Charmed Role Reversal



Merely Impossible


Author's Introduction

N ewspaper articles about someone finding a hitherto unknown manuscript written by a famous author, stashed away in a forgotten corner of an attic, appear from time to time. It is the rare case when one of these works turns out to be authentic. Most cannot face up to scrutiny, and are the result of the finder's wishful thinking and fanciful imagination, though without ill intentions on his or her part. Others, though, are outright fraudulent, a part of the "finder's" larger scam and long con.

I assure the reader that the manuscript herewith reproduced is definitely not in the last two categories. It does, though, differ from the rest of Charmed Role Reversal in two significant respects. All of the other stories, with the exception of Charmed Heat, which was contributed by my friend Richard Castle, are my own work. This one, as will become obvious to you, is not. And while the others are imaginative extensions, bordering on fiction, of the sisters' exploits, this one appears to actually, in real‑life, have really happened...ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This manuscript did not come from an unknown individual. It was found by my very dear and very close friend, Jasmine Patihi. Of Yemenite extraction, Jasmine is a slender, attractive, intelligent and very capable woman in her mid‑twenties. I would not for an instant doubt the veracity of anything Jasmine said; therefore, the events that I describe here most definitely happened precisely as she related them to me.

Jasmine was in England on a highly confidential matter. On a pleasant day in early Fall of 2015, having successfully completed an assignment of major importance, she found herself in the lovely Sussex countryside with a free day to do as she pleased. During a morning walk she came across a notice for an estate sale that was to be held nearby. At first glance there was nothing peculiar about it. But reading further, it said that it included items from a previous estate sale. The deceased owner had himself bought the property and all contained within in an estate sale some years ago and many of the items from that earlier purchase remained as they had been at that time, untouched by the new owner.

That took Jasmine aback. How could someone be so utterly lacking in motivation, if not plain curiosity, as to leave these items that were now his possessions without investigation. Such indolence went against the grain of Jasmine's DNA. My friend had never attended an estate sale. But something about this one piqued her interest ‑ to this day she cannot put her finger on just what it was ‑ and she decided to go to it.

The house, while not in shambles, had clearly seen better days. There was an outside structure which housed odds and ends ‑ a wax foundation of sorts, a small pry bar and some kind of a garment's hood to which was attached what remained of a net. It appeared to have been built for some purpose other than storage, an objective that required air, ready water and unfettered coming and going. It occurred to my friend that this matched the requirements of a beehive ‑ as did the aforementioned items she found in it ‑ something with which she had become familiar on a previous assignment.

Responding to Jasmine's inquiries ‑ there were only two other people mulling around the house ‑ the estate agent took her up to the attic. There he pointed to a number of items which he said were, as the notice had declared, untouched from the first estate sale.

Looking around, my friend's attention was drawn to a steamer trunk sitting against a corner wall. Two cartons lay haphazardly on the trunk. From the amount of dust on the cartons, and on the part of the trunk that stuck out from beneath them, Jasmine had little doubt as to the accuracy of the agent's assessment of how long the trunk had sat there undisturbed. Seeing her interest, the estate agent removed the cartons, pulled a rag from his pocket, and dusted off the steamer trunk.

My friend tried to open it but it was locked and the estate agent assured her he had no key for it. If she wanted to buy it she would have to take it "as is". Jasmine moved it away from the wall and could tell from its weight that it was not empty.

On a whim, she bought it on the spot. More for the fun of having an authentic early twentieth century steamer trunk, in remarkably good condition, than for the hope of finding any "treasure" inside it. She paid a respectable sum, though it seemed to be not an outrageous price. At least that's what she thought, until she later did that day's currency rate conversion of sterling to dollars, which changed her opinion considerably.

She maneuvered the trunk to her car ‑ pleasantly surprised that this model came with small wheels ‑ then drove to her motel and brought it into her room. She pulled out her set of picklocks and went to work on the trunk's lock. (I cannot go into why my friend Jasmine travels with a set of picklocks, other than to assure the reader that she is not a thief. They are part of her "tools" that she often needs on her assignments.)

Feeling some exhilaration at having opened the lock, it quickly turned to dismay as she lifted the lid. The trunk was filled with nondescript articles of clothing, both male's and female's. She took out each item and examined it carefully. There was nothing that would be considered fashionable, not today and certainly not in the third decade of the twentieth century when the trunk had apparently last been used. (A small article about the mysterious disappearance of some jewels, torn from a newspaper which included the date of issue, was in one of the shirts' pockets.)

The clothing did not seem to be of a single, common style. One item was likely what a laborer would wear, another that of a sailor, a third a woman's simple trousers. Whoever wore these clothes would just blend in to his or her surroundings, and not even be noticed. Quite the opposite of why many people choose the colors and styles of their wardrobe. Why anyone would so neatly keep such pedestrian clothing, and locked up no less, was something that Jasmine could not fathom.

My friend had stacked the clothes on top of each other on the floor next to the trunk. After taking out the last item, she noticed something odd. Though the clothes were stacked just as they had been inside the trunk, and the trunk had been full, outside of the trunk they did not reach the trunk's top. A possibility immediately occurred to her and she began to examine the trunk until her experienced hands found the release for what was a false bottom.

(I am not at liberty to disclose why Jasmine is familiar with, and indeed an expert on, items with false bottoms. As I wrote earlier, being a thoroughly capable and reliable woman, Jasmine was entrusted with an assignment of great importance. As it was, and still is, classified a confidential undertaking, I cannot record any detail of it here. Other than to add that Jasmine's assignment was initiated by, and its success greatly welcomed at, very high levels in both Her Majesty's and American governments.)

Lifting the false bottom, Jasmine found beneath it a leather portfolio, the kind that had once been used for keeping important documents. Untying it, she removed a stack of papers, which upon examination she realized was a manuscript. Though neatly typed, there were handwritten corrections ‑ a word here, a phrase there, revisions to someone's recorded thoughts in other places.

There were clearly two sets of handwriting, meaning that two people had made the changes. As she began to actually read the manuscript, she was overcome at first with a sense of shock and disbelief, quickly followed by astonishment. In her hands was evidence that what Jasmine - and the world - had always accepted as being fiction apparently, in truth, was very real. When she reached the end, she clearly saw that the hands of the corrections matched the names and the date which were handwritten on the last page.

My friend could have published the manuscript and likely turned a nice profit from doing so. She had legally bought it and the copyright had long ago expired, if in fact there had ever been one. But as I said, Jasmine and I are very close and she felt that though this differed considerably from the creative adventures in Charmed Role Reversal, it was nevertheless the proper venue for its revelation. I want to publicly thank Jasmine for her gracious consideration in doing so. And also extend a special thanks of appreciation to my superb Editor Jamie Barry, without whose dedicated, diligent effort and expertise this manuscript, like the other stories, could not have been successfully presented here.

There is nothing in the Charmed "canon" that corroborates any of what is in the manuscript, the way chimerical possibilities at times can illuminate reality. But that absence does not on its own invalidate the authenticity, nor the truth, of what is described in it of having happened. I will leave it to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions about this most singular "story".




Merely Impossible

E diting Charmed Role Reversal has been an enjoyable experience. It has also, at times, been exacting, depending upon the amount of emending and fine‑tuning required of the particular story draft at hand, as well as the deciphering of the author's occasional quaint localisms. But none have been as big a challenge as was editing this manuscript, combining two distinct, at times contrasting, voices ‑ even if intended to be complementary ‑ into a seamless story for the reader. And this smoothing process having to be done, of necessity, with the lightest of touch, so as to maintain, to the extent possible, fidelity to the original text.

Further, a recounting of actual events that occurred leaves me much less flexibility to edit than I enjoy with the other, imaginative stories. Those I can reshape with my "blue pencil", as needed, to enhance the storyline and its readability.

In preparing this manuscript for publication, I incorporated all of the handwritten changes and annotations ‑ so that the story would read as the authors, or rather the chroniclers, intended it to be read ‑ save for two places. Despite the use of advanced scanners and sophisticated photomicrography equipment, these two notations remain illegible. One seems to have been smudged when the ink was not quite dry. The second appears to have been written when the inkwell was running low and was therefore much lighter to begin with, a condition to which time has greatly contributed to its current faded state.

I have, of necessity, used the typed words in those two places. As they were originally meant to be sufficient to convey the action or thought, it is my hope that they will still do so, and not detract from the reader's enjoyment of the events described in these memoirs.

Jamie Barry
June 2017


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Sherlock Holmes, The Blanched Soldier

"When faced with the unthinkable, one chooses the merely impossible."

Mary Russell, The Beekeeper's Apprentice

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Merely Impossible

M y chronicling of the cases and, for lack of a better term adventures, of my dearest friend Sherlock Holmes covered the period of the last two decades of the 19th century and a small portion of the decade that followed. It was shortly after that thatshe retired to Sussex to devote himself to beekeeping. The one exception was my final, until now, recording of what took place at the very beginning of that most terrible time that shook all of Europe and the Near East, drawing in far flung parts of the world as far away as Australia and the shores of North America.

Given the regard in which Holmes was held both in the highest levels of His Majesty's government and in the upper echelons of society, and his refusal to turn away even the most common person for whom he was their only hope, I never truly believed that he had completely given up the role for which his mind and his talents were uniquely suited.

It therefore did not come as a surprise to me the events that I now bring to paper. There are, however, two distinct differences between what follows here and what I had for those many years published in The Strand Magazine.

First, this record of events will not be published, not there nor in any other contemporary magazine. As my Literary Agent and Editor, Arthur Conan Doyle has been invaluable in getting my narratives of Holmes' cases published, and thereby making his exploits known to the public at large. Were I to publish this account today, I would of necessity require Doyle's collaboration. Not from any legal perspective but simply out of a sense of courtesy, propriety and friendship.

But Doyle's recent book supporting the veracity of the existence of fairies and his well known participation in seances have not benefitted his reputation. His association with my publishing this manuscript would surely, in the public's mind, give lie to the authenticity of the facts as they are written.

I am therefore recording this only for posterity, so that the events that transpired will not be lost. Or perhaps, as I truly hope, for a time when its revelations will be accepted, or at least not considered preposterous and discarded out of hand.

The second difference is that I was not privy to all of the events and conversations that took place. Much, perhaps most, of this record was written by a young lady who has come to be very close to Holmes for the past eleven years. First as his apprentice, then as his equal and finally as his wife of the better part of the last five of those years. Mary Russell is the only person I have found (with the possible exception of the evil Moriarity) whose intellect and mind could keep up with ‑ and often more than match ‑ that of Holmes.

My friend clearly saw the inherent abilities of this young woman and it was his tutelage over a number of years that honed those innate capabilities to blossom forth as they did. What I have done here is to combine and to a degree edit as I best I could, with help from Mary, the portion I have written with that which is hers, in an effort to make them read smoothly as a single story.

Since his retirement, I would still visit Holmes in Sussex, though I saw him certainly far less than when we had shared lodgings on Baker Street. Having seen what my friend had done, I decided that perhaps it was time for me to withdraw somewhat myself. Though I did not fully retire, I had limited my practise to no more than a part time occupation. I had made it my business to drop by Baker Street at least once every fortnight to see Mrs Hudson. She managed to always have some delectable food ‑ often especially baked for me, I came to suspect ‑ for me to take home. But after she sold her house to follow Holmes to Sussex and run his household, our relationship was limited to coinciding with my occasional journey to see my friend.

The world had settled down and returned to normalcy, to the extent that it could, following the end of the Great War. But England's recovery was not as many of us would have wished it to be. Society as it had been during the time of Victoria Regina, the Edwardian decade that followed her and the first years of the reign of His Majesty King George V was irrevocably changed, a change that I did not welcome but which I had to accept.

But that acceptance was made easier by the knowledge that at least one person would steadfastly maintain his Victorian character.

It was an unusually pleasant day in the spring of 1925 when I decided to pay Holmes a visit. I called first on the telephone ‑ courtesy of His Majesty's government he has his own line ‑ and he assured me I would be most welcome. It is but a relatively short train ride to Sussex and I was there before the morning was half over.

I hired a taxi at the station and in a quarter of an hour the motor deposited me at the doorstep of Holmes' cottage. I had barely paid the driver and placed my Gladstone bag on the ground when Mrs Hudson came out the front door.

"So good to see you, Dr Watson," she said in greeting, a broad smile on her face.

"And you," I replied. "How have you been?"

"Well, thank you," she said.

"And busy, I expect," I added.

"Keeping Mr Holmes on anything resembling an orderly existence is always a handful, as you know," she replied. "But with Mary's assistance it has become a bit easier. Please come inside."

I followed Mrs Hudson as she led me into the sitting room. As I looked around, other than her presence, the house appeared to be empty.

"Mr Holmes went to the beehives an hour ago but should be returning any minute," she said, anticipating my question. "Mary went for a walk on the downs to her farm so it will be some time before she'll be back."

Though not living there, Mary kept her family's Sussex farm, leaving its running to her very trusted farm manager, and close friend, Patrick. She enjoyed the occasional six mile walk there from Holmes' cottage to see him.

"Your room is ready for you," Mrs Hudson said. She went into the kitchen and promptly returned with a tray of tea and biscuits. "Have some refreshment after your journey."

"Thank you, Mrs Hudson," I said. I poured the tea into my cup, took a sip, then took a bite of her crunchy biscuit, topped with currants. "These are quite delicious. I do miss them."

"Not to worry yourself, Dr Watson," she said. "I'll have a box full prepared for you to take when you go home."

"Do be careful, Watson, not to eat them all before you leave," Holmes warned, as he came in. "It is good to see you, old friend."

"Likewise," I replied, standing up to greet him.

In his 65th year, there were telltale signs of the affects of time on Holmes, though I know that he was loath to admit that to anyone, probably including to himself.

"How are the hives?" I asked as Holmes sat down in his armchair.

"The worker bees have been exceptionally active, gathering the hives's stores of food," he replied. "I've spent the morning cleaning out the unused brood frames so the hives are doing quite well."

"Have you ‑" I started to ask when the doorbell rang. Mrs Hudson bustled in from the kitchen and opened the door. A police constable stood outside.

"Good morning, mum," he said. "I'm sorry to bother you but is there a...a Mr Sherlock Holmes here?"

"Indeed there is," Mrs Hudson replied and showed him into the sitting room.

"I'm Constable William Dickens," he said, as he looked between Holmes and myself.

"I'm Sherlock Holmes. How can I be of help to you, Constable?"

The constable seemed befuddled, trying but being unsuccessful in finding his words.

"Go on, man," Holmes said with some irritation.

"Yes, sir," Dickens said. "It's just that...well, my father was an avid reader of The Strand Magazine. He especially enjoyed the stories written by Dr Watson. I grew up reading them as well. But I always thought that you...well, that is, that Sherlock Holmes was just..."

"That I was a literary creation of Watson's fanciful imagination. And portrayed with those insufferable habits and that churlish speech that were inflicted upon me by the trite editing of Conan Doyle. Most people believe that I do not really exist. I am quite happy that they continue to do so and let me be.

"Now that I have established to your satisfaction that I am real, tell us why are you here, Constable?"

Dickens, looking a bit embarrassed at Holmes' reply, cleared his throat. "Sergeant Alistair MacLeod sent me to find you, sir," he said. He looked at Mrs Hudson and myself. "Perhaps we should speak in private."

"I have work to do in the kitchen," Mrs Hudson said and left the room.

"This is Dr Watson, with whose writings you are so familiar," Holmes said. "You can speak freely in front of him."

"Yes...of course sir," Dickens said. "There's been a murder in the village. Miss Emma Pearson, visiting from London on a brief holiday. She was staying at the Crawley Inn."

"A murder is a terrible affair," Holmes said, "and while it is not as common here as it is in London, I'm sure Sergeant MacLeod is experienced and well suited to carry out an investigation without my presence."

"Ordinarily that would be true, sir," Dickens replied. "But this is not an ordinary murder."

At that remark I saw Holmes perk up. "In what way, Constable?" he asked.

"Miss Pearson had not come down for supper last night nor for breakfast this morning," the constable replied. "The innkeeper became concerned and went to her room. He could not open the door with his room key, as it was bolted from the inside. And there was no response to his pounding on her door. He sent for Sergeant MacLeod. When he came, with the innkeeper's permission, the Sergeant broke in the door." Dickens paused. "Miss Pearson was found lying in her bed," he continued. "The bolt on what was left of the door was still in place in the door frame. And the window had also been bolted shut ‑ from the inside."

Holmes steepled the fingers of his hands together. The look that came upon his face was one with which I had become quite familiar during the many years of our association. It was clear that his interest had been piqued and his mind, always desperate for stimulation, was at once at work.

"Is the room intact as your Sergeant found it?" he asked after a moment.

"Yes, sir. Once Sergeant MacLeod saw the circumstances and decided to send for you, he made sure the room remained as it was," Dickens replied.

"Very well," Holmes said, standing up. "If I can persuade you to forsake Mrs Hudson's pastries, Watson, I would appreciate your company."

"Of course, Holmes," I said. "Just like old times."

"That remains to be seen, Watson. If the facts are truly as challenging as Constable Dickens has described them," he replied.

Holmes went to a desk draw and retrieved his magnifying glass. "We're going into the village, Mrs Hudson," he called to her.



The Crawley Inn was a small, cosy establishment, with no more than perhaps fifteen guest rooms. Sergeant Alistair MacLeod, a tall man with broad shoulders, was waiting for us in the simple but tidy lobby. After introductions, MacLeod led us up the stairs to the first floor. A constable stood guard outside the second room down the hallway.

As we approached the room the constable moved aside, allowing us to see what remained of the door. I followed Holmes and MacLeod into the room. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that part of the door and the door frame were still attached by the bolt. Poor Miss Pearson lay in her bed, almost as if she was asleep.

"Have you determined how she died?" Holmes asked as he approached her body.

"Not exactly," MacLeod answered. Holmes gave him a quizzical look, then examined the bedclothes. After a moment he pulled them aside and examined the woman's nightdress.

"What do you make of this, Watson?" he asked, motioning me to come closer.

"It appears to be singed, as if burnt," I said. "But only in a circle."

"The bedclothes have an identical circle where they covered the nightdress," he said. "We shall have to remove it and look underneath. If you will lend a hand."

As a physician, I am accustomed to seeing the naked female body. But apparently out of respect for the victim, MacLeod sent Dickens from the room. I assisted Holmes to lift the nightdress and MacLeod came closer to see.

"The same circular mark, but the skin is fully scorched," I said. I ran my hand across the burn mark on her chest. "She was burnt to death, Holmes. That much is clear. But I cannot see what could have done that."

"Nor who," MacLeod said. "No one could have gotten into the room with the window and door securely bolted shut. And even if someone had broken in, he could not have bolted everything again from the outside when he left."

Holmes turned away from the bed and went to examine the window. He tried opening it, and when it would not budged he carefully examined the bolt. Then he ran his fingers along the whole length of the window frame, pressing it in what was clearly an attempt to find any loose portion. When that failed, he took out his magnifying glass and examined the window and the entire frame. He then went back to the broken door, examining the bolt and the parts of the door and the door frame that remained standing.

Holmes turned and looked around the room. Knowing him as I did, I could detect on his face a look that said that he had not discovered the answer to the mystery, as he had expected he would.

Holmes then looked up at the ventilation hole in the wall near the bed. He quickly moved to the bed, knelt down and examined its legs.

"I don't see how what your analysing will be of value. Miss Pearson died from burns on her chest, not from snake poison. This will not be another Speckled Band murder," I pointed out, referring to the case of the sealed room murder of Julia Stoner and the attempted murder of her sister Helen. Holmes solved that case by discovering that a snake had been sent through the ventilation hole to murder the victim.

"Your melodramatic telling of that case, together with the sensationalisations added by that hackneyed Conan Doyle, served to promote sales of The Strand Magazine without regard to its received perception affecting my reputation," Holmes retorted.

"Really Holmes ‑ that was uncalled for," I replied. "Though my practice has been generally steady, I have cut back on it of late. There are times when additional income is most welcome."

"Old friend, I do not begrudge you your earnings from recounting my cases," Holmes answered, in what for him passed as a conciliatory tone. "If only they were a clear study of my methods and results, devoid of embellishments. But perhaps I ask too much."

With his magnifying glass in hand, Holmes proceeded to examine every inch of wall from floor to ceiling, giving special attention to the skirting board and to the ventilation grill. He climbed up on a chair and thoroughly scrutinised the light fitting in the ceiling.

"Have another look at Miss Pearson's body, Watson. Look for anything else that could have contributed to her death."

I did as Holmes requested, carefully examining her body as best I could.

"There is nothing else there, Holmes," I said. "I have no doubt the autopsy will confirm that Miss Pearson was burnt to death."

 


I was glad to have been at my farm and seen Patrick, as it had been some weeks since I was last there. The walk across the downs had been most enjoyable, the fresh air as invigorating as it always was. My mind had been engrossed in reviewing a paper one of my Oxford University dons, whose lectures I still attend on occasion, had sent to me and I was practically on our cottage doorstep before I realised I had returned home.

I dislike authors who repeat themselves, finding that both boring and frustrating. I have therefore saved the reader the annoyance of my recounting facts in one memoir which I have already recorded in others. However, as this memoir differs from all of the others ‑ it has become a joint undertaking with Uncle John ‑ there is likely some unwritten memoir protocol that requires me to include those facts here once again.

Very well. I shall reluctantly but briefly do so, knowing the risk I thus incur of irritating the reader.

My name is Mary Judith Russell (I have omitted the second of my middle names as I dislike it). Legally my last name is that of my husband but by mutual consent, we have agreed that I not be referred to, except when registering at an hotel, as Mrs Holmes. I am the progeny of an American, Boston father and an English mother. I was born just after the turn of the century, the first fourteen years of my life being split (unevenly) between San Francisco, my father's adopted home, a brief period with my grandparents in Boston, and England ‑ our London home and our Sussex farm.

At five foot eleven, I am considered tall for a girl. I have blonde hair, inherited from my father, and wear spectacles. Oh, and I am left‑handed.

My mother Judith Russell (née Klein), as a rabbi's daughter, tutored me to read, write and speak Hebrew, and to be knowledgeable in the Torah, the Jewish bible. Though my father Charles Russell was not Jewish, he offered no objection to this education.

The remaining member of my immediate family was my brother Levi, five years my junior, whom I had adored.

My life changed forever on that tragic day in 1914 when the motorcar my father was driving, with all of us in it, went off the cliff of a winding, dangerous road south of San Francisco. My parents and brother died but I, having been thrown from the car, survived. At least I did physically. Mentally, I carried the guilt of having caused their deaths by having distracted my father's concentration with my petty bickering with Levi.

It was only on a recent visit with Holmes to San Francisco, ten years afterwards, that we learned the truth. Someone had tampered with our motorcar while we had stopped for lunch in Serra Beach, a small town along the way. The left brake rod had been cut nearly through, subsequently giving way when my father braked at the first hill, causing the car to swerve to the right off the road ‑ and over the cliff. My family had in fact been murdered, by an old enemy of my father. While this did not reduce the pain I still feel of their loss, it did remove my heavy burden of guilt.

There ‑ that should be more than enough to satisfy even the most demanding arbiter of memoir writing imperatives.

"How was your walk, Mary?" Mrs Hudson asked in greeting.

"Quite pleasant," I replied, then noticed the Gladstone bag in the sitting room. "Uncle John has come." I have taken to calling Dr Watson "Uncle John" as a term of endearment, which I know that he, lacking family, appreciates.

"He has but he's gone off with Mr Holmes and a police constable to the village," she said.

"I trust it was not at the complaint of some villager about Holmes' bees causing a public nuisance," I offered.

"The constable rather suggested I leave the room before he explained the matter," she said. "So I expect it to be something more serious than that."

I was about to ask Mrs Hudson for some fresh tea ‑ the contents of the leftover pot on the table were rather tepid ‑ when the telephone rang. She was next to the instrument and picked up the ear piece. I collected the tea service and brought it into the kitchen in the hopes there was warm tea to be found there. Mrs Hudson came in right after me.

"It's Mr Holmes' brother," she said. "I told him Mr Holmes wasn't in so he asked to speak to you instead."

My relationship with my brother‑in‑law Mycroft Holmes is best described as more formal than familiar. His asking to speak to me in Holmes' absence indicated a degree of urgency.

"How have you been?" I asked politely as I took the instrument.

"There is a matter of grave international consequence," he said, dispensing with pleasantries. "A woman attached to our mission to the League of Nations, Emma Pearson, was murdered in your village inn. My brother must investigate this, quickly find the murderer and stop the associated plot to start a war that some party wants to happen."

There have been more than a few occasions when Mycroft has called upon Holmes to intervene in international affairs. But even so, this time it seemed to be a rather fuller pot that was being stirred.

"Even if Holmes will look into the local murder" ‑ I didn't know whether that was what the constable's call had been about and would not offer that speculation ‑ "he will need to know a good deal more of what is involved. Such as why the murdered woman is so critical to what is happening and who may be going to war with whom. As it appears that time is of the essence it would be best to have all of that information straight away."

There was quiet on the other end of the line, followed by what I was sure was a deep exhalation of breath. Mycroft was deliberating how much to tell me rather than directly to Holmes.

"You must give over every detail to Sherlock," he finally said. "Bulgarian forces crossed the border into Greece and killed two Greek soldiers in a Greek outpost. In response, the Greek government has issued an ultimatum to Bulgaria demanding that it be held accountable for its actions, including making monetary reparations. The Greek army has since itself crossed the border and now occupies the Bulgarian town of Petrich. A full scale war may be imminent.

"Miss Pearson specialised in both the history and the contemporary politics of the Balkans. Added to which she had a remarkable talent for successfully negotiating agreements between adversaries. She had therefore been entrusted to immediately develop what was hoped to be an acceptable compromise, which His Majesty's government would present to the belligerents. She had arranged a secret meeting in London with high government officials on both sides of the conflict to discuss it. Though the meeting would not be at the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva, it was fully sanctioned by, and would take place under the official auspices of, the League. Miss Pearson's murder makes this compromise all but impossible to broker."

Mycroft liked to claim that he is a mere government accountant. In fact, he is the master of a vast intelligence network, with both domestic and international tentacles under his control. His operation is outside of, and at times directly competing with, official government services.

"Surely there are others at, uh, your disposal who can carry the compromise forward," I said.

"There is no one else who knows precisely what the compromise was," he said. "Nor when the meeting is to take place."

"Am I to believe that Miss Pearson was working alone? And that she left no documents in her office?" I asked incredulously.

"Her office is being examined now," he replied. "We may yet find something there. As this affair happened so quickly, and threatened to lead to a greater escalation of hostilities, there wasn't time to find anyone qualified to work with her."

"With this going on, why was she here on holiday?" I asked.

"She had been working for ten days straight on a serious, most demanding matter when this crisis happened," he answered. "She immediately immersed herself in developing a compromise but once it was prepared and the Greek government also agreed to the meeting she was in desperate need of two days' respite."

"I see," I said. "I expect it would be a bit awkward to ask the Greek government when the meeting that we arranged will be, as we seem to have forgotten what we did."

My quip was greeted with what was surely the sound of exasperation.

"Tell Sherlock to call me the moment he has any information," he said. At that the line went dead. I replaced the ear piece as Mrs Hudson came into the room.

"I expect it is a bad business," Mrs Hudson commented.

"Yes, it is," I replied, "but there's nothing to be done until Holmes returns."

 

It was another half‑hour before Holmes and Uncle John came home.

"So good to see you, Uncle John," I said warmly and he returned the greeting.

"We have a most vexing puzzle, Russell," Holmes said. He took out his pouch of tobacco, selected a pipe from the mantelpiece, and sat down to fill it. "A woman was murdered in what appears to have been a sealed room."

"It is more complicated than that," I replied, and recounted my conversation with Mycroft. Holmes listened intently, lit his pipe and leaned back in his chair, his grey eyes focused on his train of thought.

After some five minutes he sat up straight. The pipe having gone out, he knocked it gently against the ash tray, shaking loose the dottle from the bowl.

"Time will not allow us the luxury of a sequential approach to this matter," he said. "We shall have to examine this from both ends simultaneously. There is no alternative but for you to go to Whitehall, Russell, and learn everything about Miss Pearson's work on this negotiation. Watson and I will continue to investigate the murder from here."

 

Holmes having 'phoned Mycroft to expect me rather than him ‑ I can only imagine the lack of an enthusiastic response he received to that ‑ I had hurried to the train station, purchased a ticket and just made the early afternoon train to London. I was making my way down the corridor in search of an empty compartment when I came upon one, just as a young woman coming from the opposite direction came upon it, as well.

She was rather short, though in comparison to me most women are. Our hands extended to the door at the same time.

"It seems we've found this compartment together," she said. "Would you object to sharing it?"

I had wanted solitude to review the facts, such as I had, of the murder and the international crisis. As the compartments I had passed had two or three people in each, with the associated noise levels, having a single companion seemed to be the least objectionable choice.

"Not at all," I replied. I opened the door and sat down. The woman followed me in and took the seat opposite me.

"Is Sussex or London your home?" she asked.

I had not wanted to have a conversation which would distract me from my thoughts. But civility ruled that I reply.

"Sussex, but I have lived in London in the past."

"I suppose there is some regional difference in the accents but truthfully I couldn't tell that from your speech," she admitted.

I was looking for a way to firmly but politely end this dialogue. "And your accent is obviously American. Welcome to England!" I said, then took a paper from my pocket, intending to make myself appear to be busy reading it.

"Yes ‑ from San Francisco," she said. Despite my wanting to be left to my thoughts I could not help looking up at her.

"Have you been there?" she asked.

"I spent part of my childhood there," I said.

"Oh...well then, that's why there is something about your accent that isn't the pure British one that I've been hearing since I arrived here," she said. "I live in the Pacific Heights district. Do you know it?"

That took me aback. "That's where our home was," I said in surprise and we exchanged our streets' names.

"At this point introductions are in order," she said, extending her hand. "I'm Prue Halliwell."

 

We proceeded to discuss things about San Francisco. Much of my childhood memory of the city had returned to me during my visit there with Holmes the previous year. That led us to talk about the homes in which we had lived and how my parents' home and her grandmother Penelope's house that she had inherited ‑ the Manor as she called it ‑ were both spared, with only minor damage, during the 1906 earthquake.

She said she was touring England and had been told not to miss seeing the Sussex Downs. "It really is lovely and was worth my taking the trip out there," she said. "Now I'll be looking for the interesting parts of London."

Our conversation continued for the entire journey and I found us arriving in Victoria Station without my having given any thought to the events which had brought me there.

"It was nice meeting you," she said as we disembarked from the train.

"It was my pleasure, as well," I said. I had in truth enjoyed our talk, despite my initially having preferred to have had the time to think. "Enjoy your visit here."

I hired a taxi just outside of the station and in a few minutes it deposited me at a nondescript building in Whitehall. It is where Mycroft has an office and where he would usually be found during working hours. Unless he was at the Diogenes Club, which would have presented a problem of my entering that "gentleman's only" lair. I could easily have put on a man's trousers and assumed a masculine identity, as I had done on many occasions, had that been necessary to secure my entrance. But as Mycroft knew that I was coming I was certain he would obviate that deception and be in his office awaiting my arrival.

The look on Mycroft's face after I was shown into his office was clearly one of resignation. Holmes was not coming and he had to make do with me.

"What have you found in Miss Pearson's office?" I asked.

"Nothing regarding the compromise," he replied.

"Nothing at all? That is rather surprising," I said.

"I agree," he responded.

"Who searched her records?" I asked.

"Jeremy Carlson. He was quite recently assigned to the mission, having transferred from Liverpool, and has been temporarily elevated to fill her position as an emergency measure."

"What do you know of his competence to do that?" I asked.

"I know little of anything about him," he answered. I raised my eyebrows in surprise. Mycroft's connexions were quite extensive. "Not every person in the government is known to me. But I will look into who he is once we get past this international disaster."

"It is regrettable that no one was privy to Miss Pearson's diplomatic endeavours," I remarked.

"As it turns out, there was someone assigned to her the day before she left on holiday," Mycroft said. "Colin Rothman. He was to assist by securely conveying the information about the meeting she had negotiated to League headquarters in Geneva. He was quite raw and untrained in any form of cryptography or ciphers. As to why he was chosen, it seems to have been purely a matter of his being on hand when no one else was."

"Surely he can provide some information," I remarked.

"Perhaps so," Mycroft replied, "if we could but find him. Rothman has disappeared."

 

Jeremy Carlson did not stand as I entered what had been Emma Pearson's office and was now his but remained seated behind his desk. He appeared to be in his late forties, his partially grey hair matched the colour of his suit jacket, his face a pasty skin with an annoyed, dour expression.

In short, the quintessential government bureaucrat.

"I'm here to look through Miss Pearson's papers and files," I said, handing him the note from Mycroft authorising me to do so.

He opened the note, read it then dropped it on his desk. "As I have already reported, there is nothing here regarding the negotiation."

"It may have been misfiled or hidden in some other document," I suggested.

"It isn't. I have examined everything here," he said.

"Already? You made rather quick work of it," I remarked.

"As this is now my position and my office I want to know where and what everything is," he replied with a touch of officiousness, clearly intending to dismiss me.

"Nevertheless, I should like to have a look for myself," I insisted.

He stared at me for a long moment. "Very well. Go ahead, if you wish to waste your time," he replied, a hint of a smirk on his face.

I spent the next half‑hour looking through the contents of two medium sized cabinets. They were crammed with files on disparate subjects, from the tea preferences of the British legation at the League in Geneva to the brand of cigar favored by the King of Bulgaria. To Carlson's obvious displeasure, I then searched his desk drawers, necessitating his having to finally stand up for me.

But all of my searching yielded nothing whatsoever about the crisis and the negotiation.

"This makes no sense," I said when I was done. "It is only logical that there should have been some reference to the compromise and the scheduled meeting in her office."

Carlson glowered at me with a slight tilt of his head, implying that I had simply validated the facts as he had reported them. And that it was not his responsibility to explain them.

"Is there a storage room where material is kept?" I asked. "Perhaps Miss Pearson for some reason moved them there."

Carlson exhaled. "There is a small storage room down the hall," he replied. "Miss Pearson, and now I, along with the other members of the mission have allocated spaces there." He stopped. I expect he recognised my determination to examine it as he opened a desk drawer and removed a red, leather bound notebook. The initials "EP" were embossed on the cover.

"The storage room is secured. The note you brought with you gives you access to this office but not to that room." He wrote something on the page, tore it out of the notebook and handed it to me. "This will allow you entrance to the room so you may continue to waste your time. But no longer waste mine."

"Thank you," I said as he handed it to me, clearly eager to be rid of me.

"Good day, Miss Russell," he replied, sat down in his chair and busied himself with some document on his desk.

 

I showed Carlson's note to the guard at a desk outside the storage room. He read it then stood up and walked over to the room's door to unlock it for me. As he did not keep the note, I simply folded it again and slipped it into my pocket.

The area that had been assigned to Emma Pearson consisted of two file drawers of medium size and one small shelf above them. It took me less than fifteen minutes to determine that there was no information there regarding the crisis.

Disappointed and frustrated, I took the lift to the ground floor and went out the front door, with no clear idea of what to do next. I began to slowly walk down the street alongside the building towards its end at the street corner a few yards away. My mind was preoccupied with considering what options I could devise and I proceeded to bump into someone turning in from the cross street around the building's corner.

"Oh...I beg your pardon," I began. "I should have ‑" I abruptly stopped as I realised who I had bumped into.

"Prue Halliwell!" I said in surprise.

"Mary Russell," she replied. "How nice to run into you. Literally."

"Uh...I'm so sorry. My mind was elsewhere when it should have been looking where I was going," I apologised.

"No apology necessary," she said.

"What brings you here?" I asked.

"Looking at interesting parts of London, as I said I would," Halliwell answered.

The building that housed the mission to the League, as well as a handful of other small Foreign Office departments, and its neighboring structures on the street were quite drab. They lacked any hint of the grandeur found in the more prominent government buildings in other parts of Whitehall.

"I would hardly consider these buildings, and this whole street for that matter, to be interesting," I remarked.

"It's part of London and I'm a tourist. It helps give me a feel for the city," she explained.

I could not conceive of why anyone would take the time on holiday to come see this. There were much more charming and architecturally attractive parts of the city for a tourist to explore.

"You're here as well," she noted.

"I had some business to attend to here," I replied.

"I hope you were successful," she said.

"Not yet...but I expect I will be," I said. Her question seemed innocent yet something about her asking it bothered me. "Enjoy your touring."

"Thank you," she replied. "Good luck with your business."

Under normal circumstances I would not have attributed Halliwell's passing the League mission's building just as I was leaving it, the second time that day we had met each other, to coincidence. As Holmes told me on more than one occasion, his lifetime's habit of self‑preservation leaves one disinclined to accept coincidence. But as I was carrying the burden of the whole Bulgarian affair, I allowed myself to accept that explanation, providing it did not happen a third time.

Which it did ‑ not three hours later.

I had returned to Mycroft's office as an idea began to form. As we didn't know when the meeting would be held, whoever did not want an agreement to be reached may not know that, either. They had murdered Miss Pearson but there was still the chance that something might still come of the meeting. To assure that wouldn't happen they may be planning to assasinate the Greek or Bulgarian officials who would be coming for it.

Mycroft told me that no Greek representatives were expected to arrive ‑ whoever would be attending the meeting were already in London ‑ but that three Bulgarian officials would be arriving tomorrow morning. He would upgrade security around the embassies but the road they would travel to London was another matter.

With nothing else to try at the moment, I decided to give that my attention. I looked at a map of the area through which lay the road the officials would take, a map which I had to persuade Mycroft to give me, and saw that it was generally protected from its surroundings. But there was an exception. I borrowed a motor from Mycroft ‑ after initially insisting that all were in use, I pressed him on it and after a bit he conceded that his office "might happen" to have a spare available ‑ and I set off.

 

The small hill overlooked the road. Rather than turning one way and then another as it did both before and after this spot, the road here was quite straight. But it was a rather short length of it that was in the open clearing; an assassin would have just a few seconds to find his mark.

But he might instead shoot at one or two tyres, causing the motor to swerve and likely stop altogether. That would allow the assassin enough time to shoot unrushed and more precisely.

Either way, this was the best, unguarded place for an assassination. I was considering how to prevent it when a glint of reflected sunlight caught my eye. I turned 'round and saw Prue Halliwell off to my right. She was positioned on a part of the hill some thirty yards behind me. As I started towards her I saw she was holding field glasses to her eyes ‑ that's what had caused the reflected sunlight.

As I came closer I saw that it was a Zeiss field glass, very high quality and rather expensive for a casual tourist to have. Which, combined with her presence at this site, made me become quite wary.

"This place is not in the Baedeker Guide for tourists," I said as I approached her.

"Hello again, Mary. It's a main road and as I passed by I imagined the view from up here would be worth exploring," she said, returning the field glasses to its case.

"Or for planning an assassination," I replied.

"Are you suggesting that I intend to kill someone?" she asked.

"I am suggesting ‑ no, I am telling you ‑ to leave here and find some other scenic hill from which to make your observations," I said quite firmly.

"Or what?" she demanded. "You'll summon Scotland Yard? Perhaps you'll request Inspector Lestrade to arrest me? Granted, the son is not as thick as his father was and can even occasionaly be capable. But all of this is way beyond his abilities to handle."

"You know Lestrade and his...er, knew his father?" I asked, showing more surprise that I had wanted to. While Holmes' association with Lestrade senior had been before my time with him, we had together worked with his son John, an Inspector following in his father's footsteps.

"I know of them," Halliwell replied, then took a deep breath. "I will tell you this, Mary. The world is on a precipice from which it can fall into depths from which it would never recover."

"The world already fell off the precipice eleven years ago. It is only now clawing its way back up," I said.

"There is an evil and destruction coming, the likes of which modern man has never seen," she said.

"'Modern Man' has already seen more destruction in the Great War than anyone could have imagined," I said sharply.

"I'm sure you of all people would agree not to twist facts to suit your theories," Halliwell replied. I was not surprised that she was familiar with Holmes' maxim ‑ Uncle John's stories had a large following ‑ but that she would associate me with Holmes startled me.

"The fact is that evil is coming. The choice is whether the world will use its respite following the previous decade's misery to strengthen itself to withstand and defeat that coming evil," she continued. "Or if the world will squander this opportunity to re‑charge itself by allowing local hostilities to escalate out of control into a full‑scale, disastrous conflict. A conflict that would leave the world weakened and without the political and physical resources it will need when that not‑too‑distant future evil comes."

"That's a rather profound and grim vision of the future," I said, "though I doubt it is shared by many."

"The lack of their prescience will not prevent that future's approach," she said.

"And you intend to save the world from this disaster by assassinating diplomats?" I challenged her.

"Quite the opposite," she replied. "I want to assure the realization of what their efforts could bring about."

"Just how do you intend to do that?" I asked.

"By helping you succeed, Mary." she answered.

I had not expected such a preposterous response. "You claim to be just a tourist and though I no longer believe that to be true, precisely what do you know about me?"

"I know you are here to stop the present evil's plan from prevailing," she said.

Who Prue Halliwell really was and her involvement in the crisis had now become of major concern to me. "How do you think you know why I am here? And how do you propose to be of help to me in whatever I am doing?" I demanded.

Halliwell looked straight at me. "With powers. I have powers," she said ambiguously, then turned and walked away.

I had a mind of going after her and demanding explanations but I realised that she was unlikely to give me anything that would satisfy me. Mycroft has connextions in America and I would do better to have him pursue the answers. There being nothing further to see here, I went to my motor and returned to Mycroft's office.

 

As I entered Mycroft's office I was prepared to tell him of my need for information about Prue Halliwell but seeing the dour expression on his face I hesitated.

"Rothman was to take the Dover ferry to Calais, then board a special train to Geneva to deliver the information about the negotiation meeting to League Headquarters," Mycroft said glumly. "We found Rothman's body near the ferry. Something had burned through his chest and killed him."

"I am so sorry to hear that," I said with sincerity. "I'm sure he was a good man, even if not an experienced agent. That is the same way Emma Pearson was murdered."

"It would appear so," he replied.

"Did he have any information on his person?" I asked.

"Nothing of any value. The killer went through his things ‑ we found them scattered on the ground near him. His passport, his wallet, a small notepaper scribbled in a foreign alphabet ‑ nothing that will help us. Rothman was an utter failure."

"I should like to see the items," I said. I was met with a questioning look. "I am investigating this whole affair at the direction of your brother," I reminded him. "These items may be of help to me."

Mycroft took a deep breath, exhaled and with obvious reluctance opened a cabinet door behind him. He took out a box, placed it on his desk and removed its cover.

"These are the items," he said.

I removed the wallet and carefully examined its contents. Finding nothing helpful, I picked up the notepaper and was startled at what I saw.

"This is Hebrew," I said.

"What of it?" Mycroft asked.

As I stared at the notepaper the realisation of what it was came to me. "Colin Rothman was not trained in your standard covert methods of encrypting sensitive data but he did take his responsibility of keeping the meeting and compromise information secure, lest anyone come upon it. And he knew the Torah. He encoded the information referencing facts from it."

I turned to my brother‑in‑law. "You owe Colin Rothman, and his memory, a profound apology," I said sharply.

"What..." he stammered. A strange look came across his face. It is the closest I have ever come to seeing Mycroft Holmes flustered.

He cleared his throat twice and recovered his composure. "Can you make anything of it?" he asked.

"I am my mother's daughter," I proudly replied. I felt the memories of her tutoring lessons coming to the fore. Despite it being over ten years since she was killed, I had truly never lost the connextion I felt with her. And now as I saw the words on the notepaper I felt that connextion renewed and strengthened.

I looked at the first line of Rothman's writing. "Yome Naftali Ben Yaakov," I read aloud. "Yome means 'day'. Naftali Ben Yaakov ‑ Naftali, the sixth son of Jacob. Z'mahn," I continued, "Zevulun Ben Yaakov ‑ Zevulun, the tenth son of Jacob. Z'mahn means 'time'." I paused, putting it together. "The negotiation meeting will be on the sixth day of the month. At ten o'clock."

"What of the terms of Pearson's compromise?" Mycroft asked impatiently.

"Hay‑ahs‑fu" I read the last word on the page. "'Gather together'" I translated ‑ "that is, the meeting. Er...there must be a second page where he continued and encoded the rest, including the terms."

"There is always a strong wind near the ferry. Some things ‑ such as notepaper strewn on the ground ‑ could have been blown away into the water," he admitted.

I sighed. "At least we know when the meeting will be. As today is the fourth, that gives us a tight deadline of less than two days in which to discover its location. And the details of Miss Pearson's proposed compromise."

 

The Bulgarian delegation was to arrive early the next morning. I wanted to examine the road again before they passed on it and there would not be a train from Sussex sufficiently early to get me back to London in time to do that. So rather than return home, I decided to take a room at an hotel in the city. But Mycroft insisted that he could not properly let his sister‑in‑law do that and graciously invited me to stay at his home.

I 'phoned Holmes to update him of my day's activities but he was out. I spoke instead to Mrs Hudson and, not wanting to burden her with all of the details to relay to Holmes, I told her only the date and time of the meeting to give to him.

 

I was up quite early the next morning and, once again borrowing a motorcar from Mycroft, I set out to the spot on the road where I had been the day before. After having told Mycroft yesterday of my concerns about the clearing, he assured me he would see to its being guarded. And indeed when I arrived I saw a small group of policemen on the hill overlooking the road.

There was still some time before the delegation was due to reach the clearing and I decided to walk along the road in the direction from which they would come, to be sure I had not missed a second dangerous spot. The road twisted and turned left and right between trees, which blocked the view on either side, as the map had shown. I continued walking, peering through the woods as best I could. After a while I noticed a low grey stone boulder beyond the trees on the right side of the road. It was much too low for anyone to stand on to shoot over the trees so it did not pose danger of an assassin taking aim from it.

But as I continued to look at it through the trees I saw what appeared to be a dark square in the stone. Curious, I made my way with some difficulty through the dense woods until I came to the square. I saw that it was an opening, going below the boulder into what must be a cave. The entrance was not high and being rather tall I had to lower my head quite a bit to get inside.

Not having brought a torch, I expected I would get no more than a few feet until the blackness of the cave would force me to leave. But the cave quickly came to a turn as it descended steeply and I could make out some small illumination beyond it. I followed the path, which reversed direction and was now leading back towards the road and apparently under it. There were two small lanterns along the wall, giving off just enough light to allow me to see where I was walking.

After taking another small turn, I found myself entering a small cavern. It was fairly well lit and as I walked inside I immediately saw a device set on a table. And someone, his back to me, standing next to it. Hearing me come in he turned and stared at me, a wild look in his eyes.

"What are you doing here?!" he fairly roared at me. "No matter. You can do nothing to stop this."

The device was clearly a bomb. I realised that the cavern must be directly under the road and that he intended to detonate the bomb to kill the Bulgarian delegation as it passed above. A clock, apparently the timing mechanism, was attached with wires to it. I could not see the time on the clock and so could not tell when it was set to go off. Or whether this madman intended to manually detonate the bomb and take him, and me, with it.

That left me no choice but to attempt to disconnect the timing device. I was not as close to the bomb as he was but I did not see him holding a gun. I would rely on my speed and agility to reach it before he could do anything to stop me.

I started towards the bomb but as I did a flame suddenly came at me. Had I not been moving it would have hit me in my chest. As it was it scorched the sleeve of my shirt as I turned away from it.

I still did not see a weapon in his hand. How had he thrown a flame at me? I did not wait for an answer. In a single motion, my left hand, instinctively from practise and without my thinking, found the familiar knife with the rosewood handle in the sheath attached to my ankle and threw it. The knife landed exactly in the centre of the man's chest.

My knife throwing prowess was one of the first things that made me of interest ‑ dare I say endeared me? ‑ to Sherlock Holmes. The madman staggered backwards a few steps, then stopped. He took hold of my knife, pulled it from his chest and grinned at me.

I don't know what shocked me more ‑ his standing on his feet with my knife now in his hand or the lack of any blood on the blade. What I was seeing was quite impossible. The alternative was ‑ what? That I had fallen asleep as I stood there and was caught up in a dream so real that I could sense and feel everything around me? Or that I had been suddenly transported to some alien world on another planet where the structure of human physiology had been altered?

Both alternatives were unthinkable. Which left me no choice but to have to accept the merely impossible.

"This is a fine knife you have here," the man said, still grinning. He lifted his arm and a flame came from his other hand, landing not one foot to my side. I stared at his hand to be sure I was not imagining that it was empty.

"Ah...but I think I'll use your knife to kill you," he said. "It will be a change from always using the fireball."

I did not know if he intended to lunge at me with it or attempt to throw it at me. There was little space in the room to manoeuvre around him and I prepared myself to react to whatever he did. But I was not prepared to see him suddenly fly backwards against the far wall.

I turned slightly to my right and was startled to see Prue Halliwell standing there, her right arm outstretched in front of her. The man tried to get up but Halliwell waved her arm at him and he fell backwards, my knife falling from his grasp. Halliwell waved her arm ‑ actually I saw that it was more just her hand ‑ twice more, each time knocking him harder into the wall.

As he lay helpless on the ground, I moved to retrieve my knife but Halliwell's other arm quickly grabbed me and stopped me. Then she took a piece of notepaper from her pocket and began to read aloud from it.

"Your time is done, your evil ended
Your malevolent prepotency expended."

A fire suddenly appeared, not from his hand but instead surrounding him. He cried out as the fire engulfed him, drawing inwards in a circle. And then the fire and he were gone without a trace. Only my knife remained on the cavern floor.

I admit my mouth must have been hanging open as I first stared at the empty place where he had been, then turned to face Halliwell.

"Powers," she said.

     

Holmes paced back and forth in the hotel lobby, his demeanor growing more irritable as a solution continued to elude him.

"Someone is lying, Watson," he said with finality. "That is the only explanation."

"It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. I believe you said that, Mr Holmes." I turned around and saw a young woman had entered the room. "And you don't have all the data," she continued.

The young woman was attractive and short ‑ perhaps five foot two. And slim ‑ I'd put her weight at about eight stone. And her age at about the same as Russell's ‑ mid‑twenties.

"You're familiar with my methods," Holmes replied.

"I have read, and enjoyed, most everything that Dr Watson has written about you," she said.

It is always a source of pride when I encounter someone who has read and enjoyed my stories in The Strand Magazine. "I am flattered by your kind words, madam. But as you know who we are you have us at a disadvantage."

"My name is Piper Halliwell," she replied.

"That you're American is obvious from your accent," Holmes said. "The countryside in Sussex is lovely and we receive English tourists from time to time. But rarely American ones. It is not on their Baedeker list of attractions. We do get some young people trying to discover if I am man or myth. But the villagers are quite protective of my privacy and are very good at gathering them up and sending them on their way whence they came. But they did not do that to you. And as you are rather complacent in meeting me you're not here to prove my existence.

"Had you been in the village for a while my wife would have been notified of your presence. She is American on her father's side and someone would have felt the misguided need to tell her of a compatriot staying in the area. But no one did.

"You have therefore just arrived, at the precise time of my investigating a murder, and claim that you have data for me. How very odd."

"To be precise, what I said was that you are lacking data," she replied.

Holmes looked sharply at the young woman. "You are full of contradictions," he began. "You wear your hair in a long, traditional style, yet your clothes are au courant. In fact, they are brand new, purchased from Marks and Spencer. You overlooked a loose thread on your top button, a particular thread favored by that store.

"Yet your shoes are not new. In fact, there is a residue of alluvial soil on both heels. That soil has a distinctive triangular shape. My wife and I recently returned from San Francisco. As she spent part of her childhood there, she took me to Muir Woods, a place to which she had once gone. The color of the particular alluvial soil there is the same as that of the soil on your shoes. And unique to Northern California.

"You are particular about the clothes you wear, discarding and replacing your personal wardrobe when you arrived here, yet you travel for weeks from America's West Coast to England without once caring to clean your shoes."

"I bought new clothes as I needed something that would be appropriate in the place, and the time, in which I now am," Halliwell answered.

"My wife purchased clothing while in San Francisco and they were quite up to date. Yet you felt your style would make you appear to be behind the times here?" he pointedly asked.

"No, not behind the times. It would have been just the opposite," she said, an enigmatic smile crossing her face. "And therefore inappropriate here. Oh...and I didn't overlook that thread on the button. I purposely left it there."

"To test me?" Holmes asked indignantly.

"No, not a test. I just wanted the pleasure of seeing your deductive analysis at work first hand. Though you often take exception to Dr Watson's recounting of your cases, he has not short‑changed you. Your keen intellect, and deductive reasoning, is in fact just as the good doctor has recorded.

"As for my shoes, you are of course correct that I recently visited Muir Woods," Halliwell continued. "And I did not bother to take the time to clean my shoes. But the use of time is a function of the constraints of that time on someone. Think of how much time it took you to return from San Francisco. It seems like that was a lot of time. But that would have been considered an impossibly short time in which to make that trip just one hundred years ago. How time can be used is a function of what is available, and not constrained, to someone within that time."

I was at a loss to understand what the young woman was saying. "Please forgive my directness but you are obfuscating your explanation," I said.

"Yes, I am," she agreed, and her enigmatic smile returned.

"What is your interest in this case?" Holmes asked.

"You use your research and your experience to define a line over which lay the impossible," Halliwell replied. "But that is because you lack the data which would allow you to move certain things to the possible side of that line."

"And you have such data," Holmes said with incredulity. "Why are you really here, Miss Halliwell?"

"To save you from wasting your time and to help you with your case," Halliwell answered. "And to protect you and Dr Watson from that which is unknown to you."

"What is unknown to me is why you propose that we are in any danger and how you could be of any help to me," he said brusquely.

"The danger is because it may be perceived that you will reveal the evil behind all of this," she said.

"Are you saying that you know who killed Emma Pearson?" he asked with piercing eyes.

"Not who ‑ what," she replied. "A type of being on a level of existence with which you are not familiar."

"Type of 'being'?" I repeated. "Are you suggesting the killer is not human? What type of nonsense is that?!"

"Nonsense is often what one thinks of something when lacking the knowledge about it", she answered. "You don't trust me, do you?" she asked Holmes.

"I trust nothing but facts," he replied. "And you have not given me any."

"You already have the facts, Mr Holmes," she replied. "A woman murdered in a sealed room from which no person could have possibly entered and left. What you don't have is the knowledge of what beyond your experience is possible."

"And you purport what is possible is this...other 'being'?" I asked incredulously.

Halliwell smiled at me, then raised her right hand. And then I seemed to be nowhere. I could neither perceive of anyone, even of myself, nor of time itself. The next thing I recognised was Halliwell lowering her right hand. And holding in her left hand my hat.

My hand reacted by going up to my head to feel for the hat that was clearly no longer there. Halliwell was standing some five feet away from me. I could not comprehend how she had managed to have my hat without my even noticing her coming towards me, let alone seeing her take it. And that sense of having been nowhere added to my confusion.

"Your parlor trick of some form of mesmerising will not help me find the murderer," Holmes said, annoyed.

"It wasn't a trick," Halliwell said, "just a demonstration of the possible that lies beyond the scope of your understanding. And no, it will not help you solve the case. For that we will have to set a trap for the evil that killed Miss Pearson, an evil that cannot be allowed to remain here. To do that we will have to quickly make it known that you have put together a compromise for the Greek‑Bulgarian meeting."

"A trap for some 'being'? Holmes said derisively. "I will not let your absurdity divert me from my investigation."

"Which you have no way of continuing," Halliwell replied, "as you admitted a few minutes ago. Thanks to Dr Watson, your powers of reasoning are recognised and well known. It will therefore not be difficult for it to be believed that you applied yourself to the task and deduced an acceptable compromise in place of Miss Pearson's. And then we will spring our trap."

 


"A witch?" I repeated. I had retrieved my knife and now stood in the very spot in which the madman had burnt and disappeared. I could scarcely say the word. Her explanation of how she could do what she had done, of why she had 'powers', was no more comprehensible to me that was my having seen her use them. "As in...children's fairy tales?"

"There is often some basis in truth to most fiction," she replied. "But I'm a good witch, responsible for the protection of innocents and the vanquishing of evil. And with powers that I use to do that."

"And that...man?" I asked with apprehension.

"A demon, not human. The evil purpose of he and those like him is to destroy good and good people, to create devastation. Even bring about war when they can," she said.

"Are you saying there are others like him?" I asked. It was quite difficult to acknowledge that one such being existed. That there were others of his type was more than I wished to accept.

"There are ‑ and some are here," Halliwell answered. "They came to prevent a peaceful settlement to the Bulgarian‑Greek crisis, thereby provoking a war which, as I already told you, would have far reaching, long‑term consequences."

I wanted to discard what Halliwell had described as some sort of fantasy. But as I had already agreed to accept the impossible, I had no choice but to accede to what she was saying.

"Are there also others...like you? With powers?" I asked.

"Yes. We each have distinct powers - mine is the kinetic power to move things - as well the common ability to cast spells and make potions. But we're small in number, much less than the number of demons and similar evil beings," she said.

Despite my difficulty with the idea of witches and demons, that ratio of evil to good was nonetheless disquieting.

"Where are you really from?" I asked.

"San Francisco and my grandmother Penny's Manor that I inherited, just as I told you," she said. "I didn't make that up."

"And your knowledge of...repercussions of what happens today, of future events that you are sure will happen? How can you know that?" I challenged her.

"That is something I will not explain," she flatly replied. "It is enough what I have already had to show you and tell you but those things were necessary. Now we have to stop the demons' plan of preventing a compromise from being negotiated. And I need your help to do that."


After disconnecting the timer from the bomb ‑ I would tell Mycroft about it and to remove everything from the cave ‑ I insisted on going outside to see the Bulgarian delegation pass through without incident. Halliwell accompanied me as we made our way through the trees and bushes to the side of the road, where I would have a clear view, just as the delegation was approaching. The motorcar slowed down at the curve and I was able to see one of the diplomats through the side window.

I waited a few moments and as I did not hear any distressful sounds coming from further down the road, the delegation appeared to be safe and we made our way back to the cave entrance. As the weather was pleasantly brisk, I preferred to remain outside to resume our conversation.

"How do you expect me to help you stop the, er, demons' plan from succeeding?" I asked. "I have not been able to find the location of the meeting nor the terms of the proposed compromise."

"You haven't yet used all of your powers to do that," Halliwell replied.

"My powers? I am not a...witch, with an assortment of powers at my disposal," I protested.

"Oh, but you do have one," she said. "Remember your dreams that you had in San Francisco?"

My dreams. They were in the past, when I had been in San Francisco with Holmes. The dreams, which had come every night, had been disturbing, sometimes frightening and always perplexing. I eventually understood that they were about events in my childhood, events that had taken place during the devastating earthquake that struck San Francisco in 1906. Events that I had not wanted to remember and so had locked them away in my subconscious. Once I opened the door to my subconscious and allowed the memories to return the dreams had stopped.

"How do you know about my dreams?" I demanded.

"I know more about you than you realise," Halliwell replied, "but that is not important. It's one more thing I won't explain. What is important is that those distressing things in your subconscious manifested themselves in your dreams. That is the power that you have, Mary, to make a connextion between your subconscious and what you dream. That is how we will find the information that we need."

"I did not learn of the compromise and the diplomatic negotiation meeting until yesterday," I said. "I cannot have any information about it hidden in my subconscious."

"No ‑ but you will," she replied. "When something of consequence, something of great significance takes place, there is a residual energy that remains from it. It is like an impression a heavy object makes on whatever is laying under it."

I could not help but display a quizzical look, which she recognised.

"An analogy is that it is in the subconscious of whatever was somehow a part of it," she continued.

"Inanimate objects have a subconscious?" I asked incredulously.

"No ‑ I said it was only an analogy," Halliwell replied. "Emma Pearson's devising the details of the compromise and the negotiation meeting was of great significance, which left a residual energy. I have a spell that will transfer that residual energy to a person's subconscious. To your subconscious."

"If you have such a spell why not simply use it on yourself?" I asked. "Or better than that, transfer it to a sheet of paper?"

"The spell cannot turn that residual energy into something tangible," Halliwell replied. "It can transfer it only into something similar to it ‑ the human subconscious. And I don't possess the power to turn my subconscious into a dream. But you do. A dream that will have the details of the compromise and the meeting."

I felt overwhelmed by what Halliwell was proposing. "What if I don't dream tonight?" I asked.

"The spell will make these subconscious memories disturbing, just as your childhood earthquake memories were, which triggered your dreams about them," Halliwell said. "But we have to find something that Pearson used when she prepared everything."

"I've no doubt she did that in her office," I pointed out. "That should be sufficient."

Halliwell demurred. "The office is relatively large and too many things have happened in in it after she completed the compromise that will have diffused the energy. We have to go through the office looking for something more specific that she would have used. Perhaps a typewriter."

I recalled Jeremy Carlson's imperious attitude when I examined his office the previous day. I had no doubt that he would not tolerate a further intrusion of the kind that Halliwell said would be needed, nor to her casting a spell in his presence.

"We will have to wait until Pearson's successor has left for the day," I said. "Our search will have to be done tonight."

 

     

Despite Holmes' and my own objections to the silliness of Piper Halliwell's proposal, she proceeded to laud Holmes, to everyone she saw at the hotel and to passersby outside, for deducing a diplomatic compromise to save the Balkans from war. And that he would present it to His Majesty's representatives in London the next day.

"Given the nature of gossip in a small village, this 'news' will have spread to most everyone," Holmes said after a while. "The murderer is almost certainly long since gone from here. But as we cannot rule out the small possibility that he has remained to be sure that no clues to his identity are uncovered, it would not be imprudent to have a trap prepared.

"It would be safer Watson if you would take a room at the hotel for a day and not be exposed to this small possibility of the murderer coming after me."

"Really, Holmes!" I said. "After all we have been through together you surely cannot expect me to withdraw from this and not stand by your side. I did not bring my service revolver with me but even if you do not have a spare, I shall use whatever will be at my disposal to subdue the murderer, should he appear."

"Good Watson. I can always rely upon you," he said. "But I will not allow Mrs Hudson to remain in the cottage."

Upon hearing about our plan, such as it was, Sergeant MacLeod was determined to station a constable at the cottage for our protection. But Holmes would not allow it, pointing out that the constable's presence would alert the murderer, were he to come, that we were prepared for him. MacLeod did insist on having Mrs Hudson stay as his guest at his home. After much protestation that she would not be forced out by possible danger from what was also her home, she finally acceded to Holmes insistence.

Having escorted Mrs Hudson safely to MacLeod's house, we returned to the cottage to find Piper Halliwell standing near the door, a large satchel in one hand.

"I should think that you have been busy enough for one day," Holmes said as he unlocked the door, then turned to block her entrance. "Why are you here?"

"To protect you and vanquish this evil," she replied.

"Ah...you expect to defeat this evil 'being'," Holmes said derisively. "This 'evil', as you put it, is quite human. If he does indeed fall into the trap that has been set, Watson and I will subdue him. You do not belong here."

"Why? Because I'm a woman?" she asked.

"If you knew my wife, and all that I know she is capable of doing, you would not accuse me of that," Holmes retorted. "It is because you lack any experience in this area."

"I have more experience vanquishing evil than you can imagine," Halliwell answered.

"I sincerely doubt that," Holmes replied.

"I have come from too far a distance to protect you and vanquish this evil to let it now escape. Or harm you," she said.

"You are not coming inside," Holmes emphatically said.

Halliwell's enigmatic smile returned and she raised her hand. Once again I had the strange sensation I had felt earlier in the day of being nowhere, of sensing neither time passing nor anything around me. And then quite suddenly everything was back to normal. I looked at the place where Halliwell had been standing but she was gone.

Holmes opened the door and we entered the cottage, then walked into the sitting room. Halliwell was settled comfortably in an armchair, her satchel in her lap.

"Your parlor tricks are becoming irritating," Holmes said sharply. "You cannot stay here."

"And you cannot keep me out," she replied. "Your keen power of observation should by now have made that obvious to you, Mr Holmes. You and Dr Watson make your preparations as you wish. I will stay out of your way but will remain nearby."

"Young lady, I cannot allow you to place yourself so foolishly in possible danger when under the circumstances I cannot offer you protection," he replied.

"You need not worry about that," Halliwell answered. "I'm in my element here. And therefore I will undertake to offer you and Dr Watson protection."

"What you say makes no sense, Miss Halliwell," I interjected.

"And it won't until the trap we've set is successful," she said. "There's no point in arguing this any further. Make your preparations as you had planned and leave me to make mine."

 


I had 'phoned Holmes earlier in the afternoon, intending to tell him that I would be staying over at Mycroft's home again, and giving him some general information but skirting much of the details about Prue Halliwell, witches and spells. That was best left for a conversation in person. But Mrs Hudson said that Holmes was not there so I gave her just the message for him that I would not be returning until tomorrow.

It was late dusk when Halliwell and I approached the building that housed the League mission. Lights shown through the windows of two offices. They were two floors above Carlson's office so that meant that it should be safe to break in to his. It also meant that as people were still at work the outside door would not be securely bolted.

We made our way to Carlson's office, a dim hallway bulb providing limited illumination. After placing my ear to the door and then checking that no light could be seen under it, I began to work on the door's lock. I was pleased that my lockpicking skills were still sharp and in under a minute the door was open. We quickly entered the office and quietly shut the door behind us.

We would not risk turning on the office's lights. I removed a torch from the small bag I had brought and turned it on. Shining it around the room, carefully avoiding the windows where the light could be seen from outside, the office seemed to be as orderly as it had been yesterday. Not a paper sat on the desk, not a file drawer left even slightly open. Did Carlson not do any work? I wondered.

"No typewriter," Halliwell whispered disappointed.

"There must be a typing pool that she used," I said. "Though the details of the compromise and the meeting may have been too confidential for her to entrust with them."

"Then what would she have done?" Halliwell asked.

The possibility suddenly came to me. I went around the desk, opened a drawer and removed the red, leather bound notebook from which Carlson had torn the note he had given me. "This has Pearson's initials embossed on it so I should think it was a favorite of hers. And therefore likely what she would have used to compile her compromise list, as well as other information about the meeting."

Halliwell took the notebook from me and opened it. Shining the torch on it we could see pages filled with notes on different matters, apparently written by Pearson. None were related to the crisis but it was clear that more than just the one page Carlson gave me had been torn from it.

"This is our best, perhaps our only chance," she said. She took my hand in her one hand, held the notebook in her other hand and began to say her spell.

"Energy here that was left behind
"With this spell I hereby find,
"From notebook to this woman be transferred in kind
"Be active and disturb her subconscious mind."

"I didn't feel anything," I said when she finished.

"You wouldn't," she replied. Then I saw the notebook briefly glow. And my hand glowed, as well.

"There ‑ that glow shows the transfer was done," she said.

"What now?" I asked.

"Go to where you're staying tonight," she replied. "And go to sleep."


     

Holmes' cottage was pitch black. The shutters had been closed and the draperies and curtains drawn so that no light from outside would illuminate us as we waited. Holmes sat in his favorite armchair, his revolver in his hand, while I sat in the second armchair which I had manoeuvred to be next to him, holding the pry bar I had taken from the shed as my weapon. Having re‑arranged the furniture, including the small table upon which Holmes had placed a lamp within his reach, we could hear any movement from the front door, the windows and the kitchen entrance to the sitting room. I believed Halliwell to be in the kitchen but in the darkness I could not be certain of where she was.

We had sat in silence without movement or a word between us for two hours, the quarter‑hour chimes from the kitchen clock marking our time. Suddenly I felt Holmes' hand on my arm, signaling that someone was there. I did not hear anyone come in nor see any light introduced from outside of the room. But I trusted Holmes' senses and I tightened my grip on the pry bar.

Suddenly Holmes reached out to the lamp and switched it on, simultaneously jumping up from the chair and turning towards the far side of the room, his gun pointed at a figure who stood before us. The man was likely in his forties, almost as tall as Holmes, with bushy dishevelled hair, and a mean expression across his face. To my great surprise he carried no weapon in his hands.

"I surmise that you are the person who killed Emma Pearson and have come here to do the same to me," Holmes said.

"'Person'," the man said, then laughed. "Very well ‑ 'person', if you like. I killed that woman but you already know that. You've been waiting for me."

"Yes, we have," Holmes replied, "but I am curious as to how you came inside the house without disturbing a door or a window."

"Are you, now?" he asked in a taunting tone. "I don't need doors or windows. I just pass through the walls." With that the man vanished. I stared at where he had been and could not believe that he was no longer there.

"I am not impressed with your parlor tricks," Holmes called out.

"Parlor tricks?" the man repeated. He had re‑appeared and as I turned around I saw that he was now standing five feet behind me. "I'll show your parlor tricks, Mr Holmes."

His having made a threat against Holmes, I raised the pry bar to beat him with it. But instead of backing away, he simply pointed his hand at it. A flame came from his hand and leapt to the pry bar, burning a round hole in it and causing it to break in half. I stared at the piece of the pry bar that remained in my hand, then at the man. How had he made that flame appear when his hands held nothing?

"That is how I burned that woman to death," the man said. "I will do the same to you."

Holmes aimed his revolver at the man and shot all of its bullets at him. The man just laughed again. It was beyond me how the man could still be standing, impervious to Holmes' emptying his gun at him.

"You cannot stop me," the man said.

"But I can." Piper Halliwell had come into the room through the door that led from the kitchen. She held a jar of some sort in each hand. The man turned around to her.

"A woman!" he said with disdain. "How do you think you will stop me?'

"With this," she said and threw the contents of one of the jars at him. A pink liquid ran down the man, covering his chest and face. Inexplicably he began to scream. Halliwell took a step closer, then poured the contents of the second jar over his head. An orange liquid now ran down him, covering his whole body.

The man's cries became louder and more desperate, his hands covering his face in agony. Suddenly a grey cloud of what seemed to be smoke appeared, cloaking him until we could no longer see him.

And then his cries stopped. There was complete silence in the room and the cloud of smoke dissipated. But the man was no longer there.

Holmes stared at the spot where the man had just stood, then turned to Halliwell. "What happened here?" he demanded.

"Just what I said I would do, Mr Holmes," Halliwell replied. "I protected you and Dr Watson and vanquished an evil being. He will not kill again."

"How..." I stuttered. "That...that was physically impossible. A man can't just disappear."

"You're right, Dr Watson. A man can't," she replied. "As I've been telling you, that was not a man. It was an evil being."

My mind was racing with more questions than I could ask quickly enough to satisfy it. "What did you pour on him and why did it affect him?"

"Potions," she answered. "They will vanquish a demon, which is what he was. There are many different potions and as I didn't know what type of demon was behind the murder I made two general potions that complemented each other."

I looked at Holmes as he stared at the spot on the floor, then looked up at Halliwell. Incredibly he seemed incapable of asking her the most basic question.

So I did. "Who...what are you, Miss Halliwell?"

"A witch, Dr Watson. A good witch. I have a responsibility to protect good and innocent people from evil. And to vanquish demons and other types of evil beings so that they can no longer use their powers for evil."

"Tell me...how did that being get in here? He said he came through the wall. How is that possible?" I asked.

"It's called shimmering," she replied. "It's a power demons have that allow them to pass through solid objects, such as walls. That's how he got into and out of Emma Pearson's locked room when he killed her."

I took a deep breath as I prepared to ask another question. "And you have powers, too?"

"Yes. I and other good witches were given these powers to use for good," she said. "The power to freeze people and objects - the demonstration I gave of taking your hat without your realisation that Mr Holmes called a 'parlor trick' - is one of my powers. And now that I have accomplished my task it's time for me to return home. Good‑bye Dr Watson, Mr Holmes."

"Wait," I said. "I have many more questions to ask you. Not to challenge you ‑ I won't deny what I've seen ‑ but to better understand all of this."

"I'm sure you do, Dr Watson. But not every question can have an answer. Good night, Doctor."

And with that she replaced her jars in her satchel, picked it up and walked out into the night.

 


Whether the result of the words of the spell or of my own feelings of stress about the crisis, I had a fitful sleep. Dreams came to me, at first separately then combined with each other, again and again. An odd shaped domed building flying through the air, oversized foot‑long cheques with the amount of pounds higher each time I saw it, armed soldiers riding along a dirt road, a lift stopping in a basement, a clock whose time never changed.

I awoke in the morning confused and alarmed, not remembering where I was nor why I was there. After a moment it all came back to me ‑ the crisis, Mycroft's home, the spell with Pearson's notebook. And the dreams.

I took a deep breath, reviewed the dreams in my mind and put them together until they made sense. At least I believed I did, hoping that the clock's hands showing the ten o'clock time of the meeting was a confirmation of the dreams' veracity. I quickly dressed then rushed down to the dining room where Mycroft was having breakfast.

"I know the terms of the compromise and the location of the meeting," I breathlessly announced.

Mycroft looked up from the egg he was about to open. "Did all of this come to you in a dream?" he asked with a bit of sarcasm.

"Er...in a way. I had gone back to Pearson's office and looked again at her things, including some pictures," I conceded, omitting the time of day I had been there and that the pictures was a lie. "I saw things that having slept on them suddenly made sense. Where is an odd‑shaped building with four domes?"

Mycroft put down his egg. "That is the War Office building," he said. "It has been used on occasion for sensitive, secret meetings."

"In the basement?" I asked.

"Precisely," he admitted and stood up.

"I can write down the terms," I said.

"Don't take the time," he said. "At this hour it will take some time to rouse someone from the Foreign Ministry so you must go to the War Office immediately. Conduct the meeting, if need be."

"What?!" I exclaimed. "I am not a diplomat."

"I know," he said and exhaled. "But your skills at diplomacy cannot be worse than Sherlock's, yet he has managed to succeed once or twice. I am sending you because what I need there right now is someone I can trust."

That was a most unexpected, and perhaps the finest, compliment that Mycroft has ever given me. "Will you be sending Jeremy Carlson to follow?" I asked.

"No. I have not yet received sufficient information about him to trust him with such a delicate matter," he replied. "Now go!"

"Wait. There has been an attempt to sabotage this meeting. How will I recognize whom you send?" I asked.

"He will use a code word," Mycroft replied. "Judith Klein."

My mother's name. How appropriate, I thought. I grabbed two biscuits from the table as a substitute breakfast and rushed out.

After continually turning up wherever I was, I was not surprised to find Prue Halliwell waiting for me outside Mycroft's flat.

"Did it work, Mary?" she asked in greeting.

"Yes. Er, at least I believe so, Prue," I replied. I felt that we had become sufficiently familiar that I could address her by her given name. "If it hasn't then I have made such a fool of myself that I will never live down."

"Trust your instinct," Prue said. "It has and will continue to serve you well."

I was once again taken aback by Prue Halliwell. "How do you know ‑" I began but she held up her hand to stop me.

"Where is the meeting?" she asked.

"The War Office," I answered.

"Then we'd better get over there," Prue said.


The War Office is a rather large neo‑Baroque building in Whitehall. We wandered a bit through the basement corridors until we came upon a meeting room tucked into a corner. As we peeked into the room I saw two people off to one side, speaking in a foreign language which I recognised as Greek. On the far side of the room were three other people, one of whom I recognised as the Bulgarian diplomat I had seen in the motorcar on the road.

I breathed a sigh of relief. The dreams had been right. Now I needed to record the terms of the compromise. We walked down the corridor past an empty office to a second one which had two desks in it. No one was there and I sat down at one of the desks, helped myself to a notepad and a pen and wrote out what I had interpreted from the dreams to be the basis of the compromise.

As we left the office I saw Jeremy Carlson walking down the corridor towards the meeting room.

"That's Jeremy Carlson who replaced Emma Pearson," I said.

"Why is he here?" Prue asked.

"And how did he know to come here?" I asked. "Mycroft was very clear that he was not going to send him. And Carlson reported that Pearson left no notes about the meeting."

"Which means that there were notes and he read them," Prue said.

"And then destroyed them and lied about it," I added.

"Which also means that he's a demon come to make sure the meeting fails," she said. "By killing the diplomats."

I had accepted that it was a demon who tried to kill me in the cave. I wasn't sure I was quite ready for a second one.

"Mary ‑ you have to stop him from going into that meeting room," Prue told me.

"Why? You can use your spell on him just as you did with the other demon," I pointed out.

"I don't have the paper with the spell, anymore," she replied. "I wasn't expecting a second demon. I need a minute to try to remember it. Go delay Carlson!"

"You want me to try to stop a demon? Can he also burn holes in people?" I asked.

"Yes, he can," Prue replied matter‑of‑factly. "So be careful."

I wanted to ask her how one went about being careful with a demon but I knew there wasn't time for that. I went into the corridor and hurried after Carlson.

"Mr Carlson," I called out, as I reached him outside the empty office.

"Miss Russell ‑ what are you doing here?" he asked.

"I expect for the same thing that you are," I replied. "Though with a different objective."

Carlson stared at me for a moment. "You know about the meeting. You found some note of Pearson's that I overlooked." Before I could react he grabbed me by my shoulders and shoved me hard into the empty office, knocking off my spectacles. My immediate reaction was to go for my knife at my ankle but I knew that would have no affect on a demon. I started to back away from him, thinking that I would drop down and roll my body at him, knocking him off his feet.

"I'll kill you here, then go next door and kill the diplomats," he said as he came further into the office.

"No, you won't!" Prue said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her. Carlson turned around towards her but Prue had already began saying the spell and before he could do anything he burst into flames.

"Thank you ‑ again, Prue," I said as I picked up my spectacles from the floor. "The timing was just a bit close."

"Saving lives with a spell tends to usually be dramatic that way," she admitted with a half-smile. She opened the door and we walked into the corridor.

"Mary Russell?" a voice called out. "I'm Timothy Blake. Mycroft Holmes sent me." I saw a man hurrying towards me, his tie not quite straight and his suit jacket collar askew. He did indeed seem like a man roused out of his home earlier than he was accustomed to being. I said nothing in reply, just stared at him silently.

"Oh, yes," he finally said, then approached closer. "The code word," he whispered. "Judith Klein."

"Here you go, Mr. Blake," I said happily, handing him the notepaper with the compromise terms. "The parties are waiting for you in that meeting room."

"Thank you," he replied. "Wish me luck." And he strode off into the room.

I exhaled in relief. "We did it. Now we can leave."


We stood outside the corner of the War Office, the bulk of the building extending further down a long block.

"We deserve to celebrate, at least with a proper breakfast," I said.

"I would love to do that with you, Mary," Prue said. "But our work is done here. It's time for us to go home."

"Us?"

"My sister Piper, though you haven't met her, has been here for the same reason that I was," Prue replied. "And we're both needed at home."

"Wait...how do you know everything you do about me?" I asked.

"You're not unknown, Mary. Just as your husband isn't," she said.

"Holmes is famous because people have read what Uncle John...er, Dr Watson has written about him," I countered. "While I have been quietly writing my 'memoirs' such as they are, I know it is pretentious of me to call them that. I probably should refer to them as an extended diary. But they are buried at home and I don't expect that anyone, even Holmes, will ever have read them."

"No, Mary, they are rightly your memoirs ‑ don't change what you call them," Prue replied. "And it's important that you continue, to record everything as you have been. You can't be sure you know what will happen to them in the future."

The more answers Prue gave me the more I found myself confused.

"But you seemed to be sure of the future," I said, "when you warned me about the dire consequences of the crisis not being resolved. And how did you know about Emma Pearson and the crisis?"

Prue put hand in her pocket and took out three coins. She took my right hand and opened it palm up.

"This half‑crown represents the future," she said, placing the coin in my hand. "This penny represents the past," and placed the second coin in my palm. "Each is separate ‑ the future separate from the past. But on special, rare occasions, future and past can be two sides of the same coin." She placed a third coin in my palm between the other two, then closed my fingers around them.

"Good‑bye, Mary," she said. "I am so very happy that I had the opportunity to meet you and get to know you."

I was suddenly overcome with emotion. "Wait...Prue...I'm glad that I know you, too," was all I could manage to say. Her abrupt departure had left me speechless. I watched as she began to walk down the long block past the War Office. I opened my hand and looked at the third coin lying in the middle. A half‑crown, the same as the first coin representing the future. But when I turned it over it did not have a half‑crown reverse. Instead it was a penny, the coin representing the past. Future and past ‑ literally two sides of the same coin.

"Prue...how did you do that?" I called out but she was no longer walking down the street. Prue Halliwell was gone.

 

"The meeting was a success," Mycroft said as we sat in his sitting room. "There was a minor negotiated change increasing the amount that Greece agreed to pay Bulgaria but other than that the compromise was accepted. The League will send observers to monitor the Greek army's withdrawal and Bulgaria acquiesced to an interval to wait before sending its troops there to re‑establish control."

"Crisis averted," I commented.

"And no thanks to Jeremy Carlson," he said. "I finally received his transfer request papers but something about him is not sitting quite right."

I could hardly tell Mycroft that Carlson had been a demon so I had to find another way to discredit him. "May I see that?" I asked and he handed me the transfer papers. Carlson's handwriting on it had a distinctive, downward slant. Then I remembered that I still had the note the demon had written to allow my access to the storage room. I took it out of my pocket, then showed them both to Mycroft.

"This note was written by the Carlson in Pearson's office," I said. "The letters slant upwards while the script on the transfer papers slant downwards.. These weren't written by the same person."

Mycroft looked at the two handwritings, then exhaled. "The Carlson who came here was impersonating the real Carlson." He picked up a paper from the coffee table and exhaled. "This just came to my attention. A body with a burn mark in its chest was found in Liverpool. The local constabulary did not know what to make of it and didn't pursue it. I'll wager that is the body of the real Jeremy Carlson.

"I'll assign agents to locate the imposter."

"I wouldn't expend the resources for that," I said. I didn't want to see agents diverted from necessary work searching for a demon they will never find. "Now that the crisis has been resolved despite his efforts to undermine it, no doubt he is long since gone."

Mycroft thought for a moment. "You're probably right," he said, then picked up a second document from the table. "I just received an answer to the inquiry you requested about Prue Halliwell. There is indeed a Halliwell family living at the address you gave me. But Prue Halliwell is not one of them."

I was afraid to ask my question. "Was her grandmother Penny ‑ Penelope ‑ one of them?"

"Her grandmother?" he asked. "There is a Penelope Halliwell living there. She is all of five years old!"

Mycroft's report startled me. Where are you from, Prue Halliwell? I thought. A second question came immediately on the first one's heels. I tried pushing it from my mind but despite my best efforts it would not go away. Instead, it presented itself front and center.

And when are you from, Prue?


After two days, Holmes remained depressed. I have seen him depressed on more than a few occasions when he lacked the stimulation that his mind craved. But this time, combined with his disgruntlement, it had left him morose and sullen. I had told him about Prue but his demand for everything to follow logic would not allow him to acknowledge the 'impossibilities' that either of the Halliwells, or the demons, had done.

I, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with the outcome that the two Halliwells had brought about. And about my time with Prue, accepting who and what she and her sister were. I could do all of that because I had embraced, and was at peace with, my decision to have chosen the merely impossible.

John H Watson
Mary Russell Holmes
23 August 1926





Merely Impossible

O ver fifteen other memoirs of Mary Russell's life with Sherlock Holmes have come to light in recent years, thanks to their being edited and published through the efforts of Laurie R. King, a successful writer in her own right. Personal facts about Mary Russell, her family, her mother's Hebrew tutelage and her marriage to Sherlock Holmes as related in this manuscript conform precisely to the details of her life as recorded in those other published memoirs. A digest of facts about Mary Russell and the history of her life can be found in Ms. King's compendium Mary Russell's War (Poisoned Pen Press). Details of Russell's San Francisco dreams, referred to by Prue Halliwell, are described in her memoir Locked Rooms (Random House Publishing Group / | Bantam Books).

As an editor to editor courtesy, Ms. King reviewed a copy of our manuscript that I sent to her. She confirmed that one of the handwritings in the corrections, as well as the signature on the last page, were definitely Mary Russell's, whose distinctive script has become quite familiar to her. Though Russell did not generally use her married last name, as she stated in our manuscript, Ms. King confirmed that signing the manuscript as she did is in keeping with how she signed the memoirs that Ms. King has published.

The Greek‑Bulgarian crisis, known in history as the Incident at Petrich, was indeed successfully addressed by the League of Nations, with the terms outlined in the manuscript, further supporting the authenticity of the events described here. Though Watson writes that the crisis happened in the Spring of 1925, it actually took place in the Fall of that year. But students and serious readers of Sherlock Holmes' stories have accepted for some time that Watson was less than meticulous about the dating of Holmes' cases. In this manuscript, one may be tempted to suspect that Russell somehow shares Watson's calendrical deficiency. But much more likely, she simply did not review the beginning that Watson had written, coming as it did before the case, and her involvement in it, actually began.

As a thank you in return to Ms. King for authenticating the manuscript, I have included a link to her website below. I encourage our readers to follow that link, see the list of her publications, and then read Ms. King's excellent books.

As to how Ms. King came about having the Russell memoirs that she has published, it was in a simpler yet more mysterious manner than how the Merely Impossible memoir came into the hands of Role Reversal author's friend Ms. Patihi. Those other Russell memoirs were shipped directly to Ms. King.

Anonymously.

—Jamie Barry

 
Visit Laurie King's website and see all of her books at Laurie R. King.  Russell's other memoirs, edited and published by Ms. King, can be found at Mary Russell's Memoirs.



 


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