Whispers in the Dark

Chapter twelve

After several years serving as inspector at the London Metropolitan Police, Vole was under the impression that he had lived to see them all: husbands strangling their wives because they burned the meal, wives poisoning their husbands because they snored, best friends quarreling over a peace of cheese (when they owned a cheese shop, mind you) and the list could just go on. But somehow, someway, one certain amateur detective always managed to make him feel like the newest and most incompetent of constables, for Basil was in the habit of constantly surprising him with his… erm, her deductions.

Such an infuriating… civilian! A woman!Bossing him around! Had his father lived to see this day, he'd never let him live with the shame. But he had to accept the fact that were it not for the nosy know-it-all, he might never have reached the title of Chief Inspector. For Basil – as annoying as he-she was, always knew what she was doing and what others should be doing. And what's more – she never hesitated to inform said others about it. Him especially it seemed. And even more so: she was a perfectionist. Everything had to be in check and each move had to be perfectly calculated when dealing with a case. Problem was: he didn't always see the logic behind all these 'perfectly calculated' moves. She was literally leaving him in the dark, and Vole hated that more then anything.

Everything was so mysterious when it came to Basil, every time there was something between the lines, and Vole was constantly surprised (sometimes unpleasantly so) by the result of Basil's meddling. True, the case was always solved, but with what price? That of his honor? That of his reputation? That of his life?

Yes, she had successfully solved many a' cases for him and even was so kind as to let him have all the credit, but on those moments when she was literally taking over the case he didn't know if he should feel insulted, honored, annoyed, pleased of himself or murderous. This time however he certainly felt murderous.

"Had she taken complete leave of her senses?"

"Inspector, lower your voice, please. We're outside the house but I doubt we are out of earshot." Clawes, always the more practical one, reminded his superior in a whisper.

"I can be as loud as I want, thank you very much!" Vole snapped back. "I risk certain death or even demotion coming here, having the best interests in mind, mind you, and what does she do? Makes her own rotten plans behind our back, that's what! Women!"

"Now Inspector –" There was a warning in Clawes' tone just then, but Vole was too preoccupied being mad with Basil to notice.

"I have had it, Clawes! I have had it up to here –" he lifted a hand close to his temple "– with this… this farce! It makes no bloody sense! It's so twisted and tiresome and… and… and… Merde! " He wanted to say more, but for some reason, he couldn't quite figure out what else to say. He opened his mouth a couple of times, hoping the words would come out on their own, but nothing ever did. His brain was completely blank, for once in his entire life was he faced with such a situation.

He looked at Clawes. The lad was politely waiting for him to continue with his rant, a rant Vole no longer knew the purpose of. With a sigh, the short gray mouse turned his back on his subordinate, taking a seat on a nearby exposed tree root.

Vole didn't understand. He didn't understand anything. There were murders that needed to be solved, others that needed to be avoided as well from the looks of things, the only one who could help them was being held prisoner by a rat who apparently didn't die after a fall of Big Ben and now, when he was standing mere feet away from the house where Basil was, he couldn't do anything. Of course, Basil was probably right when she said that having an inside man (or woman) was the right course of action in the long run, especially when – as Basil didn't fail to point out – Ratigan seamed to be involved in all of this. But still, all things considered, Vole still couldn't understand.

Careful not to disturb his superior, Clawes took a seat besides Vole and looked at the house. He didn't speak, didn't look at his superior and didn't make any moves that would bother the other mouse. He dimply stood there, a keeping a silent watch over everything, and Vole was grateful. Yes, Vole was grateful for the silence, and for the understanding the younger man was showing him. How he was blessed with such a man as a partner in this whole fiasco was beyond him, but for that one silver lining in this shit storm they had walked into he was grateful.

Sensing that eyes were on him, Clawes dared to turn to Vole and almost hesitantly, offered him the most honest smile he could give while placing a reassuring hand on the other mouse's shoulder. It will be all-right his gesture said, and Vole smiled.

God bless you lad.

"Thank you Clawes." Vole said when the hand left his shoulder. "And sorry about earlier. I just wished that this whole thing would make more sense."

"I know, sir. A lot cases seem to be like that, I reckon. But don't worry. We always managed to crack them somehow. I don't know why this one would be any different."

"Probably because it is unlike any other case we ever encountered before?"

"Plenty of cases were unlike any others we encountered before." Clawes quickly pointed out. "I believe you remember about your first case with Basil, right? The one concerning those secret plans stolen from a government official was it? (1)"

Vole searched his memory before smiling once more. "Yes, that was our first case together. It was an odd case, I'll say as much, but not that much out of the ordinary. I recon I could have solved it without Bassu's help… today." Clawes chuckled. "Be quiet, you! It's not like Basil never helped you on a case which later proved to be ridiculously simple."

The chucking suddenly stopped. Vole was worried for a moment that he somehow insulted the lad. He knew, after all, Clawes was brilliant, more so then he ever dreamed of being, but not quite as brilliant as Basil. "There's no use in me saying that I try to take after Basil and apply her methods when handling a case, for you know that very well yourself. But still, despite the fact that I know how to use her methods and I do try to apply them as best as I possibly can, it seems that the talent for seeing the truth sticks with Basil. It's like she simply knows, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I even get the thinking that she can look right into your very soul."

Vole grinned. "Oh, I know about that one. It's called woman's intuition." That brought the chuckles back. "But you're right. Basil does have a gift for these things. As hard as it is for my honor to admit it, she does notice things other people don't. Or to use her exact words, I'll say that 'it's her business to know what other people don't'."

Clawes quirked an eyebrow, a knowing smile brightening his face. "Oh, so you do read Dr. Dawson's publications."

"I said nothing of the sort." Vole countered much too quickly. "But getting back to the matter at hand: what are we going to do now?"

That was the question.

For a couple of painful minutes of 'nothing', the inspectors' thinking was suddenly interrupted by a rather annoying buzz coming from Vole's backpack. Rolling his eyes, he turned to open it, not without scolding his subordinate: "Why did you insist on putting this bee in my bag?"

In the bag, they saw Thinker trying desperately to free itself from the scarf Clawes used to restrain it.

"Because I don't have one and the scarf does a poor job on restraining that stinger it's got" Was Clawes' excuse. "And should I remind you that it tried to sting me… twice – and it succeeded… twice."

"Believe me, I heard. But that doesn't explain why you don't just dump the retched creature in a ditch somewhere."

"Vole, you're terrible!" Clawes cried, snatching the bag and bee away from his superior, much to the other's amusement. "Don't worry bee. We aren't going to dump you in no ditch. We just don't want you to hurt us with that there stinger of yours." That being said, Clawes slowly started to free the creature. Vole rolled his eyes.

"Clawes, will you please cease playing with that insect! In case you haven't noticed, this is not the time nor place for it!"

Clawes chose to ignore him. "All right then, bee. I am going to free you now, but I ask you not try to sting us anymore. I assure you, we wish you no harm, nor your master." The last bit was added as an afterthought, but to Vole's surprise, it seamed to have done the trick for the bee immediately stopped struggling. A moment later, it was free of the scarf's hold, and surprisingly enough, made no move to attack them any more. It just puffed for a moment then proceeded by stretching its wings.

"Well I'd be dammed." Vole muttered to himself at the bee's antics.

"Don't be, sir. Remember that this is the bee Mr. Myerricroft Basil sent his sister, and as little as I know that mouse I can vouch that he must have had a reason for it."

Vole thought it over for a moment until the answer simply hit him. "Ah, for protection. Subtle enough for it not to be that eye-catching but not quite subtle enough for Basil not to get the message. Bees are sometimes used as pets. Mr. Myerricroft must have sent it once he heard about the first girl's murder and immediately though about his sister and her habit of constantly poking her nose into certain mysteries. Then, when the other murders came to be, he must have decided that a visit may have been in order." It was a ridiculously simple deduction. But the implications to it all…"But there is one thing I don't quite get: how did he know? I don't think the press had gotten any wind of these incidents yet or I would have already been demoted."

"But Buckingham Palace and Parliament must have." Clawes pointed out. "After the Diamond Jubilee incident, the Prime Minister became a bit paranoid concerning the Queen's safety and wanted for his staff to be up-to-date with all the comings and goings of London. If Mr. Myerricroft is working for the government and I'm thinking he is then it's quite possible for him to have heard. The government has men all over the place."

"Secret service now… Simply beautiful." Vole muttered. "But how did you know that mouse is working for the government? I don't think he mentioned that to me. And don't tell me you somehow deduced it by his cufflinks or by the dirt on his trousers."

"There is that. And I asked while you were unconscious."

Vole wanted to hurt himself.

"Speaking of which, sir, why do you think he decided to send her a bee of all things? Yes, bumblebees are loyal and quite scary at times. Even humans fear them. But still, why a bee?"

Vole snorted. "I would have though that was elementary: to sting old Bassu into remembering her place, of course! Bees are smart enough insects to know when someone's being foolish, and maybe smart enough to tell when to sting anyone willing to drown or strangle Bassu. What did you think?"

"Sir… are you familiar with sign language?" Well now, that was unexpected.

"Well, some basics, maybe. My grandpa was mute after all… What's it with you and sign language all of the sudden?" It may have been his frustration talking, but really now; sometimes he feared that this boy was beginning to think too much like Basil.

"I think the bee is doing it." Tell Vole that Basil was a woman – well, it could be worse; tell him that her brother worked for Parliament – sure, why not; tell him that the bee this mouse sent her knew sign language – you had to be kidding!

"Merde!" Vole cried out. The bee was using sign language! And it was telling him about Basil needing rescuing, about what happened with Ratigan, how this bee was certain that once Ratigan knew Basil was out of her room he would kill her and it couldn't do anything except call for help, how it came back to Baker Street and tried telling them that… how only the Flaversham girl heard it out… how they came… found some spider tracks… tarantula tracks… and how this bee witnessed a strange murder somewhere in THIS PARK! "You have got to be pulling my leg!" Vole cried after translating the bee's message to Claves.

"Sir, this is bad. This is the fourth murder today and it cannot be a coincidence. We need to investigate this before someone finds the body and the whole city will be plunged into panic. And Miss Flaversham is somewhere around here, possibly in there!" he pointed at the house. Clawes put his face in his hands and sighted. "Sir, we need to do something!"

"Shut it! I need to think!" Vole snapped. God, he didn't sign up for this… What would Basil do. "Right now, we need to think things trough. Now, it's still early, and it's Monday, meaning that we won't have to worry about anyone finding the murder scene until later on today. Basil is, for the time being, safe and I think we can rely on her to have some sort of influence over Ratigan if his thugs find the girl. But she needs to be alerted of the situation and she must learn about this new murder. But that would mean getting right back in there…" He puffed. Why didn't he choose a less-stressful career? Like maybe a fire-fighter?

Suddenly, Clawes cried: "I know!" then turned to the bee. "Miss bee, can you be discrete?" The bee nodded. "Thank you. Now, we need you to go back and find Basil and tell her everything you told us. I know that's what you've tried to do when we stopped you, but you must understand that Ratigan must not know of you. If he would, then you'd only create more problems for Basil. So you need to be certain that Ratigan won't see you, especially not around Basil. Do you understand?" Another nod. "See, Vole? One problem solved."

"Yes…" Vole said, lost in thought. "And you also gave me an idea lad." He got up from his seat, took Basil's green scarf from Clawes' hands and with determination, marched over to where the bee was hovering. "Bee, listen. I know Basil can be downright stubborn when she wishes, but this is important. You must deliver her this message from me – me being Vole – along with your report. Now listen closely: we'll play her game but only if when she finds out anything that might be useful, she needs to send us a message trough you back to Baker Street telling us about it. Tell her that this is no time for heroics and that we need to know what she knows. Also, tell her that we are going to give her any information that we managed to get our hands on concerning this case. That would insure her cooperation. You got it so far? Good. Now remember bee – you are our connection. A lot will depend on you from now on, so don't mess it up. Ah, and one more thing: it's best if we hear word from her – again, trough you – every day. If two days pass without us hearing anything, tell her that we'll be back to take her out, no matter what she'll say. You got that? Good. Now get in there, tell her so, and don't get yourself caught! Use the scarf to hide yourself. Remember: nobody needs to know you're here!"

With a most serious salute, the bee took the scarf from Vole and, although burdened by its weight, flew back towards the house. Almost instantly afterwards, a cold, practically artic wind came blowing from the north, making Vole shutter. Snowflakes began to fall again and the inspector joined his subordinate on the exposed roots from the base of the tree. The lad was giving him some odd looks, but he found that he didn't mind.

"Sir –" Clawes started, almost hesitantly "– this must sound like an odd moment to say this, especially when you may be aware of it, but there are times when down at the station some of the inspectors would wonder how you made it to be Chief Inspector. I'm ashamed to say that there were times when I would ask the same…" He wasn't surprised. "But now I know what Basil meant when she called you the Best of the Professionals when some constables were talking behind your back once." …Basil said that? "Because, pardon my language sir, but you were bloody brilliant back there." He was?

"But what did I do?" he asked, genuinely curious. Clawes smiled at him.

"You were being the Chief, that's what you were. I doubt many would be this organized when faced with so many things all at once. You really do deserve to be the boss" Clawes finished with a grin then hopped to his feet to inspect the area better.

He didn't deserve such words, Vole thought. He honestly didn't think that he deserved such words, especially when he felt anything but. He doubted Clawes heard his muttered "Thank you" from there, but he meant it. He really did.

Digging into his inside pocket, he took out the stress pills the Superintendent gave him. Taking one out of their little bag, he was ready to swallow it, when he stopped. There was something that Basil said earlier that puzzled him. 'I don't know who's been feeding you arsen'… It could have been nothing, but it still made him reconsider. The Superintendent was a regular bastard who made everyone's lives a living hell, so why give him stress pills? It was no secret that the mouse was planning to sack him at the slightest mistake, so what was it with this kind gesture?

Vole took the time to examine the pill in his hand, pondering for a moment why he never done so before.

It was a small, white, oval thing, even by mouse standards, but apart from that, it didn't look that unordinary. It looked like your average liver pill, now that he stood to puzzle over it. Sniffing it, he could detect no smell and he remembered that their taste was by no way unusual then any other pill he had ever taken. All in all, it was – from all points of view – just like any other pill. Why then did Basil's words trouble him so?

"Well sir, I don't see hide nor hair of any hostile looking fellow nor any other kind of fellows for that matter, so what say you if we make ourselves useful and see what we can find at the new murder scene?"

"Yes, in a moment… Say, Clawes?" Vole asked. "What do you suppose Basil meant when she said that she didn't knew who was feeding me arsen?"

Clawes looked thoughtful at that for a moment before attempting to brush it off altogether. "I'm sure it's just a figure of speech, sir."

"But what if it isn't?" Taking his eyes off the pill, Vole noticed that Clawes' face suddenly took on a grave expression. "Think about it Clawes. You said so yourself that Basil has an eye for these things. What if she noticed something we didn't?"

"Sir, I beg you to tell me you're joking."

"Clawes, listen! I know what you think I must be losing it, but bear with me for now. Now, as far as I know, you're good at chemistry right?" Clawes nodded numbly. "Good, because here's what we're gonna do: together, we'll go see what we can find at this new crime scene and if it's related somehow with all the rest. If I managed to understand anything that insect said, is that we have big changes to arrive first at the crime scene, and we'd be a pair of complete ninnies if we let this one slip, especially given the circumstances. Now, depending on what we find, we either label it as just another murder in dear old London, completely unrelated to anything that happened in the last few days and the bee was just delusional…or we start to worry. If it's the first, then we go back to the Yard, report, and leave the matter to someone who actually has time to kill. Is Graysone still with us? No matter. But, if it's the second…"

"We curse the heavens?"

"Among other things, but that would be a lovely start." And to top things, he was serious about it.

Several minutes later, they were facing what must have been one of the most gruesome crime scenes they have witnessed in a very long time. Vole was worried for a moment that Clawes would be sick. Hell, he was worried he might get sick. And just so everything would get even better, all clues show that this was indeed another one in the series.

Vole was the one to take the first step towards the scene, not noticing the slight dip on the ground. If he did he might have realized that under the thin veil of snow there was a sheet of freshly frozen water and there was practically no friction on the surface he was stepping on.

That was of course if he had noticed those things. His leg slid from under him and his attempt to regain his balance caused him to fall on his ass that much harder. He grunted his teeth for a couple of seconds before opening his mouth.

"Oh, merde! Castor congelé à un cornichon merde! C'est des conneries!" Vole shouted out with vigor that was in par with the sailors in the seedy harbor pubs. Clawes couldn't help but grin, but he was also worried about his partner's wellbeing so he asked if he was okay.

"Putain de merde!" Was his swift response. He then slid himself over to where Clawes was standing and quickly stood up. He stretched and after it seemed he hadn't fractured anything he dusted himself off and decided to act like nothing had happened. The situation was not right for comedy.

"All right, I guess we cursed the heavens quite enough Clawes. Now what are we gonna do?" Vole asked once they established a perimeter and gathered all the clues they could – which, unfortunately weren't much: just the murder weapon, an discarded wallet and the remains of a hat and overcoat that might lead them to the identity of the killer, a patch of melted snow that must have been the killer and that cursed symbol again, engraved somewhere below the melted snow. He would have missed altogether had Clawes not decided to look for it thanks to ol' Mother Nature.

"Well, we might begin by calling in back-up?" Clawes suggested as he was looking among the girl's belongings. "The girl obviously lived in a bakery judging by the smell of her clothes – the ones not covered in blood, that is."

"And the murderer clearly died by spontaneously combusting… Yes, it's clear that this is the same as the others." Letting out a puff of hot air, Vole stepped away to puzzle over the situation. Clawes soon joined him.

"Should I head back to the Yard and ask for some constables to come help us out?" The suggesting was tempting, but not all that inviting.

"No." Vole said. "Not yet at least. Remember what you said back at Baker Street? The fewer that know about this, the better."

"I was talking about Basil, sir. The fact that London's greatest detective is gone missing is one thing, but to cover up the fact that another murder has taken place and Ratigan – the rat that fell of Big Ben – is the leading suspect in a trail of mysterious murders is a bit much, don't you think? This thing is becoming too big to be covered up. Surely we need to tell the Superintendent at least."

"Normally, I would agree with everything you say, but there's this feeling I have…"

"Feeling?" Clawes repeated when Vole trailed off. His superior was hardly ever had 'feelings', but when he did, even Basil tended to listen. And that gave him reason to worry.

"Never mind. It's just the ravings of a half-mad old mouse you're hearing here" Vole said, trying to brush off the younger mouse's worries. It didn't really help.

"Half-mad or not sir, we still need to do something. And you're still the boss here, so the decision is all yours." Why did he have to remind him?

"Can't you think of something for me? I feel my head's about to crack open! I don't even know where to begin with this! There's this, and there's that and there are so many things that needs considering all at once!"

Clawes decided to help him out. "Basil pointed out an interesting fact now a while ago. Remember? About that symbol? Maybe we can start from there and see where that leads us. Also, we can look up the girl with more care, or the murderers for that matter. There has to be some sort of a connection."

The suggestion wasn't half bad. "You're right Clawes. That is what we should do!"

"But first we still need to announce the Yard, sir. Sooner or later this thing needs to be announced. If word got out that we didn't file this in, losing our jobs would be the least of our worries."

Vole felt a migraine coming. Of course, Clawes was right. That was what they should be doing. But then why did every fiber of his being tell him that was exactly what he should not do? God! He needed to think and for god's sakes! May he be dammed but he wished that Basil was here right now. He'd go and kiss that annoying little creature if she'd be here and do what she did best: take over for him! But Basil wasn't here. She was risking her life and probably his sanity trying to get him inside information on what could be the source of this mess. No, he couldn't be selfish. He had to take care of this. He somehow had to. He had to prove that he wasn't a Chief Inspector for nothing! So, how did he get here? … By listening to Basil of course. But again: Basil was not here, so it was time for the next best thing. Now what would Basil do?

"Clawes, you are familiar with Basil's methods far better then I. Tell me, would she announce the Yard?" Clawes looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Well, honestly, I doubt it." But he didn't quite get where his superior was getting with this.

"Thought so. Now, question number two: who does she trust?"

Clawes couldn't help but laugh. "Nobody sir. Maybe Dr. Dawson and Mrs. Judson and maybe even her brother, but even so, trust may be a pretty big word. She sees everyone as a potential enemy, especially people she doesn't know." But honestly now, what was the use of all these questions?

"Very good. Now tell me one more thing: if you were Basil, what would you do right now?"

"Less talking, more acting."

"Then that is what we must do!" The announcement was so sudden Clawes was at a loss of words. "Don't you see lad? As much as it pains me to admit it, this case is unlike any other we have ever faced before and it's clear that traditional means will be of no help. Now, Basil usually always has to deal with such strange cases and more common than not, she solves them. Therefore, we must constantly think: 'what would Basil do?' and do so."

"But – but that would mean keeping this a secret from the Yard!" Clawes sounded scandalized, not much because of what he was hearing, but because of whom he was hearing it from.

"Exactly. Think about it. These murders didn't start until just recently, and that recently is just when the new Superintendent's reform began. It's too much a coincidence for it to be just a coincidence."

Clawes opened his mouth to say something but then shut it a second later. There was a look of deep puzzlement on his face. "All the murder scenes…" he started, almost disbelieving his own conclusion. "They are all on the paths of all the constables that were dismissed." Vole was merely thinking about the stress the Superintendent was putting on the men, but this sounded like a much more plausible reason for avoiding him and the Yard altogether. A fact Clawes no longer hesitated to voice out. "Sir, I fear that you may be right. The fewer that know of this, the better. But then, what should we do? We can't exactly pretend that we don't know anything. And this lady here…" he motioned towards the body. "We can't leave her here. And even if we do, then somebody is going to find her and report it in. And then you'll have even more problems then before."

"Then we'll just have to make sure that's not the case."

"How?"

Vole hated himself for what he was to suggest right now. Not once, not even once in all his life he believed himself to be capable of thinking such a thing, much less suggesting it… but right now… Oh, to hell with it!

"Look. This is what we'll do: I'll go and alert the Yard that a murder took place in Regent's Park. In the meanwhile, you clean up."

"WHAT?"

"Shush! Jesus lad! It' not like I'm asking you to murder someone!"

"But you're asking me to cover up a murder!"

"You're not covering up any murder. Listen! All you have to do is to get rid of some of the clues that would lead towards our investigation. Cover up the melted snow, get rid of the symbol, hide the wallet, hat and coat upon yourself, plant some false clues, you know better – do anything that would give trouble to anyone other than us. I trust your judgment in the matter. Got that?"

Oh, he indeed got it, but he didn't like it in the slightest. And he was sure to tell Vole that. And then there was something else that bothered him, but he didn't need to tell his superior that right then. After all, Vole did say that he trusted his judgment in the matter.

"Good. Once back-up comes, you excuse yourself from the scene and go back to Baker Street with the evidence you managed to retrieve. Do not, and pay close attention to me now, do not come to the Yard. If anyone asks, say you're shaken, say it's your day off, say anything you may use as an excuse to get out of there. And don't let anyone find out what you've been doing here. Can you manage?"

"I'm sure I can sir." And somehow, he didn't feel that uneasy saying it.

"And once you get to Baker Street, tell Mr. Basil everything that happened. Try and spare Mrs. Judson if you can, but do tell Mr. Flaversham that you know where his daughter is. Still, don't forget your priorities. I'll be with you shortly." He moved to leave, but then he seemed to remember something. He indeed did so and turning on his heels, he took out his bag of pills and handed them to Clawes. "Also, in the meanwhile, check these pills for me. I still feel uneasy after what Basil said about the arsen and I won't trust anyone with the chemical what-you-call-it."

"But sir…" He paused to look at the bag. "Aren't these the ones the Superintendent gave you?"

"The very same." Vole grumbled.

Somehow, Clawes would have been more comfortable if he didn't know that. "Sir, I hope you understand the implications of what you just said." Clawes said in all earnestness. "Arsenic is a very dangerous substance when administered inside the body. Even in small quantities it can lead to liver failure or brain damage or even death if we're talking about a regular consume here. If I do find something in these pills, then we're talking about attempted murder." Vole gave him a look. "Yes sir."

"Good." And with that, he turned on his heels and marched threw the snow towards the Yard, hoping that he was not making a mistake.

"Sir!" Clawes called before he got too far. "Between you and me, I really hope you're being overly paranoid over this."

He paused when he said: "So do I, Clawes. So do I." – and he meant it.

Meanwhile, Thinker found that scarves, no matter how warm they kept you, could be very tricky to handle when you were no bigger then your average bumblebee. Or at least, Thinker thought it was no bigger then your average bumblebee, for it knew that it was certainly ten times dumber then one. How stupid of it to charge the way it did earlier! The rat was so many times bigger and stronger then it was… and he was screaming at Basil, so of course, the first thing it though of doing was to defend her. How stupid of it! It could have gotten her into even more trouble! And then, when that young mouse stopped it, what did it do? It went and stung him – twice – that's what! After he stopped it from making a major fool of itself, no less. And what's more, it knew the mouse. Both him and the gray one that was with him. They must have been there to save Basil, and because of her… But Grey Mouse seemed to have a plan. Yes, he must have, for he certainly looked like he knew what he was doing when he barked all those orders. Thinker merely hoped that it could remember them all.

Thinker also hoped that somehow they could find the Olivia girl. Oh, Thinker knew it was not a good idea to split up and search once they found Basil's room empty. Of course, Thinker tried to voice its protests as good as it could, but of course, the Olivia girl wasn't listening, as per usual.

Fortunately, much like last time, Thinker flew unnoticed by the rat's men and soon enough it reached the double doors where it last saw Basil. After checking to see if it was anyone around, Thinker dived down to take a peak through the key hole. At first, it didn't see anything of interest, but then it spotted Ratigan sitting on a chair, a glass of something in his hand, looking intensely at something Thinker could not see. He appeared lost in though, or at least that's what Thinker thought, so slowly – as if to not make any noise – Thinker turned the handle.

Ratigan jerked out of his thoughts almost instantly. He looked at the door, but he could not see anything amiss. It was still closed and nothing seamed disturbed, so it must have been just his imagination. Shrugging, he got up from his spot and traveled the small distance to the fireplace. From its spot on a beam somewhere close to the ceiling, Thinker watched as the rat placed his now empty glass on the mantle, sighing ever do deeply and then turned to watch something… was that Basil?

"Shh!" Thinker almost jumped out of its stemum at the sound. Hands… erm… wings stopped it from buzzing off its position. "Please don't make any noise, Mr. Bee." Whispered a childish voice in Thinker's sound nerves. "Tha' boss ain't too happy now. 'E and Basil been arguing for the longest of time. Then Basil started coughing hard and tha' boss told 'em to go tha' sleep and tha' shut it or 'e'd feed 'em to Felicia. Me guesses that Basil listened, and 'bout time too. 'E didn't sound too good." Slowly, the wings released Thinker and turning, the bee found itself face to face with a child bat with a cloth covering one of his eyes. The child motioned for Thinker to be quiet and to look. Almost uncertain of its own actions, Thinker chose to listen to the child. After all, it's been listening to the Olivia girl this long.

As it continued to watch, Thinker puzzled over the reason why Basil seamed to be listening to the rat. She didn't seem the listening kind of mouse. But then again, she didn't look like the pretty kind of mouse ether. Sitting there, on a mattress, curled up and shivering slightly, Basil really did look pretty – in Thinker's eyes at least (and it's not like it saw too many mice ether). It was hard to describe the scene in juts words, more so since Thinker did not know many words quite yet, Thinker thought that 'pretty' was indeed the best word it could use. Thinker also wondered why Basil didn't relax her face more. She certainly looked much better like it.

The bee's thoughts were cut short when Ratigan's movements had once again captured its interest. He had put on his coat and cape, but from where he had produced these garments remained a mystery for Thinker. Then he coughed as if he was attempting to clear his voice and took one deep breath. It was an odd spectacle, but Thinker wondered if this was what it meant to act like a gentleman.

Fully dressed now and filled with an air of self-importance, Ratigan strode casually towards the door, pausing just as he approached Basil's sleeping form. He looked at her, a bit too long for Thinker's liking, then bend down ever so slightly, almost as if he was trying to see something that should be there but wasn't – or maybe was it the other way around. A moment later, Thinker saw how Ratigan lifted his paw, left it hover for a moment over Basil then slowly lowered it in an attempt to touch the slightly longer speck of fur on the top of her head. The attempt seamed to remain nothing more then just that, for Ratigan seamed to wake up from whatever spell he was under for he suddenly straightened himself and grumbling some nonsense to himself, walk out of the room, closing the door behind him with a very distinctive bang.

Thinker sighted in relief. With the rat out of the room, it could concentrate better on finding a way to complete its mission. All it had to do now was to fly down and wake the mouse – as gently as Thinker possibly could, one might add. Basil looked so peaceful sleeping down there that Thinker almost didn't have the heart to wake her… Imagine the shot it felt when in less then it took Thinker to blink, Basil was up, and with an agility Thinker doubted any mouse would poses, was at the door, ear pressed to its wood and listening intensely.

"Taking a corner… Left one at that… Down the hall…" Basil muttered to herself. The bat, who up until now stood perfectly silent besides Thinker flew down right next to her and promptly imitated the detective by pressing his own ear to the wood of the door. "Apparently he's heading towards the kitchen." Basil concluded as she pushed herself away from the door.

"How do ya' know that?" the child asked with a frown upon his face. It was clear that he didn't know what he should be hearing.

"It's quite elementary, my dear Midget. The intensity of the sound while trave- Ouf! Thinker, putting the fact that you seem to like to knock the life out of me aside, I honestly don't know if I want to strangle or hug you right now – especially after what you nearly did back there you stupid bee!" Thinker didn't really care. Strange as it sounded, especially given the short time span, Tinker missed the detective, really it did.

"This your bee, Basil?" the child Basil called Midget asked, stepping closer to have a better view of the insect. "Smart one 'e is. Stud up with me and really listened when I's said 'e's to stay quiet."

"One can think of Thinker as a living paradox. It can have both moments of brilliance (for a bee) or those of way of thinking that is less advanced then those of a worm." Basil replied as she finally managed to un-stick Thinker off of her. That task complete, the detective looked ready to ask Thinker something when a particularly harsh cough nearly made her lose her balance. Luckily, she managed to lean on the wooden door before her legs became too weak to support her weight. In the time it took her to regain her breath, Thinker had been buzzing worryingly around her head and Midget even dared to pull on her Inverness cape to prevent her from falling.

"'Tective, ya' don't sound well." Midget practically stated the obvious with that remark, for even Basil could not deny that these coughs were not a good sigh – more so now when they tended to be harsher and lasted longer by each passing minute. It was a wonder she managed to keep her breathing steady for as long as she did when she faked sleeping (only so that psychopathic rat would leave her alone already!) "Maybe ya' should actually listen to tha' boss and lie down. That's what I's do whenever I's sick."

"Maybe later Midget." Clearing her voice to prevent another cough from coming, she accepted the scarf Thinker gave her and tied it around her neck. Though she would never admit it, she still felt terribly cold…

"I still think ya' should lie down." Midget insisted. "Boss must have a reason why 'e told ya to do so."

Basil snorted. "I may be brave, but I'm certainly not dumb enough to sleep with Ratigan in the same room as I. But I would rather not have to test and see if he'd stick to his threats ether. But we'll discuss about old Sewer Rat later. Right now I want to hear what Thinker discussed with our two inspectors."

Thinker did not question how Basil knew that, instead took the remark as its sign to begin her report. As precisely as it could, Thinker narrated all the events that took place since Basil exited her room, pausing only so the detective could regain her breath after another nasty cough. She looked one step close to murderous when Thinker told her about Olivia and deeply troubled upon hearing of yet another murder. After serving a very abridged version of the events to Midget (who just wouldn't stop it with the questions) she limped over to the mantle and with her eyes on the painting above it, began to ponder upon these recent events. The fact that Olivia was somewhere in this house made her terribly uncomfortable, but she couldn't much jump out and search for her with that leg – no matter how well Ratigan mended it (she still couldn't believe it). And she couldn't much count on Midget for this one. For one thing, she was asking too much, and for another, odds were Olivia could frighten the poor boy off.

"'Tective, I don't get it." Midget confessed as he positioned himself by her side. Thinker casually took a seat on her head. It appeared to have taken a liking to it. "What's happenin' 'ere? And why do ya' need ta' know all these things? And what are them inspectors doin'? Weren't they bad guys? I didn' tell tha' boss cuz ya's covered for 'em and I's thought it be a reason for it, but I's not getting it"

Basil sighed. "Midget, as much as I appreciate your help you must know that these affairs are not suitable for one your age." While looking at the picture, an idea suddenly sprang to her mind. She set to build a tower from bits of broken (but not completely so) furniture. "All I can tell you for now is that people are being murdered in London and while I am currently enjoying the company of a renowned murderer, it is my job as a detective to put a stop to them, even if I may –" a cough "– Dash it all! Even if I must abuse of old Sewer Rat's hospitality. Aha!" Tower now done, she slowly – so as to not hurt her leg more – climbed up till she managed to stand on the mantle. Then, taking her magnifying glass out of her cape, proceeded with a detailed examination of the portrait.

If there's anything she learned out of this whole business is that this portrait – or more exactly, this lady – somehow seemed to be the key to this whole mystery. Hmm… Now this was interesting. There appeared to be two layers of paint on this one. One of them was relatively 'fresh' – no more then a few years – and that layer seemed to be most visible among the flowers and clothes that appeared in the picture. As for the face and some… now this paint looked old. Almost too old for it to have been laid on canvas in this lifetime. And the new paint was covering some of it. If she could take a bit of it off with her claw… Why, looky here! The new paint did cover the old one. And apparently, from what little she could see, the image underneath was rather different. Wonder what could Rat-Face be hiding…

"'Tective… I's not think tha' boss will… will… will…" Close to exasperated with the boy, Basil turned to give him a look. To her surprise, both Midget and Thinker (who now say practically unmoving on the boy's cap) looked at her with huge, disbelieving eyes. She didn't quite like those looks.

"What's wrong with you two?"

Thinker shock its head and midget lifted a finger, pointing speechlessly at the painting. Basil looked back at the painting, but couldn't for the life of her figure out what they say to trigger such a reaction. Clearly confused now, she turned back at them and asked again: "What?"

"It's tha' lady sir…" Midget finally managed to voice out. "Tha lady in the picture sir… she… looks just like ya'!"

Were the circumstances not quite so special, she would have laughed, but right now, she was simply confused. She turned her eyes on the portrait again. Maybe there were some small similarities… but no. This was –

She never managed to continue that line of thought, for just then her lungs seamed to cease functioning properly. A horrid cough shocked her body from all ends, the magnifying glass falling from her hand. Midget flew up and tried to pat her back, Thinker was zooming around her head, but all Basil could understand was that the couching just wouldn't stop! Almost like she was chocking… or drowning.


(1) reference to the Sherlock Holmes short-story The Bruce-Partington Plans. Although in that particular story Inspector Lestrade had a rather small role to play, let's just presume that Vole wasn't quite so lucky. Given the fact that the year of that case was 1895 and Basil and Dawson did not meet until 1897 – and that Basil seems to like having someone with her on a case just so she can show off – we can assume that Vole had pretty much taken the good doctor's role as Basil's "side-kick" (but if he asks, I never said that).


Now beta-read by the wonderful Crazy Laughter !You're awesome!


A cliffhanger! Ahh! Gods, I'm evil! And also, sorry: another un-beta-read chapter, but I'll look over it more in the next days (but could NOT miss this update!) Also, no Olivia in this chapter, even if I gave enough clues to suggest that she would be. But never fear! She'll return full force! In the meanwhile things seem to go from bad to worse, and Vole's finally showing off some of his old self again! Wherever his decisions will prove to be good or bad, we will see. And just is it with Ratigan all of the sudden? Could it be that he is finally starting to see beyond Basil's mask?

For the answers to these questions and more, stay toned for the next update!

Reviews are - as always - welcomed and greatly appreciated!