A Special Brand of Courage
There is a pivotal moment in every investigation when Sherlock Holmes first realizes his target is in sight. He begins to move with all possible speed then, full sails on every spar and steam at full bore. From that point he quickly discovers whether he will ultimately succeed or fail.
The first week of November that moment was rapidly approaching.
Admittedly things looked bleak when Klami was lost to us, but though Holmes had no way to know it, the kidnapped child was within his reach the entire month. Ironically he passed the very spot a dozen times and all he needed do was reach out and snatch the boy from the man who had him. There would be other cases where his quarry was equally invisible underfoot (Neville St. Clair's for one), but none of such gravity. The boy's life had become a top priority, an importance shared only by the notorious Ripper.
For days after Klami's demise Holmes charged down new trails, breaking through all barriers in his path. In the end it required the gentler persuasion of a child to finally lure the other from hiding ...
Before Klami was even cold the detective meticulously searched the pockets, a thing which anywhere but Whitechapel would incite considerable attention. As it is few even bothered to stop. Suicide and murder were dreadfully common there.
Unfortunately Holmes discovered little of interest. There was yet another blade, serrated, secured with a clasp, and with old blood stains. The room key found matched those from the Savoy. A small tourist map filled us with hope, but showed no markings under a magnifier, and the fold lines did nothing to emphasize any one area more than another. It too was a disappointing dead-end. Finally he found in an envelope a fair sum of foreign currency. Holmes fastened on the last.
"Watson, did I not say he had already exchanged money? I am sure the foreign bank hereabouts remembered trading Marrka for British coin twice recently, to a man matching Klami's description. Yet here is more in his pockets. He certainly had no plans to return to Finland and this cannot be spent here, so he may have been on his way to exchange it."
"Now that you mention it, " I coolly interjected, "he was the natural choice for dealing with the money. He was familiar with London."
My friend looked momentarily puzzled. "Sorry, Watson. I thought you were about to say something clever. Of course it is helpful to be reminded of the obvious now and again. As for the next step let us suppose I am right, that Klami here was intending to change more currency. How might that knowledge help us find Kivi?"
"Klami is to be put out of his hotel over the bill?"
"I hardly think they would allow a corpse to stay in any case, Watson. I was getting at the fact if Kivi is running short of money he will be expecting a delivery soon. When it does not arrive he will fret over what has gone wrong, perhaps decide to check up on his partner. I had best set lookouts around the Savoy."
The mentioned valise, dropped in Klami's run for freedom, was soon found and examined as well. It contained nothing but clean clothes, still Holmes was pleased by the discovery. Matching a shirt and trousers up to the fallen body he observed: "These are not Klami's size so must be intended for Kivi. This tells us Kivi is larger and taller than his partner. We did not know even that much a minute ago. Undoubtedly Klami was to meet with him today to deliver these. That also probably explains the currency exchange today.
"If I ask at the hotel, they can likely tell me how often Klami had laundry done. By subtracting his outfits from the total we may guess how often he has been to Kivi's location. Every little detail helps. We also know from this laundry that Kivi has at least three sources to fill his needs," then glancing at the corpse, "or had three sources. His partner has been supplying clothes and money, he has the boy to fetch odds and ends, and there is a marketplace close enough for the rest."
I was struck with another idea. "We know his partner and the boy must be together, Holmes. And you say your spies have spotted the boy at the market. If Kivi has been to the same market he may be remembered by someone. Could we not pass out leaflets there with his description."
Holmes immediately showed his dismay. "This latest idea of yours will never do, Watson. If you were a wanted man and saw leaflets which made everyone hunt for you, surely you would be gone in a flash. That is precisely what I do not wish. Kivi might be forced to choose between taking the boy with him or killing him on the spot, neither of which I am willing to risk. We must find Kivi without him realizing we are closing in."
It was a stinging retort but a deserved one. I judged his parting remark, however, left much to be desired: "Look here, Watson. You have already had one spark of ingenuity this morning, in the dining room. Let us leave it at that." And so we did. For some time after I kept not only my ideas but my conversation to myself.
The evening of November 5th marked another turning point. I found Holmes at the table with a large bruise across his brow! He reassured me it was no more than a reward for pursuing two such dire cases simultaneously, that if I was speaking to him again he would be glad to explain everything.
"I was out at Whitechapel re-positioning the troops this morning," said he, "when I discovered one end of a blood trail. The first indication was a bright red spot on a clean scrap of newspaper, and from where I stood I could easily see another. Someone had been bleeding, Watson, and dabbing the spot with scraps from his newspaper as he walked along. It was not a serious loss of blood, but every few dozen yards, like bread crumbs, would be another scrap.
"The wound could not have been life-threatening, but quite deep to continue bleeding so. Naturally I could not pass it up, and followed the trail. At the nearby tram station my scraps ran out and I was sure I could go no farther. Well as luck would have it, I heard a man emptying trash complain about travelers throwing away bloody messes! Sure enough it was from the same paper my bleeder had been tearing to pieces. I matched up a torn corner.
"The bleeding was much greater there. I realized I had stumbled originally on the termination of the trail not the beginning, which meant I was going up the trail not down it! My only hope was to find its source and hope for the best. Soon I found an attendant who had seen a wounded man, in uniform. He had offered to help but the soldier refused, said he had already been to the hospital and showed him a paper tag from the London, then scurried off."
I sat closer. "A soldier Holmes? Wounded? Been to the hospital but not had his wound dressed? Running off when questioned? Most unconventional."
"Indeed. I immediately took a carriage up the street to the London Hospital. When I told them who I was and began asking about a man in uniform they practically carried me to the psychiatric ward! How did I hear about it so fast, the head man wanted to know? The patient had only just escaped. When I professed ignorance they explained a visiting soldier had been attacked by a patient. The patient was wounded, not badly, and escaped in the soldier's uniform.
"The missing assailant suffers a double personality, it seems, which divides him into both a passive and dangerous self, a sort of real-life Jekyll and Hyde. He has also managed on several prior occasions to escape and be gone for days. Since intermittent sanity may explain intermittent violence, Watson, I knew I had to track him down as a possible Ripper suspect. The great difficulty was he liked riding trams and rode all over the city today. He also loves to talk, and roamed about joining in the conversations of strangers. Those people helped point out which way he went.
"When I finally closed in he was irate over a contrary opinion and attacking a cafe cook with a rolling pin! My arrival was in the nick of time to save the cook. Or rather my head was. Now the patient is back with his doctors, the uniform is back with the owner, and I am back home with a rolling pin headache." Not only was his head the worse for it, but it had been a waste of his precious time, a great disappointment all around.
I could include a litany of other false leads, as evidence of Holmes' devotion to his cause and the many roadblocks which faced him, but let this one suffice. The truth is there were others, and many more to come had it not been for Quimby ...
Even among the Irregulars young Quimby was irregular. I presumed he came, like so many others, from a broken home or the streets. Nothing could be further from the truth. We were on our way to see him one morning when Holmes volunteered the story.
"I first saw him in the marketplace, and knew at once he did not belong there. He had taken the trouble to disguise himself by messing his hair and dirtying his hands. He even wore soiled clothes, ill-fitting ones at that. But his hair was too neatly clipped, Watson, his shoes too well made. He also forgot he was walking around with clean ears. What sort of beggar has clean ears? And his smile! You have seen it. There isn't a bad tooth in it.
"It was a delightful little mystery, so I decided to follow him. Imagine my reaction when he slipped from sight! Not one man in twenty can escape me if I set a tail, Watson, but in a matter of minutes I lost Quimby. He could not elude me accidentally; it had to be deliberate. I was determined to figure out how and why.
"It took a few minutes to spot his hat in the crowd, but just as quickly I lost him again! It was almost maddening. You won't believe it, Watson, but for a little while I was convinced you had something to do with it. Only you knew I would be there that morning." At this I balked but urged him on, curious myself by now.
"Well, this lad with the freckles and clean ears was making sport of me and I had not the time to play, so I walked deliberately up to him and introduced myself. Do you know what he said? He said 'I know you already, sir. You once helped my father!' He told me he had been practicing detective work ever since." Holmes was clearly flattered.
"It opened the gates, Watson. We sat on a lumber pile and talked all of ten minutes, and though he never explained his trick of escaping notice I recognized his talent right off. He even begged to be my assistant. Of course that is your position till you choose to abandon it, so I offered him a spot on the Irregulars. The rest as they say ..."
"... is history. But doesn't he seem ill-at-ease around the others, Holmes?"
"Do not let his shyness fool you, Watson. Quimby is a bright young lad. His father owns a small tool factory, and behind his quiet air is a quick inventive mind. He rarely speaks but that is just further proof of his intelligence."
The lad may have been quick, but in my mind hardly had the makings of a detective. I had seen him twice already, and his was a shyness that rivaled the courage of Nelson. He could never likely follow a clue into dark and dirty places or confront an evil-doer. What would he do with a real challenge, I wondered? I was about to find out.
We reached the residence a little before noon, and I was stunned by its size. Sunlight glinted off bright railings edging the roof, and a family crest straddled the gate. A wide road, freshly graveled, led to a stable. Small wonder Quimby was chasing a secret life of excitement. I had never seen such a guilded cage. In a blink the boy himself was at an open window, expecting us. It took only a minute for him to slip through the bars and down the pipe. He was dressed like an orphan in borrowed clothes, his 'disguise' outfit Holmes whispered.
"Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson," said he. "How are you today, sirs?" Precociously he raised his hand to shake ours, and in his excitement a flush spread across his cheeks.
"Quimby," said Holmes in mock severity. The lad smiled broadly and turned his head. Holmes found soot behind the ears and congratulated him on the improvement. "Very good. I see you have also found ratty shoes. Tell me, where did you get them?"
"I traded for mine, sir. With the stable boy!"
"Excellent! Resourceful to a fault. Now you look dirty enough to go anywhere. But I hope you are making temporary trades, Quimby, not giving up your nice things on a permanent basis."
The lad flashed another proud smile, of which he seemed to possess a never-ending supply. "Oh, no sir! My mum would object. These are borrowed till I must wash up for dinner. I told the stable boy Matthew not to scuff up my shoes and he must watch what he steps in."
Holmes clapped merrily. "Well done! You will someday replace me, I am almost certain of it. Now your contact said something about an urgent matter."
In sudden alarm the lad spun his head around. "Just a moment!" He raced down the trail to a flagpole, kicking up dust all the way. There he untied a bright red rag and stuffed it in his shirt, returning completely out of breath but wearing another grand smile. "I near forgot! Can't have people asking what the signal is doing there. Here it is, Mr. Holmes." And so saying handed over a small scrap.
The instant it touched Holmes' hand he let out a weary sigh. His pivotal moment had come.
"Quimby, where did you get this?"
"From the boy, of course. The boy you had us watching for, the one with missing fingers."
"And he did not dictate it. You did not write this yourself?" Young Quimby looked back horrified, I assumed by Holmes' insinuation of forgery. I was wrong.
"Me with such bad penmanship? I should hope not, sir! Oxford would never take me like that."
Holmes next questioned when and where he obtained it, and the condition of the boy they were after. Was he healthy? Did he look fed? It seemed from the answers Torvald's son was on a tight leash, growing frightened if he was out too long. The horrors his captors could command clearly bound him to their wishes.
The detective ended by asking how Quimby managed such a feat when no other Irregular came even close. The solution was surpassingly simple. Where the other boys used their muscles Quimby used his head.
"The others kept chasing after him when he showed up, Mr. Holmes. They would make ready, and soon's he showed his face they would send their fastest runners his way. Three or four of 'em in a stampede! But he is lightning fast and no one could catch him. Least of all me," he grinned, raising his shirt to show us a portly middle. "I decided if I am not fast on my feet I must be quick in my head. When it was my turn to watch for him I brought along my string and hoop game."
"String and hoop?" Neither of us knew it.
"Yes sir. I invented it in my room to keep busy instead of doing my studies. Don't tell my mum. And you mustn't either, Dr. Watson. But it is very much fun as you can tell just by watching. I did not know his language and he did not know mine, so I decided to talk to him like any other strange boy, by playing with him! When I showed him how to string the loops and held it up to try, he could not help but come closer. It really is simple and he did quite marvelous. But after a while he got nervous and raced off.
"I watched every day after that till he came again. That's when he brought me that paper. He was not sure about handing it over at first, Mr. Holmes. I think he was terribly afraid to let me have it. But he could not mistake my smile for anything but a good soul and he trusted me. It is an address of some sort."
Torvald's son had never been in a city before, but realized the names and numbers painted everywhere must be addresses. When he had opportunity he reproduced the one nearest his prison and brought it to Quimby. Holmes was monumentally pleased, and studied the paper once more.
"Yes, a street very near the market, in fact, and close to Whitechapel. The police would only scare them off or worse, Watson. I think we must handle this ourselves. Wait here I'll fetch a cab at the corner. Ours has abandoned us."
Just then I felt a tug at my sleeve and heard a faint whisper: "Dr. Watson, did I do right? Do you think your friend will keep me on?" Holmes saw rather than heard, and fishing in his coat removed a smudged magnifier with bent handle, larger than most. The lens was also scratched, and the metal tarnished. Even the initials "S.H." engraved in the handle were rather worn.
To Quimby it was priceless.
I did have time to question the boy after Holmes stepped away, and asked how he had eluded Holmes in a crowd? He smiled his last smile of the visit then. "Oh, you could not likely do it yourself, sir. It is a trick I invented just for me. What you do is, you walk 'round till you find some other boy wearing a shabbier cap than your own, but it must also be a different color. When you find such a boy you stick close by him.
"When you are feeling ready enough, you spin 'round and stare straight back at the man following you! Of course everyone who is following you pretends they are not, so they will look the other way. As soon's they turn their head you switch caps with the shabby boy and run into the crowd. It's simple really."
"But why must the other cap be a different color?" I wanted to know.
"Well my mum said she can't see my face in a crowd so to wear my red cap for her. That gave me the idea she would lose me if I changed colors."
"Then why must the other boy's be shabbier as well?"
"Well if I was to grab your cap and plunk a worse one on your head, you would go after me, wouldn't you? But if you found yourself better off you would be pleased as pudding, and let me go on my way. Well, wouldn't you?"
I made up my mind then and there Quimby would make a detective after all. And from then on whenever I was in a crowd with Holmes, I confess I looked for a man with a shabbier hat, just to try it once.
I have been cautioned by Sherlock Holmes never to reveal our destination that night. It would promote not only an unhealthy curiosity, but turn the place into yet another cheap pay-to-visit attraction for purveyors of the sensational, as did many of the Ripper's scenes of murder. Holmes much prefers the site be left alone, hallowed and respected in its own right.
More so, I am remanded to disguise its exact description, and leave this sordid spectacle of London's past to the imagination. But I may say it was not in a place of open air, or cheerful family and devout neighbors. It came to be, had to be, in a place where men like Kivi gravitate. A region of the city where the nefarious freely roam the streets and the devil chooses his minions. It was in the vicinity of Whitechapel, certainly, but not within its borders.
I am also free to express that it was a large building, and normally empty at night. When we arrived it was almost dusk, and Holmes used the last rays of the sun to chart a course of action. We might expect it to be safer to enter in the daylight, if our own safety was our chief concern, but of course it was not our safety that most concerned us.
As all the doors were secured against intruders a window proved the reasonable approach. When it could not be jimmied, Holmes wrapped his hand in a scarf and first cracked then pressed inward on a small pane, till the shards spread like the petals of a flower. These he was able to pluck piecemeal such that his actions were silent. His long reach then enabled him to undo the latch inside.
The sun had already gone down by the time we gained entry, but we held off using the lantern for fear it might be seen. Instead we crept along feeling our way, cautious as mice. Even then I brushed some article off a table straight into my pocket! After that I felt Holmes' steady grasp on my wrist guiding me. It was always a source of wonder for me how his senses had so keenly developed over the years when mine had grown feebler, but he could see in the dark as well as any man.
The first room we entered was actually smaller than our sitting room on Baker Street, and smelled of dust, each step raising more from the rug. With handkerchiefs we guarded against it for fear a sneeze would bring trouble upon us. Beyond that lay a long corridor, repugnant with some putrid odor. We were also bothered by flies. It was surprising this late in the year, but a swarm of them evidently found shelter here and food to sustain them.
At thirty paces we paused, breaths held, listening intently.
"I think it safe to try the lamp, Watson. There is no sound of anyone near," and with that he closed the shutter over the glass and noiselessly struck a match beneath his cloak. Opening the shutter no more than a sliver cast a yellow line before us, and as it played across the walls we saw the frames of portraits. Thankfully no sound emerged from the darkness ahead and our presence was, for the moment, undetected.
A little farther and the source of the stench was before us. Surrounded by a blanket of flies some formless lump stretched like a snake across our path, now become home and nourishment for a nest of maggots. We were about to step past when Holmes suddenly dropped to his haunches, wishing to know what was the object. "It cannot be a rat, Watson, it is stretched far too thin." He began prodding now with a pencil, stirring up a fiendish odor. Instantly my worst memories of amputation sprang to life.
"There are no bones in this carcass," he muttered in astonishment! And as suddenly as he'd knelt he rose again. "Watson, I fear this is part of another victim." This rancid reminder of our purpose struck home, and in the dim light of our lantern we hurried on.
And then ... a muffled voice.
"We have found them," whispered my shadowy companion, barely containing his excitement. My very soul soared at these words.
A new odor assailed us now, the distinct smell of old machinery, as we drew nearer the rooms below. A jumble of boilers and machinery greeted us with an oily fragrance, and as we listened we heard the occasional cough of whomever we were about to confront. It was a grating, hacking cough, almost tuberculin, strong and resounding in the stillness. When the coughing subsided it was followed almost at once by a guttural voice speaking an unfamiliar tongue, conducting a curious one-sided conversation. The only word I could give any meaning to at all was "Klami". Holmes nodded.
Though our view ahead was blocked by a closed door its uneven slats allowed light from the other side. We crept up to that final barrier, peering through the cracks.
Near the far wall could be seen a brick post to which a boy was chained. Obscuring him from view, a large man pacing back and forth, menacing the child. When I saw the boy raise his hand to block a cruel blow my blood boiled! I raised my weapon. Holmes clamped onto my arm like a vise.
"No guns just yet, Watson. He keeps moving about. Remember the child is right behind him." As an alternative we hunted the debris around us, securing a heavy wrench and long machine part that would serve as clubs if it came to that. A moment later it did.
When the brute struck again child screamed. This time Holmes' own fury erupted, "By heavens we'll put a stop to this!"
Without hesitation we charged the shoddy door, our metal clubs smashing through! Butcher and boy lunged in opposite directions, and in one frantic leap Holmes interposed himself between the two.
Everything happened at once. Kivi snatched something off the table and swung wildly at his intruders. At sight of the flashing blades I hurled my wrench at Kivi's skull and dug for my revolver. One long knife lashed out at Holmes, finding hard contact, skittering off the metal he raised in self-defense. Holmes twisted like a cat to bring a crushing blow to the hand closest to him, sending that blade flying.
I fired a lead pellet into Kivi's leg to topple him, but he was far from finished. In a hideous rage the butcher swung again, this time straight at Holmes ribs!
Seeing this the boy whipped his chain sharply against the blade, diverting what promised to be a lethal blow. Even deflected the blade carried a deadly force, sliding down the chain links and slicing at Holmes' ribs and the boy's. It was the last act of evil that Uuno Kivi was ever to carry out in this world. I fired once more, striking the spine. He fell paralyzed to the floor.
"Holmes! The boy!!" A wet stream flowed down the front of him. In a flash we were at his side.
I had enough foresight to bring bandages and medical supplies, which I immediately put to task. All wounds are treatable. But in a weakened patient suffering a gaping wound, I knew the odds.
It was the work of a sixty seconds to disinfect and bind the site, and I warmed the child with my own body while Holmes built a hasty fire, ringed with broken bricks. I poured and injected remedies into my frail patient till my pockets were empty, calling upon whatever powers may be to spare his innocent life. Still he was slipping away. The pulse was fading, the life receding.
Holmes next applied what he learned from shamans, vigorously rubbing certain muscles to revive the failing pulse. Never have I seen my friend so desperate. I imagine an hour passed before we finally pressed closed the blank eyes, and I knew that if anyone did, that young boy had found a better world.
It was only when Holmes offered his cloak to cover the body that I saw he too wore a bloody smear. He explored it with his fingers insisting, "It is nothing, Watson. I assure you."
Nonetheless I examined and treated the wound as serious. "It will leave at least a permanent mark, I am afraid."
He looked at me then with faint smile. "No disgrace in that, Watson. It is not some fraud of a dueling scar to impress the ladies. It is as worthy a remembrance as any in this world." And with that he imprisoned it behind a wall of cloth, set a guard of metal buttons, and has ever since kept it safe from the world.
The remainder of the night passed like a dream. I recall Holmes searching the boy's pockets, and finding an old biscuit and a scrap note. The note was in the same hand as the address slip but contained only three words, all foreign, and had his father's name printed on the back. Obviously it was a personal message for his father. It most likely read "I love you."
I remember too finding a constable somewhere outside the building, vaguely, and his whistle summoning help. Kivi was of course arrested, and had to be hauled away on a shutter. His limbs were useless. There were the remains found of other victims when we searched for other captives. Thievery had apparently helped support Kivi during his time here, and several billfolds were also discovered, empty of their contents.
The only event past midnight I remember with perfect clarity is wrapping the boy in Holmes' cloak and carrying him out into the sunshine, for daybreak had come at last. All but one of us had survived the night.
Two camps converged on Baker Street that afternoon. Only one was expected. The ambassador's aide had been instructed to bring the father by at precisely half-past-one to receive important news. I might mention Mr. Aalto was by now quite amenable to all of Holmes' demands, regardless of convenience. I expected bitter disappointment, outrage even, from the father, but the aide's reaction did not concern me in the least. Let him feel his worst. He might have saved the boy had he been honest with Holmes from the beginning.
The pair arrived early but Holmes made them wait. "I said precisely half-past," he would remind Mr. Aalto.
In the meantime we had Inspector Milford, our unexpected guest, to badger us. Somehow he had appeared on our doorstep at lunch demanding to know what happened in the East end last evening. It was all the talk of that precinct.
When he pieced together the whole of the picture, Kivi's arrival corresponding with Leather Apron's appearance on the scene, his proximity to Whitechapel, the found body parts and Kivi's terrible background, Milford was immediately aware they had their man. It was all rather obvious but he must nevertheless "compare all the facts" he told us.
Milford was convinced, and through him most of the official force. Adding unnecessary weight to his theory was the fact the killings ended abruptly with the capture, and colleagues who were at first reluctant became solid converts. In the absence of absolute proof the Ripper investigation was officially held open, but unofficially the book had been closed.
In the end Uuno Kivi was shipped back to face the Russian courts, who had prior domain crimes to punish, and who would likely deal with the butcher far more harshly than we. Kivi would face his inquisitors strapped to a board, paralyzed, as helpless as any of his own victims.
Only two barriers prevented a public announcement of the glorious news. In the way stood an ironclad agreement between the office of the Home Secretary and Alexander of Russia, cloaking the background of the butcher from any public exposure whatsoever. Yet the moment the public heard of the Ripper's capture there would surely be a storm of questions. Equally frustrating, they could not deny Sherlock Holmes had trumped them soundly, despite their best efforts to hold onto the prize. It seemed there would be no glory for anyone from these brutal killings, and that perhaps is just at it should be. My friend made a promise never to speak of it again, in return for a promise he would always have full access to the yard and its records. He considered it a worthy bargain.
All this descended from Milford's visit that afternoon.
When the clock reached half-past, Aalto and Torvald climbed the stairs like men in chains. They realized good news is thrust upon you, bad news delivered by private appointment. Our serious greeting confirmed their suspicions.
Few words were actually spoken. The sadness went beyond words. Still we felt we owed an explanation of all that had transpired. It was hard to sort it all out: the myriad victims, the false leads, Homes' restless labors. There were all those who helped in the search, Irregular or otherwise, and those who failed to render aid. We decided to confine ourselves to principle names and events likely to strike a chord with the father.
The death of the first villain, Aleksis Klami, seemed an eternity ago, but the father was gratified to hear it. The revolutionary events since yesterday's breakfast, uncovering the second villain, the terrible battle, his son's enormous courage, he focused on intensely. They both listened without comment or question. The father in particular received the tidings with fortitude and calm. Finally we came to the note. While I took the father aside Holmes passed it secretly to Mr. Aalto, thinking he could use it to console the father. Upon inspecting it Mr. Aalto stepped back in shock. "I cannot tell him this!"
"But you must," Holmes insisted. "It is from his son to him."
Aalto backed into me now, crumpling the note. "No sir! I must not! You don't understand!"
I flushed with anger. "What's this? Not tell him?! It is not for you to decide! If you do not tell him I shall find a way to make myself understood," said I, snatching the paper to hand the father.
Once again Holmes caught my arm. He stared deeply at Mr. Aalto, even as that person began to shrink away. A new tone appeared in Holmes' voice. There was something I was missing.
"Why, Mr. Aalto? Why cannot you share this message with him? Is it because it means something more than we believed? What are these three words?"
The ambassador's aide began to sweat at that, turned pale and looked away. Our second guest could not fail to notice the activity, or slip of paper concerned. He himself now entered the circle. His eyes gleaned the expression on all our faces, curiosity in mine, determination in Holmes', extreme discomfort in his translator's, then they fastened on the paper. Esa Torvald reached out with trembling hand. No one interfered.
He plucked it carefully, almost reverently from our grasp, and opened it. There was no need to explain the source. The words were Finnish, childlike, could only originate from innocence. His eyes welled with tears.
The next seconds stunned me. There was no tender kissing of the paper, no grateful acceptance, no final passion. The father shown only amazement and despair. Close on its heels came anger, tearing the note to pieces! And finally, defeat. He fell prostrate into a chair, crushed and lifeless.
In firm tone Holmes spoke accusingly, "So I see. We get to it at last. And now, Mr. Aalto, it is time you finished the story." That man shrugged his shoulders. Gone was the formality, the nervous twinge, as he helped himself to a fruit and began to eat, resigned at last to tell all.
"There is this, just so. When they kill Esa's wife they leave note too. He carry it here. When he catch Teurastaa he want to ... to tear out their heart ... stuff note in empty space."
Mr. Aalto crossed the room, said some tender words, but the father did not respond. He reached into the father's only untorn pocket withdrawing a wrinkled envelope. At this the father flinched, looked away, began to shake in a paroxysm of agony. Aalto brought it back to us. Unfolding it he wet his lips and translated the sparse message: "Him for you. Fair trade."
I was uncertain what to make of it. Not so Holmes. "You see, Watson, we were right. There was more to the story. We have talked, you and I, about why such treacherous men would burden themselves with his child. There could be many reasons, but where your faith in human kind led you to consider kinder possibilities, I have not that luxury. I generally presume the worst and it is exactly as I suspected ... the father was one of them."
They were the Teurastaa. Men who took what they wanted. Instilling fear was their livelihood, their nourishment, their daily exercise. Hearts as hard as stone. She was the fruit of the land, the sort of woman to make a man turn his life around. In a classic confrontation her innocence drew evil like a magnet, but on this occasion innocence triumphed.
"She was not beautiful," began Aalto in the retelling. "She was ... um ... she was radiant. In land of misery and frown she was sunshine and smile. A desert flower. I use his words now [indicating Torvald]. His men, they see her and stop to spy on her.”
The woman's name was Lahja, which means “gift”, and that she was. All eyes watched greedily as she drew water from the well, unawares. When she spilled the bucket at the door to her hut she laughed. So too did Torvald, and he knew, for the first time really knew, what love might be like. The other men thought only of pleasure, and closed in on the meager farm.
Aalto looked over, saw no life at all in Torvald, and continued: "Some men, they get off horse. But as a leader Torvald has first choice. Instead of watching this time, he stop them, tell them girl is his. Men cheer as he take frighted girl into her hut and wait their turn. But Torvald, he has other ideas."
Torvald knew it would be difficult, dangerous even, but refused to let them pluck such a flower. He re-emerged to tell them they must move on. The passion of a dozen confronted the compassion of the one, an explosive mixture, and in a fever of emotion Esa Torvald drove them off to seek easier prey. He planned to remain behind to protect the woman, just for a day, or they might sneak back. It took less than a day, barely an afternoon, hardly an hour, to decide on forever.
The aide continued, "boy born in summer." As his mere mention a sob erupted from the back of the room.
"Yes, just so. You see even most wicked man can change. Family happy, till Teurastaa come back. It was many years but their ... reputation ... very large by then. They watch farm and wait for chance. Her they kill. They take ... recruit ... the boy. It is to make him one. It is to have revenge."
Our imagination filled in what little remained. The father was repaid for his act of desertion; the boy would replace him. His wife, knowing what was taking place, made him pledge on her grave he would rescue the boy. Our earlier suspicions also proved reliable; he had murdered one of them when given the chance. This also made clear why the father went along with the embassy's low-key search for the boy. It would keep the police out of it when he could scarcely afford to draw the spotlight. Every last misery was at last exposed.
I record, if only for posterity, that the sun rose on November 10th. It was not the brightest of days, but its rays shone down through the patchy clouds to forecast better days ahead. The days of terror lay behind us at last. We would wake to other dawns.
Mr. Aalto had carefully arranged the father's return to his homeland. No criminal charges would follow; the entire affair was blanketed in official silence. The Home Office cooperated per its agreement with Alexander. We offered some necessities for the father's homeward journey, some clothes and traveling gear, and the embassy provided him a little money to live on. Still it was no more than a veneer to cover a thoroughly broken man.
We actually saw him off, Holmes and I, and as his ship sailed it came to me at last why the child's note struck with such a despairing hammer. He had not written "I love you" but "I forgive you." The boy was saying he knew why he was taken, that Kivi or Klami had told him about his father's past, that the kidnapping was revenge for the father's disloyalty. And despite months of torment at their hands, the boy still loved and forgave him.We were to learn by telegram of Esa Torvald's drowning on his passage home, in the less forgiving waters of the North Sea.
September 25, 2005