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Chapter I ~ The Strange Case of Amelia Bones
I had never known my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, to be as totally preoccupied with anything so deeply and for such a long time since the death of the late Professor Moriarty as he was over the course of the year preceding this narrative. And never, in all the years I had known him, had he been as recalcitrant in answering questions.
For some months, I had thought it was just the strange case of Ms. Bones which had absorbed him so thoroughly. Ms. Amelia Bones, a quiet middle aged lady living alone in London, had been found dead in her home. All the doors and windows had been locked from the inside and there was no evidence of a break-in, yet there were clear marks of a desperate struggle. Sherlock had originally scoffed at the sensational nature of the reports, and lost no time getting on the case himself. He told the police that the people they were looking for were four in number, dressed in long cloaks, three men and a woman, that the woman was unusually tall, with long dark hair, long nails, and a somewhat hysterical personality, and that the actual murder had been done by one of the men – who had small feet with long toes, was thin, even taller than the woman, and who had stood in the middle of the room talking for some time after the initial struggle, before he actually killed his victim. When asked by the police how these persons got into the locked room, and then back out again without unlocking the doors, breaking the windows, or leaving their tracks anywhere except the room of the murder, Mr. Holmes fixed the officer with a strange look and replied simply: “They teleported.”
After this he was always busy. I was not surprised, for I knew he could not be satisfied until he had gotten to the bottom of the mystery. I did not for one second believe that he really meant that they had teleported, supposing this to be merely sarcasm. He several times took great interest in cases which seemed simple enough to everyone else. He would be absent from London for days at a time, and neglect to volunteer information about where he had been. When asked he would be, as it seemed to me at the time, deliberately evasive. He also, and this to me seemed the strangest thing of all, took up studies of a new and most unusual kind. I could not find the common point in his research; everything from highly technical works on the most up-to-date and abstract micro-physics, to paranormal theories I would have expected him to give a mile’s berth. When I asked if I could help, he assured me that he would be certain to call on me if there was anything I could do … but he still didn’t say what he was up to.
All through this of course, he kept on with his normal work, handling at least as many, perhaps more, cases that year than usual.
It was on the first of August that I finally heard something of the theory which had preoccupied my friend so entirely for so many months. We had just returned from Cornwall, upon an investigation into the disappearance of a young lady by the name of Charity Burbage. She had not, it appeared, been seen for several weeks by the time Sherlock Holmes was called to the case, and there had been little that even he could ascertain from her house by that time. There was no sign of a break in; she might have just left it for the afternoon. She was reported by the neighbours to be a friendly and outgoing woman who spent most of the year up north, where she apparently worked as a teacher. But no one could provide any concrete details on her work or her colleagues. We went back to London that night, as I thought, little the wiser about the young lady’s fate. Sherlock was quiet on the train; I guessed that this time even he was stumped. Rather than returning straight to our homes, he to Baker Street and I to St. Anne Street, we stopped in a small café for a late supper.
The room was empty and rather dingy, and my companion was still wrapped in a taciturn reverie, so I busied myself with the evening paper whilst we ate (or rather I, for he ordered only a coffee). There was a television playing in the corner. My companion’s back was to it, and he showed no signs of being aware of it, or of anything in the café. It took me by surprise, therefore, when the introspective thinker suddenly awoke; his face had become intent and he swung quickly around to look over his shoulder. A news report was playing and it was clearly this which had caught his ear.
“… but by the time the firemen and rescue personnel arrived on the scene, there was no sign of the reported conflagration. A second witness claims to have heard cries at about the time of the initial report, which he said could have been coming from near the corner of Dwight and Forth Streets, but he admits that he might have been mistaken. It remains unclear whether the whole affair was an elaborate joke, if something did indeed happen at the corner, or if someone made a genuine mistake. Meanwhile, at Windsor …”
Sherlock drew his phone from the pocket of his blazer as he turned away. From the suppressed excitement of his face, and the urgency of his movements, it was clear that this story meant a great deal more to him than it did to me.
“You think the incident has some bearing on a case?” I asked, attempting to discern the cause of his reaction.
“Yes indeed it does, if I am not gravely mistaken. A rather great bearing. I was expecting something of the sort.”
“It wasn’t a prank.” he replied, apparently carrying on two conversations at once, for he was texting quite hastily. “I’m sure there really was a fire, or something very closely resembling one. It had just been put out before the rescue team got there.”
“Probably by the people who started it.”
“You expected arson?” I said in surprise. “Shouldn’t you then have warned the police?”
“Why, my dear fellow, you do me an injustice. … I did not in fact inform Scotland Yard, but Mycroft knew full well to watch out for disturbances and suspicious sightings in that area.” He chuckled; his brother’s position in the governement gave him significantly better powers of observation than the police had easy access to. “I rather fancied Scotland Yard might be a bit out of their depth.”
“Well …” I said, looking in surprise at Sherlock, whose expression had immediately lapsed back from the brief chuckle into that of serious concentration, “apparently, so was Mycroft.”
“That report had almost nothing. All we know is that something happened there at nine o’clock this evening.”
These strange assertions did little to enlighten me.
“Sherlock … this doesn’t have anything to do with the Amelia Bones case, does it?”
“You are quite on the mark this evening, John.” “It has everything to do with Amelia Bones. … Mycroft knows almost as little as we do. The alarm of fire was given by one of the agents he had stationed there and the other is missing.”
“Mycroft stationed agents at the corners of Dwight and Forth Streets?!” I said in shock. “What were you expecting to happen? Your brother doesn’t post agents over suspected arson.”
“It wasn’t arson.” he said. “It was a battle. … Gang warfare, John.”
“Gang? The gang that killed Ms. Bones, you mean?”
“Exactly. In fact I have reason to believe that it was her murderer who led this attack.”
Thrilled at finally getting a hint of what he’d been up to all this time, I pursued the thread.
“Who was the murderer?”
“A dangerous and highly unusual man. Tall, thin, long-fingered, cruel, arrogant, fond of the sound of his own voice, violently racist towards ordinary Englishmen, the owner of an extremely large and remarkably well trained python, possessing a great amount of resources, an extraordinary variety of odd technology, and who appears to be the leader of a murderous organization which is very well hidden but spread throughout all of Britain.”
“He’s the … leader of a gang?”
“What do you mean he’s racist towards ordinary Englishmen? Do you mean class hatred?”
“No.” he fixed me with an odd look. “I mean people like you and me, John.”
My confusion must have shown on my face, for he continued wryly:
“Yes, that does happen. It unfortunately happens more often than you’d think. This gang leader is only one such.”
“Who is he?”
“His name you mean?”
“Well, of this I cannot be sure … but I have a theory. I believe, or rather to be fair, I think it highly likely, his name is Riddle.”
“Just Riddle? Is that some sort of …”
“No no, nothing of the kind. But I have reason to believe that he was the son of a country squire named Thomas Riddle, which would make his surname Riddle.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so very far from ordinary. What exactly do you mean by …” I broke off as his gaze suddenly flashed to the door. A pair of teenagers had just come in together, a girl and a boy. Besides the slightly odd fact that the girl was wearing a lovely lavender party dress while the boy was in worn jeans and a rumpled orange sweatshirt, I could see nothing about them to warrant interest. But I could see that Sherlock, though pretending to play with his phone, was really watching them very closely. They took a booth near the door, and sat there, looking a bit uncomfortable. They were speaking to each other, but in whispers I could not pick up.
“What is it?” I asked my companion.
“They’re fugitives.” he said beneath his breath, still playing with the phone.
“How do you make that out?”
“Look at them. They’ve just come from a formal event. Look at her clothes and hair. But they left in a hurry. He was wearing dress clothes too, but changed out of them quickly. He pulled on the clothes he’s wearing now fast and carelessly. But he’s still wearing his dress shoes. They were at the event together then, but he changed. Why? Not for practicality’s sake. If that had been the case she’d have taken off those heels. Perhaps because his clothes would stand out more than hers. … Long robes, for instance.” He gave me a look, as if wondering whether I got something. Then I remembered he had described Ms. Bones’ assailants as wearing long cloaks or robes. “They are clearly nervous, perhaps they expect to be followed. The young lady keeps looking over her shoulder at the door. So, they left a party in a great hurry, were worried they would stand out, fear attack … and don’t know what to do next. You can see from their manner that they are uncertain.”
“Maybe it’s just a bad date?”
“No. That wouldn’t explain him changing his outfit. And hers is too formal for that. And they aren’t nervous about each other. Look at the way she’s leaning across the table towards him, it’s almost conspiratorial, they’re very used to each other. They can’t be out of school yet, or at least he can’t. But they aren’t related, at least not closely. … First of all there’s their appearance, absolutely no family resemblance. Then there’s their clothes. Her things appear new. Not his.”
“Well, hers are formal wear.”
“Yes, but he’s still wearing his formal shoes. Did you notice the soles? Almost worn through. A boy that age doesn’t usually fit a pair of dress shoes long enough to wear them through. They’re hand-me-downs then, or second-hand. Her family has to be at least solidly middle-class. His is short on money. These school children are not close relatives then, but still very familiar. School friends then. And what might we deduce about their companion?”
“Companion?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down in my surprise. “Sherlock, there’s only two of them.”
“Yes. I wouldn’t expect you to notice him. But this isn’t the first time this year I’ve happened across difficult to see things. Did you notice the way they walked in? She came first, and he followed some space behind her, pausing just momentarily, but leaving a good space between them. She sat down right away in the left hand side, but he waited before taking the opposite seat; looking not at her but at the seat. It shifted, just slightly, before he sat down. There is a third person sitting next to him on the right hand bench.”
“But how …”
“The manipulation of light waves to bend around an object rather than bouncing off it has been theorized. Of course, none of our scientists have yet managed to make such an object, but this group has done enough strange things that we have not that I find it not in the slightest difficult to conceive that they have done this also. Especially since the proof sits in front of me.”
“Well then,” I said, with raised eyebrows, “what can be deduced about him … or her?”
“Him, I think, though I shalln’t insist on this point. Judging by the shifting of the bench, I’d say he’s slightly lighter than his red-headed friend (how tall it is impossible to say). Unlikely to be a full grown man then, although he could be a small one. Possibly he could be a woman. But more likely another teenager. And look at their manner to him. They aren’t directly addressing him, and he hasn’t ordered a drink. … They are pretending there’s only two of them, but they keep giving off subtle cues showing that the third person is very much a part of their little group. When she bends across the table, it isn’t directly towards the red-head. Their posture takes him into account. They probably don’t even realize it. They don’t look directly at the corner seat much, but they keep glancing towards it, not nervously, but conversationally, and at least in her case, rather sympathetically. Whoever is sitting there is clearly not only an ally, but as familiar as they are to each other, they neither avoid him, nor defer to him, he is solidly one of them. … In all likelihood a third school friend. A little knot of three.
“But it is only he who is invisible. It’s probably a small piece of equipment, worn like a cloak or a poncho. Since they are obviously keen on not being seen, they would clearly all be wearing them if they had them, but they are not, so they only have one. And he gets it. Why?”
“Because … it’s him, or her, that’s actually in danger?”
“A sound conclusion. For some reason, the third person is either in more danger, or is more likely to be noticed, or both.” continued Sherlock. “He gets the invisibility cloak.”
“Invisibility cloak.” I said with half a laugh shaking my head. “Sherlock, you have a point, but that sounds so …”
“No, not at all. In theory it’s really rather simple, you merely…”
“No, I don’t need a science lecture. … I’ll take your word for it. … Now, why are they on the run? Something to do with that … battle you mentioned?”
“The two incidents are too close for them to be coincidental. There’s something going on there at the corner of Dwight and Forth, related to this secret minority or gang. I’ve been keeping a close eye on it, and have very good reason to believe that it is something of a centre of operations.”
“What have you seen?”
“It’s more what I haven’t.” he said. “I don’t normally wake up on Northumberland street with no idea how I got there, but with a clear memory of having intended to search Dwight and Forth that morning.”
“You think that someone messed with your mind?”
“I’m sure that they did.”
“And you’ve no idea what happened that day?”
“Oh, I have a very good idea.” He smiled grimly. “But I have absolutely no ‘memory’ of the hours between ten and one. … Clearly …”
“I see. … And, is this the only time this has happened?”
He shook his head. “No, something similar has happened on at least two other occasions since I got on the case – possibly three.”
“So, you obviously found something …”
“And they took it back. Yes.” he snapped. “But I’m quite certain about Dwight and Forth. They didn’t see me every time – I was quite right in telling Hopkins about the long robes and cloaks, by the way.” His momentary irritation had faded. “So, a battle happens at a central base of operations, almost immediately thereafter, three school children run away in the middle of a formal party, try to blend in among normal people, aren’t sure where to go or what to do now, expect attack, and bother to make one of their number invisible.”
“Their side lost the battle.” I said, but this time I wasn’t asking.
“I think they must have. And for some reason these three children expected immediate recrimination. Why? They’re just teenagers. It’s difficult to see why they would be special targets.”
“But what is really under the cloak?”
“Yes, I think that has to be it. He is on the run, and they have accompanied their friend. So, the third person is someone of importance to this secret war, on the side which has just lost a battle, and unless I’m gravely mistaken, against the side which is responsible for Ms. Bones murder and Miss Burbage’s abduction.”
“Wait. Miss Burbage was abducted? You didn’t say that before. How do you know that, there was nothing in her house to …”
“She was abducted.” he said, as if there could be no mistake about the matter. “I’m afraid it is highly unlikely that she is still alive. And even if she were, it would be impossible for the police to effect a rescue at this stage. But this teen …” He broke off, his eyes flashed to the door, where two big, ill-tempered looking men in road-work uniforms had just come in. They stomped to a table behind us, near the teens, out of my sight. Sherlock, though he kept his face mostly in the direction of his phone, clearly found something either interesting or alarming about them (probably both, I thought to myself).
“Humph.” he observed. “Didn’t even bother to scuff up their boots. John, I did recommend you bring your handgun today … ”
“Yes, I have it.”
“You might want want to have it where you can reach it quickly. There might be an exchange of unpleasantries.”
“They aren’t workmen?”
“Goodness no. Look at their hands. … No, don’t look, you’ll attract attention. And see, they aren’t here for coffee or sandwiches.” The waitress was walking off towards the back looking miffed.
“Should we uh … say something? Maybe?” I suggested.
“Oh no.” my friend replied. “We shall watch the situation develop. … Besides, I rather fancy our invisible young friend has read the signs too.” He leaned back a little in his seat and pressed the tips of his fingers together, surveying the ‘developing situation’. In response to his warning, I had taken my pistol off safety, and had it in my hand. I could not see the two men from my position, and so waited uncomfortably in the knowledge that a fight between grown men and mere children was brewing behind my back. Then suddenly, Sherlock leapt to his feet with a cry of warning … and chaos broke loose.
The scene that followed was of such a singular nature, and was so outré a sight, that I hesitate to describe it. My first thought was that there had been an explosion, for in the moment it took me to jump up and turn round, there was a succession of loud noises of an unfamiliar nature, accompanied by much crashing and flashes of light. But the scene which met my eyes was one of near comedic nonsensicalism. From what Sherlock had told me, I should have expected it, but nevertheless, the sight of a hand and wrist hovering in mid-air all by themselves took me by surprise. And so too did their weapons. For a fraction of a second I thought that they had none, and wondered why they were grasping small drumsticks, before I realized that those were their weapons.
With a shout, I sent a bullet into the table beside the not-workmen to get their attention before any of them had time to fire again. For a moment the two teens and the remaining man (the other had slumped over on the bench) stopped and looked at us with what seemed to be astonishment. The bodiless hand paused in mid-air.
“I don’t know what your problem is.” I said. “But you don’t have to go around smashing up shops and zapping passer-bys! Put the drumsticks down!”
“I recommend that you don’t make him fire again.” Sherlock said coolly. “The first was a warning shot. The second won’t be. And I’ve never seen him miss.”
There was a moment’s pause in which the astonishment on all three of the faces was replaced by an ugly sneer on the not-workman’s face and horror on the girl’s face. Then the not-workman began to laugh, a nasty laugh which chilled my stomach.
Certain that this was the prelude to something not at all friendly, I began to threaten.
“Point that drumstick at me,” I blustered, “and …”
And then he pointed it at me. Then, as far as I could make out, everyone – besides Sherlock and the unconscious not-workman – fired at once.
For a moment I could make no sense of it. My own bullet whizzed right back past me and took out a light-panel. The not-workman fell backwards with a horrible shriek, in spite of the fact that my bullet couldn’t possibly have hit him. There was more flashing, a window broke, and the waitress slid to the ground.
Then all was quiet, and Sherlock Holmes, the two teens, the bodiless hand, and I stood there amidst the wreckage of the café.
“Well. … That. Was. Interesting.” said Sherlock.
I turned to the teenagers: “You all right, kids?”