This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.
To Sophie, my remarkable girl,
who will never vanish.
Thanks again to editor Kathryn Cole and publisher Kathy Lowinger of Tundra Books, two invaluable allies as we together make our way through this series. I am also grateful to The National Railway Museum in York, UK, whose employees were patient with me as I pestered them with endless questions about 1860s and ’70s British trains and how one might board them, jump from them, climb out their roofs, run up and down their aisles, all while said locomotives moved at top speed – I hope they forgive the liberties I took in the name of art and adventure. The Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, UK was also helpful as were the amazing London Walking Tours, several of which I have taken and benefited from. And lastly to my family – three girls and a boy, who are constantly subjected to my agonies of creation and are the most patient with me of all.
The wind was blowing down the hill and over the marshy field on the night they left for London. Windows were rattling, threatening to shatter. But the man with the scar and the man with the limp smiled as they rode south. They had found a girl and a victim, too. They had found a frightening place. This would be the perfect crime; make her vanish again and again, and make him vanish, too. They would all be rich beyond their imaginations. The captain’s plan was working. No one could stop them; no one would track them; no one would figure this out.
Sherlock Holmes was asleep in the city by that hour, dreaming of a life in which he, and he alone, was the undisputed hero.
“A flush of colour sprang to Holmes’s pale cheeks, and he bowed to us like the master dramatist who receives the homage of his audience. It was at such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause.”
– Dr. Watson in The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
Irene Doyle gasps. She is standing in the cavernous dining hall of the Ratcliff Workhouse in Stepney in the East End of London, staring at a little boy. A few candles dimly light the room. He is in bare feet, dressed in a ragged gray uniform, his red-blond hair disheveled; every nail on every toe is black. All the other urchins, lined up against a wall, are mesmerized by the beautiful young visitor whose lavender dress looks to them like something from a fairy tale. But the thin little lad stares straight down.
“Paul?” Irene blurts out.
The boy looks up.
“Why, Miss Doyle, ‘e never responds to ‘is Christian name!” exclaims the fat beadle with the fleshy face. “You must ‘ave a ‘old on ‘im.”
She puts her hand to her mouth.
“His name is Paul?”
“Yes, Miss, of course, just as you said, though it confounds me to know ‘ow you knew such a thing.”
“You didn’t? But –”
“Why does he stare like that? Why are his eyes so red? Has he been crying?”
“No, Miss, ‘e ‘as a disease.”
“Yes, Miss, a bad un. Seems to be getting worse, much worse.”
“My father will help him.”
“Can’t be done, Miss. We ‘ave lots of lads with debilitations; eyes and limbs and what-’ave-you, their little machines not workin’ proper. This one ‘as a certain ‘aunted look about ‘im, ‘e does, and it draws attention when philanthropic-like folks come a-visitin’. We’ve ‘ad a wealthy one or two in ‘ere, Miss, like you and Mr. Doyle, ‘o’ve wanted to ‘elp this little scruff. But no fancy doctor they’ve sent ‘im to can solve ‘is problem. It don’t seem fixable. ‘e’s goin’ blind, poor rat.”
Irene reaches out and puts one of her gloved hands against the lad’s cheek. “Boys are precious.”
For many years she has similarly caressed the image in a painting that sits against a wall in a closet in her father’s house … the image of her brother. The boy had been Andrew Doyle’s heir, his little man, and his death had broken the good man’s heart. Her brother’s life, his very existence, is something they never talk about with anyone. His name hasn’t been spoken in their home since the day he died.
Mr. Doyle had been inconsolable after his loss. Nothing could make him smile. Then his step lightened when Irene’s mother was with child again the following year. But the baby was a girl, and his wife, after a long labor, did not survive. It was then that he turned to philanthropy, to helping others. All he had left was Irene who, he insisted, was enough. He taught her himself, molded her to be as independent as a boy. But he never forgot his son … his little Paul.
“I will find a way,” says Irene. “There must be people we know who can help. This little boy will not go blind.”
The following day, Andrew Doyle stands in front of tiny Paul at the workhouse, fighting back tears, unable to speak. His boy, his Paul, the only son he would ever have, has come back to life in the shape of a poor little waif in an East End workhouse: bone-thin, green-skinned, and cloudy-eyed. It has always been Andrew C. Doyle’s policy not to adopt any of the thousands of children he aids through his organizations every year. There are simply too many: he cannot play favorites. He just tries to help. But he is sorely tested on this day. In fact, he has to turn away. The boy before him is five years old, the very age his son will always be.
“If he loses his sight … he will surely die,” Doyle murmurs to Irene as they leave the workhouse. “I know someone who can have him cured. If anyone in England can, then it is he. We will rescue this child from darkness, or I am not worth my word.”
But the very next day, a stunning incident in central London renders the boy’s savior helpless.
It happens in broad daylight. Fourteen-year-old Victoria Rathbone steps down from her gleaming carriage as she is being promenaded on Rotten Row in Hyde Park during the last fashionable display of the season, and nears the crowd that is gazing at the rich. She pretends to be taking an opportunity to stretch her delicate legs, but is actually upset that she is not truly being seen in this evening parade of professional beauties and handsome toffs. She wants to show off her new scarlet dress to the great unwashed.
“Can’t see you, Miss,” someone cries. She moves closer. A pair of thick arms appears out of the masses and seizes her. She disappears into the crowd, pulled into it as though she were a duckling sucked down a whirlpool. The culprit makes off with her, and whatever protests she emits mix with the horses’ neighs and the buzz of spectators. For several moments no one misses her. Then her coachman becomes alarmed.
The girl has vanished into thin air.
The moment Sherlock Holmes reads about it in a morning paper, he thinks of it as a case for him: a notorious crime of genius and daring that rivets London’s attention. But Irene’s response is different: it breaks her heart. She and her father had been to see Lord Rathbone only that morning, on a mission to save the Stepney boy’s sight. Now, the child will be forgotten.
But neither her reaction nor Sherlock’s or even that of the Metropolitan London Police Force matters, because everything about the incident, every shred of evidence, every last player, including the victim and the criminals – even their apparent interest in gaining anything from their crime – instantly evaporates. Days pass, then weeks; the daring abduction remains an impenetrable mystery, without a ransom note, a single clue, or even public information.
Is Victoria Rathbone dead? Or are the culprits simply trying to frighten her noble family, terrify them so thoroughly that they will give in to any demand when it, at last, arrives? What is their game?
Her father is an eminent man, a member of the House of Lords and advisor to Prime Minister Derby’s cabinet on judicial affairs. He is stern and ruthless, a crusader for exacting extreme punishment upon criminals. Never give them an inch, reads his motto, etched in a plaque on his desk.
He doesn’t appear to be frightened by the silence from the kidnappers. In fact, he contributes to it, refusing to utter a single public word about their villainy, as if it had never happened. He remains aggressive about crime in general, and just a month after Victoria’s disappearance, calls for stiffer sentencing in all criminal convictions. “One must be brutal with brutal people,” he asserts. And he gives an example: “If we were to cut off the hands of London’s thieves, there would be no thieves in London.”
The summer ends, autumn almost passes, and still, Rathbone is mute about the crime. He not only puts on a brave face, but forces the police to remain silent, too. He and his household shall not play cricket with evil. It seems as though he will let his daughter die before he allows the devils who took her to scare him, to win, to have any of his money, to cause him even the slightest public grief. He goes on with his job, impressing his peers, making more jarring statements about criminal issues in the House.
“Unlawfulness,” he proclaims on the two-month anniversary of the crime, “comes mostly from our underclasses. When they learn to help themselves more, to give up holding out their hands to their betters, they shall better themselves, and we all shall be better off.”
But he is known to have said privately that the kidnappers shall be caught and severely punished – and if they harm his daughter, he will personally see to it that they are hanged in the street outside the walls of Newgate Prison, before a crowd at whose head he shall proudly stand.
Lady Rathbone, of course, says nothing publicly either. But then, such statements and certainly politics aren’t of interest to her. Twenty years her Lord’s junior, she is still a stunning belle of the London scene at age forty. In her youth, she was known to society as “the blind beauty.” Her bewitching brown eyes growing steadily dimmer with every passing year. By the time she met her husband they had become almost sightless. He put her into the hands of his remarkable personal physician, who gave her back her vision with one of his miraculous chemical cures.
No talents, however, and no one’s power, can help Rathbone with the brilliant and sinister abduction of his daughter. By the time November comes and London’s thickest yellow fogs with it, there is still not a solitary clue to this mystery and the police are desperate. It remains unprecedented in the annals of crime: quiet reigns unabated on all sides.
Then finally, on the third day of that month, the silence is broken. Almost instantly, everything changes.
Sherlock Holmes is ready for the news when it comes that morning.
It has been four months since he solved the unusual case of the Crystal Palace flying-trapeze accident and almost single-handedly caused the arrest of the notorious Brixton Gang. But the public doesn’t know the role he played, or of his earlier genius in catching the Whitechapel murderer. Inspector Lestrade and Scotland Yard have made sure of that. While Sherlock hasn’t wavered in his vow to fight injustice with his very life, to avenge his mother’s murder, he reminds himself daily that such aspirations will take time. And so the boy’s world is filled with frustration – it seems to be taking forever to become the man he hopes to be.
He still lives with strange old Sigerson Bell, the Denmark-Street apothecary as he continues to rebuild himself: working hard at school and studies, rereading Samuel Smiles’ best seller Self Help, learning the fighting art of “Bellitsu,” the manly art of pugilism, and gleaning all he can about chemistry.
Though the old apothecary’s business was recently sagging as badly as his flesh, he is back on his financial feet these days, saved from the clutches of his miserly landlord by a steady stream of money, thanks to the young trapeze star known as The Swallow. That remarkable boy, whom Sherlock befriended after the Crystal Palace accident, has directed many of his show-business friends (including The Great Farini and his son, El Niño) in the direction of the smelly little London shop. Their sore limbs and aching backs are now the beneficiaries of Bell’s often unorthodox, but always effective treatments. He requires them to spend hours locked in poses that actually stretch and loosen their muscles – it is most unusual. And sheep bile, rubbed into the joints, was never so valued by a group of patients.
“It reeks like the wrong end of a donkey, sir,” said an aerialist one day, happily rotating his arms in their sockets as if they were gale-driven windmills. “But it does a powerful job making me limbs work.”
“Never mind the stench, Icarus. It’s the effect that matters. I pondered prescribing horse vomit for you, to be taken orally, so consider yourself lucky.”
“The way you’ve fixed me up, good doctor, I’d try anything you propose, short of you chopping off me ‘ead and replacing it with a pig’s.”
“Don’t tempt me, Icarus. The Pig-headed Flying Man would be a showstopper!”
But such spectacular personalities coming and going from the shop haven’t been enough of a distraction for Master Holmes. On the pages of the old man’s Daily Telegraph, in the glorious Illustrated Police News, and the legless newsboy Dupin’s News of the World, he keeps searching for what really excites him; for what makes his blood race. There is unchecked evil everywhere. He sees notices of robberies, assaults, extortion, and even murder – crimes in the dark East End, Southwark, Rotherhithe, and Brixton. Only one of these villainies truly measures up to Sherlock’s needs; is spectacular enough that a solution would gain him his due. He first read of it nearly three months ago … the case of the vanishing girl.
But it is such a maddening crime to even consider solving. There is nowhere to start, neither for the police nor … Sherlock Holmes.
Until that morning: when Lestrade makes his move.
“Have you noticed this little bit in the Telegraph?” inquires Bell in his high-pitched voice at dawn on the eve of Guy Fawkes Day. They are taking one of their unusual breakfasts in the chemical laboratory at the back of the shop; clams this time, washed down with flavored ice and tea. Both partakers are still perspiring, and each sports a darkened eye, the result of a vigorous morning of pugilism during which each struck the other at least one mighty blow to the visage, scientifically delivered, but with maximum force.
Sherlock’s hawk nose rises from his plate. The old man has been keeping the newspaper from him this morning, and he’s been wondering why.
“What little bit is that, sir?”
The white-haired apothecary has only a slightly disguised grin on his face.
“There might be a spot of interest in it for you.”
Bell knows this boy well, this lad after his own heart, and is aware that the newspaper article will fascinate him. He holds it up so Sherlock can see it, but keeps it just beyond his grasp.
“POLICE TO SPEAK ABOUT RATHBONE CASE,” states the headline.
Sherlock’s eyes widen and he reaches out. Bell pulls the paper back. Then he smiles and hands it over. Holmes dives into the article.
“Scotland Yard admits that a ransom note was indeed received from the kidnappers of Victoria Rathbone yesterday, but Lord Rathbone, having refused to pay the required sum, at first forbade the message to be made known. However, it seems that the Force, and the redoubtable Inspector Lestrade, he of the remarkable Whitechapel and Crystal Palace solutions, have convinced the distinguished gentleman to allow them to make a statement ‘simply in order to aid the pursuit of the culprits.’ The trail, it seems, is stone-cold and members of the public may be of help. The Metropolitan Police shall be speaking to representatives of the press at their White-Hall offices tomorrow, directly at the noon hour.”
“You may be away from both school and this establishment tomorrow morning, until one hour past midday,” says Bell the instant he sees that Sherlock has finished reading.
The singular boy has frightened the old man many times since he came into his employment, and not just because of those dangerous solo trips deep into spooky Rotherhithe during the Brixton Gang case, or even the growing competence of his right cross to the jaw. It’s the boy’s disposition that unsettles him – his moods can grow disturbingly dark. Friendless and inward, Sherlock can descend instantly into silence, his mind far away. There have been times when he has been virtually immobile, like a sort of living cadaver, sitting here at the laboratory table while they take their meals. His gray eyes grow narrow and distant, his face alarmingly pale, and his breathing barely palpable.
This lad needs stimulation, thinks the apothecary. He needs it the way an opium addict needs the narcotic jolt of the poppy seed.
The old man observes Sherlock as he sets down the paper. He is not frightened for him today.
The boy’s face is lit up.
Scotland Yard’s famous offices are in White Hall not far from Trafalgar Square in the center of stinking, eardrum-popping London. But Sherlock pays little attention to the rush of rumbling omnibuses and sprite hansom cabs, the advertising signs, the desperate poor, or even the celebrated faces. His mind and his senses are riveted on what will take place outside the redbrick exterior of the Yard, and what he hopes to hear from the mouth of the police spokesman who will break the silence on the Rathbone case. He imagines what he would do if he were to pursue this case: he would be alert for even a whiff of a clue, of something that could open the tiniest of cracks in this mystery. This could be his one chance.
The mouth that does the announcing doesn’t belong to an underling. This is not a time for those low on the pecking order to be seen. It sits under the bushy mustache of the one and only Inspector Lestrade. And the mouth is not upturned as it speaks. It is more like a line. Lestrade is not in a happy mood. And his attitude is not lightened when he notices young Holmes standing at the rear of the crowd of reporters. It is the first truly chilly morning of the season and one of those thick, bitter-tasting fogs has settled in. Lestrade squints out at the boy. If he had the time, he would have the meddlesome half-Jew removed.
“Master Holmes,” says a familiar voice right next to him.
“Master Lestrade, your stealth is growing. Your approach escaped me.”
The Inspector’s son smiles. Though he is at least three or four years older than Sherlock, he is barely taller, and inherited, ferret-like features are unfortunately evident in his face.
“This one is said to be unsolvable, you know.”
“I am only an interested observer.”
“Ah! A mere observer…. Nevertheless, you may be intrigued to know that there are still no real clues.”
“That may soon change.”
“Were someone such as you to try a little investigating on this case, Holmes, I would wish them good luck, but my father will triumph this time, you can take that to the Bank of England.”
The older boy walks away, with a grin. He snakes through the crowd and back toward a spot near his father on the temporary podium, which creaks as he ascends it.
But Sherlock is watching someone else. He’s spotted a bespectacled young man in a brown coat and black top hat near the front, who turns and sees him too. There is a moment of recognition. Sherlock recalls him instantly – the reporter from The Times, the man who saw him in the midst of the action during the dramatic final moments of the Crystal Palace case, but then was silenced by the older Lestrade. The boy has since learned that the man’s name is Hobbs.
Lives in central London, thinks Sherlock, in the old city, age twenty-four, five foot five, not much more than a hundredweight, perhaps nine and a half stone … yet flabby … father is a clerk … not given to bravery … could be used again for my purposes in a pinch. He has picked up clues from the man’s frock coat, the make of his spectacles, and his physical attitude. But he chides himself for making plans. Just listen to what the police have to say. Make mental notes for future cases. Such puzzles as this aren’t for you to solve. Not yet.
“Gentleman,” begins the senior Lestrade in a booming voice, “you have been called to Scotland Yard this noon hour to aid the authorities in the solution of a most heinous crime, that of the abduction of Victoria, dear daughter of the esteemed Lord Rathbone of the upper House, seized two weeks prior to the last instant of August, early evening, approximately five fortnights past, whilst minding her own business riding with her coachman in Hyde Park upon Rotten Row.”
He pauses for dramatic effect.
“I hold in my hand a ransom note …”
Though he brandishes it high in the air like a trophy and the sun even co-operates by suddenly shining past the breaking clouds and glowing through the fog, none of the reporters offers the intake of breath he hoped for, so he goes on.
“It reads …
I have captured your daughter. She is breathing … but perhaps not for long. You may save her life by preparing a quarter-million pounds in small bank notes immediately, and placing said sum at my command when and where I say. You shall be notified of the details of this exchange within three days. Failure to comply will result in your daughter’s execution before the sun sets that day. Be assured that I shall not be made a fool of … though I may make a fool of you.
As the reporters write furiously, Lestrade begins to exhort them to publish this “evil” note verbatim, to encourage their readers to search its contents for clues, and to report anything they know to the Force.
But Sherlock Holmes is ignoring the detective’s drivel. He is focused on a series of distinctive points he’s heard and an enormous one he’s seen. First, there is the fact that this ransom note comes after more than two and a half months of absolutely no communication, but then suddenly puts a very short deadline on its target; secondly, since the note insinuates that there is just one fiend at work, there’s a high probability of there being several; thirdly, the money asked for is gargantuan (making it almost impossible for Rathbone to comply on time), and fourthly, the abductors seem to want to taunt the rich man, again making it difficult for such a man as he to accede to their demands. But the most important clue is the visual one. It is so good that it scares the boy – it is almost irresistible.
As Inspector Lestrade holds the paper high in the air for the reporters to observe and the noon-hour sun begins to dominate the day, Sherlock glimpses something … a very faint watermark. It is the barely detectable outline of two faces.
“I knew you would be here.”
That sweet smell of soap.
Instinctively, Sherlock’s hands go to his perfectly-combed, raven-black hair, intent on making sure it is in place. He had spent a good deal of time attending to it this morning, gazing into the cracked little mirror he has attached to the inside of his wardrobe door. He straightens his poor frock coat, adjusts his necktie, and smoothes out the frayed waistcoat.
Irene Doyle is standing directly behind him, and likely has been for a while.
“It is a case of some interest.”
“Turn around and look at me, Sherlock Holmes. I won’t bite you.”
She is radiant in the sun-drenched fog, dressed beautifully in a buttoned-up white coat with high collar, holding a parasol delicately above her bonneted blonde hair. He hasn’t spoken to her for months, though he’s seen her once or twice, when he just happened to pass by her home. He could swear that he’s also noticed her at least three times on Denmark Street, glancing toward the shop as she walked by on the foot pavement across the road.
Irene has a way of looking at him, examining, almost caressing his features. It is different from other girls. But today there is a grim intensity in her expression, as if she is deeply worried about something.
“It isn’t that, Irene.”
“Then what is it? Because I have never been certain why we can’t be friends. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I … I must be going.”
The parasol comes down violently on his head.
“So must I.”
Sherlock rubs his scalp.
“I am acquainted with the victim,” says Irene as she turns and starts moving rapidly away from him.
“You know her?”
“Now you are interested.” She keeps walking.
“Irene!” He runs after her. “You are acquainted with Victoria Rathbone?”
She stops and smiles. “Why else do you think I came here? To see you?”
Sherlock would never admit that he had ever thought such a thing, had hoped that it might be true.
“Yes, I know her.” She pauses and her voice drops. “She will be murdered, won’t she?”
The boy is surprised to see her eyes moistening.
“Not necessarily,” he says.
“But her father will never pay.”
“Perhaps she can be found.”
“By whom? Inspector Lestrade? He of the remarkable Whitechapel and Crystal Palace solutions?”
“He is a professional of long standing.”
“Sherlock, you hate him. And what about you? I can’t believe you are simply here to watch?”
“I was fortunate before: in the right place at the right time. My day will come.”
“Yes, you are correct. You would fail at this one.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You are just a boy and one who works alone. This case would be much more difficult than the others. You would begin it without a single clue and no inside knowledge of the incident or the people involved.”
“There may be a starting point.”
“Sherlock, you’ve noticed something! You are interested. You are going to look into this, aren’t you?”
“I didn’t say that, either.”
“You would need assistance this time.”
“Not necessar –”
“You would need to know something about Victoria and her family, what her life is like, who she really is in person, who her father’s enemies might be. Does she know her abductors? Was it an inside job? Is she delicate? Did the kidnapping kill her? … Is that why there has been silence?”
“There are ways to –”
“How could you, working class and a boy, know anything about her and her world?”
“But I know her. I know a great deal about her … and I understand girls too, and how they think. In case you haven’t noticed, I am one.”
The boy wraps his frock coat tighter around his thin frame in the bright, cold air. Inside job? It disturbs him to think of where Irene is picking up talk like that.
“If you were to try to investigate this, you would need someone with such information on your side. I want her found too, and not just because I know her. We could help each other, Sherlock. The police are the most proficient at this, you’re right, but who knows how we might contribute? It’s worth trying.”
The people who committed this crime must be desperate fiends – he does not want Irene anywhere near them.
“You are under the illusion that I want to do this.”
She gives him a sly smile.
Sherlock wonders if Irene knows as much as she claims. She is a girl, that’s true. He will admit that. But he doesn’t believe that she could help him with this case simply for that reason. How different can girls be, anyway? He’s not sure about that smile though. Is she toying with him? Usually he can take the measure of anyone; but this young lady has always been puzzling. Does she indeed know things about Victoria Rathbone that might be useful?
“Tell me what you know, Irene.”
“It’s my father and I who want her back … for reasons I cannot say. We need to find her. I will do whatever I have to do to help solve this. If you won’t lend a hand, then I have a friend who will.”
He knows who that is.
“I should tell you that the life of a little boy hangs in the balance, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“He lives in a workhouse. I saw him yesterday. He is going blind and the Rathbones are the only people who can help him. But they aren’t speaking with anyone now.”
“There are thousands of little boys like that, Irene. You know that better than I. Why do you care about this one? And why is Miss Rathbone so important to you?”
Her eyes moisten again; then she looks angry.
“I knew you wouldn’t care about the boy. I don’t know why I told you. He’s a child, Sherlock, with even less in his life than you have! I thought that might mean something to you, but I guess I was wrong.”
“Tell me what you know first, then maybe we can talk about what we might do.”
“Before I give you any information, you must promise me that we will share everything we find. This will be you and me … or my other friend and me. What is your answer?”
“Irene, let’s just … maybe …” he hesitates.
“Whoever solves this will have my father’s eternal gratitude. If someone were to lay the solution at his feet, he would provide that person with anything that is within his power to give.”
Sherlock feels a surge of excitement. Anything? He thinks of school – which he must continue to pay for with the meager income that Bell has started paying him – of university after that, of A.C. Doyle’s influence at such institutions and at Scotland Yard.
If Sherlock agrees, it would mean that he would have to include Irene, put her in danger, and share the credit. She thinks she has him right where she wants him. But does she? Surely her father wouldn’t want her involved. In fact, he might very well thank the boy for keeping her out of it.
“Such a case … could be very dangerous.”
This time, when she turns, she keeps moving. She steams east toward central London.
Irene wouldn’t work with Malefactor, would she?
Still rubbing his head, trying to resist watching her walk away, Sherlock turns back toward Scotland Yard. He tells himself that her attractiveness has nothing to do with her golden hair, the sweet sound of her voice, or those beguiling smiles that disarm him…. It’s simply that she may have a tantalizing connection to the kidnap victim, which would indeed be helpful to anyone investigating this case. What does she really know? He turns back to watch her. She is far away now, nearing the ornate stone arch that connects The Mall to Trafalgar Square. I must get her to talk to me. He wants to run after her. But then several short figures and a tall one appear in the shadows near her. Irene pauses, looks back at Sherlock, and vanishes into the darkness under the arch.
He moves toward the Yard again, thinking about what he’s seen and heard this morning. He has a clue, a good one that he doubts the police have noticed. And if he doesn’t hesitate, looks into the case while he has this advantage, there is an opportunity before him that can change his life. Can he let this chance go?
At that instant, there is a commotion a few hundred feet in front of him.
Inspector Lestrade and his son are attempting to walk out from police headquarters onto wide White Hall Street, where a black four-wheeler awaits them, but the veteran plainclothesman is being hectored by a dozen newspapermen, among them Mr. Hobbs. They surround him like a swarm of bees buzzing with questions. He isn’t answering and looks angry.
This case has been a monstrous public failure for the senior inspector. Sherlock smiles and scoots over. He wants to hear this. It will do his heart good.
“How is it possible, Inspector, to have no clues for three months?”
“Do you think she is already dead?”
“Has anything like this ever happened before?”
“Is your job in jeopardy?”
Even that question cannot draw a comment from Lestrade, but the next one does. And not simply because of its content, though that is bad enough. It comes from Sherlock Holmes. With his lust for vengeance growing as he watches the inspector get what he deserves, the boy shouts at him from behind the mob.
“Are you not ashamed?”
There is silence. All the reporters turn to look at the audacious working-class boy who has just insulted the senior inspector at Scotland Yard.
“What was that you said, you young blackguard?” shouts Lestrade. “Step forward!”
The reporters part and Sherlock walks through them like Moses, unafraid, his big nose lifted high and proud. This is for his mother.
“I said … are you not ashamed?”
Lestrade reaches out with one hand for the boy, the other balled in a fist, but his son pulls him back.
“I ought to thrash you here in public!”
“Desperate men often resort to violence.”
The newsmen are speechless for an instant. Then The Times reporter recognizes the boy.
“Say, aren’t you the lad who –”
“Shut your gob, Mr. Hobbs!” hisses Lestrade. “This child is a loiterer and if he does not move along I shall call a constable.”
“But he isn’t –”
“SHUT UP, Hobbs!”
“I have a clue in the Rathbone case,” says Sherlock calmly.
Several reporters laugh.
“You what?” asks Lestrade Junior.
Aha, thinks Sherlock, they have none.
“And I am the Duke of Wellington come back to life,” smirks the inspector. He puts his hands on his lapels, as if to commence a speech. “This boy is a lunatic. A Jew who wanders the streets, does bit work for an impoverished quack, and several times has pretended to know things about certain well-known crimes. He consorts with young ruffians and has been in jail. We are well aware of him. His parents’ reckless marriage made him a half-breed.”
“Father, I don’t think it is kind to –”
“If you choose to work with me, sir, then you shall be silent.”
The older boy looks at his feet.
“As I was saying, he has delusions and deserves our pity more than anything else. Let me demonstrate. I ask you, Master Holmes, did you not solve both the Whitechapel and Crystal Palace crimes?”
“Yes, I did.”
The reporters roar with laughter.
“Father, we shouldn’t –”
“Silence, boy! I shan’t speak to you again.”
Lestrade is hitting his stride now. He sees Sherlock Holmes shrinking in front of his very eyes and smells blood. It feels so good to get the upper hand for once during this black time. At least he can put an end to this meddler.
“The truth is that his mother was murdered in cold blood by the Whitechapel villain, poisoned like a rat … and he, gentleman, was the cause!”
With that, Lestrade steps up into his carriage, pulling his astonished son with him.
The reporters walk off, mimicking the boy in the threadbare dress clothes. “I have a clue,” snorts one in a child-like voice. They all laugh again, except Hobbs, who gazes at the boy.
With eyes as red as blood, Sherlock Holmes stumbles into an alley off White Hall. He boots over a rotting rain barrel and lets the water in it drain. Then he picks it up and flings it against a wall. When it doesn’t smash, he kicks it, again and again and again … until it splinters into pieces.
“You insult me!” he shouts, “You insult my MOTHER!”
If he were a man, he would challenge Lestrade to fight him in a public place. He doesn’t really give a farthing for the life of that upper-class girl, nor does he know anything of that wretched child in the workhouse, but if he has ever been certain of anything in his life, it is this: he will find Victoria Rathbone! No matter what it takes. He will gain the keys to his future … and announce his solution for all to hear, right in front of that ferret from Scotland Yard. No one and nothing, not Malefactor, not even his own inexperience, will stop him.
“I challenge you, Lestrade! I cannot fight you with pistols at twenty paces, but this will be a duel. I will put a bullet in you!”
He leaves the alley and walks toward Denmark Street, at war with himself.
“Be calm,” he says out loud, grinding his teeth. “Be rational. That is the only way to proceed.”
His mind turns to Irene for an instant. Don’t think about her. You don’t need her. He can’t believe she would work with Malefactor. Pay attention to what you must do. You have a clue. Pursue it and pursue it now.
He is nearing the apothecary’s shop. Watermarks aren’t made by stationers, but by the papermakers themselves: he’s learned that in school. This was a faint one, very faint, apparently not even seen by the police, only visible when held at just the right position in the noon-hour sun.
The ransom note was sent yesterday and had a three-day deadline. Rathbone won’t pay, there is no doubt. There are just forty-eight hours left before they kill his daughter … before opportunity vanishes.
Sigerson Bell is hard at work in the chemical laboratory when his apprentice arrives with a smile pasted on his face, ready to pick the alchemist’s big brain. At first, things don’t seem promising. The old man’s eyes look slightly wild and cloudy, likely from some sort of solution he’s administered to himself. But, as usual, there is a file inside his skull that promises to be of considerable help. They dip into it.
“Yes, I once had a papermaker as a patient,” says Bell. “Something wrong with his bowel, if I recall correctly. Not enough water in the gut was producing a hard stool that smelled like –”
“Yes, my boy?”
“I’m not certain I need to know about the odor of his stool.”
“Quite. A very good point! More pertinent for your purposes is the question of the watermark.”
“Well, let’s see…. This patient was a foreman at one of those new-fangled mills about a forenoon’s walk from central London, out Surrey way to the south where they use wood pulp to make the paper and steam-powered machines to process it. In his earlier day he had toiled at a smaller operation where they used rags, so he was conversant with all aspects of the making of paper. A loquacious sort, he was, though what man in England who has risen above semi-literacy cannot talk your ear right off when given a chance? We are a chatty race. Had terrible halitosis, as I recall, his breath smelled like a dog’s behind after it rolled in …”
“Uh … watermarks, sir?”
“Keep me on the trail, my boy, my nose right to it. Excellent! … What was the trail again?”
“Watermarks! Right you are! Let me see. This gentleman used to speak of the fact that not long ago there were nearly a thousand paper mills in England, but just a hundred or so now, much bigger and more efficient at the art. I recollect him speaking of watermarks indeed, saying they have become much simpler. Just a single letter often suffices now, the sign of the mill. That wasn’t the way in the old days.”
It isn’t much, but it’s a start for Sherlock. The watermark is an old one.
There’s no sense in going to school now: it is early afternoon. It would be impossible to concentrate anyway. The boy works for several hours in the shop, cleaning up around the laboratory, his mind focused on what he should do next. The big clock in the lab seems to be ticking faster and faster. His thoughts wander back to Irene. Her possible contributions remain tantalizing. Does she really know something valuable? But it wouldn’t matter if she did. He simply cannot share the credit for the solution to this crime.
He grows anxious – he needs to come up with something. But he reminds himself to be as emotionless as possible. He sets jars of oozing liquid, containers of severed limbs, mysterious cans of powder that make his nose tingle, all in their proper places. He dusts the many leaning towers of books that make up Bell’s teetering library, and polishes the three precious statues of Hermes. ...
All rights belong to the author: Shane Peacock.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.