Title: The Clueless Watson (Part 7 and 8)

Author: Jacques Lavalle (The Callum)

Rating: I'd say it's safe. As long as you don't mind men holding hands, some violence, some blood, lots of angst, and a helluva lot of talking.

Words: 6000
Disclaimer: The main characters used in this story are by no means my own. I just take them out of the cabinet, really carefully, use them lovingly and then put them back. All neat and safe, no harm done, no money earned. Holmes and Watson belong to Arthur Conan Doyle, whereas Hassan and Carrigan are original characters and belong entirely to me. There's a copyright on them, so please ask before using them (if you would).

Summary: Strange things are going on at the docks, and Watson remains rather clueless. Last part of the Clueless Watson series, which is herewith FINISHED!

Author's Comment: In contrast to the original Clueless Watson, you will observe that I used the past tense, just like I did in the other Hassan sequels, and also the third person in some sequences. I believe it just came easier once I started to develop this story into a 'real' plot. Please bear in mind whilst reading this that it's my first attempt to actually write a criminal story, a talent with which I do not believe myself endowed, however I chose to give it a try for art's sake. So… I count on your benevolence.

Gratitude: Thanks to sweet Elena_C, the main dialogue between Watson and Holmes was utter fun and is… well, you'll see. ;o) Thanks to dear Daylyn, the story makes much more sense now, including character voices and timeline. Last but certainly not least, timetiger was responsible for the general neatness, including grammar and choice of words: thank you for being one helluva beta reader!

Without the three of you, I wouldn't have dared post this story, anyway.

And now – on to the story!

The Clueless Watson – Part Seven

The body was still warm, in spite of the wet chill of a dreary night at the docks, where thick wisps of fog were emerging from the narrow alleys, drifting along the wharves and over the murky water, turning the boats into bulky mountains that were moving on the water like massive ghosts. The man was lying with his face down in a puddle, the contents of which Hassan Raman could not yet discern. Maybe it was water, maybe his blood, and most probably both. He must have suffered a fatal wound somewhere near an artery, and Raman's skilled fingers sought in vain for a last faint pulse. Raman let go of the body and cursed under his breath: the man had been one of his best workers, this was the second murder in a fortnight, and he had not been in time to prevent it.

When he heard the soft footsteps on the wet pavement, he knew that it was too late to flee. He got up from his crouching position, ready to fight, but the man who approached did not in the least look like a policeman, nor did he seem willing to start a brawl. In fact, he was too well dressed to be even an inspector, and Raman relaxed a bit, while keeping on his guard; it could hardly be a coincidence that he was passing by at this time of night. And if this guy was no copper, what else could he be – but a criminal? Raman's body tensed when the man drew closer, then relaxed once more as he discerned that his probable opponent was half his age and at least a foot smaller.

"Don't you worry," the young man said, lifting his hat casually as a greeting. "I've been watching you, and I know you didn't do it." He looked down at the corpse and shrugged. "Too late, I see. It's a pity, really. And the question remains: Who dunnit?"

Raman frowned at the stranger's accent and took a closer look. He was dressed American style, with a popular kind of hat Hassan had learned to recognize, and he wore a long coat that did not agree with the style of an English gentleman. His accent, however, was not what the Arab knew as American. Hassan wondered from whence the rolling 'r' derived. He once more looked into this strangely dark face that stood up to his own inquiring look with innocent frankness. "You are of Southern origin," Raman stated, with a hint of question in his voice. Hazel eyes met his deep brown ones, and from under the hat peeked a shock of dark hair. A hint of freckles, in spite of the olive skin.

"Yeah, Ballincollig, as far South as you can get," the young man replied gruffly, yet his expression remained calm and friendly. "In Ireland, that is. I'm Irish, but my ancestors came from… other parts. Well done, mister detective, but you can't know everything. And nice to meet you, too." He smiled, revealing a row of even white teeth, and extended a slender gloveless hand. "John Carrigan's the name."

Staying wary, in case he was mistaken, Raman accepted the hand and introduced himself. Carrigan seemed unfazed by the name, yet he inclined his head politely. Then, his body tensed abruptly and he looked at Raman, his expression now recalling that of a falcon. "Hurry up," he said. "The police are coming. Hey, they're getting faster these days. We don't want them to find us here."

Raman did not hesitate. He would have left the scene in any case, as no Scotland Yard man would have believed him. In any event, he was enjoying sharing this situation with Carrigan. Together, they hurried along past the warehouses until they found a deserted one, and after one well-aimed kick by Hassan, they were able to force the dilapidated door open. Shortly after they had closed it behind them, Raman heard the police whistle. He shook his head. "They shout and bustle, but they never find the culprit."

Carrigan nodded gravely. "Yep, that's right. That's why I'm here."

"You are a detective," Raman said.

"Yep," Carrigan answered, grinning broadly. "That's right, sir, employed by the shipping company. Pinkerton's at your service."

Raman frowned. He had heard that name before: one of them had found the first corpse a couple of days ago, and rumour had it they were employees of a big detective firm from overseas. For an instant, the memory of his late colleague flicked past in front of his mind's eye. "He was a good man," he said.

"So you knew him?"

"Yes, he worked with me." Hassan halted and looked at the Irishman. "How come you did not see the culprit? I thought you were watching."

"Well," Carrigan shrugged and smiled. "I was watching you. And now I know you didn't do it."

Raman frowned again. "I know that. You should have been watching the docks instead. What kind of detective are you?" Instead of listening to an answer, he lifted his hand as a call for silence. The police were still there, making a half-hearted attempt to search the grounds. They would not find anything, as it had started to rain once more. "Do all Irishmen have freckles?" he then asked, keeping his voice low and his face straight.

"What?" Carrigan stared at him for a couple of seconds, his eyes gleaming. Then he chuckled and rummaged in his pockets. "Want to share a locofoco?" he said, and when Hassan's face remained politely blank, he waved a half smoked cigar in front of the Arab's face and laughed softly.

*

Watson

Once more, the city was in the clutches of a vile autumnal tempest, with dark clouds turning day into grey night and hunting each other across the skies, the rain relentlessly lashing at the windows, and the storm howling through the streets like the trumpets of Jericho. In short: it had not been a pleasant day to be out and about, and I was happy to be finally back home again, with my hat and coat dripping under the hat-stand, forming a cold puddle as my feet slowly warmed back to life in front of the fireplace.

I had left Holmes alone on the present case, which he intended to follow through as always in spite of the despicable weather. He had assured me that I need not accompany him on this part of the mission. In fact, he had made it rather clear that I would merely be in his way while he spent the night at the docks, lying in wait and observing. Following a surprising new impulse, he had even deigned to add that he did not intend to expose himself to any kind of danger, lest I lurked nearby to save him, and I trusted that his voice was for once without a trace of irony.

What a curious case this was, ranking indeed among the most bizarre in our experience. Holmes had asked me to inspect a corpse, and as always I had dutifully complied. It seemed that one of the dockworkers had been stabbed, and he wanted my opinion, and in particular my professional expertise. Of course I grew tense when I learned about the stabbing, but this time Holmes had hastened to add that he would certainly not have me inspect my dear friend Hassan.

The weapon -- a commonplace flick knife -- had still been stuck in the corpse when it was found. After inspecting them both I told Holmes it seemed that the knife had been extracted after the stabbing, only to be inserted into the same wound sometime later. This struck me as odd, and I was even more puzzled to see that Holmes did not seem surprised by my revelation. He merely nodded and thanked me for my astuteness, and then he told me to go home.

There I was, stretching in front of the fireplace, knowing that it would take more than one night for my clothes to dry, and watching my shoes, stuffed with the latest newspapers, steaming in front of the grate. The wind was rattling the shutters, the fire was crackling, and a good cognac was reheating my entrails; yet my thoughts were elsewhere, with my dear friend, who presently did not have the benefit of a cosy fireplace and a warming drink. I could only hope that he at least had a roof over his head.

Whilst I was sitting there, lost in thoughts while staring into the playing flames, my mind strayed, and I suddenly realized that I was no longer thinking of my dear Holmes. Instead the image of Hassan kept rising in front of my mind's eye. Now in spite of the new developments and uninviting weather, the thought of him filled my heart and soul with an intense, I daresay almost burning desire to see him again. I had to face the truth: I still loved him, and I did not only want to see him, but also to hear his voice and tell him that I did not intend to give him up as a friend, although I had decided to stay with Holmes, and Holmes alone. I also yearned to ascertain that he did not feel too great a pain at my decision, and that he was safe and sound.

Thus, against all the laws of reason, I ripped the soaked paper out of my shoes, then shrugged into my damp coat, and feeling a certain survival instinct in spite of my hurry, I put on my dry spare hat. Then I went out into the storm once more. The wind seemed to drive me on, together with my iron will to see Hassan tonight, no matter at what cost. And so, I came to stand in front of his door some time later, with my face wet and cold, my eyes hot, and my body drenched to the bone, and I surely did not only shiver because of the cold, but also because I dreaded what our conversation would hold.

Hassan opened the door to me before I even knocked; I was hardly surprised at that, as it had happened so often in years past. His perceptiveness could match Holmes' own, and it pained me to be reminded of this now. He leant forward, craning his neck into the street, his eyes flicking left and right as always, then he pulled me inside by my lapels as if he was dragging a wet stray dog into the house. The door closed behind us with a soft thud, and I remained standing in the small entrance way, unsure what to do next.

"Undress," Hassan commanded strictly, and although I would have felt a strong longing for his close and undressed presence only a few weeks ago, this now hit me as strange. When I hesitated, he silently directed his outstretched finger towards the puddle that was already forming around my shoes, and only then did I realize in what a drenched state I was, and I hurried to comply with his order.

"All?" I said while taking off my coat.

"Not necessarily so," he answered. He waited patiently while I shed my dripping outer layers, then gathered the damp lot in his arms and disappeared into an adjacent room. I tiptoed into the main room, trying to get some feeling back into my cold toes and fingers. When Hassan re-emerged, he carried a comfortable caftan, which I donned, trying to display at least an inkling of the composure that I saw in my friend. Then, and only then, I looked around the room, and the arrangement of cushions as well as the contents of a pewter tablet, two half empty tea glasses and the remains of a meal, placed by the fireside made me aware that I was not Hassan's only guest. Whoever had been there before me had either fled upon my arrival, or else was still present, waiting in the other room.

I could feel my ears grow hot, as I once more realized that I seemed to be the only one in my vicinity who dwelt in utter obliviousness – and selfishness besides.

"I should not have come," I said, and heard my voice tremble. I must admit that upon the revelation that someone had replaced me – and after so short a time – there arose not only a number of questions in my mind, but also a highly unwelcome feelings of jealousy. I knew this was the last thing on earth I should allow myself, however, and thus I tried to put on a merry mien and get myself out of this situation without doing further harm.

"Yes, you should not have come," Hassan said, looking up. There was a dark expression in his eyes, which I could not fathom. "And you should be aware that you are being watched."

Forcing a smile, I answered, "I am aware of that. Yet I wanted to come here once more, only to… well, set things straight." I tried to swallow, but my throat seemed too dry. Thus, I added with a slightly croaky voice, "I should have shown some patience, should I not?"

Hassan hesitated, then he approached and put one hand on my shoulder in a brotherly gesture. When he looked at me again, his expression softened to some extent. "My good and impatient Scottish friend," he said quietly. "Good things come to those who wait. You are not responsible for me."

Once more, I started. I must admit that up to that moment, I had not spent any thought on the position to which I had brought myself, nor to its consequences. I was, indeed, behaving like a worried uncle. I had merely followed my innermost convictions, notwithstanding the weather, and only now the voice of reason, once more in the shape of my dear friend Hassan, shook me from my stupor. This time, I felt myself blush deeply. "I do not know what brought me here," I confessed. "But I… I wanted to make sure that you are well, and I wanted to once more state that…"

"You are my friend," he interrupted me. "This is all that needs be said."

I wanted to add something, but he put his finger to my lips, just as he had done so many years ago, to silence me. Back then, this intimate movement would have led to a kiss, and for an instant I was almost waiting for it to come. But instead, Hassan only shook his head in mild reproach and looked away. "Yes," he said. "And I am your friend, and sometimes you are a sentimental fool, John Watson." At that moment, I heard a soft coughing from the adjacent room, and another hot wave crept up my face. Hassan's voice was almost drowned by the rushing of my own blood. "You can stay here until your clothes have stopped dripping," I heard him say. "But then you must leave." He got up and disappeared past a curtain into the other room.

Thus, I was left there on my own, full of remorse, and feeling as superfluous as a goitre. I was standing here, in front of a strange fire, while Hassan was tending to whoever sat in the other room, when all the while I could have stayed at home. The whole enterprise bordered on the ridiculous. And yet, he proved to be a true friend indeed, even under these strained conditions maintaining his nobility and sparing the both of us further embarrassment and the need for lengthy explanations. With a taste of bitterness I once more realized that sometimes my powers of observation were even less than Holmes used to account them. In all probability they were nil.

Sighing, I leant against the chimneypiece, hoping that my clothes would soon stop dripping. I felt utterly lost and longed to be with Holmes. Hassan did not bother to come back to me, alas! he left me alone with my own bad conscience, and I did not even hear a sound from the adjacent room. After half an hour, I silently dressed (my clothes were still wet, but far from the dreadful state in which I had shed them) and crept out of the house without bidding its owner good-bye.

*

The Clueless Watson – Part Eight

Not only was Holmes back home, but he too was sitting in front of the fireplace, and humming a melody. I had hoped to meet him there, and I was relieved to find him in such a good mood. At the same time I felt like a dog that had run off and gone a long way round the city, and now was slinking back to its owner in a state of utter remorse. My dear friend immediately added to my dismay, for he did not only scrutinize me in his usual manner, but he also inhaled deeply, unmistakeably because he wanted to check my bodily odour – a circumstance that led to large amounts of heat forming behind my cheeks.

"Morning, Holmes," I said with a sheepish smile.

"Atrocious night to be up and about, my dear fellow," said Holmes.

I felt that I was blushing more furiously, as even my ears started burning. "Yes." I felt a lump forming in my throat and I tried to fight it by coughing and swallowing, which did not improve matters.

"You've been at Hassan's," said Holmes.

I felt the room commence to spin, and anticipated that my world would start to crumble in the next moment. I had to sit down, and though I surely needed one, I felt too feeble to pour myself a glass of brandy.

Holmes' voice carried to my ears over the rush of my own blood. "Is there anything you need to tell me?"

I realized that his tone of voice was not as chiding as I had expected, but rather of an inquisitive yet friendly quality. After all that we had shared and exchanged, I could not believe that I would get away with an evasive answer. Instead I ought to disclose my most hidden desires, and the embarrassing fact that it was only due to my dear Hassan that nothing crucial had happened between us. Yet to acknowledge anything along these lines was certainly impossible. Thus, I swallowed once more and looked at Holmes meekly, but I had to refrain from giving an answer.

Holmes looked at me again, waiting politely. When I still did not answer his question, he took his time in relighting his pipe, and then turned to look at me again and said, "Well, did you talk to him?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Was it necessary?"

"No."

"Did you want to have intercourse with him?"

"Did I – what?" My heart stopped, and at the same time I felt my face go damp. I had to mop my brow.

"It's a simple enough question," Holmes said.

"I did not!" I exclaimed.

"Ah," he said, turning away from me. "Breakfast?"

I could not believe my ears. However could he take this so lightly? Secretly, I was still waiting for the bubble to burst, and on the other hand his merry air contributed even more to my own bad conscience. Thus I remained utterly silent and morose and waited for things to develop.

"I believe there are fresh mackerels," Homes said. "You are looking a little peaked."

I could hear myself mutter something under my breath. I believe it was "Oh my god," but in my present state, I was not actually able to think even one coherent thought.

"Something wrong with mackerels? Too heavy in the stomach, maybe?" I heard Holmes say, and for the first time this morning there was a slight edge of irony to his voice.

It was all I needed to come to my senses, and almost kicking back the chair into which I had dropped, I jumped up. "This is too much, Holmes!"

"If you don't want mackerels, you only have to say so," Holmes said, the corners of his mouth twitching.

Once more, I could feel my face growing hotter and my cheeks damp, but this time it was from tears of gratefulness. I sat down on the sofa and buried my face in my hands. A moment later, I felt a pair of sinewy arms around me, and Holmes' soft voice near my ear. "There, there, my dear fellow. It can't possibly be this bad. You do not need to tell me anything. I can see you are terribly distraught." I was aware that he used the soothing tones he usually reserved for his clients, but it helped me calm down.

At last, I took a deep breath and blew my nose. "I am dreadfully sorry. But I… I should not have gone there at all. It was not necessary, as you said."

"I know." This time, his tone of voice was rather clipped. "It was dreadful to follow you again out into the rain. On the other hand, you provided a useful alibi."

I should have known, yet this statement came so dryly that I was glad to be able to hide my face in his lapels.

Holmes looked at me, I could literally feel his inquisitive glance sear into my forehead. "You did not, I mean, actually, intend to do anything stupid, did you?"

"What?" I said meekly, but did not dare look up. The whole matter was far too embarrassing.

"Anything…criminal," Holmes said.

I had not been sure where he was heading, but now I found that this was all he really cared about – for now. Maybe this was what Holmes meant by 'sharing'. And if this was the case, it was quite an easy task for me to be honest, just as I had promised myself I would be. Thus, I heaved a sigh of relief. "No, no, I did not," I said.

"I see," Holmes stated, generously overlooking the challenge. "Then, if nothing happened, you have no reason to be ashamed. Conversation, after all, is not punishable, even is it is useless."

"But I am ashamed," I insisted. "I hate myself for making things that complicated." I lifted my hands in the air, even though I immediately remembered that Holmes did not like dramatic gestures.

"Well, Watson," Holmes said. "You will be surprised to realize that you are more complicated than you believe." He smiled for the flash of an instant, then waved away the matter with a flick of his elegant fingers. "Yes, yes, yes. And now, if you're quite finished brow-beating yourself, maybe you will finally consent to taking some breakfast with me."

I could still feel that I should not trust this display of understanding, and for fear of a sudden outburst, I had to make sure that this was it. "Are you not… hurt? Or… furious?" I asked quietly.

"Would you prefer me to be?" Holmes retorted.

"No," I said. "Of course not."

"Then I suggest you take your blessings where you can get them," Holmes said, and this time his tone of voice was unmistakable. It had an ominous undertone which said 'Yes I am angry, and yes I am hurt, but my self control is absolute.' "And I am hungry," he added aloud.

I know that I can be rather dull at times, but this does not mean that I cannot read the signs. Thus, I preferred to say nothing and hope that the entire incident would not leave a bad aftertaste. Holmes lighted his pipe once more, and I finally ventured to eat something and have a cup of tea. After some blissful silence, I thought it was time to pick up another topic. "I inspected that body."

"You mean, the body of the fifth dockworker that was found dead?"

"The fifth," I repeated. "Goodness me, I did not know!" So the body I had inspected was by no means the first one, but the fact that no one had found it necessary to inform me of this trifle did not actually take me by surprise. Once more, a momentary fear washed over me that one of those victims could have been my dear Hassan.

"Oh yes. Somebody's discovering a new hobby." I was glad to hear the Holmes' spirits were already on the upsurge again.

"Well, then one poor chap that I inspected was stabbed twice. So to say," I said, trying to sound ominous, too, and rather proud of my findings.

Holmes, however, did not pay attention to my report. In fact, he seemed to be far away in his thoughts, and he remained standing by the window for a while, staring outside. Then he turned to look at me. "There are altogether too many noses sniffing about," he stated.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing," Holmes said. "I have not enough data yet. But it seems I shall have to have a little talk with your very good friend about a certain habit he is developing."

"But I can assure you that Hassan would never stab anyone. I mean, really, Holmes, you might be slightly annoyed with him, but blaming him for this…"

"You're quite right."

"What?"

"Nevertheless. Mackerels, and then the docks. Are you coming?"

"I wouldn't miss this for the world." And even though I still felt clueless with regard to Holmes' insinuation, I was sincerely looking forward to once more accompanying him on his mission to fight crime. After all, a change of air would do both of us good; moreover, it would distract my troubled mind from the matters that stirred it so, even though I must admit that part of me also wanted to make sure that Hassan was prevented from falling victim to a fateful misunderstanding.

*

Holmes spent the better part of the day rummaging around the docks in search of clues. While he indeed found plenty of them, I was assigned the painful role of believing that his observations were pertinent to the crimes. Some time before dusk he took pity on my growling stomach and allowed us a sparse meal in one of the dockworkers' pubs before setting out once more to chase the enemy. More than once while we strolled through the numerous alleys around the docks, I caught myself hoping to stumble across my good friend Hassan, if only to see that he was safe and sound, or else to persuade Holmes by his sheer noble presence that he was not the culprit.

When night fell, Holmes convinced me to retreat with him to a tool shed in an empty warehouse, for he was more than sure that another murder would take place that very night, and that it would happen somewhere near this very warehouse. I, of course, had no clue what had convinced him to choose this warehouse in particular. I did notice the cigar ends on the floor, but as I knew that Holmes on rare occasions smoked cigars, I could not tell whether he had been here before.

The hours passed by slowly, as is usual when you are waiting for something to happen. It always reminds me of lying in the trench, waiting for the others to attack. The minutes seem to lengthen, the noise of your own breath appears obscenely loud, and the cold creeps into your clothes as if death's bony fingers are already closing around you. And then – a sound aroused us from our wary wait: the groaning of a man.

Holmes, who seemed never to tire, was already hurrying towards the door, while I hastened to follow him. When we rushed around the next corner, we saw a man lying on the damp floor, with a knife sticking out of his chest.

"Dear God," I exclaimed, hasting to kneel down by his side in order to help him. But while I struggled to hold his head, I could already see that I was too late.

"Stay with him," Holmes hissed, standing over us like a hawk. "The murderer is still here." And with this, he went off to pursue what I presume was a fresh trail.

I felt the victim's hand go limp in mine, while he exhaled his last breath. When I lifted my head to look after Holmes, I saw a tall man extricate himself from the shadows behind him. The soft beam of a street lantern reflected off something in his hand, and to my horror I realized that he was holding a knife.

"Holmes!" I shouted, but my dear friend had already turned to face his pursuer, and they immediately united in what I believed to be a fatal struggle.

And then I could hear another voice – familiar, loved, and presently rather strained: the voice of Hassan. "For heaven's sake, stop fighting, man, I am not the culprit," he shouted while trying to keep Holmes from disarming him. I daresay that even though I know Hassan is a formidable fighter, he would have lost the fight this time, were it not for his words. The effect was astounding: Holmes immediately halted in his tracks, and next the knife fell to the floor with a clatter. For one precious moment, it looked as if the two men I loved were embracing.

Subsequently things happened in a rush. While I was still crouching by the dead man's side, I watched my two friends standing there, coming to their senses again, when a sharp bang ripped through the silence. A fresh wave of horror washed over me when I realized that my dear Hassan was not standing upright any more, but rather sagging in Holmes' arms, obviously hit by a shot. This time, I did not falter, but hurried to my friend's side.

Holmes avoided my eyes when he handed Hassan over to me. "Take care of him," he said while taking out his police whistle. And then he was gone in the fog. The things that ensued did not reach my troubled mind, apart from a vague awareness of some struggling and running going on behind us. I took it for granted that Holmes had spotted the real wrongdoer and was pursuing him, and within a couple of minutes the police had come to his aid. But all the while, I had eyes only for Hassan, who had been shot in the back, and whose dark and sensual eyes were for once not looking at me, but staring into nothingness. I could still feel his pulse, but it was weak. I cannot say what I felt, as I believe I did not feel anything, right then and there. My mind was as blank as it could ever be, with only one thought persisting: I must save him.

They said, afterwards, that they were hardly able to move Hassan, as I was holding his hand as if my very life depended on it. They told me that they brought us to St. Mary's, even though I cannot recall moving my limbs. What I do remember, though, was the operation, which I performed myself, as I would not allow anyone else to touch him. I do not tell of this without shame, but the fact is that, after what seemed like hours of working on Hassan's wound, I managed to extricate the bullet from his body, and be it by sheer luck or divine providence he survived.

They also told me that I fainted after closing the wound, but all of this seems like a dream to me. I only came to many hours later, and found myself lying on a hospital bed next to my good friend Hassan, and Holmes and someone else were watching me. It seemed that I was still holding Hassan's hand, or else must have seized it once more immediately after coming to from my stupor. But then, when my senses came back to me, I realized that it was Holmes' slender and incomparably white fingers intertwined with mine, and with an ever so slight pang of guilt I also grew aware that I was relieved about this circumstance.

"Now Holmes," I said, "you must enlighten me. I am pretty sure that you knew what was going on long before anyone else even had a clue." My voice still sounded rather hoarse, but my mind was working perfectly well, and thus I was also well aware of the insinuation I secretly made. The private joke did not escape Holmes, either, and a glitter in his eye confirmed that he shared my amusement. But then his expression changed, as he was about to tell us about the mystery he, once more, had solved.

"I knew that it was not our good Mr Raman after I saw the first corpse," he said. And before I could exclaim anything, he added, "Why, Watson, this is ridiculous. You, of all people, should have known that he is left-handed, and that the wound you inspected could not possibly be caused by him in any case, as he is also about a head taller than the assailed." His eyes flicked to me for an instant. "Ah, I see that once more you were drawn to speculations rather than observing the facts at hand."

He paused and looked across my bed to the gentleman standing to my right, closer to Hassan's bed. "I presume you knew, Mr Carrigan," he said, and the addressed chuckled as an answer, which I took as a yes. "Well then," Holmes continued. "After this revelation it took me a couple of days to find out that there had been some discrepancies regarding the book-keeping of the shipping company. As you will recall, all the slain dockworkers had been working for the same company. You did not realize? Watson, I am worried about your powers of perception, really."

"I did," Carrigan said. His voice sounded at the same time friendly and keen, and distinctly Irish. "It was the Trevor Shipping Company that sent me, so that's the easy part. What still takes me by surprise, Holmes, is how you found out that it was Mr Trevor himself who committed the murders."

I could but look from one detective to the other (as I was by now convinced that Mr Carrigan was exactly that). Holmes inclined his head without a trace of irony and went on. "Believe me, it was no easy task, and I had the advantage of playing at home. Some bribery and some generous imbibing while appropriately disguised was necessary to get the information I needed: Mr Trevor did not deal with exotic animals only, but also with weapons; weapons that existed nowhere in his books. Some of the workers had come behind this discreditable fact, and they were planning to turn him over to the law. Probably blackmail was also involved. But Mr Trevor was too clever for that. He intended to stir up the dockworkers' animosity against each other by making it look as if the culprit was one of them, and he almost succeeded."

There was silence after Holmes had finished speaking, then Hassan's dark voice rang out, still feeble, yet carrying the pride of a warrior. "I never believed that."

Our heads turned towards him, and to my joy I found him sitting up in bed, pale but definitely out of danger. I also saw something else, with rather mixed feelings. The young detective Holmes had addressed as Carrigan seemed to be unusually merry about my good friend's recovery. He had even taken Hassan's hand. I felt Holmes' fingers close around mine, as if to remind me of my place. My eyes met Hassan's, and he smiled. Then he turned away and addressed Carrigan, all the while holding the young man's hand as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"I would die for a locofoco," Hassan said. I take it this was a private joke, but when the two of them laughed heartily, I could but join in.

THE END