I hurried down the stairs to where we’d left our luggage. The surly butler was leaning against a doorpost, smoking a cheroot. He straightened up smartly when he saw me.
“Owt Ah can get ye, sir?” he muttered.
“Yes, my good man,” I said. “You can direct me to my room and give me a hand with this.” I grasped one end of my trunk while the old chap picked up the other.
“Up ‘ere,” he said, and we set off up the stairs.
My room was located at the back of the house in the east wing. We placed the trunk in the centre of the room and I allowed the butler to turn down the bed before dismissing him. When I heard his footsteps echoing back down the stairs, I heaved the chest upright and unfastened the straps. As I pulled open the lid, my wife collapsed onto the floor in an unruly heap.
“Mary!” I gasped. “Are you alright, dearest?”
For one long unhappy moment, I thought she had suffocated and passed on, but then, with a sharp intake of breath and a short coughing fit, she sat up.
“Christ sake, Johnny, anyone’d think you were trying to get rid of me. I could’ve died in there.” She gave me a stern look, then sighed and shook her head reprovingly.
“Sorry m’dear,” I said, helping her up. “There’s been another murder.”
“Another one? I’m not surprised with that psycho killer Lecter on the loose. I still can’t believe you agreed to bring him along.”
“Must say,” I said, “the idea that he might be responsible had crossed my mind, but he was locked away on the train at the time of the last murder.” I frowned. “At least I hope he was…”
Mary nodded, pouring herself a large glass of water from the jug on the dresser. “Oh, he was there alright – I had to listen to him taunting those poor guards all the way from King’s Cross. Kept saying he was going to eat their livers with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” She glugged the water down quickly and poured another glass. “Where’s BigNose?”
“Sherl? Oh he thinks the killer is Lord Lambton’s son, Veronica. I expect he’d tracking the lad down at this very moment.” I filled her in on recent events then suggested we go and find Holmes.
We located the Great Detective in the library, along with Lecter and Lord Lambton. The three of them were perusing a map of the Hall. Holmes looked up and a scowl slid across his manly features. I prepared myself for a verbal thrashing of monumental proportions.
“Mrs Watson,” said Holmes. “How luvverley to see you.” He glared at me and added, “we’ll talk about this later, Doctor. In the meantime, I should welcome your opinion on this map.”
As we crossed to the table, Lecter winked lasciviously at Mary. I ignored him and leaned forward to study the chart. It showed the ground and upper floors of the Hall, as well as the gardens and stables at the rear of the house.
“Here,” said Holmes, indicating the library, “is where we are at present. The crosses in these rooms show where each of the bodies was found, including the most recent one, Lord Lambton’s wife.”
“Estranged wife,” put in Lambton.
“Really? What was strange about her?” said Holmes.
I stifled a laugh. Sherlock gave me one of those looks that told me I was about to witness his massive intellect at work.
“Actually,” said Lambton, “she was a bit strange now you mention it. The old legend, you know? Silly moo got it into her head the curse would be the death of us all.” He sniffed. “Doesn’t seem so silly now, what?”
“Of course,” said Holmes. “You’re referring to the curse mentioned in Legend of the Lambton Worm.”
“That’s the one,” said Lambton.
“And, according to that legend,” added Holmes, “the worm was slain by your father – the third Earl of Lambton, bringing into effect the so-called curse, yes?”
The other man nodded. “And since then no Lambton has died peacefully in his bed. Or hers, for that matter.”
“Then we’d better put that particular curse to bed, eh?” said Holmes with a chuckle.
I thought this was quite funny, but no-one else did, so I stepped forward in defence of my friend. “Absolutely, the curse is nothing to do with the murders. I suggest we examine the other bodies.”
“On the contrary, Watson,” said Holmes. “I believe the worm is central to this mystery.”
I couldn’t prevent a loud sigh escaping my lips, but Holmes was already rolling up the map.
As Lambton led the way across the entrance hall to the Morning Room, I saw Doctor Lecter take my wife’s arm. To my annoyance, she giggled like a damned school girl. Lecter glanced at me as if to say ‘ner ner ner-ner ner!’
I ignored him and pulled Holmes aside. “Look here, Sherl, I thought you were convinced Veronica was the culprit?”
“I am, and he is.” Then he dropped his voice and whispered, “but he’s only responsible for the most recent murder.” He held up a finger warning me to keep quiet. “Have a care, old friend, the game is afoot…”