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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

I would have taken Hunter with me, for he is a coachman beyond the ordinary. But the moment Hunter finally realised the crash on the road through Kingston upon Thames had not been an accident, and one of his best greys had been struck down in the course of a simple confidence trick, he vowed to hunt and kill the men responsible. He did so with such barbarity that I cannot even bring myself to put his threats down upon the page.

Choosing Edwards instead, I took a two seater Hanson drawn by a single horse and a huge cloak in which to disguise myself. I chose an open-top carriage, because I was interested to see how Mr Holmes would handle his fall with no roof on which to somersault.

The city to which we travelled was barely more than a Hampshire town with pretensions to history. It was, however, well chosen. Winchester High Street is long and sloping and overlooked by a grain merchants and a general store, both busy with yeoman farmers, plump wives and red-faced gentlemen, the kind of people one expects to see in such a place.

We wasted a morning hunting for the brass plate, newly put up on the pillar of a narrow house in St Peter's Street, and the afternoon checking that both rogues were in the city and then Edwards spent his evening in the kind of tavern used by coachmen and servants. I was French, apparently, he was pleased with that touch , newly arrived from Paris and I spoke little English and greatly valued my privacy. Small wonder the brothers Holmes found us impossible to resist.

They took it in turns to watch my hotel for the rest of that night, only abandoning their watch when Edwards strode from his nearby lodgings to prepare my coach.

"Vite, vite.."

As instructed, he conveyed me down the High Street slightly faster than was decent and, as we passed the Buttercross, with its collection of ragged urchins seated around the base, a man stepped absent-mindedly into the road in front of us and was sent flying.

A woman screamed and Edwards began to apply the brake. A farmer stepped into the road to make sure we did not try to escape and then stepped back quickly, when Edwards took his hand from the lever for a few seconds. This time round the horse was unhurt and my carriage still whole. Which meant that all of the crowd's attention could be concentrated on the fallen man.

"He needs a doctor," said a woman. "Such a terrible accident. He needs..."

"Madame," I said, clambering down. "I am a doctor. And, as it happens, I am familiar with such accidents, having seen one almost identical only last week." This time, when she fainted it was with no elegant twist or display of ankle, she merely crumpled and hit her head upon the kerb hard enough to make her nose bleed.

"Mr Holmes, allow me." Taking Sherlock's leg, I pulled, twisted and pushed it until I felt the bones slot back into place. Someone in the crowd nodded in approval and allowed that I would make a good vet.

As Edwards carried the unconscious woman to safety, I turned my attention to the man on the ground. In the few seconds it had taken me to adjust his leg, I had watched Mr Holmes check all four exits from the Buttercross and realise, instantly, that these were closed. He'd noted Edwards carry the woman toward a waiting police van and seen his brother appear and disappear at the sight of trouble; not that this would be a problem. Lestrade had made a call to the Chief Constable of Hampshire, one of the few men in the county to possess a telephone. All the help I needed was available. I had no doubt that Mycroft Holmes was already in captivity.

"You have three choices," I told his brother.

Since this was two better than Sherlock had imagined, I had his full attention. "You can be arrested and hope you die in prison..."

"I doubt," he said, "that I should ever hope this."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty six," he admitted.

"Hunter is thirty," I told him. "He is the coachman whose horse you killed in Kingston. He comes from a family that never forgets and has little interest in forgiveness."

"My other alternatives?"

"Try to escape and be shot down."

"By you?"

I nodded. "By me, by my coachman, by that good detective standing over by the van. Does it make a difference?"

He allowed that it did not. "And my last choice?"

"Work for me. I need a man who can throw himself in front of carriages, think on his feet, lie when necessary and hold up a mirror to dazzle the public. The work will be hard and dangerous, it will require levels of intelligence few men possess. You will have no official standing. In return, you will be provided with a pardon, lodgings, a housekeeper, funds, access to any delicate information you need, and an assistant."

"My brother?"

"I have other plans for Mycroft."

"Then who?"

"Me," I told him. "Your assistant will be me."

"What about Hunter?"

"You will be working for me. I work for the Queen. Hunter is the Queen's favourite coachman. He will growl at you and I will take care not to introduce the two of you before time, but he will respect your position."

"Which is what?" Few of the crowd remained to see Sherlock Holmes pull himself to his feet, glance quickly around to check the alleys were still blocked and turn back to me. He checked from habit only, his decision already made, there are some things one can see in a man's eyes. "What am I to be called? "

I shrugged. "Whatever is appropriate. Do you have something in mind?"

"Consulting Genius," he suggested, with no appearance of shame.

I smiled, amused by his vanity. "I will put that to the Queen," I promised. "Although you might have to settle for a little less."

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