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The Final PrologueChristopher Sequeira
From the handwritten Notebook of Doctor John H. Watson.
It began on a cold October morning. Holmes was seated at the breakfast table, smoking a cherrywood pipe and cutting pieces from The Times for his scrapbook. I was nearer the fire, scribbling notes for a paper I wanted to submit to The Lancet on some of the most interesting medical aspects of the Victor Savage murder that Holmes had solved with my help — the matter that saw print as The Dying Detective.
Victor Savage's uncle, the famous American doctor and adventurer, had corresponded with both Holmes and I and his additional researches on the deadly disease used to murder his poor nephew were very worthy of adding to the published lore on the illness, and with his consent I was readying an article.
Into this scene of quiet concentration a quick footstep was suddenly heard bounding up the stairwell leading to our rooms, and Holmes looked at me with a smile. I squared my papers away as I, too, recognised the signature of Inspector Tobias Gregson.
"Gentlemen. Good to find you at home," said the inspector, as his large frame entered our sitting room doorway.
"Ah, Gregson, equally a pleasure to see you — the last time was the Red Circle episode?" laughed Holmes.
"Very true, sir," said Gregson, doffing his hat and smoothing back his flaxen hair, and then helping himself to a cup of Mrs Hudson's coffee.
"And I'm afraid it's more of the same, Mister Holmes. Murder and mayhem. But there is a mystery solved at the same time as a mystery begun in the business I'm here about today."
Holmes had moved his chair and a third one over to the grate and gestured to Gregson to occupy one. "Excellent," he said. "Please explain, and we shall make a decision about whether to take the train to Endover this morning or this afternoon."
Gregson stared, then looked himself over, inspecting his coat, waistcoat and pockets, and the hat he'd laid down, then turned a steely eye at Holmes. "Not fair, Mister Holmes, I've no train tickets or letters sticking out of my pockets or hatband — how did you know my intentions?"
"The newspaper, Inspector. It contains a report of a body discovered in the West country, at Endover last night — not described as murder, but as 'cause of death — unknown, the matter having been referred to Scotland Yard'. You are here at eight in the morning, well before you normally arrive at your desk, ergo the matter relates to an issue from yesterday, or one you were urgently contacted about overnight. You mention murder, not mysterious death, so you do have information the paper is not privy to. Finally, Endover is normally outside your jurisdiction, unless of course it relates to some other matter, already in progress. I submit in the case of a newly discovered body that would then have to be a previously notified 'missing persons' matter. If you are here, you have not been to Endover, so I must assume you seek our company for the trip on either the morning or afternoon train that makes that run."
Gregson's blue eyes twinkled as he interrupted with a chuckle. "Very good, sir! Since May I have been trying to clear up the matter of a missing man — an engineer, a specialist in locomotive and engine design, named David Twykham. Only thirty years of age, he was a lecturer in engineering at Camford, too — quite brilliant, or so I'm told.
"Earlier this year Twykham left his house in Endover, in the West, to visit the barber, a routine occurrence, his family say. But he never arrived at the scheduled appointment and he never came back. A man of extremely regular habits, so the matter was exceedingly odd. However, there was some talk of a woman at the university he was overly-friendly with — so a scandal was whispered of. But when this woman — an assistant in the library — was questioned she went into shock — she knew nothing about Twykham's disappearance, and in fact had been planning to introduce him to her family as he wanted to broach the topic of marriage. Inquiries were made, his entire family and known friends were canvassed, but nothing was determined. A complete mystery."
"Was he engaged on any project of significance at the university?" said Holmes. "Perhaps in the military line — anything our friends in rival nations might either want to prevent this emerald isle completing, or which they would rather acquire first themselves?"
"Not as far as I can tell, sir. Twykham was working with the rail company on new engines, and even some track specifications, but nothing that would be confidential, as far as I can tell; just refinements of existing designs, as far as anyone can advise me."
"I see," said Holmes. "Now, Mr Twykham's body has been found, and by the circumstances murder is your straightforward conclusion, yet you have not seen the body, thus I assume a witness is involved? And as you are here in my consulting rooms, I assume some unusual aspect to this case awaits us?"
The big man grinned. "Indeed, there are features that suggest your 'unorthodox' lines of inquiry might be valuable, sir. Because the witness that you have correctly deduced exists, well, he has made quite a claim."
"Claim?" I ventured. "That suggests doubt, Inspector. What is this claim?"
Gregson placed his hat back on his head. "That David Twykham was shot in the back by a man who looked exactly like himself."
Holmes tapped his almost empty pipe into the grate. "I believe we should catch that morning train, Watson." he said.
* * *
Holmes always enjoyed travelling via the railway, as a first class carriage provided him both a comfortable situation and a place to smoke, as well as the sense of activity that his restless nature craved. He reviewed the facts with Gregson and I once more as the carriages rattled along, but for the most part he was silent — his grey eyes surveying the countryside outside the windows dispassionately.
I could only recall Gregson travelling with us once before — during the Adventure of the Cardiff Giantess — and it was clear he was still unaccustomed to Holmes's lack of effort to entertain or respond to idle social remarks. Eventually the Inspector gave up and directed his dialogue solely at me, and I must confess his interest in football matches tested me — as rugby was the only game that had remained important to me since my university days.
* * *
We eventually alighted at Endover and were met by a reedy constable named Kenners. I was anticipating a four-wheeler ride, but such was not to be as we simply walked a few minutes beyond the main train station platforms to a group of several buildings adjacent; the Endover Roundhouse and Repair Yards being the chief structures. Kenners began to explain, whilst Gregson headed off to see the Controller of the Yards, to make sure we could have access to all the grounds for our search, if need be.
"Endover Railyards ha' been built this past ten-year, big job war that, we are the top of the line, in more ways 'un one," he giggled, somewhat childishly, I thought. "Over thar,"— he pointed to the massive green roundhouse — "we set 'em oop and turn 'um through, and t'pride o t'coompany we be. This business, this murder business be a blight."
Holmes exercised that special capacity he had for putting a person he'd just met at ease. "Mister Kenners, you have my sincere sympathies. An operation this size tells me much faith has been placed in the local community to support this operation, so, to suffer the grim occurrence of murder, well, sir that must be a shock."
Kenners nodded and launched into an almost incomprehensible listing of the functions of the different buildings on the allotment, which Holmes seemed keen to absorb, as Kenners led us to what was the key location. He then told us the strange tale of Twykham.
Kenners had been patrolling the Yard the previous afternoon when he saw a man leaning against a shed, arguing with someone who was on the other side — out of view. He got closer, saw the man was Twykham, and the argument seemed to have altered in tone; receded to calmer words. He decided it was not worth looking into further, and had walked away, when he heard a shot. He turned and saw Twykham had fallen and the man who shot him came out from behind the shed. He looked exactly like the dead man.
"It were his twin, no doubt — even dressed the same. I were a little bamboozled, I 'esitated — like, then rounded t'shed a minute later — and this be the hard part, sir — he war gone. Nowhere's tar be seen."
"Well, Holmes, a twin certainly narrows the field," I commented, a trifle obviously.
"Yes, Watson, except when he has no siblings. But why dressed identically? I —"
Gregson suddenly appeared and interrupted our discourse, looking strangely wild-eyed.
"Gentlemen, this is extraordinary!" he said. "Back at Endover Station, a train has pulled up — a Special, commissioned yesterday. It was apparently called for by David Twykham!"
"What?" I exclaimed. "The man found dead?"
"Indeed. It seems he organised it here and it was to run up from London — it must have been not far behind us! What's more, a number of parcels were placed on board at London."
Holmes was staring at Gregson's face; there was puzzlement in his eyes; an odd look.
"Well, Holmes, shall we go?" I ventured.
My friend suddenly regained his alertness. "Of course," he said, but again, I noticed him staring at the Inspector. Then he rubbed his hands together, briskly. "I daresay we have a look at such items as are on this train."
We arrived at the station shortly thereafter and saw the Special. It was a gleaming new engine, emblazoned with the word 'Pascal' on its cabin.
Gregson spoke to the engineer whilst Holmes and I boarded. We began an immediate search for the parcels.
We had covered the entire carriage when a violent lurch threw us to our feet. The train was leaving the station! With a suddenness that I was not anticipating Holmes sprung from his seat and darted to the compartment door. I followed as quickly as I could.
Out of the window the station was being left behind and I saw a disturbing sight — Gregson stood there looking at us — laughing with an expression of complete contempt. I was shocked.
"Watson," Holmes said before I could articulate my rage at what seemed to be a stupid prank, "what colour are Gregson's eyes?"
"Why, blue," I spluttered.
"Indeed," said Holmes, "they were blue at Baker Street. But when he returned from the Yard Controller's office they were dark brown."
"My, my word, you're right, I thought he seemed different. But eyes cannot change colour, though the pupils may dilate and give that impression, perhaps. Dilation of the pupils can indicate a drug has been consumed, Holmes. Gregson must have taken a drug of some sort or had one administered whilst he saw the Controller! What does it mean?"
"I suppose so. But yet I have a distinct certainty that his eyes were actually brown, not that his pupils were enlarged, though I could make no sense of observing that change in his appearance," said Holmes; then he fell silent, as we turned our focus to our current plight.
The train began to move faster, and faster, and it began to rock on the railings, the speed we were travelling seemed dangerously accelerated. Holmes and I ran to the external doors, but we discovered a weird sight — the doors were closed — and it was clear they would not open — they had been nailed shut!
We then ran throughout the carriage to the front-most part of the car, to where a door between carriage and engine was, and it was the same: the doors there were nailed shut. We went back to the doors whence we had originally entered the special, and though these were not nailed shut we found we were still in fact sealed in by an iron trellis that had somehow been deployed from doorway to floor, carefully hidden when we'd entered. This grate was a single piece of steel fabrication.
"We were brought here as part of a well-prepared plan." said Holmes.
I could only nod in agreement. The windows were all now barred from the outside; some similar ploy had been used that had allowed them to appear as ordinary windows when we boarded but allowed our captor — for that is what we were; captives — to surreptitiously lower the metal grilles that prevented escape whilst we travelled unaware. Had we been able to smash the windows we would not have been able to use them for egress; the bars left insufficient space. Whatever locking mechanisms were used were exterior to the carriage and my revolver would be no help on the iron.
Holmes began systematically battering the wooden panelling of the carriage's interior, quite methodically, even as I felt a sense of despair alternating with my anger.
"For the sake of Heaven! Will we die in a railway carriage? The prosaic nature of such a sinister campaign!" I said.
Holmes ignored this and began smashing the iron ferrule of his walking stick across the ceiling. When the stick did not puncture the wood he pointed to it.
"Quite amazing craftsmanship — metal painted as wood — what efforts have been made to keep us here! I am suitably impressed!" said Holmes.
I failed to share my companion's admiration, and I directed my attention out the windows, trying to discern our destination. The train was getting faster and the scenery was blurring by. We seemed to me moving along spiralling tracks, splitting off from one junction point to another, then other, then another, nothing but rock and trees visible either side.
The view became hypnotic, frightening and compelling, the walls of the carriage were violently vibrating, the engine roared as we sped on, and on. I had a sensation we might be on some vast circle of track, perhaps some odd siding, as the view was monotonously unchanging as we continued, but we veered right as often as left — leaving me doubting we were simply traversing a loop.
Finally, a huge plume of steam painted the windows, throwing us into semi-darkness, and stirring me from what was almost a trance. The steam-cloud lifted, and I cried out aloud to Holmes, but he saw what I saw also — we were pulling into the Endover Roundhouse! As we rolled within its huge confines I peered from window after window, but I could not see a soul at work in the yards, although it was still day, though a fading day.
The train moved in and came to a halt. The iron trellis that had appeared over the door we'd used to come aboard rattled and by some hidden automation of gears it rose and disappeared into the door jamb.
Holmes pushed in front of me, gently. "Steady, old fellow," he said, and there was a tone to his voice I'd never heard before, one I did not care for — it sounded too like fear. He exited the door and I was directly behind him.
We left our carriage with the steam-clouds within it, like fog, making it hard to see, and giving the place an eerie atmosphere, save for the very centre of the Roundhouse which was brilliantly illuminated by gas-lamps on poles, arranged in a circle. I could see that all the berths of the Roundhouse contained carriages, just like ours, and I tugged at Holmes's arm — for I felt I was losing my mind, my sense of time and place — our carriage and all the others — none had engines in front of them! I could not see how we'd been shunted in here, our carriage prison uncoupled and wheeled away, without our being aware of it, but that was precisely what seemed to have happened.
"He will have the answers, though I am not sure I wish to hear them," said Holmes, as if to an unspoken question of mine, and he pointed to a doorway that faced us in a far wall on the opposite side of the circle of light. The door was open and a man was coming through it and towards us, walking at an almost jaunty pace, his feet ringing out in the stillness, his features slipping in and out of clear view as the steam — which emanated from nowhere in particular — roiled around. He reached the edge of the circle and waved at us, and seeing no reason not to, Holmes and I kept walking towards him. The man who stood waiting was tall and wiry, dressed in a dark suit of clothes. He looked anything between forty and sixty, for his face was smooth and unlined but he had completely white hair, receding. The features were sharp, and the eyes were clear and compelling. There was an energy about him, as with an athlete; he seemed coiled as if to move at any time.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not"
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