The Case of the Blackmailer: part two

Despite Holmes's previous need for haste, it appeared that his desire to make amends between us was now of equal importance. For no sooner had I turned and once again met his questioning gaze than he was offering restitution, an apology of sorts.

"You must forgive me, Watson," he began immediately. "I should have remembered your aversion to law breaking. I will, of course, go alone. Please forget that I said anything on the matter." Holmes's voice was pitched lower than before and quite unexpectedly gave the impression of genuine remorse; gone was his earlier bravado, and now for reasons that were far beyond my comprehension, he stood, his hat in his hands so to speak, awaiting my forgiveness.

In all the years that I have lodged with and accompanied Holmes during his many cases he had not once taken the time, or seen fit to apologise for any of the cutting remarks he had made to me, or anyone else who had crossed his path. It struck me as out of character, but did, I imagine, take a great deal of effort for a man such as he, so unpractised in the fine art of diplomacy to make an attempt in the first place that I could only accept what he had to say.

"My dear fellow," I assured him. "We have been friends for many years, too many for either of us to start harbouring ill-feelings towards the other. If it is your wish however, that I forgive you, then please know that you have what you seek."

I did not say that I thought it highly unnecessary, or that I felt it very strange that he chose temporary memory loss as an explanation for his uncharacteristic behaviour.

Whatever his intention, Holmes smiled as I delivered my acceptance. Clearly pleased with himself and the effort he had made, he stood gazing at me long after I had finished almost, I thought, as if he expected me to continue. There was little more I could say though and, as the moments became minutes, I found myself becoming increasingly unnerved by the manner in which he was regarding me.

Perhaps it was my imagination or the closeness of Holmes to my person, but the room seemed to be uncomfortably warm all of a sudden, making it hard to breathe, to remember what I was praising him for. I raised a hand to my collar; meaning to loosen it, but it had very little effect. My world appeared to be closing in around me, narrowing until it consisted of no more than the twinkle in his eyes and the smile that played on his lips. Lips, I realised, that parted invitingly as I watched, beckoning me closer.

Somewhere in the distance, I heard the wind howling again, screeching as if a banshee had been set loose in Baker Street shaking the windows in their frames. Still it was the lips that held my attention - Holmes' lips which were now moving mere inches from my own, only I could not make out what, if anything, he was saying above what I realised, almost too late, were the forces of nature warring with one another.

"You are too good to me, Watson. I dare say that no man has ever had a truer friend than you."

I shook my head and drew back from Holmes as his words finally broke through the strange trick my senses seemed to be playing on me. I could not explain what had just happened, or even what it was exactly that I had been thinking moments ago when I had gazed into his eyes. With my heart now pounding wildly in my chest, I turned away yet again, this time making a somewhat theatrical show of busying myself.

"And as your friend," I announced as I searched the pockets of my jacket for some imaginary object so that Holmes could not see my face, or the colour that I suspected was now draining from it. "I will not hear of you going out alone, or without the added protection of my revolver."

I left Holmes forthwith. Not daring to look back, I prayed his self-absorbed nature had once again re-exerted itself and precluded any signs of my distress from his notice. I do not know what I would have done if he had called me back. I could scarcely understand the renewed turmoil growing within me, let alone explain it to anyone else, least of all the man responsible for it.

Going to my room on the pretence of preparing for our evening's escapades, I closed the door firmly behind me and sank down on my bed. Lowering my head to my hands I attempted to breathe deeply and to calm myself in the same manner I had taught agitated patients over the years of my practice. Though as I had always been a far better doctor than I have a patient the tasks seemed quite impossible for some time. I tried to comprehend why after years of camaraderie and mutual respect, the likes of which I knew could never be duplicated, Holmes had suddenly awoken something so completely perverse within me that I dare not even name it for fear it would take hold of me and grow beyond my control.

Despite my internal protests I knew what it was. Like most men I have experienced longing before. But never in all my years as a bachelor have I felt even an inkling of those longings directed towards another of my own sex. Not just one of my own sex, I reminded myself, if that single thought wasn't damning enough on its own, but toward my dearest friend, a man who has in many ways been my salvation against the tedium of life since my return from abroad and the ghosts that had followed me home.

There had to be an explanation beyond the sudden onset of lunacy, and yet with all my knowledge I could not think of a single one. Holmes had accused me of jealousy but even if that were true and I unconsciously feared a change in our relationship should either of us decide to marry, it did not explain why I had felt myself drawn to him the way I had earlier. Did I think I could offer myself in place of some woman? That having done so Holmes would accept me as more than friend or companion? Apart from the sheer preposterousness of either circumstance, I knew it was unnatural, not to mention, against every fibre of my being.

I shuddered as against my will, my mind filled with all I knew of those men who sought out the company of other men for intimate purposes. The law and the church branded them an abomination, a scourge against nature and common decency, whose behaviours were punishable by many years imprisonment. Although I could not say I felt that the crime anywhere fit the sentence so regularly imposed on men who could be no way compared to those who took a life, or forced others into acts contrary to their wishes, I could not imagine myself one of them, not even for a moment. I had though, much to my shame, I knew that when I had gazed upon my friend in a manner that could be no way associated with friendship and decency it had been for far longer than a moment.

Alone in my room I raised my head and sat up. I would never compare my powers of deduction to those of my friend Sherlock Holmes, but I was not so limited in intellect that I could not, given the right amount of time and information, deduce the why and wherefore of certain human behaviours.

It was this case of course.

I immediately felt an enormous weight shift from my shoulders as I realised what was so glaringly obvious that I was quite literally amazed that it had not occurred to me earlier. I was not going mad nor had I suddenly developed an unnatural attraction to my dearest friend, I had simply succumbed, albeit briefly, to the pressures of our current investigation.

Our unsavoury contact with Milverton and his vile cohorts was the reason why both Holmes and I were behaving in ways alien to our usual natures. Once the case was ended and my friend brought the blackguard to justice, there would be no more of this bizarre mis-communication between us. There would be no more talk of hearts and unnatural love. I would write my account and we would return to our lives and the cases that would ultimately follow in due course.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was not sure how much time had passed since I had left Holmes for the safety of my room, but I could now hear his raised voice emanating from the floor beneath my feet. His words were muffled but his tone indicated that the hour had grown late indeed.

Quickly donning my evening clothes, I searched my dresser for silk handkerchiefs and carefully fashioned masks for both Holmes and myself as per his request. Placing them in my coat pocket for easy retrieval, I then checked my appearance in the looking glass. For all intense purposes, I appeared the epitome of the well-dressed gentleman, handsome some might say; though, to be honest, it had been quite some time since anyone had. All was ready I decided, all except my moustache, which after closer inspection was in need of a little trimming.

My usual habit was to have my moustache trimmed by my barber, although I was perfectly capable of doing so myself. As there was no time for my customary luxuries, tonight would have to be one such occasion when I took care of my own needs. Taking my scissors from my side table, I placed one finger over my upper lip and carefully removed the excess hair. Exposed to the elements for the first time in some weeks, my upper lip tingled as I drew my hand away. It was a sensation not unlike the one usually associated with having one's nails cut, when the freshly bared area was highly sensitive to the touch. Certainly not a noteworthy occurrence, but not at all an unpleasant one either I realised, as I touched my finger to my lips once more.

I was not a man opposed to self-stimulation, like most men I understood it and indulged when necessary. It struck me as odd however, that prior to tonight I had never truly appreciated the sight before me. Not the image of myself, which I was far too familiar with, but the one of a masculine sensuality that, for reasons I feared more than another confrontation with Charles Augustus Milverton, I could not draw my eyes from.

I know that if I were asked, I would be at a loss to explain what I did next. What, after all my reasoning, my mind and body now deemed natural and right.

As if guided by some unknown force I dropped my hand away and leaned closer to the mirror. Holmes's image, or to be more precise, Holmes's lips had manifested in place of my own, yet it made no difference; in fact it was, I believe, what drew me in, mesmerizing me into doing the unthinkable.

The glass was cold and my fantasy lasted but an instant before it shattered. Even so, I rested against the mirror's solid veneer for some time before I pulled back. My mind swarmed with questions, condemnations of a magnitude so serious I felt faint at the mere thought of what I had done, what I knew I was becoming, and could no longer explain away.

Too ashamed to meet the accusing gaze of my own reflection, I turned where I stood and took the necessary steps to reach my bed. Once again fearing the stability of my legs, I planned to sit and gather myself, but as I finally lifted my head, I noted the door to my room was open with Holmes's formidable presence standing at the threshold - his steel grey eyes watching me intently.

To say I was surprised to see him would have been a gross understatement and with a volition of its own, my heart rose to my throat. Holmes appeared paler than usual; his expression completely unreadable, though there was no doubt in my mind that he had witnessed my foolishness.

I suspected I looked in no better shape, but before I could even think of providing an excuse for my behaviour, he had withdrawn again, closing the door as silently as he had opened it. For a moment or two I simply stared at the closed door of my room. I knew not what to do, what to think, only that I must go to him, must try and explain, though God only knew how I thought I might accomplish such a thing when I did not know where to start.

Taking my revolver from my nightstand I tucked it beneath my jacket and hurried downstairs to the sitting room.

Much to my relief Holmes was standing at the window when I arrived. I had half expected to find the room empty and, although his rigid stance did not fill me with confidence, the fact that he was still here, clearly waiting for me, meant he was not so ready to be away from me as I had feared.

I still had no idea what I was going to say, but whatever else I might be, I was a gentleman above all else and I would not, I decided, address his back over so momentous a matter.

"Holmes?" I called.

My voice barely registered above the pounding of my heart and the storm still raging outside, but the slight flinching of my friend's shoulders assured me that I had been heard. Nevertheless it seemed an eternity before he turned to face me. Of course, by that time the mask of indifference that Holmes usually wore had once again fallen into place and there were no signs of the bewildered man I had seen only minutes ago in my room.

"Ah, there you are, Watson," he announced in a manner that gave no clue to the tension radiating between us. "I trust you have what I asked for?"

The room felt uncomfortably warm again; compounded more so by the fire Holmes had obviously stoked before I arrived, and the intensity of his gaze and in all honestly it took me several moments to realise that it was the masks to which he was referring.

"Yes," I rasped, patting my jacket pocket to indicate their whereabouts.

It seemed a lifetime ago that we had discussed the case, and knowing Holmes as I did, I knew it would be only that he was interested in now -- a fact that should provide me with a certain amount of relief, though in truth, I also knew that there was no delaying the inevitable. I needed to clear the air between us as soon as possible if our friendship were to continue.

"I should like to explain," I began awkwardly.

"And you shall," he returned, striding toward me. "But for now our attention is required elsewhere and so whatever you wish to impart to me will have to wait."

There was no pretence. We were both fully aware of the matter at hand. Before this night was over Holmes would have his explanation and I would be the one to provide it. I nodded my agreement.

The carpetbag sat on the table and as Holmes swept past me, I picked it up and followed him out.

Despite the weather, a cab was easily acquired and in no time at all we were on our way to Hempstead. Holmes and I sat side by side for the journey although we might have travelled by separate means for there was very little conversation to speak of. Holmes explained his plan in the simplest terms and I listened for my part in it.

All in all it was perhaps the most uncomfortable expedition of my life.

Part Three



Home     Monographs     Authors     Latest Additions     Gallery     The Radio Parlour     Moving Pictures

Sites of Interest     Submissions     Acknowledgements     Contact