The Case of the Blackmailer: part three

Upon reaching Appledore Towers, Holmes and I donned our masks and scaled the wall to Milverton's fortress. I had all along suspected that a man with as many enemies as our master blackmailer would take great care when choosing his home and staff. But very little could prepare me for the sheer size of the property, or the unshakeable sense of foreboding that dogged our every step. We had visited the location before of course, but there was no comparing a daytime visit with one made under our unique circumstances.

Holmes had also told me of his most recent encounters with Vike, Milverton's butler, a man who had previously been known to us under another name due his unsavory association and willingness to take extraordinary measures to ensure his continued employment. As Holmes and I made our way through the grounds, it was Vike I expected to see at every turn. My only consolation was that when we left the cab Holmes had once again taken possession of his carpet-bag and I was most appreciative that he had, for it enabled me to keep one hand on my revolver throughout.

Once inside the main house I kept a lookout for Vike and any other members of Milverton's staff who might be about at this hour while Holmes dealt with the safe. It proved resistant to my friends skills however and entry took a good deal longer than either I, or he it seemed, had anticipated.

A fire had been left burning in the study, and although we dared risk only one lamp to aid us, there was sufficient light for me to see Holmes's frustration clearly written in his distinct features as he applied himself to the task. Nevertheless, cogs and slides, no matter how ingenious or confounded their configurations are no match to a mind solely dedicated to logic and finally the safe opened. I watched as my friend extracted what appeared to be bundles of correspondence from its depths; my elation quickly turning to abject fear as sounds from the hall altered me to an impending witness to our activities.

I dared not speak, but rushed towards Holmes to warn him. Together we restored the room to its undisturbed state and then took refuge behind the heavy drapes that were clearly hung to keep prying eyes from the acts perpetrated within. I could not think beyond discovery and fear I trembled as I heard the door to Milverton's study close and the lock being turned.

Our hiding place was not large in size. In fact I could only describe the situation Holmes and I had found ourselves in, as severely cramped. Holmes stood at the rear, closest to the closed window and I directly in front of him, my hand resting on my revolver, ready to use it if the need arose. Despite my fear I would not allow harm to come to either my friend or myself.

Sounds could be heard as Milverton moved around his office and then after some commotion that might have been a window opening and closing again, the distinct voice of the man himself. The conversation that took place forthwith was decidedly one sided and for untold minutes curiosity warred with self-preservation. Judging us safe however, Holmes gently tapped my shoulder, indicating that I should part the curtains so that we could also see what was taking place only a short distance away. Using a level of care that I have perfected over my years as a surgeon I eased a space between the heavy materials concealing our hiding place and peered through.

Holmes leaned closer as we both sought to see just who Milverton was talking to. Indeed, he stood so close to me that I could feel his warm breath lift the small hairs on the back of my neck and the full length of his body press against my own. Coupled with my earlier revelation it made focusing on the matter at hand difficult to say the least, and I know it took me a good deal longer than it should have to recognise the scene I had unveiled.

A draped, but clearly female figure faced the alcove where Holmes and I hid from view. I could not see her face, nor do I believe she was aware of presence mere feet away, but whoever she was; her clothing suggested she was a woman of station; someone Milverton had wronged no doubt, and who had come to confront the fiend face to face.

The mystery woman remained silent while Milverton continued his barrage of words until clearly it all became too much, and without preamble or warning she drew a pistol from the folds of her clothing. Firing at close range and in quick secession the weapon was soon empty. Milverton staggered and stumbled under the attack until finally he fell, mortally wounded, at the woman's feet.

I gasped in horror, so quickly had the scene turned murderous that I was at a complete loss at what to do. There was no time to recover though, for no sooner had Milverton crumpled the woman stood over his prone form, sneering down at him as she raised one heeled foot and brought it down on his unseeing face. Of all the atrocities I have seen abroad and since my return nothing compared to the brutality of what Holmes and I unwittingly witnessed in the moments that followed. Truly it was a hideous sight. I turned away as best I could in the confined space and to my great relief was met with the solid bulk of Holmes's shoulder. Instead of shunning me however, I felt my friend guide my head to lean against him.

The emotions that bombarded me during the time I took full advantage of Holmes's support were too numerous to describe, suffice to say that if we weren't in the grips of a case, and clearly shaken by what we had seen, I would have had to question what exactly had come over us both.

It was not to last though.

The sounds of gun fire had surely alerted the rest of the household to the presence of an intruder and it was not long before there were calls from outside and an insistent pounding on the office door. I pulled from Holmes's embrace at the first indication that we were about to be discovered, pushing aside all thoughts that I had felt very much at home in his arms and turned just in time to see Milverton's mysterious visitor exit the same way she must have entered, through the now open French windows.

Holmes was barely a step behind me as I pushed through the drapes, calling to me in a hushed yet commanding tone to help him. Following his lead I moved carefully around Milverton's body to the still open safe on the far wall. The voices from outside grew louder and the pounding on the door increased to what I thought must be breaking point as Holmes and I then proceeded to empty it of its incriminating content. Tossing all that we could lay our hands on into the heath we scarcely finished before the door finally gave way and we too escaped through the French windows.

With Vike on our heels and the sounds of high-pitched screams echoing behind us Holmes and I scaled the wall we had previously climbed to gain access, and together we vanished into the night.


To say that Holmes and I returned to the safety of Baker Street unscathed by our experience would be somewhat inaccurate, and with that in mind and the hour growing late, I will leave the actual details of our journey from Hempstead to our lodging for another time. My primary interest upon our arrival was if in fact either of us was going to be any worse for our ordeal than we already were. I had my concerns, especially for Holmes and I was determined to see them abated before I dealt with anything else.

The lower levels of the house were in darkness, indicating that Mrs. Hudson had retired for the night and that we would have to fend for ourselves until morning. As I had always believed I was more than capable of taking care of Holmes and myself, it was a situation I found fitting under the circumstances.

Divesting myself of my coat I then turned to Holmes to help him with his. He had been quiet during the trip home, preoccupied by some detail of the case that he had yet to share with me, I assumed, but rallied to assist me peel the damp garment from his shoulders and down his long arms.

Shivering from shock or the cold that I knew was now settling into his bones I watched as those same long arms were wrapped around my friend's tall frame in a clear effort to stop the unnatural shaking of his body.

"I'm going to run us both a hot bath," I informed him. "And I don't want any arguments from you, Holmes."

To his credit Holmes sniffed his indignation but did not offer any of his usual retorts to what might be seen as my unnecessary fussing over his somewhat tenuous health. Remaining silent and uncharacteristically compliant he merely turned and started the climb to our shared rooms. I shook my head as I watched him disappear up the stairs and after depositing his coat along side mine on the coat rack and I followed suit.

Our once cozy sitting room had grown cold in our absence and I set Holmes the task of rectifying the matter while I saw to our bath. He had made little attempt when I returned to him however, and I took it upon myself to see to the heath while he bathed and before long we were both clad in dressing-gowns, enjoying a larger than usual glass of brandy along the fruits of my labours in front of the fire-place.

Although he had been open to my direction Holmes had said no more than a few words to me since our return, and as time passed I started to wonder to the exact nature of his continuing preoccupation.

"There will be an investigation," I began. Stating the obvious perhaps, but I knew that no matter what else Holmes might have on his mind the case still played a part in what held his attention now.

"Most assuredly," he replied calmly. Too calmly I thought for a man who had witnessed what we had and who may, come morning, find himself implicated in the crime itself. The prospect of such an occurrence chilled me to the bone and I took another sip of my brandy to warm myself before pressing him a little further.

"Then can I assume Holmes that it doesn't bother you that Vike will most likely tell the police of your recent visit to Milverton at the first opportunity?"

"Not at all, for he will do nothing of the sort, Watson."

"But how can that be? Surely the police will question him?"

"I am sure they will, along with every other member of Milverton's household."

I did not understand Holmes's casual view to something that could easily turn against his favour if Vike had his way - truly, he was as devious as his now deceased employer and I would wager a large sum he would do everything within his power to get back at the man who had seen to it that he spent years in hard labour during his last incarnation. Apparently Holmes realised my unease along with a great deal of what I had not said aloud and in a moment of unparalleled understanding he reached a hand across the small space between us and clasped my arm.

"Fear not my friend, we are quite safe. There is nothing Vike and anyone else could say that would cast suspicion on either of us. The police will do what they can, but they will not discover who rid the world of Charles Augustus Milverton. The deed is done and those who might have found themselves ruined by their imprudence can now rest easier because of it."

I settled some at Holmes's words and his second attempt to comfort me in as many hours, but felt another kind of uncertainty grow anew inside of me when he did not withdraw his hand immediately and his steel grey eyes locked with mine in away that suggested a double meaning to the last of his words. If what Holmes had seen this afternoon in my room had caused him to suspect me of being anything other than gentleman I have always been my mind refused to process it. All I could think was that I had made him a promise before we had gone out tonight and even though I knew he would not bring the subject up himself, the time to fulfill our agreement seemed very close at hand now.

Swallowing the last of my brandy I sought to steady my nerves, and to find whatever courage that could be found in the depth of my glass and the knowledge that one way or another Holmes and I would reach a new understanding tonight.

"Do you know something about the woman we saw murder Milverton, Holmes? Something you are not telling me?" I was doing my best to keep the conversation on its original course, though it would not have taken a consulting detective to tell my heart was not overly interested in either my question or the answer I had requested.

"Nothing of consequence," he announced, gesturing an end to the discussion with a dismissive wave of the same hand he had finally seen fit to remove from my arm.

The warmth of Holmes's touch lingered even after he had pulled away and then withdrew entirely from my side to stand as he so often did by the window. I turned my gaze to watch him as he stared down at Baker Street's nocturnal vista, wondering if perhaps he was anticipating the arrival of a client or the police, but discarded both possibilities as remnants of my own fears. No, I realised, for Holmes the case had been dealt with, and now his mind like mine, was filled with something else, something that concerned only the two of us.

Despite the night's ordeal and the shadow of controversy that for me at least still lay over Milverton's death, I found myself feeling remarkably resolved and suddenly unafraid.

I did not know what lay ahead of Holmes and I now the time had clearly come for me to share with him the changes that occurred within myself and in regards to my feelings towards him, but as a man who has always believed himself true to his word, I set my glass aside and stood to join my friend by the window, certain that there was no time like the present to find out.

Part Four



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