The Strange Case of Doctor Watson and Mr. Holmes
The Strange Case of Doctor Watson and Mr. Holmes
By Robert Perret
“I am afraid I must insist,” Gregson said, chewing his cigarette and giving me a hard eye.
He’d come pounding on the door of Baker Street first thing in the morning, whilst I had retired very late and had every intention of remaining asleep.
“Mr. Holmes is not available,” I replied. “There is nothing that can be done for it.”
“Perhaps I will go rouse him myself,” Gregson said, jumping to his feet.
“No!” I cried, lunging to seize his arm, though in truth I was studying myself as much as I was stopping him. If he were to investigate the inner reaches of the flat the jig would be up. “I will let Mr. Holmes know that you wish to see him when he next awakes, and that is all there is to it. A police badge is not a license to barge in wherever you please.”
“Things would go a lot easier for you if you cooperated, Doctor. Mr. Holmes has a lot to answer for, but you could still walk away from this a free man.”
“If only that were true, Inspector.”
I managed to steer him towards the door before collapsing back in my armchair. My head throbbed and my tongue seemed to have developed an offensive growth of moss overnight. I fumbled at the tantalus before freeing the brandy. Alone, I drank deeply from the bottle. The world seemed a bit more solid beneath my feet. What had Holmes done now, I wondered to myself.
Billy had deposited the Globe upon the table, though I noted that he had thoroughly pawed through it first. Not that it mattered, the bit I was looking for was right on the front page. “Sherlock Holmes Strikes Again” it read. Seems he had stumbled upon a society of professional beggars, little more than pushy pickpockets, and given them a thrashing. Put seven in hospital and smashed up a warehouse down by the docks with a cricket bat. Police described barrels of coins stacked from floor to ceiling, some smashed open and spilling their contents upon the ground. Thousands of pounds in loose change, the paper said. On a hunch, I opened the wardrobe and examined Holmes’ greatcoat. Each pocket was filled with lucre. Thankfully Mrs. Hudson wasn’t inclined to ask questions, so long as the rent was paid. She’s been asking a little more since Holmes began drawing attention to Baker Street, but I was happy to pay it. Where else would we possibly go?
Another knock at the door. I palmed a few quid and closed the wardrobe. At the bottom of the stairs, I found sweet, lovely Mary.
“I told you not to come here anymore!” I said.
“But why, James, er, John?” she said, her gloved hand upon my cheek. “I don’t understand.”
“It is Holmes,” I said, my hands finding her waist, her perfume robbing me of my senses for a moment. “I can’t answer for his behavior any longer. I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to you.”
“Nor I to you, my love,” she said. “You are not well. I don’t need to be a doctor to see that. Come away with me and leave this place. Leave Sherlock Holmes to wither here.”
“I can’t,” I sighed.
“What fascination can he have for you that I cannot match?”
“It is not that, dear Mary. You have bewitched me completely, and it is my sorest wish that I could make a life with you.”
“But you will not leave Mr. Holmes.”
“I have shared your attentions these many years, and would do so still for I so love you, but you have not spent more than minutes with me in months, and even then only when I impose myself upon you.”
“You are no imposition, Mary, but I beg of you to leave and never return. If some happy day I am free of Mr. Holmes I shall fly to you with the fervent hope that we might still be together, but leave it to me to hope for that day. You must forget me, Mary, and live your life free of the shadow of Baker Street.”
“You have turned me away time and again,” she said. “I suppose I have no choice but to listen, but it is the greatest heartbreak of my life.”
“I’m sorry, Mary. I’m sorry.” The door had closed.
Before I had regained my chair a bullet shattered the parlor window. It seared my shoulder as it passed, cutting a red line through my housecoat. I looked at it dumbly as another bullet found the decanter of brandy upon the table. “No!” I cried to the unmerciful heavens as the amber ambrosia fell to the floor. I dropped to my knees to see what could be saved and a good thing too for a third shot lodged in the wainscotting behind where I had been standing. I crawled my way to the window and risked a glimpse out. In the empty house across the way that damned Moran was breaking down his rifle. He must have thought me done for, I grinned to myself. As a rule, I only called upon Mr. Holmes at night, but in a life or death situation, I thought an exception could be made. Staying out of view of the window, a wound my way around to the chemistry bench. There, hidden in plain sight amongst the other chemical ingredients, was a certain seven percent solution. My hands trembled as I popped the stopper. The concoction was bitter on my tongue, but worse was the searing pains that would leap from my stomach and up into my nose. I clutched at my face and writhed upon the floor, willing oblivion to take me. It was there, tugging at my back, and then it had me.
“Fascinating,” said a voice behind me.
I pushed myself up to my knees to see who it was. “Moriarty!”
“Indeed, Mr. Holmes,” he replied. “In principle, I understood the thing, but to witness the transformation - remarkable!”
I looked at the grazing wound on my shoulder. “Moran was a distraction.”
“More of a catalyst,” Moriarty replied. “I wanted to catch you off guard, force you to reveal yourself on my terms.”
“A fatal error on your part,” I said. Watson’s clothes ripped at the seams as I stood. Normally, he would have disrobed before the transformation. I ripped the housecoat free and tossed it aside.
Moriarty merely smirked, unmoved by my show of brute force. “Mr. Holmes, I am no common smash-and-grab burglar. You will not muscle me off my game.”
I had yet to meet the words that would block a Bartitsu chop, so I lunged forward, only to have Moriarty sidestep my attack. For lack of a better description, he seemed to slither away.
“You are not the only man of science in London, Mr. Holmes. Yet while you have relied upon your chemistry set I have set my sights upon the stars!” He tapped his cane upon the floor and the stone which comprised the head seemed to shimmer. Indeed, as he held it aloft and moved it back and forth before me I found myself unable to look away.
“The universe is vast, Mr. Holmes. Unimaginably so. While you have kept your gaze myopically focused upon London I have been gathering pieces of eternity that have fallen to earth. Most were pretty rocks that fetched a pretty penny, but then this beauty came along. Radiation, Mr. Holmes. Cosmic radiation breaks down the rigid cellular structure of the human body. You may be able to make yourself larger, stronger, and faster, but I can make myself anything.”
There was a pricking at my neck, then, that at last broke the spell of the starstone. Moran had climbed through the window and plied a blowgun to sedate me. As I lay upon the rug I had the unhappy thought that Watson would not be there to catch me in my slumber this time. No, this time insensibility washed over me like a briny wave in January.
I awoke then, in a cell at Scotland Yard, which I had always supposed was inevitable. I noted with dismay that my wound had not been bandaged. “Hello,” I managed to rasp. “Anyone? I need water!” The transformation process always left me parched.
After some minutes Gregson appeared with a tin cup. With a great clank, he unlocked the cell. Kneeling down he offered the cup to me. My fingers just bushed against the metal.
“Closer, please,” I said. “I’m too weak to stand.”
“That’s a real shame,” Gregson said, turning the cup over and letting the contents pour onto the ground.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Doctor Watson and Mr. Holmes the very same man. It makes an odd kind of sense, in its own unbelievable way. Your stories implied that you two paled around together, but I never really saw the both of you at the same time. Turns out no one ever had. Inseparable chums, but not in the way you had led us to believe.”
“Moriarty…” I managed.
“The esteemed Professor Moriarty. A true servant of Her Majesty. Shame on you for casting aspersions on the man. Well, he saw you duly paid. I could hardly believe it when his man fetched me to Baker Street, to reveal Sherlock Holmes unconscious upon the floor. He said if I hung around a bit it would be worth my while. He told me a story, the real story of what has been going on these last few months, and by the time he was done, the great Sherlock Holmes had shriveled down to you. You lied to me, again and again over the past few months. And your alter ego has wreaked havoc upon London. The Napoleon of Crime masquerading as a humble doctor.”
“Lies!” I said.
“I don’t think so. Everything the Professor told us added up quite nicely, every bit tidy and in order. When we took a serious look at your stories, we could hardly make heads or tails of it. The dates don’t line up, every person under a pseudonym, a description of Mr. Holmes that can only be described as laughable. Where is this austere and hawklike ratiocinator? Holmes is twice the size and three times as strong as any man. He metes out what he considers to be justice with little regard for Scotland Yard or the facts at hand. And the bloody clay bricks, he tosses them in every direction.”
“He has solved more than a few cases for you.”
“Has he? I am beginning to fear I may have been caught up in his righteous fervor. We’ll be taking a long look at any case Sherlock Holmes touched. As far as I am concerned, he is the prime suspect in each and every one of them.”
After Gregson left I fell into an exhausted stupor, not asleep but not amongst the waking world either. In this interstitial space, I saw a vision of my Mary.
“Oh, Miss Morstan!” I ejaculated. “I should have told you everything! But Sherlock Holmes is a man driven by passion and we share so much, I feared he shared my passion for you. I feared he might do unconscionable things to you. Worse, I feared you might love him more than you loved me!”
“You are a fool, James, er, John Watson,” my vision replied. “It was you and you alone that I loved. Or so I thought. Why did you do any of this, my dear Watson?”
“I wanted to be a whole man again, for you. That Jezail bullet, and the limp it gave me, shamed me. I was not worthy of a woman like you. And so I set about creating a restorative elixir.”
“I never minded the limp,” she said. “It was a token that you were an honorable man who had done his duty. I loved that about you, how stalwart you were, a single fixed point in a changing age. It breaks my heart to discover that I was the cause of your downfall.”
It was only when she squeezed my hand that I realized she was real, and in the cell with me.
“Goodbye, John. Or whoever you are now.”
I grabbed feebly at her hem as she walked away. As she reached the end of the hall a figure seemed to emerge from the shadows behind her. The way it moved was uncanny, and it was only when his head spun completely around to give me a cruel sneer that I realized it was Moriarty. A knife flashed in his left hand as his right tipped his top hat to the constable. With a great surge of fear, I managed to haul myself up to the window, where I saw Mary crying into a handkerchief as she made her way down the street. Oozing from shadow to shadow behind her was Moriarty. As she stepped down the alley that leads towards her boarding house, the mercurial villain turned to meet my gaze and made a slashing gesture across his neck.
“No!” I cried as he became one with the shadows that had enveloped Mary.
The next day I was able to beg a newspaper off of one of the constables, and there was no mention of a murder that night. I wrote to Mrs. Hudson, who replied that the matron of the boarding house had seen Mary pack her bags and leave for Southampton. She claimed she had even helped sweet Mary carry her bags to the carriage. I wrote to her there and received back a letter undeniably in her hand. And yet the contents read, “Dear John, The stars shine so brightly here that I can make anything of myself. I am not the Mary that you used to love. -M”