What We Have to Fear
Again, same disclaimer.
May 3, 1899
Five and nine. Five and nine. Five and –
I halted at the window, peering round the shade at the noise I had heard, and I saw Lestrade and Gregson emerging from a carriage. Having nothing better to do, and oddly enough feeling lonely with Watson not present, I hurried down the stairs to meet the Yarders.
As I went, the thought struck me – perhaps Watson or I had merely left the mud on the stairs on our way out this morning? The disturbed dust could be merely that – a draught could have disturbed it or I could have in my midnight prowlings.
I let Gregson and Lestrade in and we stood there for a moment talking about the mud on the stairs.
If only I had known the horrible things that were happening two flights up, in Watson's bedroom!
I checked my own footwear by the light of the hall lamp – they were slightly dirty from the morning's excursion but not muddy.
"I'm going to dash up and check Watson's shoes," I told the officials as we reached the hallway outside the sitting room, "I shall be back momentarily. Have a seat, gentlemen."
The two Yarders entered the sitting room as I moved quickly up the stairs, eager to see if the mud had indeed just been a false alarm, and there was naught to worry about.
That hope was soon very violently dashed to pieces as I flung Watson's bedroom door open in enthusiasm, then stopped short as the awful scene inside met my eyes.
I shall never, ever forget it as long as I live.
Even now, I still tremble at the thought – the scenes are burned so vividly into my brain that nothing I can do shall ever dispel them. And I am glad, for perhaps that will make me more careful next time, so that we never have such a close call as this ever again.
As I opened the door, I saw Watson with his back to me, facing down the very man my thoughts had been centred upon the last twenty-four hours. As the door had opened, Moran was bringing the pistol he held up to point it at Watson's heart, and I saw his finger start to tighten on the trigger.
The old tiger-hunter hesitated for just a fraction of a second at my unexpected entrance, and for one moment his malicious, baleful eyes met my own horrified ones.
Then Watson, ever the self-sacrificing man that he is, realized neither of us had a chance and threw himself at the man.
Moran's attention was distracted from me, and as if in slow motion I saw him sight the gun and fire, directly at Watson's heart.
And the next few moments, time seemed to stand still for me. Frozen to the spot, terrified out of my wits, I could do absolutely nothing save helplessly stand there, my eyes on the motionless form of my dearest friend lying on the floor as Moran looked up from Watson's still body and glared at me, murderous triumph in his eyes.
Thank God that Lestrade and Gregson had heard my first shocked outcry when I had first seen Moran and Watson upon my entrance. An instant after Moran had shot Watson, the two of them had rushed up the stairs. Lestrade shoved me out of the line of fire and I heard Gregson shouting something, then the room seemed to be ablaze with explosions.
Then there was a sickening thud as the second body that night hit the floor.
And dead, absolutely dead silence.
I fell to my knees beside Watson's body – too frightened to check for a pulse, too afraid to try for fear that I would be crushed by the truth. I could not see any sign of breathing, and I was scared beyond belief. I knew only too well that Moran was one of the best shots in the world of his day, and this – this had been at point-blank range. He hadn't stood a chance in the world.
I am not much of a praying man, but I was certainly praying then for another chance at this horrible mess I have made of life. All my years I have prided myself on showing no emotion whatsoever – now I wanted desperately just one more chance to do so. Just one.
I nearly had a heart attack when I heard a familiar voice – rather out of breath and hoarse, but familiar nonetheless – speak my name.
Starting violently, I looked up through blurred vision – blast those dim lights! or was it tears? – and saw Watson, looking at me with a strange gaze.
He was alive, at least. How, it was a miracle. One that I was not going to let slip by me.
"Watson? Lie still, old chap. Lestrade, call Sir Leslie Oakshott, immediately!" I said, my shaking voice sharp with intense worry and fear.
"No, Holmes," he said, still gasping slightly.
"Don't try to talk, Watson!"
"Will you keep quiet for a minute?" he asked, his tone one of extreme exasperation. I then began to notice something odd – he was gasping as if out of breath, not as if he were in shock.
He rolled over onto his elbow and drew something from his inside coat pocket with a hand that was scarce steadier than my own.
It was one of his confounded journals, in which he was always writing up some case or other. As I took the book from him, he sat up a little shakily and moved closer to me.
"I'm all right, Holmes," he said quietly, his matter-of-fact voice oddly calming me.
I touched the spot where the bullet had imbedded itself in the leather-backed volume with a hand that might have been palsied, it was still shaking so badly. Then I stuffed the book away into my own pocket, breathing a silent prayer of deep gratitude to the God that was good enough to give me a second chance.
"I shall never again twit you about your scribblings, Watson," I whispered at long last, finally looking him in the eyes for the first time.
His mouth turned upward in a small but shaky grin, and he allowed me to help him to his feet.
He swayed unsteadily, and I caught his arm as he flinched with the pain – he was certainly going to be in a good deal of it from a bruise of that size.
I asked him once more if he was sure he was all right, and he replied with another firm yes, trying to get my fractured nerves to settle down somewhat.
Behind us, I heard Inspector Lestrade clear his throat self-consciously. I colored slightly at the knowledge that I had lost every shred of composure, and in front of two Scotland Yard inspectors, to boot!
Watson again sensed my discomfort and performed the duties of thanking the men for rescuing us from the clutches of that fiend now lying dead on the floor of the bedroom.
Lestrade expressed his gratitude that they had arrived in time. I followed Watson's gaze as he spoke, down to the man lying on the floor, and I felt him shudder with loathing as he looked at the man that had almost killed him.
I tightened my grip on his arm, and he looked at me gratefully, saying nothing.
He has not yet told me of what took place during that interview, those twenty minutes he spent facing Colonel Moran all alone in his little bedroom. And I somehow doubt that he ever will. I can only use my imagination as to what took place, and I rather think I do not wish to know. I shall have nightmares enough over this evening's events.
I am thinking that Watson and I need to get away for a week or two, perhaps somewhere in the country, where we can relax and heal – he physically, and I mentally, from the horrors we were subjected to last night. I shall bring the idea to his attention first thing tomorrow.
This morning, rather, since it is nearly morning now.
As I sit here, writing out my thoughts of this dreadful tale, I can slowly feel the absolute lack of control I had starting to dissipate, and I feel somewhat better now. The main thing I had to fear in this life has now been removed from the world, for good – Moran will never have the chance to harm Watson again. I am beginning to return to my normal self, very slowly.
I look over at my friend, sleeping peacefully now at last, on the couch. He had no desire to sleep in that bedroom tonight, and I full well know why. Someday, perhaps, we shall forget the horrors of the evening.
But for now, I know it to be necessary that I remember these events vividly and poignantly.
Providence has given me another chance at life, life with the only person in the world I actually can name a friend, and I swear before God I shall not take this gift lightly.
Finis! Please review - thanks for reading!