A/N: Here it is, the last chapter. Thanks to all my reviewers who've stuck with the story – especially those I couldn't email responses to like foggy and catnap. Your reviews kept me going.
Holmes was in trouble. I knew he couldn't bring himself to shoot an innocent man, but if he didn't, Cormac was poised and ready to kill him. I assumed Holmes was a perfect shot, but there were three of them arrayed in different directions.
I drew my hand back and threw the gun as hard as I could. It hit its target, the electric light switch by the office door, and all the lights went out at once.
Skirting Cormac and Moran, I ran past Holmes and whispered the word 'fire' to him. Scooping up Erikson, I threw him over my shoulder and heard him yelp in surprise just as Holmes obeyed me and I felt a bullet fly over my head to lodge in the ceiling above.
I was out the door with my burden and racing around the back of the warehouse in an instant. Remembering Moran's snide remark about shoving people off a roof, I gathered the shaken man to my chest and jumped upward, landing on the apex of the building as gently as possible.
With very little time to spare, I leaned in and whispered, "If you want to survive to see your daughter again, you'll stay up here and be quiet until someone fetches you down. I'm terribly sorry about this," I told him and drew my nail sharply into the flesh behind his ear.
Blood began to well up at once. He gasped and bit his lip to keep from crying out.
Cupping it in my hand, I let it pool there then with my other hand I drew a sodden handkerchief out of my pocket and pressed it over the wound.
I took Erikson's hand and pressed it against the wet handkerchief.
"Hold that there. The bleeding should stop soon."
There were no major arteries or veins behind the ear, just blood vessels, but because all head wounds bled profusely, I'd managed to collect enough. It smelled delightful. I stopped breathing, reminding myself of my vow not to taste human blood.
Leaving the dazed man behind, I jumped down from the roof and raced back to the warehouse. I scattered drops of blood in my wake and slipped into the darkened warehouse to drop the last of my handful on the spot where Erikson had been kneeling. The blood splattered into a cluster of droplets on the floor. I hoped it would be enough.
The three Irishmen were in the office searching for a lantern and matches and cursing the electric services of the city of Buffalo.
"I told you, I got him," Holmes said indignantly from the doorway of the office.
Cormac cursed him soundly and told him to shut his trap.
That's when I tapped Holmes on the shoulder.
"Bloodstains on the floor leading outside," I whispered, and retreated to the boxes just as Moran found a tin container of matches and struck one.
It took them five more burned out matches before they located an oil lantern and lit it.
Cormac immediately carried it over to where he'd had Erikson kneeling.
"He's not here," he observed.
"But there's blood! I did get him," Holmes returned smugly.
"Winged isn't the same as dead." The nameless third one said.
"He'll be dead before long. He can't have gone far. I'll find him and finish the job. You go on."
For a moment I thought that Cormac was going to object, then Moran shoved past him.
"Do as you like. Murphy wants the guns, and I'll not keep him waiting."
"Fine," Cormac agreed.
The third one just shrugged and left behind his fellows.
The trucks revved their motors and were off.
I was at Holmes' side in an instant.
To his credit, he didn't start in surprise as I appeared in the lamplight, even though I'd used vampiric speed.
"I see from the water marks on the cement and your somewhat waterlogged appearance that you've disabled the boats," he observed.
"I tied the anchor chains together."
He pursed his lips and then laughed.
"Capital! That should put a crimp in Murphy's plans."
"Er, Holmes," I began.
He quirked an eyebrow at me so I continued.
"I also arranged for police to come to the pier."
I couldn't read the expression on his face so I blundered on.
"Olegson, the night watchman, was still here. I needed to give him something to do."
"Yes, I heard him at the door. I had quite a time of it keeping Cormac between me and Olegson's line of fire."
Holmes shrugged. "Of course. If you hadn't returned I planned to step back to let him get a shot off and 'accidentally' fall onto Donelly, while taking out Cormac and Moran as I fell."
"Donelly?" I asked, thinking of the man whose name I didn't know, the man who'd come with Cormac and Moran to the warehouse moments ago.
"Yes, the mysterious Mr. Donelly who only showed up when the plan was about to come to fruition. Even more interesting, Murphy appears to be afraid of him."
"Who is he?"
"I think he's the link between Murphy and his masters. Just as Murphy is constantly keeping watch on his underlings, so his masters send watchers to keep an eye on him."
I thought of the other man who I'd overheard speaking to Murphy. He'd cast doubt on Michael O'Malley's ability to kill Jenny, and I wondered if he too had been sent to watch Murphy. How many watchers did they employ? The level of mistrust among criminals staggered the imagination.
"Shouldn't we be making our way towards the dock?"
"Ah," Holmes smiled. "You forget, my dear Cullen. I'm supposed to be tracking down a wounded warehouse owner. Besides, I'd rather not be there when the police show up. There's really nowhere to run to on a pier, and I'd just as soon not take a midnight swim as you did. By the way, where is the good Mr. Erikson?"
"Oh!" I realized I was neglecting the poor man. "He's on the roof."
"I think perhaps you'd best retrieve him. I'd like to be away from here when reinforcements arrive. I've arranged for some on the Canadian side, just in case, but while the Buffalo police force is admirable in its own way, they may tend to shoot first before realizing that we are on their side."
"Did you say 'Canadian side'?"
He nodded. "When I overheard that Murphy had arranged for boats with captains familiar with the Canadian shoreline, I knew he planned to cross the lake to Canada so I sent a telegram to one of Mycroft's associates there, asking that he alert the Canadian naval forces to step up their lake patrols. I was counting on you to ruin the weapons, and expecting that the Canadians would take Murphy's forces into custody. I slipped you the note hoping simply that you'd alert the authorities here and that Murphy would be trapped in a pincer movement from land and water. You, however, exceeded my expectations."
What did one say to a compliment from Holmes? I shrugged self deprecatingly.
"Well," Holmes said when it became obvious I wasn't going to respond beyond my embarrassed shrug, "Let the Buffalo police take the credit for taking down Murphy's gang. I only wish I knew more about where in Canada he planned to strike and why. I doubt Murphy will tell us. Now let's be off before 'Altamont' gets caught up in the police dragnet."
Erikson was half unconscious when I pulled him off the roof. It made my task a bit easier. The poor man was still in shock over not being dead. That and blood loss had conspired to cause a fainting spell, and since he was unconscious, Holmes allowed me to run him home.
The poor man hadn't eaten or slept in days due to worry over his daughter, and was unconscious for the entire trip. I deposited him in an unused guestroom in his mansion and left a brief note promising his reunion with his daughter, then left.
Out of curiosity, I detoured and ran down by the docks. It was a confused mess of paddywagons, policemen milling around, and woebegone Irishmen in restraints. There were also several bodies lying under blankets, useless rifles at their sides. My fault? Or theirs for trying to shoot at policemen? I left the conundrum for another time and ran on to my meeting point with Holmes.
He was waiting for me down in the alley by the restaurant. Dawn was nearing, and the lightening sky looked to be sunny.
"I won't be useful to you for long," I told him, gesturing up at the white tinge beginning to suffuse the horizon.
"My dear Cullen, you're always useful, and quite welcome in any capacity."
"I left a note for Erikson, to let him know that Jenny would be back soon."
Holmes made a humming sound. "As to that, it may be best if he and Mrs. Erikson take a sea voyage, with a certain young lady in the cabin next to them who is not registered as Jenny Erikson but under an alias instead. The sea air will likely do Mrs. Erikson a world of good, the presence of her daughter even more so. Murphy's gang thinks that O'Malley killed Jenny. O'Malley is in high standing with them, and if I need someone to vouch for me, he is the perfect choice. My job is not yet done here."
I cocked my head questioningly.
"Murphy's entire gang, save for Donelly, were either captured or killed tonight. Olegson has emerged as the hero of the hour. As the sole remaining member of the gang at large, Donelly will have to contact me to help rebuild Murphy's criminal enterprise. Either that or I may just see if some of those pigeons can help me send a message offering my services to the masterminds. Thwarting Murphy's plan was an unexpected bonus, but I need those pigeons to get in touch with my real goal, the men giving him his orders."
"The pigeons!" I listened, but heard nothing. "Wait here," I told Holmes, and jumped to the rooftop of the building I'd spent so many hours watching.
In the cages, pathetic little mounds of feathers lay silently, some with feet sticking up, others down on their sides, staring with sightless eyes. The rabbits jumped nervously about in their cages. They were fine. The pigeons, on the other hand…
I leapt back off the roof to land in front of Holmes.
"Dead. They're all dead," I told him. "I think it was poison." It had to have been, for there were no wounds. I would've smelled the blood right away.
Holmes took the news well, only a slight tightening of the muscles by his eyes showing what a blow it was to lose his only line of communication to the men he so desperately needed to find.
"There's no sense loitering around here then. Come, let's see what Mycroft's minion was able to discover in Canada."
We took Holmes' automobile to a small hotel in a quiet part of town. The clerk at the front desk held up a telegram when he caught sight of Holmes coming through the front door.
"Here, Sir. This came for you about an hour ago."
Holmes nodded his thanks and took it, drawing it and me aside to a pair of chairs near a grandfather clock. It ticked loudly in the empty space between the chairs. Apart from the clerk, Holmes, and I, no one else was in the lobby.
Sitting quickly, Holmes scanned the missive then looked up, eyes serious.
"It looks as though we've prevented quite a spectacle."
"What does it say?" I asked, nodding to the paper in his hand.
"Are you aware of the current political situation back home?"
"Not really," I admitted. "I read the London Times when I can get my hands on a copy of it, but the news is already out of date when I read it. My work at the hospital keeps me busy."
Holmes nodded his understanding. "Quite. Well, since you've been gone the Liberal Party has gained control of Parliament. Andrew Bonar-Law leads the opposition."
I knew that name. I searched my memory and it came to me. The newspaper Murphy's gang used to cover the window above the restaurant so no one could see into their hideout had mentioned Bonar-Law. As I recalled, the writer of the article held a dim view of Bonar-Law for opposing Irish Home Rule.
"Yes, I've heard of him."
Holmes smiled grimly. "The Conservative party is having a rough time of it. Now that the Labour Party has joined up with the Irish Nationalists promoting Home Rule, they hold the majority. Bonar-Law, as leader of the opposing side, is against Home Rule and must cater to the wishes of Ulster and the other protestant counties in Ireland who do not wish to separate from Britain since we, like they, are protestant as well."
"Ireland has ever been a sore issue," I observed. Irish politics always seemed to be fraught with violence and often justified resentment.
"Bonar-Law is, as you've no doubt surmised, a thorn in the flesh of the Irish Nationalists. He is in Canada now, the guest of Canada's Prime Minister, Robert Borden. Bonar-Law was born in Canada and while he, his sister, and his widowed father now live in the British Isles, his brothers still live in Canada. This morning Andrew Bonar-Law will be visiting the monument to British soldiers killed in the siege of Fort Erie in 1814. He was Murphy's target. Bonar-Law's death at the feet of a monument to British troops' bravery would send the message that opponents of Home Rule are not safe, even in the far reaches of the empire."
"But all those men, all those guns for one man?" It seemed excessive.
"You forget, Cullen. Murphy doesn't think like you. It wouldn't matter who he had to kill in addition to Bonar-Law so long as Bonar Law died. Aside from Bonar-Law, the Prime Minister was sending several underlings, and Bonar-Law's brothers and their families were to attend as well."
I thought of today's visit, a family outing, perhaps with children dashing around exploring the abandoned fort while their parents paid their respects to the soldiers who'd died there. Had Murphy succeeded, it would have been a bloodbath.
"Just so. Bonar-Law will never know how close he came to death, for Murphy will never talk, and Mycroft's men know how to keep a secret as well. Still, it wasn't bad for an evening's work, eh?"
I blinked at Holmes, amazed that he could find humor in the situation.
"But what of you? What of the masterminds behind Murphy's plan?"
Folding the telegram and placing it in his pocket, Holmes sighed.
"I'm back to where I started, waiting for them to notice and acknowledge me. There is something darker, and more sinister afoot than Irish rebels striking out at their enemies. Bonar-Law's death would destabilize the Conservative Party. The Home Rule bill is bound to pass eventually, so apart from its shock value, Bonar-Law's death would neither hinder nor promote Irish Home Rule. No, there's another motive for this crime, but I won't know it until I come face to face with the puppeteers pulling the strings."
Sitting quietly, I searched for an answer.
"Donelly is your only hope, then? Now that there are no birds left to send messages."
"It'll have to be Donelly," Holmes said, his expression turning grim. "He'll find me, or I'll have to find him."
"You'll do it Holmes, I have faith in you."
And I did have faith in him. In the long weeks that followed I returned to my practice in the hospital, shamefacedly accepting the condolences of my coworkers for my mother's supposed demise. My real mother had been gone centuries, but I was touched by their genuine commiseration and support.
Two months later I found a large envelope shoved under the door to my flat when I returned home from work one morning. In it was a copy of a postcard from Sweden addressed to Olegson from Erikson, his wife, and daughter asking him to continue to look after the business in Buffalo for a little while longer while they visited relatives. There was another hand copied postcard addressed to Altamont from Mr. and Mrs. Michael O'Malley from Prince Edward Island in Canada, thanking him for finding Michael a job there. Last of all was a brief handwritten note.
There were five words on it.
"Donnelly found me. Regards, Altamont."
Holmes was on the case again.
A/N: If you really want to know what happened to Holmes after this story, read Arthur Conan Doyle's short story entitled: His Last Bow. You can find it online at the Sherlockian dot net website. On the top left corner of the website's menu there's a link to all the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories that can be found online. It's an excellent resource for anyone wanting a quick Sherlock Holmes mystery fix.