Chapter 7 - Rigging screws, size 1⅜, galvanised by A.J. Hall
“What do you mean, you lost him?” In the blue light flashing from the numerous emergency vehicles littering the marina car-park Sherlock looked corpse-pale. His face wore an expression of venomous fury. Each precisely enunciated word was pitched to sting.
The constable took a step backwards, almost tripped over a torn and sodden sail-bag, realised what he had nearly trodden on and emitted a strangled gargling noise.
“Calm down.” Dr Watson’s voice had a quiet authority about it. He didn’t even look up from the mug of tea he was cradling. “If you want to yell at anyone, I lost him. Though I didn’t expect anyone to try to swim for it, in that.”
Marjorie made a tremendous effort to stop her teeth chattering. “Dr Watson –”
“Oh, call me John. Please.”
“John, then – if you’re Sherlock’s flatmate, what were you doing on the police RIB in the first place?”
John grinned, ruefully. “The usual. I suppose. Otherwise known as ‘Doing stupid things in the hope of stopping someone else doing them’.” He eyed Sherlock, who had cornered the constable against the open ambulance door and was haranguing him about what the police were doing to trace the missing Landrover. “That is, I pulled strings to get there. Surprisingly short strings, once Sherlock sent me the info about your husband’s Army career. Trust me, a soldier doesn’t get a nickname like ‘Mad Dog’, in the Paras, in Ulster, in the 70s without putting some real effort into it.”
Marjorie thought of the long, dark lane up to the house, the way its upper stories creaked at night, and hoped her shivering would be put down to her recent drenching. Perhaps a hotel? Though – she was damned if she was going to be driven out of her own home. Her own, at least, until the bank came to take it.
“John, I take it you can drive in that gear?” Sherlock had finished his tirade and returned to the back of the ambulance.
John ran his finger round the rubber neck seal on his drysuit. “I’ve some proper clothes somewhere –”
“Won’t wait. We’ve got to get Marjorie home before her husband finds some dry clothing of his own and shows up at the house.”
Despite herself, the matter-of-fact voicing of her deepest dread provoked an involuntary gasp. Sherlock looked at her.
“Well, what else can he do? He needs to establish an alibi. The only person who’s seen him at close quarters is John, here. John may be able to identify him in a parade –”
“Not much doubt about that. Nothing wrong with my eyesight, Sherlock. And someone trying to stab me in the kidneys and then holding my head underwater leaves a bit of an impression.”
“Stab you?” Her voice came out as a strangled squeak.
John gestured at a gash in the drysuit. “Yup. He may have been out for twenty-odd years, but he’s not forgotten his training. Good job I was wearing the Kevlar vest underneath. Though I’d have been buggered if you hadn’t shown up. Compromised drysuit and the police boat stuck with a sack of human remains round its prop – I really began to wonder what music Sherlock and my sister would manage to agree on for the funeral. Yes, I can drive in this. Now?”
Marjorie had half expected to see the Landrover already parked at the house; during the drive her mind had squirreled through half a dozen excuses to explain John and Sherlock, each more far-fetched than the last. It was an inexpressible relief to find the car ports empty.
Even so, Sherlock checked the lower reception rooms and both the upper stories before allowing her to retreat to her own room, ditch her sodden clothing and take a bath. Even the hottest water barely took the edge out of her bone-deep chill.
She descended to the living room, clad in a sage-green knitted skirt and matching high-necked jumper that had seemed the warmest things she could lay hands on. The tumbler on the little table nearest the fire had two generous fingers of Scotch in it; the sound system, set on low, was half-way through The Death of Klinghoffer, a CD she’d bought, years ago, and rarely played, modern classical music being something Julian despised. The novel Foggy had given her for her birthday lay on the sofa, bookmarked a couple of chapters in, as if she were making a conscientious effort but finding it an uphill struggle. Only the angle-poise lamp was on, making a warm pool of light over the wine-red of the sofa cushions.
Alibi. Her mind formed the word without conscious thought. No-one, walking in on that carefully composed scene, would think anything except that she’d spent a quiet evening in and was enjoying a night-cap before retiring to an early bed.
Marjorie slid onto the sofa, picked up her book, and reached for the tumbler.
Once again, it seemed, they’d only been a couple of steps ahead of Julian. She’d barely read a page before the security lights came on outside and, a moment or so later she heard the scrape of Julian’s key in the lock.
He came straight into the living room. Marjorie had been steeling herself for the moment, rehearsing her opening line over and over in her head.
“Oh! I thought – Harry said –”
“Haven’t you seen the weather?” Too fast, that comment; prepared in advance, like her own. “It took me longer at Basingstoke than I’d thought, and by the time I’d finished – ” He gestured at the windows, which were running with rain, rattling in their frames from the still-violent gusts. “Well, I was hardly going to take an open boat out in this, was I? They’ll have to arrange the buoys for the Bembridge Rally tomorrow. Speaking of which, get your coat. If we hurry, we ought to be able to catch Jonners at the club before last orders. ”
No need to feign her grunt of protest. “What? But I was just about to go to bed –”
“Well, I’m not planning to stay long.” He reached out and picked up the tumbler. “You’ve not had much of this, have you? No reason for you not to drive.”
A mess of conflicting thoughts rushed through her mind, chief among them Go out with you, alone? Knowing what I know? Over my dead body. and then, hard on its heels, Not necessarily a metaphor. What is he really planning?
“Don’t be absurd,” Marjorie said. “Go yourself, if you like – get a cab, if you want to have a few – but we’ve got a long day tomorrow and I’m going to bed.”
Julian leant over and grasped her wrist, so hard it felt as if the bones were grinding together. She had to bite down on her inner lip to suppress a gasp of pain.
Not giving him that satisfaction. Never again.
His face was only inches from hers; his eyes utterly without any emotion she recognised as human. He didn’t raise his voice.
“You’re coming out with me.”
“I think, you know, you’ll find she isn’t.”
Despite herself, Marjorie jumped. Julian dropped her wrist and swivelled his head in the direction of Sherlock’s voice. Sherlock stepped out of the shadows cast by the tallboy in the corner.
- And I never noticed a thing.*
Julian barely missed a beat. “Get out of my house, whoever you are. You’re alarming my wife.”
Sherlock studied him for a long moment, as if he were a specimen in a glass case. “I’m not. You are. Not surprising, really; I doubt Marjorie’s met many killers.”
Julian swirled to face her. “Have you been having one of your episodes again?” He looked over at Sherlock, his face all sincere concern. “I don’t know who you are or what my wife’s been telling you, but I’m afraid it isn’t the first time we’ve had trouble of this sort. I can refer you to the police, if need be. Regrettably, I’ve had to make them aware of her problems.”
“You are quite smooth, aren’t you? I can see how you could make quite an impression on the less-bright members of the Hampshire force. Mason, too. That always makes a difference. But there’s one factor you haven’t taken into account. John.”
Marjorie took advantage of Julian’s distraction to edge down the sofa, out of grabbing distance.
“Me?” On cue, John Watson walked in from the hall, still wearing the compromised drysuit. As for his expression –
I suspect the number of killers I’ve met increased by one this evening.
“Who’re you?” Julian’s assurance was slipping; his voice came out jerky and rushed.
“Your memory can’t be that bad. I’m the man you left for dead an hour ago. Rephrase your question. ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’”
“Or, perhaps, ‘Do ghosts believe in you?’”
Sherlock had advanced, soundlessly, while Julian’s attention had been taken by John. Julian half-turned, then paused, as if assessing which of them represented the bigger threat. Then he drove the side of his hand hard at Sherlock’s throat, stamping for his knee at the same time.
Sherlock sidestepped in a blur of long limbs. Neither blow landed. John barrelled into Julian from the side. After that it became a confused, vicious melee, punctuated by grunts and gasps of pain. Marjorie caught up a candlestick from the sideboard and then paused on the fringe of the conflict, feeling useless.
“Don’t – move.” Sherlock pinned Julian’s shoulders to the rug with his knees, long thumbs pressing hard into both sides of his neck. Julian’s eyes bulged. “John. Reach into my coat pocket. Right side.”
John wriggled his hand into Sherlock’s pocket and laughed softly as he extracted something that clanked.
“What have I told you about pickpocketing the constabulary?”
“Just give them to me.”
The handcuffs went round Julian’s wrists just as he threw Sherlock off his chest with a violent wriggle of his upper body and lashed out with his legs, connecting with John’s midriff.
“Jesus!” John doubled over against the sofa, wheezing and gasping. Sherlock scrambled across the floor and flung himself bodily across Julian’s legs. His head snapped up.
She dropped the candlestick onto the sofa and ran for the smallest spare bedroom. All the sailing gear still lay in the neat piles she had stacked yesterday – flotsam from an abandoned life. The red and white glint of the new spinnaker sheet peeped from under the sleeping bags; she was already undoing the coil as she slithered break-neck down the stairs.
Sherlock, still with his back to her as she reappeared, said, “Now.” She threw the coil and he plucked it one-handed from the air. A very short time – and some unfamiliar but evidently ruthlessly effective knots – later, a battered but still coolly contemptuous Julian was surveying them from the living room floor.
“I shall have very great pleasure in taking you for enormous damages for trespass, battery and assault,” he said. “What name should I give my solicitor, for the writ?”
“Sherlock Holmes.” Sherlock smiled. “Address: 221B Baker Street. Profession: consulting detective.”
Marjorie detected a very faint flicker of doubt cross Julian’s face. Then the sneer came back.
“Consulting detective? So I suppose you claim Marjorie consulted you.”
“Oh yes. For a second opinion. I confirmed her initial diagnosis in every particular.” He cocked his head on one side. “But I’m afraid the civil claims – and counter-claims – will have to wait. The police are arriving. They’ve some questions for you. About sail bags. And pruning saws. And the final voyage of the Matilda Briggs.”
For the second time that evening, the air became thick with the sound of sirens. Blue light flooded in through the windows. In its reflected glare Julian looked shrunken, defeated.
Marjorie inhaled, a deep, satisfying breath. “I’ll just go and let them in, then.”