The Mystery of the Red Violin

Adapted by Cybra

Disclaimer:  The original film The Red Violin belongs to Lions Gate Films.  "Pope's Gypsy Cadenza" and "The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra" were written by John Corigliano.  The Great Mouse Detective belongs to the Walt Disney Company and the Basil of Baker Street Mysteries belong to the late Eve Titus.  Basil's original name of "Sherringford" along with the original character "Myerricroft" belong to Mademoiselle Irene Relda.

This story does not begin at 221B Baker Street.  In fact, this story doesn't begin in London at all, but in Italy about one hundred years before the Great Mouse Detective was born.

Ten years before he would open a shop on the Piazza San Domenico in Cremona, Italy, Antonio Stradivari was approached by his elder brother Giuseppe with a request: the perfect violin for his unborn child.  Still an apprentice at the time, Antonio had at first shied at the request but soon accepted, using a mastery of geometry and design to slowly produce a violin where every detail from the shape of the F-holes to the curve of the scroll was perfect.

But the first tragedy struck before the violin could be varnished.  During childbirth, Giuseppe's wife died though not before giving him a son.

"Let my son remember her when he plays this violin," Giuseppe told his brother, giving Antonio a small jar of his wife's blood to add to the varnish.

Sickened but willing to abide his brother's wish, Antonio added the blood to the varnish before painting the varnish onto the violin.  It stained the wood a deep crimson, the color almost a warning of more tragedy.

Six days later, the son died as well, and Giuseppe, in grief, ordered, "Get rid of the accursed instrument!  Let it bring ruin to some other soul!"

And so it happened.  The violin was later sold in Antonio's shop.  It switched hands often – an Italian child prodigy, an English composer, and many others possessed the violin of glorious sound.  But it seemed that Giuseppe's words held true for the Red Violin (as it became known) brought ruin to whoever played it.

Despite the supposed curse, many coveted the Red Violin and sought to claim it as their own.  But after an auction, the Red Violin vanished.  Some thought it destroyed; many, simply lost.

However a few knew the whereabouts of the Red Violin though the person who played it and those closest to him hadn't the faintest idea what it was.

~@~

Well-practiced fingers flew up and down the fingerboard as the bow slid across the strings.  The violin sang with a tone that revealed its pedigree easily.  Only a Strad could sound so good.

Dawson watched with fascination as Basil sight-read the piece he'd tacked to mantle with the jackknife ordinarily used for correspondence.  (He'd lost his music stand ages ago and kept forgetting to buy a new one.)  He nearly started laughing as Basil bit off a curse at a fumbled passage when Mrs. Judson threw him a dirty look.

A few quick notes and the song ended.  Basil slid the violin from his shoulder and cradled the crimson instrument in his hands.  "Aside from the fact that I apparently can't count at that speed, not a bad little piece," the detective commented, gently setting the instrument down to free his hands to wrench the knife free from the mantle.

"Perhaps you should've tried it at a slower speed," Dawson suggested.

"And surrender the opportunity to have my fingers tied in knots along with the frustration of missing the more complex rhythms?  Dawson, are you mad?" Basil asked with mock shock.

As landlady and doctor chuckled, Basil's right ear flicked towards the door at the sound of a woman's voice.

"It appears we have a visitor," he noted as he tacked his correspondence back onto the mantelpiece, either not hearing or ignoring Mrs. Judson's sigh at this.

The landlady left her chair and shuffled over to the door.  Opening it, she revealed a cream-furred lady mouse in what Dawson judged to be her mid to late stages of pregnancy.  Coal black eyes containing more than faint embers of warmth echoed the smile on her face.

"Good morning, ma'am.  I sincerely hope Basil of Baker Street is home," she said, her voice warm and polite.  She spoke Mrs. Judson's famous tenant's professional moniker with a tone that suggested that she wanted to chuckle.

The Great Mouse Detective opened and closed his mouth a few times, searching for words, before finally settling on "Weren't two enough, Brynna?"

Laying one hand on her bulging stomach and one on her hip, she teased, "You're certainly fortunate that Mother didn't think two were enough, Sherringford.  As is the rest of Mousedom."  Her face turned serious as she took a step inside.  "Which is why I'm here."

As soon as she'd entered the flat, two smaller figures followed her in.  Identical in every way, the little girls possessed the same cream fur of their mother but had inherited the gray eyes of their currently absent father.  They trembled with barely controlled excitement as they gazed around the mess their uncle called home.

Dawson watched as Basil stiffened.  "Brynna…"

"I couldn't find anyone to watch them, Sherringford," Brynna told her brother.  Wickedly, she told her children, "Go give your uncle a big 'hello!'"

Released from the social restraints that bound all good Victorian children, the twin girls rushed to the detective, squealing "Hello, Uncle Basil!" at the top of their young lungs.  Basil pinwheeled his arms as the girls collided with his legs and nearly threw him off-balance.

"Oh, they're adorable, ma'am!" Mrs. Judson gushed. "And you had better sit down.  A lady in your condition shouldn't stand for too long."

"Thank you…Mrs. Judson, isn't it?"  At the Scottish woman's nod, she added, "I'm Brynna Basil Peabody."

"Well, have a seat, Mrs. Peabody, and I'll fetch you some peppermint tea."

With these words, the kindly landlady disappeared as Dawson showed Brynna to a seat and Basil attempted to loosen the rather firm grip of his nieces.

"A pleasure to meet a member of Basil's family, Mrs. Peabody.  I'm Dr. David Q. Dawson."

"A pleasure to meet a friend of my brother's, and do call me 'Brynna.'"

For a few moments, the pair listened as the two little girls chattered at their "Uncle Basil."  The efforts of the unfortunate uncle to release himself while not appearing rude was a comical sight indeed.

"Why do they call him that?" Dawson asked.

"Hm?"

"'Uncle Basil.'  Why do they call him that?"

She chuckled.  "That's your fault, Dr. Dawson.  I read to them your accounts of my brother's cases, and they are very proud of the fact that their uncle is Basil of Baker Street.  After a while, they stopped referring to him as 'Uncle Sherringford' at home, but as 'Uncle Basil of Baker Street.'  Obviously, they shortened that."  Raising her voice, she called, "All right, Eloise, Elaine.  Your uncle and I need to talk."

Reluctantly, the pair released who must've been their favorite uncle.  Basil looked relieved.

Dawson shook his head.  The detective simply did not know how to handle children.

The famous detective sat in his large leather chair and faced his sister.  "Now, what seems to be the problem?"

Brynna took a deep breath.  "To begin, Sherringford, I know you're upset that I came here, but it was unavoidable.  I know – Eloise, those chemicals are dangerous.  Don't touch them. – you have plenty of enemies who would love to know that you had a weak point to exploit and my family is that point."

She didn't need to explain for all the adults present understood.  Brynna's family could be attacked in order to strike at Basil.  To keep Brynna and her family away from his business at Baker Street would lessen the danger a little.

"I wired Myerricroft before coming here, and he agreed that I should come.  If I could get him to drag himself out of that chair at the Diogenes Club, I'd have him come to Sussex, but…"  She spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness.

"You may as well ask Big Ben to chime a bit quieter for all the good trying to get Myerricroft away from the Diogenes Club will do you," Basil stated, shaking his head.  "Pray continue."

"The problem, dear brother, is this: someone broke into the mouse three nights ago.  Twice."

"Twice?!"

She nodded.  "Since Emerson – my husband, Dr. Dawson – has managed to help restore some of our family's former…resources…we've managed to reopen the East Wing for our use while Father still lives in the West Wing.  Of course, you know this, though you'd know more about the ins and outs about what Emerson did if finances didn't bore you to death."  She took a deep breath and quickly glanced at her children to make sure that they hadn't gotten into anything that looked potentially life-threatening.  "But I digress.  We've changed out all the old locks in both wings for new, sturdier ones.  Plus we've fixed up the East Wing's music room and have begun transferring music and instruments from the West Wing to the East."

As she paused for another breath and glance, Dawson commented, "They must've been expert lock picks to break in so easily."

"They weren't.  They just broke the locks off."

"Hmm…"  The detective steepled his fingers.  "Where did they enter the house?"

"Our dining room.  Father's library."

"Far enough away not to be heard by anyone?"

"Yes."

"Stolen items?"

"Everything accounted for."

Basil blinked.  "Excuse me?"

"This is the part that bothers me, Sherringford.  They broke into the house where they could've stolen good crystal, silverware, or some of Father's rare books and walked right by all these treasures."

"Where did they go?"

"The music room and what passes for a music room – the parlor – in the West Wing."

Pulling out his pipe, Basil prepared himself to puff away at it but seemed to reconsider as he glanced at his sister's swollen belly.  She already had enough on her plate and didn't need pipe smoke making her sick.  Instead, he simply clenched the pipe between his teeth.  "And nothing was stolen?"

"Nothing.  I checked the music library thrice over.  (Believe me, this was no easy or enjoyable task though I'm glad I still keep up Mother's old record system.)  All of the instruments are still there and in tact.  Aside from the fact that things were a bit disorganized, things were normal.  I'm no expert at deduction like you or Myerricroft, but even I can tell when someone's been looking for something."

"Did they go anywhere else?"

"Yes, and you're really going to love this: Mother's room."

The younger of the two siblings narrowed his eyes and growled deep in his throat.  He'd barely known their mother since she'd been sick most of his young life and died during his first year at Oxford.  But she had held his deep respect and love, inspiring him to take a path previously untaken in the mouse world: the career path of a private consulting detective.  The thought of someone rifling through her room and stealing something of hers suddenly made him want to rip the offender's throat out.

"Nothing was taken.  Not even Mother's ebony clarinet or her old oboe.  We never took those from her room."  She looked into her brother's eyes, as if they held all the answers.  "But, again, it looked like the intruder had something in mind.  He searched the room but couldn't find what he was looking for."

"The crime scenes?"

"Still intact save for my reorganizing the music library.  Sheet music had been strewn about every which way."

"The police?"

"Notified.  Though I think they heard that I was coming to you for additional help.  They seemed…put off."

"My dear sister, you are a model client."

She waved off the praise.  "Sherringford, I've seen you do this deducing trick of yours since you were small.  I should hope I know how to keep things preserved enough for you to go to work."

Basil leaned back in his chair.  "Speaking of my 'deducing trick,' as you call it, I couldn't help noticing the amount of soot on your clothing.  Far more than you'd receive simply walking from the train station.  Tobias brought you."

"Correct.  In fact he's waiting outside."

Mrs. Judson hurried to the door.  "Well, if I'd known, I'd 've let him in!"

Basil sprang out of his chair.  "Mrs. Judson, wait a – !"

"Ack!"

A voice from outside, frantic to calm the Scottish woman, said, "Ma'am, please!  I don't mean any – !"

Slam!  Mrs. Judson closed the door that the suit of armor rattled.

No one spoke for a moment.

"I – I'm afraid your friend…"  Mrs. Judson swallowed.  "The 'awk outside must've gotten Mr. Tobias."

One of the twins giggled as the other came over and tugged on the landlady's shirt.

"But, Mrs. Judson, the hawk is Tobias," the child at her skirt informed her.

The kindly woman stared at the little girl – Was it Eloise or Elaine? – before looking up at her tenant.  "The hawk…?"

"Is Tobias.  Yes," Basil answered, nodding his head in an attempt to hide the amused smile threatening to cross his features.

The detective's sister shot her brother a dirty look before she apologized, "I'm very sorry for the scare, Mrs. Judson.  I should've warned you.  However I thought that – Elaine, that's not a toy. – Sherringford had told you."

To her credit, the landlady stopped her slight trembling and nodded her head to accept the apology.  However, she purposely muttered just loud enough for Basil to hear, "First dogs, now hawks.  Next thing I know, it'll be a cat!"

Sister turned to brother as she said blandly, "I hope you pay her well."

"Of course.  Now, there was something else, if I'm not mistaken."

"Yes.  The Music Festival committee is asking for you to participate."

"They actually want me to play?"

"I'm as shocked as you are.  I had hoped to perform, but Emerson's acting like I'll faint if I even sit on a piano bench for too long, much less stand to sing or play my flute.  I tried to tell them that you wouldn't be interested in coming, as usual, but your old friend Benson is pushing for you to participate.  Claims that you just don't have any talent anymore."  She rolled her eyes.  "Becoming concertmaster of the London Philharmonic has made him even more unbearable than before."

"Ah, now I remember why I don't attend those concerts very often."

"As if you could forget."  She rolled her eyes again.  "I think Benson intends to outdo you at the Festival, like he thinks you've let your skills go to waste."  Her eyes glittered maliciously, already laughing at this Benson character.

"An intriguing problem and a chance to bruise Benson's ego.  Could you tempt me any more to go back to Sussex?"

"Can't think of anything."

"Very well then.  Dawson, pack what you need and let's be off!"

Despite the excitement in his tone that made his tail lash back and forth, Dawson saw the dread in his eyes.

"Going back to Sussex" didn't seem like it would be that delightful to his friend.

~@~

Riding on a hawk's back is very different from riding a train.  Though smooth while gliding, Tobias' back bucked up and down slightly with each wing beat, and he lurched during takeoff.  Fortunately, he'd had several years of practice and had a system of flying that allowed for minimal beating of his wings while not seeming like a target for other birds of prey.

Dawson rode with Brynna in the safest place: just in front of Tobias' wing muscles.  Brynna's twins rode behind them with Basil at the rear.  Their luggage had been cleverly and safely secured to Tobias' leg except for Basil's violin, which he held on to.  (Takeoffs and landings could be a bit rough, and Basil didn't want his precious instrument in pieces.)

"On your left is a pasture," Tobias informed his passengers. "And on your right is another pasture, but this one has sheep in it!"

"Must we have the running commentary?!" Basil shouted from the back.

"Don't make me stop!  No comments from the rear!"

Tobias soared through a low-drifting cloud.  The little girls squealed with delight and reached out to touch the puffy whiteness.  Dawson suppressed a smile as Basil tensed up, readying himself to grab a child if she started to fall from their ride's back.

Turning his attention to Brynna, the doctor asked the question he'd been meaning to ask for a while.  "Who is Benson?"

"Who?  Oh."  She shifted herself and closed her eyes as her unborn child did a somersault in time with the slight bit of turbulence Tobias hit.  "Easy, Tobias…"

"Sorry, Bree, but I'm doing the best I can."

Nodding her head though the person whose benefit it was for couldn't see it, she turned her attention to Dawson.  "Daniel Benson is the most egotistical mouse I have ever had the displeasure to meet.  I'll admit that my brother can be quite arrogant, but Sherringford is downright humble compared to him."

"He sounds dreadful!"

"He is.  He works professionally as a violinist, but he used to play with Sherringford and me in the orchestra at our old boarding school.  He and Sherringford used to be first and second chair, and Benson was furious someone three years younger than him was in the higher chair."  She fidgeted.  "Benson went off to Oxford and joined the orchestra there.  He ran the second violins and hoped to work his way up to concertmaster.  Then Sherringford got there."

"He managed to be part of the first violins?" Dawson hazarded.

"Better.  The director, Dr. Finkelstein – And, no, I am not making his name up.  Sherringford can tell all sorts of stories about 'Old Finky.'"  She gave a half-smile at Dawson's raised eyebrow.  "Dr. Finkelstein was so impressed by his playing that he had him sight-read the first violin part, and it was not a simple arrangement.  Aside from the occasional mistake, Sherringford played it flawlessly.  Finkelstein made him concertmaster on the spot."

"I assume the concertmaster at the time was displeased."

"The entire violin section was in an uproar.  Sherringford had his chair challenged at least once a week.  Played circles around each challenger.  Not surprising, considering he's been playing since he was eight and practices every chance he gets…even if that time is at midnight.  Anyway, Benson challenged him the most but never got higher than second chair.  Graduated from Oxford still fuming at Sherringford."

"Interesting story."

"If Benson can't deal with the fact that someone is better than him, he can just take his bow and – " Basil began to call from the back, the wind direction allowing him to hear snatches of the story.

"Sherringford!" Brynna interrupted.

"Mother, what was Uncle Basil going to say?" the twins asked with one voice.

"It wasn't very polite.  And there are children about, dear brother!"  The last two words dripped with sarcasm.

He shrugged.  "Slipped!"

"Be more careful that nothing else 'slips!'"

Looking properly contrite – and surprising Dawson – Basil returned his attention to the twins as they played "Invisible Tea Party," oblivious to the adults.  His eyes held that unfocused look that signaled that he was thinking about the case.

"You certainly know how to keep him under control."

"I should.  I practically raised him."

Not knowing what she meant by that, Dawson fell into thoughtful silence.

A few moments later, Tobias announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our final descent towards Basil Manor and Sussex.  Please hold on to my feathers for your safety.  Remember that there will be no eating, drinking, or smoking for the remainder of your flight.  Thank you for flying Red-Tail Hawk, and I hope you'll join me again soon!"

"Nutcase," Brynna muttered, reaching forward to lightly rap the hawk on the head.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Seriously though, landing is the worst part, Dr. Dawson.  Hang on tight!"

Dawson quickly obliged as wings angled for descent.  The ground rushed up at them far too quickly for the doctor's taste.

Tobias smoothly leveled off at a certain point and glided towards the ground.  Backwinging, he planted his talons in the earth with a jolt.  He kept his wings spread for a moment to regain his sense of balance before folding his wings.  "Everybody all right back there?"

"We're fine.  You've certainly improved on your landings," Basil noted as he hopped off.

"Thanks.  I think."  Tobias crouched to let the children, Dawson, and Brynna simply slide to the ground. "Not bad, if I do say so myself!"

As Basil retrieved their luggage, Dawson gaped at the house.  "You can't possibly live here."

Brynna nodded her head.  "The East Wing was closed when Sherringford and Myerricroft still lived here, but, yes, my family still lives here along with Father."

Basil Manor rose from the landscape like a stone overseer.  Designed in a pseudo-Gothic style, the house appeared foreboding, not the sort of place someone wanted to raise a family.  The two wings, joined by a section of building with an embellished front door that the family crest – engraved into the stone – hung above, formed a blocky "U" shape that faced away from the group.  (This was something Dawson had caught a glimpse of from above but hadn't suspected was Basil's ancestral home.)  The joining section itself could've easily been a third house.

"Just to forewarn you, our ancestors made the interior nearly impossible to navigate.  You might not want to simply wander around," Brynna cautioned. "The house is honeycombed with hallways, stairways, secret passages, and other assorted goodies.  I suppose our ancestors didn't think we were unusual enough."

This new piece of information didn't surprise Dawson.  The house looked as if it had stepped right out of a Poe tale.  Silently, he decided that if he saw a large crack on the side of the house, he would buy a ticket for the first train back to London.

'Still,' he noted to himself, 'growing up in a place like this, you would expect a person to come out a tad strange.'

A hand fell on Dawson's shoulder, making him jump as he was flung free of his thoughts.

"Sorry, old man," Basil apologized, "but if you're done staring at the house, Brynna's invited us inside."

"Oh.  Er, yes.  Of course."

Picking up their baggage, the pair entered the house.

~@~

A quick inspection of the guestroom his sister had given him revealed an entranceway into the delightful passages he'd enjoyed poking his nose into as a small boy.  Those years gone past returned to him as he wandered without the aid of a candle for several minutes.  He had first explored these passages while the East Wing had still been closed.

Unfortunately, more pressing matters awaited.  Wandering the passageways more extensively would have to wait for another day.

Basil sighed as he tapped a hidden switched he'd discovered ages ago.  Sometimes being an adult could be so frustrating with its responsibilities.

Exiting through a panel, Basil found Dawson standing with his back to him, his entire stance bewildered.

"Quite a trial on the memory, isn't it?" Basil called, smiling wickedly as his friend jumped. "Which staircase leads to which hallway which leads to which room?"

The older mouse whirled and glared.  "Rather than taunt me, Basil, why don't you help me?"  He narrowed his brown eyes.  "How did you get behind me, anyway?  This is a dead end!"

"Through the wall, my good fellow!  Through the wall."  Tail swishing as he forced himself not to snicker at his poor friend's plight, he walked towards him.  "Brynna told us that she would meet us in the music room.  If memory serves me correctly, we need to go down these stairs, turn left, go down that hallway, take another left and another hallway, walk down another staircase, take a right, walk down the hallway, and it's the second room on the right."

"Dear me!  This place is confusing!  How on earth can you possibly remember where you're going?"

While the pair began to walk down the flight of stairs, Basil countered, "How can you remember where you're going in London?  Repetition, Dawson!  Exploring the floors and visiting the same places over and over again allows you to remember where things are."

A few minutes passed in silence before something occurred to Dawson.

"Basil…"

"Hm?"

"When you lived here, this East Wing was closed.  I would assume that means that this wing was off-limits to you and your siblings."

"Correct."

"Now, you just said that you knew your way around by repetition.  Have you visited your sister since she moved in here?"

Smiling with a touch of pride as he realized Dawson had caught on, he answered, "No, Dawson, I haven't."

"Then how, pray tell, do you know your way around this half of the manor?"

"Why, Dawson, I did what any youth would have done if he was forbidden to go someplace!"

"Which is…?"

Basil shrugged, grinning mischievously.  "I went anyway."

Entering the music room, one could see the various instruments laid carefully about.  No corner had been left unexplored in the bizarre break-in.

"It certainly looks different with the spiders evicted," Basil noted.

"Something tells me that your 'innocent boyhood wanderings' led you to certain restricted areas," Brynna commented from behind, making Dawson and Basil jump.

"How is it," Basil inquired, "that you always appear when I'm most guilty?"

"Mother's instinct."  She waved her hand about the room.  "Enjoy, Sherringford.  It's all yours until the inspector finally loses his patience and demands to see the crime scene."

With a cheery spring in his step, Basil immediately sought the first of the four corners of the room, choosing to study the walls first and work his way inward.  Methodically, he crouched low, studying the floor and slowly following the wall up as high as he could see and reach.  Once satisfied with one panel of oak, he moved on to the next.

On every third panel a mirror reflected everything down to the images through the windows on the opposite side.  On the twelfth panel, Basil paused.  A set of scratches had caught his eye.

"Our intruder tried to force this passage.  He felt the slight breeze – You can feel it if you place your hand here. – and tried to open it."  He studied the mirror.  "Unsuccessful, I'd judge.  Our ancestors built this place like a fortress."

"Do you think whatever he sought was in there?" Dawson asked.

"Doubtful, but a possibility."  Expertly, his hand slid to a hidden switch.  The mirror obediently swung outward as if the passage had been built the day before.  He entered the passage, searching for several minutes before exiting.  "Nothing but hidden passageway."  He closed the mirror-door and resumed examining the walls.

He searched each passage just as methodically and checked each window to make sure it hadn't been tampered with.  Slowly working his way towards the center of the room, he even opened up a spot in the floor to make sure he missed no detail.  He studied the aging instruments, each quite valuable.

"Let me examine the point of entry, if you please."

Brynna obliged, leading the two gentlemen to a spacious and tastefully decorated dining room.  Silverware, china, and fine glass – set out in preparation for dinner – decorated the table.  Closer inspection revealed the finery to be antiques that had been removed from storage.  In fact, most of the furniture bore the earmarks of antiques removed from storage.

Basil ignored the rest of the room and went straightaway to the window.  "Our friend obviously never participated in breaking and entering before this.  Pried the lock off and had to break most of the window to do so.  Shutters?"

"Don't ordinarily need to use them, but since the break-in, I thought it would be prudent."

"Same with Father?"

"Yes."

Studying the window for a few more minutes, he opened it and leaned out.  "Hmm…"  Sitting on the sill, he swung his leg out and stepped carefully to the side of a bit of earth.  He slipped out the window and stooped low over the dirt, studying the area surrounding the intruder's marks.  "No clothing scraps or other small objects left behind."  Basil straightened up and turned his attention to Brynna.  "I'll walk to the entrance point on the West Wing.  The library, you said?"  At her nod, her brother continued, "I'll have a look around and see if I can find any definite footprints."

"We'll meet you over there."

Satisfied, the detective trotted towards the West Wing across the elegant courtyard between the two wings.  Counting the windows and lining them up with rooms taken from memory, he found the library window with the shutters still shut.

Reaching into his pocket for a set of lock picks, he set to work opening the heavy shutters.  Simply because his quarry was an amateur at breaking and entering didn't mean that he had to be.

~@~

Dawson saw Basil waiting for them impatiently in the library a minute later.  His tail twitched restlessly, never ceasing in its tip-switching motion.  And was there a glimmer of nervousness in his friend's eye?

A presence seated in the library watching them reached to a set of leather-bound book down on the arm of the aging leather chair.  He rose slowly, deliberately.  "I appear to have forgotten to open the shutters today," the older mouse remarked coolly. "Fortunately, your brother doesn't need a key to gain entry, Brynna.  I hope it isn't that way for everyone."

Dawson watched as both siblings flinched.

"My profession requires familiarity with locks and how to pick them," the detective replied just as coolly, though the nervous twitch in his tail betrayed his tenseness. "The lock on your shutters was by no means simple, Father."

Dawson's eyes snapped back and forth between father and offspring.  While the resemblance between father and daughter was more than obvious with matching cream-colored fur and black eyes, none would have guessed the two males to be father and son.  The only feature that could possibly link the two would be their prominent noses.

Whether or not the cream-furred mouse was satisfied by this answer, Dawson could not tell.  The gentleman turned towards the doctor.  "I am Jonathan Basil, head of this family.  I would assume you are the mouse who records my youngest son's…adventures."

Forcing himself not to flinch at the older mouse's arctic tones, Dawson nodded and managed an amiable smile.  "I am Dr. David Q. Dawson, yes.  I'm pleased to meet you."

For a brief moment, the doctor thought the patriarch of this unusual family wouldn't respond until he answered simply, "A pleasure."  He turned back towards the youngest of his offspring, the resident of Baker Street somehow standing even straighter than he already was.  "Your sister called on you to investigate our little mystery?"

"Yes, sir, she did."

"Very well.  Let us go to the parlor."  With almost military efficiency, Jonathan Basil led the way out of the library, the others following behind.

Dawson glanced at his friend to see even the detective's tail was stiff.  "Are you all right?"

"I'll be fine."

Somehow Dawson doubted that.

~@~

Dawson watched Brynna place the finishing touches on an apple pie.  Despite all the rooms, antiques, and expensive instruments that had all been handed down for generations, no servants came with the manor.  However, Brynna had assured him, they hired people to help clean once a week.

Per Brynna's request, Basil was outside smoking, meandering about the grounds as he puffed away on his pipe and thought.  From the window they could see him quite some distance away, weaving his way around obstacles only he could see.

"Father will see things his way," Brynna commented, breaking the silence. "He'll see the logic in letting Sherringford examine Mother's room."

She referred to the father-son row that had taken place not thirty minutes before once her brother had completed examining the parlor.  Basil had requested entry into his mother's room to see if that would provide clues as to what precisely the intruder sought for he had vague suspicions but nothing concrete.  His father had denied him that request, saying that the rooms he'd already examined should have told him more than enough.  The argument that followed hadn't been terrible in the sense that the two mice had shouted at one another.  Their voices had grown more and more glacial, Jonathan Basil actually managing to sound more masterful and stubborn than his son.  As he wandered, the detective was possibly plotting a new plan of attack and licking wounds from verbal barbs Dawson had seen him flinch at (though a few the doctor hadn't fully understood since Jonathan Basil seemed to enjoy using some strange form of double-talk).

"If you will pardon my impertinence, your father is a very stubborn man."

She laughed humorously.  "'Stubborn' sums up the entire family rather well.  I'd almost swear it's in our blood.  None of us – and I include the women – is willing to surrender our side of an argument unless the other person has so much proof that it's painfully obvious that we're wrong.  And even then we only grudgingly admit defeat."

"Having known your brother for quite some time, I'm rather willing to believe that."

Almost as if she hadn't heard him, Brynna continued absently, "And Mother was just as stubborn as Father."  She suddenly turned her head to look behind Dawson.  "Finished revising your battle strategy?"

Dawson turned and jumped when he saw the detective.  He hadn't realized his friend had re-entered the house.

"Yes, and I hope he listens to me this time."  Basil idly rubbed his left wrist though Brynna winced at the gesture.  Before Dawson could inquire as to why she did so, the youngest of Jonathan Basil's offspring asked, "Where is Father?"

"You will find the dragon in his lair, Sherringford.  I'd advice caution."

"Drat it."  He winced, rubbing at his wrist a little more as if a remembered pain returned to it.

"'His lair'?" Dawson questioned.

"His study."  He sighed and gave Brynna a melodramatic yet somehow serious look.  "If I don't return in one hour, I want white roses at my funeral."

"White represents purity, dear little brother.  I'll allow for a certain naivete and total ignorance on some subjects, but you are most certainly not pure."

Giving his sister a mock-hurt look, Basil retreated from the kitchen, the eyes of his sister and his friend on him.

~@~

Dawson didn't know how Basil convinced his father to open the doors to the forbidden room, but judging by the way the detective had become even more inscrutable than normal, victory was shallow.  All business but with that nervous twitch at the tip of his tail, Basil led the way in with Dawson right behind.  The older mouse suppressed a shudder as he felt Jonathan Basil's cold eyes bore into the back of his head.  If the head of the Basil family was going to glare over his shoulder the entire time, no wonder Basil felt nervous.

The detective immediately went to work with every bit of thoroughness he'd shown the music room and the parlor.  He moved carefully so as not to disturb the dust that had collected on his mother's belongings.

Meanwhile a portrait on the other side of the room caught Dawson's eye.  Equally careful not to disturb a thing, the army mouse crossed the room to view it better.

His friend's face smiled warmly back at him.

He blinked then rubbed his eyes with his hands.  No, it wasn't Basil of Baker Street in the portrait, but a woman bearing a striking resemblance to him.  She could easily have passed for his twin, for even though her features held a hint of feminine quality, a change of clothes and mannerisms could've easily disguised her as a man.

Dawson turned his gaze back and forth from the portrait to his friend.  There was absolutely no mistake on his eyes' part.  Could they have ended up in the wrong room, the room of a lost sibling?

"Trouble, Dawson?"

"Basil, are you…certain this is your mother's room?"  He looked back to see Basil tilt his head to one side like a curious and confused bird.

"Positive.  Why do you ask?"

"This portrait…the woman…" Dawson fumbled for words.  "She looks…well, she looks almost exactly like you."

The younger of the pair nodded his head, glancing back at his father briefly.  "I always did have a certain resemblance to Mother."

"Oh."  Feeling foolish, Dawson returned to observing Basil as he stiffly shrugged it off and returned to his search of the room.

~@~

Emerson Peabody, a beige-furred mouse with gray eyes, stood a good head taller than Basil.  He had to bend over a little to kiss his wife and greet both of their guests.  He even fell to one knee to greet his daughters as they rushed to his arms.

"A pleasure to see you again, Sherringford, and to meet you at last, Dr. Dawson," Peabody's deep bass had intoned in greeting. "So sorry we had to meet under such circumstances."

Jonathan Basil never ate with his daughter's family.  So as they gathered at dinner, the tenseness associated with being around the imposing old mouse left.

"How did you two meet?" Dawson asked conversationally.

"I was visiting Sherringford at Oxford.  While I was waiting for him to leave Physics with Professor…"  A sharp look from Basil held the professor's name on her tongue.  "…Well, I was waiting and met up with this gentleman."

"Afterwards, I started to meet up with her during her visits fairly regularly," Peabody continued. "After a bit, she introduced me to Myerricroft and her father, then Sherringford."  He chuckled and looked over at Basil.  "Out of the three, you scared me the most."

As Dawson gaped, Basil chuckled as well.  "I believe my exact words were 'If you harm her in any way, there will be nowhere on earth you can hide from me.'"

"Your exact words," Peabody agreed. "And I had no doubt – and I certainly don't doubt it now – that you can back up that threat."

After a few more minutes of idle chitchat, the head of this little family requested details on what Basil had discovered thus far.

"We are dealing with someone at about my height who is also either an instrument dealer or a musician.  He or she has never had a criminal record before and smart enough not to trust any professional thieves to hire them to get the job done with less…crude methods," Basil stated, taking a bite of the casserole once he'd finished.

"Care to enlighten us about how you figured that out, dear brother," Brynna teased, "or do you prefer keeping us in the dark?"

"Quite simple really.  The scratch marks at where he tried to force the passageway in the music room go from about my waist level up to my eye level, meaning that he was trying to find a good spot to grip and pull.  The highest someone would naturally reach for such a purpose would be at his eye level.

"The fact that our intruder took such pains to simply rip the lock off and break so much of the window doing it suggests that he or she was a novice doing so, hence no criminal record.  And this also backs up my statement that he didn't hire someone to perform the job.  No self-respecting thief would perform a job that sloppily.  Besides, the entry points had numerous valuables for the taking.  The smart hired thief would keep his employer's money and steal everything he could get his hands on within range of the entrance point.  If that same smart hired thief was feeling very energetic, he'd find whatever his employer had sent him to steal, steal it, then sell it himself.

"As far as the instrument dealer or musician part goes, tell me, what did the music room, the parlor, and Mother's room all have in common?"

Brynna placed a hand to her forehead.  "Now that I think about it, it's so obvious that it's painful.  Musical instruments.  We were still transferring instruments from the parlor to the music room and nobody had touched Mother's instruments."

"Precisely."  Basil tapped a foot restlessly.  "But our would-be instrument thief passed on several expensive instruments.  One of the two cellos alone would bring in enough money to feed a low-rent family for a year, maybe even a year and a half.  Why pass on that opportunity?  He obviously had an eye for expensive instruments since he was very careful in his handling of them, so he knew their worth."

"So he had a specific instrument in mind?" Dawson hazarded.

"Correct, Dawson.  But the instrument he sought wasn't there.  Brynna, have you sent anything away for repairs?"

She shook her head.  "Not recently."

The detective frowned for a moment.  He muttered half to himself, "Now that I think about it, why search in Mother's room?  When what you're searching for is an instrument, you don't normally look for one in the master of the house's dead wife's room.  Why did our thief think that that room would have what he wanted?"

No one answered the question, each adult puzzling over it.  The children watched their uncle with fascination, leaning forward as if expecting Basil to pull the answer suddenly out of thin air before their eyes like a magician pulling five pence from their ears.

"Mother never played professionally, so it wouldn't be well-known that she played anything," Brynna remembered. "Music was her hobby."

"Hmm…Perhaps our intruder found records of music sales that her instruments came from.  That would help explain that.  I'll have to look into that."

The old grandfather clock in the hall chimed, startling all.

"Nine o'clock all ready?" Peabody wondered. "Where does the time go?  Eloise, Elaine, off to bed with you both."  He held up his large hand as they opened their mouths to protest.  "I know you want to watch your uncle work, but I doubt anything else is going to get done tonight and it's your bedtime."

"Yes, sir," the twins chorused, walking over to give their mother a hug and kiss before doing the same with their father.

"I'll be up in a moment to tuck you both in," Brynna told them with a smile.

"Yes, Mother."  They looked hopefully at their uncle.

Somehow Basil managed to snap himself out of his thoughts enough to bid them a good night to which they returned with a pair of crushing hugs before scampering off.

"Well, I'll go make sure those two go to bed," Brynna said, rising from her chair. "Good night, Dr. Dawson, Sherringford."

"Good night," Dawson returned.

Basil gave a simple nod as his response to which Brynna gave a slight frown.

"Sherringford, I've read about how you are in the middle of a case, but I do insist that you don't stay up all night trying to puzzle your way through this one.  Why don't you try one of Mother's old techniques when she couldn't come up with an answer to a problem?"

"Which was?"

"Sleep on it."

~@~

Darkness and swirling mist surrounded Basil of Baker Street.  He almost thought he had somehow ended up back in London until he realized that there was nothing but blackness.  It took him an instant to realize that he was dreaming, but that surprised him since he normally dreamed in color.

A woman great with child – Brynna? – stood before him.  No wait.  She was simply still large after giving birth, her skin under her fur an unnatural pale color, blood on her nightdress primarily around her legs.  In one arm she cradled her newborn son, equally pale and unmoving, obviously dead.  In her other arm she cradled something else that Basil couldn't see very well, something a deep, deep crimson.

"Hello?" he called to her.

She didn't answer him.  Instead, she dissolved away into another form, this one a young man.  He, too, held the strange crimson object and the skin under his fur was unnaturally pale.  Around his neck were bruises from some form of strangulation.

As Basil continued to watch, the mouse continued to change shape, a small boy, a young girl, a gypsy mouse, a distinguished young gentleman, and dozens more.  Each one was unnaturally pale, and it didn't take Basil's intellect to realize that each was dead as they stood before him.  Each held the crimson object the first woman had held.

And finally the mouse shifted to a shape Basil remembered too well.

"Mother!"

Features that eerily echoed his own, standing for the first time he could remember clearly.  This was the woman from the portrait that had shocked Dawson so.  Her green eyes shown with fever brightness, showing her cause of death as some sign had shown on so many others.  In her hands rested the unidentifiable crimson object.

Basil reached out to her for a moment instinctively, pulled back his hand for a moment, and then reached out again.  "Mother, what is that?"

She didn't disappear like the others did but merely looked down at the object in her hands.  She turned her gaze back to him, her eyes hollow and fevered, not the eyes he remembered at all.  She took a step towards him, arms outstretched with the strange object in her hands.  She was trying to give it to him.

"What…?"

Something called to him to take the strange object, like it belonged to him.  His hands, of their own accord, reached for the crimson object…

Dozens of mice appeared, surrounding him, urging him to take the object.  It was his, just as it had been theirs.  He was one in the chain now…

~@~

His eyes snapped open, ripping him free of the dream-turned-nightmare.  He raised himself up onto his hands from his supine position on the bed.  Snapping his head around in all directions, searching vainly for the mice who had been in the dream, he scanned the room.  His heart thudded in his chest so loudly he was shocked Dawson hadn't started banging on his door to see what the noise was all about.

"Just a dream," he muttered to himself, lying back down. "Just a dream."

He reached down to touch the crimson wood of his violin where it lie in its open case on the floor.  He'd played it a bit before going to bed and had been too tired to close the case.  For some strange reason, touching the violin made him feel a bit better.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and sought sleep once more.

~@~

Dawson found Basil in the music room the next morning, a flute[1] raised to his lips and his eyes closed, running through a set of scales and arpeggios as a warm-up.  As the notes floated free of the instrument, Dawson raised both his eyebrows in surprise.  He hadn't known that Basil had talent on more than one instrument.

"Are you going to actually play something or just twiddle on it?" Brynna teased from her seat at the piano that had yet to be pushed back into its rightful place.

In response, Basil set down the flute, picked up the piccolo from a strange case that seemed designed to hold both the piccolo and the flute next to his feet, and played the highest note the tiny instrument had to offer, forcing Brynna to clap her hands over her sensitive ears.

"All right!  All right!  I'm sorry!"

"So am I," Basil commented, ceasing the note and rubbing his own right ear. "That hurt."  He glared at the small piece of metal in his hands.  "I hate this thing."

"Your flute teacher insisted that you learn to play it.  Good piccolo players are hard to find, and by 'good' I mean those who can play in tune."

"'Piccolo' and 'in tune' are nearly contradictory terms, dear sister."  He turned to his friend who stood in the doorway.  "Good morning, Dawson."

"Good morning, Basil."  Dawson shook his head to stop his ears from ringing from the piccolo's note.  "Good morning, Brynna."

"Good morning, Dr. Dawson.  Sherringford was going to give me a private concert to see how his old flautist skills were before he practiced for tonight's concert for the Music Festival and before the inspector gets here to look over this room at one.  That is, before he decided to play the obnoxious little instrument that he's holding in his hands."

"I hope whoever invented the piccolo," Basil muttered darkly, "died a most painful death."

"I didn't even realize you knew how to play more than just the violin, Basil," Dawson admitted, changing the subject in case a tirade rested on the tip of Basil's tongue.

"Mother insisted that we learn as many instruments as possible since it was an asset and we inherited her sense of perfect pitch," Brynna explained. "Only Myerricroft was exempt from this rule."

"Why?"

The two siblings grinned.  "Myerricroft's tone-deaf."

"Now, dear brother, if you wouldn't mind?"

Basil switched the piccolo back to the flute and raised it to his lips, pausing as he ran mentally through the pieces he'd had to memorize for recitals before blowing into the instrument and beginning.  His fingers remembered every key that they needed to hit for every pitch.  The haunting tune that flowed out of the flute took a minute for Dawson to recognize as a tune Basil had once played on his violin.

Once he'd finished, Dawson said, "I thought that was a violin solo."

"No, it's a flute solo.  I merely liked it so much that I transposed it for violin."

"Ah."  Dawson paused as Basil knelt down over the strange combo flute and piccolo case and began cleaning the spit from it.  "Basil, did you come up with anything concerning the case?"

The detective hesitated for a moment before shaking his head.  "No.  Mother's method didn't really help."

"Sherringford, don't you lie."  Brynna placed a hand on her hip.  "Something happened last night.  What was it?"

"It doesn't concern the case.  At least, I don't think it does, Brynna.  Nothing to be concerned about."

"Sherringford…"

Basil made the mistake of glancing at his sister.  Years of having to obey his sister as his surrogate mother of sorts came back to him, and he stated, "I simply had a bad dream.  Nothing to be concerned about."

She raised an eyebrow.  "A bad dream?"

"Brynna, believe it or not, some of the things I've seen in my line of work are bound to give anyone nightmares.  It's happened before…" here he avoided Dawson's gaze "…and it's bound to happen again.  Simply images from my subconscious choosing last night to come to the forefront of my mind."

"If you're sure…"

"I am."

~@~

That night Dawson accompanied Brynna's family plus Basil to the Music Festival.  Held in a fine concert hall that would have made those musicians who hadn't been invited or allowed to participate by the committee green with envy, Dawson quickly understood why the citizens of Sussex took such pride in their Music Festival.

After dropping them off and encouraging Basil to break both of his legs, Tobias had flown to an area where he would be conducted to his own seat from which he could observe the concert without frightening off half of the audience.  He had even gloated, "I get the best seat in the house, too.  I can see and hear everything without having to deal with people whispering on all sides."

"Honestly, are all men completely inept when it comes to ties?" Brynna complained as she straightened Basil's tie since it apparently was ever so slightly crooked.

Clearly annoyed but not going to argue with his sister since it seemed that pregnancy mood swings had kicked in, Basil tapped his foot and swished his tail to show his impatience.  He slipped his violin case behind his back in order to switch the hand he held it in.

The twins had giggled the first two times their mother had done this, but now they looked as exasperated as their uncle.  Their irritation had been increased when they had come under the close scrutiny of their mother.

"There.  Much better," Brynna approved.

As soon as her back was turned, Basil raised a hand and loosened it before it could choke him to death.  The last thing he wanted was to go out on stage, play the opening note of his piece, and pass out due to lack of oxygen.  However, he was extremely careful not to move it out of its place.

"Basil!  Long time, no see, old boy!" a rich tenor voice called to him.

"Oh, no."  Basil turned around, forcing a charming smile on his face.  "Benson, a pleasure to see you."  'Not really.'  "This is my trusted associate Dr. Dawson.  Dawson, this is Daniel Benson, concertmaster of the London Philharmonic."

The violinist appeared pleasant enough, but something in the way he looked at Basil unnerved Dawson.  The old rivalry from orchestras past seemed to still live on in this tan-furred mouse.

"I saw your name on the program, Basil.  Two pieces?" Benson inquired, his voice a bit mocking.

"Both short, I assure you, and not in a row as the program shows."  Basil forced out a pleasant tone of voice though Dawson suspected he wanted to strangle him.  "I see you're performing one that's about seven minutes long."

"Yes, but a lovely piece it is."  Benson gazed at the violin case.  "I say, I haven't had a look at that violin of yours in a long time.  May I?"

Common courtesy among musicians dictated that Basil show Benson his precious violin though his instincts screamed suddenly for him not to.  Puzzled at that reaction, he hesitated momentarily but vowed to only let Benson look at the violin, not touch.  "Of course you may look at it."

Benson flinched at the stress on the word "look" though he smiled pleasantly.  "Thank you."  He held out his hands for the case.

But Basil simply held the case in his hands and opened it for him, revealing the crimson instrument resting inside.

Benson's blue eyes widened for the briefest of moments before returning to normal.  "A lovely violin.  And I remember its sound.  A Strad, isn't it?"

"Yes."  Basil shut the case, not liking the hungry look in Benson's eye.  "Now, I need to go warm up and tune.  Dawson, why don't you and Brynna go find seats with her family?"

"Excellent idea, Sherringford."  Casting a glare at Benson to show her dislike, Brynna shooed her children off with her husband beside her.

"I had better go warm up as well since I'll be onstage in a few moments.  Adieu."  With a wave, Benson left.

Dawson, who had lingered an extra few moments, turned to his friend.  "Basil, he seemed very interested in your violin."

"Too interested," Basil agreed darkly. "And he's my height."

"What?"

"I'll explain later.  You had better join Brynna and her family."

"Of course."

~@~

Dawson nearly fell asleep during Benson's piece.  He played it flawlessly, but the violinist lacked what Basil had included in all of his pieces: passion.  Basil played his music with a love for the music and instrument.  Benson played it because he simply was paid to do so and could show off.  The spark that made the music magic didn't exist in Benson's playing.

There was plenty of applause when Benson left the stage and a few people gave him a standing ovation, but for the most part, the audience stayed in their seats.  Dawson glanced at the program.  Next up on the program, "Chaconne" performed by Sherringford Basil on violin.  He glanced at the composer:

"Sherringford Basil."

He blinked and re-read the words.  No, he hadn't read it wrong.  Basil truly had composed the piece.  And, glancing down at the second piece, he had written the other piece, too.

'I knew he could improvise, but I didn't know he actually composed.'

A stagehand pushed the piano back out of the way and then left the stage.  A moment later, Basil stepped out onto the stage amidst applause, crimson violin under one arm.  He stopped in the center and bowed.

Resting the violin on his shoulder, he explained, "I wrote this back when I didn't know that a chaconne was written in triple time.  Needless to say, it's in four."  He plucked the strings quickly to check to make sure they were in tune as a couple of music students near the front laughed.  "I thought about renaming it a few weeks ago, but a case or something came up and I forgot."

That said, he slid the bow across the strings and began playing.  The solo instrument, unaccompanied by even a piano, seemed to fill the entire concert hall.  Dead silence came from the audience as they sat, entranced by the music.  Dawson barely breathed lest he miss a note.

At one point, Basil stopped on a rest and lowered his bow, lazily adjusting it so he could easily pluck the strings with the bow still in his hand.  Softer and softer the tune grew, so soft that if someone breathed too deeply, everyone surrounding him or her would miss it.

At last, Basil plucked an open G so softly that the audience barely heard it.  He lowered his hand to his side.  For several seconds, nothing happened.

Then Basil opened his eyes, looked around, slid the violin off his shoulder, tucked it under his arm, and gave the audience a "Well?" look.

The music students in the front leaped to their feet applauding, some of them chuckling.  Older members of the audience quickly followed.  Basil's nieces nearly fell when they jumped out of their seats and started to clap.

Basil bowed to the audience and walked offstage, exiting as the audience continued to applaud.  A few seconds later, he came back onstage and took another bow before exiting again.  Only then did the audience begin to sit down.[2]

The concert continued, and Dawson soon found himself impatiently waiting for Basil's second piece: "Gypsy Cadenza."

Finally, Basil stepped onstage and took a bow before he began to play the cadenza.  The first chords and notes didn't seem to make much sense, but as the piece progressed, Dawson heard the gypsy influence of it.  It certainly didn't match up with the average concert piece that concert-goers listened to.  Dawson had to give his friend credit, Basil knew how to add flavor to a concert.

True to his word, the piece was brief.  The older set applauded politely though Dawson nearly started laughing since a few looked as if they'd been run over by a carriage.  The younger people in the audience enjoyed it immensely, a few shouting "Encore!"

Basil bowed again and exited the stage.  He didn't come back for a second bow this time.

~@~

Backstage, Basil nearly ran into Benson quite literally.  Naturally, the other violinist was fuming, much to Basil's delight.

"Another excellently played piece," Benson congratulated though it sounded forced. "Though what else could I expect from the great Sherringford Basil?"

"I do what Old Finky and my other teachers used to tell me: 'Practice, Basil, practice!'" he stated cheerfully. "'Practice every spare moment!'  Not bad advice."

Benson glared and looked as if he wanted to punch him but looked at the violin in his hands and reconsidered.  Apparently doing damage to Basil was not good enough reason to do damage to a Stradivarius violin.  Instead he stormed off.

Feeling quite smug, Basil walked over to his violin case and met an old, familiar face.  "Dr. Finkelstein?"

Dr. Abraham Finkelstein, "Old Finky" as former and current students alike lovingly referred to him (behind his back though all were certain he knew), was a tiny mouse with white fur that had mostly turned gray who stood a head shorter than Dawson.  The running joke around Oxford students who planned on playing in the orchestras or bands was "Hurry up and join before he dies."

"Sherringford Basil, one of my finest," Finkelstein said with a touch of pride. "How have you been?"

"I've been well.  And yourself?"

"Not so well tonight.  I brought my symphonic orchestra with me for the Music Festival as a treat.  The whole group's playing together on the last night but I have several of small groups playing on the other nights."

"What seems to be the problem then?"

"I have a string quartet playing tonight who's down a member.  Ian Strauss, the second violin, had a stomachache.  Well – " he paused as the sound of someone retching reached both of their ears, making Basil's ears prick up with surprise " – it wasn't just a stomachache.  It's the stomach flu."

"What rotten luck!"

"The students worked too bloody hard to get pulled out now, but none of my other students knows that second violin part.  I admit to a lack of foresight on my part.  Strauss has never had a sick day in his life, so we were all a bit cocky.  I think the universe sort of waits for that."  A wry smile graced the old man's lips.  "Frankly, I need a replacement violinist, and I'm running out of those.  I don't want to put one of the other students on a part they don't know and force them to sight-read it in front of an audience.  That isn't fair and it'll make the quartet sound bad.  I asked Benson, but he's in the attitude of 'First part or no part.'"  He rolled his blue-gray eyes.  "I saw your name on the program so I decided to see if I could track you down."

"Dr. Finkelstein, it'd be an honor."

"Don't say that just yet," the old mouse chuckled. "You haven't even seen the part yet!  The second violin part's easier than the first, but it's still a devil of a part."

"Fast or slow?"

"Slow, fortunately, but still tricky."

"I'm still willing to try."

"And I shall be putting your name down to be canonized within the hour.  The students have been fretting ever since poor Strauss started getting sicker.  They'll be as grateful as I am."

"I'm sure."  He took the part that Finkelstein handed him.

"Good luck, Basil.  You're going to need it."

Glancing at the piece, Basil nearly gulped.  "I most certainly am."

~@~

A tiny old mouse stepped out onto the stage before the very last group, a string quartet from Oxford University.  "Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  I'm Dr. Abraham Finkelstein from Oxford, the teacher of the four fine students who are performing tonight."

Dawson blinked.  So Dr. Finkelstein did exist!

"Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, Ian Strauss will be unable to play the second violin part in tonight's piece.  However, a former pupil of mine, Sherringford Basil, has been kind enough to volunteer to sight-read the part in his place.  Without further ado, the (slightly revised) Dumas Quartet."

Finkelstein left the stage as the four musicians stepped onto it, bowing to the audience and then sitting in their appropriate places.  Dawson nearly started snickering since Basil looked so out of place among the four.

The first violinist – Joshua Bell – started them off, giving them the tempo as they started the slow yet difficult piece.  The quartet onstage played through their parts with a few minor mistakes here and there though they didn't let that stop them.

Halfway through the piece, a shot rang out, missing the violist – Martin Thatcher – and nearly hitting Basil had he not jerked sideways on instinct.  The three younger musicians went sheet white under their fur and kept glancing up at the most experienced member of their group as their fingers and bows kept moving seemingly of their own accord as the music dictated.  The audience cried out in surprise and outrage.

Basil caught his fellow quartet members' eyes and mouthed, "Keep playing."  He knew there would be no second shot.  No one would be able to fire off another round without getting caught.  His unknown assailant had missed out on his element of surprise.  However, it took a bit of control not to rise from his seat and try to find the person who'd taken a shot at him.

They finished their piece and the audience applauded politely both for their playing and for their bravery to keep sitting in a very open place.  They exited the stage as Benson, a member of the committee, came onstage to explain that the shot was being investigated and the culprit would be found as soon as possible.

Finkelstein gathered up his shaken students.  "Basil, why would someone want to take a shot at my students?!"

"They weren't aiming for your students.  They were aiming for me, and I'm sorry that your students were onstage as well."  He turned to the three.  "Are you all right?"

"Blimey!" Charles Morritz, the cellist, half-shouted. "We coulda been killed!"

"Unfortunately yes."  He looked at Finkelstein.  "I'm very sorry, Dr. Finkelstein, but either I've made someone very nervous or very angry."

"A case, I'd assume?"

Basil blinked.

"I keep up with my students better than most.  Besides, it's hard to miss out on the exploits of the great Basil of Baker Street."  Finkelstein winked.

"Basil of Baker Street?  You're really Basil of Baker Street?" Bell whispered in awe.

"I am."  Basil turned back towards the stage.  "I'm going to go have a look at the stage and see if I can find out anything about that shot.  That is, if the police will let me."

"Good luck, Basil.  I hope you find what you're looking for," the old mouse told his former pupil.

"And good luck to you and your students.  I hope the rest of your performances are better than tonight's."

~@~

Basil went home disappointed.  It seemed to Dawson that the head inspector in Sussex resented the fact that Basil had gotten to look at the scene of the break-in first, so he'd merely asked for a statement then politely pushed Basil out of the way.  After a few minutes of arguing, Basil surrendered.  The thought of being arrested hadn't truly appealed to him that night, and he had no doubt the inspector made good on his threats.

"I'm on the right trail, or I've irritated our potential thief," Basil commented on the flight home.

"More than irritated him," Tobias stated. "Rubbed his fur the wrong way so much that he decided to take pot shots at you.  If you hadn't moved your head when you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"True."  He tapped his foot against Tobias' soft yet stiff feathers.  "But I think I might know now what he was after."

"And that would be?" came the expected question from a chorus of adults.

"My violin."

Brynna leaned towards her brother.  "Your violin?"

"The instrument that wasn't there, Brynna.  Why search Mother's room in addition to the music room and the parlor?  Why take a shot at me?  And did you notice that the shot would have completely missed both my violin and my bow had it hit me?  Whoever fired that shot was very careful not to harm my violin."  He folded his hands and placed them in his lap on top of his violin case, looking down at his hands and case.  "Mother gave me this violin, which was originally hers.  The intruder knew what he was looking for was hers, but when he couldn't find it, he must've realized she gave it to someone else."  He paused in thought.  "I don't know why, Brynna.  I have a good idea on the 'who' and an idea on 'how,' but exactly 'why' doesn't add up.  I'm missing something very important."

Brynna said nothing.  Instead, she nodded in respect of his expertise.

"After I finished having that charming conversation with the inspector, I talked to Old Finky again and asked him if Dr. Fankhauser was here.  He'll be coming over tomorrow to re-examine my violin.  Maybe he missed something the first time he confirmed it was a Strad."

"Very well, Sherringford.  Anything else?"

"Yes.  I'll be doing a very thorough examination of my violin.  It holds the key to this entire mystery, but what that key is, I don't know at this moment."  He sighed.  "I wish I had access to my chemicals back at Baker Street right now."

"Give me a list," Tobias offered, "and I can have them for you by morning.  How well do you label chemicals?"

"Very well.  I don't want to accidentally mix a pair of deadly chemicals together just because the labels are sloppy.  Tobias, if you can get Mrs. Judson to give you those chemicals, I'd be most grateful."

"Consider it done, old friend."

"Why do you need chemicals?" Dawson asked.

"When I said thorough, I meant thorough.  I'm going to look at everything, right down to the varnish."

~@~

The darkness and mist had returned, wrapping him in a chokehold.  He shivered with sudden cold.  So cold…

The bloody woman who must've died in childbirth with her dead newborn returned in this dream, the crimson object in her hand.  Once again, she shifted to the many different dead people who also held the crimson object.  Finally, Amelia Basil returned, holding the crimson object.

"Mother, what is that thing?" he demanded.

Again, she merely offered it to him.  Her green eyes held some of the warmth he associated with her though they also contained a sense of urgency and a sense of regret, almost as if she were sorry she had to give him this object.  But at the same time, there was a hint in her eyes that seemed like she was glad that he had it rather than anyone else.

He reached out and took it from her hands.  The others gathered around the two of them, closing in on him, suffocating him with their closeness.  He was one of them now.  It was only a matter of time before he was just like them.

He shifted the object that he still couldn't quite see in his hands.  It stuck slightly, something sticky and tacky attracting his fur.  Cradling the crimson object in one arm, he held up a hand.

Blood.  It was covered in blood.

His eyes widened and he stared at his mother who held out her hands sorrowfully, revealing the bloodstains on her own hands.  He swung his head left and right and saw the blood where the object had been held in the others' hands and arms as well.

He snapped his head down to look at the object.  Though he still couldn't see it clearly, he saw the blood slowly dripping off of it.  He grabbed it and tried to fling it away, but the object seemed connected to him now.  He grew dizzy and realized that the blood staining the object now was his own.

"Get it away from me!"

His knees buckled…He fell…

~@~

"Basil!  Basil, for heaven's sake, wake up!"

Dawson shook Basil's shoulders again and this time Basil's eyes shot open.  The younger mouse clutched at Dawson's arm as if trying to confirm for himself that he was real.  After a few moments, Basil moaned and closed his eyes again, trying to calm his labored breathing.

Although ordinarily a heavy sleeper, the good doctor had been awakened in the middle of the night by tortured moans and restless movement from the room next to his.  He had leapt from his bed and entered Basil's room when he heard Basil's yell.  He'd found Basil in the throes of some terrible nightmare, unable to awaken himself.

Cold sweat soaked Basil's fur and pasted it and his pajamas to his body.  He shuddered with each new breath as if struggling to rid himself of the horrendous image that had burned itself into his mind just moments before.  Dawson had never seen his friend so thoroughly shaken.

The doctor placed a hand on his friend's forehead, surprising Basil into snapping his eyes open again.  "You may have a slight fever, but I don't think you're very sick if you do.  Basil, what on earth frightened you so badly?"

The detective took a shuddering breath.  "Simply a repeat of last night, Dawson.  Worse, I'll grant you, but a repeat."  He gave a crooked smile, but it seemed weak.  "Apparently my subconscious has taken up a new hobby of toying with me."

"Why don't you tell me about it?"  At Basil's raised eyebrow, he explained, "I don't know if I believe in prophetic dreams or any of that sort of thing, Basil, but I do believe that if a dream keeps repeating itself there has to be a reason for it.  It can be something as simple as a fear or forgotten memory; it can even be a hint from the subconscious.  Maybe it knows something about the case you don't consciously know."

"Possibly."  He took a deep breath and related the dreams, looking horribly embarrassed.

But as he recited the first of the strange nightmares, Dawson quickly understood why it would shake up the detective so badly.  Being faced with numerous dead people he didn't know would be simple for Basil to shake off, but coming face to face with a dead relative – his mother no less – was enough to shake any mouse.  And to have that eerie feeling that somehow he was connected to all these others would certainly further unnerve and frighten anyone with courage.  The doctor closed his eyes and tried to picture what it must've been like.

Basil stopped about halfway through the second dream, so Dawson opened his eyes to request him to go on but noticed Basil had fallen asleep.  He smiled and slipped back to his room.  He'd ask about it later if Basil still felt like discussing it.

~@~

True to his word, Tobias came back with the list of chemicals Basil requested of Mrs. Judson the next morning.  He had complained loudly about how Basil owed him for flying so late at night when there were no thermals to aid his tired wings.  That is, until Brynna threatened to rip out his feathers and donate them to Master Brett – the falconer who flew Tobias on hunts – for his maids to use in their feather dusters.  After that, Tobias grew very quiet and didn't anger the lady of the house whose unborn child seemed to be placing her in a sour mood.

Dr. Randolph Fankhauser, Basil's former Music Theory and Composition teacher (he'd taken the extra credits for fun), arrived at ten o'clock sharp and carefully examined the crimson violin.  Basil waited patiently with Dawson as Oxford's expert when it came to Stradivarius violins went to work.

"Well, what I said before, I say again.  It is a genuine Strad," Fankhauser said when he'd finished.

"I see," Basil said.

Dawson glanced at Basil before turning to Fankhauser.  "Pardon my ignorance, but why not just check the label?"

"The label isn't a guarantee, Dr. Dawson.  Some violin makers sell copies of violins with labels that say the same things as the genuine labels so that the buyer knows what maker and model the copy is made after."  Fankhauser adjusted his shirtsleeve.  "However, some people buy these violins from the owners and think that they're buying the real thing.  Only someone who's studied the real thing can tell the difference.  However, I'm still surprised at yours, Basil."

"Oh?"

"Yes.  The date and place on the label is most intriguing.  I doubt you ever gave much thought to it."

"Guilty as charged."

"Well, according to the label, this violin was made ten years before Antonio Stradivari set up shop in Cremona.  It appears that he made this violin while he was still an apprentice.  And I've never seen him use a varnish quite like this before."

"Fascinating.  Thank you for your help, Dr. Fankhauser."

"You're most welcome.  Good day."

The Oxford teacher left, and Basil picked up his violin in his hands.

"I assume, Basil, that this means that you're going to begin your thorough study of your violin."

"Indeed, Dawson.  I'll let you and everyone else know what I find."

Dawson left the room, and Basil pulled out his magnifying glass from his pocket.

"All right, old friend," he murmured, leaning over the violin, "where have you been all these years?"

First he examined the back of the violin.  He saw the slight chipping where some of the varnish after the severe repair job following the Flaversham Case revealed the original color of the wood.  To his amazement, the wood was light.  The red was from the varnish itself, not the wood at all.

"Curious…"

Sweeping the magnifying glass upward to the back of the neck, he examined the black mark not originally part of the wood.  It took him a moment to realize that he was staring at the leftover mark from a bullet grazing the violin.  For a brief moment, the distinguished Englishman from his dream popped into his mind, nearly making him drop the violin.

"Steady, Sherringford…" he muttered. "It was simply a dream, remember?"

He swept the magnifying glass along the sides and discovered some more of that slight chipping, as if the violin had been pried free from dead fingers; a child's dead fingers from the look of it.  Another figure from his dream, this time a little Italian boy who wore the clothes of an orphan from a monastery, appeared in his head.

Shutting his eyes tightly, he shook his head to rid his mind of the image.  He hissed to himself, "Stop it!"

But with each new scratch, each new mark, another person from his nightmares popped into his mind.  It unnerved him to no end.  It seemed as though each person had left their mark on the violin…except the first woman.

"See?" he muttered to himself. "Just a dream.  You're trying to frighten yourself and doing a good job of it, you bloody fool."

Gritting his teeth at the feeling of sacrilege, he chipped off a bit of the varnish from where his own accident with the violin had already removed some of it.  When he felt he had a big enough sample (but not too big), he went to work with chemical analysis.  He used his small sample sparingly.

Nothing seemed unusual with the varnish except for a strange additive that he couldn't identify.  He puzzled over it for a long time before he found himself automatically performing the Sherlock Holmes's test.[3]  Pausing in confusion, he shrugged and continued performing the test.  It most likely wouldn't reveal anything.  The test merely searched for blood in the sample.

But to his horror, the contents of the beaker turned deep mahogany and a brownish dust precipitated to the bottom.  Blood.  There was blood in the varnish…

His eyes focused on nothing but the beaker as it continued to precipitate the awful brown dust.  His mind ground nearly to a halt as the pieces slowly began to click into place.

"A violin…made by Stradivari…with blood…in the varnish…" he mumbled.

His eyes drifted over to his crimson violin, which suddenly seemed very, very menacing.  It sat there, waiting, almost as if it knew that he knew what it was.  His mother hadn't known, and who knew if her uncle had known?  But now he did, and the attempted theft suddenly made sense.

Basil could feel his lips moving, but he couldn't utter a sound.  The old story of a supposedly cursed instrument Brynna had heard from their mother that she had passed on to him replayed in his head.  Not ordinarily superstitious, but the shock of having such an instrument in his possession froze the blood in his veins.

"Sherringford, how goes the – What happened, dear brother?!  One would think you'd seen a ghost!"

Basil turned to his sister and Dawson where they stood in the doorway, the skin under his fur an unhealthy white.  Finally, sound escaped his lips.  "Brynna, do you remember the story of a violin Antonio Stradivari made with blood in the varnish?"

She raised an eyebrow.  "Yes, I taught it to you.  But why do you…?"  Her voice drifted off as her eyes widened.  "It can't be.  It's just a story, a myth."

"Then why is it right there on the table?"

Brynna looked at the violin and turned white under her fur as well.  "I think I need to sit down."

Dawson helped her to a chair and looked back and forth in confusion from one sibling to another.  One would have thought that Basil's violin was some sort of demon by the looks on the pair's faces.  "What's wrong?"

Brynna motioned to the violin on the table with a shaking hand.  "Dr. Dawson, I'd like to introduce you to what some people have called the devourer of musicians, the Red Violin."

Dawson's own eyes flew wide for he, too, had heard the tale in passing once.  "Impossible!"

"Not impossible, Dawson.  The violin was lost for years after an auction."[4]  Basil swallowed, looking rather disturbed and possibly ill.  "Mother's uncle must've bought the violin there, then given it to Mother.  She eventually gave it to me."

"Basil…do you think it's really…cursed?"

The two siblings looked at each other, and Brynna whispered, "Sherringford, we're raised not to believe in curses, but that violin…Our great-uncle died in a traffic accident shortly after he gave that violin to Mother.  Mother became sick when you were two and died a few months after giving it to you and you went away to Oxford.  And then there are all those stories about how the other owners died…"  She looked over at the violin worriedly as if afraid it were listening and plotting.

"It can't be cursed, Brynna," her brother told her though he seemed still a bit shaken as well. "It's probably all coincidences."

"Yes…yes, of course.  You're right."  She looked at him.  "Well, now we know the 'why,' don't we?"

"Yes, we do.  And I have a plan to prove the 'who.'  I'll need to speak with Craig Wilkerson from the committee."  He glanced at the violin.  "And maybe if there is a curse on that instrument, maybe it'll work in our favor."

~@~

Tobias refused to take off that night for the second evening of the Music Festival.  "I don't like this."

"Superstitious old bird," Basil snapped.

"Superstitious?  You bet I am!  And a blasted good reason to be!"  He swiveled his head around to meet the glare of his long-time friend with one of his own.  "Too many 'coincidences' are attached to that bloody thing.  Say you catch our friend in the act and you end up as another of these little 'coincidences.'"

"Could you take off now?"

"No!  I will not take off until I get a solemn promise that you won't do something imbecilic in order to catch him."

"You know me, Tobias."

"That is precisely what I'm talking about!  I read Dr. Dawson's stories – and very well-written they are, Doctor – and I know how much you enjoy going into the thick of things without watching your tail."  He paused in momentary thought.  "Sort of like how when we were a bit younger."

The detective gave his biographer an irritated glance.  "I have you to thank."

"You do," Dawson defended himself.  The army mouse turned his attention to the hawk. "Tobias, with us there, how can something go wrong?"

"I believe in Mr. Murphy, Doctor.  'Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time.'"

"Murphy's Law does not apply here!" Basil raged.

"Not at the moment, but you watch!  Something's going to go wrong!"  Tobias snapped his beak shut decisively and whipped his head back forward as if to end the discussion.

"Oh, for crying out loud!"  Basil glared at the back of his hawk friend's head.  "Tobias, if we're late to the Festival and miss our chance, I swear that I will rip out each and every one of your feathers – starting with your primaries – one by one as slowly and painfully as I possibly can!  Then I will give those feathers to Mrs. Judson to use for future feather dusters!"

The feathered head whipped back around, golden eyes narrowed.  "You wouldn't dare."

"Just keep stalling, bird."  Basil precariously leaned over towards the right wing, reaching for the closest primary feather.  "We have five minutes to get to the Festival.  The fastest way to get there is flying."

Grinding his beak together, Tobias shifted on his talons.  "You wouldn't even touch that primary."

As if to spite Tobias, Basil not only touched the primary but gave it a warning tug, making Tobias' eyes widen in surprise and a bit of pain.  It had not been a gentle tug.

"Fine."

Basil released the feather.

Two wings opened, and the hawk pushed off of the ground.  He labored for a few minutes against gravity in the still air of dusk.  But within minutes, Sussex lie spread out beneath them as they flew towards the Music Festival.

~@~

Basil plucked the A string in a secluded nook backstage, his sister, her family, and Dawson had given him one last "break a leg" and had gone to find their seats when Benson appeared with his own violin case.  Benson's eyes lit on Basil, lighting up with some sort of suppressed excitement.

"Basil!  What's this I hear about a last-minute performance?" Benson asked cheerfully.

Shrugging, the detective commented, "I suppose I missed the stage.  Despite the fact that someone decided to take a shot at me yesterday, I rather enjoyed playing in front of an audience other than friends and family."

"You truly swept some of those people off their feet.  They weren't sure which way was up after that cadenza," the professional violinist stated. "Thinking about changing careers?"

"Oh, I don't know.  However, it is rather – Elaine!  Eloise!  Whatever is the matter?!"

The twins had arrived, running backstage.  They immediately raced to their uncle, clutching at each of his legs, nearly knocking him off-balance.

One of the twins – Benson could not tell if it was Elaine or Eloise – whimpered, "Mother isn't doing very well.  She got really sick…"

"Oh dear."

"Dr. Dawson told us to get you," the other little girl told her uncle. "He said he'd need your help for a few things."

With grim humor, Basil muttered, "It seems Dawson finally has me for an assistant."  Without thinking, Basil set his violin down in his case, not bothering to close the case.  He seemed to have forgotten about Benson.  "Take me to your mother."

The girls released their uncle and scurried off, Basil using a quick loping stride behind them so as not to overtake them because he didn't know the way.

As soon as the three members of the oldest and oddest family in Sussex had disappeared, Benson moved in.  He set his violin case down, removing his violin – an elegant instrument of cherry wood – with one hand and picking up the famed Red Violin with the other.  He set the cherry wood instrument in Basil's case.  Smiling to himself, he stared down at the supposedly cursed instrument in his hands.

"It is beautiful, isn't it?" Basil's voice asked.

The violinist, the Red Violin resting in his paws, whirled around to see his rival in so many different orchestras of old.

Unfazed, Basil shrugged.  "I always thought it was.  I especially like the color.  Sort of a bloody red, isn't it?"

"I thought you were helping your sister!"

Brynna stepped up from behind her brother, her daughters and husband behind her.  "That's the trouble with us pregnant women.  We can't ever decide what we're feeling.  Like whether or not we're really feeling sick."

"A ruse!"

"And an effective one at that," Dawson dryly commented as he appeared, walking with the twins and Peabody.

Peabody beamed as he laid a large hand on each child.  "The girls must've put on a very convincing show.  A true pair of young thespians."

"Then you knew the entire time," Benson growled, turning his attention back to Basil as the detective's word choice for the color came back to him.

"Not until today.  We didn't realize that Mother's violin – my violin was the Red Violin until I ran the Sherlock Holmes's test using a sample of varnish."  Basil's eyes narrowed.  "You must've traced the violin through our mother's uncle and realized he gave it to her.  Then when you broke into the house and tried to find the violin, it wasn't there.  It must've been frustrating."

"I thought you'd sold it.  Then I saw you with it yesterday and remembered that you'd played a red violin during school."

"It must've been infuriating to realize your former rival had what you had been trying to get your hands on after all this time, but I have to know…" Basil raised an eyebrow "...why'd you think to shoot at me?"

That must've struck a cord.  "After all this time, you were still the one Old Finky called on in a pinch.  It was like Oxford all over again.  Need a violinist?  Find Sherringford Basil: concertmaster in his first year."

Brynna exchanged looks with her brother, the doctor, and her husband.  "You mean it wasn't the investigation that worried you?"

Eyes blazing with rage, his hands quivered, and the Red Violin shook in those hands.  "Those tall tales about the great Basil of Baker Street didn't scare me!  All they did was just made him sound good, like this violin!  Give him a normal violin, and he'd be no better than anybody else.  Take away the tales, and he'd be no different from any other private detective."

"Private consulting detective!" Basil snapped, though he didn't quite know why that error made him so irritated at the moment. "Besides, Old Finky asked you first, remember?  You turned him down since it wasn't the first part!  But trust me.  That second violin part was no laughing matter."

Benson didn't want to trust Basil or even listen to him.  He had come too far to lose his prize.  Holding the Red Violin by the neck with his left hand, he reached into his pocket with his right hand to pull out his insurance policy.  He aimed his revolver at Basil.  "It's mine now.  And you're just another part of its story."

Basil's green eyes widened in horrified shock.  This was it.  He was really going to die this time.  If he dodged out of the way, someone behind him would take the hit.

His gaze fell to the Red Violin one last time.  Maybe it really was cursed and Tobias had been right about him becoming another "coincidence."  In any event, he almost felt sorry that he couldn't hear its vibrant, perfect sound one more time.

Benson was obviously nervous for his hands shook fiercely.  He must not have killed a mouse before and had discovered it wasn't as easy as it looked.  His left pinky quivered, nearly brushing the G string.  As it quivered, it seemed to draw closer and closer to the string.

Basil watched in morbid fascination as one line from the story of the Red Violin reverberated in his head.

"…the Red Violin (as it became known) brought ruin to whoever played it."

The pinky barely brushed against the G string, his other three fingers by chance mashed in the proper places on the fingerboard to produce a faint but still perfect middle C.  In Basil's ears, the quiet sound echoed for eternity from the lowest valleys to the highest mountains.

No sooner had the tone left the string than Benson began to make the most horrible gurgling noise any of them had yet heard.  The violinist's eyes widened in shock.  He opened his mouth to speak, but all that exited was the horrific gurgling and a bit of blood.  More blood followed, escaping through his mouth and starting to pour through his nose as the sudden hemorrhage continued.

Brynna quickly rushed over to her children and shoved their faces into her sides, whispering to them as she shut her eyes from the horror, "Don't look.  Don't look."

Basil couldn't turn his eyes away from his old rival as the violinist turned his head to look at the blood-red violin he held in his hand.  The Great Mouse Detective watched and listened as the London Philharmonic's concertmaster attempted to gurgle out something and then began to fall to the floor, the Red Violin slipping from his hand.

Instinct took over as Basil lunged, hitting the floor and sliding forward on his stomach to catch the violin his hands as he had done during the Flaversham Case.

Benson hit the floor and moved no more.

~@~

About five days later, Dawson once watched Basil via the kitchen window as the detective walked aimlessly through the garden.  The Red Violin was held in one of the detective's hands.  Brynna stood beside the old doctor, her attention primarily focused on the bread dough she kneaded.

"It's strange how quickly everyone around here accepted your story about what happened to Benson.  Most people in London wouldn't have believed it because it's so bizarre," the doctor murmured.

"We're a very strange family, Dawson.  In Sussex, if anything strange happens, it's automatically assumed that we were involved or nearby."

"Ah.  A family of black sheep, eh?"

Smiling sadly, Brynna stopped kneading the dough and watched her brother.  "If we are a family of black sheep, Doctor, then I'm afraid that Sherringford is the black sheep with white zebra stripes.  He doesn't quite fit with us, either."

Dawson turned to look at the woman for a few minutes and then looked out the window again.  He blinked.  "Where did he go?"

The garden was empty of all mice.  Basil of Baker Street had vanished.

"He turned that corner."  She pointed.  "The family plot isn't that far from here.  He probably went to visit Mother again."

Neither said anything for moment.

Then Dawson turned to go.

"Go talk to him, Dawson," Brynna quietly ordered. "Please."

"I intended to."

~@~

Basil stood before the silent tombstone, eyes closed, and Red Violin resting on his shoulder as he played a smooth yet sprightly tune.  The music echoed for all eternity as his granite and marble audience listened.  The various grave markers – each differently shaped according to how the deceased's loved ones wanted him or her to be remembered – proved an incredible contrast to the song pouring free of the violin's strings.

But the stone he played for had an angel perched atop it, also playing a violin.  It seemed as though she was playing a silent counter-melody to his song.  And this angel had been specially carved to resemble the deceased woman he barely remembered.

As he ended the tune and let the last note echo before starting a new piece, the sound of a foot deliberately stepping on a patch of dried leaves alerted him to another's presence.  Judging by the care someone took to not startle him and yet not completely ruin the mood of the atmosphere, this was someone who knew him fairly well.

"Dawson," the detective quietly acknowledged without turning around or opening his eyes, but he did lower the violin.

Basil felt his friend walk up beside him, standing in silent study beside him.

"I played that for her when she first gave me this violin," the younger mouse told the doctor. "I promised that I would come back and play more for her."  He swallowed.  "It was the last time I ever saw her."

"I'm sorry."

"I barely knew her."

"She was still your mother, and the loss seems to hurt you."

Basil didn't answer that, opening tired eyes to look at the gravestone.

"You haven't been sleeping well," Dawson kindly chastised. "I can hear you pacing.  I even heard you scream once.  I had nearly entered your room before you stifled it."

"Simple bad dreams.  They will fade in time."

"Something is bothering you."

The detective looked down at the Red Violin.  "What exactly did you see five days ago?"

"I saw a man who died of a sudden hemorrhage," Dawson answered truthfully.  He paused, then asked gently, "What did you see?"

"Something that I didn't expect to see: possible proof of a curse."

Kind brown eyes flew wide as the doctor's jaw dropped.

"You might not have seen it, Dawson, but his little finger brushed the G string while his other fingers were like this."  Basil demonstrated.

Dawson wouldn't have heard the middle C if he wasn't listening for it.  But because Basil had observed that minute detail that horrible day, Basil had heard the tone the doctor hadn't.  "So the violin is cursed?"

"I don't know if that's proof or not, Dawson.  But it is an incredibly large coincidence.  That's what disturbs me."  He shuddered and then gave Dawson a lop-sided smile.  "Perhaps I'm luckier than most."

"Lucky?  If your violin is cursed, how can you count yourself as fortunate?"

"Unlike most people, I know where my death is and can keep an eye on it."[5]

The pair said nothing else as they each contemplated the grave marker before them.

~@~

A few hours later, Basil of Baker Street found himself being led down one of the aisles towards the front row of the concert hall for the last day of the Music Festival.  His two nieces tugged at his arms, each little girl's face glittering with excitement.

"Brynna, may I please see the program?" he asked for the hundredth time.

She deliberately held it just out of his reach.  "Uh uh.  It's a surprise, Sherringford."

Basil had declined any sort of payment from his family.  Dawson had expected that, of course.  However, the doctor had been shocked by Basil's reaction to Jonathan Basil's rather backhanded compliment:

"You did admirable work, my son.  Perhaps there was some wisdom behind your choice of profession."

As soon as Basil had left his father's presence, he had pulled Dawson into an impromptu jig, absolutely elated at this strange bit of praise.  Immediately, Dawson had wanted to march back to the old mouse's study and strike the head of the family, angered at the thought that Basil and his siblings must work so hard for even those bare scraps of approval from their own father.

The group sat down in the very front row of the concert hall, Basil raising both of his eyebrows in anticipation.  Originally, Benson was supposed to have performed the first half of this concert.  Due to the untimely demise of the violinist, Finkelstein's orchestra had borrowed a piece from the Basil family's vast music library and worked like the Devil himself to learn it well enough to perform it.

However, Brynna had refused to let her brother know what piece she had given them.  Plus, she had hidden his violin, a fact that irritated him since he had wanted to play a bit earlier.

The orchestra filed out and took their seats to the applause of the audience.  A moment later, the concertmaster walked out in front of the orchestra, stepping around a lone music stand, and stood before a wide, square platform.  (Due to his height, Finkelstein needed to stand on this box in order to be seen by his entire orchestra.)  He bowed and then stood on top of the box, playing a concert A, the rest of the orchestra responding with their concert A's.

Basil leaned back in his seat, smiling to himself.  That smile changed to a slight frown as he saw the slightly devilish look on his family and Dawson's faces.  They were up to something.

The concertmaster sat down.  A heartbeat later, Finkelstein walked at his normal brisk pace out onto the stage, the entire orchestra standing in respect, every last musician dwarfing the director.  The white-and-gray-furred mouse shook his concertmaster's hand and turned towards the audience.

"Before we begin, you will notice that our violin soloist is not on stage.  That's because, if all went according to plan, he doesn't know he's our soloist yet."  Finkelstein's smile stretched from ear to ear.  "Have no fear, for I have assurances that he will be able to play the part since he was the one who wrote it in the first place.

"Now, I would like to give you a little history behind this piece before I invite up our soloist.  In Dr. Fankhauser's Composition class, there is a required amount of material that the students are supposed to compose, and the final exam is a five-minute instrumental piece for the instrument of their choice.  A few years ago, Dr. Fankhauser went into one of the practice rooms to see this student of ours – now, obviously, former student of ours – sitting at the piano staring at a blank piece of manuscript paper as if hoping it will start writing itself."

Basil's jaw dropped towards the floor.  He turned his head towards his sister, closed his mouth, glared, and hissed, "I'm going to kill you, and it will be totally justified.  Not a court in the land will convict me."

Finkelstein must've seen that for he chuckled and said, "He just figured it out."  The audience snickered as Basil, to Dawson's amusement, turned about three shades of red.  "In any case, Dr. Fankhauser asks him what's wrong, and he says, 'I don't know what to write about.'  So Dr. Fankhauser suggests, 'Tell a story with music.'  So…Well, it's no secret anymore, so I'll just say his name.  So Sherringford Basil sits there for a few minutes thinking, starts tapping a few random keys on the piano, and then seriously gets the work.  About two weeks later, he sets down this twenty-minute[6] long orchestration on Dr. Fankhauser's desk.  Needless to say, he passed."

Obviously on cue, Fankhauser walked onstage with the Red Violin in his hands.  He stood next to his colleague.  "When Basil wrote 'The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra,' he had no idea he was writing it on the same violin that inspired him.  We never played the entire piece through, and it has been sitting in his family's library for the past few years gathering dust.  Tonight, however, it shall finally be played as it should have been heard: in the concert hall."

"Sherringford Basil, if you will please step onto the stage and take your place, we can get started."  Finkelstein motioned to the unclaimed stand.

Shooting his sister a glare, Basil rose and hurried onto the stage, not wanting to force the audience to wait any longer.  He took his beloved violin from Fankhauser and stood in his spot, resting the violin on his shoulder.  Turning slightly towards his former teacher, he awaited Finkelstein's cue.

The concert started softly, gently with, predictably, the violins, Joshua Bell leading them.  Basil waited patiently for his turn to take over the melody.  As time passed, the gentle melody gave way to increasing violence.  Basil attacked the Red Violin's strings, and the famous violin surrendered its perfect sound, screaming in agony, as the rest of the orchestra responded to that violence.  Suddenly, the violence ceased, giving way to the woodwinds' more gentle and mysterious melody.  Then, the violence once more.

Dawson shivered.  How odd.  He could feel it as if Basil were describing the journey of the violin to him in grave detail.  That gentle melody would return for a time, but the violence always returned as well.  No matter where the violin rested, tragedy would eventually strike.

Basil didn't even glance at the music on the stand.  Somehow keeping in time with Finkelstein and the orchestra, he played with his eyes closed.  He threw everything he had into both the slowest and the wildest of notes.

The piece ended suddenly, on the tail of a frantic series of notes.  Finkelstein viciously cut off his orchestra.  Bows halted; not a whisper of air was blown into a brass or woodwind; not a stick hit a drumhead or other percussion instrument.  Each musician froze.

After a few seconds, the tiny white mouse relaxed, as did the rest of his musicians.  The audience exploded with applause.

Finkelstein motioned for his students to stand, and the applause increased as they did so.  The director bowed and then stretched his hand towards his former pupil.

Basil obliged the audience who had started to rise to their feet by tucking the Red Violin under one arm and bowing at the waist.  He turned to look at Finkelstein's current students and gave them a smile.

Finkelstein walked over to him and shook his hand.  Somehow, his voice carried through the applause as he hissed, "An excellent job, Basil, though I must say that you may want to practice a bit more."

Thinking of how much Dawson and Mrs. Judson would appreciate that, he simply gave his former teacher a wry smile.

~@~

The next day, Dawson and Basil loaded themselves onto Tobias's back.  The red-tailed hawk waited patiently as the pair said their goodbyes to Brynna and her daughters, Peabody already having said goodbye and gone to work.

"A pity that you can't stay longer," Brynna said.  Her eyes were truly sad.

Basil gave his sister a gentle smile.  "London and her intriguing problems await, Brynna.  Besides, you wouldn't want me staying long.  My revenge would be guaranteed swift after that stunt you pulled last night."

"Now, Sherringford.  That was the payment you declined for solving our little mystery."

"Hmph."

"Fine.  Sulk then."  As her brother fumbled for a response, she turned to Dawson.  "It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor."

"And I, you, Brynna."  He smiled at her.  "You and the twins take care of yourselves."

"Oh, we will."  The woman leaned over her twin daughters.  "All right, you two, it's time to say 'goodbye.'"

Eloise and Elaine, clearly not wanting to say "farewell" to their favorite uncle and his friend, slowly approached.  The little girl on the left (Elaine?) sniffled.  The girl on the right (Eloise?) held her sister's hand.

"Goodbye, Uncle Basil," the twins finally said as one. "Goodbye, Uncle Dawson."

Dawson's jaw dropped.  "What…?"

Brynna looked as surprised as the doctor while Basil leaned his head back and howled with laughter.

"Welcome to the family, Dawson!" he cackled.

"Basil!"

Thoroughly embarrassed, the middle offspring of Jonathan and Amelia Basil said, "I suppose they…well…adopted you, Doctor."

"Oh, if only Mrs. Judson were here," Basil snickered, absolutely tickled pink about the whole situation. "I wonder.  Would she be added in as an aunt?"

Brynna reached out and lightly struck her brother on the arm.  "Behave yourself."  Looking at Dawson, she ordered, "Don't let him get away with too much.  Give him a centimeter, he'll take a kilometer."[7]

"So I've noticed."

The pair walked away from the family and climbed aboard the hawk, Dawson taking a few extra minutes to get situated.  Waving for a second, they gripped on tightly as Tobias tensed in preparation for lift-off.

"Okay, everybody have everything?  Luggage?  Lab equipment?  Potentially dangerous chemicals?" Tobias asked.

"I'll ignore the last one," Basil stated.

"I think so," Dawson answered Tobias, ignoring Basil's interjection.

"Right.  And a one, and a two, and a – "

"Wait!" Brynna screeched suddenly.

Tobias, about to launch himself into the air with a few powerful wing beats and a strong push off the ground, nearly fell flat on his beak.

Sheepish, Brynna leaned over one of her daughters, who rushed inside the house.  "I forgot to give you something."

"I don't want money, Brynna!" Basil snapped. "And the concert last night was enough!"

"Sherringford, it's not money!"  As soon as the child returned and handed something to her, Brynna expertly tossed the thing to her brother.

It was the flute and piccolo case.

"Just in case you get bored of the violin," Brynna stated.

Dawson glanced at the case.  "I don't know whether to be delighted at the change of pace or moan."

"Be delighted," Basil suggested. "Thank you, Brynna!"

"You're welcome!  Tobias, they're all yours."

"Thank you!" the hawk grumbled. "Now, if there are no further interruptions, let's go!"

The hawk launched himself expertly into the air.  The world dropped beneath them, Brynna and her family becoming smaller and smaller.

Dawson kept one eye on his friend the entire flight home, for Basil would hold the Red Violin's case close.  To drop it from that height would destroy it for sure, yet the doctor wanted to see that instrument in a thousand irreparable pieces.

For if it was cursed, it had skipped Basil, and who knew when and if it would correct that oversight?



[1] There is a mild discrepancy over the instrument Basil plays between the movie and Eve Titus's books.  In the books, Basil plays the violin terribly but plays the flute wonderfully.  In the movie, Basil is seen only playing the violin, and he doesn't seem to be half-bad at it.

[2] This actually happened at Canon Music Camp, but the performer was a cello player/teacher.

[3] Holmes had just come up with the test when Watson met him in A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

[4] Holmes bought his Stradivarius violin from a Jewish pawnbroker for fifty-five shillings.  He actually managed to persuade the pawnbroker to lower the price from the retail price of five hundred guineas.  For the purposes of this story, it was better to have the Red Violin bought at auction.

[5] This is paraphrasing Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn.

[6] Actually, the song is seventeen minutes and thirty-six seconds.

[7] Obviously, a metric conversion of "Give him an inch, he'll take a mile."