Legal Note: I do not own any of the characters associated with Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean or Treasure Island. I have no legal right to use them or any proprietary words originating from those stories. This story was not done for profit, just fun.
Summary: There is something afoot in Black Hill Cove that needs looking into. The great grandson of the wealthiest treasure hunter in English history must call in Sherlock Holmes to put things right.
A.N. There are a number of people I must thank for helping me with this story. All of them are crew members of the mighty Black Pearl Forum where we sail the seas of imagination looting and plundering our weaselly black guts out. In no particular order I thank Sankage, Belphegor and thebrokenbiscuitcompany for helping me with details outside of my experience. I wish to thank Pirate-on-Fleet-Street for encouraging me to write this. I must thank Nytd not only for her encouragement but also for a loan, the nature of which I can not divulge here without damaging the plot. I owe thanks also to Barbossa's Monkey for challenging me to write this story many, many months ago.
More than anyone else I must thank my beta for translating my American English into British English and giving me some solid and well informed opinions and advice along the way. Thank you damsel-in-stress. Ye be a credit to the crew.
The Case of the Honourable Men
St. James Church
There are many cases I have recorded in my notes and stored in my old, battered tin dispatch box that likely will never see the light of day. The public is not ready for accounts of such cases as the Giant Rat of Sumatra or The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count. There are others. They all rest near the bottom of the box. The notes are complete and the text edited. I think it is best if those several accounts never go to print. They are best locked away and forgotten. I have, on pain of death, sworn to keep silent the events I witnessed during this case. I write this account only in an attempt to exorcize my mind for I find that I can not sleep. I have not been able to sleep well for many nights. For the first time I have been really tempted to indulge in one of those opiates I so often prescribed to my more restless patients. I think I can now understand the craving that my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, had felt so many times. A craving for oblivion. A craving for something to occupy my thoughts and draw them away from memory. From what might have been. What nearly was.
Often I have used the word "singular" to describe an object, an event or a case which Sherlock Holmes and I endeavoured to resolve. It is a word, I think, that is perhaps over used these days. A sort of fad. In this particular instance, however, I believe that it is the only word to use. No case I have been involved with has had the potential for such broad and sweeping catastrophe as the events surrounding what appeared to be a simple burglary. A pilfering of objects with no intrinsic value. Yet possession of those objects cost many men their lives. A singular case, indeed.
It was on the 14th of June, 1896 that we had our first brush with the case. It was a fine Sunday morning and Holmes and I had just settled down to one of Mrs. Hudson's excellent breakfasts when I noted Holmes go still.
"What is it, Holmes?" I asked not worried but curious.
"We are about to have a visitor, Watson," said he with that air I knew so well. I did not question him but I suppose my expression must have changed for he explained, "When I hear a hard driven four wheeler suddenly stop in our street, then the opening of its door but not the closing followed by the rushing steps of a large man crossing the cobbles below our window and those steps cease to rush before our door, I can safely conclude that a visitor is imminent."
As his words ended there came the sound of feet on the stairs and a rapping on our door. At a word from Holmes, Mrs. Hudson poked her head in.
"A constable wishes urgently to see you, Mr. Holmes."
"Of course," Holmes did not quite smile. "Show him in, Mrs. Hudson. By all means."
I glanced with some regret at my plate but I knew that duty must come first.
"Mr. Holmes?" the constable asked as he crossed our threshold slightly out of breath. "Inspector Morgan asks that you and Dr. Watson come with me as soon as may be, sir."
"Morgan?" Holmes blinked in consternation. "Inspector Morgan asks for me? And for the Doctor?"
"He does, sir," said the constable most earnestly. "He instructed me to say 'Please.' if it would help to sway you, sir."
"Morgan says 'Please.', Watson," Holmes mused. I could see him turning things over in his mind. It was the same sort of look he would get when presented with conflicting data and he was attempting to make sense of the facts.
"I have a four wheeler downstairs, sir." The constable's agitation was acute. I did not know this Morgan but I felt sure that the young constable was trapped between the devil and the deep. He could not force Holmes to go with him, yet he could expect nothing good if he returned to this Inspector Morgan without him.
"Watson!" barked Holmes as he rose suddenly and with great energy from his chair already clasping at the sash of his dressing gown. "Inspector Morgan says, 'Please.' We shall be with you shortly, Constable."
Long years of association with Holmes had taught me to be ready in moments and I found myself smiling when I stepped back into our living room just ahead of my friend. We donned our hats and with my medical bag in hand I descended the stairs behind Holmes to emerge onto the already warm street. We crossed to the four wheeler and climbed inside. Our escort took the seat next to the driver and began exhorting the other cabs and carriages to make way at the top of his lungs. I had a flash of memory of a sergeant of the 66th Foot who could be heard above the crackling of rifle fire and the boom of artillery.
"Holmes," I said turning to my friend. "Who is this Morgan? You have never mentioned him and I do not recall having met him."
"Inspector Phineas Morgan," Holmes gave a flicker of a smile and the look in his eyes told me there was a little history between them. "He is the best of the old guard in the Metropolitan Force. Perhaps the last of them, also. I feel certain that he will retire an inspector though he is older even than the chief inspector. He is notable for two things and remarkable for one, Watson. Notable because he has never asked anyone for help and he once told Sir Charles Warren that he was a damned fool for erasing the writing on the wall during the Ripper Murders. He is remarkable for his ability to detect a lie. I have never known the like in any man. Morgan simply knows when he is being lied to. His ability exceeds even my own in that field."
"Sir Charles Warren?" I gasped.
"Indeed, Watson," Holmes nodded with some relish. "I believe Morgan came very close to ending his career then and there. Certainly his rise in the Force ended at that point. I wonder what it is that has caused him to break from his long standing reticence."
I had met Sir Charles Warren when Holmes had been consulted on the Whitechapel murders. Sir Charles had been a distinguished soldier and a more than competent chief commissioner. Holmes had himself remarked, though, that the incident of erasing the writing at the apparent crime scene during such a case was a very serious error. It had lead to a great deal of speculation and confusion. Holmes had felt that all of this could have been avoided had a photograph and measurements been taken before the graffiti had been expunged.
I had little time to ruminate on this matter, however. We had clopped along at a good pace and now turned down Piccadilly toward the old St. James Church. There were a few Bobbies already in sight but I discerned no crime scene even as we rounded the turn onto Church Place. Holmes, for his part, was scanning the area in general, taking in the sights and sounds with those keenly honed senses of his.
"I think I understand Morgan's urgency in seeking our help, Watson," Holmes said as the cab came to a stop near the church.
"Oh?" I said as the constable hopped down and opened our door.
"Mass is in session."
Holmes stepped down from the cab onto the sidewalk. I joined him taking a quick look around. Indeed there were many private carriages with a few hansom cabs among them. It seemed obvious to me now that the Inspector would want to move the investigation along as rapidly as possible with the impending departure of the congregation. The constable led us down a narrow, grassy walk between the church and one of its out buildings. There we found a scaffold erected by a contractor in order to make some repair to the brickwork. At the base of this lay a man in dark clothing surrounded by a trio of uniformed constables and a broad bear of a man who was writing in a small notebook. He was darkly bearded with a lined and scarred face, dark bushy brows and piercing, ice blue eyes. I estimated his age at over sixty. If I had met him in other circumstances I might have taken him for a retired bare knuckles fighter. The man looked up as we neared the corpse.
"I thank you for coming, Mr. Holmes," he said extending a meaty hand to my friend. "Dr. Watson, thank you. I am Inspector Morgan."
I noted as I took his hand that two fingers had been broken at some point and had not healed properly. This did nothing to reduce the strength that was clearly evident in his grip. He did not crush my hand but I am certain he could have done so. There was plenty of brute muscle to this man. His eyes spoke of a fierce countenance and keen intelligence.
"Inspector," Holmes began. "I take it that you believe this man was murdered. I also take it that you wish to collect as much evidence as you are able before the good people of the parish exit the building."
"Just so, Mr. Holmes," Morgan turned back to the corpse. "My normal routine is very time consuming. I know from your work with Lestrade and Gregson that you can see things in an instant that might take me hours to put together."
Holmes did actually smile then, quite graciously.
"What can you tell me of this, Inspector?" he asked indicating the body on the ground.
"He was found this morning by the grounds keeper." Morgan consulted his notebook. "A man named Huff. It was at a quarter to seven. Mr. Huff reported the body to Father Carpenter and we were notified. Father Carpenter said that he would not mention this to the congregation and that he would attempt to stretch things out this morning. We kept out of sight while the congregation arrived. I think that they are unaware of us for now."
Holmes had dropped to his knees next to the body and was examining it without disturbing it. I set my bag down and squatted next to Holmes. The man was lying mostly on his back, twisted at the waist with his legs slightly bent and his arms lying out to either side. I took him to be in his late twenties or early thirties. In life he had had a swarthy complexion. His hair was very short and brown. His chin showed a days growth and his clothing was all dark. His jacket, of a common cut, was buttoned all of the way to his throat with the collar turned up as if to guard against cold. About the man's neck was wound a length of coarse hemp rope at least an inch thick. I observed a wound in his upper right arm, the sleeve soaked completely through down to his elbow. I also noted blood soaking his trouser legs at the backs of his knees. The material there had been sliced through. With my forceps I pushed the cloth of the sleeve open and saw a wound approximately an inch long on the biceps.
"Have you already searched him, Inspector?" Holmes asked picking up the man's hat from where it lay in the grass.
"I examined his pockets," the Inspector told him. "There was nothing in them. Not so much as a scrap of paper or a farthing. You observe there are no rings or any other jewellery. It's possible this is only a robbery."
"But?" Holmes prompted the Inspector. He was still examining the hat. Sniffing it, he ran his finger along the inside and examined the tip with narrowed eyes.
"It feels wrong for that, Mr. Holmes," the Inspector said. "Wrong place. Wrong sort of feel to the wounds. There is more to it than robbery. Just look at the evidence, sir. The rope is cut from that length there, tied to the scaffold. I'm certain of that. He's been stabbed in the arm and it looks like the backs of his knees have been cut. I didn't like to disturb the body until you had a chance to look him over so I don't know how deep any of the wounds are. From the blood on the ground I'd say he was on his feet and moving around a bit, possibly fighting with his assailant, when the wounds were inflicted. I haven't found much sign of his attacker."
"What do you make of it, Watson?" Holmes asked me setting the hat aside. He lifted the dead man's hand and examined it.
"Given the lividity, he's been dead for no less than three hours." I had been examining the condition of the body and was trying to judge how much blood loss there had been. "I do not think that he bled to death. The ligature marks around his throat would indicate he was strangled."
"That's a strange cord to use as a garotte, Doctor," observed Morgan. "Too thick."
"Indeed, Inspector." Holmes lifted the cut end of the rope. "A strange knot for such an attack. I observe that you and your men have not walked around very much."
"Course not," Morgan said scornfully.
Holmes turned a slight smile on the inspector. "Of course not. I meant no offence, Inspector. You noted that the end of this rope was cut and that it came from the length now tied to the scaffold there. Did you also note how clean the cut was?"
The Inspector took the proffered end from Holmes. He snorted and looked to the remaining length.
"Rope was under tension," Morgan said stepping carefully over to the corner of the scaffold. "This piece is wrong."
"Wrong?" I asked.
"The Inspector has hit upon it," Holmes affirmed. "Look up, Watson. What do you see?"
"The scaffold, bricks and a few tools, a tackle block," I said not quite comprehending.
"Of course," growled Morgan. "No rope in the tackle."
"Why would the attacker drag the rope from the tackle?" I wondered aloud.
"Why indeed?" Holmes picked up the bitter end of the rope to display the knot. "In fact, Watson, he would not have been able to. Also, examine the coil of rope 'round the man's neck. Not a noose but certainly a common enough knot for workmen to haul items such as poles from the ground to a platform."
I looked and saw what my friend was talking about. The rope was looped twice around the victim's throat in such a way that it would bind against itself when tension was put on it. Holmes was crawling along the ground near the foot of the scaffold examining the turf carefully.
"I should say that our killer stood approximately where you are, Inspector." Holmes stood and looked the older man in the eye. "Though I observe that you were careful to avoid treading in his steps."
"Mr. Holmes," Morgan growled softly. "I have been at this game a long time. I am not some young pup sniffing around to get my name in the papers. And you will remember, sir, that you are a guest here."
Holmes gave the briefest of nods, said nothing and then turned to scale the scaffold. We watched as he carefully examined the lower platform and then climbed to the top. He again examined the boards and the tools pausing now and again to take a closer look at this item or that. His hand slipped into his pocket and I noted that it was moving with some agitation. Holmes crouched down and went to all fours, looking over the side.
"Inspector," Holmes said. "Would you just throw that rope up to me?"
As the inspector bent to gather in the rope I saw Holmes lift his hand and shove something into his pocket. The Inspector rose again and cast the loose end of the rope up to Holmes who stood and fitted it through the tackle block feeding it down until there was no slack left between the block and the knot where it was tied to the scaffold.
"Yes," he said. "It's easier to see from here. Look, just there near his toes, Inspector. See how the grass has been disturbed? I think our victim was held just high enough that he was unable to support himself flat footed."
"I see," Morgan said. "Now that I look a bit closer, in addition to the blood there are scuff marks and no small amount of dirt in the stitching and creases of the man's shoes. Very good, Mr. Holmes. Very good."
Holmes rejoined us on the ground and extended his cane until it just touched the hanging rope's end. He smiled.
"Our assailant stood just here," Holmes said. "You see the impressions of his boots? A sword cane would certainly have the length and with the tension on the rope a sharp blade could cut it in a single stroke."
"Yes, Holmes," I said. "But why would he stab this man and then cut the backs of the knees?"
"He wanted information, Watson, or something else."
"Tortured him?" Morgan mused. "Right here?"
"A pretty little mystery for you, Inspector," Holmes said.
I had several questions milling around in my mind but I could tell that Holmes was intentionally keeping something to himself. It was perhaps pique at the Inspector's earlier statement. I had known Holmes to withhold information from Lestrade and Gregson on occasion and saw no reason why he would not do so with Morgan. Morgan asked a few more questions but Holmes refused to speculate. He preferred to stand by his adage that theorising without facts causes the facts to be twisted to fit the theory instead of the theory twisting to fit the facts. We bade good luck to the inspector and made for our cab.