It’s short story time again!
A little late this week because I’ve been insanely busy, but better late than never. This is a story I’ve wanted to write for a really long time, starring Arthur Conan Doyle’s wonderful Doctor Watson. I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, but I wanted to approach the story a little bit differently. These characters and books are all in the public domain now, so you should all go write your own too.
Let me know what you think.
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Doctor Watson consulted his notes. This had to be the place, he had been through the crime scene thoroughly. More thoroughly, no doubt, than the Inspector had hoped, but he had all he needed. The murder was quick, and clean, with none of the quirks that would have been needed to get Holmes out of his study and into the street, but Watson prided himself on being somewhat less selective than Holmes had been. His criteria were only that the crime be serious, and his help be useful in apprehending a suspect.
He did not spot them immediately, but at the scene he had located what he considered to be the three essential clues. Firstly, the victim’s body and clothes were stained with oil. He did not have time to do proper tests, but he worked under the assumption that it was some sort of machine oil. A quick perusal through his reference notes and he was confident it was used for lubricating a variety of factory machinery. This narrowed the search immediately to the kind of rooms a labourer could afford. Secondly, he was looking for a man. One of considerable strength. The brutality of the crime, and the effectiveness of the brutality made that a certainty. That mean hard labour, he could exclude the factories hiring women and children. No textiles, or filling jam jars.
Watson stood under the light of the gas lamp and glared at the small lodgings ahead. The last piece of evidence, a small amount of mortar from one of London’s older buildings. Holmes would have said it was as unique as any fingerprint, and yet it had taken him nearly three hours to compare. It was late now, the body that had been deserted in the street would be cold and forgotten now, but her killer was still free. Now here he was, at the only point in London that his three pieces of evidence intersected. He reached inside his coat and drew out his revolver.
The door to the old house opened with little force. Inside was darkness, at first he thought the house was merely empty, but as his eyes adjusted he could see that no one had lived there for some time. He tread carefully as he made his way to the stairs, the owners might have been long gone but someone was always there to take shelter in an empty house. The man he was looking for might have been a vagrant, but it didn’t fit the evidence. He wouldn’t know until he’d examined the building.
He continued up the stairs until he reached a window at the top. It looked out across to the house opposite. Watson almost walked on, but for the light in the window across from him. The distance seemed to close, Watson felt as if he could reach out and touch the man across. The man was frantic, he peered out of the glass and back into Watson’s eyes. He was huge, almost seven feet, his skin stained in grease and grime.
He had been too sure of himself, to proud of his application if Holmes’ impeccable method, and yet he was not Holmes. He had followed the evidence to their source, and yet nothing said the man he was looking for actually lived in the building. How could he have been so stupid. The killer in the window shouted and smashed the lamp behind him. The house opposite was plunged into darkness.
Watson burst on to the street, he hear someone running and gave chase. If the killer was still in the building, he would probably stay. Bunker down and hope he’d mistaken Watson’s intentions, but if that was the man making his escape, Watson would never catch him. He slipped in gave between the terraces and caught sight of the enormous man, silhouetted against the lamplight. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he had to keep going.
As he ran, he thought of Holmes. It had been five years since his friend left London and in that time he had spoken to him only twice. The first was a telegram sent from Sussex shortly after he retired, he informed Watson that he had bought a small property far from the company of strangers, that it was absolutely beautiful and that Watson should visit him some time. Watson replied immediately, and told him he would happily make the journey any time. He received no reply.
The man was keeping his distance, he slowed, as did Watson. They passed people in the street, but the seemed to know better than to interfere. As Watson got his second wind, the man came up on the old Wetherby’s factory and slipped between the back gates. Watson slowed, the man was trapped. He tried to regain his breath, but it was no good. He was getting old. A shame, he heard Holmes’ voice in his head, his physicality was always more useful than his intellect. Would Holmes have really been so callous at a time like this? It felt like it at times, and yet in the years since Holmes left, Watson’s intellect had been useful, hadn’t it? He had assisted in the solution of many cases Holmes’ wouldn’t bother with, and had succeeded more often than he failed.
Still, he felt a fraud. He held his stomach and felt his lungs burn. He stepped up towards the gates. He would never been Holmes, but he could still bring this man to justice. Watson gripped his revolver and followed the man through the gates.
The yard was empty. A gas lamp hung over, illuminating the dark corners. It was empty except for a few sacks of scrap and waste, and a door the Watson guessed led into the back of the factory. He tried it, it was locked from the inside. He turned on his heel, looked for the men behind the gate, hiding the knock him down from behind, but there was nothing. He paused, he had seen something. He ran his hand along the iron gatepost. It was scored along the side.
He remembered Holmes’s letter, the second communication. It was short, Holmes said only that he regretted not being in touch sooner, that his retirement was busier than he anticipated, and that he was happy. It was unlike Holmes, until the end, in which he remarked that he had heard Watson had been taking cases of his own. This was, he asserted, “predictable but fortunate.” Watson wondered if Holmes had been hurt that he had chosen to carry on the work without him, but dismissed it. That would have been unlike him too.
Holmes often had a way of making Watson look a fool, but it was only when the man was gone that he really felt one. He was missing something, Holmes might have ascribed his success to “his method,” but it was apparent to even the most casual observer but there was something unique in the man’s mind. And yet, all the evidence was there, if he could only step back and see it as Holmes did.
Watson spun, pointed his revolver at a window on the second floor and fired without hesitation.
The man lived in the area, he worked in a factory, it was reasonable to assume he worked in this factory. He probably knew someone who could open the door from the other side. What was he doing in his rooms that night? He must have known Watson was tracking him down, he was waiting for him. From the minute Watson gave chase, the man was leading him into a trap. And then there was the score on the gatepost, he had seen that before. The mark from a rifle shot, someone practising for the big moment.
Watson lowered his gun and looked at the window. The point where all the evidence intersected. The seven foot man was slumped over a military rifle, three feet of him limp across the window frame.
Elementary, he thought.