"And you say this abominable doll was alive!?" Challenger demanded, a look of utter horror on his face.
Watson didn't say anything. Neither did Holmes.
The three of the sat in the Oak and Dale, an upper crust tavern on the south of Baker Street, where the more well off traveled for friendship and a quiet drink among friends. The tavern was of the older sort, with low trusses holding the ceiling up, which was made from old dark wood, salvaged from old merchant ships that sailed the Indian Seas. Each table was unique, and hand carved by a sailor, whose name had long since been forgotten and inherited by the owner of the club, a stout fellow of Irish extraction, whose flaming red hair made him look more like a pirate than a tavern owner and a cook, both of which he was.
Another reason the Oak and Dale held such high honors and reputation among its patrons, was the ability for its owner to stay out of the business of those who attended the place and those who attended to mind their own business. Nothing shady went on there, the owner had a sharp eye for the con man and the crook and the thief of dubious reputation would surely find himself thrown out one of the side windows into the Thames which flowed beneath it and the dock it sat upon.
Harold BeDay, the owner was wiping the bar counter and replenishing the finger sandwiches stacked there, while whistling a merry old ditty he had picked up on his last visit to Ireland. He made it a regular point to visit every year during the slow season, which tended to be Christmas. So as they neared the holidays, he was also more happy than most for it meant a jolly visit to his family and friends on the old green sod back home.
"Good day to ye gents. Will ye be needing any vituals this fine evening?" He asked, as he sat down smoking cups of coffee before the three men.
Challenger reached out and Harold took his hand. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better, Harold, it would be a cold day in hell to see you so soon gone from our fine land."
Harold winked. "God will be hafin' to smuggle me into heaven, fer this soul will be fighting his way back the moment he sets sails on that land of clouds."
They all laughed, except for Holmes, whose eyes were on the entrance.
Just that moment Harry Houdini stepped inside, shaking his coat to get the sleet off it. He was covered with about an inch of drift. A moment later he was joined by Conan, whose round belly shook like a jolly Santa Claus in motion as he also shook off the sheet of snow that had layered upon his thick cape and overcoat.
Holmes gestured with a hand and the two men came across the tavern, nodding to several of the patrons as they passed, shaking hands with some, stopping a moment to exchange greetings with another, before they also sat at the booth with Holmes.
Harry grinned at Harold, who reached over for a shake. "Good to see ye again, Harry. When's the next magical performance ye'll be doin'?"
"Summer. It's my best yet. I'm going to submerge myself in the Thames, locked with ten layers of chains and locks and stuck in a barrel with freezing ice."
Holmes gave Harry a sharp glance. "I'd think that one over before..."
Harry gave Holmes a questioning look. "What?"
Holmes shook his head. "Nothing. Just a fancy is all."
Harold shook Conan's hand next.
"How's the detective story coming along?"
"Fine. Fine. I'm just stuck on what to call the two of them. Since I'm already with the ones I named originally."
Harold gave Conan an odd and puzzled look, then cheered up and whipped out a rough plank with a sheet on it. "So what'll ye all be havin'?"
Watson went through the menu again, knowing what he would have, but ordered it anyway. "I'll take the pot pie."
"Same." Said Challenger. "But add some pistachios on the side."
Conan glanced over at him. "Pistachios?"
"New diet. They're supposed to sharpen your...um...you know." He glanced down at his lap.
Everyone laughed and he blushed.
Conan looked at Harold. "Just tea for me. I'm fasting."
Harry claps a hand on his shoulder. "But only until he's hungry again."
He burst into laughter and everyone joined the laughter, even Holmes, who found it amusing, even if not particularly funny as such.
Harold scribbled down everyone's orders and looked at Holmes. "And ye?"
"Tea as well."
Watson looked at Holmes. "You must keep your strength up. You have no idea what we might run into when we..."
Holmes shook his head and Watson realized he had made a blunder. He hurriedly began looking in his coat pocket for his poket watch, pulled it out and pretended to be winding it.
"Oh no, you don't." Conan blurted out. "You're no leaving us behind."
Harry's ears perked up. "From what?"
Challenger threw his hands up in the air. "What's the use of it, Holmes, you know the moment they find you gone, they'll be tracking you down and between Conan's investigatory powers and Harry's magic..."
Holmes steepled his fingers together and thought for a long moment.
No one even noticed Harold leave to return to the kitchen for their orders.
"Very well." Holmes finally said, but the hestistancy of his decision was still clear in his eyes as he spoke. "We intend to seek a man who traffics in deviltry."
Harry relaxed, as did Conan. "Oh is that all." Harry commented.
Conan laughed. "Since when have we not been seeking such men?"
Watson glared at them and they silenced. "Mrs. Hudson has seen something so terrible that it even puts me in fear. And you know I'm not the superstitious type."
Harry looked at the rabbit's foot that was chained to the pocket watch in Watson's hands. Watson noticed it and blushed, hurriedly putting it away.
"So." Harry leaned forward. "Tell us everything. We're in."
So Sherlock did. It took him all the time it took for their meals to be prepared and long into the evening as he told them about the strange man and the dolls, what he had deduced from the descriptions and what he knew about the strange murders he and Watson had been investigating. By the time he finished, Watson was yawning and Conan was looking a bit bleary eyed from fatigue, but all men were attentive to the last word.
Challenger smashed a fist onto the table top. "By God, I shall not tolerate such acts of horror upon our land!"
"Nor I." Harry joined in.
"I'm in." Conan agreed.
Holmes rose. He hadn't even touched his tea. It was cold now in any case, as was Watson's pie and tie. He had lost his appetite the moment they began discussing the horrors that Mrs. Hudson had seen.
"Then it's decided." Holmes said as he rose. "We shall meet on the morrow in front of 221B and from there travel to the Downs."
"What about Mrs. Hudson?" Watson asked finally, knowing what the answer would be.
"You shall stay with her and comfort her. I fear the horrors of the memories will need some companionship for a time until her nerves settle again. And who better..."
"Than the man who loves her the most." Watson agreed. He rose also. He nodded to the others. "But I shall still be there to see you off. Good evening to you all."
He left with Holmes.
They stepped out into a winter wonderland. The snow was piled everywhere. Everthing was whitened by it, even the railings keeping drunks from tumbling into the Thames, which was sluggish and thick with ice.
"Do you think they believed you?" Watson asked.
Holmes said nothing.
Next morning he and Watson stood outside 221B, while Mrs. Hudson stood in the doorway watching. A large Tesla bus drove up. Holmes and Watson climbed aboard, lifting a piece of luggage with each of the.
Mrs. Hudson waved at them.
Watson waved back and sat down in front, snuggling his luggage beneath the seat. Holmes sat on the opposite side. It would be a long drive. He also placed his luggage under his seat.
The Driver nodded to them, shut the doors with a whoosh of compressed air, then with a humming sound, the bus pulled away.
Watson looked back at Mrs. Hudson and she was laughing.
"Now what in bloody hell has gotten into her?"
Then he saw a Tesla passenger car pull up and Harry get out. Harry waved at Watson as he looked back, and then Mrs. Hudson quickly came out, holding a piece of luggage.
"I'm going to kill them!" Watson swore beneath his breath.
Sherlock looked over at him. "Your answer has arrived, has it not?"
Watson cursed again, using much more profane words. Sherlock looked away, a slight amused look touching his lips.