Monday, 22 October, 1945
"Not supposed to feel like going into battle, is it?" Reggie asked, meeting his best man's eyes in the mirror. Despite their near-identical uniforms, they were a mismatched pair, Reggie short and broad, his thinning black hair creeping high up off his forehead, and Harold with a thatch of neat dark brown hair that matched his moustache.
"You're making a right mess of yourself," Harold scolded, giving Reggie's shoulder a push to turn him around. A couple of tugs straightened his uniform jacket. "See?"
Reggie's grin was lopsided and nervous. "Right, right. Christ, I still can't believe she said yes. You don't think she's run off, do you?"
"If she did, she's a fool." One more pat, and then Harold stepped back, looking Reggie over. "All squared away, Major Stewart, sir!" he barked, his grin at odds with his crisp military bearing.
Reggie grinned back, thanking God that they'd both lived this long. After so much bloodshed and loss, it was about damned time that something good came into their lives. "Once more unto the breach, eh, Captain Latham?" he asked, nudging his best friend.
They fell into step side-by-side, walking out of the guest suite and down the hall. Harold's grin faded a bit and he bowed his head in thought, hands clasped behind his back. Already plagued by pre-wedding jitters, Reggie's gut twisted even more. He caught Harold by the arm and asked, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Wrong? Oh, nothing." Harold unclasped his hands and rubbed at his chin as he took a deep breath. He continued walking, stopping only when they reached the grand foyer that looked to have been transplanted right out of a proper medieval castle, with a stone-railed balcony running around three sides. The fourth was occupied by a split staircase that ran down from the right and left to meet in the middle at a landing. Another staircase stretched from the landing into the middle of a sea of black and white marble squares, like a giant chessboard. Reggie always thought that suits of armor wouldn't have been out of place there.
"Harold... What aren't you telling me?" Reggie asked worriedly. "The war is ended, and we have a wedding ahead of us. This is a time for celebration, not dark thoughts. Save those for the Front."
Harold rested his hands on the carved stone balustrade and looked across the way. "I'd invite you for drinks tonight," he said, nodding to the trophy room door where they'd whiled away many a quiet evening, "but I suppose your bride will have your full attention. Women are like that, after all."
Reggie chuckled. "I expect so, though I'll probably be able to get away tomorrow night. Or the night after that," he added with a grin and another nudge.
Harold's laugh wasn't quite genuine. There was some unfathomable darkness in his eyes, but when he spoke, his voice was steady and strong. "Let's not take chances with that, then. I am, as you well know, a confirmed bachelor."
"Nonsense! You just haven't met the right woman, that's all. Believe me, when you do, she'll change your life," Reggie said. His grin turned silly and he knew it, but he couldn't help it.
Instead of grinning, Harold shook his head. "I'm quite set in my ways. But Latham Hall should be filled with children, Reggie. I can't rattle around in this old place by myself." He turned and put a hand on Reggie's shoulder, looking down into his eyes. "I want you and your bride to live here, Reggie. After the War. I know your home was destroyed in the bombing, and it'll be years before it's all properly rebuilt. What sort of way is that to start a new family?"
"Harold," Reggie said, awed. "Harold, we couldn't —"
"Actually, you must, unless it's to be pistols at dawn on the great lawn," Harold said, a glint of humor finally returning to his eye. He reached into his uniform jacket, medals flashing as he disturbed the lay of the fabric. From an inside pocket, he pulled a thick sheaf of paper folded in thirds. "I meant to give this to you after, but... well, I'd rather this be private."
"What —" Reggie began, taking the papers. He unfolded them, and his mouth gaped as he skimmed the fine legal print. "My God. Harold..."
"Latham Hall is yours, my friend. The sole caveat is that you allow me to reside here with you, until the end of my days."
Tears stung Reggie's eyes. "Harold..." Overcome, he let out a laugh and pulled Harold into an embrace, pounding his back. "Yes! Here I'd thought marriage would separate us, what with you here in Sussex and me in London."
"Never, old friend," Harold swore, returning the embrace just as fiercely.
Clasping Harold's shoulders one last time, Reggie grinned at his best friend, blurred through tears. "Let's go tell Eleanor together."
"Not supposed to see the bride before the wedding," Harold said, his eyes also glistening. "As your best man, the duty falls to me to see that all the traditions are observed."
"Sod the traditions. We're a family now — all three of us," Reggie said, taking Harold's arm and turning away from the stairs, heading right for the other wing of the house in search of the bride.
Return of greatness? Name cleared as the truth about Scotland Yard's once-reviled consulting detective is revealed
By KATIE CLARK
PUBLISHED: 10:56 GMT, 19 February 2007
Sherlock Holmes, once the darling of the London press, has been restored to greatness. In a press conference this morning at Scotland Yard, Deputy Commissioner Miller formally thanked Holmes for his undercover work in dismantling the criminal enterprise of James Moriarty, known to the public as Richard Brook.
In March of 2004, London was rocked by a series of high-profile crimes, including the break-in at the Tower of London. Holmes was arrested, only to escape police custody after taking his assistant, former RAMC Captain John Watson, as his apparent hostage. Later, the veteran of the Iraq War was accused of being complicit in Holmes' escape, though the charges were dropped in the Scotland Yard corruption scandal that followed.
In the years that followed, Watson further gained some measure of underground fame when graffiti and posters in support of Holmes and Watson appeared throughout London. Sporting such slogans as 'I fight Watson's War' and 'I believe in Sherlock,' the movement gained momentum in major cities throughout the world and across the internet, due in part to Watson's popular blog.
[Click here] for the Watson's War gallery.
It is rumoured that Holmes is considering a defamation lawsuit against Kitty Riley, whose unauthorized story of Holmes' alleged criminal career was a London bestseller for three weeks in August of 2004.
Monday, 22 October 2012
Estate agent Madge Granger walked into the grand foyer, looking up at the architecture with a sense of awe tinged with sadness. The black and white marble chessboard floor was in good enough shape, but the wood trim on the walls was scored, the stonework chipped in places and filthy everywhere from years of subtle accumulation of fireplace soot and dust. It really was a shame that the building had been allowed to fall into decay.
When Mrs. Stewart had contacted the office, Madge had done her homework. Latham Hall wasn't listed as a country house of note. In fact, it was all but unknown in Sussex, something that irked Madge to no end. She made it a point to know her market, and Latham Hall should have been right up there with Petworth, Uppark, and Bateman's. A place like this could have fallen under the National Trust, but it would take far too much money to restore, and a borderline building like Latham Hall wouldn't make the cut — not with public funding, anyway.
Hopefully she could find a rich buyer who'd take it intact. She had a few contacts, though in this economic climate, there seemed to be fewer every year. If not, though, the property would go for a substantial fortune. It'd be a shame to tear down the building to put up condos or tract housing, but that decision was out of Madge's hands.
"I know it's difficult, selling property that's been in the family so long," she said sympathetically, hoping the young woman, late into her pregnancy, wasn't going to burst into tears at the thought of selling the family home.
But the woman just smiled at Madge, saying, "Oh, it hasn't. I mean, it's my husband's family house now, but —" Laughing, she shook her head. Mrs. Sophie Stewart was small and pretty, with honey-toned skin and artificial blond highlights striping her hair. Madge guessed she was about seven months into her pregnancy. "It's all very complicated. I don't even know the story, and we've been married going on three years now. Honestly, I find the house a bit... spooky."
No surprise there. These old houses were full of creaks and cold spots. Madge gave Sophie a quick, unobtrusive once-over, taking in the flushed cheeks and puffing breath, and offered, "If you'd like, I can show myself around. No offence, dear, but you look like you could use a little rest."
Sophie laid a hand on her belly, her smile resigned. "Thanks. I keep telling myself, just a couple more months. If you need anything, I'll be in the kitchen. I'll have a pot of tea waiting, if you'd like?"
"Please." With one more smile, Madge crossed the foyer, deciding to start upstairs. She could understand the young couple's decision to sell. An old house like this would cost a fortune in upkeep — a fortune better spent preparing for a new baby.
She wondered how the Stewart family had come to live in Latham Hall. She'd have to do some more digging when she got back to the office.
The kitchen at Latham Hall was huge and had been modernised in the sixties, which had made cooking a ghastly experience until Sophie had taken charge. She hadn't married into the sort of money worthy of living in a stately home, but that had never been her concern, and she was able to stay within their means. The microwave was essential, as was the coffee machine and the mixer. The bread machine was a luxury that paid back its weight in gold with fresh whole wheat loaves and banana bread muffins on weekends.
She plugged in the kettle and considered a recipe for cinnamon raisin bread. Outside, the leaves were starting to turn on the young trees encroaching on the once beautiful back lawn, now long since gone to weeds and tall grass. She loved the autumn, and she hoped that wherever they ended up living, it would have at least a piece of this kind of beauty. A little backyard, she decided — somewhere she could have a small garden and a couple of shade trees, perhaps a swing, once the baby was old enough.
She was too tired to fuss with starting the bread machine, though, and contented herself with leaning on the counter as she waited for the kettle to boil. Any little activity seemed to steal her breath, these days. Two more months of pregnancy was two months too long. Next time, Ethan could carry the baby, like a seahorse.
"Ellie?" a quavering voice called from the sunny patch by the back door, where an ancient-looking man sat in a powered wheelchair. He was squinting around; these days, his vision didn't reach more than ten feet.
"It's Sophie, Dad. Remember?" Sophie asked apologetically, hurrying to his side as best she could. At ninety-three, his memory was finally going, taking him back to the days before his wife had died. Sophie had never met her, though her portraits were scattered throughout the Hall.
"Sophie," he repeated, looking up at her with once-sharp eyes. Slowly, he smiled. "Sophie, little darling. Ethan's sweetheart."
"That's right, Dad." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Do you want some tea?"
He huffed and beamed up at her. "Brandy, there's a good lass."
"Tea it is," she said agreeably. "Doctor's orders."
"Sod the doctors. Lived longer than every doctor I've ever had, till this last one. He's a child. A quack!"
Laughing, she gave him another affectionate kiss and went to start the tea. She could only pray to be in such good health at his age. The man had the constitution of an ox and the stubborn backbone to match. Of course, that could only get him so far, and much as it broke her heart, it was time for him to live somewhere with proper full-time care.
Ethan wasn't happy about the decision to sell, but they'd gone over the finances backwards and forwards, and there was no way they could afford a baby, Reginald's care, and an old manor that was falling apart. Really, the sale of the house would fix everything, sad as it was to think that they'd leave the place where three generations of Stewarts had grown up. Reginald and Eleanor had been married right here at Latham Hall back during the War, and that tradition had followed right down to her own wedding to Ethan. They would be the last Stewarts to wed here.
Thinking of Ethan reminded her that he should have been home by now. Speed dial one, two rings, and then she sighed as she heard the beep. God, she hated voicemail.
"Ethan? The estate agent's here. I thought you were going to be home by now? Hope you're running late because of some rich client and not traffic again. Love you."
She hung up just as she heard a crash upstairs, thankfully not from the wheelchair where Reginald had fallen back into a doze. Hurriedly unplugging the kettle, Sophie waddled — yes, waddled — to the door and called out, "Madge?"
No answer, except for the violently loud sound of a door slamming shut.
Worry crept through her. What if something had happened? "Madge?" she shouted more loudly as she headed out into the grand foyer, looking up. She didn't want to face those stairs unless she had no choice.
Movement caught her eye at the railing, a flicker of pale light, making her heart jolt. Madge had been wearing a smart navy blue dress, she recalled, but this looked more like a light olive green. Had someone else come inside, perhaps an assistant working with Madge?
And then something hit the stone balustrade, tumbling down, down, limbs flailing, and the body of Madge Granger, estate agent, hit the black and white marble floor in a spreading pool of bright crimson, to the sound of Sophie's screams.