The whole thing started on a riddle night. Noah Gonzalez had been at a conference in Los Angeles and had met a kindred spirit who happened to work ordnance disposal for the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton. Together they had come up with a set of riddles based on the names of cities in Southern California. Since most of us were only slightly familiar with California city names Mike indicated that he had a map just in case we got stuck. Collectively we decided only to refer to it as a last resort.
As usual the riddles were written on a chalkboard propped up on the bar. The clues were as follows:
1. Kris Kringle’s ocular device
2. Canadian’s request for a legume
3. A frozen breakfast food at the beach
4. Joan’s flank
5. Exclamation upon seeing a kitchen appliance
6. A bovine in the garden
A good portion of the regulars were around that night but surprisingly Doc Webster wasn’t in the group. I wondered where he was since most nights he wasn’t working found him ensconced in his oversized chair at one of the center tables. The group got to work and shortly thereafter Long-Drink McGonnigle piped up with Santa Monica (Santa’s Monocle) as the first answer. Of course this ruined the chances for anyone to pull off a sweep of the entire category. No real loss there. Given the puzzled faces and the suggestions for some of the clues I doubted that anyone would have been able to answer all the riddles in one fell swoop anyway. A couple folks had actually taken to scribbling words down on bar napkins in an attempt to jar things loose.
About an hour in Fast Eddie, who was not the wittiest of the regulars and only rarely participated directly, asked “Is there a city in California with O X in it?”
“O X? What clue did you get O X from Eddie?” I wondered aloud looking at the chalkboard again and then it hit me. Ox, bovine, garden, oh no. I grimaced and said “Number 6 is Ox-in-yard, Oxnard”
“Vas?” said Ralph Von Wau Wau “Vo ist that?”
Tom Hauptman, who happened to be one of the better-traveled of us all despite his 10 year stint in a Central American prison, chimed in “North of L.A. but south of Santa Barbara along the coast.”
“How did it get that name I wonder?” Merry Moore’s voice asked from the doorway. She and Less Glueham, her husband and partner, had apparently entered just in time to hear my pronouncement and the start of the discussion.
“Probably named for one of the founding members of the city,” Tom opined. “Most cities after all are named in honor of someone or are a reference to a local landmark.”
“Make’s sense don’cha think,” chimed in Eddie. “Even the weird ones relate to something. I mean I’d always heard that Chattanooga was a version of some native words that meant Rock House.”
That was all it took and soon everyone was chiming in with the strangest city name origin stories that they knew. We went on for at least 20 minutes before someone threw the first pun which must have been some sort of record. We would have never got that far without some sort of word play if Doc Webster had been in the room. I once again wondered where he was. Usually if he had a swing or night shift at Smithtown General he would have mentioned it and he hadn’t said anything last night. I needn’t have worried. As if summoned by my thoughts alone the man himself wandered in. Doc was one of the few remaining physicians who made house calls to his patients when the need arose. Given the presence of his medical bag I suspected that he had stopped off to see someone. He collected a beer from Tom, sat down and joined the discussion in progress.
The evening went on. Les determined that the Joan in Joan’s flank was a reference to comedienne Joan Rivers. That meant Riverside (River’s side) was the answer to number 4. Eddie played a few numbers on the piano. Tom and Mike kept us all supplied with our libation de jour. All in all it was a normal night in Calahan’s but I kept feeling like something was a tad bit off.
It finally dawned on me when Doc came up with the answer to riddle number 5 (Oh! Range = Orange) what the problem was. Doc was just not his usual merry self. Oh he was participating in the discussion, attempting to help solve the riddles but occasionally when the conversation lagged he would get a contemplative look on his face and stare off into space for a moment. It was obvious that his mind wasn’t completely on the festivities. It most likely wasn’t anything serious. We’d all seen him get this way before often as a result of a difficult medical case. He’d work whatever it was out either by himself or if he needed a group head on the thing he’d visit the fireplace.
By the time we managed to solve the last of the riddles I realized that more and more his momentary abstractions seemed to end with a sharp glance in my direction. Taking this as an invitation to collaborate I collected a God’s Blessing for myself and a beer for Doc then wandered over to see what I could do to help.
“Ah, thank you Jake,” he said as he accepted the beer. “I suspect you might be just the person to help me out with a second opinion.”
“Sure thing,” I replied “but if my medical knowledge was a book it would only be the size of an appendix.”
He gave me a look but didn’t take up the gauntlet. That was odd. While he is a master at word play puns, medical puns especially, are near and dear to Doc’s heart and he indulges in them frequently. Instead he reached down into his medical bag and pulled what looked like a report cover that appeared to be binding a set of plasticized pages. “Actually what I need is your opinion about what I should do with this.” He handed it to me.
“And this is?”
“A bequest from my recently deceased aunt Eleanor. According to her note she received it from her father upon his death and he had received it in turn from his father. The only instructions she provided was an admonition to do what I thought best in furtherance of the intent contained in the document and if no action was taken to pass it on to someone who could make that determination upon my death.” He paused and took a breath, “Give it a read and you’ll see my dilemma.”
I took a look at the item in my hand. What I had first taken for a report cover now that I looked closely seemed more like a small leather covered portfolio. When I opened it up I could see that someone had taken clear plastic pockets and used them to hold the pages of a hand written manuscript. The handwriting was bold and legible unlike many old documents. I started to read.
When I had finished I looked up at Doc Webster, “You think you should return it.”
He nodded, “But how to find someone who was here for less than a half hour over six months ago and hasn’t been back since?”
I thought for a moment. There was a private investigator in New York who owed me a favor. He tended to get involved in highly unusual cases so I doubted he’d balk at attempting to locate someone who had last been seen six months ago on Long Island. “Let me make a phone call,” I said. “I think I know someone who might be able to help with that.”
In short order I had borrowed Mike’s phone and was listening to said private investigator’s office answering machine. I hadn’t expected to get him at this time of night but I thought I’d leave a message and touch base with him the next day. When the beep came I started in “Hey Joe its Jake,” was all I got out when the man himself picked up the line.
“If its Jake with you, its Jake with me” he wise-cracked at me.
I ignored it. One thing Joe Quigley likes is to be a smart ass. If you let him get it out of his system he’s a good Joe to have on your side. “Remember that favor you owe me?”
“I’m thinking of calling it in. I need to find someone,” I explained.
“Depends on how much information you have whether I can help you,” was Joe’s immediate reply. “What have you got to go on?”
This was going to be the tricky part. How to get Joe intrigued enough to help without turning him off all together. “Well,” I started, “He’s about 5’7”, 60ish, stocky build, grey hair cut military short, limps slightly favoring his right leg and was shot in his left shoulder.”
“Goes by John, most likely surname Watson,” I replied.
“Here,” I said knowing Joe would have figured out from the background noise that I was at Calahan’s.
“When?” was the next question.
Ooh this would most likely be it. “Six months or so ago,” I responded.
Joe started laughing, “So let me get this straight you want me to find a guy named John, maybe named Watson who you last saw in a bar half a year ago? Next thing you are going to tell me he hangs out with a guy named Sherlock!”
I thought for a moment about how to respond. If what Doc Webster had said when the pair of them had left the bar was true then…well in for a penny, “Who plays the violin.”
There was dead silence on the other end of the line for a moment. “Really?”
“Really!” Then I added, “He’s quite good.”
Joe was silent for a bit more then asked, “So why do you want to locate this Watson guy?”
“We think we might have found something that belongs to him,” I responded truthfully.
“Let me see what I can do. I’ll call you in a couple days or so.”
He hung up without saying anything else. I was surprised. I fully had expected him make a comment that this sort of search had a very low chance of success. Puzzled I returned to Doc Webster and filled him in about what I had done.
“Well I guess it’s a place to start,” he remarked looking skeptical.
“If anyone can find him with the amount of information we have its Joe Quigley,” I hastened to reassure him.
“Hmm” was the Doc’s only response.
I decided that I’d better re-read the manuscript just in case Joe wanted any details about what we had found. “Do you mind if I read this again?” I asked.
“Go ahead,” the Doc replied. “In fact, why don’t you keep it for now since Mr. Quigley might have some questions about it,” he added clearly thinking along the same lines I had been.
That settled I opened the binder again and began to read.
Yes gentle readers, I am intentionally leaving riddles 2 and 3 for you to solve. I'll post the answers with the last chapter unless someone guesses correctly first.
Handwritten Manuscript Dated October 13, 1914
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these words. I find that I need to explain, even if it is in a somewhat incoherent and inadequate fashion, my experiences and reasons for taking the actions upon which I am about to embark. Most of the impetus for this account is pure and simple sentiment. Unfortunately it is such a sentiment that cannot be even alluded to in general company for fear of arrest and prosecution or the necessity to flee to live in exile for the rest of one’s days. Not that there is anyone left to be hurt by such a declaration other than the reputation of a man who was, by his own admission, a most difficult person with whom to live and work. However it is in an attempt to preserve such reputation that I will omit names and other details from this document such that a reader not intimately acquainted with either of us would have at least a modicum of difficulty determining to whom this account refers. It is my fervent wish that at some time in the future when that which we shared is not looked upon as a perversion of the natural order that some future historian will connect this account to the others and add it to the legacy of the most brilliant man I have ever had the honor of knowing.
When we were first introduced in 1881 he was engaged in research and I had been repatriated after a devastating injury sustained in the wilds of the Indian subcontinent. It had been sheer financial necessity on both our parts which lead us to take rooms together. He was eclectic and bohemian in nature while I tended to impose order on my surroundings. Given our disparate natures such cohabitation should not have worked but somehow we ended up complimenting each other’s weakness rather than undermining our strengths. He, of course, was the enlightened genius and I became the mirror that reflected his brilliance onto the world.
We shared those rooms in London primarily platonically for six years with the exception of my jaunt to the Americas in 1884-1885 on a family matter. During that time I took it upon myself to chronicle my friend’s adventures as well as to ensure his continued health by acting as his physician. The former he grudgingly put up with jokingly calling me his Boswell and occasionally bemoaning the numerous inaccuracies which I was obliged to insert in the tales of our adventures such that they could be published. The latter duty was the more difficult proposition since when there was no puzzle upon which his intellect could work he tended to resort to extracts of Erythroxylaceae or occasionally Papaver to calm his frenzied nerves. There was many a time that I was called upon to deal with the unfortunate results of such indulgence.
I must, if I am honest, admit that during those years I was also not the easiest of roommates. From time to time the events of my service would rise to the surface of my memory causing me much distress. My friend, in his brilliance, developed a variety of methods to assist me in regaining my composure quickly. Sometimes it was a mere word while at others his virtuosity on the violin would suffice. The most troublesome however, eluded even his great intellect and on those occasions in the dead of the night the only comfort to be had was the touch of a comrade in arms or that of a child secure in its mother’s embrace. At the time I was surprised that he would provide that sort of reassurance to my distress but in retrospect it was not so surprising after all.
In the spring of 1888 I married and opened my own practice. This, of course, resulted in my relocation from the rooms I had shared with my friend. We still kept in touch. I continued to act as his biographer, physician and friend sharing in a few of the adventures which from time to time he became involved. One of those adventures took us to Switzerland and resulted in what I, at the time, assumed to be my friend’s demise at the hands of his arch-enemy. It was then that I first had an inkling then that my regard for my friend was more than that of a boon companion. I found myself morning him as if I had lost a family member. In fact had I not had the responsibilities of a wife and my practice I do not doubt that I would have become been mired in depression.
As it turned out melancholia became a more pressing concern a little over two years later when my wife became afflicted with consumption. Despite the best care I could provide she passed on rather quickly. I kept up my practice but found little joy in it. By the spring of 1894 I was seriously considering selling and quitting London altogether as there was nothing left to hold me to the city. That April was cold and wet but I will always remember it fondly because that was the month when my friend returned from his self-imposed exile. Of course in his typical overly dramatic fashion he very nearly caused my heart to fail by suddenly revealing himself to me in my own study. At the time I wasn’t sure whether I should clasp him in my arms or deliver a right hook to his jaw. I did neither and merely fainted for the first and hopefully last time in my life.
It didn’t take long for him to convince me to take up rooms with him again. By the end of May of that same year I was firmly ensconced with him back in our old rooms. His brother, he explained to me, had preserved them in anticipation of the eventual elimination of his enemy’s network of enterprises. I must admit that I had some trepidation regarding the living arrangements. During the three year hiatus I had closely examined my feelings and determined that what I had experienced as love for my friend was something more than what I originally classified as philia or storge. At the time I had no idea if what I was feeling was reciprocated and I resolved to continue on maintaining our friendship as if my soul searching had not borne any fruit. Little did I know that as I was coming to my own realization my friend had been engaged in a parallel process and upon reaching a similar conclusion had made his own resolve not to broach the matter for fear of damaging our platonic relationship.
It would have been easier had the prevailing legal and moral climate had not been so vehemently in opposition to anything that even smacked of deviation. As for myself I could not see what was so wrong with love in any of its forms between persons who were of age and knew their own peculiarities and where their actions were of no harm to others or society in general. I also did not ascribe to the prevailing medical opinions regarding the propensity of such actions in the promotion of disease or criminality other than that engendered by the need to hide from the authorities any nonstandard predilections. In fact, from my own observation and extensive reading I did not see that it made any difference in the nature or extent of a crime passion whether passion itself was for a person of whatever gender or even for a physical object. It was the fierceness of the desire not the nature of the object of desire that seemed to dictate the level of violence involved. When I took the time to ponder such things I suspected, without scientific proof of course, that the prevalence of such peculiarities might indeed be a natural method of population control as such unions do not result in offspring. Regardless of my personal feelings the general tone and tenor of the times was such that the officials were actively searching for a prominent example to use as a legal pillory and shore up their own piety. History I’m sure will reflect that they found one in 1895 but I digress.
My friend and I quickly fell back into what for us was our normal patterns of interaction. He tended to his consulting business and I attempted to make order out of the chaos strewn in his wake. I also during this time period took it upon myself to convince him that the contents of his Moroccan leather case and his tobacco pouch were more deleterious to his intellect than lack of mental stimulation could ever be. I took it upon myself to correlate his greatest successes and worst failures with his usage of the artificial stimulus provided by the botanical extracts which he imbibed. I also documented the times when his health had been too frail for him to engage in the activities he thrived upon. To this day I am not sure exactly which of my arguments, if any, finally convinced him but somehow between the multitude of his exertions in 1895 and the dearth of puzzles in 1896 I finally managed to finally wean him from the mania that threatened both his career and his health.
I suppose we would have remained in a state of ignorance of each other’s true thoughts on the nature of our friendship but for certain events that occurred in January of 1897. My friend over the course of time had made quite a few enemies as he pursued his activities. A couple years earlier he had remarked to me in passing that there were over fifty men who had substantial reasons for wanting him dead . Luckily many of them had been remanded to justice and were currently incarcerated at the pleasure of the Crown. There were, however, a few such men still at large with wealth and influence who bore him no good will. It was one of the latter, Lord Mortimer, who commissioned some ner-do-well unemployed dock workers to set upon us one night as we returned to our rooms.
I suppose I should have found it flattering that there were seven men hired to beat us into submission and leave us to live or die at the whims of fate. Either of us alone would have not fared well against such a number but together we dispatched four of the ruffians expeditiously enough. The other three had some skill and it was only luck that left my friend facing one of the brutes while I drew the remaining pair. Whilst my friend subdued his opponent I found myself in a tricky position indeed. I was giving a good account of myself when one of the two chanced a lucky blow to my shoulder landing directly on the old injury followed by a subsequent blow to the head which laid me out on the pavement in a pile of slushy snow.
I knew not what happened next but when I became aware again I was sitting, half leaning on my friend. His arm was around me, steadying and keeping me from falling over. He was talking in a low voice at speed to someone, presumably to a constable, who had arrived sometime while I was not conscious. I must have made some noise because he stopped talking suddenly to look carefully at me.
“Damn,” he swore under his breath then turning to the constable he continued, “I’ve given you all I have for now. I need to get my friend out of the cold and somewhere where his wounds can be tended to quickly. You may call upon me at our rooms tomorrow with the fruits of your investigation and I should be able to assist you in tidying up any questions you might still have.”
I remember being bustled into a cab but the ride back to our rooms was somewhat of a blur. We were met in the hall by our housekeeper who with loud exclamations at my appearance hastened to draw a bath. With my friend’s able assistance I was shortly thereafter clean, warm, dressed in my night clothes and put to bed.
The next few days were somewhat of a blur. Probably as a result of my collapse into the snow I developed a severe fever along with a cough and congestion. I remember having a variety of conversations but not the particulars of what was said. The only constant of which I was aware was my friend’s presence. After the fever broke I awoke to find myself half sitting against my flatmate’s warm body my head resting on his chest. He was in turn propped up against the headboard with one arm around me to keep me upright. It was then that I belatedly realized that I was not in my own room but instead in his.
“Feeling better?” he asked me. When I assented he continued, “You were quite addled when we got back from the scene of the altercation and it was easier to ensconce you here in my bed rather than attempting the stairs to yours. You then contracted a type of influenza and have been too ill to move for the last four days.” He paused for a moment and then inquired, “Would you be amenable to tea?”
I was surprised not only at his offer but also at his gentle tone as he only rarely, and usually only for the purpose of getting information out of a witness, used. I had never before had his considerable charm directed solely at me. I found it somewhat unsettling especially since I could tell that there was an underlying note of sincerity and concern in his voice that wasn’t there when he spoke to others. Despite the fact that I was thirsty I found that I was loath to speak because that would necessitate him moving from his place at my side which I was finding quite comforting in my weakened state. On the other hand I realized that we were in a somewhat compromising position and that anyone observing us could very easily jump to an unfortunate conclusion which might result in embarrassment at best and legal troubles at the worst.
It was my friend’s genius that he was able to read not only my reluctance to lose his company but also my concern for his reputation with just a quick glance. His arm tightened briefly around me and he smiled slightly. “There have been some,” he hesitated then started again, “Over the last few days,” he trailed off. I had never before observed him at a loss for words and I would have been terribly concerned if not for the smile he still wore as he looked down at me. “Oh hell,” he exclaimed after another look at me, “I will go and retrieve the tea then see if I can explain myself.”
With that he arose from the bed. He didn’t immediately leave the room but took the time to arrange the pillows such that I was comfortably sitting up. In the process I discovered that I was weak and shaky although not as debilitated as I had expected. He stirred up the fire, trimmed the lamps and then finally departed presumably in search of the promised tea. He returned shortly with the teapot, cups and the brandy decanter. Placing the tea service on a handy side table he drew up a chair and sat down. He poured and asked by way of a raised eyebrow and a glance whether I wished a libation added. I nodded and he added a healthy dose of brandy to both our cups all without a word being spoken.
About halfway through the tea I realized that I was awash with anticipation for whatever my friend had to say. His behavior since I had awoken as well as his constant presence during my illness was somewhat out of character and I had no doubt that whatever he had to impart to me was somehow related to his anomalous behavior. Hoping to spark whatever revelation he had in store I said “So?”
“So,” he echoed a look that I couldn’t quite decipher on his face. Suddenly he seemed to come to a decision. “This is really not my area of expertise.” he started, “and I have no real experience other than what I have observed in others so I suspect that the best course of action will be to lay my deductions before you and hope that it will not inexorably damage our friendship.”
“I doubt,” I replied, “that anything you could say would have that dire an impact.”
He took more of a gulp than a sip of his tea then continued, “When we were attacked I saw the blow to your old wound and realized the effect that would have. I also saw the subsequent blow that sent you to the pavement. I am afraid my response to that series of events was a bit excessive. I doubt my attacker will ever use his hand again without pain and at least one of your opponents may not ever regain his wits,” he admitted ruefully.
This was not news to me. I knew that I would have had a similar reaction if our situations had been reversed. In fact I had in the past engaged in an arguably over violent reaction when my friend’s life had been threatened. Thus I merely waited for him to continue.
“I must admit that I did not anticipate your succumbing to a fever as a result of your encounter with the snow bank. By the second day of your illness I was concerned enough to ask my brother to send round his physician. It was he who made the influenza diagnosis and gave me some sound advice regarding your care.”
Now that piece of information startled me. While my friend’s relationship with his elder brother was in most ways affable they were in no way close. Asking his brother for a favor was something he rarely did and then only in the most dire of circumstances. My friend happened to be staring into his tea cup at that point and did not notice my surprise.
“I was seriously afraid that I might lose you to the flu,” he confessed. “There were things you said when fevered and the fact that you would only truly relax and rest if I were near which only strengthened my resolve.” He was silent then still looking at his tea cup.
“Resolve to what?” I prompted gently but my heart was pounding with a hope that I dare not express.
“Resolve to tell you that I have feelings for you that go way beyond that which would be tolerated by a moral and upstanding gentleman.” He looked up at me then, trepidation leavened with a tiny bit of hope in his eyes.
I found I could not leave him in such a state so I said the first thing that popped into my head that would relieve his agony, “Well than it’s a good thing that by the tenants of current society I would be considered neither upstanding nor moral and therefore under that definition not qualify as a gentleman.” I realized that I had stunned him with my response and hastened to explain, “War is a harsh mistress and one of the things she teaches best is that our time is fleeting. Comradeship and love must therefore be seized with both hands, clutched tightly to one’s chest even if it is never fully realized and cannot speak its own name.”
“Oh,” was his somewhat inarticulate reply as he struggled to gather his wits in the face of the new information that I had just provided. I did not have to wait long before he added, “I did not think that you were,” he paused as he searched for the least offensive term.
I provided it, “An invert?”
“I doubt that I truly am,” I replied. “I have not yet found a term that describes my particular peculiarities but in short I find myself attracted to the personality rather than the form in which that personality resides.”
“But I am, an invert that is,” he admitted.
“I thought that was likely even though you did not appear to express it,” I replied. “I did not expect or hope that your feelings would ever be inclined in my direction.”
“And all along I have been making an incorrect assumption based on what I now know is an incomplete data set. It’s always something!” He put his cup down and gently removed mine from my now slightly shaky grasp. He then sat on the bed and took my hands in his.
I made an attempt despite my invalid state to pull him closer. He came willingly, but quietly asked “Are you sure?”
“Yes!” I replied and kissed him.
It was awkward and wonderful and fell awry as first kisses often do. The second one was much better.
“Were it not for your current condition,” he murmured as he pulled away.
“Is it safe for you to stay?” I asked returning to my original concern regarding compromising positions and assumptions which I now knew had a good chance of becoming true if not immediately then in the relatively near future.
His laugh was unexpected. “You are worried primarily about our housekeeper,” he said between chuckles, “Don’t be.” He smiled again and explained, “When it was clear that you were going to survive she took me aside and threatened me with bodily harm as well as food that I abhor if I didn’t confess my feelings to you. She told me in no uncertain terms that you were enamored of me and were only holding off for fear of upsetting my equilibrium. How exactly she managed to determine both my predilections and yours I do not know but she reassured me that no one but her would have noticed anything but friendly devotion between us. She also indicated that we would be safe within these four walls and any secrets would remain secret as far she was concerned.”
I couldn’t help it, I gaped at this revelation.
He chuckled again, “It seems that our housekeeper is not only unusually tolerant but also at heart a romantic!”
Oscar Wilde was tried convicted of sodomy in 1895 and imprisoned until 1897. The reference to 50 people wanting Holmes dead is from a side comment in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans."
Continuation of Handwritten Manuscript Dated October 13, 1914
The next few years were some of the happiest and most productive of my life. Not only was I able to assist my friend with his consulting business but also I kept my hand in medically as part owner of a practice in Queen Anne Street. I had the pleasure of seeing my friend at the height of his powers as well as in the throes of passion. It was during these years that my writing also started to become profitable and my nom-de-plum had become quite famous. Of course many of the details which I imparted to paper were modified to protect not only the privacy of myself and my friend but also the reputations of the persons involved. In fact some tales were so sensitive that I could only make veiled references to them in passing.
In 1902 my partner in the Queen Anne Street practice passed suddenly due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. That left me with the excruciating decision regarding closing the practice entirely or relocating from the rooms with my friend. After a bit of discussion and a judicious amount of soul searching I relocated with the intent of spending several years training up another doctor to take over the practice when I retired. It took four long years in part due to my second marriage which I entered into as a favor to a dying woman.
My friend retired from his consulting business and moved to the country to keep bees in early 1904. By the next year he had recovered from his annoyance at what he referred to as my hasty unconsidered actions and grudgingly accepted the fact that my second marriage had the unexpected side benefit of keeping our relationship from being suspected. During the next few years I saw him infrequently but we kept up a lively and to all appearances innocent correspondence.
By early 1906 I had extricated myself from both my practice and London proper, moving to Eastborne in Sussex . I rented a cottage in the village and then finally relented and moved to my friend’s farm in 1907 after we had an almost disastrous encounter with an inhaled toxin . We settled down quite quickly to a state of retired bliss with the occasional problem referred to us by his brother who, while also officially retired, kept touch with various persons in the government.
I would have been quite content to live the rest of my days with my friend in the quiet seclusion of the Sussex downs but alas events conspired against us. By 1911 the nation was in an uproar. Between the political infighting, actions of the suffragettes, the Irish rule question, the coronation of our new monarch not to mention a rash of industrial accidents and strikes it was amazing that the country was not caught entirely flat footed by events abroad. I credit my friend’s brother and his protégé for at least attempting during those next two years to keep back the tides of war from our fair shores. My friend, of course, was brought in to help and during that time it resulted in a large amount of travel abroad. I in turn held down the home front and made it appear that my friend was quietly rusticating in the countryside studying bees.
It was a little over a year ago when my friend returned for good this time. He had acquired an inflammation of the lungs whilst escaping some trouble in Chicago and it took me a month or more to nurse him back to full health. Then it was off again, this time working together with a new division of the intelligence services to infiltrate and capture some foreign operatives. All in all it took us until August to finally bring them to bay. Given the scope and nature of information the diplomat in question and his ex-patriot lackey had purloined I was not terribly surprised that a little under a fortnight after we had thwarted them that the nation was at war.
We spent the rest of that August attempting to catalogue the damage with some people from what was now being called Military Intelligence Department 5. Surprisingly we knew a couple of them quite well as they had once been informants used by my friend in his consulting business. Most of the data the diplomat had absconded with was predictable; fortifications, munitions, troop locations, as well as a detailed analysis of the country’s industrial capacity. There were also proofs that much of the internal conflict of the last few years had indeed been made more serious by the actions of certain agent provocateurs funded by our little nest of spies. Near the end of our efforts we found, hidden amongst the documents labeled as the most sensitive, a file containing a collection of handwritten notes. The contents of the notes were fragmentary and appeared to be part of some method of memorization similar to the method of loci that my friend had long used to organize his thoughts.
Of course my friend, with his prodigious intellect, latched onto this puzzle with a vengeance. It only took him a week or so to sort and find relationships between the fragments and the picture it revealed was rather strange. For some reason our spies had been extraordinarily interested in a variety of occult groups as well as certain archeological expeditions and a variety of artifacts both real and legendary.
Early September found us once again in London pursing a variety of leads to see if we could determine exactly what these foreign gentlemen had been so interested in. We ended up using the town house belonging to my friend’s brother. In short order we had managed to tie the spies to an unscrupulous antiquities dealer and ended up solving a set of minor art thefts which had been puzzling the police for quite some time. The more we worked the more it became clear that the fragments all related to one or a set of particular artifacts. Completely frustrated, my friend decided one morning to go and ensconce himself in the reading room of the British Library to see if any of original texts referenced in the file could shed some light on the matter.
Since my friend was most likely going to be occupied for the next few days I in turn decided to see if I could locate an old acquaintance of mine, a half-native orderly from my time in Afghanistan, whom I hoped had maintained some of his rather odd connections. When we had worked together he had ties to a variety of gypsies, local mystics and holy men. I had used those connections more than once to obtain medicines as well as information that saved countless soldiers’ lives. It was my hope that he had continued such contacts upon his relocation to London. I found him in a set of rooms down near the docks, utilitarian and comfortable despite the roughness of the neighborhood. He was quite amazed to see me after all these years and once I had explained what I was doing was quite willing to help. That was how, having been referred on from person to person over several days, I ended up talking to Mr. Clarence Patton a former member of the Hermeneutic Order of the Golden Dawn and self-proclaimed expert on all things occult.
It took all afternoon but eventually after listening to a whole host of absolute rubbish regarding allegedly effective divination techniques I managed to get him to get him to start talking about the different groups as well as some of the people involved with each. Over the next few hours Patton managed to give me a rough précis of each group’s beliefs. As we talked it became very clear to me that he was being quite careful to only use names when talking about persons who had publically been identified with the group in question. Anyone else was simply referred to as a seeker. Thus, I was quite surprised when I heard a name I recognized.
It had been over 20 years but that particular surname was forever engraved on my mind in connection one of the few incidents that had completely stymied my friend. The disappearance of Mr. James Phillimore along with the loss of a steam vessel in a patch of fog and the biological anomaly which had apparently driven a man mad were all cases that had remained unsolved despite our best efforts. With little effort, Mr. Patton proved to be an inveterate gossip; I learned that George Phillimore had been killed in an apparent confrontation with a burglar in his townhouse last month. I also determined that Mr. George Phillmore was the current heir to the family estates, being a cousin of some sort, to the gentleman involved in my friend’s case. It only took another hour or so of discourse before I managed to escape with my interesting tidbits of information including more than I ever had wanted to know about the Phillimore family.
When I returned to our temporary lodgings I was happy to see that my friend was also in residence. He seemed to be rather pleased and from his demeanor I could tell that something in his research had borne fruit. Maybe, just maybe then I would be able to get him to eat more than a morsel of sustenance whilst we compared our results.
“I have a working hypothesis about what our spies were interested in,” he said without even a greeting as preamble.
“And I have discovered a coincidence that requires further investigation,” I replied with just as much lack of social pleasantries.
“Thou still let’st slip ,” he chided me with a smile.
“Not until you eat,” I admonished him. “This is liable to take some time and you will do no one any good if you faint from hunger or expire with fatigue just as you close in on your quarry!”
His only response was a grimace but from my long association with him I knew my argument had been accepted. “Besides,” I continued as I rose to head toward the kitchen to see if I could obtain something resembling supper from the staff, “I know from experience that you are perfectly capable of eating and listening at the same time even if you do not like to do so.”
A short while later found us in the dining room demolishing a rather substantial meal. Given the amount my friend had consumed he had clearly neglected his luncheon in favor of continuing his research. I filled him in on my talk with Mr. Patton and the Phillmore coincidence. By the time I had finished we were down to the pudding and my friend had a rather strange look on his face.
“Your instincts are correct,” he admitted as we rose from the table and repaired to the study. “That is too much of a coincidence to leave uninvestigated since George Phillimore was a name I also ran into during my research.” When we had seated ourselves in front of the fire with a snifter of brandy each he continued, “Mr. Phillimore was the last person to peruse several of the manuscripts that were referenced in the files.” My friend paused for a moment to take a sip of his libation. “From everything I have reviewed in the last three days our spies were interested in an artifact, which if it functioned as recorded in legend, could create a doorway from one place to another.”
“My God,” I gasped fully realizing the military potential of such a device.
“Do not panic prematurely,” my friend hastened to reassure me. “Given the vagaries of the descriptions and the shifts in language over time it could just as well be an allegory of some sort or a figment of someone’s overactive imagination.”
“But they thought it might be real,” I interjected.
“Enough so that they were actively pursuing any and all indications that it might actually exist,” he conceded. “I need more information. Could you run down to Sussex tomorrow and locate both your and my notes on the earlier Phillimore disappearance? I’m sure we could prevail upon my brother to loan you a car and driver.” He steepled his fingers up underneath his chin and disappeared into thought for a moment. “Mine will be in a box labeled July-September 1895. It’s in the south-west corner of the attic. Yours are in the sixth volume of your notes for that year.”
I was familiar with my friend’s incredible recollection and had no doubt that I would find the records in just the places he had stated. “And what shall you be doing?” I inquired.
“I shall wander down to the Yard and see if I can leverage the good will we obtained by solving the art thefts into a look at the investigation into the younger Mr. Phillimore’s death. I think I shall also impose upon my brother’s protégé for whatever information he and his minions can locate about the family.”
“Then I’m for bed,” I announced as I rose from my chair.
“I shall make the arrangements and be not long behind you into the arms of Morpheus. You will see I have taken to heart your warnings about fatigue.” He winked at me then and I knew that despite his words sleep would be delayed for a bit for both of us.
The next day was exhausting even with the use of the car and driver. It took a good portion of the day but I traveled to Sussex and managed to locate and retrieve the records, just where my friend had said they would be. I reviewed them on the way back to London and reacquainted myself with the pertinent facts from my notes.
Mr. James Phillimore had left his townhouse at approximately 9 A.M. one Tuesday morning. It was the housekeeper’s half day and by happenstance she had exited the house directly behind her employer. They had a short discussion on the front step regarding the contents of the larder as it was Mr. Phillimore’s habit to return to the townhouse for lunch and the housekeeper normally laid something by on those days when she would not be there to serve him. Mr. Phillimore then looked up at the sky and realizing that the day was looking like rain mentioned that he might as well step back inside for his umbrella. The housekeeper had continued on her way thinking nothing of it only to return at about 2 to find the umbrella sitting on the hall table. She raised the alarm regarding the disappearance the next morning when she went to wake her employer and found that his bed had not been slept in. My friend had been brought in by the family solicitor some two weeks later to see if anything could be learned about Mr. Phillimore’s disappearance. While we learned quite a bit about the gentleman’s habits from the contents of his town house. Unfortunately, since my friend had not been able to view the scene before it had been disturbed there was no way to deduce whether foul play had been involved.
My friend’s notes were not much more enlightening. None of the neighbors or their household help had seen anything out of the ordinary. There had been nothing taken from the house. In fact, but for the umbrella and the sitting room door being ajar the housekeeper noted that nothing was even out of place. The house had been locked and the back garden appeared to have been undisturbed.
My friend and I had made the rounds of the places Mr. Phillimore usually frequented while in town. We even had traveled to Devon to his country estate to see if anything there could shed some light on the matter. At each turn we had come up blank. There was such a dearth of information that my friend interviewed the entire household staff on the off chance there was some minutia of a clue that had been overlooked. Just to be thorough I even took it upon myself to interview the outside staff including the estate’s gardener. My notes indicated that he was far more concerned about a patch of blight in the lawn than anything else.
It was late in the day when I finally made it back. I discovered that my friend had usurped a wall in the billiard room and tacked a wide variety of notes and papers to the wall connecting them with different bits of colored string. I had seen him do this before when he was attempting to nail down relationships between a large amount of disparate pieces of information. Most of the time, he had told me once, that he did something similar in his head but when the connections types were highly varied and the amount of information large he had said he needed to physically see what he was working with. I, on the other hand, suspected that he resorted to the physical representation when he was frustrated with lack of progress. Judging from his muttering to himself while he went about setting up one of these constructs he was using it to go over every last shred of information and document every connection it had to every other bit involved in the case. From the state of the wall I could see that he’d been at it for most of the afternoon.
“Ah,” he said when I entered, “Did you find anything interesting in our notes during the drive back?”
I wondered briefly how he had determined that I had been reading in the car.
He looked directly at me then smiled and said, “Your neck is stiff and your brow is furrowed. You also tend to get a slight bit of vertigo when you have been reading in a moving vehicle. I suggest you partake of some tea and pastries. It will make you feel better as you traveled through your normal luncheon.”
We worked until evening only stopping for a morsel of supper that was provided by his brother’s staff. Fatigue was pulling on my consciousness as I watched my friend perused his notes cross referencing occasionally with the file on George Phillimore’s murder and some additional family information courtesy of the intelligence service. My friend said my name and I started suddenly realizing that he was now standing in front of my chair looking at me.
“You are all in,” he remarked. “Why don’t you go and rest. I will be at this a while yet and there is no reason for both of us to be sleep deprived come morning.”
I nodded in agreement and rose from my chair to seek my rest. At the doorway I looked back at my friend. I could see his profile in the light of the lamps. I knew the look of frustration on his face and could tell that he would not get any sleep until he had tracked down whatever deduction was currently eluding him.
A full night’s sleep turned out not to be in the offering as I was awakened by a knock on my chamber door in the wee hours of the morning. My friend’s brother was there with his protégé looking for my friend. It was clear from their questions that he was no longer in the billiard room where I had left him and had taken one of the cars somewhere. I dressed hastily and we all trooped downstairs to see if we could figure out what had caused my friend to take off so suddenly without waking me. Our curiosity was satisfied by a note that was sitting on a pile of papers in the middle of the billiard table. My friend had deduced that there was another group of spies and that they were heading for a property owned by the Phillimore family just outside of town to retrieve what they thought was the artifact in question and presumably test it as it was supposedly active only during the new moon.
The next few hours were quite nerve wracking for me as I was not directly involved in the efforts to get a sizeable number of men together and to surround the estate. Unfortunately we arrived too late. While we captured the spies and recovered the artifact, which proved to be a strange looking shield, my friend was nowhere to be found. It was clear from a variety of evidence that he had been captured by the group and that they had used him in some sort of experiment. Just exactly what they had done could only be determined by questioning the parties involved and they were not initially inclined to be talkative. While I take my oaths as a physician quite seriously I must admit that my actions over the next few hours were not quite in keeping with spirit of such vows. Luckily I did not have to take any direct action however I did not correct the implications made by my friend’s brother that I would indeed be willing to use my medical knowledge to extract information from our prisoners in any way necessary. When we finally were able to piece the full story together I must admit the prognosis was not favorable. The artifact had indeed opened up into some sort of hole. Into this hole the spies had dropped my friend and a large amount of explosives. They had assumed that they would be able to tell where the other side was when they determined where the explosives had detonated.
The next few weeks were spent searching for explosions worldwide, going over the notes made by both my friend and the spies as well as attempting to determine what, if anything, could be done. I however, from the moment I had heard the spies’ story knew exactly what I needed to do. It only remained for me to engineer the situation such that I would have the opportunity.
It is now the night before the next new moon. I have convinced my friend’s brother to use the artifact in the same place to see if my friend can somehow return from whence he was sent. I in the meantime have quietly put all my affairs in order and I am now setting down this record in what will most likely be a vain attempt at explanation of the actions I intend. I find that a world without my friend is one in which I do not wish to partake. If he does not return tomorrow night then I will follow him to whatever end he came to upon traversing that mystical portal. If I am successful my final instructions will be found in the packet of papers I have left in the top of my trunk in Sussex.
I must depart shortly for a final planning session prior to tomorrow night’s activities. I will post this on the way such that I will be delivered after I have either succeeded or failed in my endeavor.
Written this thirteenth day of October, year of our lord nineteen hundred and fourteen.
Sherlock's farm is 5 miles east of Eastbourne in Sussex per Watson's introduction to "His Last Bow." The details of the inhaled toxin is found in "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane." MI-5 was formed as a Sub branch of the SIS in approximately 1914 to deal with internal, as opposed to external, intelligence threats. Sherlock's statement "thou still let'st slip" is the second half of the quote from Henry IV Part 1, "The game's afoot, thou still let'st slip."
It was a week after the night I had first read the manuscript and I was nervous. Joe had called me this morning and let me know he’d been successful in his search. He said that he would see if John could drop by Calahan’s that night. I had decided that I wasn’t going to mention the possibility to Doc Webster. Joe hadn’t sounded too optimistic about his chances and I didn’t want to get the Doc’s hopes up.
It was tall tales night and we were doing people again. This time, however, the story needed to be tied into some sort of occupation. Of course to comply with the rules any story told needed to have some sort of punch line. Long Drink had a story about the A-Team television show which ended up with the tag line Save T first. There were a few other early entries none of which were terribly memorable when Doc Webster started in. He told a story about a college mathematics professor who got rip roaring drunk one night and proceeded to lock himself in a classroom to calculate if there really is a polyhedron which admits only ananisohedral tiling in three dimensions. The professor worked all night, used up half a ream of paper and all the chalkboards only to realize in the morning that he’d created an overly convoluted proof for something that the Ancient Greeks had done much more expeditiously. When he was finished the Doc looked around expectantly at us to see if anyone would venture a guess at the moral. Sure enough someone did but it wasn’t any of the usual suspects.
“Obvious,” said a baritone with a slight English accent.
Everyone looked around for the speaker. He was sitting in one of the wing back chairs; a tall, thin older man with a long nose and a stylishly mussed mop of iron grey hair. Leaning on the back of the chair was another shorter stockier man with short cropped white hair. I was quite surprised. I had been so wrapped up in Doc’s story that I hadn’t even seen them come in but there they were. If Doc’s deductions of six months ago were correct I was looking at the original Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson of literary fame.
The shorter man gave a long suffering sigh and said, “Enlighten us then Sherlock.”
“One should not drink and derive.”
Doc Webster beamed at him. “Exactly Mr. Holmes!” The Doc seemed to be taking the sudden appearance of the two in stride although he did shoot a rather pointed glance in my direction.
There were groans from the assembled crew and I thought that would be the end of it but suddenly Watson interjected, “I know what caused the professor’s realization of his mistake. It was a triangle.”
There was a two or three heartbeat pause. Sherlock looked up at him puzzled, curiosity clearly evident on his face, just as Doc Webster made a pained noise and put his head down with an audible thump on the table.
“He was looking at Euclid,” John deadpanned.
It rained peanuts. John proved to still have excellent reflexes and managed to divert a goodly number of them from hitting either him or his companion. Of course Eddie couldn’t resist adding insult to injury and started playing As Time Goes By. That had the net result of diverting peanuts in the direction of the piano.
It took a bit but things eventually calmed down. No one seemed to want to try a tall tale after such a story so Doc Webster was declared the winner. The Doc demurred and insisted that Watson’s comment had topped his and thus he should take the title this week. That settled Watson collected his liquid winnings from Mike. At the same time I retrieved the portfolio. Before he could return to his companion I caught his eye and we adjourned to a side table. Shortly thereafter Doc Webster and Sherlock joined us.
Sherlock spoke first. “Quigley indicated that you found something you think belongs to John.” He looked at me then at the Doc and continued “Although found is not the correct word and you are the person who obtained the item in question.”
“Correct,” said Doc Webster using his best poker face.
Sherlock apparently took this as a challenge and leaned back in his chair with his fingertips together under his chin. “Hmmm, you acquired it recently and somewhat unexpectedly. A bequest from an elderly relative who recently passed on?”
John glanced at Sherlock. “The embossed crest on the portfolio I suppose.”
“Exactly. I recognized it.” Sherlock smiled back at him. “They’ve been in business since the mid 1800’s.”
“You and your eidetic memory,” John said fondly. “How do you expect us mere mortals to keep up?”
I handed it over. John looked at it curiously then opened the cover. His face took on a look of utter shock when he saw the manuscript. “How on earth did this end up…” he petered off unable to continue and looked into his drink to cover his confusion.
Sherlock snatched up the portfolio and took a quick look. He then narrowed his eyes and stared for a moment at Doc Webster. He suddenly let out a soft “ha!” and sat back satisfied.
Watson’s head came up and he looked directly at Holmes. He didn’t have to say anything his entire being asked What?
“Sherrinford,” Sherlock said.
John’s eyes opened wide and he nodded. “Ah!” as if a single name explained everything.
“My grandfather,” Doc Webster added.
“Sherrinford Holmes, my brother Mycroft’s offspring,” Sherlock continued cuing me, as well as everyone within earshot, in.
I had suspected some sort of family connection after Doc’s original explination and reading the manuscript. It sort of boggled my mind that our Doc Webster was the grandnephew of the great man sitting across the table from him. That confirmation however turned out to be only the penultimate shock of the evening.
As we all sat there waiting for some additional information from Sherlock Holmes I heard John murmur half to himself “I wonder?” He took a deep breath and asked “Doc is your family originally from upstate? Near Albany?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
“What was your other grandfather’s name?”
“He went by James Webster,” Doc was clearly confused, “But his given name was Hamish.”
At that John smiled, “Well Sherlock here’s another case of the highly improbable being true for you. Doc Webster here is not just your grandnephew; it looks like he’s mine as well!”
There was a collective gasp from the assembled on lookers.
“What? How?” Doc Webster was clearly at a loss.
“My brother conceived a child out of wedlock while I was in Afghanistan. My father bought off the girl and she immigrated to the states,” Watson explained. “I knew nothing about this until I found some records when I was going through my father’s papers after he passed on.”
“Ah, the family matter where you left London in ’84. You came here.”
“Yes Sherlock,” John confirmed.
I glanced at Doc then. He was sitting with his head cocked looking like he was trying to calculate something. “In 1884, my grandfather would have been 8 or so ,” Doc Webster mused, “and when he was 12 he declared his intention to be a doctor. He eventually did so and at least one of us in every generation since has ended up in the medical field. He always attributed it to a doctor he had a long discussion with when he was younger. We never could figure out just when that had happened or who it was and he never revealed it to anyone.”
Watson looked a little stunned at this revelation. Sherlock, on the other hand, had a little half smile on his face. “I’ve always said John that you would have more impact in the long run than I ever would and this just proves it.”
“I suppose,” John demurred, “but you must admit that the nature of that impact over time is all relative.”
* Edited to fix a typo & formatting error.
Here are the answers to all the riddles.
1. Kris Kringle’s ocular device (Santa’s Monocle = Santa Monica)
2. Canadian’s request for a legume (Pass a bean eh = Pasadena)
3. A frozen breakfast food at the beach (Sandy Eggo = San Diego)
4. Joan’s flank (River’s side = Riverside)
5. Exclamation upon seeing a kitchen appliance (Oh! Range = Orange)
6. A bovine in the garden (Ox in yard - Oxnard)
The math problem referenced is an actual problem. It was one of David Hilbert’s 26 unsolved math problems as listed in 1900. It was solved in 1928. Thank you internet. I am a math phobic who knows absolutely nothing about this other than the name.
For those of you interested Doc Webster’s family tree in my head canon for this series is something like this: Doc Webster is the son of Harry Webster and Rosalind Holmes. Harry Webster is the 5th child of Hamish James Webster who is the illegitimate son of Harry Watson and Jane Webster. Rosalind Holmes is the 2nd child of Sherrinford Holmes who is the son of Mycroft Holmes. “Aunt Eleanor” is Rosalind Holmes’ older sister. The dates do work out especially if Harry and Rosalind got married just out of high school. If it wasn’t obvious I have a timeline for this ‘verse that merges my head canon, ACD canon and Spider Robinson canon. When I get done playing around with this series I’ll post it.
Comments and kudos not only feed my muse but they also make the plot bunnies grow faster.
Since this is the end of this particular fiction I will close as has become my wont (with credit and apologies as always to Master Shakespear):
If this writer has offended,
Think but this and all is mended.
That you have but tarried here,
While each chapter did appear,
And these words upon this theme,
Are of no import, only my dream.
It has been an honor to share my dream with you.