mr. Emmanuel said. “First, I do advise you to get the house you looked at this morning very thoroughly checked over. The fact that the current owner is not only going abroad but is also asking almost five per cent below the going market rate – well, I am sure that you are probably suspicious already. Although you might want to take a deep breath before you look behind the bookcase in the cupboard under the stairs. And perhaps take the added precaution of not having eaten anything heavy beforehand.”
“And second”, Mr. Emmanuel continued, “East Suffolk really is a most pleasant area in which to settle, and the government is unlikely to want to build any army camps this close to a vulnerable coastline. If you are to move here, perhaps I can ask one of the ladies to show you around a little. I am sure that dear Gilda could make herself.... available.”
The blush returned. Ah. That explained Miss Bradbury's distraction. Mr. Emmanuel turned to me.
“I have given my dear brother a list of certain things to come, which he might care to try to avoid”, he said carefully. “Not so much for the two of you – you are almost home free, as they say, but for those close to you. Family, we believe here, does not end in blood. But doctor, I will tell you one thing that may interest you.”
I leant forward. “Yes?” I asked.
“My brother has shown a remarkable flexibility when it comes to dealing with the difference between justice and the law”, he said. “Come to that, he is remarkably flexible in other matters too, but let us not go there just now.”
Aliens in a passing spaceship could have seen my blush.
“Your retirement is guaranteed”, Mr. Emmanuel said, “and it will be long and happy. But it will be disturbed by some three cases. One that will involve an item of clothing, one that will involve someone close to you, and one....”
He hesitated. I started to feel very bad.
“One in which you yourself will consider murdering someone!” he said.
Mr. Emmanuel would say no more and we were ushered out, somehow losing Miss Bradbury on the way (I suspected that Gilda was involved in that). I was a little worried by the seer's words, but Sherlock seemed truly happy at having met his twin again, and I suppose that that was enough for me.
Fourteen months to go.
In our next adventure, I learn again that the medium of photography can be mis-used, and that seeing is not always believing.....