Read The Curse Of The Diogenes Club Online

Authors: Anna Lord

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

The Curse Of The Diogenes Club (9 page)

BOOK: The Curse Of The Diogenes Club
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There was Nash looking bitter
and peeved that he hadn’t left him in the dome room to get blown to
bits by that first bomb. Despite being on the same side they were
never going to fully trust each other. He and Nash always had more
in common than not – poverty, ambition, useless fathers, surviving
on their wits, relying on merit to get promoted – but the Countess
would always come between them now.

And Mr Sherlock Holmes –
something odd there. It wasn’t just the queer firearms. His left
arm seemed gimpy, and the hook seemed to fit very neatly onto his
leather-gloved hand, and he moved with a springy gait, and he
hadn’t yet removed his eye patch despite the fancy dress party
being over. Where had he been all these years? Tending bees in
Sussex – pull the other one! That Reichenbach business happened
back in 1891 and the year had just ticked over to 1900.

“I believe you are acquainted
with everyone here,” said Sherlock, “apart from my brother and
myself.”

“Get on with it, Sherlock!”
reproved the elder sibling. “We don’t have time for long-winded
introductions. This isn’t a social gathering.”

Sherlock smiled to himself. It
was like old times. Oh, and how he had missed being in the midst of
a life and death adventure, and among such an interesting and
disparate coterie, including his daughter, his best friend, his big
brother, and two up-standing officers of her Majesty’s army.

“Well, here we are at the
beginning of the twentieth century. Not the most auspicious start
to a new era but let’s see if we can improve on it. Let us put our
heads together. Someone here tonight wished to blow my brother up.
Now, I admit I have often entertained the same wish myself but
family loyalty prevented me acting on it. Obviously no such
sentiment prevented our bomb man. So what could be his motivation?
All ideas will be considered.”

After a brief interval of
silence Major Nash spoke up. “There’s the forthcoming vote on
changing the constitution of the Diogenes Club.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock, impressed
by the young man’s suggestion. “If the primus baro is suddenly
eliminated the vote will have to be postponed until such time as a
new primus baro can be sworn in. That could take months and by then
several members may have changed their minds or the amendment to
the constitution might have been quietly dropped. What else?”

“There’s the question of
forming a regiment of Irish Guards,” offered Moriarty. “It is my
understanding Queen Victoria is in favour of forming an Irish
regiment but the idea is being opposed by several high-ranking
military officers with great influence in court. Now, I do not know
if Mr Mycroft Holmes has any influence in government,” he added
with all honesty, “but if he did then his word might sway the
argument one way or another.”

“Good, good,” muttered
Sherlock. “Now we are getting somewhere. What else?”

“There’s the death of Princess
Paraskovia,” suggested the Countess, bracing for a swift rebuke
from Mycroft, but he did not even blink which meant he was in
accord with airing all possibilities. “She was found dead in her
bath this afternoon at Clarges Hotel.”

Sherlock was taken by surprise.
“Is that true, Mycroft?”

“Yes, the death was made to
look like suicide but it was murder. Please continue, Countess. You
may as well tell these gentlemen the rest.”

“Everything?” she tested.

“Yes, everything,” he confirmed
sombrely, pulling off his pearl earring and rubbing his inflamed
ear. “There can be no secrets kept back if we are to discover
whoever set those bombs. You can have this trinket back too. I
shan’t be needing it again.”

After pocketing the earring she
perched herself on the arm of Dr Watson’s wing chair and made
herself comfortable. It suggested the confidential information she
was about to impart would not be confined to just one sentence.

“The princess was found in her
bath. The bath had not been run by her lady’s maid. She was wearing
valuable jewels. It appeared as if she had consumed a goodly
quantity of laudanum. A bottle measuring three to four fluid ounces
was found at the side of the bath. However, as the bottle dropped
from her dead hand it did not roll but merely landed and stayed
put, giving rise to the impression it had been placed there after
death.

The princess was recently
estranged from her husband and had moved into Clarges Hotel. She
had been living there for a week. There is word she had taken a
lover. Four names have been mooted: Viscount Cazenove, General de
Merville, Sir James Damery and the Prince of Wales.”

The number of raised eyebrows
indicated the listeners suddenly comprehended the serious
implications of the princess’s demise. No one interrupted her so
she continued.

“Prince Sergei had already
learned of the death of his wife before Scotland Yard had been
notified. How he became aware of it so quickly is open to
conjecture. He informed Mr Holmes this morning at Clarges that his
wife was with child and that the child was not his as he and his
wife had not shared conjugal relations for several years. It is
possible the father of the unborn child is one of the men
mentioned. Prince Sergei named the Prince of Wales as the father.
He left it to Mr Holmes to handle the news as he saw fit.”

“Good grief!” exclaimed Dr
Watson, unable to contain his shock.

“Is that it?” asked
Sherlock.

“No,” she said. “There’s an
interesting detail. In the bath with the dead body was a Matryoshka
doll. It is also called a Russian nesting doll. They were designed
for this year’s Paris Fair. None have yet gone on sale. A
Matryoshka doll is a series of small wooden dolls, usually three,
four or five, brightly painted, and scaled in size so that one doll
fits neatly inside the other. This particular doll was made up of
five separate pieces. The doll was found wedged under the legs of
the princess. The fifth and smallest doll, no bigger than an acorn,
was found wedged in her vulva.”

Dr Watson was speechless. The
other four men all suddenly found something fascinating in the
stitching of their shoes. Sherlock broke the embarrassed
silence.

“Do you think she was using it
as a dildo?”

“It’s possible,” replied the
Countess thoughtfully, “though I can think of several items in the
bedroom and bathroom which would have been more satisfying. I think
it was a hint to whoever found the body that she was with child. It
may have been placed there after death by the killer.”

“That suggests the killer was
intimate with the princess,” observed Sherlock, flicking his eyes
from his implacable Buddha-like brother, still rubbing his red and
swollen lobe, back to the Countess. “It implicates both the
mysterious lover as well as the estranged husband. Was the bed made
or unmade?”

“Unmade.”

“And yet it was
mid-afternoon.”

She nodded. “It was my
impression two people had recently occupied the bed. Both
duck-feather pillows had indentations which is not itself an
indication that two people shared the bed, but both sides of the
bed had the covers thrown back. Since a person can only ever get
out of one side of the bed it is a good indication two people
emerged from the bed.”

“Anything else?” prompted
Sherlock, smiling proudly.

“I have saved the best for
last. Make of it what you will. The princess’s hair was up-pinned
to save it getting wet. It indicated she was preparing to take a
bath. But recall that she was wearing a pearl and diamond choker
and some valuable rings. Tucked into her up-pinned hair was a small
handful of birch bark.”

Sherlock clapped gleefully.
“Oh, excellent! Excellent!” he sang happily.

Everyone else, apart from
Mycroft who had already had the theory of the birch peelings
explained to him, looked baffled.

“Please explain,” invited
Sherlock, who could see that the Countess understood the spiritual
significance of the birch.

“Slavs believe the souls of the
dead inhabit birch trees. I think that whoever placed the birch
bark into the princess’s hair did so because they wanted her soul
to be connected to a sacred place.”

“That means the murderer had an
understanding of Slavic folklore,” said Dr Watson who had only just
recovered from hearing the word dildo spoken out loud in mixed
company.

“That cuts out General de
Merville, Sir James Damery and the Prince of Wales,” reasoned Major
Nash.

“And we can eliminate Freddy
Cazenove,” added Colonel Moriarty dryly, “because he has been
promoted to the Transvaal.”

“That leaves Prince Sergei,”
concluded Sherlock, going along with the main theory for now. “But
would the prince really kill his estranged wife because she was
conducting an illicit affair? I believe everyone in Russia conducts
illicit affairs. No, no, the simplest explanation is that she did
commit suicide and she put the birch bark in her own hair as she
pinned it, and ran her own bath and did not need rose petals and
unguents because she knew she would not be going anywhere
afterwards, and she wore her best jewels because, well, that’s what
a vain rich woman would do.”

“She was
not
vain!”
snapped Mycroft.

“It is my understanding all
princesses are cut from the same vain cloth.”

“Ultracrepidarianism!”

Sherlock laughed dismissively,
incensing his brother further.

“You have no idea what you’re
talking about!” shouted the elder.

Sherlock ignored the insult. “I
think it is clear she understood the repercussions of having a
child out of wedlock and decided to end it all when her lover let
her know he would not be acknowledging the baby.”

“You don’t even know if there
was a lover!”

“Oh, there was a lover all
right – he was in the bed when the prince showed up out of the
blue, probably using his own key which he would have acquired at
some earlier time either from the maid or Mr Fisk-Manders. The
lover disappeared into a dressing room to pull his trousers on. He
didn’t wait to listen to the heated exchange between prince and
princess. He high-tailed it out of Clarges by the back door so as
not to be discovered.”

Mycroft was flushed to the
gills and frothing apoplectically. “Shut up! Why don’t you! Just
shut up and go back to Sussex! You’re not fit for anything except
those stupid bees! Get out! Get out everyone! Get out and leave me
alone to think!”

6
Nash and
Moriarty

 

Sherlock and Dr Watson took a
hackney cab to number 221B Baker Street. Neither spoke for the
duration of the journey. The doctor was now feeling gobsmacked as
well as groggy. The vehemence of the tone had shocked him. He put
the violent outburst down to the horror of knowing innocent lives
had been lost. Mycroft had a lot on his conscience and yet none of
it had been his fault.

Sherlock lapsed into one of his
introspective silences.

Ne ultra crepidam
judicaret…rubbish!

The Countess waved them off
then went to locate her maid. Xenia was helping Miss de Merville
tend to the wounded, though several doctors had arrived on the
scene to see to the serious cases and all that was left were some
minor cuts and scrapes.

As Sherlock had pointed out,
most of the guests were uninjured.

In the meantime, the Prince and
Princess of Wales had departed and all of the important guests had
followed suit. The party to usher in the new century - Last Night
Forever! - expected to last till dawn had ended prematurely. A few
dazed stragglers remained.

The Countess, in the company of
Major Nash and Colonel Moriarty, made a brief tour of the interior
of the pavilion and it was as Sherlock had surmised: the two domes
blown clear off, the foyer a wreck, the studio above the foyer
mildly damaged, but the remainder of the building largely intact.
Someone wanted Mycroft dead but they wanted injuries kept to a
minimum. The third bomb had been removed to the cupboard under the
stairs, most likely by the studio photographer who may have noticed
the folding camera on the hall table and stored it away for safe
keeping until such time as the fireworks finished.

Neither man got the kiss he was
expecting but at least he was still alive. That had to count for
something. They watched the snow-white troika melt into the winter
darkness and, utterly exhausted, turned to go back up the grassy
knoll. Palls of smoke hanging over the pavilion mingled with mist
creeping up from the river. They needed to start questioning
servants and soldiers about the three bombs. They needed to
ascertain as quickly as possible, before memories were dulled, if
anyone had seen anything unusual at any time during the night.

“I’m going to run this past
you,” said Major Nash, stopping to light a cigarette and offering
one to his Irish counterpart as he gazed up at the frosted stars
that had lost their sparkle. “Tonight I got the distinct impression
that the Countess is secretly married to Dr Watson. Her reaction to
his stumble down the stairs seemed more than just concern for a
friend. And when I took her to see the doctor in the guardroom she
stroked his forehead and patted his hair in a way that suggested
intimacy, if you know what I mean. And the way she perched herself
on the arm of his chair suggested a closeness that is usually only
shared by married couples. My sister sits on the arm of a chair
occupied by her husband but she wouldn’t do it to the arm of a
chair occupied by me and I am her brother, and certainly not to a
chair occupied by a man she is not related to. Feel free to
disagree.”

Colonel Moriarty took a few
puffs on his cigarette while he turned Nash’s idea over in his
head. Tobacco smoke filled his lungs and he realized he hadn’t had
a cigarette since before the commencement of the ball when he fell
in with Damery, de Merville, and the American cigar tycoon on the
veranda. It had been a strange night from start to finish and here
was another strange thing on top of it. It was the last thing he
expected to be discussing with his rival.

BOOK: The Curse Of The Diogenes Club
4.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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