Sherlock Holmes: The Reddening Sun 5
“Miss Mortimer saw me into her study to speak and this is where my investigation finally brought me information of value. Your expertise on the matter will outshine mine, Watson. Let me know what you make of it.”
Holmes handed me a small, empty bottle with no label. One sniff and I concluded that the contents once contained an array of opioids.
“Laudanum, if I had to guess,” I said.
“Very good. I surmised some sort of medicinal concoction, but your confirmation helps immensely. I asked Miss Mortimer if this was hers and she denied it, saying it must have been taken by her late husband.”
“Strange. Did Mr. Mortimer have a history of insomnia?” I asked him.
“I did not have the foresight to ask her, since I did not identify the exact nature of the drug until you have just given it to me. I did, however, ask if she noticed his use of the medicine before and she answered that not once had she seen a bottle like this in their home. Only now that I brought her attention to it did she think anything of it. I wondered if it possibly belonged to Mr. Bradford, but she assured me that he only set foot in the study once near the beginning of their courtship and never wanted to go inside again. The fact that her husband expired there unsettles her new fiancee.”
I rolled the bottle in my fingers. “As a doctor I am curious about the medical history of Mr. Mortimer, but I do not see its significance to your case.”
“I have devised a glimmer of a theory, but I am hesitant to share it. This may indeed be the definitive piece of evidence I need, or it could come out to be entirely inconsequential. Only time will tell.
“To complete my narrative, I must fill in the last few details of my visit with Miss Mortimer. For the sake of thoroughness, I asked every conceivable question about her past as well as Mr. Bradford’s.
“‘How long have you lived here, Miss Mortimer?’
“‘Ten years now.’
“‘Pardon my impertinence, but you can be no older than twenty-seven.’
“‘I married James Mortimer at only sixteen. He was already of thirty-nine when we wed, and only forty-eight when he passed.’
“‘And of what age is Mr. Tom Bradford?’
“‘How long has he worked at the inn here in Wembley?’
“‘Almost as long as I have been here, sir.’
“‘But you say you never met him until after Mr. Mortimer’s death.’
“‘Has he any family? Mother and father, I mean.’
“‘They both passed long before I knew him.’
“‘Did they hail from these parts?’
“She started up with a bewildered expression. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know. We’ve never discussed it.’
“‘In regards to their passing, did you ask your fiancee about his parents or did he volunteer this information?’
“‘I hardly recall. It was within a conversation that left little impression upon me. As best as I can remember, I must have asked and he simply replied that he had no family.’
“‘But now dear Samuel has warmed up to him and your engagement is proceeding as planned, therefore he will have a family soon, yes?’
“She showed slight uneasiness. ‘I have acted as if everything is normal, and would still like to marry him once all this business is over. I do, however, want to know of these strange incidences before I pledge myself to him.’
“‘And certainly, you will. With one last question, I will leave you to your day. Has your husband ever received visitors within your home?’
“She shook her head. ‘Tom rarely sees anyone.’ Then a thought occurred to her. ‘Though there was one time that a few men came by when Tom was out. I saw them into the sitting room to wait, but once Tom returned and I told him he had guests, he asked me to turn them out, for he was not of the right mind to speak with them at the time. It was so early on and such a trifling incident that I nearly forgot.’
“‘You have been very helpful, Miss Mortimer. I thank you.’
“With this, I took my leave. I spent the rest of my time spying on the broker den to observe as much as I could, but the operation is well organized, so I have returned here to consult you, Watson. I sent a telegram off to Chatham from which I expect an answer anytime, and then my investigation can move forward from there.”
“May I ask what is in Chatham?”
“Miss Mortimer’s late uncle.”
“What has he to do with the case?”
“Everything or nothing. The response to my telegram will determine this.”
The reply took a considerable amount of time in coming and Holmes lost patience with the wait. Mrs. Hudson served us supper but, of course, Holmes never dines while he is enthralled by a mystery. I filled myself while Holmes rigorously flipped through his encyclopedias to pass the time. A telegram came, but it was not the one he was expecting and he showed little satisfaction from it.
When the telegram he wanted finally did arrive, Holmes sprang to the door to receive it. A mere glance at the note spurred him into action and he donned his hat and overcoat.
“We should be off to Reading.”
“Reading?” I asked. “You mean Wembley.”
“No, Miss Mortimer’s case can do nothing else for me.” He moved about with such a confident air I scarcely believed him. “My efforts are better suited for the disappearing wardrobe.”
“But is Miss Mortimer not in danger? Or Mr. Bradford, for that matter?”
“They will get along without me.”
“Athelney Jones may have Mr. Farley’s case handled.”
“He does not. I sent him a telegram and he assented to my help, for he is in dire need of it. That was the message I received within the first telegram. He has accomplished very little in the way of productivity.”
“I thought you were coming very near to an answer with Miss Mortimer’s problem. It’s unlike you to give up.”
“I hardly see it that way. A change of scenery could be just the break I need.”
Though I disapproved, the loyalty to my colleague was stronger. He sent off one more telegram but then, without much more of an argument, a hansom saw us to the train station and soon we alighted in Reading. Detective Inspector Athelney Jones met us, expecting our arrival, and ushered us to Schoonover Hall. His stout, self assured conduct reflected exactly as it had upon our first meeting during The Adventure of the Sign of Four.
“I’m not sure even your skills will bring sense to this trickery,” Jones said. “I am a man with many victories to my name, but I have never seen anything to the likes of this.”
“Unimaginable, since your police work has been impeccable in the past,” my friend said with less sincerity than could be hoped.
“I can’t afford my reputation to be tarnished by such a bungle.”
“I will be able to remedy that,” Holmes assured him.
“You believe you have a lead?”
“I believe I have solved it.”
To be continued in The Reddening Sun 6...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber