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18 June 2014
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Cult Presents: Sherlock Holmes

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New Sherlock Holmes Stories The Spy's Retirement
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

A man running is always a ridiculous sight and the clerk confirmed this fact, his feet slapping cold cobbles and his elbows flexing like the wings of a game bird. A handful of seconds after he started, he disappeared down a narrow alley in a sideways skid that almost had him on his back. With nothing else to occupy the seconds, I sat back and waited.

Close examination of human blood has taught me three things. It is as thick as paint, it is surprisingly nutritious and, finally, like excreta, we do not find that our own excites a reflex of disgust.

The man lying on cobbles kept gagging at the taste of the watery red liquid which dribbled from his lips, and it was this that gave him away. A sponge, I guessed, hidden in the corner of his mouth and worked by his tongue. Chicken's blood, most probably, it looked too thin for pig.

His legs lay at strange angles, no bones visible through the cheap tweed of his trousers but obviously broken, at least, obviously broken to those who did not know how such breaks looked in real life.

If the clerk had looked ridiculous, the doctor was even more so, his short legs pumping and his face as red at that of a Sioux brave. He wore a frock coat that had seen better days and once belonged to someone else; unless our man had shrunk several inches in height as he filled out around his waist.

"Stand back," he demanded. "Stand back."

Those around the injured man did as they were told.

"Ahh," said the doctor, seeing me stand alone. "You must be the unfortunate owner of that unhappy..." Shrewd eyes flicked from my carriage, which had him frowning, to my clothes, which seemed to put his mind at ease.

"A shocking accident, he said, "most shocking." A refrain quickly taken up by a woman in the crowd and then by several people around her.

Kneeling, the doctor touched his hand to the victim's throat in a manner that would have been entirely convincing had be been checking a body for a pulse. Since the patient's eyes could be seen fluttering in his head such checking seemed entirely redundant.

Next the doctor reached inside the thin man's coat to feel for his heart, and when the doctor took his hand away, his fingers were red with blood. This was enough to make a woman faint. Needless to say, it was the woman who'd first taken up his refrain and as she fell, she twisted to land elegantly, revealing rather more ankle than was seemly.

This seemed to make the doctor angry.

"Hysteria," he announced. "Not helpful." The fat little man eyed me grimly. "All the same, not surprising. Such a shocking accident..." His smelling salts left the woman with tears running down her face.

An attempt to straighten the injured man's leg produced a shriek of such pitch that it unsettled one of the horses now being cut from its harness. I knew this because Hunter swore, despite the tender sex of many of those around him and swore almost as loudly as the man had screamed.

The fat little doctor stood, shook his head and turned towards me. "If we could talk...?" he said, taking my elbow.

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