The Private Journal of Adelaide Stratton
I'm not sure I will ever show this journal to anyone other than myself, however some sort of record should be made of the amazing two men I've had the pleasure, and frustration, of working with during my time as a police constable for the Metropolitan Police Force. Neither of them would be particularly flattered by this record. Doctor Doyle would be embarrassed and flustered by such a document, Mr. Houdini would simply laugh. Regardless, I make the record anyway, if only for my own pleasure in my old age.
Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle and Mr. Harry Houdini, two of the most recognized names in the world. Most people only know them as the father of Sherlock Holmes and the greatest escape artist of our time; I'm proud call both of them friend, even though we had a rather rough beginning.
One of the most important things to know about these men is that both of them are exceptional at hiding their true selves. The press and the world see what they are are supposed to see: a respected doctor and author in the one and an ostentatious, American showman in the other. As I get to know them, I realize how much more there is to know about each of them.
Looking at these two men together, you wonder how they could ever be friends. They are separated by religion, nationality, personality, not to mention age, with the Doctor fifteen years the senior. And yet, in spite of all of that they are very close friends indeed. The only area where they strongly disagree is with regard to the supernatural.
You would expect the author of Sherlock Holmes to be the skeptic while the magician favors the supernatural. Again, though, you would be deceived. Doctor Doyle is a fervent believer while Houdini's a vicious critic of all the so-called charlatans.
They challenge each other, force the other to think and defend his position. Even with, or perhaps it's because of all the differences, they … we … make a formidable team solving cases with Scotland Yard.
The silence inside the tank was almost peaceful; he'd spent so much of his life in and under water it was almost a comfort. As Harry set to work on the various locks, he found himself enjoying the moment just a little. This was when he felt the most alive. His hands were mostly freed before the drape for the tank was all the way down, his feet though, were a problem this time. He was able to free one foot easily enough, but as he hung upside down, he struggled with one of the locks as he realized he couldn't free his other foot. Florrie had overtightened one of the locks and he wondered briefly if he would have to break his ankle … again … to get free. Finally, the lock came loose just as his internal timer said he was nearing the four minute mark and he climbed out of the tank to stand triumphant when the drape rose again.
He stood on top of the tank and revelled in the thunderous applause as the full theater reacted to seeing him alive and well, this escape a closer shave than any of them realized. Harry held on as a rope lowered him back down to the stage and he noticed Florrie looking a little scared. He smiled and waved at the crowd until the stage curtain came down, then took his assistant aside. Florrie tried to tell him she was sorry about the foot locks, but Harry was distracted from her apology by the newspaper the stagehand was busy reading.
Ghost Killer Stalks Convent. Houdini read the headline and couldn't believe it. Of all the irresponsible … who allowed them to print that? Harry wanted to know. And he knew just who to ask.
"Prove? Ten-thousand American dollars say you can't prove anything," Harry challenged, holding up the money.
Doyle stared at him, and Harry refused to break the eye-contact; he did grin confidently as he watched Doyle's face.
"I'll accept your bet, but for my end I'll put up a first edition of my new book, The Great Boer War," Doyle replied.
Harry noticed Merring flinch at the book title but let the moment go as he realized the chief was not impressed with their wager. Merring sat behind his desk frowning at the two interlopers in his office and attempted to toss them both out. Harry had other ideas, if Doyle was set on proving spirits existed, he was just as determined to prove they didn't.
Houdini wasn't intimidated by the chief's glower and he noticed Doyle wasn't cowed, either. He offered, instead, to go over Merring to the head of Scotland Yard. He wanted to prove ghosts were just figments of the imagination, wishful thinking. If the Metropolitan Police was going to be so foolhardy as to allow the press to publish such nonsense as the headline he read at the theater, then he would use that same police force to prove all of them wrong.
Before he could say anything, Doyle jumped in with his own reason for investigating: to show once and for all that spirits were all around, watching us, helping us, waiting to communicate if we would only give them the means.
Harry immediately jumped into the argument and presented his own point of view to Doyle, countering everything the other man had said. He'd forgotten Merring was even there until the chief offered a solution, they could look into the murder, but one his officers would work with them during their investigation.
Harry was gazing out the window when Sergeant Gudgett returned along with a woman, Harry assumed was there to ask about refreshments. He was surprised when the woman was introduced as Constable Stratton. Harry watched as said Constable Stratton accepted the assignment to work on the case and was impressed by her ability to stand in a room with her superior officer, a best-selling author, not to mention himself and not show any signs of intimidation. Her handshake with Doyle was firm and she even made a cheeky retort to his, Harry's, comments. Oh, this could work out well, he thought as he followed Doyle out of the Chief Inspector's office.
"You really think there is a ghost involved in this?" Houdini asked Doyle as the three of them walked down the steps of the Metropolitan Police. Harry shoved his hands in his trouser pockets as he waited for Doyle to respond.
Doyle blew out a long-suffering sigh and retorted, "I don't need to think it, Harry, Scotland Yard has a witness who saw the ghost. Did you read Sergeant Gudgett's report?"
"Come on," Harry replied in disbelief. He turned to Adelaide with a cheeky grin. "Back me up, Constable, there are no such things as ghost killers. Explain to Mr. Doyle here the reality of murder so I can win my bet."
"That's Doctor, by the way," Doyle interjected.
"Sorry," Harry said sarcastically, "Explain to Doctor Doyle about how murder really works. It's people killing other people!" Harry exclaimed, shooting his hands out of his pockets and into the air.
"Hang on," Adelaide said. She stopped walking forcing the two men to backtrack to her. "What bet?" she asked crossing her arms and glaring back and forth.
"Oh," Houdini said with a smile. "It's simple really. All we have to do is disprove this silly ghost idea and Doyle here is giving me a first edition copy of his latest book. I need it for a doorstop," he stage whispered the last part in her ear while looking at Doyle, eyes twinkling with mischief.
Doyle simply rolled his eyes at the remark and stated, "No, when we prove there is a ghost, Mister Houdini will be making a ten thousand dollar payment to my bank account"
"Listen to the pair of you," she exclaimed. "Now I see why I'm supposed to play nursemaid, you're a couple of children!" As Harry stood open-mouthed at the tirade from the constable, Adelaide walked away.
"It's just a bet," Harry tried to explain to her retreating back.
"No, it's my job," Adelaide pointed out and led them into the subway.
Harry listened as Doyle asked about keys and other details and was only slightly surprised when Doyle closed the door to the Sister's office in his face and the turned the lock. Really, Doyle? Harry thought as he quickly picked the lock.
He walked back in the room and showed the paper clip he'd used to open the door, even more proof he pointed out that a living person could easily do the same. For every argument Doyle made to prove the existence of Lucy Allthorpe's ghost, Harry had a counter argument showing an everyday human committed the murder.
Harry sat at the desk and went through the drawers as he continued to bicker with Doyle. He stopped when he found a ledger detailing the amount of money brought in by the laundry. And yet those girls downstairs are penniless and destined to stay that way, Harry was less impressed by the minute of the so-called charity of the Laundry. He'd escaped from prisons with better conditions.
Sister Mathilda appeared at the door with the novice, Winnie, and Harry watched as the Sister refused to let the novice speak about Lucy Allthorpe, much less let the girl tell them what she saw the night of the murder. Harry knew they would never get any straight answers from the scared girl and sent the Sister away on a pretext.
Winnie told her story of making rounds and finding Sister Fabian dead in her chair, her throat cut and her hair hacked off. She then explained how she saw Lucy Allthorpe's ghost disappear through a solid wall moments after she found the Sister's body. Winnie was convinced Lucy's ghost had committed murder, and worse Doyle seemed almost eager to believe along with her.
What is he looking for, Harry wondered. This is more than just a scientific pursuit; this is a quest, a need to know something more is possible. He had seen that sort of need before, on the faces of people he had swindled when he was younger. If only you knew the truth, Doc.
Harry couldn't stand it any longer and finally interrupted with what he felt was a better reason for the murder, theft of the laundry money, and asked the novice where the money was kept.
"You're suggesting this was a robbery." Doyle stated.
"I don't believe anything without evidence," Harry clarified as Winnie set a small cash box on the desk.
It was as easy to pick the lock on the box as it had been to pick the door lock and Harry looked in the box and lifted out the insert. Tipping the empty box up for Doyle and Adelaide to see, he announced, "Now I'm suggesting this was a robbery."
"This is a compelling argument for his side, Doctor Doyle," Adelaide said as she examined the empty box.
Doyle said nothing, but accepted the box when Adelaide passed it over to him.
"Robbery, my dear Constable." He nodded to Adelaide. "My dear Doctor," Harry said to Doyle with a grin. "A very human motive to kill someone. So, I believe I've made my point and you owe me a copy of your book."
Doyle grimaced and returned the box to the desk.
Harry tucked the paper clip in a pocket of his waistcoat and walked toward the door.
"Where are you going?" Adelaide asked and Harry turned and walked back to her.
"It seems to me we're pretty much done here and I have to get things ready for a show at the theater," Harry explained as he took her hand. "It's been a pleasure, Constable," he said, shaking her hand. "Let me know if you ever need my help again with any locks."
Harry nodded in Doyle's direction and left.
Adelaide sighed and walked out of the nunnery with Doyle in tow. If she were honest, it had been interesting to work with both Houdini and Doctor Doyle. She never would have expected the level of passion from either of them, nor the way each could look at evidence and deduce plausible causes. They would make excellent police investigators, Adelaide mused to herself and smiled. If they weren't busy with theater shows and writing best-selling books.
From her point of view, the worst part was she would be sent back in the basement. True she hadn't given Merring any reason to doubt her abilities, but she hadn't really shown what she could do with an investigation either.
She watched as Doctor Doyle headed for a corner and hailed a cab. What did he mean about not being quite done with the case, she wondered as she walked back to the station. They had no leads on who could have stolen the money or who would kill to do it.
Thankfully, there was no one upstairs in the station to ask her about the case and Adelaide took that as a good sign as she went down to the basement. Instead of filling out reports, however, she sat before the typewriter and stared into space. One of the few niceties of working alone, no one was around to yell at her for daydreaming.
One afternoon, she thought to herself. One afternoon to prove herself to Merring and she was done, back downstairs, back to filing and typing and no real police work. Houdini had good evidence for a robbery, which meant no ghost. No ghost meant Houdini at least was no longer interested in the case; would Merring allow Doyle to continue once he found out the truth?
She returned to the typewriter with sad grace. Maybe there is still a way to show the Chief what I can really do. As Doctor Doyle said, we do still need to find a thief who is presumably also a murderer. To that end, she sent a bobby to the nunnery for records of the girls working in the laundry and anyone else who might have a reason to murder Sister Fabian.
It was late when she finished the last of the reports and entered Merrings office to drop them off. As she closed the door after leaving the papers on the chief's desk, she turned to find Doctor Doyle walking toward her.
"I have a lead on our robber," he told her quietly and led her to a corner of the room. "I have a, a source who thinks we will find our man in Whitechapel, bragging about his ill-gotten gains."
While pleased with the idea of a fresh lead, Adelaide was still a police officer and needed more information. "Where did you find this out? Did you go back and talk to Winnie or one of the laundry girls?"
"Not exactly," Doyle said looking away from her. "I've been working with a medium to find out something, else, something unrelated to this case."
"I see," Adelaide said hesitantly. "And you believe this person?"
"There's one way to find out, Constable. She told me to look for a sooty man talking to a rabbit."
Adelaide could feel her confidence waning as she watched the crowd. Any number of the men looked fairly dirty and Whitechapel wasn't the most honest district in London. This was a mistake, she told herself. Why did I agree to come here with him? What will Chief Merring say when he finds out the lead we were following came from a medium?
Just as she was about to suggest they try another pub, a man walked in that looked to be their suspect.
Adelaide admitted to herself she never actually expected this lead to bear fruit and she wasn't sure what to do now that it apparently had led them to the thief just as Doyle's medium said.
Doyle however had a rather direct way of finding out. He went up to the sooty man asked asked him if his friends knew he was a thief. As the man turned to run, Adelaide used her cosh and hit him behind the ear. She wasn't sure who was more surprised, the patrons in the pub of Doctor Doyle.
Adelaide opened her bag and found her whistle. She left Doyle to watch the suspect and went outside to alert any bobbies in the neighborhood. When she came back in with a rather young patrolman, Doyle was kneeling next to the man on the floor, checking him over and the room was distinctly emptier than when she'd left a few minutes before.
"Take him to Sergeant Gudgett," Adelaide directed the bobby as he and Doyle got the sooty man to his feet. "Let him know this man is a suspect in a robbery at the Magdalene Laundry."
The bobby took his man in a strong hold and led him out of the pub. Doyle brushed off the knees of his trousers and said, "I think we need to let Houdini know about this, don't you?"
Adelaide could see the doctor was looking rather pleased with himself and wondered how Houdini would react.
Harry stood, hands on hips in disbelief. He looked at Adelaide as if to say 'You went along with this?' before telling Doyle exactly what he thought of his so-called suspect. As he spoke he wandered backstage where Adelaide was surprised to see of all things a ping-pong table, or whiff-whaff as Harry called it.
As they started to play, Harry gave his own theory of the crime and explained how it must be an inside job as who else would know there was money at the nunnery to steal. Adelaide watched as they batted the theory back and forth as effortlessly as the ball they played with. She was impressed, not only by the deductive reasoning but how the two men listened to each other and could argue a point using logic.
Adelaide thought they were on the verge of a breakthrough when the the stage lights dimmed and a shape flew past the table in a rush, leaving them a message written in blood. Adelaide wasn't sure what had just happened, but Doyle quickly discovered the "blood" was really just colored corn syrup. Harry admitted he pulled the trick to prove his point, that a regular human being could fake a ghost to get away with a murder.
It was with that little stunt the goodwill evaporated and Doyle went on the attack. "Why do you refuse to believe? Do you really think so much of yourself you can't accept anything out there bigger than you," Doyle demanded walking away from the younger man toward the edge of the stage.
Adelaide watched as Harry's face and body language went from that of a man in a lively, intellectual debate, to someone hurt and defensive in an instant.
Harry took the verbal thrashing for half a beat before retaliating, "Why can't you accept that this is all there is?" Harry shouted back, closing the distance between them. "Who died that's so important that you can't stop chasing the dead instead of enjoying the living?"
Adelaide's stood stunned by the sudden shouting match between the two but hurried toward the front of the stage when she saw Doyle angrily round on Harry. Even after only one day, she was used to Arthur being calm and logical in the face of Houdini's more energetic style of discourse but this time Harry had crossed a line and she was afraid Doyle really would strike the magician.
Harry just stood in the face of Doyle's anger and encouraged him, "Come on, Doc, do your worst." He waited with his arms outstretched inviting the doctor to hit him. Adelaide scrambled to separate the two and was almost relieved when Sergeant Gudgett interrupted with the announcement of Sister Mathilda's death.
As Harry left, mumbling about looking for his coat and tie. Arthur paced back and forth along the edge of the stage.
"Why?" he asked Adelaide glancing up-stage toward her. "Why is it so difficult for him to even consider he might be wrong, that there really is something else out there?" Doyle toyed with his hat as he paced.
Adelaide wasn't sure how to answer. Because you are both stubborn men, she thought to herself a bit viciously.
Out loud she only replied, "I'm sure he has his reasons." Even to her, it sounded weak.
Houdini re-appeared on the stage in a blue jacket and red tie. "Shall we, then?" he asked stiffly as he led the way off stage and toward the nearest exit.
Adelaide could see he was working hard to hide the signs of the recent verbal battle and near-blows. His body language however spoke of a man angry and hurt over the confrontation.
Doyle for his part, made a half-hearted effort to say something then changed his mind. Instead he jammed his hat on his head and followed Harry out of the theater.
Adelaide discovered the benefit of working with a showman when she knocked on the door of the Royal Suite of the Metropole Hotel later that night. It was late enough, or early enough depending on your point of view, that most sane people were long in their beds. Instead, she was scouring log books and blueprints while Harry was throwing a party.
She walked into the hotel room without thinking and froze when she saw the room and the people milling about in it. She recognized several of the men and women from newspaper stories and for once her courage failed her and she turned to leave.
Harry, however, was behind her wearing a formal tuxedo; instead of throwing her out, he took her arm and encouraged her further into the room. He pointed out several of the luminaries she recognized as they crossed the room, and she was slightly amused to hear he'd hired an actor to play King Edward.
Just then a beautiful woman entered the room and Adelaide watched as Harry's entire aspect changed. This was not the cocky performer she was used to seeing, so self-assured and ready to do battle, or place an outrageous bet, with anyone over anything. He was quiet, maybe a bit sad and Adelaide saw the love shining on his face as he watched his mother meet and greet her birthday guests.
"We never had much growing up. Best thing about my success is I can give her the kind of life she deserves," Harry said in a low voice.
Adelaide felt even more like an interloper and stood silently watching the party until Harry led her into the library to find out why she was there.
She was instantly aware of two things when she entered the large, book-lined room. One made her smile the other frown in consternation. The first was a series of green bound books lined up in a place of pride on Harry's desk.
Doorstop my eye, she thought to herself smiling.
For all the disagreement, Houdini did respect Doyle, the evidence was right there for anyone to see: a complete set of first edition works by one Arthur Conan Doyle. She wondered if Harry would ever tell Doyle the truth about the books.
The second item, the one that made her frown, was the series of pictures arrayed along one wall of the room above the desk. Mediums, spirit photographers, fortune tellers. All of them laid out in such a way as to almost torture whoever sat at the desk.
Houdini's tone was angry as he explained about the bloodsuckers and his never-ending quest to get rid of those that would prey on the grieving. She was shocked to hear him say it was his responsibility to stop them. Why would he think that? She wondered. He accuses Doctor Doyle of chasing the dead, but here he is torturing himself with a battle he can never completely win.
She was rather proud of herself for finding the secret passage and explaining how Lucy's ghost could use it to get from the grave site to the office. Harry just looked at her with disbelief then proceeded to shred her hypothesis. When he told her she was just a girl, not the intelligent girl he thought she was, and to go off and find a man to buy her dresses, Adelaide lost her temper. She didn't care that he was a famous performer. She didn't care they were in what amounted to his home. She told Houdini exactly what she thought of his condescending remark and would have told him a few more things if the phone hadn't rung.
She started to leave but Harry stopped her with a hand on her arm. "That was Doyle," he explained hanging up the phone. "He says he's found something at the nunnery and we need to meet him there."
Adelaide stepped back from him and nodded. She didn't trust herself yet to speak to him.
Harry took off his tie and continued in a neutral voice, "I need to let my mother know I'm leaving her alone with her guests. Should I meet you outside the hotel or at the laundry?"
She smiled a little and accepted his attempt to make peace. "I'll have a cab waiting downstairs," she said and left the room.
Doyle was waiting outside the laundry when the cab with Harry and Adelaide arrived. Once he had them in Sister Fabian's office, he showed them the vase with the daisies and when Harry scoffed at this evidence, he showed them the box with the missing money he'd found under a floorboard.
"You were right about embezzlement," he told Harry. "But you were wrong about robbery. Sister Fabian was putting away a little something for herself. All of the missing money is in here." He dropped the small box on the desk. So there goes your theory about a robber killing the Sister, he thought. Lucy's ghost is starting to look more and more likely.
"OK, so we're back to Winnie or any of the other girls who knew Lucy and the name of her baby and liked to pick flowers," Harry said dismissively as he sat on the edge of the desk.
Doyle was about the reply when something odd happened. He felt suddenly cold and the ends of his fingers were tingling. He looked around and out of the corner of his eye, he saw … something. The others must have seen it as well as Harry looked startled and Adelaide ducked away from … something. As quickly as the ghost appeared it flew through the wall and vanished.
"What was that?" Doyle asked looking at Harry as the room returned to normal. "An encore?"
"That wasn't me," Harry denied and Doyle thought he looked a little pale.
By silent agreement the three of them left the office and headed out of the nunnery. Doyle was amazed; he had proof. Real proof and Houdini had witnessed it along with him. There was no way he could deny what they just saw … what they all felt in that room.
Harry, however was not accepting anything it seemed. He left the nunnery at a near run and rejected everything he and Adelaide said about the encounter with Lucy's ghost.
Doyle wasn't going to let him get away with denying what they'd just experienced. Shadows? Reflections? He won't admit what's right in front of him. He caught up with the younger man and confronted him. "I was wrong about you. It's not that you think too much of yourself, it's that you think too little. You're afraid that if there is something more, you won't be worthy of it! Why?" he shouted the question to Harry's back.
Doyle stared after the other man as Harry stormed out of the alley, passed the waiting hansom, and seemed intent on walking back to the Metropole Hotel. He had known Houdini off and on for several months and the younger man was determined to ruin any chance he, Doyle, had to prove the supernatural, to contact Touie. Doyle's frustration at Harry's attitude was rising more and more often with this case. First at the theater and now in the alley, and Doyle was forced to think about something other than his increasingly desperate attempts to talk to his ailing wife.
Why was Harry so determined to prove mediums were a fraud? The woman Doyle was currently using had told him where to find the sooty man, who was a thief afterall. Granted, he wasn't the thief he and Adelaide thought he was when they confronted him, but he was still a thief and his current medium did know something about the nunnery, she had predicted a second murder.
Even with the proof they had all just witnessed, Harry was determined not to believe it. Lucy had been there, in the room. He knew it. Adelaide knew it. But no, Houdini had to be stubborn; focused only on the mundane. There was something more, something beyond this existence. There had to be.
The revelation that Harry was actually afraid to think about something beyond this everyday existence hit Doyle like a lightening bolt. In his anger, he gave it voice and watched as Houdini practically ran away from him and refused to answer. This was not the flamboyant showman or the outrageous American, this was a side of Houdini he hadn't seen before: out of his depth and afraid of what they had just witnessed. Doyle almost regretted his harsh tone, almost.
"How are you supposed to stop a ghost?" Adelaide asked, interrupting Doyle's train of thought.
"You find out what it wants," he replied, only giving her a passing glance as he followed Harry's path out of the alley. Doyle's mind turned over the case and their new evidence for Lucy's ghost killing people. He would prove Houdini wrong once and for all.
He gave the cab driver the address for his medium and climbed in; she would lead him to the answer and Harry would have to finally accept that communication with spirits was possible.
He watched as she seemed to enter a new trance and he heard Touie speaking to him. I will always come for you, my love, he thought as the medium allowed Touie to speak to him. He had so much he wanted to tell her, about himself and certainly about the children. He wanted her to know he was looking for any sort of cure and reassure her he hadn't given up.
Before he could say any of this, however, the medium continued, "Oh, it's wonderful to hear your voice again … since I died."
Arthur let go of the woman's hands and sat back. No, please no, not another one, he thought. He stood from the table and glared at the woman with disdain before leaving. He'd thought this one was a true mystic, this one was helping him talk to his wife.
Was Houdini right after all, he thought to himself sitting in a cab outside the woman's house. Harry called them charlatans, frauds, fakes; he'd spent years unmasking the lies, the tricks they used to manipulate people. They can't all be frauds, he reassured himself. Some of them had to be real. There had to be something the fakes were trying to capture, something he, Doyle, would discover and once again hear his beloved Touie talk to him.
'Why can't you accept that this is all there is!' Houdini's words from the theater echoed in Doyle's mind. Harry had been ready for Doyle to do anything, including hitting him, in order to make his point that the supernatural wasn't real.
She knew about the nunnery, Lucy's ghost, he insisted to himself. The messages get confused, the medium had admitted as much. Yes, right before she channeled your "deceased wife", he reminded himself harshly.
Was Houdini right after all?
He ordered the cab to drive out to the sanatorium. If he couldn't speak to his wife one way, he would use another.
After a few minutes of silence, he started to talk to her. He told her about the children and how they were doing in school. "Kingsley has quite the imagination. You would be amazed at the stories he comes up with; I've been encouraging him to write them down. When you're better he can read them to you.
"Mary misses you terribly. She is starting at a new school, Vera found it and it has a good reputation. She has made a few new friends, already." His voice petered out and he took a deep breath. He squeezed the hand he was holding gently and touched Touie's face.
Doyle looked away toward the stained glass window. "I don't know how to do this without you," he admitted softly. "You know a little about my father and I don't want to be like him. I don't want our children to fear me. I don't want them to hate me," he whispered. "Am I doing the right things for them?"
Doyle wiped his eyes, and looked back at his wife. "There is a new treatment the doctor wants to try," he told her, changing the subject. "There has been some success with it in France and he thinks it may help you as well. He plans to try it in a few days once he has the correct medicines."
He stood up from the bed and gazed down at his wife. After another moment he bent down to kiss her forehead again. "I do love you so very much," he whispered in her ear and quietly left the room.
Harry thought about the revelation he'd had last night. Vibrations, could it be that simple? he wondered as he tied his tie. He heard of such phenomena before but had never witnessed it. He confirmed his theory on the way out of the hotel by checking with the bellhops about the subway schedules.
Now that he had a plausible answer, his mood lightened and he headed for Doyle's townhouse to share his conclusions. He was still down the block when he saw Doyle leaving his house and hurried to catch up.
"Ha, I had an epiphany," he said as he stopped in front of the townhouse.
"Do you know who the murderer is?" Doyle asked wasting no time and walking back the way Harry had just come from.
"No, but I know --"
"Then my epiphany trumps yours," Doyle interrupted. "Come on."
Harry followed Doyle and was pleased to see they were heading for the subway. Just what I needed, he thought as they entered the car and started to move.
Harry listened as Doyle explained his idea about Lucy and her relationship to Sister Grace. It explained everything, but Harry wondered how they would prove it. When Doyle commented that his car would be faster, Harry glanced at his watch and knew he was wrong. I am right, he thought happily. Sorry, Doc, no ghosts today.
Doyle practically ran through the nunnery until he found Sergeant Gudgett outside Sister Fabian's office. Houdini was willing to bet the sergeant had been on duty all night from the look of him. He also had no patience for Doyle demanding to see Sister Grace and that he knew who the murderer was.
Harry stood by with a smile as Gudgett sarcastically claimed Sherlock Holmes had solved the case and he grinned even wider when Doyle punched the sergeant to shut him up. Who knew you had it in you, Doc, Harry silently praised. He was already planning the story he would tell Merring in case Gudgett decided to hold a grudge and arrest the doctor.
Doyle turned to confront Sister Grace as she came out of the office and Harry watched as Arthur easily proved how Sister Grace was Lucy's mother and had killed the others out of revenge. As they discussed a point about Sister Grace's motives, the Sister chose to run and led them back down to the bowels of the nunnery. They started to follow her through a narrow passage when the floor gave way and Harry found himself underwater.
He could feel his body starting to shiver as soon as he surfaced; looking at Doyle beside him, the doctor was faring just as badly, his hands shook as he tried to light matches.
Why is it so cold, Harry wondered until Doyle informed him the Thames was a tidal river and they needed to get out of the sewer sooner rather than later. The Thames, great, Harry thought as he tried to stop his teeth chattering. He hated escaping from cold water, it never went to plan. He pushed his fingers through the grate and felt the lock holding the gate closed.
Harry ran his fingers through various pockets looking for something, anything he could use to pick the lock. This is not good, not good, he thought to himself. Glancing at Doyle, Harry's eyes landed on the other man's shirt and the slight, rigid bumps near the points of his collar. Grabbing for the first collar stay he could reach, Harry went to work on the lock.
Doyle was still trying to keep a match lit in the dim light. Harry wasn't sure what he thought the matches would do exactly, picking locks was more touch than sight, but it kept Doyle busy and Harry, for once, didn't say anything. The lock was proving difficult; he could only wedge his fingers through the openings in the grate at an awkward angle, his hands were shaking, and the collar stay refused to fit in the lock's tumbler.
"Come on," he muttered to himself and the lock. "Come on." The water was up to their chins and Harry was starting to worry.
Doyle, thinking Harry was talking to him, explained, "They're wet." as he tried to light another match.
Harry's fingers were going numb from the cold water and the small bit of metal slipped from his hand. The river water also rose at an alarming rate and their small pocket of air was quickly disappearing. Just as Harry reached for the second stay, Doyle slipped under the water. Harry pulled him back up into what little air they had left and went to work with the second collar stay. Before he could start on the lock, Doyle went under again.
"Doc!" Harry called, frantically.
"Doc!" Harry gave up on the lock and dove for his friend. There wasn't much he could do now for either of them, but he wasn't going to let go of Doyle. Looking up he searched for another air pocket and instead saw a shape and the grate being moved. He kicked upward with what strength he had left and pulled Doyle up with him. He grabbed the side of the pit long enough to steady himself, then reached back to grab a fistful of Doyle's coat again to keep the doctor from sinking back into the river.
Adelaide stared down at both of them a look of shock and fear on her face.
Harry, still gripping Doyle's coat, confidently stated, "I had it."
Adelaide's look told him she wasn't taken in by his glib response, Doyle just gasped and coughed for air.
After a few seconds to recover his breath, Harry was aware his feet felt numb and his back was spasming. Doyle was still coughing up water and Harry knew they needed to get out of the cold river and preferably in front of a nice warm fire.
Giving Doyle's coat a shake to get his attention, Harry said, "Come on, Doc. The audience always wants to, to see the smile at the end of the escape and applaud." He hoped neither of his companions noticed the stutter as he moved Doyle against the edge of the hole and signaled Adelaide to help pull him out.
With Adelaide pulling and Harry pushing, Doyle soon had himself out of the pit and sat against the wall, still coughing. As she turned back to the hole, Harry really wished Adelaide would focus on Doyle so he could get himself out of the water and hide the pain in his back. He didn't want to show either of these people just how much this escape cost him.
Gritting his teeth, and hoping his arms would support him, Harry pulled himself out of the water, and sat next to Doyle with a tired thump. Adelaide knelt in front of them with a concerned look on her face.
"Are you both all right?" she asked as Doyle started to move around.
Doyle nodded and glanced over at Harry who hadn't moved from his spot against the wall. The spasms in his back finally stopped but the ache was still there; he was sure at least some of the pain was reflected on his face as Doyle was giving him an appraising look and a frown. Harry waved a hand in Doyle's direction and said, "I'm fine." as Doyle stood over him.
Harry took a few more seconds to gather himself and grudgingly accepted the hand up Doyle offered before they headed back into the nunnery to prevent a third death.
He could see Doyle out of the corner of his eye looking like he thought Harry had gone mad, but then he felt it and a second later Lucy appeared in the room. Thankfully Adelaide had the presence of mind to take the straight razor away from Sister Grace while she was distracted and Harry leaned against the edge of the desk to hide the occasional shiver.
Harry and Doyle exchanged looks as Adelaide left to find Sergeant Gudgett. Harry could see Doyle was trying to figure out what had just happened and how Harry knew it would happen. Adelaide returned a few minutes later with Gudgett and a bobby with her to take Sister Grace away. Harry noticed the sergeant had a swollen lip and a nice bruise forming from where Doyle had hit him and Gudgett refused to look at either one of them.
Once the room was cleared Harry explained how vibrations from the passing subway train caused everyone to see a ghost. He was pleased to see Doyle accepted the theory once he explained how it worked, and Adelaide was equally impressed.
As Arthur asked how Adelaide had discovered Sister Grace was the killer, Harry stepped back and realized something else, they worked well as a team. They were three strong personalities but in the end the case was successfully solved. He walked toward the door with one last thing on his mind before going home to the hotel. He needed to have a little chat with Chief Inspector Merring regarding Constable Stratton.
He struck another match and was about to light the slim pipe when he was again interrupted, this time by a knock at the door. He sighed and watched the match burn down while he thought about just ignoring it.
"Harry? Harry, are you there?" Doyle's voice questioned through the door as he knocked again.
Harry dropped the spent match in the tray and went to answer the door. As he moved into the main sitting area, he tried to ignore the pain in his back.
"Doc, what are you doing here?" Houdini asked as he opened the door.
Doyle stood at the entry, hat in one hand, looking slightly guilty. Or concerned, Harry thought not forgetting the assessing once over he'd received after Adelaide found them.
"May I come in?" Doyle asked, twisting his hat through his fingers.
"That depends, what do you think I've done now?" Before Doyle could answer, Harry stepped aside and gestured with one arm for Arthur to enter. Harry closed the door and turned to see Doyle staring silently at the room he entered. Harry pointed Doyle to a chair and sat on the sofa next to it, hoping his face didn't betray how good it felt to sit down. From the look Doyle gave him, he knew he wasn't successful.
"What's on your mind, Doc?" Harry asked after several seconds of silence.
"I wanted to tell you," Doyle started to say glancing at Harry and then away. He sighed and started again. "I wanted to tell you, you were right. About the medium. She wasn't really talking to … who I thought she was."
Harry wasn't sure what to say, his mental responses ran from flippant to sympathetic, and he settled for somewhere in the middle.
"Doyle … Arthur, none of them are what they say," Harry said softly. "I should know," he mumbled mostly to himself.
Doyle started to protest, and Harry interrupted, "I'm sorry about whoever you lost, Arthur, really I am. But this isn't the way to remember them. These people don't care how much they are hurting you, all they care about is stringing you along and getting as much from you as they can."
"Some of them must be authentic," Doyle answered. "Science has changed so much of what we thought we knew! We can take pictures of bones today, x-rays they're called, to help find breaks and better set them. Ten years ago we were setting bones by touch and hoping for the best."
Doyle stood and paced the room while Harry watched from the sofa. "We know so much more about diseases and how they are transmitted. There is a story about a woman in Paris finding new elements we never knew existed as well as something she calls radioactivity."
Doyle sat back in the chair and implored, "Who knows if one of those new discoveries is the key to talking to spirits. In the meantime, there are mediums. Yes, some may be frauds," he admitted painfully. "I have to believe some of them are true mystics."
Harry didn't say anything, he merely slouched lower on the sofa and glared back at the other man. He wasn't really in the mood for the fight anyway, all he wanted was to lie down and hope his back would stop aching soon.
Doyle didn't seem inclined to continue the debate either, it seemed, and both settled for companionable silence. Harry listened to the slow tick of the clock and drifted. He jerked awake with a start and a wince as various aches throbbed with the sudden movement.
Doyle said quietly, "I am a doctor, you know."
Harry almost laughed, he'd suspected telling him about the medium was only part of the reason for Doyle's visit. He settled for a weary smile and commented, "Nothing you can do, Doc. All part of the thrilling life."
"Harry," Doyle tried again. His hand twitched from his lap almost as if he intended to reach out to the younger man.
Harry could see the compassion on Doyle's face and hear it in his voice. He wasn't really sure what to do with it, though. Houdini was well schooled in dealing with his own problems. With the exception of his mother, no one had ever really bothered to care about his aches and pains.
"Really," Harry insisted with another smile. He could tell Doyle didn't really believe him and was surprised, and a bit saddened, when Doyle stood to leave. Harry got himself up and walked the other man back to the door.
"Well, Harry, it's been an interesting adventure to work with you for a change," Doyle said holding out his hand.
Harry gave the hand a shake and grinned. "Until next time, Doc. All assuming of course, Adelaide will have us."
He watched as Doyle started back up the hallway to the elevator, then closed the door and smiled to himself. It had been an interesting adventure, and surprisingly fun to work with both Arthur and Adelaide.
He crossed the room, opened another door quietly and checked his mother was still sleeping soundly. Then he went back to the library and finally lit the pipe and waited for the opium to do its work.
The Private Journal of Adelaide Stratton
Entry 01 (con't)
I was back in the basement when Chief Inspector Merring found me the next morning, once again typing and filing.
"I'm moving you upstairs," he explained to me rather stiffly. "Mr. Houdini seems to think you've done a good job."
I was shocked to say the least. The world-famous Harry Houdini defending me. Not bad considering the events of our first meeting and his cheeky request for coffee.
The rest of Merring's statement/threat went right past me. I knew the truth and I also knew this was my chance to make a difference.
In the end we proved there was no ghost at the Magdalene Laundry just people killing people as Harry said. Doyle did pay off the bet as promised, but I doubt anything has really changed for either of my new friends and partners.
I know Doctor Doyle will find yet another medium to help him in his quest.
And I know now why Harry Houdini can never stop his battle with the purveyors of the paranormal.
I also know I will call both of them the next time there is a case with supernatural aspects in need of investigation.