Read The Final Page of Baker Street Online

Authors: Daniel D. Victor

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The Final Page of Baker Street (6 page)

BOOK: The Final Page of Baker Street
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“Your
friend
?” I could not prevent a judgemental scowl.

“Things are different now,” Billy said. “It's been months since he made that beastly appearance at your house the first time you saw him.”

“And the second,” I put in.

“Agreed. But I wanted to meet today so I could tell you how he's got himself back on a solid footing. I thought you should know - to set the record straight. A rich friend offered him a job for a few months that got him settled.”

Imagining the scarred face of Terrence Leonard frightening away the customers in any sort of reputable establishment, I asked sceptically, “A job doing what?”

“I believe he acted as some sort of steward in a gentlemen's club, someone who helped maintain the order and such.”

“A gentlemen's club,” I scoffed. “Do you know what it's called?”

“The Tankerville. Near St. James's Square.”

“The Tankerville,” I repeated, vaguely recognizing the name. “Some sort of playing-cards scandal associated with the place a number of years ago. If I remember correctly, Sherlock Holmes helped clear a British officer accused of cheating at the card table.”

“Dr. Watson, you yourself just said that's ancient history. I'm sure the club's reputation has improved.”

“No,” I said, trying to recreate the story in my mind, “there was something else - ”

“Whatever it was,” Billy interrupted, “working there helped Terrence re-establish himself. In fact, he's resumed living with his wife. They make their home in Marlow, not thirty miles from here - although he does comes into the city every so often to the family's town house in Mayfair.”

“Mayfair,” I observed. “So that's where he lives. Funny how he couldn't remember. With a house in that district and another in Marlow, I shouldn't doubt there must be quite a bit of money in his family.”

“His wife Sylvia's family, actually,” Billy said. “Her father is Lord Steynwood.”

“Lord Steynwood? The publisher?”

Billy nodded.

“Just a moment,” I said. “Weren't you writing a piece about Lord Steynwood's birthday celebration that night you first met Terrence Leonard?”

Billy laughed. “You can see how poor a reporter I was. At the time, I didn't even realize that Terrence's wife is Lord Steynwood's daughter.”

“Why, Lord Steynwood is worth millions!”

“I know all that. It was the family connection that Terrence told me about - how, following the death of Lord Steynwood's wife some twenty years ago, His Lordship raised Sylvia and her younger sister Cora on the family estate in Buckinghamshire - just outside Marlow.”

“Lord Steynwood,” I said again, still intrigued by the reference. “One of the most influential newspaper publishers in the country, and not always influential in the best of ways.”

Billy shrugged. “Terrence and I don't comment on His Lordship's business. We just enjoy the odd drink together. We discovered the Crown and Eagle one evening when Terrence came round to my place. It's quiet. We like it, and we've spent many an evening here.”

I held up my tankard. “A pint or two of stout every so often is no sin,” I offered, “and yet...” My voice trailed off as again I recalled the two occasions I had met the inebriated Mr. Leonard - once drunk in my home and the other, drunk on a public pavement not too far from where we were now sitting. Terrence Leonard, the son-in-law of one of the most powerful men in England. It was hard to digest.

“Actually,” Billy said, “Terrence is a gin drinker. He's introduced me to cocktails made of gin and lime juice, Rose's Lime Juice. ‘Gimlets' they're called.”

Billy took a long drink and let out a contented sigh.

“Be careful, young man,” I said, shaking my head. “Too much steady drinking at an early age can lead to a lifetime of toxic consumption.”

Billy smiled as he took another pull on his Guinness. “Don't dwell so much on the drinking, Dr. Watson. Terrence and I idle away most of our time just talking. I've told him of my schooling and time on the Continent, and he's told me his own history.”

“His own history,” I scoffed, “some sordid tale, I should imagine.”

“On the contrary, Doctor. He fought bravely in the Boer War.”

“Do tell,” I said, sceptically. “I'm the first to admire a noble war story.”

“Terrence was in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment under Colonel Robert Kekewich. As Terrence recounts it, sometime in April 1902, they were camped at a hillside in a place called Rooiwal. The Boers had scouted it before our lot had dug in; seems like the Brits got sent there due to some cock-up elsewhere on the battlefield - two units assigned to the same spot or some such miscalculation.”

“All too common, sad to say.”

“When those
bittereinders
discovered our boys in a position the Boers had originally thought was clear, they charged us anyway. A brave show on their part, outnumbered as they were. They rode in on horseback, firing rifles as they came. They did overwhelm some of our mounted infantry, but ultimately our artillery put the blighters on the run.”

I remembered something of the sort in the record of the war written by Dr. Doyle, my literary agent. His historical account was, in fact, the work that earned him his knighthood. Yet despite the story of Kekewich's men, Billy had told me nothing specific about Terrence Leonard.

“And your friend?” I asked. “What happened to him at Rooiwal?”

“As you know, Doctor, the Boers were masters at
guerrilla
fighting, however unsporting we might think such tactics to be.”

“Quite,” I agreed, recalling with anguish the horrific casualties I myself had witnessed in the service of Her Majesty in Afghanistan.

“They used hand bombs,” Billy said, “sticks of dynamite they lit while on horseback and tossed into enemy positions.”

“My God,” I whispered.

“Terrence was positioned in front of a group of men when one of those sticks flew in. The others scattered as best they could, but Terrence had the presence of mind - or foolishness, depending on one's point of view - to dive for the awful thing, pick it up, and hurl it back - burning fuse and all. Unfortunately, the dynamite still detonated much too close to him. You've seen the results. He's a true hero.”

I admit to softening my feelings against Leonard. Having been wounded myself, I know how the terrors of war can drive many a good man - many a war hero - to drink. Or worse.

“Terrence was invalided out of the army although, as you know, the war ended not long after that incident. He met his future wife, Lord Steynwood's daughter, in hospital here in London where she and her sister had volunteered to help wounded soldiers. Despite Terrence's frightful condition, he and Sylvia spent many happy years together.”

Billy's picture of marital bliss did not resemble his earlier description of the troubled couple. “I remember the story you told about the two of them at the Langham,” I reminded him, “how his wife drove off leaving him on the pavement. How well do they get along now? I dare say that, following the incident with the car, such conjugal visits to London must have become far fewer.”

“Well,” Billy shrugged, “they did live apart for a few months following that night. But you're too old-fashioned, Dr. Watson.” He added a derisive laugh. “A little drinking and bickering among friends is all the rage. We modernists try not to be as stifled as you Victorians. Terrence has a lot of good traits. He's friendly, dependable, someone you can talk to.”

“And if I may ask, what is it that the two of you talk about?”

“There's a lot going on in my head these days, Dr. Watson. Women. Writing. My mum. Terrence has lots of good suggestions.”

“I'm sure he does. Perhaps he should listen to his own advice first and fix up his marriage before he begins telling others how to behave.”

Billy lifted his tankard for a final swallow. A small amount of stout pooled at the bottom, while remnants of white froth, like ladders of spider webs, clung to the sides. “Dr. Watson,” he said, holding the glass before his lips, “Terrence and Sylvia have got back together. That's what I wanted to tell you. I'm certain things between them are going to improve. They always do.” Following this pronouncement, he finished what was left of the drink.

The thump of the tankard as he returned it to the table punctuated his final sentence with the certainty of an exclamation mark.

IV

When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.

- Raymond Chandler, Introduction,
Trouble Is My Business

A narrow path of light-brown cobblestones leads round the side of my Queen Anne Street house to the entry of my surgery. Inside the patients' waiting room facing the japanned door sits my nurse, Miss Shelvington, a middle-aged, thickset woman clad in white. Before her is the receiving table where she daily records the names and complaints of my patients as they enter and then offers them seats in one of the available bow-back chairs. Having got them settled, she lays the latest medical report underneath the others in the flat wooden box that sits on the small table next to the door of my consulting room. As I complete my work with each patient, I survey the new top sheet in the flat box and summon the person so described. When called upon, Miss Shelvington helps me with whatever medical procedures are required. It is a system that has proved quite efficient over the years, and it was in operation on the dreary Wednesday morning one week after my pub visit with Billy.

Thanks to the lowering clouds that concealed the sun, one would have been hard-pressed to recognize the season as summer - and yet, rain or shine, duty called, and I was preparing to pick up the day's first medical report. Before I had the chance to exit my office, however, I heard a great commotion in the adjoining room; it seemed to issue from somewhere near the front door.

“Stop!” I distinctly heard Miss Shelvington shout.“You can't go in there!”

As I rushed into the waiting room to see what was the matter, I did manage to catch a glimpse of my next patient, the elderly Mrs. Wallingham, who suffered from migraines; but it was the activity going on at the reception table that demanded my attention. Attempting to wrench his left arm free from my nurse's iron grasp was the startling spectre of scar-faced, white-haired Terrence Leonard. Only when they both saw me approaching was Leonard able to break away.

“Miss Shelv - ” I began, but was stopped cold in my tracks when I observed the small pistol in Leonard's right hand. For the moment, with the gun pointed downward, his arm hung limply at his side.

“Dr. Watson,” she cried, “I tried to tell him you were engaged, but he burst right past me!” Miss Shelvington had not yet spied the weapon,

“I must speak with you now, Doctor,” Leonard demanded. His eyes were bloodshot. “I know you're busy, but you must hear me out.”

“The gun,” I said. “Give it to me.”

Miss Shelvington took the opportunity to scream; looking up, Mrs. Wallingham moved not a muscle, save to shape her lips in the form of a circle. At the same time, Terrence handed me the small pistol. It was a Derringer; and while I'm no expert in firearms, I knew enough to smell it and determine that it had not been recently fired. I removed its single bullet and put it and the gun into the pocket of my white coat.

“Now,” I countered, “you've given quite a fright to my nurse and to my patient!”

“Damn your nurse!” he shouted with a wild gleam in his eyes. “Damn your confounded patient!” And then he had the effrontery to march into my consulting room.

For her part, Mrs. Wallingham, a most sympathetic soul, remained with her mouth agape. I seated my nurse beside her, spoke a few soothing words to them both, and told Miss Shelvington I had to attend to this emergency.

When I entered the consulting room, I saw Terrence Leonard with his back to me. He was leaning over my desk using both hands to support his upper frame. I closed the door behind me and was about to issue him a dire warning. But he spoke before I could utter a word.

“She's dead,” he said. “Murdered.”

“”M-murdered? Wh-who?”

“Sylvia. My wife.”

It took a moment for the shock to register. I'd never met her, of course, but Billy had told me stories. “You must

inform the police,” I said.
“No! What I must do is push off. They'll think
I
did it. I found her body in her father's town house. Then I left. With her gun. I went looking for Billy; he's been so decent to me, I thought he could help. But I couldn't find him, so I came here. Tell him what's happened. Tell him not to try looking for me. I can only say that I haven't killed anyone. Now I must be gone.”

Before I could raise the briefest of protests, he bolted from the surgery and disappeared somewhere out on Queen Anne Street. It was obvious that I couldn't stop him, but I certainly could try to find Billy. With an apology to Mrs. Wallingham and instructions to my nurse that I was out of the office for the remainder of the day, I sent a telegram to Billy's digs in Bloomsbury and another to his mother's house in Forest Hill. Certainly, at one of those two locations, I should be able to alert him to the emergency involving his friend Terrence Leonard.

* * *

It had already gone 8:00 that evening when Billy appeared at my door.

I had actually dispatched three telegrams earlier in the day, the two to Billy's addresses and the other to Inspector Youghal of Scotland Yard, who, in fact, had arrived but a few minutes before. Ignoring convention, Billy rushed into the sitting room well ahead of Mrs. Meeks, cutting off my description to the inspector of Terrence Leonard's frantic visit to my surgery earlier that day. The lad stopped short at his recognition of the detective. Perhaps a trifle more grey at the temples and a bit thicker round the middle, the moustachioed Youghal really hadn't changed much in appearance from that day years before when Billy the page had summoned him in the matter of the Mazarin Stone.

“I've been out all day,” he said, catching his breath. “I just got your message.”

“I'm sorry, Dr. Watson,” Mrs. Meeks explained, “but the young man just pushed by me and - ”

“That's all right, Mrs. Meeks,” I reassured her. “We're dealing with a matter of great urgency.”

Mrs. Meeks stalked off, mumbling to herself something about “young people today.”

Pulling on his moustache, Inspector Youghal stared at the young man who was still breathing quickly. “Not Billy the page from Baker Street,” he said at last, “not the boy what helped me find Lord Cantlemere's diamond all those years past?”

“The same,” Billy said, “but it was Mr. Ho - ”

“Terrence Leonard was here this morning,” I broke in. I knew the lad was going to defend Sherlock Holmes, but this was not the time for debate. I cut him off in mid-sentence and recounted for Billy what I had already told Youghal - how Terrence Leonard had barged into my surgery, how he had been carrying his wife's Derringer, and how he had told me about her death.

Billy said nothing. He just stared at me; then he turned to the policeman.

Youghal pulled at his moustache again. “‘Tis a fact, Dr. Watson,” he observed, “that we are indeed investigating the murder of a woman at the Mayfair town house of Lord Steynwood. His older daughter Sylvia - Mrs. Terrence Leonard - she was bludgeoned to death almost beyond recognition.”

“Bludgeoned?” I said.

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“It's just that Leonard had the gun. I assumed she was shot.”

“No, Doctor. She was not. Quite a messy scene, actually. In the south drawing room. Blood and brains everywhere. A bullet would have been much neater. Lord Steynwood was at his club when the tragedy occurred; and the butler, a bloke named Norris, saw Leonard running out the front door.”

“He's certain it was Leonard?” Billy asked in disbelief. He had turned quite pale at the inspector's graphic description.

“Oh, he was certain all right. ‘White hair and scars,' he said, “which, as I understand it, describes the man in question. Yes, the butler was quite sure.”

Billy sank into a nearby armchair. “I can't believe it.”

“But Leonard proclaimed his innocence,” I put in. “And when I saw him, he wasn't covered in blood as he would have been if he'd bludgeoned her as you said. Is there no room for doubt?”

“If doubt there is to be, Doctor,” said the inspector, “it is rapidly disappearing with every additional moment Mr. Leonard is absent.”

“I know the man,” Billy said. “We've spent time together. He's not capable of such an unspeakable act.”

Inspector Youghal smiled. “I remember you as a boy when you was working for Mrs. Hudson. It was you what fetched me to put the cuffs on those jewel thieves. But you see, son, not all criminals are so easy to detect as that Count Negretto Sylvius. If they were, our job at the Yard would be that much easier.”

Billy's eyes narrowed. “I'm no longer a boy, Inspector. Are you suggesting that I've been taken in by a cowardly murderer who beat his own wife to death?”

Ignoring the question, Youghal produced a small notepad and yellow pencil from his coat pocket. Nostalgic recollections gone, he was now all business. “For the record, sir,” he said to Billy, “may I ask where you were just past midnight?”

“In my digs in Bloomsbury. I say, are you - ”

“Can anyone confirm that?”

A flustered Billy paused to consider. “I was writing all day. Listened through the walls to my neighbour playing Bach on his violin; but, no, the fellow never saw me. I bought some ham and cheese for early supper, returned to my room with it, ate, did some more writing, and went to bed. By myself.”

“More's the pity,” the inspector said. “Witnesses can be helpful. It's so much easier when we can eliminate suspects.”

A look of alarm crossed Billy's face. He opened his mouth as if to speak, seemed to think better of it, and remained silent.

“Right then,” Youghal said. “I'll be getting back to the Yard. We've already posted men at train stations and dockyards, but I fear the fugitive has got too early a lead on us.”

He returned his notebook and pencil to his pocket. Then he picked up his derby from the entry-hall table and, placing the hat on his head, touched its brim with two fingers, and followed Mrs. Meeks to the door. About to make his exit, he suddenly stopped and turned.

“Doctor,” he said to me, “I almost forgot. Terrence Leonard's Derringer. I'll be needing to take it back to the Yard.”

“His
wife's
Derringer,” Billy corrected.

It was strange that I had forgotten about the gun. Reaching into the pocket of the coat to which I'd transferred it, I produced the small weapon and placed it into the policeman's outstretched hand.

“His
wife's
gun,” I repeated.

“And who was it, Doctor, that told you this gun belonged to his wife? - besides Billy here, of course. The killer himself?” With a smirk and a shake of the head, Youghal examined the Derringer. “It's not loaded.”

“Nor has it been fired recently,” I told him. “I checked.”

Youghal nodded his thanks and once more extended his hand. “The bullet as well.”

“I thought it safer to remove it,” I said, handing him the tiny missile that I'd kept in a pocket of my waistcoat.”

Youghal grunted thanks. Then he resumed his original march out into the darkness.

* * *

Much against my better judgement, I had agreed to meet Billy in front of Lord Steynwood's town house shortly after noon the next day in Mayfair. Confident in his friend's innocence, Billy hoped that the key to the “true” story of Sylvia Leonard's murder might lie with the house staff.

No matter how determined Billy might be, I still had a medical practice to attend. As far as I was concerned, the terrible events of the day before needed to be put behind us, and the best method for accomplishing such a task seemed to me a return to routine activities as soon as possible. Still, I couldn't ignore Billy's pleas. After mollifying Miss Shelvington, as well as devoting additional examination time to Mrs. Wallingham and three others, I found myself in Mayfair beneath gloomy skies an hour or so after noon. I met Billy as we had planned. Dressed in his dark mac, he was leaning against the black wrought-iron fence that fronted the Steynwood property.

A stately terraced house that befitted its wealthy owner, it was painted like its neighbours' homes in a white the colour of rich cream. With windows trimmed in formal black and a pair of Corinthian columns framing the entrance, the stoic façade seemed unmoved by the tragedy inside. And yet one felt something ominous clinging to the place. A line of tall oaks near the pavement cast deep shadows across the large front door; and half-drawn curtains, like half-closed, calculating eyes, suggested an air of concealment. The centurion-like constable stationed at the front steps with his arms folded across his chest added to the sense of foreboding. So did the black police motor-car standing at the kerb.

Despite such gravity, Billy was sporting a wide grin.

“There's death within those walls,” I said to him. “Why do you look like the cat that swallowed the canary?”

“Because,” he said proudly, “I found out a lot from Ivy, the scullery maid. Thanks to my days in service with Mrs. Hudson, I know how to be humble enough to approach the servant class.”

I grunted at his false modesty.

He ignored my scepticism and went on about the maid. “She'd just finished washing the kitchen floor and was behind the house pouring out the dirty water. From her I learned that it was Nancy, the parlour maid, who'd heard from Mrs. Leonard's maid Violet, what had happened.”

Ivy, Nancy, Violet. Billy seemed in his element when talking about women. “You simply smiled at her, and she brought out this Nancy to talk with you - is that it?”

Billy nodded, running a hand through his thick dark hair. “Yes, Dr. Watson, that's exactly what happened. Get past my crooked nose, and I'm a cute enough fellow. But even the scullery maid could tell that Nancy was in need of a man, and here was one on the doorstep, as it were, who wanted to speak with her - since Nancy was the one who'd conversed with Violet.”

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