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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Mystery featuring Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle is mistaken for Sherlock Holmes and must use his wits to free an innocent man accused of murder.

Submitted: December 21, 2010

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 21, 2010




It was a cold morning in January 1927. The wind whistled through the trees outside and the rain pelted against the four small panes in the upstairs window of the two-storey Sussex home.

A local G.P. of little renown, Dr Theodore Carringbush, I had at first cursed my luck at being called out of my warm bed so early on such a desolate morning, until finding myself in very illustrious company indeed. Across from me, while I bent over my patient, stood a literary giant and renowned spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Beside Conan Doyle, looking almost as hagged as the man I had been called out to treat, was seated Doyle’s co-author of many years, Dr John H. Watson. Upon the small bed, the greatest consulting detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes, lay dying.

Fighting for the life of my patient, a victim of a common stroke, I had little time to notice my surroundings, other than to note the small wooden bedside table, a large cupboard near the foot of the bed, and the high-back chair upon which sat the stout figure of Dr Watson.

Having done as much as I could for the grey-haired detective, I stepped back from the bed and stretched to ease the ache in my back, from having been stooped across the bed for more than two hours.

As I straightened and rubbed at my back with one hand, I caught the gaze of Conan Doyle, who raised a questioning eyebrow. I shrugged my shoulders in reply, admitting that I could make no promises.

Hearing the sound of tea cups jingling, I turned around to see the short, plump figure of Mrs Hudson, carrying a tray holding a bowl of broth, a teapot and four cups and saucers. Familiar with the name, from the narratives by Dr Watson and Sir Arthur, I had at first been surprised to find the good lady still alive, imagining that she would have to be more than one hundred years of age. However, during the course of my administrations I had overheard enough scraps of conversation to enable me to deduce that the grey-haired matriarch who placed the cane tray upon the small bedside table was named Eileen, and was in fact the daughter-in-law of the famous Mrs Hudson, who had died nearly a decade earlier.

Eileen Hudson and her husband, Tom, had taken up residence with the famous detective fifteen years earlier, when he had retired from his Baker Street lodgings to pursue the hobby of bee-keeping here at Sussex Downs.

Mrs Hudson lifted the bowl from the tray and tried without success to make the great detective swallow a few spoonfuls.

“Come on now, Mr Holmes, you really must try to eat something,” she coaxed, as though talking to a naughty child, however, her tone was more plea than admonition.

She tried to feed Holmes, without success, for a few moments, before turning to Dr Watson to say, “You really must try to get him to eat something Doctor.”

Watson looked up startled and muttered, “What? Oh yes, yes, of course, Mrs Hudson. I will see what I can do.”

Mrs Hudson retired from the room and Dr Watson took over the task of trying to persuade the great detective to eat.

For a few moments there was a calm, and so I took the opportunity to study the other three men more closely. Sherlock Holmes was very tall, perhaps six foot three, deathly thin, with the famous beak nose which had been chronicled so faithfully by Watson and Conan Doyle, and was almost grey-skinned with age. Dr Watson was nearly a foot shorter than his long time companion, and very much overweight, although no-doubt if brought to task over it he would insist that he was the ideal weight for a man of his age, and wore a thick, bushy, grey moustache, as did Sir Arthur. Like Holmes, Conan Doyle was considerably taller than Watson, but not nearly so thin as Holmes, although he was far from stout. All three men had short, grey hair, as did I myself, although I was no more than forty years of age at the time.

Things had quietened down, and for a moment it seemed as though Dr Watson were going to succeed where Mrs Hudson had failed. But then Sherlock Holmes began to thrash his arms about like a man possessed, and knocked the bowl of soup out of Watson’s hands, coating the bed, Watson, and the nearly new floral carpet with chicken broth.

“Watson! Watson!” called out Holmes in a feeble voice.

“Here I am, Holmes,” answered the good doctor, lightly taking hold of the great detective’s shoulders.

Sherlock Holmes’s eyes gaped wide open, then partially closed again, as his vision seemed to come into focus and he recognised his long time companion.

“Moriarty! Professor Moriarty!”

“Dead, Holmes,” reminded Watson.

“Dead?” echoed Holmes, clearly puzzled.

“That’s right. Don’t you remember Holmes, you threw him over the Reichenbach Falls?”

“Reichenbach Falls?”

“Yes, Holmes, you threw him over.”

“Threw him over?”

“Yes, Moriarty. You threw Professor Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls,” explained Watson.

“Threw Professor Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls?” echoed Holmes listlessly, clearly not comprehending.

“Yes,” said Watson softly, obviously close to tears. Watson bent across his long time companion, and buried his head in the bedclothes for a few moments. When he finally looked up again, the good doctor was openly crying.

I hurried across and clutched Holmes’s wrist to search for a pulse and found none. As I fought futilely to restore life to the great detective, Watson cried unabashedly.

When at last I gave up the fight, Watson looked up at me, tears streaming down his pudgy cheeks and said in a weak voice, “Do you know what his last words to me were?” I shook my head, and Watson said, “‘Don’t let word out about my death. It will create an unhealthy excitement among the criminal class.’”

I walked around the bed to put a comforting hand upon Watson’s shoulder and he looked up to ask, “Would you...would you leave me alone with him for a few moments?”

“Yes, of course, John,” said Conan Doyle, and the two of us walked out into the tiny alcove which led through to the sitting room.

I had marvelled at the room briefly upon being herded through on my way to my patient, earlier in the evening. To all extent and purpose it was a sitting room-cum-library-cum-laboratory. Large wall-to-ceiling length bookcases lined two walls, housing literally thousands of hard-cover books, journals and files; some fiction, but mainly non-fiction -- many of them bearing Holmes’s name as author. They seemingly covered every known subject, from the more traditional sciences through to the esoteric and even occult sciences. I well knew of Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest in the occult and spiritualism, and could not help wondering whether Sherlock Holmes had shared his biographer’s preoccupation. In the middle of the room were two plush, leather armchairs, facing toward a large open fireplace. Behind the two chairs, near the door to the bedroom, was a long wooden bench, covered with a wide assortment of chemistry apparatus: glass tubing, burners, and a large array of test tubes containing all manner of brightly coloured chemicals.

Conan Doyle poured two glasses of sweet sherry from a small spirit cabinet a few feet in front of the laboratory bench, and then we settled down in the armchairs to enjoy the warming glow emanating from the open fire.

We sipped our wine in silence for a few moments, then Conan Doyle said, “Poor Watson, I don’t know what he will do now. Holmes has been such an important part of his life since they were brought together by young Stamford in 1881.”

“Have you known them long?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Watson and I go right back to the mid 1870’s, when we did our medical studies together at the University of London. I first met Holmes in the mid 1880’s.” He stopped to sip his sherry for a moment, while pondering. “1886, I think. Watson had been pleading with Holmes for a couple of years, to allow him to write up some of Holmes investigations, since invariably the credit for Holmes’s work always went to Lestrade, or Hopkins, or Athelney Jones, or one of the other Scotland Yard boys.

“By that time I had already had a handful of short stories published. So, after a botched attempt to transcribe one of Holmes’s cases by himself, Watson approached me to help him to prepare A Study in Scarlet, from Holmes’s notes.”

“And instant fame and fortune?” I asked.

“On the contrary, no one wanted to have a bar of the book. In the end, out of desperation, we let it go to Ward, Lock and Co., for the paltry sum of twenty-five pounds. Which did not stretch very far between the three of us, even in those days. And even then they held it over for a year, before releasing it as Beeton’s Christmas Annual. Of course, they made a mint on the deal, but we never saw a brass far-thing more than the original twenty-five pounds.

“So we went our separate ways for a while. Myself to write The White Company; Watson to write up a few of Holmes’s briefer case histories. It was in early 1889 that we began to write together again, and, of course, went on to write up another three major cases, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Valley of Fear, along with another fifty or so shorter cases.” Conan Doyle paused for a moment to sip his sherry, basking in the warming glow of the open fireplace, then said, “So you see, Holmes has been a major part of my life too for the last forty years or so. Of course, I have written other stories: The Marcot Deep, Sir Gerald....”

At first I was puzzled by Conan Doyle’s sudden silence, but then I noticed the portly figure of Eileen Hudson standing beside my armchair, peering across at the famous author.

“I am terribly sorry to disturb you, Mr Conan Doyle,” said Mrs Hudson, “but there is a young lady downstairs, who insists that she must speak to Mr Holmes.”

“Mr Holmes is dead, Mrs Hudson,” said Conan Doyle quietly.

“Oh dear me, poor Mr Holmes,” said Mrs Hudson. “Whatever shall I tell the young lassie?”

“Did you tell her of Mr Holmes’s condition?”

“No, sir. Only that the poor man was indisposed.” For a few seconds we sipped our wine, Mrs Hudson standing beside my armchair, while Conan Doyle contemplated the best course of action.

“Well, I imagine...” began Conan Doyle, who was interrupted by the sound of running footsteps upon the stairs outside the room.

A young woman raced into the room, and had almost reached the opposite door, leading to Holmes’s bedroom, before she realised that we were seated by the fire. For a few seconds she stood a few feet away from the doorway, peering across at us, before running across to stand behind the small cane table which stood upon the floor in front of the two armchairs.

She peered at Conan Doyle, then at me, before asking: “Mr Holmes?”

I was too spellbound by her beauty to reply. She was very tall and beautiful. Long red hair hung down well passed her shoulders. Like many redheads her skin was very pink and freckles lined her face. Yet, somehow they added to her beauty rather than detracting from it. She had bright, sparkling green eyes, high cheek bones and full, red lips. She was remarkably tall, nearly six foot, yet despite that her body seemed very well curved and feminine.

I was still studying the young lady’s figure, when the portly Mrs Hudson strode forward purposefully to take her by one arm and announce, “Here now, young lassie, didn’t I tell you to wait downstairs?”

Mrs Hudson started to half lead, half drag the young woman away from the hearth, toward the door to the staircase.

“Mr Holmes, oh Mr Holmes, you have just got to help me,” pleaded the young woman, trying desperately to break free from Eileen Hudson’s surprisingly strong grip. “I don’t know who else to turn to....”

“Now, now, my girl, that will be quite enough of that,” chastised Mrs Hudson, as she opened the door to lead the young woman out into the corridor.

Conan Doyle cleared his throat loudly, then announced, “That will be all right, Mrs Hudson. The least that we can do is hear the young lady out, since she has taken the trouble to come calling on such a miserable morning.”

Thinking of the recent death of the great detective, I thought, Miserable in more ways than one!

Mrs Hudson glared toward the great author, obviously disappointed that she would not have the opportunity to throw the young woman back out into the teeming rain. However, reluctantly, she released the arm of the young woman who scurried back across to stand with her rather shapely behind almost inside the large, open fireplace, as she warmed herself and tried to think of an opening to her tale.

Although her clothing seemed dry enough, the young woman’s long, red hair was soaked through, indicating that she had come out with an overcoat, but without a hood or umbrella. She warmed herself for a couple of minutes before the blazing fire, obviously revelling in the glorious warmth, after the chill night air, before speaking.

“I...I don’t quite know where to start,” she confessed.

“Perhaps you could start by telling us your name, my dear?” suggested Conan Doyle.

“Margaret Douglas,” she answered, before leaning forward slightly, peering almost expectantly toward Conan Doyle, as though awaiting his next question.

I thought, ‘This could take all day, if we’re going to arrive at her story by a series of questions and answers.’ But then, entranced by her beautiful profile, I decided that I might not mind if it did take all day.

As the young woman hesitated further, I stood and offered her my armchair, announcing, “I had best be on my way now.”

“No, no, Dr Watson, don’t leave,” pleaded Margaret Douglas. “You must hear my story too.”

She refused the offer of my armchair, preferring to stand in front of the large fireplace, however, she gladly accepted

Conan Doyle’s offer of a glass of warming sherry, which she gulped down in two mouthfuls, before blushing at her unladylike conduct. However, we hurriedly assured her that we would make allowances for the wretched morning.

At last Conan Doyle said, “Now that we are settled, suppose you tell us what brings you to our doorstep on such an abysmal morning, Mrs Douglas?”

‘Mrs?’ I thought, then followed Conan Doyle’s gaze to the slim band of gold on her ring finger and thought, ‘So Holmes wasn’t the only one!’

“Murder!” said Margaret Douglas, rousing me from my reverie.

“What?” I asked, deeply shocked.

More calmly, Conan Doyle asked, “Murder of whom, pray tell?”

“My husband, Ian.”

“Do you have any idea who the murderer is?” asked Conan Doyle, amazing us both with his incredible calmness.

“No, none at all,” assured Margaret Douglas, fixing Conan Doyle with a long gaze from her beautiful green eyes, “but the police think that it was Andrew.”

“Andrew?” I asked.

“Andrew Douglas, Ian’s younger brother,” explained Margaret. “But it cannot be Andrew.”

“Yet the police must have some reason for suspecting your brother-in-law,” said Conan Doyle. “The police don’t go around arresting people on mere whims...any more.”

“Well...yes,” agreed Margaret hesitantly, “you see Andrew and I were engaged to be married...before I met Ian that is...and so the police seem to think that Andrew may have been nurturing a secret hatred for Ian these past five years, until finally it burst forth, causing Andrew to commit cold-blooded murder.”

“Hardly cold-blooded under those circumstances,” I said.

“But Andrew didn’t do it!” insisted Margaret. “I know he didn’t do it!”

“How do you know?” asked Conan Doyle.

“Because...” said Margaret, hesitating. She took a step forward and rubbed with one hand at her posterior, which had obviously got a little too warm from the heat of the open fire, then stammered, “Because Andrew was with me at the time that Tan was murdered.”

“Then I fail to see what your problem is,” said Conan Doyle. “All you need to do is go to the police and vouch for your brother-in-law’s whereabouts at the time of the killing....”

“I’m afraid that it is not quite that simple,” Margaret said, fixing Conan Doyle with a look from her beautiful green eyes. “You see, Andrew and I are lovers.”

“You mean that you were lovers?” I asked.

“No, no, Dr Watson, I mean that we are lovers,” corrected the beautiful redhead. “You see, Mr Holmes, Andrew was with me at the time Ian was killed; in bed with me.”

“I say!” I said, decidedly shocked at this revelation.

With infuriating calmness, Conan Doyle said, “Well, that does somewhat complicate matters.” Ruminatively fingering his bushy, grey moustache.

I looked at the great author in amazement, then at the beautiful redhead, and saw that she too was astounded by Conan Doyle’s cool-headedness. She fixed her glorious green eyes upon my face for a moment, then looked away blushing, obviously remembering the admission which she had just made in my presence.

“There is no way that you could vouch for Andrew, without informing the police of your relationship,” said Conan Doyle.

“But if she does that, the police will accuse her of being a biased witness,” I pointed out.

Conan Doyle nodded his agreement.

“But there must be something that you can do, Mr Holmes?”

Conan Doyle took a fob watch from his trousers, clicked the watch open, then said, “Let me see. It is a little after five a.m. now, so I assume that the murder occurred some time last night?”

“Just before midnight,” confirmed the redhead, “but the police did not take Andrew into custody until half an hour ago.”

“You were with him when he was arrested?”

“Yes, however, I stayed in the bedroom and eaves dropped on their conversation,” admitted Margaret. She blushed again, then said, “Perhaps it would have been best if I had made my presence known to the police there and then. Then I could have explained why Andrew could not have murdered Ian.”

“Still, there would have been more than enough time for Andrew to kill your husband, then flee to your warm bed,” suggested Conan Doyle, making the beautiful redhead blush becomingly.

“But he didn’t!” Margaret almost shouted at the great author. “He was with me all the time from about 7:30 p.m.

“You went to bed at 7:30?” asked Conan Doyle.

“,” stammered Margaret Douglas, blushing again.

Watching the beautiful redhead, I could well understand the reason for their early night, however, to my amazement, I noticed that Conan Doyle kept a perfectly straight face as he repeated the question.

“Yes,” admitted Margaret, “we did.”

“Then the first thing that we must do is have a few words with Andrew,” suggested Conan Doyle. “I don’t suppose that you managed to overhear the name of the police officer who arrested your lover?”

“Oh yes, yes I did,” said Margaret. She scratched at her left temple with an index finger for a moment, then said, “Now let me see...Oh yes, of course, Lestrade. Inspector Lestrade.”

* * *

A half an hour later Lestrade, Conan Doyle and I stood in a small hallway outside the underground cell where Andrew Douglas was being detained. We had taken Margaret Douglas back to Andrew’s Campdenhouse Road dwelling first, then had set out immediately to speak to the accused.

Lestrade was a tall, deathly thin man, balding, with snowy white hair and hard features, seemingly chiselled out of marble. However, his features soften considerably for a moment as he said: “So Sherlock Holmes is dead?”

“That’s correct,” agreed Conan Doyle. “He was struck down by the greatest killer of them all.”

“Professor Moriarty?” asked Lestrade. His hard features suddenly lined with surprise and just a hint of fear.

“No, no old age.”

Lestrade audibly heaved a sigh of relief, then said, “You had me worried for a moment there...It’s nearly forty years since I despatched Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls.”

“You despatched Moriarty?” asked Conan Doyle, calmly enough, but with just the trace of an edge behind his voice.

“Er...well, with a little help from Mr Holmes, of course,” admitted Lestrade. Then as Conan Doyle continued to stare, Lestrade added, “Actually it was Mr Holmes who actually threw the villain over the falls....”

“Perhaps we can see the prisoner for a few minutes, now,” suggested Conan Doyle. “If you don’t mind, Inspector?”

“It’s Chief Inspector now, if you don’t mind,” said Lestrade. “Actually I could have retired years ago, but they just couldn’t spare me from the force, so I agreed to stay on, in exchange for the promotion.”

Conan Doyle shook his head ruefully and raised an eyebrow for my benefit, then said, “Well, at any rate, Chief Inspector, I have agreed to help Mrs Douglas to clear the name of her brother-in-law.”

“You’ll have a hard job doing that, Mr Conan Doyle,” said Lestrade, taking a large key chain from an inner pocket of his heavy overcoat. “He’s as guilty as the day is long. It seems that his sister-in-law was an old flame, before she dropped him to marry his wealthy brother.”

“Wealthy brother?” asked Conan Doyle, as Lestrade examined the key chain ruminatively, trying to decide which of the one hundred or so almost identical keys was the one which would open the heavy metal door to the cell that we stood before. “Margaret Douglas did not mention that the deceased had been a wealthy man.”

“No, well she wouldn’t now, would she?” said Lestrade, deciding to try a key in the lock. The key fitted, but refused to turn, and for a moment refused to come out of the keyhole. Finally Lestrade managed to withdraw the key by pulling with both hands. “Not if she were trying to protect her old flame.”

“Perhaps not,” agreed Conan Doyle, as Lestrade tried a second key in the lock. “Still, it is up to you to prove Andrew Douglas’s guilt; not him to prove his innocence.”

“And you think I can’t?” asked Lestrade, smirking for a moment, then grimacing with frustration as the second key also stuck in the lock. “Then how about this? The deceased was killed with his brother’s revolver!”

For the first time since I had met him, Conan Doyle looked startled. He asked, “Can you prove that?”

“I wouldn’t have said it if I couldn’t prove it, now would I?” asked Lestrade. Then, realising that it was futile to wait for an answer, he continued, “The handgun has been identified by the dead man’s maid, Bridget.” He tried a third key in the lock, without success, then said, “And by Andrew Douglas himself!”

Conan Doyle and I were both amazed by this revelation; it was the great author who asked, “Andrew Douglas has identified the murder weapon as his own gun?”

“That is correct,” agreed Lestrade, scratching his chin ruminatively with the third key, before deciding to try a fourth key in the lock.

“That is hardly the act of a guilty man,” I pointed out.

“Unless, of course, he were clever enough to realise that he had more to gain by admitting ownership of the gun, than by denying it and then perhaps being caught out in a lie,” insisted Lestrade withdrawing the fourth key from the lock.

“Oh come on!” I said, amazed by the Chief Inspector’s stupidity. However, Conan Doyle, who had had a lot more experience with the policeman, merely said: “Perhaps, Lestrade.”

“But the strangest thing of all, is that the killing was completely needless,” said Lestrade, failing to get a fifth key to even go into the lock.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because Ian Douglas was already dying?”

“What?” I asked, staring hard at Lestrade, who was smirking like the idiot that I was beginning to suspect him of being.

“That’s right, Dr Carringbush,” said Lestrade. “Ian Douglas was already dying of ele...elephant...” He reached into an inner pocket of the overcoat and took out a small note pad, which he leafed through for a few moments, before announcing, “Ah, here it is, elephantiasis.”

“What?” demanded Conan Doyle, fingering his bushy, grey moustache in consternation.

Lestrade read the single word through to himself a few times, obviously wondering whether he had mispronounced it, scratching his head with a key on the chain, then said, “Ian Douglas was dying of elephantiasis.”

“How in the world did he ever contract elephantiasis?” asked the great author. “It is not exactly the type of disease that you would come in contact with very often in Sussex, or the British Isles for that matter. Elephantiasis comes from the West Indies. It is caused by a parasitic, hair-like worm, which invades the body’s lymphatic channels. It is spread to humans through mosquito bites and occurs only in tropical or subtropical regions. Which would seem to exclude the British Isles.” Seeing that Lestrade was obviously impressed by Conan Doyle’s monologue, I decided to put in my tuppence worth and said, “Isn’t that what killed John Merrick, the Elephant Man?”

“Joseph Merrick,” corrected Conan Doyle. “No, but it was something very similar to elephantiasis, at least in appearance.” He scratched his chin ruminatively for a moment, then added, “Multiple neurofibromatosis, if I remember rightly. Otherwise known as von Recklinghausen’s disease.” He paused again, then turned his full attention upon Lestrade and said, “But listen here, Lestrade, if Ian Douglas had elephantiasis, he must have been to the West Indies at least once.”

“At least fifty times, more like it,” said Lestrade, making us both stare at him. “That is what the maid, Bridget, claims. Apparently that’s how Douglas made his fortune, by trading between England and the West Indies and he made countless trips to the West Indies over a period of about twenty years.”

Conan Doyle considered that for a moment, then said, “But if he were dying of elephantiasis, his brother, Andrew, must have known about it, surely?”

“Of course,” I agreed. “It’s not exactly the sort of thing that you can hide. What, with your arms and legs blowing up like balloons....”

“Well, that’s true enough, Doctor,” agreed Lestrade, “but as I often used to say to Mr Holmes, there’s no accounting for the way the criminal mind works.”

“Rubbish, Lestrade!” said Conan Doyle, and I was tempted to add, ‘As, no doubt, Mr Holmes often used to say to you, Lestrade!’

Throughout our conversation, Lestrade had been trying various keys in the lock, and finally he was rewarded by a loud click as the door unlocked. Lestrade held the key up in triumph, smirking as though he had just personally captured Jack the Ripper.

As Lestrade moved to swing the ancient iron door open, Conan Doyle place a restraining hand upon the Chief Inspector’s arm, and said, “One more thing before we go in to the cell, Lestrade. For some reason, Margaret Douglas thinks that I am Sherlock Holmes.”

“She thinks...?” asked Lestrade. He scratched his head ruminatively with the key to the cell door, turned to face me, and said, “And I suppose that you are Dr Watson?”

“I’m glad to see that you have caught on so quickly, Chief Inspector,” said Conan Doyle. Under his breath, he added, “For a change!”

Lestrade pretended not to have heard the last remark, although his face coloured with indignation as he swung the iron door wide and herded us into the tiny cell.

Directly opposite the cell door, was the foot of the slim bunk, upon which Andrew Douglas lay as we entered the cell. There was a slim L-shaped walkway around the bed, barely room for three men to stand.

We squeezed into the tiny cell, and I was pleased to see that Lestrade left the heavy iron door open behind us. I would not have liked to have had to wait while the Chief Inspector fumbled for the correct key, if we had the need to leave the cell in a great hurry. Not that Andrew Douglas looked like the type to give us any need to leave the cell in a great hurry.

He was tall and almost skeletal thin, with close-cropped snowy white hair, and a boyish grin -- despite his predicament -- which at first made him seem little more than in his early twenties. Until a closer inspection detected the crow’s feet around his eyes, which showed him to be aged in his mid to late forties.

We squeezed into the tight confines of the tiny cell, hardly more than a cage in reality, certainly unfit for a man to live in (‘Or a beast for that matter!’ I thought), myself first, then Conan Doyle, then Chief Inspector Lestrade.

Looking to my right I saw that both Conan Doyle and Lestrade had propped themselves in a half seated pose: Conan Doyle against a small wooden table; Lestrade leaning against the yellow-tiled wall of the cell. I took a step backward to follow their example and almost stood in a small wooden bucket upon the floor. Looking down, I saw a trace of yellow liquid at the bottom of the bucket and realised that I had almost stepped into the tiny cell’s toilet.

For a few moments we stood facing toward the accused, then Lestrade cleared his throat noisily to attract the prisoner’s attention. Although Andrew Douglas was already well aware of our presence, his keen eyes were fixed upon us, his brow wrinkled in puzzlement.

“Mr Andrew Douglas,” introduced Lestrade, sounding as though he were making a formal introduction at a society affair, “Mr Arth....”

“Sherlock Holmes,” Conan Doyle introduced himself, with a nod toward Douglas, who clearly did not know whether he should lean forward to shake hands or not. Instead, he remained lying upon the bunk and returned Conan Doyle’s nod.

“Er...what?” said Lestrade, then remembering; “Oh yes, of course,” pointing towards me, “and this is Dr Watson.”

I leant forward (there was no need to walk across, since the cell was so tiny) and offered my right hand to Douglas who shook it, although he clearly did not have a clue what was going on.

“Er...good morning gentlemen,” said Douglas. “I am afraid that I don’t quite understand what I can do for you?”

“On the contrary, Mr Douglas,” said Conan Doyle, “it is what we can do for you. Your...your sister-in-law has asked Dr Carr...Dr Watson and I to act on your behalf.”

“Act on my behalf?”

The great author turned toward Lestrade and said, “Perhaps Chief Inspector, you could be good enough to allow us a few minutes alone with Mr Douglas?”

“Well, strictly speaking, I can’t,” protested Lestrade. “Once he has been formally arrested and read his rights, he’s only supposed to be left alone with his nearest relatives, or with his attorney.”

“Very well then,” said Conan Doyle. He turned toward Andrew Douglas to ask, “May I enquire whether you have had the opportunity to engage an attorney yet, Mr Douglas?” Andrew Douglas shook his head, still clear puzzled, and so Conan Doyle continued, “In that case, we shall represent Mr Douglas as his attorneys.”

“You?” asked Lestrade, now clearly every bit as puzzled as the accused. “But neither of you is a certified attorney.”

“And neither of us needs to be,” pointed out Conan Doyle, “in case you are not aware of British law, Chief Inspector.”

Lestrade considered this for a moment, then shrugged and said, “That’s true enough...Well, in that case I suppose it will be all right.” He walked outside into the tiny corridor and closed the heavy iron door again. As the key rattled in the lock, I only hoped that he would be able to locate the correct key, when the time came to release us.

“I have to be frank with you, Mr Douglas,” said Conan Doyle, “your sister-in-law has told Dr Carr...Dr Watson and I of your affair, and that she was with you at the time of your brother’s death.”

Andrew Douglas seemed shocked by this blunt approach. After a few seconds, he composed himself enough to say, “But we can hardly tell that to the police, now, surely?”

“No, however, perhaps if you had told them in the first place...?”

“What good would it have done?” demanded Douglas. “The police would have considered it to be a sordid business, and if anything would have only taken it as further proof of my despicable character. In reality there was nothing sordid about it. We are truly in love, and Maggie was never happy with Ian....”

“Yet she threw you over to marry him?” pointed out Conan Doyle, with his usual bluntness.

Douglas blushed scarlet and stammered for a moment, “Well, see, we had already broken up before she took up with Ian. She met him while she and I were going together, and then quite a fair bit while we were engaged. When we broke up, Ian went to console her and gradually they began to see more and more of each other until they were married six weeks after Maggie and I had split up.”


© Copyright 2020 Philip Roberts. All rights reserved.

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