Mystery

The Death of Sherlock Holmes

By Mark R Conte · May 9, 2019
6,292 words · 23-minute reading time

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Story art by Mark Conte.  

From the author: Sherlock Holmes last case is the search for a madman who cuts of the heads of his female victims.


                 From the journals of Doctor John Watson

   I am not quite sure exactly when it started. Holmes was a private man, and would never have stood for the outrageous sympathy one is given simply because one knows the time of his death, but it was when he was asked to investigate the Metzinger case that I began to notice small changes in his character, so prominent of persons in that situation, and though he seemed more alive than at any time in his life, Sherlock Holmes was already dying.

   Holmes was a man of habit. I would always be able to see him from afar by the Inverness cape and deerstalker hat he favored. His speech was habitually concise, but idiolect, his personal language, and he continued to use the same colorful phrases that would distinguish his character in the novels I wrote about him, though near the end of his life, he would tell me he never said, "The game's afoot!" However, he did admit to, "Elementary, my dear Watson." He had a quick mind and was always eager to get on to the next point.

   In the evenings, Holmes would play his violin for hours, but even there he was a man of habit, playing the same four pieces day after day. But now, he began to play more melodic pieces. He played DeBussy and Shubert, and even Rachmaninoff, which had never been his favorite. Gone were Mozart and Wagner. There were times he played local ballads on his violin, but these too were the sad melodies of love and love lost. He became more philosophical, and more tolerant of the world around him, and to my amazement, even began to write poetry. Of course, some of this was due to the medication he had to take and, which I am sorry to say, I mistook to be a degraded habit on his part.

   It was in the year of the Fleming trial that I first began to realize something was wrong with Holmes. Scotland Yard had inquired about Holmes availability. There were four particularly grisly murders near the docks. Torsos had been found without their heads. All of them had been found a few yards from the Thames River. The only thing that was certain was that it was the torso of a woman, and the only suspect was a German national who was seen on that street an hour earlier.

He was a short, stocky man with a heavy German accent on the few English words he spoke, though he could neither read nor write English. He was a carpenter and his shop was not far from the murder scene, and he could not communicate with Scotland Yard.

The German Embassy had filed a strong protest with the national office, the suspect being a German citizen in good standing, and the papers were full of headlines demanding the arrest of the German. Under this barrage, Scotland Yard asked for Holmes' assistance with the case because he was, after all, the best detective alive and his findings would be conclusive and irrefutable.

   Inspector Connell, not used to being replaced by a civilian, watched Holmes as he went over the records of the murders and interrogation of the suspect, Metzinger. Holmes then asked to see the autopsy reports of the first three bodies and we were led into the morgue to see the fourth body.

   Holmes was very thorough in the inspection of the body, not only of the wound, a clean severing of the head, which had never been found but of the entire body of the corpse. After that he asked if he could see Metzinger and was led to his cell.

   Holmes, who was fluent in six languages, spoke to the man in his native tongue, and I imagine, impeccable German, as was his habit. When he was finished, we walked back to Connell's office. Holmes lit his pipe in that deliberate way of his when he was thinking things out.

   "Metzinger is not your man," he said finally.

   "How can you say that just by talking to him?" Connell said.

   "He has the short, coarse hands of a man who has done a great deal of manual labor all his life, and I understand, clumsy even at carpentry. He would not be the ideal candidate for a murder of a human body that was dissected at precisely the right vertebrae to sheer off the head. Point one."

   "A doctor, Holmes?" I said.

   "More like a butcher," he said. “Much like the others. This was not an operation. This was merely the chopping off of the head to hide the identification of the bodies. This man left blood all over the place. He was not careful at all."

   "Unless that is exactly what he craved," Connell said.

   “Possible, but also consider he knew exactly what vertebra to cut through.

   "Point two," Holmes continued, "This is an isolated area. This woman has the soft hands of a woman of means. She did not belong in that area. So she had to be lured there, and Metzinger would have had a great deal of difficulty luring someone of those means there since he is a short rotund man of some 55 years and barely speaks a word or two of English, and point three," he said, rising out of his chair, "Although he seems strange to we English because he is a foreigner, he is quite normal to his wife and children who are standing outside the prison at this very moment, and they will no doubt give him a good alibi for the third murder.”

   "How could you know that Holmes?” I said.

   "Why Watson, don't you remember? We passed them in the yard, and if you look out this window, you will see they are still there."

Inspector Connell walked to the door and said, "I'll have them removed immediately."

   "Not necessary, Inspector,” Holmes said . “They will have their father and husband back in an hour."

   "You are recommending releasing Metzinger?" Connell said incredulously.

   "Yes, so you can find a more convincing suspect." He turned to Connell and said. "He is an innocent man."

   "If Holmes says he is innocent, inspector...” I said, then let the statement stand on its own merit."

   I am sure Connell was not thrilled to have two old chaps come in and tear his arrest apart, so it was with a rather chilly note that we took our leave of the inspector.

   On the way out, Holmes stopped at the sergeant's desk and asked to see the list of missing persons in the past four months. The sergeant mentioned twenty cases of missing persons. Holmes took the list and crossed out the names of men and boys and women over forty. There were now ten names left. Four prostitutes, an Irish woman who had vanished two days after she arrived in London, a housewife who vanished from her estate in the middle of the night near Hardcrumpt Castle and four university students.

   Holmes asked if he could see the files of these cases, as he had just been assigned this torso case, and he was referred to Captain Wiggins.

   Wiggins was a robust man with a large waxed mustache, and was from the old guard Scotland Yard.

   "Don't mind Connell," he said after we settled in burgundy chairs, "The new men still have to prove themselves and are a bit touchy." He leaned back and took out a cigar from his breast pocket. "What can I do for you Holmes?"

   "I am interested in the missing persons cases," Holmes said. “Perhaps they can help with this case.”

   "Certainly," Wiggins said. "Damn unsavory business these. We have a suspect, but I am not comfortable with this one.”

   “Quite,” Holmes said. “I told Connell to send him home to his wife and children.”

   “Yes,” Wiggins said. “I just received a terse note from him on the subject. He seems a bit put off by your unspoken authority.”

   "I'd like to take the missing person files home with me to see if there is something I can put together," Holmes said.

   "You're welcome to anything you need, Holmes," Wiggins said. "I for one welcome your help in this dastardly business." He rose and walked to a large cabinet near the window. When he returned to his desk, he placed the files in front of Holmes. Holmes took them and tucked them in the crook of his arm.

   "Oh," Holmes said, "Connell is going to be hesitant about the German chap but I think you should let him go to his family before we have an international incident, considering the fact he is innocent of any crime."

   "Well, if you are sure, Holmes." He rang for his secretary, and she came in straightaway.

   "Tell Connell we are releasing the German," Wiggins said. "And put a note on the front desk that Sherlock Holmes is helping us in this investigation." He winked at Holmes, “It’s all in the wording. It makes Connell look like he is still in charge.”

            Holmes thanked Wiggins and we were on our way to Baker Street.

            When we had arrived at Holmes residence, he settled into a chair and sat before the fire. As I was about to take my leave, there was a knock at the door. Since it was quite late, I went to the door myself rather than wake Mrs. Hudson, who was getting on in years as we all were.

            Major Prendergast stepped inside and shook the fog out of his coat and hat.

            “Please,” he said. “I must See Mr. Holmes.”

            Holmes met us at the doorway and ushered him to a chair near the fire. After he was comfortably seated, Holmes said, “What is it Major that sends you out on a night like this?”

            “It’s my dear Friend, Dr. West. His wife is missing and I’m afraid he is taking it quite hard, as you can imagine, and we have had to transfer all his patients to another doctor. Let me tell you, Mr. Holmes, we can only do this for so long.”

            Holmes took out his pipe and tamped some tobacco in the bowl, then lighted the center. “Tell me about her Major,” Holmes said.

            “She is a quiet person, 33 years old as of last month. Tends to her garden in the mornings and entertains her friends with afternoon teas on occasion. A woman of means,” he said. “She is a Hartley. Quite wealthy family. This is a dastardly thing for a family like that.”

            “Do you have a physical description, Major?” Holmes said.

            “It’s all written out on these sheets, height, weight, clothes she was wearing.”

            “It just so happens,” Holmes said, “that I am working on several missing persons

cases. I am sure I can combine them with this case.”

            “Thank you Mr. Holmes,” Major Prendergast said. “You don’t know how much it will mean to Dr. West to know you are on the case.”

That was on a Monday. I did not see Holmes again until Thursday morning, and was anxious to hear what he had uncovered. Since I had new information, I waited until the most opportune time to bring it out.

   "Watson," Holmes said. "You're puffing about like a male peacock. Out with it. What information do you have?"

   "I do believe I know how the last woman was lured to the docks," I said.

   "Curious, Watson, how was she lured?” Holmes said.

   "I went to see the body again. She was drugged, Holmes."

   "Are you sure?" he said.

   "Irrefutable," I said. "The tips of her fingers are already turning blue, which indicates a tropical drug most common in South America. The Amazon I believe. Very potent. Works almost instantly. I dare say, she was unconscious before she collapsed. Which, in this case was most fortunate, in light of what was about to happen to her."

   "Just the fingers?” Holmes said. "I understand the lips are supposed to follow suit." He gave me that sly smile which always makes me uncertain.

   “Well, this might have been a different strain,” I said

   “Watson,” Holmes said, “Wiggins made those fingers blue at my suggestion.”

   “I don’t understand,” I said.

   “A science that has not been used in criminal detection yet, Watson,.” he said. “As you know, every fingerprint is different from any other fingerprint. Sir Francis Galton said two pricisely simular fingerprints is possible only in 1 to 64 million prints. However Frederic R. Cherill rightly estimated that it is more like one in a septillion."

   "A staggering amount," I said.

     "It is practically impossible to obliterate these paterns. Nature restores them in identical, original designs even after laceration or filing." He walked over to his closet and took his coat.

“Recently," he said, "Scotland Yard has gained permission from the Prime minister to fingerprint anyone who has been convicted of a crime. However the problem is we don’t have a library of fingerprints yet, and certainly none of victims, so we have to use devious means to retrieve objects from the homes of these missing persons.

   “But we don’t know who the victims are,” I said.

   “Precisely, Watson, but I have a list of all the women who have disappeared in the last four months. We’ll add Dr. West’s wife to this list, ” he said. “You take these five and I’ll take the others. At each of the homes you go to, make an excuse to take a personal item from the woman’s room. Tell them it may tell us where they are. “

   “Anything else?”

   “Yes, look for anything that does not feel right, especially family statements. Or new friends. I’ll go to the other ones on the list.”

   “What are we looking for, Holmes?”

   “Primarily, the fingerprints to identify the victims. But also, a difference, yet a similarity,” he said. “Something that almost fits.”

   So I went off looking for what I did not know, from where I did not know, and from whom I did not know. Sometimes I think Holmes gives me the impossible tasks, but I can very well be an English bulldog when I am put up against those obstacles, so I went off in my quest.

   The first three homes I went to produced no results. The fourth young woman’s name was Lilly Stafford. She had disappeared four weeks ago, coming back from her friend’s cottage. I introduced myself to the Staffords and asked to see her room. It was a very average room of an eighteen year old on the verge of becoming a woman. There was a painting on the wall at the head of her bed which showed a young woman with all the promise of being a beautiful wife and mother, which, according to her parents she would have been the following year. From the picture on the wall, I saw enough evidence, blonde hair, small boned, delicate nose and the most telling was a small scar on the side of her neck near her left ear to know that it matched the third victim. But only the fingerprints would tell if that were correct.

   I did not think it was my place to reveal this to the parents just yet, so instead, I asked

if they had observed any difference in their daughter. They replied that she was quite normal except for a slight case of the flu. I then asked if the young woman had made any new friends in the weeks before her disappearance . The father said no, but when the mother took me to the hall, she whispered that Lilly had made a new friend several weeks before she disappeared, a young American, new to this country. She helped him adjust to his new surroundings. She said the young man lived in the center of London, near the river. His name was one of those odd sounding names ending with a ski or sky.

I asked if I could take the small hand mirror that was on her dresser. She said I could, so I thanked her and went back to Holmes’ flat.

   Mrs. Hudson said that Holmes was at the hospital for a checkup. Now I have never heard of Holmes going to any hospital for any type of a checkup. I have never known him to be fragile or prone to any disease of any kind.

   I said, “Is he not feeling well?”

   “As far as I can tell, it was just a checkup. “

   “Quite, “ I said.

   At that moment, the door opened and Holmes walked in.

   “Well, what do you have Watson?”

   “Lily Staffford. A new acquaintance, American, two weeks before she disappeared.

   “A boyfriend?” Holmes said.

   “Yes, but he was in the country visiting his parents.”

   Excellent Watson. Two of my women had new boyfriends before they disappeared. A student and an Irish national. One was certain to be American.”

“And the fourth?” I said.

“I did not want to tell the Major, but I am quite certain the fourth and last one is Dr. West’s wife.”

   “The odd one out,” I said.

   “Yes, but I am sure we’ll find something, a recent visit by a merchant, or a new face on those grounds around the estate,” Holmes said. “Did you take a personal item?”

   I unwrapped the mirror from my handkerchief. “Her hand mirror from her bedroom,” I said. “And Major Prendergast had left this hair brush with Mrs. Hudson this morning.”

   “Good work, Watson. Take that and these five others to Wiggins so he can give it to

the new lab technician. I have tagged each one with a name.” He handed me the personal items. “We may soon know who the victims are which will give us a better chance at solving this crime.

   Four days later, we had the names of the four victims. Lily Stafford had indeed been the third victim. The first two had were the seventeen-year-old student and the eighteen-year-old Irish national. The fourth and latest was a thirty-five year old woman of means, Dorothy West, married to doctor Harold West. Holmes and I went to the West home to break the news to the family.

   The West estate was on the edge of London with a small bridge and winding path to the house. The maid showed us in and doctor West greeted us in the library. He was quite subdued and soft-spoken.

   “I’ve been dreading this moment for days,” he said finally.

   Holmes nodded to me, so I said, “I am sorry, Doctor West, but your wife has been identified as the fourth victim of the torso murders.”

   “How can you know that?”

   “Fingerprints,” I said. “A new science.”

   “You’re absolutely certain?”

   “Yes, there’s no question,” Holmes said.

   “Strange,” he said. “You go through the hardships in your life, barely surviving, and you think you passed through the worst parts, but then you find the worst part, and it strikes in the most vulnerable place of your heart.”

   “Is there anything we can do?” I said.

   “No, I don’t think so.” He was quiet a moment. “I served in India ten years ago. Ghastly war. Never had enough supplies. Never had enough medication. Never enough time, and sometimes not enough equipment. You would be surprised at some of the primitive methods we would have to use at times, and some of the equipment too.”

   “The medical examiner is releasing the body in the morning. You can have your funeral. At least you and your son will have finality,” I said.

   “I will notify an undertaker,” he said. “Thank you for telling me before it was in the newspapers.”

   “Again,” I said, “We’re very sorry.”

   Holmes asked if the family and his wife in particular, had made any new acquaintances in the last weeks before Mrs. West disappeared. Dr. West said, there had been a chap, an American who had repaired two chairs, clumsily, I’m sorry to say, but he hardly spoke a word to any of us. I can get his name if you think it will help,” he said.

   “No need,” Holmes said. “We have it.”

   “Good,” Doctor West said. “If he is your man I would hope he is severely punished.”    

   When we returned to Scotland Yard, Inspector Connell rushed out to meet us at the reception desk with the news of the impending capture the suspect of the headless torso murders, who was surrounded in a building in Piccadilly Circus. Thanks to the information supplied by the Stafford family, they had tracked him down and he ran away from the detectives. He was an American, and the Staffords were on their way to Connell’s office to identify him as Lily Stafford’s new friend.

   “Good work,” Holmes said. “May I talk to him when he is brought in?”

   “Certainly,” Connell said icily. “We’d like Wiggins and London to see we made the correct arrest.”

            When they brought in the American, Holmes asked him just one question. “Are you a cabinetmaker?” Holmes said.

            The American, Paul Sysmanski said, “God, no, Mr. Holmes. I have no idea why someone would ask me to fix their furniture.”

            Holmes, put on his cap and said, “Watson, let us take our leave.”

I followed him out the door and said, “One question, Holmes? What could you learn from one question?”

            “Enough to almost have the answer, Watson, but I have to make certain. Someone is dictating my path to the solution and I have to be careful not to make an errant turn.”

            We took a Hansom and traveled the 35 minutes to Dr. West’s estate. We had to cross a tiny bridge to reach the estate and the path curved into two opposite curves, resembling a giant S.

            When Dr.West opened the door, he told us an inspector had just left, informing him of another suspect that confessed to the torso murders.

            “Yes,” Holmes said. “I suppose that is our Mr. Oakly again, Watson.” He turned to Dr. West. Tell me Doctor, have you had an Ezra Oakly for a patient in the last few months?”

            “I don’t know. I would have to search my records.”

            “Don’t bother,” said Holmes. “I asked your secretary to look it up this morning. You saw Oakly last month on the 22nd. I also was given the opportunity to see your military record, you being a hero because of the many lives you saved with your unorthodox method of anesthesiology due to the lack of such drugs behind the lines. The officials were more than happy to oblige.”

            “You have been a busy man, Mister Holmes.”

“You remember Watson. Ezra Oakly, the man who confessed to every case I had. A habitual confessor where I was concerned. Wanted to be arrested by Sherlock Holmes.” He said. “That’s our third suspect, Watson.”

            “Meaning what in particular?” I said.

            “Watson, think back to the Case of the Castle Ghost. The bully chaps at school, how they would set up a game for the unsuspecting new admission students, letting them know what the game was, but not the final goal. Some of the more louche plotted a game they called Garrow’s Way, in where you have to solve the puzzle to avoid staying overnight in the supposedly haunted castle at Garrow.”

            “In this case,” I said, “Young Devers was found dead in the castle the next morning. But I never understood this cruel game or the reason for the cruel murder.”

          “They committed it for the pleasure of getting away with murder, and they did for

a while. They each had a minor motive, but they each had one of the others for an alibi. Once I eliminated the insignificant motives, I saw the clear picture of them as conspirators and thus solved the crime, but they very nearly won their game of murder.”

           “At first Watson, it looks like a simple game. You are given an object to discover and are given three paths to find that object, and you think you know the unwelcome outcome that will force you to stay in the castle overnight is going to be solution A, so you do everything you can to avoid solution A and go a completely different way so you can evade both A and B and arrive at solution C, but when you do, you discover it too is the incorrect solution, because you see Watson, this is a trilemma with three unwelcome solutions.”

            “Clever little chaps,” I said, “yet obviously deranged. They all had motives and alibis. I suppose they will be in prison a long time, Holmes, but what has all this to do with these headless torso cases?” I said.

            “Think of it Watson. The German national, solution A. The young American, Solution B, and our simple-minded confessor, solution C. This is obviously a game someone has plotted very carefully, giving us three suspects for the crime.”

            But where does that leave us, Holmes?”

            “In this case, we have to eliminate all the superficial motives. The first three women really had no credible reason to be killed. The fourth, However, was a very wealthy woman whose husband stood to inherit a fortune.

            “After we have eliminated all the probable suspects, the only possible solution is the suspect we were not given, no matter how improbable that may seem.” He turned to the doctor and said, “You, Doctor West, have committed all four of these murders.”

“Holmes, have you gone mad. Why would he kill his own wife?”

“Mrs. West was a very wealthy woman and Dr. West Stood to inherit a sizable fortune.”

Dr. West was calm and had a sly smile on his lips. “Why would I kill the other women. Three women I do not even know.”

All three women had seen a physician because of a mild case of the flu. You are that physician. Hypnotizing Oakly was a rather easy matter. However, with the women, you took no chances, first giving them a mild drug one would take for a cold or headache, and with their senses relaxed, you put them in a death-like trance from which they would never awake. Each of the young women would respect a doctor and do exactly as they were told. Of course, by the time they reached the docks, they were completely unconscious. Cutting off their heads was setting the tone for cutting off your wife’s head, thinking her body was hidden in the plain site of the police as one of the headless torso victims. You were sure no one would ever discover who she was and so listed missing until she was declared dead. Even if she was thought to be one of the headless torso murders, it could never have been proven. That was the real motive behind all four murders,” Holmes said. “To kill your wife and receive her inheritance, which is considerable. Of course, you did not count on the latest science.”

“The fingerprints!” I said.

            “Exactly, Watson.”

            I turned to the doctor and said, “Sir, you are a monster.”

“I’m afraid, you’ll have to come with us, Dr. West,” Holmes said.

West started to object, but he knew the game was over and he seemed to be resigned to the arrest, but then suddenly, he grabbed an iron from the fireplace and swung it at Holmes, hitting him on the side of the head, just above the ear, knocking him to the ground. I rushed to his side, not thinking about the doctor, but Holmes raised his head and said, “Watson, quick, the bridge, before he escapes.” I ran out the door and cut across the lawn to the bridge entrance as Dr. West came galloping up to the gate on a silver stallion, wide-eyed and shouting like a madman.. I raised my cane and hit him squarely across the forehead with all my strength, knocking him off the horse down to the ground, where I held him with my foot at his throat until inspector Williams came from the other side of the bridge and arrested him.

A medical wagon went past me, so I hurried back to the house. When I went back to Holmes, he was being put into the police stretcher by their medical personal. I was stunned for a while not quite sure of the cause of this moment. Holmes had never been fragile under any circumstance, and I knew this had to be a serious matter. I reached down and felt his neck for his pulse, then listened to his breathing. I searched in my pockets for smelling salts, but just as I found it, his eyes were opening, and there was a quizzical look on his face.

   “Are you all right,” I said.

   “What happened?” he said.

   “West hit you with that damned iron, Holmes.” I said. “And you went down, dead away on the floor.”

   “Do me a favor, Old chap, and get me the vial and syringe in my vest pocket.”

   “I thought you were all done with that, Holmes.”

   He shrugged and gave me a look of resignation. I said, “Well if you must have it, Holmes.” But they were already putting him away in the wagon and carrying him to the hospital.

            When I reached the hospital, I went to his room and looked at him a moment. The resident doctor came in and felt his pulse. I took his hand and said, “I’m Doctor Watson. Is he all right?”

            He said, “Doctor Albernathy. I’m afraid not, Doctor Watson. It isn’t the blow to his head that is the problem, it is the damage to his bones.”

            “Which bones?” I said.

            “All of them, and of course, they have now spread to his organs,” he said.

I was incredulous, “Tumors?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “More specifically, Cancer. Quite advanced. He’s known for some time. I’ve been prescribing him medication to ease his pain, which I am sorry to say is considerable,” he showed me a syringe. “But medication can only do so much, and I’m afraid at this stage there is nothing I can do for him anymore.”

            “Then he is dying.”

            “Yes, Doctor Watson. I am sorry. We have done the best we could for him and he knows that. A soldier, he is. A very courageous man to have endured this without the support of his friends and family, but that is the way he wanted it.”

            I looked at Holmes again, perhaps for the first time in months. He looked rather pale then, paler than I had ever seen him, and I realized I had not been seeing him as he was, perhaps for the last three years. All the signs were there. I had not seen it because I had not expected it. These kind of things don’t happen to people you know, and certainly not to your friends. They happen to some poor chap you don’t know in the obituary page of the newspaper and fact sheets on a hospital clipboard.

   “I’m sorry, old friend,” I said. “I made an improper accusation. Quite dastardly,”

   “Never mind, Watson,” Holmes said. “It was a common mistake.”                        

   “Tumors,” I said. “The doctor here told me.”

   “Yes,” Holmes said. “Quite common in my family, I’m afraid. They have all lived rather short lives. I’m the only one left. Except for one.”

   “How long have you had it?” I said.

   “Three and a half years, maybe longer.”

   “What do you want me to do, Holmes?”

   “I think it is time for the doctors to have their go at me and put me in their medical journals,” he said.

           “Of course,” I said. “Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?”

            “Yes, Watson. Take this envelope and deliver it to a Monsignor Haroldson. He is at the church just outside of Westbury. It contains my will and my last words to my son.”

            “Your son?” I said not quite believing what I had heard. As close as we had been, he had never confided that he had any type of family.

            “Yes, Watson. I’ve done a terrible thing, and now, seeing the face of my death has made me see how wrong I was.”

            “What is it Holmes?”

            “There was a girl, Maggie O’Dell, an Irish national, who was the most beautiful and charming girl in school. We were both 18 years old and madly in love.” He gave his arm to the nurse, who punctured it with the medication I had so often seen him doing to himself. I pondered Holmes in love for a moment, but I had a great deal of difficulty with that image, so then I imagined a young boy, 18 years old in school, and the picture became quite clear. I began to empathize with him, more than I have ever imagined I could with any man.

            “Well,” he said, “One night we succumbed to our desires. I can’t explain it. I just had to have her.” He coughed. “Of course, she became pregnant, and both our parents agreed to our marriage and we were married in that church outside Westbury by the minister, Brownson was his name, young for the head of a church, and we moved into a small house next to my family land.” When he coughed again, he seemed to catch his breath for a moment, but made fists of both his hands, determined to tell me the complete story. When his breath came back, he looked down at his hands.

            “She died at childbirth. I was devastated, Watson. Why had God so hated me that he took away the only person that ever mattered to me. The only person that would ever matter to me my whole life. I blamed the child. It was his birth that had killed my Maggie. I completely disowned him. I did not want to look at him, or even hear anything about him or even his presence in England. I learned later that Maggie’s parents came and took him back to Ireland. And so he grew up alone without a parent.” He coughed again, gasping for his breath, holding on to the bed railing for support.

            “You must find him, Watson. You must ask him to forgive me.”

            “I will find him, Holmes, and I will bring him here.”

            “No, my dear Watson, I am done with this bitter life. There are just a few hours left, and there is no time to right my wrong. But if you could find him, and explain my despair, perhaps he will forgive me.”

            “I will not fail, Holmes.”

            “Good. Now please allow me a few moments. I wish to make my peace with the eternal recorder.” And with that he turned his head and closed his eyes.

            When I walked out of the room, I went to the nurse’s station and saw Doctor Albernathy.

            “He’s dying,” I said.

            “I know, Doctor,” he said. “I have tried to make it as painlessly as possible, but this is a terribly painful disease.”

            “How long?” I said.

            “Tonight,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow morning. I am sure he is ready. He has suffered a great deal and needs to go to his rest.”

            “I would like, if it is possible, to make it easier for him. Five or eight more hours of pain will not do him any benefit.”

            Albernathy pondered this for a moment, then nodded at the nurse. She picked up a new syringe and went to his room.

            “Can I wait in his room?” I said.

            “Yes, doctor.”

            I walked back into the room and watched the nurse inject Holmes’ arm for the last

time. He lay there without motion. This was a scene I had never envisioned seeing. There was the violation of tubes, the opiate flowing into his body. The pain of hollow bone. Living as if dead, or dead as if living. The colors no doubt dazzling his brain, betraying his senses. Besides the bed a machine measured his pulse rates, and flashed on the screen like stars from distant galaxies.

            There will be no more sequels, no more chases, or fights to the death. Death has won and the game is over. The hollow growing inside him, the void falling back into itself, the silences of time stopping in mid sentence. Somewhere, someone is burning the books of records, and a hoary priest is whispering of resurrection.

            As I sat in the room, a small sliver of amber from the nightlight intruded on his bed, and the nurse, sobbing, bent over and turned off the monstrous light, leaving what was left of Sherlock Holmes to the empty night.

 

         

This story originally appeared in Short story collection, 2018.


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Mark R Conte

I write mostly literary fiction, though I wrote one crime novel and one children's story.