The Mummy of Mayfair Excerpt

Neither of them breathed. When they seemed to have stilled for an eternity, Badger drew a breath to speak…when the gun’s hammer was slowly uncocked.

‘Gentlemen,’ said the gracious and unmistakable tones of Sherlock Holmes.

‘Thank the Almighty,’ Badger gasped. But then he paused. ‘Mister Holmes? What are you doin’ here?’

‘Likely the same that you are doing here.’ A match was struck—a Sunflower match, from Seanor and Sons, Ben noted by the aroma of the burning phosphorus and wood—and an oil lamp with a cracked chimney was lit. Mister Holmes turned the wick knob and the flame grew brighter.

‘You knew Wiggins’s old bolthole?’ asked Badger.

Holmes glanced about the dimly lit room and dryly replied, ‘Yes. I sought to know all about my Baker Street Irregulars when they joined me. I even knew where your boltholes were, Mister Badger.’

‘Cor,’ he whispered.

‘But it still raises the question, Mister Holmes,’ said Ben, not befuddled at his presence for once. ‘Why are you here?’

‘For Wiggins, of course.’ He snapped his gaze to Badger like a hawk finding its prey. ‘I can see that you sensed it when you first mentioned to me your coming across Wiggins.’

‘Yes. You seemed…strangely indifferent, sir.’

‘” Strangely indifferent.” Precisely. And though you wondered why, you did not ask.’

‘It…it didn’t seem polite, sir. And I reckoned we’d get round to investigating it.’

‘”Get round to it”? Mister Badger. This is no game.’

‘As you told me before, sir. I took it to heart. It just didn’t seem the time to—’

‘You do not have the luxury of waiting, Mister Badger,’ he said harshly…and then seemed to draw back from that. ‘Not when you are investigating a murder,’ he said more smoothly.

‘Are you telling me…are you saying that Jimmy…’ Badger seemed unable to go on, and Ben laid his hand on the man’s shoulder, and then looked to Holmes. ‘Mister Holmes,’ said Ben. ‘Maybe you’d best tell us the bad news. Quick-like.’

Holmes began walking slowly about the small space, inspecting this dusty item or that. He found a straw-stuffed mattress and pushed on it with his long-slender fingers. ‘I have no news to report one way or the other. However, certain information did come to me that my earlier Baker Street Irregular had fallen in with some…unfortunate companions. And I was troubled by some of the things I had heard.’

‘Not Wiggins, sir.’ Badger’s voice seemed disconsolate. Ben supposed it wasn’t unfounded.

‘Trust, my dear Badger, is a thing hard fought for. It is sometimes not easy to maintain, and the Devil-to-pay to keep. You have the kind of trust with your Watson as I have with mine. It is unwavering and never to fail. This is more valuable than gold. I hope this is something that you both hold dear.’

‘Yes, sir,’ they chorused.

‘But trust in one’s employees or…protégés…is not necessarily ironclad. One would think it should be as a matter of course, but it is not always so. Do you understand me, gentlemen?’

‘You can trust us, Mister Holmes,’ said Badger with a mournful note to his voice. ‘We’ll never let you down.’

Holmes studied him for a moment and walked toward him, laying a hand on his shoulder. ‘I know.’ He turned his discerning eye on Ben. ‘And I know this about you, too, Mister Watson. But I am rather speaking about Jimmy Wiggins.’

‘Did…did he start out like us, Mister Holmes, trying to be detectives?’ asked Ben.

‘It seemed that he had wanted to, but Wiggins had many faults. He, like you, Badger, was full of fervour. But unlike you, he had not the humanity. I am afraid he was, in the end, too jaded to be of any service in that regard. He never asked for my help again when he left me, and I did not expect that he would. Only you did that. I accepted it as a curious experiment. Would you, in time, meet my expectations? Would you keep at it or give up, surrendering to your failures?’ He flashed a brief smile. ‘You did not. Doctor Watson wagered with me that you would. He did not see in you what I saw. I won that fiver.’

‘What was that, sir? That you saw.’

‘Stubborn grit. One needs that for this most peculiar of occupations. And a strong-minded sense of confidence. Oh, Mister Badger. You do not lack confidence. As many do.’

Ben absently rubbed his beard. ‘So, Mister Holmes, you suspected that Wiggins was up to, er…less than acceptable behaviour?’

He quirked a smile again that landed into a smirk, this time aiming it at Ben. ‘Indeed. And investigated it. Though…that investigation came up…short.’

‘Now sir,’ said Badger. ‘If you know something, you are obligated to tell us. As professional courtesy. Er…ain’t you?’

‘If the information I glean helps you, I would have done. But in this instance, it does not. Wiggins has fallen, to be sure.’

Ben straightened. ‘But has he fallen to the level of murderer?’

Holmes only raised his brows. ‘I have not determined it. I leave that to you. But I also wish to add, that this murder of Doctor Sawyer is far more complicated than you might have first imagined. Think beyond what you have gathered, for there is a great deal more to discover.’

‘Please, Mister Holmes. We need more than hints,’ Badger pleaded.

He waved his hand. ‘I have neither hints nor solid information to impart to either of you. This is your case Mister Badger, Mister Watson. I have every confidence in both of you that you will succeed.’ He glanced around the room one last time. ‘Wiggins has not been here of late.’ He leaned over and blew out the flame in the oil lamp. The room fell into darkness again. Only the glitter in his eyes could be seen in the gloom. ‘Remember, Badger, it’s bigger than you think.’