The Adventure of the Undead Detective
Author’s Note: Thanks very much to my Beta on this, Cordyfan. The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. Speech:
“Who’s on first.” Thought:
*What’s on second.
#I-don’t-know’s on third.# I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Sherlock Holmes. Chapter 2 The adventure of the undead detective London 1888
On the morning after closing the case of the Idol of the Eagles, as Holmes and I sat at breakfast, we came to discussing our recent adventure beyond the immediate facts, something Holmes rarely indulged in.
“Was this the first case of such a nature that you've dealt with, Holmes?” I asked. “You did not seem much surprised by the truth of the matter.
Holmes had been late arising and was yet filling his pipe with the remnants of his pipes of the day before. (A vile and pernicious habit that I had tried to dissuade him from). Having filled his pipe to his satisfaction, he lit it and leaned back, sipping a cup of strong coffee.
“I was not surprised, no. I had encountered such things earlier, and much though I would prefer to ignore it, several of my cases were not resolved to my satisfaction due to the interference of the supernatural. Most of humanity may pay lip service to the existence of the supernatural, actually encountering it will send them into a fair panic,” Holmes puffed his pipe.
“Because unlike science, it cannot be understood or controlled. We seek contact with the spirits of the dead, but if we encounter them, panic strikes us,” Holmes placed a hand on the table. “We like it as long as it is contained in our drawing rooms and the gossip of old ladies in boarding homes, Watson. But to meet a true spirit, real evidence of such matters, is frightening.”
Mrs Hudson came in, bearing a salver on which lay a letter that she held out to Holmes, who took it with a slightly raised eyebrow at the formality. He slid it open with the back of the butter knife, extracted the contents and read them. He lowered the single sheet of paper and frowned at Watson.
“My brother wishes to see us. He shall be at the Diogenes Club at his usual time.”
“That is strange. I assume he has a case?” I asked.
Holmes handed the sheet over. I read it. Dear Sherlock, A matter has arisen that requires your talents and discretion. Come see me at the Diogenes. Bring Dr Watson. Mycroft
“Highly informative,” I said rather dryly.
“Yes, it is, I agree,” Holmes replied absently.
“It is?” my voice must have reflected my disbelief, for Holmes deigned to explain.
“If this were a trifling case that might interest me purely for its peculiarity, he would have written that it might amuse me. If it was of only passing importance, he would have written it might interest me. As it requires my talents and discretion, we shall no doubt be confronted by a problem that might shake the Empire to its foundations. As he asked me to bring you, there is either a need of a man of great loyalty and discretion and courage, or that of a man with those qualities and a knowledge of medicine and biology greater than my own.”
I felt rather pleased at the compliment, then realised the possible gravity of the situation. “When shall we go?”
“As soon as we can reasonably expect Mycroft to be there when we arrive,” Holmes said, his face pensive.
We arrived at the Diogenes club in good time. Holmes had chosen to walk there, the exercise sometimes being beneficial to his thinking. He looked up at the Georgian façade and then mounted the steps to the doors. We were shown into the Strangers’ Room and the servant then left to fetch Mycroft.
He was looking pale and strained and sat down opposite us in the big armchair. “We will not be disturbed.”
Holmes steepled his fingers. “Ah.”
Mycroft sighed and rubbed his high forehead with a large lawn handkerchief. “Several years ago, a brilliant young scientist approached us with a plan to use certain parts of animals to enhance certain human faculties.”
I made a noise of disapproval.
Mycroft waved a hand. “We were looking at healing factors from certain reptiles to re-grow lost limbs or fingers, transplanting parts of animals to replace those lost in accidents, and I admit, on the battlefield. We weren’t interested in old men who wanted to relive their misspent youths.”
“All seemed to be going wonderfully, the test results we were shown were full of great promise.” He sighed again. “And then we found out that the wonderful results were not due to genius and the compatibility of animals and humans.”
“What happened?” Holmes asked.
“We had installed the scientist on one of the Scilly Islands. That was what saved us all. The distance was too great for the creatures to swim.”
“Creatures?” I asked. “What was he doing?”
“He took the corpses from shipwrecks, and we fear he caused several. And he grafted them with… with demonic beings,” Mycroft said with a shudder. “His creations finally destroyed him, and the Navy shelled the island and we landed troops, all the while pretending it was a major exercise.”
“Merciful God,” I whispered.
Mycroft shook his head. “Not on the poor souls that Moreau experimented on, he wasn’t.”
“It sound as if all this happened some time ago, Mycroft. Why am I here?” Holmes asked. His face was a trifle more pale than usual, but other than that, he showed no sign of agitation.
“It was quite some time ago. I had just joined the Ministry and knew little about it, though I read about it later, to make sure nothing like it happened again,” Mycroft shook his head. “I should have read more thoroughly. After the whole debacle the laboratories were razed, the houses on the island burned, and then a small fort was constructed with a garrison. And a few years later a group that fights against vampires and other demons requested permission to explore the ruins, to see if anything of danger remained. It was granted. And a report was written by the garrison commander on how a small schooner was loaded with books and notes. Regrettably the commander died before he could affirm his report orally.”
“Notes? Of those abominations?” I said, aghast.
Holmes had grown slightly paler. “They’ve begun again?”
Mycroft shook his head. “Most of the books and notes are not related to the experiments. The Council made very sure about that and since there were some rare volumes they could use, they also took them. But there were three notebooks that contained the basis of Moreau’s experiments… And two of them were reported stolen yesterday.”
“And you need me to find them,” Holmes noted. “What is this Council?”
“The Council of Watchers. They strive to destroy demons who threaten humans. There is a cab waiting outside to take you to their headquarters, if you wish. It will be at your disposal during the duration of the investigation at any rate. The driver is highly trustworthy. ” Mycroft answered. “They are just as worried about this as we are, the notes should have been destroyed, but…” he shrugged helplessly.
“But the desire for forbidden knowledge was too great,” I said heavily.
“That is what they say,” Holmes was frowning. “Mycroft, if there is anything supernatural involved in this I may need help. And for obvious reasons I can’t use this Council of Watchers.”
Mycroft looked rather uncomfortable. “Ah. Yes. Ummm…”
I had never seen a Holmes uncertain about anything. Now I saw two. Holmes was watching his brother with something akin to horror on his face. “Mycroft!”
“You will be able to call on assistance from Mr Pratt.”
Holmes groaned uncharacteristically.
Holmes had read through a short brief that Mycroft had prepared and then he spent the rest of the short journey looking out of the window of the closed cab.
The Watchers' Council was domiciled in a large imposing building, three stories high and with a small cupola set well back from the street. It had clearly been constructed shortly after the Great Fire and reminded me strongly of the works of Sir Christopher Wren.
I had passed by it on occasion and wondered what was housed in it. The small, discreet brass plaque by the door merely stated 'The Argos Club,' with no additional information being available. Indeed, no members of the club were listed in any periodical, nor had the name ever been mentioned in obituaries. And yet it seemed to have a bustling membership, judging by the worn steps and the three men who entered just before we did.
Holmes seemed to shake off his lassitude and descended from the cab and energetically ascended the steps, firmly raising and lowering the large brass knocker against the hardened wood three times.
The door was opened by a large and imposing looking servant, who stood looking at us in silence.
“Good afternoon,” Holmes stated crisply. “This is Dr Watson, I am Sherlock Holmes. We are here to see Sir John Woking, chairman of this institution, by appointment.”
The servant did not say a word, merely closed the door in our face and withdrew.
“Charming fellow,” Holmes muttered. “We shall give him three minutes by my watch to open this door again and let us in, before we take different steps.”
He took his watch out and looked at it as we stood waiting in silence. Just as he was snapping closed the cover, the door opened and the doorman appeared once more.
“Sir John will see you now,” he said in a deep, yet curiously flat voice.
Holmes merely nodded and handed the young attendant who stepped from the cloakroom his hat, coat and stick. I did the same. The hall beyond was spacious and elegant, panelled and with a vaulted ceiling. There was a large marble staircase that traversed all the stories and was topped by the cupola.
The doorman led us to the back, through a large, well-appointed library, past a room full of clerks industriously writing and copying, some of the texts being in languages I had never seen, then into what looked like a large formal dining room with thirteen chairs around it and an equal number set around the walls.
Then he opened a large, heavy door and stepped inside. “Mr Holmes, Dr Watson,” let us in and left.
Sir John Woking was a tall, bluff, broad man with a distinguished forehead and a heavy, hooked nose over thick, yet firm lips. His eyes were very pale blue and he regarded us through heavy lensed spectacles, as if we were interesting insects brought to him for study.
There were dignified portraits in the room, clearly of his predecessors, and the French doors looked out over, and gave access to, as fine a garden as I have ever seen in London.
Sir John rose extending his hand. “Gentlemen, you asked to see me,” he stated urbanely.
Holmes shook his hand, as did I and we sat at his gesture. “We were asked by Her Majesty's Government to look into the disappearance of two volumes of notes from your archives.”
Sir John pursed his lips. “Ah, yes, the Moreau affair. Most distressing.”
“Do you know the contents of the notebooks, sir?” Holmes asked.
Sir John shook his head. “Only in the most general of fashion. I took the liberty of having the relevant part of the index transcribed and brought here.”
“That is very kind. I can look at the original later,” Holmes said as he accepted the sheet of foolscap, read it attentively and then handed it to me.
“That, I fear, is impossible,” Sir John shook his head.
“I'm sure that an exception can be made, due to the seriousness of the affair,” Holmes stated dryly.
Sir John pursed his lips. “Let me qualify my remark. It is currently impossible for you to see the original.”
Holmes folded his hands. “Why don't you tell me why this is so, Sir John.”
Sir John frowned slightly. “Let me sketch for you our security measures, I hope that shall make you understand.”
He drew a sheet of foolscap towards him and with firm lines drew upon it in pencil.
“This building was designed to house the Council and its collection of rare and dangerous tomes. It has to be protected from magical and demonic forces and these defences were incorporated into the structure itself. The building is magically warded and all the servants and most of the members are able to deal with intruders.”
“Most?” Holmes asked mildly.
“Some are rather old, though you would be amazed at what some of them can still do,” Sir John explained. “Some of the servants are dedicated guards, on duty to prevent ingress and to protect the membership and the library. There are but two doors, the side door for deliveries and the front door. There is one gate in the wall around the garden,” He marked each on the plan. “They are all guarded at all times and locked and bolted, they have two locks, each of which has a separate key held by the butler and the chief guard.”
“I see,” Holmes nodded.
“Now the outer wards allow for some flexibility. After all, occasionally non-members must be able to enter. The basement has two levels, accessed by a staircase next to the kitchens. The main archive and the library are located forty feet below those and are accessible only by a single staircase that is constantly guarded, day and night, by one man at the top and one at the bottom. There are doors at top and bottom that can only be opened by a key held by the guards and by the Librarians, again, two keys for each door.”
Holmes' brows rose. “Fairly impressive security.”
Sir John nodded his agreement. “It is. But the reason you cannot go in there is that only sworn members can enter the library, and are not due to these simple precautions, but due to the spells and wards upon it. To remove a book from beyond the study rooms requires the agreement of three Librarians. There are five Librarians, including the Chief Archivist.”
“The books being copied?” I asked.
“All signed out by three Librarians, every morning, and checked and signed in each evening,” Sir John said solemnly. “You have to realise that there are books held here the power of which might corrupt the purest mind and do as much damage as a cannonade by the entire Home Fleet.”
Holmes brows rose. “Really?”
Sir John nodded. “And before you say, 'Why do you not destroy them?' In many cases we have tried and failed, often at great cost. When we succeed, it tends to come at great cost as well.”
“But these notebooks surely did not carry such horrendous protections and ought to have been destroyed?” Holmes asked.
Sir John nodded. “They should have been. But the Chief Archivist at the time was enamoured by the notion of science being used to combat our ancient enemies, and he convinced the Council that they ought to be kept. I was a member of that Council and I was swayed by his arguments myself. We instructed that if the books held no applicable knowledge useful for the destruction of demons, they ought to be destroyed forthwith.”
“But that did not happen?” Holmes said softly.
“No. We heard no further developments and assumed they had been destroyed, but we did not in fact made sure they were. That makes us as guilty of what may occur as the one who took them,” Sir John said heavily.
Holmes nodded in understanding. “And what if I wish to become a member?”
Sir John smiled. “I cannot say that the idea does not appeal to me, Mr Holmes. You would indeed be an asset to this organisation. But the problem is that the training associated with the membership is long and arduous. Each one includes an 'introduction' if you will, to a certain ward. The wards accept only a limited number of people each year and each ward takes time to 'settle' into a person's aura.”
“You say person, not man,” Holmes noted. “You have female members?”
Sir John nodded. “Indeed we do. Some of our most notable members have been and are women. In some places, a single woman can learn more than a hundred men.”
Holmes pursed his lips. “True, true. How long would this settling take?”
Sir John placed his hands on the table. “Two years, for minimum safety. We prefer three to five, depending on the willpower and magical strength of the initiate.”
“That long? What if the period is shortened?” Holmes asked.
“There have been no recent experiments with this, you understand. Most of this knowledge came about through regrettable accidents, though after the Glorious Revolution, King William tried to place one of his own people as chairman and had him initiated in the space of three months. He mercifully died after a few years,” Sir John gave Holmes a significant look. “He died a howling, drooling, gibbering madman, aged far beyond his time.”
“That does not sound like a fate I would like to share,” Holmes admitted. “Yet how were the books taken?”
Sir John sighed. “Mr Holmes, I cannot tell you. I wish I could. According to what we know thus far, they were signed out two weeks ago, by three of our Librarians. Chief archivist Sir Archibald Sumter, Mrs Edwina Kane-Lorrington and Mr Rutherford Wyndam-Pryce, on behalf of one of our members.”
“Ah, which member?” Holmes asked.
Sir John pushed another page across the table for his perusal. “Me.”
Holmes nodded thoughtfully. “Yet I take it from your expression you did not, as a matter of fact, ask for this book?”
Sir John nodded heavily. “Nor do any of the three Librarians remember signing for it. It is a very great worry to us, Mr Holmes. We have no idea how to further strengthen our defences. Wards grow more powerful with time, and the current ones have stood for two hundred years. That someone or something could in such a blatant fashion, so as to mock us, pass them by? That is frightening.”
Holmes hmmed. “I will take this if you agree?”
Sir John nodded. “By all means. I can show you the building, all except for the archives. We want and need this case to be solved, Mr Holmes. If we cannot safeguard these books, humanity and the world itself are continuously at risk.”
Sir John led us through the entire building, from the ground floor to the attic and down the two levels of the basement that gave access to the archives. Holmes focussed upon a small hatch by the staircase. “What is that, Sir John?”
“That is a dumbwaiter that we use to move books up and down, Mr Holmes,” Sir John said, startled. “I quite forgot to mention that. It does indeed lead down to the archives, on all three levels, and has an additional hatch near the Scribes' Room which you passed through.”
“May I?” Holmes asked politely.
Sir John nodded, with s slight smile. Holmes approached the dumbwaiter, looking at it closely. “The same procedure? Two keys, two separate locks?”
Sir John nodded. “Kindly call for one of the Librarians, Odall.”
The guard by the door, another very large man, pulled a thin cord and a set of high pitched bells pealed. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the inside of the door and Odall opened it with a key he took from a chain that hung at the back of his belt. There was a snick as the other lock was opened from the inside. A bolt was drawn on both sides as well and finally the heavy door swung open, revealing a bespectacled young man, his dark clothes, which were otherwise tidy and of excellent quality, covered in dust.
“Yes?” he asked testily. “Oh, Sir John, I did not see you there!”
“Quite all right, Mr Wyndam-Pryce. These are Mr Holmes and Dr Watson, here to help us investigate the unfortunate occurrence. They wanted to witness the procedure for opening the door.”
Wyndam-Pryce nodded, his eyes shining behind his lenses. “The Mr Holmes?”
Sir John gave him a sharp look. “Yes, Mr Wyndam-Pryce. Now Mr Holmes, that is the method for opening the door when there are people in the Archives. When there are none, the door is opened from the outside by the guard and the Chief Librarian, or his replacement if he is ill. Mr Wyndam Pryce, would you demonstrate the use of the dumbwaiter?”
Wyndam-Pryce nodded and after a glance at Odall, opened the lock with another, smaller key, which was repeated by Odall.
“The key for the lower lock hangs by the hatches on the lower two levels, but the First Level guards and the Librarians all have keys for the First Level hatch. All keys are different. Mr Wyndam-Pryce, would you show Mr Holmes your key ring?”
Wyndam-Pryce held it out, close enough for Holmes to see they were all different, far enough away to make it impossible even for a man of his prodigious acuity to remember them exactly.
“All the keys were checked for residues of wax,” Sir John said glumly. “None were found. Of course a bath in boiling water will remove such traces, but we have no reason to doubt the honesty of our members.”
Holmes nodded. “I understand. Your security, Sir John, would be the envy of many banks.”
“We are older than most and our charge far greater,” Sir John's face, until now stoic and unyielding, suddenly showed a flash of deep regret. “A charge which I have failed.”
“You have my word that I will do my utmost to bring back or destroy these books, Sir John,” Holmes promised.
“We would be grateful, Mr Holmes, and so would the world,” Sir John replied heavily.
Holmes was silent as we made our way back to Baker Street, the small valise of papers that Mycroft had given him on his lap, Sir John's sketch and notes beside him. He was silent except to bid the driver to return an hour after darkness fell. He remained silent for a good hour as we sat in our living room. I read the paper and glanced at him on occasion. He hadn't opened the valise yet, nor had he filled a pipe, picked up his tea, taken a book or newspaper to read.
He sighed finally and opened the small leather case, took out a sheaf of papers neatly bound with twine, sealed with three large red blobs of sealing wax, broke the wax, cut the twine and started to read.
An hour later he put the papers aside, having read through them. He picked up his pipe, filled it pensively, lit it with a long sliver of wood from the fire and sat watching the flames. “It is a most peculiar case, Watson.”
“Quite so, Holmes. I must admit I'm utterly out of my depth with all this talk about wards and magic and demons,” I put my paper down. “If it wasn't for the previous case, well...”
“I quite agree,” Holmes nodded. “I would be very suspicious myself. However, our carriage will be here shortly and it is time we leave and meet the assistance my brother has procured for us. I must warn you not to use Mycroft's name. Pratt only knows him as The Official.”
“You sound most unwilling to make use of this man, Holmes,” I inquired as we put on our coats and hats.
“That is because it is not a man we are going out to meet, Watson. It is a vampire.” End note: I do not own The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells either, though I think it might be in the public domain. Everything that age is, except anything owned by American Multinational Entertainment Corporations. ;-)