Really, I was quite pleased with the demeanor of Inspector Greeling when he gently but searchingly questioned the Harbottles. He was alert and polite. It was certainly not his fault that our red herring proved so interesting to him that he was soon on the trail of nonexistent thieves. I regretted that but we still didn't know exactly why they had been attacked and I couldn't take a chance on compromising the Government's security.
I gave him my research on the opium impregnated cigar stub but let him draw his own conclusions. That they were erroneous was not my fault, I gave him all the facts I knew and he had the descriptions of the hoodlums from the Harbottles. He bowed out quite quickly after Josiah began to look fatigued and John began to utter his physician's warnings. I showed the Inspector out while David hovered over his wounded companion and Watson gravely took his pulse.
We had much to do if we were to unravel the tangled web of intrigue in which we found ourselves. I had already prevailed on Professor Menton to loan me young Hawkins for the next few days and he had taken his place in the book store, working with Alfred since David would not leave Josiah.
While in the workroom, I overheard Wenton's drawling voice ask for Josiah. Pretending amazement of the news of the attack, he feigned great concern and asked for David instead. Just then, the front door bell tinkled again and I heard the deep tones of Baron von Hauptmann. Hawkins came through to the back and I quietly asked him to send David down. I didn't want to miss a single remark between the two games-players in the front room. All the actors in our drama had come together.
"My dear Wenton, back from Berlin, I see. How could you bear to leave my fair city?"
"Baron. How nice to see you again." Wenton's suave tones reached me easily from where I stood by the half open door. "Just got back two days ago and am already pining for the Continent. But I missed my favorite bookstore so much, I just had to drop in and see if they have anything new. And I find that they were attacked last night and poor Josiah was wounded. Such a crime would certainly never have occurred in Berlin."
"How appalling." The Baron sounded shocked. "You're quite right. The police would never allow such a blatant abuse of our citizens. I hope he is going to be all right?"
"I've just asked if David is available. Perhaps, he can tell us more. What brings you in, my dear Baron? What collecting bug has bitten you now?" Wenton teased him familiarly in a way, I could never hope to mimic.
"The Harbottles' catalog just arrived, filled with some wonderful items from the Duke of Hereford's collection. I am determined to be the successful bidder for an item or two. I didn't realize that you were also a frequent visitor here." The Baron's drawl grated on my ears.
I retreated to the foot of the stairs to intercept David. In just a moment, he came soundlessly down the steps with Hawkins on his heels. "David, Stephen Wenton and the Baron are both here. I think it would be interesting if you and young Wenton appeared to be long time friends."
He nodded gravely. "Yes, I can do that. But they are not seeing Josiah. He's in too much pain."
"Understood." I approved of his protective instinct.
"Would you like to watch the outer room when I go out?" David crossed quietly to the wall and pulled open a cupboard door. He beckoned us over and Hawkins was right on my heels when I joined the young bookseller.
An odd arrangement of mirrors greeted my eyes and I quickly sorted out the concept. How ingenuous it was. I could see the three men plainly. Alfred stood patiently behind the counter while Stephen leaned against it watching the Baron move his cane from hand to hand, his gray gloves light against the ebony wood. David touched my arm and I signaled him to leave the door ajar.
He nodded once and I watched him take a deep breath, slowly letting it out. His chin went up and a very good imitation of his usual smile crossed his lips. I held onto Hawkins, letting David go out alone to his waiting audience. For some reason, I kept seeing this whole adventure as a play with all of us merely actors upon the great stage that is London.
Looking at the mirrored images of the front room, part of my mind calculated the placement of the mirror in the shop that was reflecting the men to Hawkins and me while the greater part of my brain put the words and the pictures together.
"Stephen, how good of you to come. Josiah is resting now with Uncle John to look after him." David put his hand affectionately on Wenton's sleeve, looking up at him through his long dark lashes and I watched my brother's agent pat his hand with an indulgent smile.
"Of course, I came. I'm sorry that something so shocking had to happen to my favorite booksellers. Was it a theft of some kind?"
"I'm sorry, Baron von Hauptmann. I did not mean to ignore you." The brief smile he bestowed on the broad shouldered man was a masterpiece of shyness. "It seems it might have been an attempt to steal one of the gems of the late Duke's collection. A fifteenth century missal that Josiah was carrying to show to one of our customers."
"Not something to my taste but quite valuable it seems, Mr. Harbottle." The Baron was now leaning slightly forward, balanced on his walking stick and I wondered if it concealed a sword. I would not have been surprised. "But they did not get it, I hope?"
I listened intently but young David gave them a stirring account of the attack along with the entirely fictitious story of afterwards. The Baron stiffened when he heard that I was on the case but I saw him relax when he heard David blushingly admit that it was only because 'Uncle John' had asked me to look into it. If ever that young man decides to go on the stage, he will make his fortune.
Quietly, I gave Hawkins a few brief instructions and sent him out to the front. Watching intently, I heard him cough and tell Wenton that Josiah had expressed an interest in seeing him. David handled the unexpected request beautifully, hesitating only a moment before sending Wenton out of the room. Alfred was helping another customer so I watched intently while Stephen arrived to peer over my shoulder.
"Well, it is a sad and anxious time, young man. But I came in hopes of securing a few of your titles for my collection." The Baron dipped into his pocket and brought out his copy of their catalog. "I've marked the ones I'd be interested in seeing. Unfortunately, I have no time today. Perhaps, I could prevail upon you to bring the ones I've marked to the Embassy tomorrow evening?"
David took the proffered catalog and bent his fair head over the pages while I watched the Baron's face. For a brief moment a twisted look of lust crossed the fine hewed features, turning them into a Dionysian mask of lechery. I heard Wenton suppress a gasp and felt a chill run up my own spine while I processed this new information. It appeared that there were treacherous cross currents to be found in these dark waters.
"Certainly, sir. When would be a convenient time for you?" David raised those innocent blue eyes to the Baron's own dark gaze and smiled again shyly.
"Nine would be just right and I promise to see you have an escort home again. No taking chances with your safety, my dear boy." He made his small joke and watched David's blush with a rather gloating smile.
"That would be most appreciated, Baron von Hauptmann. But I will be fine." His bravery was palpable, even through the medium of a silvered mirror. "Then, I will see you tomorrow night, sir. With the books you've marked."
"Excellent. Please give my best wishes for a speedy recovery to your cousin. Until tomorrow." He bowed in the Continental manner and shook David's slender hand lingeringly before making his way out of the store.
"Hawkins, back to your post and send Harbottle back again, please." I stood upright with a slight stretch and felt Wenton shift away from my shoulder.
"Well, that was enlightening. I was not being completely serious last night but it seems I was right on the money. I think young Harbottle should have an escort both to and from the Embassy tomorrow night." Wenton's voice was as serious as I've ever heard.
David's entrance forestalled any reply I might have made. We all three went up the stairs to their living quarters where David made a beeline for the bedroom with a murmured apology. John came out almost instantly and I had a brief glimpse of the young man with his face buried in Josiah's good shoulder.
"Good to see you, Wenton. I take it something has happened?" Watson gestured towards the settee and I paced slowly while they took a seat. I was feeling rather unsettled, fighting my own urge to gather John into an embrace. "Mrs. Green has gone out to the shops so we are quite private."
Wenton spoke up. "The Baron has tickets for the Dover packet at 6 a.m. in two days. He'll be taking two servants with him and four trunks, two of which will be traveling with him in his cabin." His blue eyes, so like Watson's, gazed solemnly at me and I quickly saw his point. The crossing was only a few hours. Why would he need two trunks unless one of them held a fragile cargo?
John looked in bewilderment between us. I quickly explained how we'd been able to watch and eavesdrop on the shop. I was not prepared however, for the surge of anger that crossed Watson's face when I spoke of the lustful look that the Baron had bestowed on young David.
"What! He is not going." Watson sprang to his feet and matched my pacing with a few quick steps of his own. "I will never allow him to be so used again. It would kill them both."
I stilled him with a touch, watching those stormy eyes slowly begin to calm. "I promise that nothing will harm him, Watson. We will find a way for Wenton and I to both be present. I give you my word."
He took a deep breath and began to answer but the opening of the bedroom door interrupted him. David stood there, smiling faintly. "Please. Would all of you come in to Josiah? He wants to speak to you."
Wenton joined us and we entered the sick room to find Josiah propped on several pillows. The window must have just been closed for the air was clean and fresh but only slightly chilled. There was no sign that this was a sickroom except for the bandages that wrapped Josiah's left shoulder. David perched on the edge of the bed, his hand going unerringly to his lover's and his eyes never leaving the calm face.
"Now, I know about the Baron's request and how David feels about it. What I need to know is why John is so upset, he actually raised his voice?" Josiah smiled at Watson's sudden blush.
So, once again I explained what we'd seen that David had not. He sighed and looked affectionately at the bowed blond head. "We have been aware for some time that the Baron has had certain ... desires but we've always been able to keep them on the correct side of propriety. It seems that has come to an end. What we really need to know is why now and does it have anything to do with your missing documents?"
Wenton went rigid and I drew a quick breath to forestall what would probably be an accusation of impropriety on my part. But Josiah just laughed and shook his head. "Calm yourself, Wenton. Neither Holmes nor Watson have said anything to us. But grant us the courtesy of being able to put two and two together to come up with four."
My brother's agent relaxed and chuckled. "Yes, all right, Harbottle. We are missing a map of the fortifications of the entire southern coast. It should have been impossible to steal, being in three parts and closely guarded. But one of the aides figured out a way to copy all of them and they appear to be in the Baron's hands. Which means that they will be on their way to Germany in two days unless we can stop them."
"That won't happen." I was firm in my knowledge of what we could do. "We shall utilize the red herring that we have given the Baron and send Wenton in with David to forestall any attempt while they are in the Embassy. If we have to ring the building with policemen to ensure David's safety, then that is what we will do."
"By tomorrow night, I will be able to go myself." Josiah spoke calmly and withstood the immediate firestorm of protests from both David and John. He waited for them to list all the reasons why he could not and then firmly repeated his statement, adding an addendum that immediately stilled their protests. "The Baron and I have a small score to settle. I have always disliked being taken for a fool. David, would you mind seeing if tea is ready? Perhaps, John could help you?"
His calm, steady voice sent them both out of the room with only one backward look from the young man with the fearful blue eyes. When the door was shut behind them, he sent a level look to me. "There is something you are not telling us, Holmes."
I hesitated only a moment. "The porters have been told to place two of his trunks in his cabin."
For a moment, a fire blazed in his dark eyes and his jaw tightened while he made the same connection that I had already made, but all he said was "I shall go armed."
"We all shall. David's safety will be our paramount concern but the map must also be found and secured. The Baron must leave empty handed." My statement brought nods from both my companions and we settled in for a strategy session after bringing in some chairs from the dining room.
An hour later, our plans were in place and I accompanied Wenton to the back door with a brief request that he tell Mycroft everything that had occurred. He just smiled and quipped that he always did, before exiting. Something nudged my mind again about my visit the night before but hearing Watson's voice behind me, I lost my train of thought.
"Holmes, Mrs. Green shall be returning shortly and staying the night. I will not be needed. Here." His blue eyes sparkled into mine and my stomach fluttered in anticipation. "What say we go home to our own fire and one of Mrs. Hudson's high teas? And perhaps an early night?"
"An excellent idea, Watson. You must be exhausted with your good care of Josiah." I teased him in my fashion and watched his eyes go quite sultry while his lips pursed slightly.
"Not that exhausted, Sherlock." His whisper sent a shiver up my spine and I thought blissfully of the night to come.
We said our good-byes shortly after Mrs. Green returned and I took away the picture of the fair David stroking Josiah's hand while she told them in no uncertain terms just what they'd be eating for dinner that night. I rather expected they would do as they were told. I think I would have.
Watson and I were silent on the trip home. I know I was planning ahead to the morrow and all the coordination we would need with the Special Branch my brother heads. I really did not want to bring the police into this maze of deception, in case there were repercussions on the government level. It is a sad truth that in the political sphere sometimes the truth must be obscured.
I also wondered if any of my telegrams had produced results and rather looked forward to reading the replies. I mused on whether or not Inspector Greeling was getting anywhere and if he might not stumble on something that would help us.
"Holmes, we're here." Watson's voice roused me from my reverie.
Mrs. Hudson made much of us while taking our coats and promised us a high tea that would keep us from imminent starvation. She took our order for hot water for our baths with a willing sigh. I found myself smiling while we climbed the seventeen steps to our rooms. Watson busied himself refilling his bag with supplies while I started the fire. Shrugging out of my jacket, I pulled on my comfortable old dressing gown.
I read the replies to my telegrams while pondering what little information they gave me. This plan had been kept very secret from all of my usual sources. Watson's arms came around my waist and hugged me to him with gentle passion. His lips were warm against my neck and I felt myself relax for the first time in almost a day. "It is heaven to be home, my dear Sherlock. I think an early night is in order. It has been days since I've worshipped your body."
I could feel a blush flow upward at his words. My hands covered his and I turned just enough to see him. His eyes glowed in the firelight and I felt his inner fire reach out to mine. "I am the one who needs to touch you, John. It was never this hard before we became lovers. I seem to have lost my taste for solitary pursuits. I slept very badly this morning without you to hold."
He pulled away with a sigh at the sound of the tea tray approaching. "Tonight will not be solitary, my dearest friend. And we shall sleep very well indeed."
Tea was excellent as always and we praised our good housekeeper, not sparing her blushes. Kathleen was already bringing up the large covered pails of heated water and I mentioned to Mrs. Hudson the ingenious hot water boiler that the Harbottles had installed in their bathing room. She expressed doubt at the safety of the device but promised to think about it.
By the third trip up the stairs, I think Kathleen was quite ready to install the boiler herself. She was apt to be our greatest advocate when it came time to consider the alteration. Curtseying at the door, she indicated that the bath was ready. Watson thanked her gently and carefully locked the door behind her. Leaning against it, he contemplated my sprawl by the fire with a laughing eye.
"Well, my dear Sherlock. In the interests of both of us having a hot bath, I propose we share. That way I can be sure that the small spot on my back, which I can't reach, gets well scrubbed."
"By all means, John. I, too, seem to have a little trouble reaching." I began my undressing with the removal of my collar while I moved towards the small porcelain chamber of which polite society never spoke. John joined me and we rapidly undressed, hanging our clothes on the hooks provided.
The room was chilly and I pondered the addition of a radiator when we installed the water boiler. The plumber's knowledge that I'd studied for one of my investigations came in handy while I decided where the pipes would go and whether or not we'd have to move the large claw footed bathtub ninety degrees.
"What in the world are you contemplating, Sherlock?" The sound of John's voice broke through my reverie and I discovered he'd already taken his ease in the long tub, leaning against the slanted back and holding out his hand to usher me in between his legs.
He was quite beautiful in the flickering light of the oil lamps. He'd already ducked himself and his fair hair looked quite dark plastered against his shapely skull. I wondered if he would appreciate that complement and climbed into the hot steamy water with a sigh of delight. John arranged me to his satisfaction and I soon felt the bath sponge begin to soap my chest.
"You are beautiful when you are wet, John." Settling my head on my companion's shoulder, I prepared to be pampered. He was very good at it and I had learned to do more than just accept it. Indeed, I relished these moments when he focused completely on me.
"Ah, that is very nice to hear, Sherlock." He nuzzled my ear lobe while he washed my left arm with great care. "I feel much the same way about you. Your skin gleams like ivory under the soap bubbles. And I love the way your nipples peak when I run the sponge over them. Not to mention the little ripples in your muscles when I wash your stomach."
I was already moving restlessly under the sponge he was wielding so effectively. Each stroke caused me to harden a little more and when he shifted just a bit, I could feel a tremble start deep inside of me. His cock was nestled between my nether cheeks and my movements were swelling him to larger proportions. This particular caress still made me feel a little unsure but my curiosity was overtaking my fear and I made the decision to explore the possibilities a little more.
Undulating just a little, I flexed my buttocks and heard John moan softly. He kept running the sponge over my groin with gentle strokes, teasing me with the too soft touch. "John . . . please."
His chuckle under my ear reminded me of just who was in charge of this bath and I relaxed again except for my own teasing flexes around his cock. But when he abandoned the sponge in favor of a soap slickened hand, I couldn't help but thrust into his knowing grip. It all felt so very good that I groaned with expectation. His fingers knew just where to press and his thumb gently circled the head with an expertise that reduced me to jelly.
I was panting now, the sound echoing through the bath chamber. His cock was sliding back and forth across the nerve endings between my cheeks, sometimes bumping up against my swollen balls but always returning to the perineum and the cluster of nerves that were sending such jolts to my brain. The anatomy texts had been most useful in naming all the parts and why they worked the way they did.
What they couldn't do was explain the complete and utter joy of stimulation, the knowledge that it was John's cock that stroked so surely across my sensitive skin and his hand that was fast bringing me to a shattering climax. When he bit my ear lobe, it was all over for me. I shuddered into his hands, clamping around his organ like a vise and wringing his release from him.
Twin moans echoed softly through the room and I floated boneless in the now cloudy water with only his arms to hold me safe. The water had begun to cool when we finally stirred from our comfortable womb. Drying took long moments since John insisted on drying me and I was quick to return the favor. My skin tingled everywhere he rubbed the cotton bath sheet and I took great delight in stroking a rosy blush to his sturdy legs.
We chose my bed to sleep in and settling in with a sigh, I thought of the night before when all I did was fall asleep without a warm lover to cradle in my arms. This was much preferred, I decided lazily. Our satiated cocks nestled together while our legs intertwined. The weight of his head on my shoulder was completely satisfying and I tightened my hold on him.
"Holmes, David will be all right tomorrow, won't he? I could not bear to see him hurt. Or Josiah either." His warm breath puffed against my skin.
"We will do our very best to ensure their safety. In fact, if we can finagle a way for Wenton to be there all ready, I think that you might escort them. Doctor's orders and all that." My thoughts raced through the different scenarios, wishing on one hand that he should stay far away from any danger yet understanding his need to protect our friends.
"With my doctor's kit in one hand and my trusty revolver in my pocket?" He raised his head and I saw his eyes glitter with sudden humor in the dying firelight.
"But of course, John. You're the only one I know who can wound an opponent and repair him at the same time." I teased him back.
"Ah, what it is to have a reputation." He laid his head back down and I felt him yawn. "And you will be there in disguise. I have noticed that you keep shunting conversation away from how you would be there. But then you enjoy surprising me, don't you?"
"Oh dear, John, you have seen through my natural shyness and dislike of the limelight, straight to my plan." I waited for his chuckles to die away. I am a vain creature, delighting in my little charades and disguises, all for his benefit. "But it shall be a surprise for you as well as for the others. Now, go to sleep so you can wake me in the morning with one of your voluptuous kisses."
He kissed my skin beneath his cheek and I felt him smile. "That is not all I shall awaken you with, my dearest friend. I may have a surprise for you as well."
I hugged him a little tighter. "I shall look forward to it, John. Sleep well."
"I always sleep well in your arms, Sherlock." Another yawn and I felt him settle into slumber.
Turning off my brain and its need to go over the plans we'd made just one more time, I followed him into a dreamless sleep.
End Chapter eight