Sherlock Holmes: the Problem
Chapter seven
Copyright held by Cynthia K. Coe

Josiah passed out with a moan when John put his dislocated shoulder back into place. I was holding him down when it happened and felt him shudder beneath my hands. I well remembered the searing pain I'd felt so many years before. It was the first time I'd ever touched the naked skin of another man except for John's and I was amazed at the tenderness I felt for this man that I now considered a friend.

"Thank goodness he's passed out. I'll need to secure his arm to his side so he can give the joint time to heal from its wrenching. Holmes, would you bring my bag in? I have some herbs I'd like to bind to his shoulder." My lover was all brisk instructions while he watched Josiah's lover out of the corner of his eye.

Young David was standing by the edge of the bed watching John work on his lover with tear tracks on his pale cheeks. I felt a sudden surge of empathy for him and patted his shoulder awkwardly when I passed him for the outer room. He nodded, his eyes never leaving Josiah's face.

"David, would you get me some hot water? Almost boiling but not quite. The heat will ease his pain when he comes to." Watson directed the young man out of the room after me.

I held the door for him and he rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands before taking a deep breath and following me out. He managed a smile for the constable before heading for the kitchen. Wiggins was sitting on the edge of the settee, taking in the room with quick darting looks but when I entered, his eyes came straight to me.

"Constable Henry, I know that you are late for the rest of your rounds. Please give your sergeant my regards and explain that you were unavoidably detained. Young Harbottle will be more than happy to answer questions about the attack tomorrow. And hopefully, Harbottle senior will be able to give a description of the hooligans." I traded on the reputation that most of the young constables believed in with such awe.

He'd sprung to his feet at my first words and nodded. "Yes, sir. I expect that Inspector Greeling of Fifth Division will be by in the morning. Will you be here, sir?"

I smiled at the delicately phrased question. "Yes. I expect that both Dr. Watson and I will be here. The good doctor will not wish to leave his patient. Right now, why don't you and I take your lantern and do a quick reconnaissance of the alley where they waited for their victims."

"Yes, sir!" He stood at attention, trying unsuccessfully to keep a smile from his face.

Motioning him to wait, I crossed to the kitchen to find David standing by the coal stove, waiting for the water to boil. He had wrapped his arms around himself and rocked back and forth in agitation. "David, could I have a key to get back in? We're going to take a look around outside to see if the attackers left behind any sign."

He started at my voice but immediately dug into his pocket and brought out a key ring. "It's ... it's this one for the back door. Thank you, Mr. Holmes."

I took them from his trembling hand. "I wish I could have protected you both better, David."

He tried a smile and shook his head. "Just find out who and why."

"That I can do. We'll be back in less than an hour. At least, Wiggins and I will. The good constable needs to go back on his rounds before his sergeant comes looking for him." I smiled at him and left to the sound of the whistling teakettle.

Sticking my head back in the bedroom door, I watched Watson taking Josiah's pulse again and frowning. "We're just going out for a brief survey of the alley then Wiggins and I will be back. The water was just boiling when I left the kitchen."

"Be careful." He smiled softly from across the room.

"Always." I promised and led the others from the cozy apartment down to the cold alley. Wiggins had a lantern as well so we were well supplied with light. We searched carefully but even in the small pools of illumination there was little to find. The butt of a hand rolled cigar, well chewed and imperfectly put out was our only clue. The frost had just begun to touch it, which would be just about right for time. I would dissect it later.

Sending the constable on his way with a hand written note in his notebook to assuage some of his superior's wrath, I instructed Wiggins to return in the morning with two of his confederates for a series of errands. He scampered off after I gave him a fistful of telegrams, I'd hastily written in the bookshop workroom that would start tracking down the attackers. Such a promising young man. I'd be willing to bet that if I'd asked him to describe the Harbottle's sitting room, he would be able to, in detail.

I carefully locked up behind me and moved silently up the stairs. Low voices from the bedroom drew me to the door to watch the two men who cared for the unconscious man in the bed. White bandages criss-crossed the dark hirsute chest and David was wringing out another cloth for the sweat-bedewed forehead.

His eyes fluttered open briefly and David leaned over him anxiously and called his name. "Josiah. Your shoulder is going to be all right. Uncle John has it bandaged so you can't move it."

The brown eyes moved to Watson next and my lover leaned down and laid his hand over the pale arm strapped to his side. "Can you feel my hand?" He waited for a brief nod and smiled. "Good. I don't want it too tight and cut off your circulation but I also don't want you to move it for a day or two. Holmes and I are going to make some tea and after you drink a cup, you need to sleep."

Josiah nodded and tried to say something but his voice seemed caught in his throat. David tilted his head up and held a glass of water for him. He drank and looked up at him with so much love in his eyes, I felt like a voyeur.

"Thank you. All of you. Holmes." The dark eyes came to mine and I nodded. "Is this because of the letter?"

"Unknown. I have some feelers out now. We'll know more tomorrow." I tried never to lie to my clients and especially not to my friends.

"Then, until we know, perhaps I was carrying a valuable book on my person from the Duke's collection. The small illuminated missal from the fifteenth century, perhaps." His voice died out and his eyes fluttered once.

"Excellent, Josiah. We can talk about that and fix our stories for the Inspector who will be here in the morning. For now, just rest and heal." I considered his suggestion and marveled at how quickly his mind had come back from the pain to think about future problems.

John joined me at the door and closed it behind us. He kissed me hard and I angled my head to better join our lips. It seemed like forever since we'd last connected and I drank him in like the fine white wine we'd had for dinner.

When we finally broke apart, he sighed. "I've been wanting to do that for hours now. I hope that David is doing the same to Josiah. His love will heal the pain faster than any of my potions. But I think a cup of white willow bark tea will help alleviate the soreness from the dislocation."

We moved to the kitchen and he put his black bag on the table while I moved the kettle to the stove after filling it at the sink. I began opening the cupboards to find the cups and took note of the orderly contents. Idly, I wondered if Mrs. Hudson's cupboards would look as well organized.

"I will need to stay the night, Sherlock but if you need to go out, I understand. Do you think we will need a diversion? Could the attack have been part of this whole spy problem?" Watson stood with a small glass jar filled with dried bark in his hand.

"Speculation is useless until I have more facts. I have a cigar stub that I need to dissect so I believe I will head back to Baker Street and my chemistry corner. There's a slight scent about it that's teasing my memory and I need my research notes." The work I'd done before publishing my monograph on tobacco was much more extensive than the 140 kinds that I wrote about. There was something about an oil that was used to treat the leaves in a foreign country . . .

"Holmes ... Holmes." Watson was patiently trying to get my attention.

"I'm sorry, John. Is there anything I can bring you in the morning when I return?"

"Thank you, a clean shirt would be nice. When do you think we can expect the Inspector?"

"By 10 o'clock at the latest. You should probably have David bring up the missal so we have it here for him to see."

Watson frowned and poured the boiling water over the bark in the teapot. "Are we right to mislead the police as to the real reason they were attacked?"

"We do not know for sure just why they were." I replied. It was so hard for my honest lover to prevaricate. "Perhaps it was simply a random mugging of two prosperous looking gentlemen. Although the cigar stub shows that they may have waited for a while before choosing their victims. The espionage problem might have nothing to do with it. The rare book story will disconcert the real villain and waylay any suspicion. They will think that I'm chasing after a collector of some repute instead of them."

"Mycroft will be pleased." Watson laid two cups on the tray and picked it up to carry it into the sickroom. "He's even more secretive than you."

"With more reason, John. Sometimes the fate of empires rests in his hands." I held the door for him and he smiled that bewilderingly beautiful smile that makes me unable to think for a moment or two after he bestows it upon me.

"I prefer the personal touch, my love. You care for the individuals within the Empire. And I'm very grateful that you do. Take care tonight. I need to know you're as safe as you can be." He leaned over and kissed me gently, darting his tongue between my lips to taste and tease me. "There. That should bring you back nice and early to me."

"As soon as I can, John. Tell David, I have his keys and will let myself out and in again." I left him with regret for the necessary chores of my profession. Thinking quickly while I locked up behind me, I checked my pocket watch and decided that midnight was not too late to call on my brother.

It was two blocks before I could hail a hansom cab and I had him drop me off a distance from Mycroft's Pall Mall house so I could see if I was being followed. There was more than one way into his home including an underground tunnel that connected with an old Roman catacomb beneath a nearby church. But I could sense no one dogging my footsteps so this time I simply entered by the front door.

The butler greeted me with sangfroid; my brother must have the occasional odd visitor at all hours of the day and night. He directed me to my brother's study on the first floor and I tapped briefly before letting myself in.

"Sherlock. Developments so soon?" He spoke from behind his cherry wood desk, his head turned to watch me with only mild surprise on his craggy features.

He is not quite so corpulent and out of shape as Watson had portrayed him in his stories. Our metabolisms were similar but he had less chance to get out and about for he had to be available to the leaders of our government at all times. Still, he was at the most, a stone heavier than I am. We shared the same height, gray eyes and hawk nose but his hair was lighter than mine was or perhaps he was simply going gray faster. The responsibilities he undertook might have something to do with that. And it was why it seemed expedient to somewhat disguise his true appearance in Watson's tales.

"Perhaps, Mycroft. The Harbottles were attacked on their way home from dinner with Watson and I tonight." I settled myself in one of the chairs by the fire and my brother joined me after pressing a button on his desk.

"Indeed." He thought quickly, his eyes on the fire and the forefinger on his left hand traced a small circle on the tapestry fabric of the wingback's arm. "Insufficient data to extrapolate the reason."

"Sir?" The voice from the door raised my eyebrow.

"Join us, Stephen. Sherlock was just going to tell me of the attack on the Harbottles tonight."

"Goodness!" Wenton crossed the room and pulled up a straight back chair between us. "Are they all right?"

"Josiah had his shoulder dislocated but Watson was able to reset it. David was simply badly shaken. A constable arrived on the scene in time to chase away the three assailants. I found a cigar stub which may point a finger in one direction or another." My mind raced at the implications of Wenton staying with my brother. Was there some reason that Mycroft needed a bodyguard? Was this problem more fraught with danger than I had supposed?

"Thank heavens." The dark haired man leaned forward, his hands resting lightly on his knees. "Is it the fortification map? Have they put two and two together and think that the Harbottles are on to them?"

"Josiah suggests that a fifteenth century missal be put out for a suitable red herring. If ... it was the missing map that was the cause of the attack, then the embassy may be lulled into a false state of calm." I put forth Josiah's offer.

"That will do quite nicely for now." Mycroft nodded once but then looked at Wenton with a lifted eyebrow. "Another thought?"

"Well, now that I've seen the divine David, I can think of one other reason that Josiah might be put out of the way and the young man kidnapped." He smiled sheepishly at my brother and I caught the quirk of lips that usually passed for Mycroft's smile.

"Baron Hauptmann is known for his ... varied tastes. If he's a long time customer of the Harbottles, then he already knows of David. It is possible that he is contemplating taking the map and a companion back to Germany with him." Mycroft's tones were dry.

"Then it would have to be upon Josiah's death. David would never willingly leave him." My own voice was emphatic. Their love was palpable to the meanest intelligence. "For the moment, they are both safe. Watson stayed with them and the police will keep a closer eye on that area. I have an appointment with an Inspector Greeling tomorrow."

"Good. The missal will serve for a decoy and I will get Stephen into the German Embassy on one pretext or another. They know he's one of our Special Branch but that won't stop them from inviting him in so they can thumb their noses at him."

"It's what I'm best at, sir." Wenton grinned at us both and I felt an answering smile cross my face. He's very good at lighting spirits.

"On a darker note, Sherlock. The missing secretary has been found an apparent suicide at Oxford. But if the scene is as the police report says, it was murder. I think there is no doubt that he took the map to sell to our old adversary. Horse racing debts, I believe." Mycroft shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sherlock. Would you like a drink?"

"No, thank you. I need to get home and dissect the remains of a cigar. Do you have a copy of the police report that I could read?" I rose and stretched briefly.

Mycroft nodded towards his desk and Wenton sprang up, crossing to the desk and getting it from the top left drawer. I took it from him and folded it into my inside pocket. Saying my goodbye, I was already thinking ahead to the ramifications of some of the events that seemed to be racing towards a dramatic conclusion. As I left, I saw Wenton cross to the sideboard and pour Mycroft a glass of his favorite Lapsoing whiskey.

The trip home was brief. There is never any problem getting a hansom cab outside of Mycroft's. Comfortably ensconced in our rooms, I shrugged off my jacket and put on my old dressing gown. Seated at the old scarred table, on which I'd done so much experimenting, I carefully dissected the cigar and made notes on what I'd found. Tasting a pinch of the leaves, I realized the aroma that had tantalized my nose was indeed opium of a particularly strong nature.

And yet, neither of the Harbottles had mentioned that any of the attackers were Oriental. Perhaps, the Turks were venturing into the criminal trade now. I smiled derisively at myself and got up to stretch. Wenton's suggestions about kidnapping had taken deeper hold than I thought.

Two o'clock, time for a few hours sleep in lieu of further facts to feed my mind. When I picked up my jacket, the crinkle of paper reminded me of the unread police report. Going back to the table where the lamp was still lit, I quickly read the whole thing and shook my head at the lack of imagination on the part of the Oxford police.

Leaving it by the decimated cigar, I smothered a yawn and headed for bed. For the first time in many weeks, Watson and I were sleeping apart and I found my bed less comfortable than I should. It took all my self-control to discipline my thoughts to sleep.


I awoke, moving briefly before I realized how nasty the pain was going to be. I ached from head to toe and my arm was throbbing along with the beat of my heart. The warm weight against me was familiar but on the wrong side. Turning my head, I saw David curled against me with one hand under his cheek and dark circles around his eyes.

Remembering the attack, I looked around and saw John nodding in the chair by our bed. Truly, I was blessed with wonderful friends. But right now, I needed to go to the bathroom and didn't think I could get up by myself. "David ... my love."

"Josiah." His drowsy voice was music to my ears. His eyes opened slowly and I watched his memory return with a blink. He raised up and touched my cheek gently. "Are you in pain? Can I get you something?"

"The bathroom would be nice. The pain is ... manageable if I don't move too quickly." I smiled up at him and he leaned over and kissed me tenderly.

"Better if you don't move at all, Josiah." John's professional voice came from my other side.

I turned my head slowly and felt his cool fingers at my wrist, taking my pulse. "I have a natural antipathy to bedpans, John. Besides, I have to move some time. It might as well be now."

"Then carefully. And you let both David and I help you." He admonished me and I ruefully acknowledged the need.

The next few moments were painful in the extreme but I survived to move slowly to the bathroom. David stayed with me, his body flattened against my back and his hands holding up my nightshirt. What a relief to empty myself of all the fluids of the night. I could feel his love surrounding me with his strength and I moved my free hand up to his, covering it and holding on.

"I love you, Josiah. Please, don't let's ever get held up again. If we have to take hansom cabs for the rest of our lives, we can save money somewhere else." His voice was muffled between my shoulder blades but I could hear the repressed tears in it.

Turning awkwardly, I tilted up his head to mine and kissed him gently. Feeling his lips tremble, I tasted his morning breath which is more strongly him. Ending the kiss with a nip to his lower lip, I pulled back a bit.

"Love, we are as safe as any in London. We can not hide away in the shop and never leave it. This has been a shock but we survived it in excellent form." I went to the sink to wash my hand and frowned. How do you wash a single hand?

"Here. Let me. While we're here, you can brush your teeth and then I'll shave you." He smiled tremulously up at me and turned the water on in the sink while reaching for my natural bristle brush and the soda. I started brushing away the night's fuzz. "I don't know what Mrs. Green will say when she comes. If I were you, I'd be prepared to be cosseted to within an inch of your life." He shivered at his own words before shaking off his fear. I spit out the cleanser and rinsed away the left over taste.

Soaping my cheeks, he readied the straight razor. He always loved shaving me so I leaned against the sink, watching the steel razor clean my cheeks and chin of their overnight growth. He has a steady hand and it did feel very much better to be so freshened. But I was growing tired and he sensed my fatigue, finishing with a warm towel moistened in the water.

We made our way back to the bedroom where John waited with another cup of the herbal tea that had sent me to sleep the night before. I settled in with a sigh of relief. Perhaps the next time, I would accept the indignity of the bedpan. Really, that short trip had exhausted me beyond all expectations.

"You must give your body time to heal, Josiah." John read my mind with uncanny facileness. "That was your one trip of the day. When the Inspector comes, he can interview you here."

"Mrs. Green, our daily help, will be here in another half hour. She and I can tidy up the bedroom before he comes." David was tucking me in gently, making sure I was quite comfortable.

"Good. Perhaps she'd be willing to make us all breakfast." John's head turned to the sitting room. "Ah, there's Holmes. I'll just go out and see how his investigations are coming." He left quickly and I smiled at his eagerness to greet his lover.

I caught David's hand and pulled him down beside me. "Alone at last. Have I told you I love you, today?"

He curled up beside me and breathed against my lips before gently parting them and slipping back inside. We rubbed our tongues languidly together and just enjoyed the feeling of closeness. My shoulder was beginning to ache abominably and although I tried to hide it, my lover knows me too well.

He pulled away and picked up the cooling cup of tea. "Josiah, you will drink this and tell me immediately, if the pain grows again. Yes?"

I smiled at the hint of steel in his voice. He takes very good care of me. "Yes, my love. I won't hide it from you. I promise."

His own smile peeped out briefly before helping me drink my tea. Not an unpleasant taste but it did make me sleepy. I dozed while listening to David get dressed for the day. Occasionally, I'd open my eyes to watch him button his trousers or fasten his cuffs. Oddly enough, I found his dressing to be as erotic as his undressing, perhaps because I am the only one who gets to see either action.

David kissed me gently before he joined the low voices in the outer room. I listened half heartedly before falling back into a fitful doze. So long as I didn't move, my shoulder just ached. I was usually a restless sleeper but the pillow prevented me from rolling onto my side and wrenching the joint further.

The click of the door startled me awake from a particularly gruesome dream of being in a dank cellar with something dripping on me. Mrs. Green poked her head around the door and caught my eye.

"There you are, ducks. 'Ow about a bit of breakfast? Just a scone or two with a rasher of bacon to build up your bones." Her cockney accent always made me smile.

"That would be wonderful, Mrs. Green. And maybe some real tea, instead of this herbal brew that Dr. Watson has me drinking?" I coaxed.

"We'll 'ave to see about that. The good doctor 'as the last word when it comes to your 'ealth, ducks. Ever such a nice man." She disappeared for a minute then came back with a loaded tray. "And such a gent. Asking me for my opinion about the proper victuals for you."

Deftly, she propped me up with another pillow and laid the tray to one side so it wouldn't impede my bound arm. She had nursed a dozen relatives over the years and we had heard about each and every one of them. She had a napkin tucked into the neck of my nightshirt and a buttered scone on my hand before I knew it.

"Nosh on that, dearie, and I'll go see if you can have some tea." And she whisked out of the room with a flip of her navy blue skirts.

Smiling, I listened for the voices in the other room but heard nothing. Where could they be? In the shop? I chewed slowly, savoring the simple pleasures of butter and honey on a light-as-air scone of Mrs. Green's baking while my brain teased at the problem of why I'd suddenly been abandoned to the tender care of our help.

I was chewing a nice thick slice of bacon when the door slowly inched open and David's head peeked around the corner. "Oh, you're awake. And eating."

His smile could light the room even if the morning sun wasn't doing its best through the pulled curtains. He came in and closed the door behind him. "The Inspector is here. He and Holmes are reconstructing the attack. I have the missal here."

He laid the little gem of the Duke's collection on the bedside table. The white leather cover gleamed as clean and fresh as the day it was laid in the original Duchess' hands. Loving hands had oiled it and kept it safely in a satin lined leather box safe in her private chapel. But the current Duke despised it for its Catholic origins and had dismissed it as Papist rubbish.

"Good. It will make an excellent red herring for the police while Holmes investigates for us. Did he say anything about what he's done so far?" I picked up another scone and he leaned over the tray from his seat on the edge of the bed, licking the corner of my mouth.

"You missed a crumb." He smiled impishly at me and for a moment seemed to forget what had happened. Then his glow dimmed and he said. "He dissected the cigar stub from the alley and found it doused with opium. They weren't Orientals, were they?"

I cast my thoughts back over the memories of the night before. "No. I would have said ordinary Londoners. Just average in appearance and dress."

A knock on the door interrupted my breakfast. "Josiah, are you awake?" John entered and shut the door firmly behind him. "Inspector Greeling is here with some questions. Good, you've managed to eat something. I must say that your Mrs. Green has a very light hand with her scones. Finish that and we'll have the young man in. Holmes paid him the great compliment of approving of his questions. A most perspicacious gentleman for a policeman."

David and he tidied the place of all extraneous objects while I placidly finished the last rasher of bacon, listening to his comments on the Inspector. David wiped my mouth and hand with the napkin from the tray, clucking at the grease from the butter.

"You could always lick it clean." I said very quietly while John went to the door to invite the policeman in. He blushed and threw me an admonishing look.

"Inspector Greeling. Please come in."

End chapter seven