Arthur Conan Doyle's study was a wonder to behold. The mantle held masks and tribal staffs from Africa, the bookshelves a mass of natural objects like corals, bones and insects in addition to books on a wide variety of topics. A desk with a typewriter sat under the window, the wooden surface scattered with papers, drawings and notes.
Harry Houdini sat in a chair by the fireplace a the other end of the room reading the latest newspaper as he waited for Doyle to return from an errand before they set out to meet Constable Adelaide Stratton about their current case; a man reported to Scotland Yard the house he had rented was trying to kill him. Doyle suspected a ghost, Harry thought it more likely to be the man's ex-business partner.
He turned a page, and glanced up as Kingsley, Doyle's eight year old son, entered the room with several pieces of paper clutched in his hand. The boy glanced toward the desk and Harry saw the excitement die from Kingsley's eyes as he realized his father wasn't in the study.
"Hiya, Kingsley," Harry said, setting aside the paper. "Your father will be back soon, or so his message said."
"Hello, Mr. Houdini," Kingsley replied politely and he turned to leave the room.
Harry saw the pages were covered in Kingsley's handwriting and asked, "Whatcha got there?"
Kingsley shrugged and tried to hide the pages. "I wanted to show Daddy the story I was writing, it's about a monster dragon attacking a town."
"Monsters, 'eh? I know a story with a monster and the best part is I was there," Harry said and Kingsley sat in the chair across from Houdini.
"Real monsters?" Kingsley asked skeptically.
"Reported in the paper and everything," Harry assured the boy.
Kingsley's eyes widened as he pulled the chair closer the the magician.
"Was this one of your adventures with Daddy?"
Harry nodded. "It all started last month in a little town not far from here," Harry said and leant back in his chair. "Scotland Yard started getting reports of a creature swooping around this village and the people living there were afraid; some of the reports said folks had gone missing after the beast arrived and no one wanted to be out at night."
Kingsley gulped. "Like with Jack," he whispered.
Harry darted a look at the boy and remembered how frightened Kingsley had been when the stories of Spring Heel'd Jack had terrorized London. Doyle will kill me if Kingsley has nightmares after this, Harry thought. Aloud he said, "Are you sure you want to hear this story, Kingsley?"
The boy say up in his chair and nodded, "I'm not scared, Mr. Houdini."
Harry studied him for a moment, then continued, "If you're sure …"
Kingsley nodded again.
"So, Scotland Yard kept getting these reports and Chief Inspector Merring decided to send us over to look into things and sort out their monster problem …"
Harry wandered into Scotland Yard, a copy of the latest London Daily folded under his arm. He wasn't surprised to see Doyle already at Adelaide's desk with the same paper laid out on the wooden surface. "So, you've already seen it then," Harry said as he walked up to stand beside Doyle at the desk. He ignored the muffled shouting coming from Merring's office.
"I told you there was no need to send a message, he would be here before Merring was ready for us," Doyle said with a smile at the constable.
"Doctor Doyle was just showing me the newspaper account," Adelaide said to Harry. "You're actually just in time, Merring wants to discuss the case."
The door to the Chief's office opened and a young constable walked out looking slightly shell-shocked from the dressing down most of the station had heard through the closed door. Merring imperiously waved them into his inner sanctum where Sergeant Gudgett was already waiting with a file folder in his hands and a cloying smile on his face.
Adelaide led the way into the office while Merring rounded his desk and settled back in his chair. Harry leant against the file cabinet near the window while Adelaide and Doyle took the chairs in front of the desk.
"I'm sure you three are already aware of what's happening in Foxwick," Merring said, glancing around the three of them with a frown. "Constable Tigg sent me his reports and his latest updates early this morning. He's asking for assistance with this … monster."
"I'm not sure what we can do to help him, sir," Adelaide said. "If it's some sort of animal -"
Merring waved his hand at Gudgett and pointed at Adelaide. Gudgett handed over the file folder he'd been holding. "The villagers think the creature is kidnapping people as well," the sergeant said as he gave Adelaide the file.
Adelaide read through the reports in the file and handed them to Doyle one by one.
Foxwick was fairly isolated for a village only an hour away from London by train. It was originally settled as a mining town for men digging chalk and limestone from the hills in behind the village. However, the mines soon played out and the villagers started growing wheat and grazing cattle and sheep instead.
"According to this, there were no traces left behind of the stolen livestock or of the missing people," Doyle said and glanced at Harry reading over his shoulder.
Merring nodded. "Whatever it is out there, it's not leaving any evidence behind. Tigg has his hands full trying to keep everyone calm. I told him I'd be sending three experts out to help him with the case. If it's some sort of wild animal attacking the village, prove it. If it's something else, deal with it, Constable."
Adelaide closed the file and slowly stood. She glanced at Harry and over at Doyle standing beside her. "We'll do our best, sir," she said as the trio headed out of the office.
"See that you do, Constable," Merring growled behind them.
"So any ideas what could be in Foxwick?" Harry asked as they left the station.
"Whatever it is, it's huge," Adelaide replied as she reread parts of the file. "Some of these reports say the creature is fifteen to twenty feet long and ten feet wide." She looked up from the file, her eyes wide. "How are we supposed to deal with something like that?" she asked.
"Well for starters, I doubt whatever this is is anywhere near that big," Harry reassured her. "People tend to exaggerate."
"But they are seeing something," Doyle argued.
"Maybe," Harry replied. "I haven't heard of a single monster story that couldn't be easily explained once all the facts were known."
"Let's hope that's the case here as well," Adelaide said as she turned down the alley that led to her flat. "The train for Foxwick leaves in a couple of hours."
"We'll meet you at the station," Doyle said as she walked away and he and Harry continued down the street to the Metropole Hotel and Arthur's townhouse.
Harry stepped off the train and looked around as the late afternoon sun stretched shadows across the platform. The village was quaint by any standard, a few dusty streets lined with stones, houses with kitchen gardens in front of them and a square with local businesses including the pub.
"Wasn't someone supposed to meet us?" he asked as he helped Adelaide from the train. Doyle handed down their travel cases to Harry, then stepped off the train as well.
"Yes, a Constable Jackson Tigg was supposed to be here," Adelaide said and started walking toward the village square, her satchel in one hand and her travel case in the other.
Harry and Doyle followed her and Harry commented, "I don't see any monsters, do you?"
Doyle looked around at the empty street and shuttered windows. "I don't see anyone. Something is happening here to scare all of these people. Look around. No one out on the streets." He glanced in the window of the pub as they passed. "Even the pub has only a few people in it."
Harry shrugged. "It's still a little early for that. The reports say this monster is fifteen feet long. Where do you hide something that big, or even half that big, around here?" Harry glanced out at the surrounding countryside of fields and grazing land; a small river circled the village to the west which fed a lake by the hills in the near distance to the east.
"Maybe it's living in the old mine shafts or a cave," Doyle offered uncertainly.
They entered the police station to find a middle-aged man with thick brown hair sitting behind a desk while a pair of young boys sat hunched in the straight-backed, wooden chairs in front of the desk. "I don't want to hear any more reports of the pair of you terrorizing Mr. Ellis' cats or I'll have to tell your father what you've been up to."
"Yes, sir," the boys mumbled, their blonde heads bobbing as they stared at their toes.
"Then let that be the end of it then," the constable said. "Off you go."
The boys jumped up from the chairs and nearly ran into Harry and Doyle in their rush to get out of the room.
The constable stood as well and glanced curiously at his visitors.
"Constable Tigg?" Adelaide said as she stepped forward. "I'm Constable Adelaide Stratton. This is Doctor Doyle and Harry Houdini. Chief Inspector Merring sent us to assist with your case."
Tigg shook hands all around and paused as he looked Harry up and down. "Mr. Houdini, I've heard of you. I'm afraid, even the kids around here could break out of my little jail cell. Not much call for locking people up in Foxwick."
Harry smiled at the constable and gave Doyle a cheeky grin, "Never gets old," he whispered to Arthur as he shook the officer's hand and Doyle rolled his eyes.
"Sorry I wasn't at the train to meet you," he said. "Wanted to get those two boys taken care of and it took longer than I thought."
Harry asked, "What was the fuss all about?" he asked and glanced out the window as the boys ran past. "I don't suppose they were the cause of your monster by any chance?"
Constable Tigg barked a laugh and invited them to sit down. Doyle and Adelaide took the chairs in front of the desk, Harry stood near the door behind them. "That was Jacob and Thomas Appleby. Their Daddy works the farm next to Nathan Ellis. They heard about that story with Phileas Fogg and decided launch Ellis' cats in homemade balloons off the roof of their barn to see how far they could get the poor beasts to fly," Tigg said as he sat behind his desk again. "Neither Ellis nor the cats were too happy with the idea."
"Is there anything new you can tell us about your case, Constable Tigg?" Adelaide asked.
"You have the reports I sent to Chief Merring? All I can tell you is there have been several sightings of the beast the last few nights."
"Only at night?" Doyle asked.
"Well, properly speaking, it's more like early morning, usually an hour or so before dawn." Tigg leant back in his chair. "I took several of the farmers and searched the fields surrounding the village after the first reports. We didn't find anything. No footmarks, no traces." Tigg shook his head. "Then the stories about the stolen animals started and I couldn't get anyone to help unless it was broad daylight."
"How reliable are your witnesses, Constable?" Harry asked as he started to pace behind Doyle and Adelaide.
"What are you asking?" Tigg replied with a defensive look at Houdini.
"I'm asking how many of your witnesses were drunk at the time, Constable. You said these sightings were all at night or early morning. How long were they in that pub before they said they saw anything?"
Tigg barked another harsh laugh. "I'll grant that a couple of the boys around here like their beer," Tigg said. "But one of the witnesses was Reverend Hickey, walking home after calling at the Upton farm, not a man prone to drink."
"Do you have any ideas what this monster could be?" Doyle asked.
Tigg shrugged. "We don't have much in the way of wild animals around here," he said. "Nothing that fits the descriptions anyway, certainly nothing that big and flies."
Adelaide shut the file folder and said, "If this monster only appears at night we have a few hours."
"Billy Reilly runs the pub and has rooms for rent upstairs. I told him Scotland Yard was sending someone out to help us, and he has rooms set aside for you."
"Three rooms?" Adelaide asked.
Tigg gave her an odd look. "He's only got the three going spare, Constable Stratton. All three are waiting for you."
Doyle stood up. "In that case, I suggest we go see Mr Reilly and then take a look around ourselves before it gets dark."
Harry stood in the street looking back at the center of the village. The sun was just beginning to set and a few streetlights glowed into existence through the village square.
The trio spent the remaining part of the afternoon exploring the village and a few of the surrounding fields looking for any places where a creature fifteen feet long and ten feet wide could hide during the day. Nothing in town came close to being large enough which just left the hills behind the village to search the next day.
"We need to talk to these witnesses and see if they remember anything else about the creature," Adelaide said as they entered the pools of light in the village square.
"Most of them should be in the pub," Doyle said.
"Not really a surprise," Harry mumbled.
They entered the snug and found several of the villagers seated at scattered tables around the small room, speaking softly and drinking the local brew. They all looked up when Harry, Adelaide and Doyle entered, but soon turned back to their own conversations.
The room was heated by a fireplace in one corner, and the walls held drawings someone had made of various birds and animals; there were several well done drawings of horses pulling plows, examples of the local birds, and a few of a fox and other smaller predators.
Harry led them to a table in a corner and sat where he could see the room. Doyle and Adelaide sat across from him and when Reilly came past, they ordered the local beer. Harry asked for milk and ignored the look the owner gave him.
"It must be hiding in the hills," Doyle said once the beer and milk arrived.
"I'm still not convinced there is anything to these stories," Harry countered.
Doyle sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "There are witnesses. How do you explain what they've seen?"
Harry sipped at his milk. "Maybe it's some sort of bird," Harry said.
"I think the people around here would know what the local birds look like, Harry," Adelaide said and shuffled through the reports of the sightings again.
"And I've never heard of a bird fifteen feet long," Doyle added. "Have you?"
"Well, no," Harry admitted. "But a giant, flying monster?"
"There's a long history of dragons in Britain," Doyle said in a low voice.
"I'm going to pretend you didn't just suggest we're dealing with a dragon, Doc."
Reilly walked past their table, his hands full of beer mugs. He handed around the mugs to a nearby table and came back. "There was the dragon killed here during the Crusades," he said matter of factly, giving their table a hasty wipe with his bar towel.
Doyle gave Harry a knowing look. "What happened?"
"Well, sir, the story goes there was a fearsome beast, almost pure white, that plundered the countryside for cattle and he ate his fair share of people, too," Reilly said, tossing his bar rag across his shoulder. "Finally a knight came and he fought the dragon for six days and six nights. At dawn on the seventh day, he finally slew the beast. The hills," Reilly hooked a thumb over his shoulder, "The hills are where the beast died. The limestone and chalk they used to mine around here were said to be the dragon's bones."
Harry shook his head and stared out the window beside him. "It's a story to tell kids," he said. "There are no such things as dragons. And even if there were, this one is dead!"
"It weren't no dragon," one of the men at a nearby table said.
Harry glanced up to see several of the men at tables near them listening to Reilly's story.
"Dragons is slow, this creature was quick," the man said again and walked over to join Reilly in front of their table.
"And you are?" Doyle asked.
"Names Upton, John Upton. I saw the beast the same night Reverend Hickey was out at the house."
Adelaide dug the file out of her satchel and glanced through the reports. "Mr. Upton, you reported seeing a large animal flying over your fields and stealing a sheep," she read out from the file.
"That's right. It came swooping down over the fields, plucked one of my best ewes right outta the pen."
"Can you describe what you saw?" Doyle asked.
"It was huge and white all over -"
"Now that ain't the truth and you know it, John Upton," one of the other men said stepping up to the table. "It was big, sure, but it was more buff colored, not white."
Harry glanced across the table at the others, then back up at the new man standing in front of them "What's your name, friend?"
The new arrival stood tall and replied, "Michael Simms, I got the land next to ole Upton here. Me and my boys saw it clear as day. It was buff colored with a giant orange eye."
Upton nodded. "Yeah, the orange is right, but I still say it was more white than buff. And it didn't have no wings, more like big flippers on its sides."
"And it moved quickly?" Adelaide asked.
Both men nodded. "One minute it's just hanging in the air, the next, it diving for the fields," Upton said.
"It could turn faster than any bird I seen. It starts goin' one way and then it's off another before you can blink," Simms added.
"Like I told ya, no dragon moves quick like that," Upton finished and shook his head. He and Simms wandered back to their table, finished their beer and left. The others in the room started leaving as well and soon Harry, Adelaide and Doyle were the only ones left in the snug.
Harry finished his milk and stood. "I'm going to bed," he said. "Maybe in the morning we can search for clues to real animals."
Harry unlocked his room and threw his suit coat on the bed, his tie and waistcoat soon followed. He pulled the chair from the desk over to the window and sat, staring out at the night. "Dragons?" he said to the empty room and shook his head. Soon he heard the others come up the stairs and settle in the rooms to either side of him. After a few more minutes, he went through his evening exercises, changed into his pajamas, and climbed into the bed.
Several hours later, Harry was roused from sleep by someone shaking him. He jerked awake to find Doyle standing over him wearing his top coat over his nightshirt. "Houdini, wake up," he said, giving Harry's shoulder another shake.
"Doyle?" he asked groggily. "What's goin' on?"
Arthur stood back and Harry sat on the edge of the bed rubbing his face.
"Constable Tigg is downstairs, there's been another sighting of the monster," Doyle said. "It was spotted just a few minutes ago hovering over one of the fields. Adelaide is waiting for us, come on!"
Doyle left the room and Harry scrambled for his own coat and his flashlight then met Doyle and Adelaide at the top of the stairs. "Did you actually see it?" Harry asked as they went down the stairs and out of the pub into the night.
"No," Doyle replied. "One of the farmers was up early to check his stock and saw it. He came running into the village and found Constable Tigg who then came here for us."
Harry glanced through the window to the snug and saw Tigg talking and gesturing to a small group of men gathered near the fireplace.
The streetlights outside the pub gave a ghostly glow through the early morning dew, though the light faded back into the false dawn as they walked down the main street out of the village toward the hills. "There!" Adelaide exclaimed and pointed off to their right.
Harry and Doyle turned to look in the direction she indicated and Houdini was stunned. Hanging in the early morning sky was a huge, white shape. Harry couldn't see anything like a head or a tail, but it writhed and shifted back and forth across the nearby field as if looking for something. There seemed to be a fin on either side of the creature that both propelled the apparition and helped it change direction.
As Harry and the others watched, the shape made a sudden dive into the field and rose quickly into the air and hung there. Harry thought he could hear some sort of keening noise, but before he could ask the others, it changed direction again and slithered across the sky toward the lake and the nearby hills. A few minutes later, it was gone.
"Houdini!" Doyle shouted from the door to the study.
Kingsley startled at the sound of his father's voice; Harry glanced over his shoulder with a grin and watched as Doyle entered the room. "It's about time you got back," he said as Doyle came around the chair and glared down at the magician. "I got your message to meet you here. Did you find out something for the case? I think the ex-partner is looking like a good suspect. He's got a cousin who works in one of the theaters around here."
"What are you doing?" Doyle asked ignoring the question and looking first at Harry then around at Kingsley who had jumped up from his chair.
"Kingsley wrote a story about a monster. I was just telling him about the one we found in Foxwick," Harry replied and smiled at the boy.
"You thought that case was appropriate for an eight year old to hear?" Doyle shook his head and lowered his voice. "You know what happened with the Spring Heel'd Jack stories," Doyle hissed at Harry.
Harry stopped smiling and glanced from Doyle to Kingsley. "We solved the case, Doc."
"Please, Daddy, can I hear the rest of the story? Please?" Kingsley pleaded. "Mr. Houdini said there might be a dragon."
"Where are your sister and Vera?" Doyle asked the boy as he, Doyle, sat in the chair across from Harry.
"Mary is at Padma's house," Kingsley reported. "Vera went to the market."
"You told him there was a dragon?" Doyle asked Harry.
Harry smiled. "He likes dragons, and you did suggest it when we were in the pub."
"Kingsley, come here," Doyle requested and waited for Kingsley to stand at the side of his chair. "You really want to hear the rest of the story? There are some scary parts."
"Oh, yes, please Daddy? I promise I won't be scared," the boy said and held his breath.
"Hmm." Arthur hesitated then relented. "Since, Mr. Houdini has already started the story I suppose you can hear the rest of it," Doyle said and Kingsley smiled. "Where were you?" he asked Harry.
"The dragon had just gone back to the hills in the morning," Kingsley said and leant against his father's arm.
"It wasn't a dragon," Harry said again, but sat back in his own chair.
"Yes, well, Mr. Houdini is right, it wasn't a dragon," Doyle said. "We still didn't know what it was, but at least now we knew the villagers were really seeing something in their fields …"
Doyle watched as the creature seemingly disappeared into the hills beyond the village and turned to Harry and Adelaide.
"It's huge," Adelaide whispered in awe. "What sort of creature could be that big and move like that."
"There are several mythological animals that would fit what we just witnessed," Doyle said. "The Spanish Roc is supposed to be a huge bird of prey, or there is the story of the boobrie from Scotland that was a shapeshifter."
"No," Harry adamantly denied. "This isn't some sort of fairy story monster." Houdini started to walk back to the village. "There's a logical explanation."
"We were going to search the mines next," Adelaide said as she and Doyle stood staring at the limestone hills in the near distance. "At least we know we'll be on the right track."
Doyle nodded and watched as the sun pulled itself up from behind the hills, false dawn gave way to the true light of day. "Let's find Houdini and get started." He turned back toward the village as Adelaide fell into step beside him.
They met Tigg and a few of the villagers in the snug as they came back to the pub.
"Well?" Tigg asked and stepped forward. "Did you see it?"
"Oh we saw something all right," Harry mumbled as Adelaide again took the lead.
"Yes, Constable Tigg, there was definitely something out in the fields," she said.
"I'm telling ya, it's the dragon come back," said a voice from the back of the group.
"Oh shut yer gob, Miller. You ain't even seen the thing," another voice replied.
"We think it might be living in the mines or caves in the hills," Doyle explained.
"Them mines is dangerous," Michael Simms said and stood next to Tigg. "No one goes out there no more."
"All the more reason to investigate them," Doyle countered. "If no one from the village goes near the hills, the creature may think the caves are a safe haven."
Simms just shook his head.
"Is there anyone here who knows the layout of the mines and can show us where to look?" Doyle asked the group.
No one said anything for a long time, though several of the men stared at Simms.
Finally Simms sighed. "I know the mines," he admitted. "I'll take you."
"Thank you Mr. Simms," Adelaide said to him. "We can be ready to leave whenever you say."
Simms shook his head. "It ain't no place for a woman to be goin'," he said. "Them mines is dirty and not safe."
Adelaide frowned. "Nevertheless, I'm coming, Mr. Simms. I'm a police constable charged with solving this case."
Simms glanced at Doyle and then Houdini. Doyle saw the moment Simms realized he and Harry weren't going to stop Adelaide from coming along and gave up. "I'll need a few things before we start," Simms said resignedly. "I'll meet you back here in an hour. Don't be wearin' any of them fancy city clothes, neither. We may need to do some climbing around out there." Simms left the room, still shaking his head.
"Come on," Reilly told them as the others left the snug. "I think I have some things you can wear."
Doyle found Harry sitting on a bench outside the pub twenty minutes later. They were both dressed in trousers made of a rough brown material, thick cotton shirts, and boots. Harry grinned up at Arthur. "Too bad there isn't a camera handy, Ma would love to see us like this."
Doyle smiled slightly and looked around. "Where's Adelaide?"
Harry stood up as Adelaide said, "Right behind you." She was also dressed in brown trousers and a cotton shirt. She still wore her own street boots and her hair was braided in a long plait down her back.
Harry grinned widely as he looked her up and down. "Wow. If only Lydia Belworth could see you now," he said and Adelaide smiled slightly as she looked at her trouser-clad legs.
Michael Simms joined them a few minutes later, a coil of stout rope over one shoulder, a pair of lanterns in one hand, and a rucksack strapped to his back.
"You're sure you want to do this?" he asked as he gave one of the lanterns to Doyle. Harry took his flashlight out of his pocket and flicked it on and off a few times.
"It's the only place left to look, Mr. Simms," Adelaide said as they started to walk out of town.
"How did you come to be such an expert about the mines?" Doyle asked as they started through the fields a few minutes later.
Simms glanced at Doyle and looked away. Arthur assumed the man wasn't going to answer his question and looked over at Houdini walking next to him.
"My grandaddy worked the mines," Simms said after a moment. "He was one of the last miners to give it up. There wasn't much left to dig out by then and when he was offered the chance to work the farm, he took it."
Adelaide came up on Harry's other side to listen as well.
"My father told me stories about the mines and my brother and I explored all through those caves when we was young. When I got married and had sons of my own, my Daddy told my boys them same stories." Simms sighed. "I had three sons, then." Simms looked off in the distance. "When they were teenagers, the boys decided to go exploring the mines, like I did as a kid, to see where their great-grandaddy worked. They didn't know what they were doin' and Peter … fell down a shaft."
Adelaide gasped quietly.
"It was one of the deep core shafts, he fell about a fifty feet straight down." Simms rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Which is why this ain't a good idea. There's nothin' in those mines."
They were in the shadow of the hills and Doyle looked around. He could see several small holes carved in the side of the hills with a larger entrance in front of them; further away he could see other large openings. Rotted wood laid over the front of the large hole, evidence someone had tried to close up the mine at one time.
"We still need to be sure," Adelaide told him in a quiet voice.
Simms knelt and lit the lantern in his hand. "We stay together," he said as he stood up and offered the matches to Doyle. "There's only a few places where something as big as that creature could be hiding. What are we supposed to do if we find it?"
"We need to know what it is first, Mr. Simms," Adelaide said.
"Whatever you say," Simms replied at led the way into the first mine.
A few hours later the four of them sat outside another mine entrance, sipping water from a vacuum flask and eating the rations in Simms rucksack, they were all dusty and tired. They hadn't found much of anything in the other mines other than some old, abandoned equipment and a few bones of long dead animals. This was the last one Simms thought had any hope of holding their mysterious creature. None of them were very optimistic about the idea of finding anything, however. Simms had never believed there was any point to the exercise, and even Doyle thought they were probably on the wrong track.
Simms stowed the flasks and food back in the rucksack and said, "You lot ready?"
The others nodded and took up their positions as Simms led the way into the mine. Doyle followed behind Simms lighting the way for Adelaide. Harry brought up the rear of the group, the beam from his flashlight dancing on the walls around them.
They'd searched most of the mine, finding nothing remotely like the creature they'd seen that morning, and were on their way back out when Doyle heard an ominous cracking noise behind him. As he turned he had a brief glimpse of Houdini's startled face before the magician disappeared as the floor around him broke away. A few seconds later Doyle heard the distinct thump of Houdini's body hitting something hard, then silence.
"Harry!" Adelaide cried out as she turned back to where Houdini had been standing, right behind her.
"Stop!" Simms shouted and grabbed her arm. "It's a false floor. It was covering an old shaft," Simms explained when Doyle gave him a blank look. "Don't make any sudden moves."
Simms shrugged off the coil of rope from his shoulder and quickly tied the end around his middle. "Find something to anchor this to," he told Arthur and pushed the rest of the rope into Doyle's arms.
Doyle found a support beam that seemed sturdy and tied off the other end of the rope. Simms checked the knots and with a nod slowly crawled back to the edge of the now gaping hole in the floor of the mine.
"Well?" Doyle asked after a few moments.
Simms backed up, untied the rope, and stood next to Adelaide. "The good news is he didn't fall very far. There is a sort of ledge about fifteen feet down he landed on."
"What's the bad news?" Adelaide asked as she glanced back at the hole.
"He ain't movin' none," Simms said.
Doyle and Adelaide shared a brief look before Arthur took the rope end from Simms and started to tie it around himself.
"What do you think you're doin'?" Simms asked as Arthur slowly made his way to the edge.
He played his lantern down the shaft and quickly found Harry lying on the ledge Simms described.
"I'm a doctor," Doyle explained to Simms. "I need to get down to him." He turned back to the shaft. "Harry? Can you hear me?" he called down and was relieved when Harry moved slightly.
"Doctor Doyle?" Adelaide questioned.
"He's alive," he told her. "Is there enough rope to get down there?" he asked Simms.
Simms glanced behind at where the rope was tied off and then back at the shaft. "You'd have to use me as the anchor," Simms said. "Not enough as it's tied now."
Doyle heard a groan from the shaft and turned back in time to see Harry shifting on the ledge. "Harry, listen to me. Don't try to move. I'm coming down to you." He heard another soft moan but Houdini seemed to hear him as he stopped moving.
Arthur watched as Simms silently untied the rope from the support beam, tied it around his own waist and planted his feet. Simms gave Doyle a nod.
Arthur smiled at Adelaide. "He'll be fine," he tried to reassure her before he grasped the rope and started down the shaft.
He landed beside Houdini a few minutes later and quickly untied the rope and knelt beside the other man. Houdini was on his left side, his eyes closed, and Arthur could see his right arm was at an odd angle. There was also a welt on the side of his head and scrapes on his hands.
"Harry?" he called softly as he ran practiced hands down Harry's back and neck looking for breaks. His fingers moved over the misaligned vertebrae he remembered from the x-rays taken when Harry was so ill during the Downey case, he also noted the poorly healed ribs on Houdini's left side but didn't feel any new damage.
Satisfied, he carefully rolled Harry onto his back and started checking his arms and legs.
Houdini moaned again as Doyle moved him. "Your shoulder is dislocated," he told the other man quietly and Harry nodded, his eyes still squeezed shut.
"Thought so," Harry said in a pain-filled whisper. "It's happened before."
"I need you to open your eyes," Doyle said as he finished checking Harry's legs. He noticed the flashlight on the ledge near Harry's head and was surprised to find it still worked. He flicked the light over the magician's face and studied how Houdini's eyes reacted. "You probably have a concussion," he said and sat back on his heels. "Do you feel dizzy?"
Harry nodded. "Feels like I'm on the carousel at Coney Island."
"Doctor Doyle?" Adelaide called down the shaft. "How is he?"
Arthur glanced up to see Adelaide peering down the shaft and wondered how she was so close to the edge. "He's more or less in one piece, Constable. I need to deal with his shoulder before we try to get him back up."
He looked down at Harry and noticed the magician had started to shiver. "You're getting shocky," Doyle told him as he moved around to Harry's right side. Houdini watched him through slitted eyes and Doyle felt him try to relax as he, Arthur, took Harry's arm in one hand and rested the other lightly against the bone he could feel protruding out of the socket. "Are you ready?" he asked.
Harry took a couple of shaky, deep breaths and nodded.
Doyle worked as quickly as he could and with an audible click, the bone popped back into the socket. Harry yelped then went limp for a few moments. Doyle checked Houdini's pulse and findings only slightly elevated, patted the other man's arm before letting him go and standing up.
"Constable?" he called. "I've done what I can for now. We need to get him back to the village."
Doyle heard voices above him then someone walking around the edge of the hole. Several minutes later, he heard footsteps coming back and something being dragged as well. He glanced down at Harry and shook his head as he saw Houdini trying to sit up. He helped as Harry leant against the wall of the shaft, his right arm cradled against his chest. "I don't think I can climb out of here," he admitted softly, shivering slightly as he looked up the shaft.
"We'll figure something out," Doyle told him just as Simms' face appeared at the edge of the hole above them.
"Hey, Doctor?" Simms called. "We got a plan for getting you back up. First, you and Mr. Houdini need to stand from under, we need to get rid of the rest of this old wood. Easiest way to do that is toss it down the shaft. Get right up against the wall on this side so we don't hit you with anything."
Doyle helped Harry move around until they were both out of the way, and then called up they were clear. A few seconds later bits of wood and some loose stone fell down the shaft in front of them. Doyle realized just how lucky Harry had been when it took several long seconds for the debris to hit the ground below them.
As the last echoes died away, Doyle heard scraping noises again and soon saw the shape of a rough tripod over the hole. "Doctor?" Simms called. "I'm pulling the rope back up. This here may not look like much but it will get the job done. I'll feed the rope through the pulleys and back down to you. You get Mr. Houdini tied off and we'll haul him back up then do the same for you."
Doyle tugged at the rope twice to signal it was ready to go. A few minutes later he heard a pulley squeaking harshly as the rope end wagged its way back down to them. "Come on, Harry, time to go," he told Houdini as he glanced over at the other man.
Harry was sweating slightly and still shivering as Doyle wound the rope around him and tied it off. He gave the double tug signal and Houdini was soon lifted into the air above him, his left hand holding the rope, the right still braced against his body. The pulleys creaked and groaned, but held and soon Harry disappeared over the side of the hole and a few minutes later, the rope came back down.
Once Doyle was out of the shaft as well, he dug through the rucksack and found the blanket they'd used as a makeshift table earlier and wrapped around Houdini's shoulders. Then they started the slow walk back out of the mine. Adelaide held the lantern high enough for Doyle and Houdini following behind her to see as Arthur helped Harry stagger out of the mine.
"Let's not ever do that again," Harry said and groaned as he sat outside the mine in the late afternoon sun. He kept his right arm carefully cradled against his chest and closed his eyes as he leant back against the mine entrance. Doyle knelt beside him, checked his pulse and carefully felt along Houdini's shoulder. He gently took Harry's right hand and squeezed one of the fingernails and waited. He stopped pinching the nail and when the color quickly came back under the nail he nodded.
"Is your arm or hand tingling or feeling numb at all?" he asked and Harry shook his head. "I don't think you did any permanent damage, but you need to give your shoulder time to heal. No moving it or using that hand for a few days at least. How bad is the pain?" he asked quietly.
Harry tried to shrug but thought better of it. "Nothing my pipe couldn't fix," he said with a weak smile.
"We really need to find something better than opium," Doyle replied but let the subject drop as Harry's eyes closed again. He touched Houdini's knee and said, "No sleeping."
Harry cracked his eyes open again with a sigh.
"The Browning farm is just over there," Simms said and pointed off to the left. "I'll go see if they have a wagon we can use to get you lot back to the village."
Doyle stood and nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Simms."
Simms jerked his head once and set off for the farm.
"So what do we do now," Harry asked quietly as Adelaide sat down beside him. "No creature in any of the mines."
"I don't know," Adelaide said. "I guess we report back to Merring that we couldn't find anything."
Harry laughed. "Oh, he will love that," he said and shifted against the wall. "I have one idea we could try, but I know you won't like it."
Doyle looked down, his hands in his trouser pockets. "I'm not sure it could be any worse than falling down a mine shaft."
Harry glanced up at Arthur, "The next time this creature shows up, we follow it."
"You're right, I don't like it," Doyle said.
"We've tried everything else. We've looked where we thought it should be, and didn't find it," Harry argued. "The only thing left is to wait and let it show us where it's hiding."
Doyle glanced up and saw a horse and wagon coming toward them. "Let's get back to the village first, then we can worry about how to find this creature."
Kingsley sat on Doyle's knee, eyes wide as he stared at Houdini. "Wow," he said softly.
Harry grinned. "I told you you'd like the story."
"Does your arm still hurt?"
Harry rotated his arm. "Nah, good as new," he said. He leant forward and whispered, "Your Dad might be a pretty good doctor after all."
Kingsley smiled back while Doyle rolled his eyes, he'd seen the slight wince Harry tried to hide from the boy. "I'll remember that the next time you manage to do something to hurt yourself," Doyle told Houdini and glanced up as he heard knocking at the front door.
A few minutes later Vera led Constable Stratton into the study. "There you two are," she said. "I thought we were meeting at Rosewood Hotel to interview Mr. Beckenham about the -"
"Sorry about that, Constable," Doyle interrupted with a pointed look at Kingsley still sitting on his knee. "I think I've found a new lead on the case anyway so we won't need to bother Mr. Beckenham right now."
"You have a new lead?" Harry asked, distracted from the story they'd been telling Kingsley.
"Yes, that's what I was checking on earlier. Mr. Beckenham was telling the truth, the house he rented did have a … history." He glanced at Kingsley again and continued. "I've found someone willing to meet us there this evening to help us … sort things out."
Harry was about to launch into a new argument when Adelaide jumped in, "Oh. Well in that case, we seem to have some time. What are you all talking about?"
"Mr. Houdini and Daddy are telling a story with dragons and Mr. Houdini fell down a mine shaft," Kingsley explained.
"It wasn't a dragon," Harry and Doyle said together.
Adelaide looked from one man to the other slightly stunned as she put the clues together and realized what case they meant. "You don't want him to know about our current case, but you're telling him about Foxwick?" she asked as Harry brought another chair from beside the desk over to the fireplace for her.
"Yes, well, I think we're past the more frightening parts," Doyle said.
"Well except for the ending," Harry noted with another smile.
"What happened at the end?" Kingsley asked eagerly.
The wagon was faster than walking to get back to Foxwick, but Harry felt every bump and rut in the dirt track they followed; he groaning quietly every time Simms hit a hole or changed direction. His shoulder still ached, but at least it wasn't the liquid pain from before Doyle reset the joint. His head hurt, as well and he was sure his skull would split with the next bounce.
"I'll be fine," Houdini mumbled when he saw Adelaide and Doyle exchanging a worried look after another jostling as the wagon fell into a new sets of ruts along the dirt road leading back through the fields.
"Is there a doctor in the village," Doyle asked a few minutes later as they entered the village square. The sun was setting but the street lights weren't on yet. Harry gave him an odd look and Doyle explained, "I might need some supplies."
"Nah, not really. Widow March, she does some nursin' for folks that get sick," Simms said and pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the pub. "I can go fetch her if you like."
Doyle shook his head and stepped down from the back of the wagon. He handed Adelaide down as well and turned back to the wagon as Harry landed hard beside him. Doyle grabbed for Harry's left arm to keep the other man on his feet. "We would've helped you down," he said in a low voice.
"Too late," Harry replied with a grimace as he slowly straightened up.
"You sure he's gonna be all right," Simms asked as Harry turned toward the pub.
Doyle nodded. "He'll be fine," he said, glanced behind him as Houdini opened the door to the pub. "Thank you Mr. Simms for your help today."
"I told ya there was no point in goin' out there. Just glad everyone got back." Simms clicked his tongue to the horse as he turned the wagon around and walked it back out of town.
"I need a bath," Adelaide said as she looked down at her dirty clothes.
"We could all stand to get cleaned up," Doyle agreed and led the way into the pub. "I want to look at that arm, too," he told Harry as Reilly came out of the snug.
Reilly gave a low whistle as he saw them. "I'll get the heater for the pump started," he said before any of them could ask.
Harry trudged up the stairs to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Reilly appeared a few minutes later and started to fill the tub in one corner. He laid out a rough cotton towel and a chunk of soap on a nearby bench and with a nod, left the room again. Houdini took his time getting the dirt and grime off and spent a decadent ten minutes just letting the heat of the water ease the various aches.
He was wearing a pair of clean suit trousers and was just easing his arm into a clean shirt when he heard a knock at the door and Doyle entered the room carrying a basin with a small block of ice and several folds of material. Arthur had also cleaned up and was again wearing his own suit trousers and clean shirt under a brown waistcoat.
"Not so fast," Doyle said setting down the basin and coming over to the bed.
"I'm fine," Harry said, as Doyle took his right arm and slowly tested Houdini's range of motion. Harry tried to hide how much the arm still hurt, but he could see Doyle wasn't fooled. He helped Harry get his shirt on, then took the larger square of material and expertly folded it into a sling and trussed Houdini's arm against his chest.
"You're not fine, but you will be," Doyle told him rolling some of the ice into another piece of cloth and handing it to Harry. "You need to ice that as well," he said pointing to the welt over Harry's left eye.
Houdini took the ice and leant back against the headboard of the bed. "We need to keep a lookout for the creature," he said closing his eyes as he held the ice to his head.
"Constable Tigg is taking care of that," Adelaide said from the still open door to Harry's room. She was again wearing a dress; her hair was pinned back from her face and loose down her back. Harry admitted to himself he'd kind of liked the braid as well.
"I thought everyone here was too afraid," Harry said.
"They are, but several of the men will keep a lookout as long as they can stay in the village. They are setting up here on the roof, in the bell tower for the church, and a couple of other buildings," she replied and sat in the chair by the desk.
"That's too far away," Harry argued. "If this animal lives behind the hills or on the other side of that lake, they won't see anything here in the village. We need to go out there ourselves."
"Not tonight," Doyle said shaking his head. "You're hurt and we're all tired after searching the mines all day."
Harry glanced up at Doyle standing near the bed and over to Adelaide in the chair and acknowledged they both looked exhausted. "All right," he grudgingly agreed. "But if anyone manages to see anything, we are going to follow it. Agreed?"
Doyle and Adelaide shared a look then nodded.
Adelaide stood up and walked toward the door. "The good news is, it should be easy to see anything out in the fields tonight."
"Why is that, Constable?" Doyle asked as he joined her at the door.
"It seems the Appleby children were playing around the transformer for the streetlights. Tigg isn't sure if they did anything on purpose or if it's just a coincidence, but the lights aren't working tonight. Someone is coming out tomorrow to look at it."
Harry woke the next morning to find the sun streaming in the window. He sat up and waited for the ache in his arm and head to subside before getting dressed, resetting his arm in the sling, and wandering down to the snug in search of something to eat.
"You're awake," Adelaide greeted him in the snug. "How do you feel?"
"I'm fine, just a little stiff," Harry told her and took a cup from the sideboard and poured himself tea. "Where's Doyle?"
"He and Tigg are talking to the men who were supposed to be watching for the creature. No one reported seeing anything and they want to make sure everyone was awake and we didn't just miss it."
Harry grunted and drank his tea.
"I half expected you to try and escape the sling," Doyle commented from the doorway and he entered the snug.
Harry grinned. "Just following doctor's orders."
"Or your arm actually feels better when you listen to me," Doyle retorted sitting next to Harry with his own cup of tea.
"So were our look-outs all asleep last night?" Harry asked, changing the subject.
"They all insist they were awake," Doyle replied. "Maybe the creature left."
"Maybe. That just means we can be out near the hills tonight ourselves and make sure," Harry said and pushed his empty teacup away.
They spent most of the day following up on the reports Tigg had sent to Merring. Harry wanted to get the best idea of where exactly the creature went when it disappeared so they could plan their location to track it that night.
By early evening, they were back in the snug with a rough map Doyle had drawn of the village and the areas marked where people said they thought the beast went as it flew away. The streetlights in the square lent a dim glow to the room as they came on against the gathering darkness. Tigg told them the Appleby boys were off the hook as they had found a dead mouse in the transformer box, apparently it had chewed on the wires and shorted out the system.
"Everyone seems to agree, it heads east," Harry said looking at the map.
Adelaide leant forward from the bench opposite him and agreed. "And it seems to like the water, most of the witnesses said it went near the hills closer to the lake."
Doyle sat beside Harry and studied the drawings along the wall near the fireplace. "Who is the artist?" Doyle asked Reilly when the innkeeper came around with mugs of beer and a glass of milk.
"Do you like 'em?" Reilly asked. "Most of 'em are my own, though Janey Upton did the ones of the fox. Her Daddy wasn't too happy with her when he found out she'd been drawin' the beast and not tellin' him it was stealin' chickens."
"These are all local animals?" Doyle stood to get a closer look at a few of the drawings.
"Yep. I sit outside most days and draw whatever I see." Someone hailed Reilly and he left to refill more beer mugs.
"You have that look," Harry said as Doyle sat beside him again.
"What look?" Doyle asked.
"That look of, I just figured out what's going on," Harry said and pulled at the sling. He wasn't wearing a tie or collar and the sling chafed at his neck.
"Leave it alone," Doyle admonished absently. "I had an idea, that's all. But it doesn't make any sense."
Adelaide rolled up their makeshift map. "All of the sightings were in the early morning hours. I think we should try to get some rest now and head out in a few hours to the area between the lake and the hills. If we get lucky, maybe we can solve this case tonight."
Several hours later, they met again in the snug. Reilly was half-asleep, but he made them tea and a packet of food to take along. He'd also brought a pair of lanterns.
"That's the most likely spot," Harry said and pointed to an area of their map near the lake. "We should at least be able to see where it goes when it leaves the fields and follow it from there."
The others agreed and they set out for the hills. Before they left the square, Doyle lit the lanterns and gave one to Adelaide. Harry still had his flashlight and even though the case was battered and dented, it still worked.
It took longer to walk out to the hills in the darkness than in the bright light of day, but eventually they were settled in the spot Harry thought was the best vantage point to wait for the monster to appear.
"How long should we wait?" Adelaide asked as they settled on the ground. Harry kept peering through the vegetation back toward the village and south to the nearby fields, Doyle stood behind them, looking to north where the river met the lake.
"When we saw it the other night it was almost dawn," Doyle said and glanced at his pocket watch. "Which should be in just over an hour."
It was thirty minutes later when Harry thought he heard something. There was a rustling noise followed by a sort of keening cry and as he looked out toward Foxwick, he saw it. Once again the beast in the distance was huge and slithered back and forth across the fields, sometimes dipping down into the wheat, then back into the air as it wheeled back and forth across the sky.
All three of them were on their feet when the creature suddenly made a break for the hills and flew toward them in a flash. It hovered near them for a few seconds, then made a dive for the nearby lake and disappeared.
"Come on!" Harry shouted and ran in the direction of the water. He stumbled a few times as he ran, his balance thrown off by his right arm in the sling.
"Houdini, wait!" Doyle called after him.
Harry heard him but ignored Doyle as he followed the path the creature took toward the lake. A few minutes later he broke out of the underbrush around the water and discovered hundreds of shore birds wading back and forth in the rosy dawn light. Doyle and Adelaide followed a few seconds later and all three stood staring at the mass of birds wading and feeding on the lakeshore.
"It's just birds," Adelaide said gasping slightly as she tried to catch her breath after chasing after Houdini. "What about the stolen livestock and the missing people?"
Harry turned to Doyle. "This is what you suspected, isn't it?"
Doyle wandered out closer to the shore and nodded. "I've seen flocks of starlings near my sister's house that move the same way as our monster. I noticed in the artwork at the pub that one of the local birds had a white underbelly and a yellow streak over the eye. I dismissed the idea however based on the size of what we saw. I'd never heard of so many of birds flocking together like this."
"The missing animals," Harry said standing next to Doyle as birds ran around them feasting on the insects hovering near the edges of the lake. "There never were any missing animals. People saw something they didn't understand and started blaming it for everything around them. Chances are the animals just wandered off and will come back or they were never missing in the first place."
Doyle nodded. "That's the most likely answer, yes," he said.
They stood and watched the birds for a few more minutes then as the early morning light slowly spread around the lake, Doyle doused the lanterns as they started back to the village.
"You're saying all this time it was a flock of birds?" Tigg exclaimed as he leant back in his desk chair.
"Based on Reilly's drawings in the pub, at a guess I'd say they were ringed plovers," Doyle replied.
Tigg shook his head. "The ones with the long legs and the yellow over their eyes? They're pretty common around here. What would make 'em act so strange though and why so many?"
Adelaide and Doyle sat in the chairs in front of his desk and Adelaide asked, "When were your streetlights installed?"
Tigg glanced out the nearest window at the village square. "Hmm, a month ago, maybe a bit longer," he answered. "Why?"
Adelaide smiled. "It's the streetlights. There were reports once parts of London had electric streetlights installed, of birds flocking on corners for no known reason. After a few weeks, the birds disappeared. Officials decided it must be the light at night doing something to the birds. But I never heard of any reports of a flock so large."
"The lights?" Tigg asked.
"Think about it," Doyle explained. "The flock only appeared near sunrise, the birds were confused by the light but settled around the lake during the day. Then tried again the next night to leave, only to get confused again."
"Which explains why there were no sightings the other night," Harry added, "The streetlights weren't working. I'll bet a hundred bucks that flock isn't as large now as it was three nights ago. Some of the birds left the area while the village's lights were out."
"All right, I can maybe accept everything about a bunch of birds, except I still have two missing people," Tigg said and tipped his chair forward to lean his elbows on the desk.
Adelaide paged through the reports again until she found the information on the two missing villagers. "According to this, they are Thomas Jenkins and Jane Upton. Is that right?" she asked, glancing up at Tigg.
Tigg nodded. "Right. That's why Reverend Hickey was out at the Upton place the night he saw, well I guess it was this huge flock of birds. Janey was gone and John Upton was beside himself with worry. His wife died a few years ago, Janey's all he's got left."
"And this Thomas Jenkins, they are close in age," Adelaide continued. "Is it possible they ran off together?"
Tigg barked out his harsh laugh. "More than possible, Constable Stratton. If I didn't have all these monster stories to deal with I would've seen it straight off. Janey's been mad to get out of Foxwick for a couple of years now. She fancies herself an artist, wanted to go to London. Jenkins has cousins that live somewhere in the City. I'd guess they are up there together."
"I'll let Chief Merring know, Constable Tigg. If we can find them we can at least suggest Janey to write to her father, but I don't think we can still consider them missing."
"No," Tigg agreed. "I'll head out the the Upton farm and let John know what we think happened."
On the train back to London the next day Harry chuckled as he watched the scenery flash past the window.
"Do I want to know?" Doyle asked glancing over his newspaper at Houdini sitting across from him.
"Merring is gonna have a fit as soon as he reads Addy's report on this case."
"I'm not seeing the humor, Harry," Adelaide from her seat next to Houdini.
Harry smiled. "No, maybe not. But I do seem to remember saying at the beginning of this case, every monster story has a logical explanation once all the facts are known."
Doyle shifted slightly and eased a sleeping Kingsley against his other arm as Harry finished the story.
"Who knew our cases made good bedtime stories," Harry said softly.
Arthur glanced down at the boy and smiled. "Let's just not make a habit of telling him about our cases."
Adelaide glanced at the clock on the mantlepiece. "When were we meeting with your source -"
"Call it what is is, Adelaide. Doyle found a medium to communicate with the ghost in Beckenham's house." Harry grinned. "I'm telling you, Doc, the business partner is up to his neck in this. Beckenham cheated him out of thousands when the business was sold. Good motive there to scare someone out of their wits."
Doyle bent forward and slowly stood with Kingsley cradled in his arms, limp with sleep. "We need to meet her in an hour, Constable. Let me deal with Kingsley and check on Mary before we go." To Harry he continued, "Madam Zamora thinks she can communicate with the spirit in the house and convince it to leave."
"Zamora? There's a stage name if I've ever heard one," Harry replied still smiling. "When she fails to do anything more than rattle a few tables and blow out the candles, can we look at the business partner tomorrow?"
Doyle started for the door to the study. "Let's see what she can tell us first," he answered as he started up the stairs.
Harry turned back to Adelaide and saw Kingsley's story on the floor next to the chair where Doyle had sat. He picked up the pages and glanced at the first few lines as he walked over to Doyle's desk. He carefully cleared a space on the desk next to the typewriter for Kingsley's story then joined Adelaide in the foyer as they waited for Doyle to come back downstairs so they could solve the mystery of Beckenham's ghost.
After all every monster story had a logical explanation.
NOTE: The story with the birds comes from a real case in Indiana in 1891. A huge flock of killdeer scared the small town of Crawfordsville.