Chapter 13 - Shocking Discoveries
"This is most intriguing," Basil murmured, reading over what Sophie had written for him before handing the information over to Dawson. She had told him everything before going off to change for the party, but he looked over what she had written anyways, as any extra detail might help.
"What do you make of it, Basil?" Dawson asked, stroking his mustache in thought.
"I told you, old friend, that I have my suspicions as to the criminal behind this mess," Basil frowned, fixing his tie. "But I can't place my finger on the human that these mice mentioned."
"I'm sure you'll figure it out, you always do," Dawson said encouragingly, helping Basil put on his coat. "Now, we'd best get downstairs before the hansom cab leaves without us."
"Right," Basil nodded, grabbing his hat before he and his friend hurried down the stairs and into the parlor. His eyes widened as he saw Sophie dressed in a royal blue silk gown while her hair was placed in a chignon bun. "Sophie, you look…beautiful."
"Thanks," she blushed, accepting his arm. "I just hope I don't trip over the skirt on this dress."
"You won't," he reassured her with a gentle smile. "Come Dawson, we haven't a moment to lose."
Together, the three mice left the house and found the cab waiting outside in front of Holmes' abode. Climbing up, they made themselves comfortable and waited for the humans to join them. It wasn't long before the door opened, but Basil became puzzled when he saw a set of three pairs of feet.
"Odd…looks as if Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson have a guest tonight," Basil muttered, stroking his chin when something clicked in his mind. "The young lady Holmes mentioned!"
"Basil?" Dawson asked, both he and Sophie perplexed by his sudden interest.
"Remember a few nights ago when we introduced our new tenants to Toby, Dawson?" Basil asked, not waiting for an answer. "There was mention of a young lady who was staying with them for the time being."
"Ah! Yes, I remember now," Dawson nodded. He had only vaguely heard the conversation but he had caught some bits as pieces, now making sense as he watched the humans' feet step closer to the hansom cab.
"Allow me," they heard Holmes say, assuming that he was assisting the young woman onto the step of the cab before ushering her inside.
"Thank you," she answered politely, taking a seat before Holmes and Watson joined her inside, signaling the cab driver to move.
"Hold tight," Basil whispered, his heart racing as Sophie gripped onto his coat once the cab started moving. Huddled together, they watched the world whirl by for several streets until they arrived at Buckingham Palace. The cab came to a slow halt and they scurried off before the humans inside out step on them.
"This way," Dawson pointed, showing them the entrance to the palace.
The trio carefully made their way past the massive puddles outside until they arrived at the door, halted by a guard.
"Names," he demanded.
"Basil of Baker Street, Dr. Dawson, and Miss Ward," Basil answered just as curtly, handing over his invitation to the mouse.
At the mention of the names, the guard stepped aside and let them pass. A servant who seemed rather out of breath welcomed them and showed them the way into the ballroom. Sophie's jaw nearly dropped when she saw the expansive, lavish setting before her – an exquisite chandelier of diamonds hung overhead while thick velvet curtains were draped over the windows. The floor was polished to perfection, their reflections staring back at them, while a colorful cast of characters in decadent clothing filled the room.
"Oh my," she breathed.
"Just be yourself," Basil winked, offering his arm once more to her.
Making their way across the room, the trio headed for the erect throne placed at the back of the ballroom when they heard someone shout to them.
"Mr. Basil! Dr. Dawson!"
Turning around, they found a young noblemouse running to them, medals and badges adorning the front of his coat.
"Lord Derby, a pleasure to see you again," Basil smiled, tipping his hat to the mouse.
Young Lord Albert Derby bowed to Basil and his cohorts, a smile on his face. "I'm so glad you could come. I'm…anxious." He glanced around the room, his nervousness showing through for a brief moment.
"Has anything happened since we last saw you?" Dawson asked, scanning the perimeter as well.
"Nothing," he shook his head. "But I can't shake this impending feeling that something is going to happen-"
"Mr. Basil's never failed," Sophie spoke up, firm in her words. "I'm sure that this will work out. I'm so sorry about your brother."
"Thank you for your condolences," he smiled at her, kissing her hand. "You must be Miss Ward. I must confess, I was taken by surprise when I found out that Mr. Basil found himself a lady."
"Yes, well, so was I," Basil cleared his throat, tugging at his tie. He didn't care to be the center of attention when at an event, even if it involved a case. Sensing his uncertainty, Sophie squeezed his hand and winked reassuringly, earning a grin from him. "Now then, we were just going to greet the-"
"Basil Rathbone of Baker Street."
The new, commanding voice made them all freeze in place. Lord Derby was the first to snap out of his stunned state, turning and facing the newcomer. "Good evening, Your Highness."
The rest of the group turned slowly and faced the Queen, holding their breaths and bowing before her.
"Rise," she smiled merrily. "One would think you'd seen a ghost! Ah, it's so good of you to come, Mr. Basil." She became serious for a moment, lowering her voice. "I have every bit of faith in you and your associates that you will find the murderer who is going after my family and loved ones."
"And I shall not disappoint," Basil nodded reassuringly.
Her face softened once more as she greeted Dr. Dawson and caught sight of Sophie. "So, this is the young lady you chose to accompany you. She's quite a striking choice."
Sophie bowed once more, saying, "You're too kind, Your Highness."
"Sophie, this is Queen Mousetoria of Great Britain," Basil introduced them. "Your Highness, this is Miss Sophie Ward…" He couldn't stop the smile that came on his face as he took her hands and watched her blush as he kissed them.
"Stolen his heart, eh? No one ever thought they'd live to see the day when Mr. Basil finally found himself a lady," the queen chuckled, enjoying the looks of shy embarrassment on their faces. Placing her hands on their shoulders, she beamed and said, "I wish you every blessing imaginable. Now, shall we join the others? This is a party after all!"
The gang followed her in close suit, nearly bumping into a waiter who approached them and offered drinks. Sophie refused, frowning at how he let his eyes linger on them. Ignoring him, she continued with the others and found herself mingling with royalty and nobility. It was indeed glamorous, yet dull at times, and she couldn't help herself as she covered her mouth and yawned for the tenth time that evening.
"Just a bit longer, darling," Basil whispered as they danced later that night. "I need to see what happens when they start the toast."
"Hmm, I could use a bit of toast right now, with butter or jam," she joked, earning a wry smile out of him as the song came to a close. "Don't worry about me. I'm just not used to these events."
"Neither is he. He avoids them at all costs," Dawson winked, earning a pout from Basil.
At this time, the Queen tapped her glass, earning everyone's attention…everyone except Basil's, that is. His eyes went to Albert Derby, catching sight of the young noble accepting a glass from the same server that Sophie had mentioned. Tapping Dawson and Sophie, he motioned for them to follow him as he casually walked towards Derby, noticing how the server only stayed a few feet away from him.
"It is a weight that bears heavily on our hearts that dear Norman has been taken so abruptly from us," the Queen began, her tone mournful and solemn. "But I have faith that all will be well once more, and that dear Norman would not want us to mourn on his birthday…so I raise my glass in memory of him, to honor his life. To Lord Norman Derby."
The crowd echoed her words, raising their glasses to the ceiling before placing the rims on their lips to sip. Lord Derby mimicked them when suddenly, Basil bumped into him and sent the drink flying until it crashed onto the floor. "Oh, I'm so terribly sorry!" he exclaimed, feigning embarrassment.
"You meddling twit!" snapped the server, his eyes widening as he realized his mistake. "…oops."
"Grab him!" Basil exclaimed, running with Sophie as Dawson grabbed onto the culprit's arm. They hurried to help their friend as the guards came out of hiding and grasped the fiend.
"Unhand me!" the server squirmed.
"Let's see…didn't you have a moustache the other day and grey hair?" Basil smirked, holding up a sketch made by one of Vole's men.
Albert Derby gaped at the mouse, stunned to see his old butler as a young, burly mouse who just offered him a suspicious drink. "Basil, how did you-?"
"Elementary, Lord Derby. When Sophie mentioned the server, I took a look at him and noticed some of his distinct facial features and made the connection that he would be back to finish his work on you. Also, Inspector Vole's men were kind enough to lend me a copy of the picture they had sketched of the missing butler based on your descriptions." Heading for the spilt drink, Basil knelt down and sniffed it, his face twisting into a scowl. "A faint hint of the same poison that killed your brother – Belladonna."
"Guards, arrest him!" the Queen cried out.
"You may have caught me, but you're already too late," the crook grinned. "Just you wait and see."
"Whatever could he mean?" Dawson asked, raising an eyebrow when Inspector Vole suddenly burst into the room, his face pale. "Great Scott! What's the matter, man?!"
"Basil, Dawson, it's urgent," Vole whispered, startled by the cruel bark of laughter that came from the crook as he was being dragged away.
"Right, what happened?" Basil asked, joining Vole with Sophie and Dawson.
The Inspector raised an eyebrow at the girl. "Isn't this the lady who you saved from the Professor?"
"Yes, and she's quite trustworthy. Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of us all," Basil frowned.
Vole held back an irritated sigh before he let his anxiety and fear take over once more. "Remember how you said there was Belladonna used for Lord Derby? We've been receiving reports that there are thugs and lowlifes that have been killed by the same plant, different forms but the same poison! And they've all got one thing in common…" He swallowed, his eyes large with concern as he whispered, "They all used to work for Professor Ratigan!"
"Ratigan?!" Dawson gasped, staring in disbelief.
"But he's dead, right? So…what's the deal?" Sophie asked, an idea suddenly sparking in the back of her mind. "Unless…he isn't dead…and he's the one behind all this?!"
"Just as I suspected," Basil said grimly, his eyes dark and his voice tinted with anger. "I thought it the first moment I saw the letter – 'Beware the Undead'. Somehow he survived…just what was the diagnosis on his 'death', Inspector?"
"His spine was practically destroyed from that carriage," Vole explained. "Half his face was ripped off. The doctor said there was some part of him that seemed to fight for life, but he was so close to death that they didn't think much of it…until…"
"Until?" Basil prodded on, his hands curling into fists.
Vole took another breath before continuing. "We had him placed in a warehouse close to the scene of the crime. We planned to throw his body into the Thames once he was proclaimed officially dead…but there was an attack. A…a cat came in-"
"A cat?!" Dawson blinked. "Not Felicia-?!"
"That feline's long gone, we checked ourselves," Vole shook his head. "No…this one was a stray, skinny fellow. He found our hiding place and swiped at the body. We had assumed he was eaten by the blighter until one of my men went back just now to check the warehouse and heard a human talking. He poked around and saw…" He paled so much at this point that Sophie worried he might collapse and faint. "…he saw the human was holding a disfigured, broken rat…and they were talking."
Sophie covered her mouth to contain a terrified gasp. Swallowing her fear, she asked, "…did…did he hear what they said?"
"Only that they want you dead, Basil, and some other person but my man got so petrified by the sight of that monster that he ran out before anyone could see him." He shook his head, accepting Dawson's help as he sat down in a chair. "Just what do you make of it?"
"Only that this cat works for the human, and this human is just as twisted as Ratigan," Basil stated, tapping his cheek in thought. "We haven't a moment to lose. We must return to Baker Street."
"Just what good is that going to do?!" Vole fumed.
"I need to consult another source of information before I decide to take any action, and get these two into safety," Basil snapped. He stopped as he felt two hands on his shoulders, each one belonging to his two loved ones.
"I'm going with you, Basil, no matter what," Dawson said stubbornly.
"There's no way you're going to put me in a tower and lock me away for safe keeping either," Sophie frowned. "We faced him before, we can do it again, but you'll do better if you have a team to support you."
Basil gave a small smile, grasping their hands. "I knew you'd be saying that. Very well – we have no time to lose!"
In the darkness of the old, worn out room, the scrawny cat rubbed against a man's leg before leaping onto the table, eyeing the tiny figure of his master's attention.
"Not to worry, my miniature companion," the human chuckled darkly, picking the cat up and placing him on the floor once more. "I'm sure they will be here shortly."
"I'm counting on it," the tiny figure grasped his hands together, his yellow eyes glinting in the candlelight. "But we'd better move to the basement…" He grinned wickedly, as did the human as he stroked his beard.
"Indeed…we don't want Scotland – or Mouseland – Yard to find any trace of them…at least, not until it's too late."