A Special Brand of Courage
There is hardly a soul in all London who does not respond to the very singular name of Sherlock Holmes. In a city of millions there is only one man who owns it, and reactions to it are as polarized as the ends of a magnet.
To many he is a grand bulwark against the criminal underworld, from the lowest cut-purse to the loftiest schemer. And as men such as Creveouer and Wilson take an ever more cunning, destructive turn of mind, men like Holmes will undoubtedly be essential in stopping them. For others Holmes' mere reputation can set them to their heels. As well it should. I am aware of hardly a single case where he has failed to catch his prey.
Yet not everyone echoes the praises of the One True Detective. He is variously seen as necessary, meddling, competition and ally among those of the official force. On more than one occasion I have actually defended my friend against the ignorance and prejudice of some, and twice written the Times recommending a statue be placed for him at the very entrance to Scotland Yard! The Yard, I was informed, scoffed at my idea, completely unawares I suggested the plan in a mostly sarcastic vein. Nonetheless, as self-appointed custodian of Holmes' worldwide reputation I wrote those letters with much personal satisfaction. I keep a third such letter on my desk, awaiting only the proper mood for sending and a postage stamp.
Ironically, Holmes' phenomenal record of triumph makes him uniquely vulnerable to failure. He is like a machine with but one speed: a steaming clanging grinding juggernaut. Holmes thrives on calculation and success, finding roadblocks and frustration a cruel diet.
"Cases which cannot be solved in a matter of days begin to wear on him. Investigations lasting a week or more gnaw his very soul," I once told colleagues, putting on self-important airs. "That is why I am ever ready to offer my own humble abilities, hoping to shave even an hour from the Great Detective's endless burden. Many's the time my medical knowledge has come in handy in his international affairs."
You see from this that while I rebuke others for sharing Holmes' spotlight, perhaps I too am guilty of a little reflected fame. In truth I have no desire to claim for myself even a shred of the glory which rightfully belongs to him. Those who suggest otherwise, or defame Holmes with the suggestion I exaggerate by even the smallest degree his innate abilities, are invited to spend a single day with us to learn the real from the imagined world we live in.
I would only ask that once having discovered the truth, they too argue for a statue, for when the believers outnumber the non-believers it may yet come to pass. It would prove the sweetest of pleasures for my friend. The day of its erection he would undoubtedly sit beneath it eating his lunch, greeting the Yard detectives as they entered the building; then have it moved to Baker Street, where it would live out the remainder of its existence as an admirable coat rack.
Two More Pieces
The gruesome scrapbook
I have already noted Holmes' general disregard for personal fame, that he finds it a two-edged sword. Hardly a man alive deserves it more or cares for it less. Far from seeking personal renown he actually buries many remarkable exploits in tin boxes and scrapbooks. I know this for a fact because most of these I am well acquainted with.
One such volume, however, I had never seen before. It was unique.
I remember Holmes carrying it down from the attic, saying "You must think me a fool, Watson. All morning I have been looking for this. You remember me sorting out scrapbooks last week? The one I decided to discard also had this cover, and I wedged it into the mountain of old newspapers. Just yesterday our landlady had the boy dispose of all that rubbish. Being kind-hearted, he loaded the pile on his wagon and distributed it among those fire barrels the dustmen use to stay warm.
"This morning the boy couldn't recall for me which barrels he'd been to; all he knew for certain is they were all within two blocks of Baker Street. You see my cane and gloves are black? It is from rifling through every barrel from here to Manchester Street! When I couldn't find this volume I was convinced I had disposed of the wrong one. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to find it intact!"
Thereafter for weeks that volume lay buried in Holmes' pile of active debris, but he moved it to the shelf for closer inspection just before his disappearance, where it continued entering my view. Curiosity overtook me at last.
The cover was burnt orange, tied securely with loops of twine. Its musty smell hinted at long hibernation and the outer edges curled from attic damp. For all its mystery it would seem a very ordinary scrapbook, till the cover was breached.
I knew at once my rigors as an army medic had not adequately prepared me. Amputation and wound repair have at least the virtue of good intent, but the barbarity depicted on those pages lay entirely outside the usual torments of our world. Grossly appalled I slammed it down! and for the next hour tended other needful business. In the end, only morbid curiosity forced me back to the table.
Flipping its pages I learned in stunning detail the brutal fate of Ali and Jeezah, those unfortunate Muslim travelers. The beheading of Richardson by his own daughter and other dark family histories filled the opening section. The first part of the book unsettled my every established notion of what we optimistically call our "civilized" world. The next was labeled with a tab marked Criminally Insane and its horror but deepened. I bolted the door then against Mrs. Hudson's accidental intrusion and explored twenty or thirty more pages, struggling to make sense of Holmes' fascination with such ghastly memorabilia, when the answer finally came to me ...
This book was Holmes' inoculation against humanity's worst parasites. It was information vital in confronting such dangers as we hope never to find outside our nightmares. Then with the turn of a final leaf, I encountered the block heading Teurastaa ...
No photographs were available, but sketches showed faces remarkable for their blandness. The only decisive feature was a scar across the forehead of one of them, Aleksis Klami, as token of his own tortured upbringing. The words I read would scarcely be credible found anywhere but the private papers of Sherlock Holmes. It was described as an evil gang which roamed the countryside stealing food and supplies at will. As they inured themselves to brutality they grew to demand whatever pleased them, and delighted in taking it by the most dreadful means possible. If some poor cropper refused to give up his family's meal they cut out his stomach as a warning to others. A single hen had cost an entire family their lives! Women of every age were ravaged for the sheer wicked pleasure, and one home burned with a man nailed to its roof for all to see. No savagery was beyond them in their campaign of fear. I recalled now Holmes' warning I might hesitate to join him, had I but known.
The gruesome scrapbook would continue haunting me in my dreams that night. My only relief was Mrs. Hudson waking me for visitors next morning, and gratefully did I put book and restless night behind me.
By sheer coincidence I now found the pair of Aalto and Torvald at our door. They were inquiring our progress, and mindful of their own distress I committed myself to improving their spirits. I led them to the map on the wall, counting aloud its many crossed-out neighborhoods. With heartfelt energy I lauded the work of Holmes' myriad assistants, leaving out only their ages. I next described his scarcely being at home, sacrificing sleep and meals so intent was he on pursuing his leads.
Strangely it was not Holmes' endless labors which most impressed Torvald, but willingly foregoing meals in the midst of such abundant food! The father reverently touched my hand to his forehead then in gesture of supreme gratitude. But while the father's morale began to mend, Mr. Aalto, with considerably less at stake, seemed inconsolable. Whether this was his first official assignment he did not say. Yet each time his villainous countrymen were mentioned he reacted most disagreeably.
Finally I rebuked him on it ... "You can be sure no one will hold you at fault, Mr. Aalto, for the actions of a countryman. Everyone's homeland has a scourge to look past. You must take comfort instead in the sterling character of your companion! He has pursued these human devils across three borders, with little more than his character to sustain him. A country which produces such men as Torvald is not disgraced by a few rotten apples."
"Only a few, yes," said he in mechanical reply, eyeing the one mentioned. "Forgive my feelings. I say thank you for your kind talk. It is most kind. Yes, there are men we want to be done with. If you can help us we can feel grateful."
I bolstered his promising response with one of those reassuring little lies physicians use in uncertain times, that I expected to hear any hour Holmes has found the boy in good health. This did bring on the expected smile, but it was fleeting.
"Mr. Watson, your friend has reputation. Will he protect it too much?"
"I don't understand your question," said I.
"Your friend. If he cannot find boy ... will he tell us? If boy hurt ... will he tell us or hide boy?"
In a sudden flash of memory I saw again Quimby's note about possible mutilations, still my answer was clear: "Sir, I have many times trusted my very life to Sherlock Holmes. England itself holds him in the highest regard! If your boy is found, regardless of any other thing, you will hear it from his own lips.
"Besides, there's surely no need to expect the worst. They chose this boy for a reason; they must have a useful purpose in mind. If I were you two I would empty my head of such needless worries." This comfort I patted into their shoulders as they rose from their chairs, and Mr. Aalto did the kindness of translating my consoling words. Astonishingly the father answered me! in the only English words I ever heard him speak.
"You not know Teurastaa same as I do," fell from his trembling lips.
At this Mr. Aalto helpfully led him from the room, bowed himself out, and closed the door quietly behind.
The Absent Detective
It was my burning desire to report this surprising incident to Holmes as soon as possible, but he gave me no such opportunity. In fact for the next two days his whereabouts remained a total mystery, such that I feared for his very safety. Eagerly did I watch for the boys who came by with notes. None could offer a clue. I did manage a message to Lestrade and a handful of others, but they had no news since the time Holmes abandoned the official Ripper investigation.
It was on the third day I received word of him by a most indirect route.
I did not possess the resources of a Sherlock Holmes or Scotland Yard but did have Bender. A field dresser from the Afghan campaign, he had become a sort of aide-de-camp to foreign ambassadors visiting London, as he was fluent in several languages. Bender paid me an unexpected visit following up some slim matter of state and we spent the rest of the afternoon talking over mutual times.
Granted I am generally as knowledgeable as anyone about my friend, but on this occasion was caught off guard by Bender's casual remark, "You know he made an appearance at dinner."
"Holmes naturally! He was after someone I felt, and you know my curious side Jimmy. I kept an eye out, and two ears as well, when he cornered the man from Finland. It would be unforgivable to eavesdrop so I merely sauntered past, but he certainly handed the man a nasty rebuke. The foreigner was tremendously nervous."
"He accosted that poor old dirt farmer?"
"Farmer? State balls do not invite dirt farmers, Jimmy, you know that! Your friend cornered the ambassador's aide; latched a claw tight on his collar, he did, and whisked him aside. I thought the man was about to faint! You may believe me when I say Aalto went directly pale. It was likely the way it was all done. Holmes appearing from behind a curtain and snatching him like a crocodile." Bender clapped hands together with fingery fangs. Eagerly I pressed for details.
"Well you know I am not one to eavesdrop, Jimmy, but I could not help standing close enough to hear some chatter behind the curtains. It seemed to be about Aalto's keeping secrets. Then the music swelled and I lost the rest in the noise. I wanted to get closer, just to pick some lint off the curtain you know, but at that moment your Mr. Holmes sticks his head out like a turtle, suggests I mind my own affairs, and I took my leave."
I desperately wanted more but there was no more to be had (Bender had not seen or heard either of them again), so for the remainder of his visit we cheerily absorbed ourselves in the past. We had been close at medical school and enjoyed each other's company tremendously. This visit proved a particularly fine occasion, since it seemed my worries over Holmes were groundless.
Holmes was surely making progress; that was evident. He was his most confrontational when getting the truth out of a reluctant source. It bothered me Mr. Aalto was still withholding something but I was confident there was little to worry about on that score. Once Holmes found the possessor of information his skills could work wonders. My only question was when Holmes might finally return to Baker Street. The bread roll he left on his pipe stand was already green with mold.
Our Revealing Reunion
The return of Sherlock Holmes was as sudden as his exit. He appeared at our door 2:00 of an afternoon, note book in hand and leaning against the frame.
"Holmes! I have been worried near to death over you!" Without a word he fumbled his way to a chair, holding himself up-right by it. His exhaustion was beyond doubt yet he refused to sit.
"I need your help Watson. I require some stimulant to keep me going."
At the word help I was on my feet, but the rest stopped me in my tracks. "Holmes, surely you can't ..."
"Let us not quibble," he insisted behind a barrage of yawns. "I need be on my toes 9:00 this evening and it is already [pulling out his pocket watch] near 8:30!" He eyed me in a daze at my approach, muttered something of an ambush, then crumpled across the arm of the chair like a discarded rag.
That he would be utterly useless to anyone in his condition I was certain. That he held his watch upside-down I verified as I took it from his limp hand. If the mentioned time was soon enough for him to act, I would see to it he was ready.
For the second time in as many weeks my friend had reached the end of human endurance. For the second time I watched over him like a mother hen as he slept. He never stirred from where I propped him, and when he woke he found Mrs. Hudson had sent up all that could be required by the human frame. I stood in reserve with a powerful chemical stimulant, but it was superfluous. Shaking off sleep Holmes checked the time, seemed satisfied, and began to devour the meal in front of him.
Where have you been? was the question in my face. It didn't require a voice.
He looked at me plainly before clearing his throat, "I prefer not to say."
Oblivious to me he continued to chew with relish, and though in normal circumstances I stretch towards patience this far exceeded the norm! "You may hardly expect that to satisfy, Holmes. I made inquiries everywhere, read every line of the papers, with no hint of your life or death." Still I faced unreasoning silence. "Then what of poor Mrs. Hudson? You cannot know her agonies over your disappearance, with all the danger talked of in the papers." It was the harshest tone I ever took with my friend.
He looked up only then to remark, "she is the reason I am not saying," and with sudden vigor changed the subject entirely. "Watson, I have found him! No, not the boy, though that will inevitably follow. I believe I have pinned down Aleksis Klami. There is no partner with him, and no little boy. I have not even seen his face. But I am certain of him. I was searching all this while in the wrong places, till someone gave me a piece of information I could finally use."
Not at all sure what made me do it I immediately blurted out "Mr. Aalto."
The look in Holmes' face was one of exquisite surprise. "Yes, Aalto. You have become quite the talented guesser."
At this I pressed my advantage. "It is not a guess. You cornered him at the embassy ball and badgered him behind the curtains."
Holmes actually reared back in shock! "You have grown eyes and ears that even I would envy, Watson! How could you possibly know? Aalto has certainly not told you. When I came in Mrs. Hudson verified there has been no message from him. At least I vaguely recall her saying that. But yes, it's true. If he had been honest from the beginning I might have saved enormous time and trouble. It was left to me to uncover his subterfuge.
"I first supposed the invaders were just as he suggested, fumbling their way about London and would be easy to catch. They would likely be indulging in the vices of their past: food, money, and women. In London food is everywhere, and of gold there is much to be had on the streets through petty crime. But women, there I felt the trail might narrow, so rounded up informants to watch the cat houses. It was not a job for the Irregulars as their age would prevent them, but there were others that would do. Yet even this availed me nothing, Watson. No one saw anyone resembling my drawings.
"Suffice it to say the villains were not found, despite my best efforts, and those of the Irregulars and my other allies. Now I assure you Watson, I speak of a net which even an insect would have trouble escaping. I was forced to conclude we were looking in the wrong places, that the quarry must have either inclinations or resources unknown to me. I knew I had to learn still more about Klami and Kivi.
"The cupboards at the Yard were quite naturally bare. And the boy's father, bless his brave tortured soul, reportedly knew only the barbarous nature of the evil band. In any case I did not have access to him for questioning, so moved on to the next likely source and looked up Mr. Aalto. When I visited the embassy he was out at the ball, but I found something far more intriguing. You are becoming quite the clairvoyant. What do you imagine I saw there?"
"I haven't the faintest notion."
"A photograph of Klami. Now imagine where."
"I dare not guess."
"On the desk of one Melard Aalto."
"That does not seem very untoward, Holmes. One might expect him to acquire such a photograph in pursuing criminals of his own country."
Holmes reacted by jamming his hands in his pockets and pacing the room. "Watson, the photograph was taken down from the embassy hallway where it had been hanging alongside the ambassador's! It was in an identical frame and officially engraved like the rest. Easy, old friend. Your surprise could scarcely equal my own. When I gave my name and confronted the staff with my suspicions they quietly informed me of the truth. Five years past Aleksis Klami, cruel butcher of Kolari, was employed by that very consulate."
I was dumfounded.
"At once I realized there was far more to this story. I understood too why they were so eager to help the father, but equally to keep it out of the papers. I acted without delay. I crashed the embassy affair. Aalto's reaction matched your own, when I reached from behind a curtain and yanked him into a corner. One gentleman witnessed his fate but fortunately no alarm was raised."
Holmes paused and blinked. "Yes, of course. You have an old friend of that name, don't you?" He realized then my source, nodded appreciatively, and continued.
"I confronted Aalto with his lack of candor, threatened a mountain of publicity if he did not spill everything. Only by such means did I learn Klami once toured these very streets in broad daylight. He served as an aide in a position similar to our Mr. Aalto's. I also discovered Klami not only knows our language but has many old contacts in London society, by way of embassy affairs. Klami also has a number of enemies, primarily among the consulate staff. They knew him to be a most ambitious and cruel man. He gained his post through coercion I should guess, and held onto it that way till the incident."
I perked up my ears. "Incident?"
Holmes stopped pacing at the fireplace, to examine the moldy biscuit. "No one will speak of it, but it brought such infamy Klami was expelled from the service. His very name was expunged from every official record.
"How he ever came to be in league with Kivi no one can say, but I venture to guess his behavior in London left him no choice but to be sent home to Finland. Once there he would be an embarrassment to his government, and whether for his sake or their own was forced to find residence in Kolari. On a map you will discover it on the westernmost edge of Finland, as far from Alexander's throne as anyone could be. It is also one of the worst places to live on this earth. If I were to royally banish anyone, Watson, there are few places above ground I would find more suitable.
"Naturally these new insights changed my tactics considerably. I knew he was not confined, as hoped, to the sewers and poor neighborhoods. I deduced he might inhabit the more refined centers of the city with equal ease, and widened my search. He would be too clever to tell people he was Finnish, and careful about exchanging large sums of Markka, their currency. The only thing he could not completely conceal was his nature. So I began to watch for signs of brutality anywhere in the city, especially out of place with its surroundings.
"I recruited new informants, and eventually one matched my list of behaviors with a swank location. At once I detoured there to investigate, and sure enough the signs were unmistakable." Holmes drew from his pocket a folded sheet with an outline of London and its surroundings, covered with notes. Apparently the open areas were those he had yet to explore.
"Now there are several steps we may take, some of which have already been seen to, but tonight I will be watching for Klami where I have lately been staying."
Again this raised the question of where he had been but I let it go, till startled to irritation when he lit his pipe with matches from the Savoy - London's most luxurious hotel!
Instantly he knew I'd seen it and became defensive. "Yes, Watson. While poor Mrs. Hudson has worried her hair gray I have been idling in paradise. That is why I was reluctant to say. I confess it was a new experience for me, but in a way it was due me."
"Due you?" I fired back. He nodded.
"Yes, due me. The cosmos is in delicate balance, Watson. With every bad must come some good to keep it balanced. You know I am accustomed to going without comfort, that I am accustomed to poor diet. I have been abusing my health terribly lately, you said so yourself. A small vacation with some fine food and luxury was due me."
I stared blindly at him.
"Besides, the pair of you worry excessively on my account. It is downright unhealthy for you ...." He looked at me squarely then "... and has always been dreadfully annoying to me."
After days of hard strain my patience tore.
"Dreadfully annoying you say!!" Stamping to the stairs I was on the verge of calling Mrs. Hudson so we could throttle Holmes together, when I came to my senses. I turned back to find him roaring with laughter, his first real pleasure in weeks.
"So you have been at the Savoy?" said I, feeling very foolish indeed.
"Watson, Aleksis Klami is a man used to having everything he desires. In the great cosmic balance this means he is due a terrible run of bad luck, and I am of a mind to deliver it personally. Will you come?"
Now it truly was 8:30. I grabbed my coat and revolver.
In Deadly Pursuit
Holmes led me to an ambush. It was little more than a carved out spot in the hallway of the Savoy, where construction on an ascending room was taking place. Soon the work would connect each floor in the vertical direction without benefit of stairs, and looking down the dizzying shaft I wondered that no one had yet fallen to their doom. In any event it provided a niche where we could take turns behind a small barricade and be unseen from the corridor. This, at least, was the plan.
Upon our arrival he was immensely irritated to discover on this particular floor large mirrors reflecting every inch of corridor! If we were not careful, we might be seen by anyone who looked down the mirrored hallway.
Arranging himself as best he could Holmes stood first watch while I explored the whole of the building. It was no wonder he stayed two days. I might have stayed four. They had every convenience one could wish for, far more than I was accustomed to on pension pay. When it was my time to man the ambuscade it was with some regret I abandoned the smoking lounge and my tufted leather chair.
My first watch passed without any major incident but a minor historical one. At some point several guests of the hotel stopped of a purpose to examine the construction, and I was obliged to explain my presence behind the barricade. Under pretense of being a fellow lodger I too admired the work, pointing out with exaggerated interest the plaster and nailing boards I had been noticing for several hours, till finally the entourage tired of me and left. I've no doubt they thought me a special sort of idiot. It was only then I had the impish thought to scrawl my name behind the boards for posterity. Someday when the Savoy is rebuilt men will know Dr. Watson was there, and wonder if he is the same associated with the famous London detective.
The hours crept along. When the clock struck midnight I could not help thinking how comfortable I would be at home with a book, a fire, and warm bed. Holmes would be at his violin on nights like this, the wind shrieking past the crack in our sill, reminding us the exquisite pleasure of being indoors. Here I had only two of those elements and neither was much comfort: there was the nominal relief of being indoors, and from the open window at the end of the hall could be heard the chilly night wind.
During my second shift I lowered the window, and the resulting whistle stirred memories of the Afghan highlands, where screaming winds masked our enemies hiding along cliffs and in crevasses. From there I imagined myself a mine worker, the pit behind me a mineshaft, and very much feared boredom would cause me to hurl myself to the bottom before morning. It was a blessed relief when Holmes took over the post. There was an excellent desk service, thankfully, and I called upon it for a bite to eat.
Once more at the shaft I began recalling all the times I'd waited in ambush for bankers or bank robbers, assassins or crackpots. Some were significant threats to law and order. Others mere citizens on a wrong path, or ensnared in a mystery of no more import than a lost book from the library. It was all the same to my friend. The bizarre and mysterious must be plumbed to their depths.
Never before meeting Sherlock Holmes had I the least expectation of spending nights like this! in chilly corridors and dank cellars, possibly at risk of life or limb. By 2:00 in the morning I was asking myself if it seemed worth it. In times of trouble could not police and private citizens fend for themselves, spare my aching haunches, empty stomach, lost sleep? Could Sherlock Holmes, so often unappreciated and abused, not retire from danger and disappointment, and me along with him?
Then I remembered the boy.
The shifts were made shorter as fatigue set in. We alternated twice more before Holmes found a stool that would allow us both to sit, and arranged the barricade to mask more of our niche. Now we joined forces for the remainder of the ambush to keep each other alert. It proved a fortunate decision.
No one had passed for hours save boys gathering boots to polish and I was at the end of my stamina when, towards dawn, Holmes touched my shoulder. Peering into a hallway mirror I observed then a man emerging from the stairway, a scholarly sort, who flashed an amiable smile as he passed an early riser. I could hardly believe this man in ascot and toppers a mutilation specialist. I shrugged and turned to express that opinion only to receive a stunning revelation: I was all alone! I nearly cried out but stopped myself for fear of being overheard.
Nonchalantly then, innocently, I stepped out into full view. Allowed the fellow to pass me with a slight bow, and was about to look for Holmes when I caught the man's reflection in the mirror. There it was: the tell-tale scar. A scant second later our two gazes met, and when he realized I'd been watching stabbed a look which chilled me to the core! The next instant he smiled pleasantly and gave a friendly nod, thinking it had been some trivial curiosity on my part, still that image remains forever frozen in my mind.
Immediately after he entered his room Holmes reappeared from the shaft itself, and I realized the opportunity for instant concealment was another reason that location was chosen.
Holmes was overflowing with enthusiasm. "You saw, Watson? According to the doorman and staff that man with the scar spends the day in his room but is always out roaming at night. They say he is much at ease around the other guests, with good command of English and our customs, but his traveling kit is foreign and he asked about exchanging foreign money. This is the first time I have been able to see his face but from what I saw ...." The thought completed itself.
"I am sure he is the one, Watson. He avoids the daytime so he will not be seen by anyone in his London past. Still he must go out to meet with his partner and find things to keep busy. We shall question him to be sure, but be careful. Watch his hands at all times, don't let him get behind us ..."
Holmes anticipated a showdown at the man's door but before we reached it our suspect reappeared with a valise, tipped his hat, and hastened to the stairs. Holmes tugged at my elbow. "Watson, this may be our break. If he is heading for his accomplice we only need follow him to find the boy." That in mind we crept all the way to the lobby, but there the plan crumbled.
The man recognized me as the one who'd been watching him, and like a fox diving into a hole fled down a side corridor! As dogs loosed from a kennel we lunged but our weariness was our undoing; the quarry proving a shade quicker. He toppled a bench in our path and raced toward the dining room. We hurdled it and flew after, knocking a lamp off the wall.
In apparent desperation the stranger grabbed the first person he came across, a young woman up for early breakfast, and pulled a wicked looking blade from under his cloak. This he waved in front of her before holding it against her delicate throat.
That settled the question of his identity. We halted.
When Holmes declined my weapon for fear we might hit the woman, I was struck with an inspiration. In carefully rehearsed Finnish I abruptly shouted "the police are here" and pointed across the room! They were in fact the only words I recalled from our language lessons, but it was all the diversion required. The man spun about in alarm, and the woman slid from his arms and sped away. Again exposed to capture our quarry made for the nearest exit before I could unpocket my revolver.
I can't recall the hour - I made no note of it - but the sun was not quite risen. We ran after the sound of his boots as much as his gray shape, to a nearby courtyard drenched in darkness. It was a wicked looking hole which he disappeared into.
Holmes approached the entrance calmly, reasoning with the darkness: "Possibly you know me, Aleksis Klami. And know what might happen if I stand here, as these streets begin to fill with people, shouting 'I am Sherlock Holmes and have cornered the Ripper. I leave his fate to you.' "
There was no response. Undiscouraged, my companion tried again.
"Remember where you are, Klami. You will find the people of Britain are not so easily cowed as the weak starving victims in your countryside. You might well be dragged through the streets and torn to pieces. Vigilantes have already attacked one Ripper suspect; it took a dozen police to save him!"
Was it having any affect? Was Klami thinking it over? There were still sounds of movement within, so Holmes continued.
"I might stop them from killing you, but only after I knew you were so broken that the rest of your life would be an utter misery. You know flesh, Klami, but I know bones. They can be so badly splintered they refuse to heal, leaving arms and legs forever useless. You could look forward to years of others feeding and abusing you in the Crown's prisons." All this while we peered into the heavy gloom. It was now just minutes before daybreak, light enough to see the outlines of crates and (identified more by smell than sight) piles of rotting garbage.
We heard breaking glass. Klami had found a window to escape by! Confident of the growing light and out of time Holmes passed resolutely within. A large rat scampered out but he ignored it. His prey was a rodent of the two-legged variety.
I was signaled to guard the entry and drew my weapon, but had little to fear personally. My concern was entirely for my friend. This makeshift arena might cost a man his life this morning, but one way or another it would be Klami's last day of freedom. Only an act of nature would stay the Great Detective's hand so near the prey. And if Holmes should fall I would thoroughly avenge him.
Then sounds of ambush, something thrown, scuffling feet! In I went.
There in the feeble light I saw two men face-to-face: one whose name "brought fear and loathing," wielding a vicious hunting knife, the other blocking his path to freedom, unyielding. A second later the struggle began anew and I rushed to join battle. When Holmes struck the blade from its holder I paused sure of the victory, but the foreign terror moved in low like an animal, teeth bared, growling. I fired a warning shot overhead. In the bloodthirsty duel neither backed down.
Plainly Klami was not accustomed to his victim fighting back. Holmes grabbed hold like a vice and wrenched the arm, only to be caught by a stinging blow. I was upon them an instant later when a second blow knocked me back and my revolver into the shadows. The strength and fury behind it defied description! Before either of us recovered Klami again had a blade in his hand. We clambered to our feet still blocking escape but stunned and disarmed, facing the terrible butcher.
And there in that dreadful place passed a moment I shall remember all the days of my life. As the ruthless Aleksis Klami watched in surprise Holmes dusted himself off, adjusted his hat and collar, and planted his feet. How well I knew his courage! but he faced now a cornered rat practiced and merciless with a blade, and human life is ever at the mercy of its fragile blood supply.
Suddenly a wave of sunlight topped the wall bathing Holmes in brilliance. Two yards ahead still in shadow crouched evil personified. In that remarkable moment Sherlock Holmes exerted his full mortal powers. He locked his iron jaw, spread his broad arms, said in every feature Klami would die before he would pass that spot ... and it was over.
For the second time Aleksis Klami realized London had beaten him. The rat withdrew its claws. The knife clattered to the ground.
As I plucked up the wicked blade and recovered my own weapon I overheard Holmes say, "now you will follow me out into the daylight where I can keep both eyes on you. We will turn the corner to a little empty shop, and talk of other things. Chiefly where your partner is hiding the boy." But fate is fickle.
At the appointed turn in the road Klami looked left to see an approaching carriage, and darted across its path to make the horses rear up wildly! With our path blocked his escape was imminent, the fugitive glancing back over his shoulder gloating. Three pairs of eyes locked for a single tick of the clock. We saw in his expression a look of supreme triumph - he misread the alarm in ours. Aleksis Klami never saw the second cart. It broke him like a twig.
The driver yanked his beast to an abrupt stop but it was of course too late. Klami's mad dash had placed him between pull horse and rubbish cart, and one wheel pinned the floundering victim. We knelt beside the mangled body and eased the wagon backward to let air refill his lungs, hoping against hope he would yet be able to speak. It proved hopeless, Holmes' frantic interrogation futile. The deadly killer of women and children died with that sneer on his lips, showing no regrets.
Holmes held up a finger. One down.
September 16, 2005