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Authors: Anna Lord

Tags: #murder, #london, #bomb, #sherlock, #turkish bath, #pall mall, #matryoshka, #mycroft

The Curse Of The Diogenes Club

BOOK: The Curse Of The Diogenes Club
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The Curse Of
The Diogenes Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANNA LORD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Eight
Watson & The Countess Series

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Anna Lord

Melbourne, Australia

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
book may be reproduced in any

form or by any electronic or mechanical
means including information

storage and retrieval systems—except in
the case of brief quotations

embodied in critical articles or
reviews—without written permission.

 

 

The characters and events portrayed in
this book are fictitious or are

used fictitiously. Any similarity to
real persons, living or dead, is

purely coincidental
and not intended by the author.

 

1
Matryoshka
Doll

 

Mycroft Holmes was rasping into
one of those new telephonic devices and his deadpan monotone
sounded like it was echoing down a vibrating wind tunnel before
dropping off a cliff.

“Clarges Hotel,” he repeated
windily, “not Claridge’s.”

Telephones were not expected to
replace the telegraph any time soon despite the number of kiosks
springing up on street corners. There were simply too many
telegraph offices and an endless supply of errand boys who were
quick, efficient and reliable. Nevertheless, there were now more
than five hundred subscribers in London, drawn mostly from
prosperous merchants or rich individuals who considered them a
novelty.

Countess Volodymyrovna was not
yet a subscriber but while enjoying afternoon tea with Miss de
Merville at Brown’s Hotel something happened that made her mind up
for her.

The concierge informed her
there was a telephone message which she could take at the reception
desk.

“I heard you the first time but
your voice sounds tightly wired. The words seem to be suffering
from sound delay. It must be a faulty connection.” She smiled
politely at the concierge while talking into the mouthpiece to
Mycroft; it seemed odd to be making eye contact with one person
while having a conversation with someone who was not even present.
She wondered if this new device would eventually play havoc with
the hemispheres of the brain.

Mycroft either didn’t hear what
she said or chose to ignore it, which of course was much easier to
do on a telephone. “My ADC will be arriving shortly to pick you up
in my carriage. You remember my aide de camp, Major Nash?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Don’t mention to anyone where
you are going.”

There was an abrupt click at
the other end of the line, and no sooner had she hung up the
receiver her end than the ADC appeared in the foyer.

Major Inigo Nash, endowed with
Icelandic eyes, a rich backsweep of Danegold hair, Norse features
and Viking proportions, always put her in mind of Thor. In accord
with the personification of a mythic being, he wasted no time on
preamble.

“I see you’ve just received
the
call. Shall we go?”

Whew! These new devices were
ushering in social change at a cracking pace. “First, I must settle
the bill for afternoon tea and bid goodbye to Miss de
Merville.”

“I’ll settle the bill,” he said
sharply. “You are aware you cannot mention -”

“Yes, yes, but I cannot just
run out on my friend. I have to supply a reason for leaving at
short notice or she will think I am conducting an illicit liaison
with you at Clarges Hotel. She is gazing curiously at you through
the double door and wondering about you already.”

He immediately angled his
muscular frame to avoid scrutiny. “Please refrain from mentioning
the name of the hotel until we are in the carriage. And it doesn’t
really matter what she thinks as long as she doesn’t guess at the
truth. Tell her it has something to do with the Princess of Wales
and leave it at that. If she presses you for more information just
say something vague along the lines of it being highly
confidential.”

A few moments later they were
seated in an unmarked black carriage with the black velvet curtains
half-drawn. He appeared to be preoccupied with flicking his wolken
gaze from one side of the gap in the curtain to the other without
moving his head. She got the distinct impression he was checking to
make sure they weren’t being followed.

“I presume Clarges Hotel is in
Clarges Street,” she said, “is that the same street that runs off
Piccadilly near the end of Green Park?”

“You have never been there
before?” The question betrayed mild skepticism.

“No, I have never even heard of
it before.”

He was probably wondering about
her connection to Mycroft Holmes. The way he was studying her when
he thought she wasn’t looking suggested he thought
she
might
be conducting an illicit liaison with the imperious civil servant
at Clarges Hotel.

“I’m guessing my hasty summons
has nothing to do with the Princess of Wales or you wouldn’t have
offered the royal name up as an excuse to run out on Miss de
Merville.”

“I am not at liberty to
say.”

She pressed on undeterred.
“What sort of hotel is Clarges?”

“Sort?”

She didn’t reply; he could make
of that word what he liked.

He met her gaze for the first
time since taking the seat directly opposite and it was like a
melding of metallic hues from blue to grey. “It is a small private
hotel owned by the Fisk-Manders family, with a reputation
for…discretion.”

Hmm, the way he paused before
relaying that final word suggested that perhaps Mycroft was the one
conducting an illicit liaison and had just been caught out by a
disgruntled husband. He did sound rather breathless and desperate
on the telephone, although it was hard to tell if he was actually
gasping for breath or if it was the result of a poor
connection.

Nevertheless, the speed at
which one could communicate convinced her to install a telephone in
number 6 Mayfair Mews. She pictured a candlestick device in gold
and ivory.

She hadn’t seen Major Nash
since Christmas Eve and since he wasn’t about to divulge any
further useful information there was no point sitting in stony
silence dreaming up a thousand cock-eyed scenarios involving
Mycroft and an unhappy husband.

“Did you spend a pleasant
Christmas in Kent, Major Nash?” she enquired amiably to pass the
short time it would take them to travel from Albemarle Street to
Clarges.

“Yes, thank you.”

The courtesy was woefully short
on content. “I believe you once mentioned your family seat was in
Kent?”

“Yes, not far from the hamlet
of Longchamps.”

“You don’t mean Longchamps
Hall?”

“It is referred to as
Longchamps. The word Hall was dropped in 1753.”

“Has it been in the family all
that time?”

“It has been in the family
since the reign of Henry VIII; 1515 to be precise.”

“I remember catching a glimpse
of it from the train; a large Tudor house. It appeared to sit
comfortably in the weald not far from Leeds Castle. Do you go home
often?”

“Rarely. The title of baronet
and the family seat did not come with any wealth attached. I am
obliged to earn a living in the City.

“Have you held the post of ADC
for long?”

“Several years.”

It was like extracting blood
from a stone. “Will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve in
London?”

Tonight was the last day of the
nineteenth century and grand parties to usher in the twentieth
century were planned for the length and breadth of England, the
largest and grandest being the Prince Regent’s costume ball in
Battersea Park where a miniature replica of the Brighton Pavilion
had been erected especially for the gala occasion.

“I am obliged to go where Mr
Holmes goes.”

She didn’t realize Mycroft
considered his ADC quite so indispensible. She had not given the
matter much thought, but she would have assumed his duties did not
extend very far beyond the walls of the Diogenes Club and the
precinct of Pall Mall.

“Here we are at Clarges,” he
said as they pulled up in front of a tripartite Georgian terrace
which had been converted into an understated hotel. “Mr Holmes
awaits you on the third floor. It is the topmost level of the hotel
apart from servants’ quarters in the attic. There is no elevator.
We will have to use the stairs. I have been given strict
instructions to take you up via the back stairs to avoid being
observed by any of the hotel’s guests.”

It sounded as if Mycroft had
definitely been caught with his pants down. What was it about men
in positions of power and illicit affairs! She wondered if she
would have to step in to rescue the reputation of some high-born
married lady. She couldn’t keep putting herself forward as the
‘other’ woman or her own reputation would start to suffer.

He paused at each landing to
allow her to catch up, and although she considered herself fit, he
was fitter, plus it was no rummy-fun swishing all those petticoats
and flounces on a set of steep, narrow, poorly lit, servants’
stairs.

“I’ll give you a moment to
catch your breath,” he said when they reached the third floor.
“This entire level has been taken up by one guest. You need not
fear being seen going into the bedroom.”

The corridor was furnished like
a Mayfair mansion with tasteful antiques and hand-painted wall
paper in the chinoiserie style. Gasoliers designed to look like
Chinese lanterns gave off a red and gold glow that dispelled the
wintry gloom.

Mycroft was waiting for her in
what appeared to be an enfilade of bedroom and dressing rooms.
Fortunately, he was wearing his trousers and there was no
distressed naked damsel weeping into the pillow of the vigorously
rumpled bed.

“Close the door, Nash, and
stand guard. I don’t wish to be disturbed. No one is to enter this
room until I give the say so.”

The tense tone belied the
appearance of normality. It could have been any luxurious hotel
room in any city in the world. Without another word Mycroft waited
until the door closed then ushered her into the adjacent bathroom
where a woman lay in a claw-foot bath. There were splashes of water
on the floor and the woman was dead. Her head had lolled back on
the curved rim of the enamel bath and one arm dangled over the
side. She was an attractive woman in her late thirties or early
forties. Her honey-coloured hair was up-pinned to save it getting
wet.

The bathwater was icy cold,
indicating the woman had been in the bath for several hours,
presuming the water was warm when she got in. There were no obvious
sign of foul play. She had not been strangled, shot, stabbed or
bludgeoned to death. An empty glass bottle, round in shape,
measuring three to four fluid ounces, lay on the floor of the
bathroom in a shallow puddle tinted with a trace of reddish fluid
that had dribbled from the neck of the bottle. Not blood. Tincture
of opium. Otherwise known as laudanum.

“Suicide?” she guessed, noting
that even if the bottle had been only a quarter full it would have
been sufficient to cause death; death being so quick the body would
have still been warm for some time afterwards.

“Yes,” said Mycroft.

“Who is she?”

“Princess Paraskovia.”

“The wife of Prince
Sergei?”

“Estranged wife.”

“Isn’t he the new Russian
ambassador?”

“Yes, the prince and princess
recently agreed to a mutual separation. He couldn’t very well move
out of the official Russian residence so she agreed to move
instead. A large hotel was out of the question; too many tongues
wagging in the foyer. She took the topmost floor of Clarges. She’s
been resident here for a week.”

“Who found the body?”

“Her lady’s maid.”

“Who ran the bath?”

“I presume it was the same
maid. Why do you ask?”

“There are no flowers petals or
scented suds. A lady’s maid would have scented the bath water with
perfumed unguents and rose petals. Either the princess took this
bath in a hurry or someone else ran the bath for her but not her
lady’s maid.”

Mycroft appeared
uncharacteristically anxious as he glanced back at the claw-foot
bath. “Is there anything else that looks out of place?”

She realized now why she had
been summoned. She circled the bath and studied the dead woman with
greater deliberation. “The princess is wearing her pearl and
diamond choker and all her rings. It is unusual for her not to have
removed her jewellery before getting into the bath. The jewels look
far too valuable to risk immersing in bathwater, especially as this
bath has been plumbed. The risk of losing a valuable jewel down the
plug-hole is not a risk most women would take. And the claws
holding the jewels in place might catch on the sea sponge, which I
notice is resting on a table by the vanity basin with the rose
petals and bath oils; not within easy reach of the bath. Who else
apart from the lady’s maid has seen the body?”

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