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Fiction The Case of the Amazonian Prophecy

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by spawning of Bob, Mar 3, 2019.

  1. spawning of Bob
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    The Case of the Amazonian Prophecy

    Sherlock Holmes sat idly by the half drawn curtains of his lodgings at Baker Street, alternately scraping the bow across the strings of his violin and tapping pipe ash out onto the carpet, for Mrs Hudson’s later ministrations. I knew the signs of his ennui all too well, as he had passed through the earlier, agitated stages in the preceding days. There had been industrious use of his chemical apparatus, and much by way of noxious vapours and coloured liquids in retorts, and no few annotations in the great detective’s journal of his studies of toxins, but even that reliable past-time had lost its lustre. My eyes strayed to the mahogany case upon the mantle, knowing that, without an engaging puzzle to occupy his great intellect, stultification would drive him to the oblivion of the hypodermic needle. Seeking to forestall this eventuality, I interrupted his moping reverie.

    “Here, in the papers I see that there was a robbery with violence in the West End this last evening. A jeweller’s establishment, and it seems the rascals have escaped without hindrance. I don’t suppose you might have an interest…”

    He tossed his violin carelessly onto the settle. “My dear Doctor Watson,” he scolded, “the rascals, as you put it so well, stole a famous and distinctive jewel in their haul. No sooner will they try to sell it than they will find handcuffs on their wrists. Even the footpads of Scotland Yard will be adequate to find their quarry by asking the right questions in the right ears. Do you have no better intrigue to entice me with?” He sighed and slumped back in his armchair, then directly shot erect and leaned toward the gap in the blinds. “Perhaps you need make no further effort, dear doctor, for I believe that we shall soon hear a client’s tread upon the stair – may he provide the necessary grist for my mill!”

    I joined Holmes at the window and saw the gentleman in question across the busy street. He was a tall fellow, not quite as tall as Holmes himself but gone rather more to fat, and, despite his age being no more than forty, he had a pronounced stoop. In his hands he held a slip of paper which he compared to the address opposite him, and being satisfied as to their congruence, began to chart an uncertain course between the cabs and carts which went obliviously about their business. Before he was lost to my view, I saw him remove his tall hat and mop his brow with a handerchief.

    “I think he finds this summer’s heat not to his taste,” I said, and turned to discover that Holmes had already insinuated himself into his favourite chair, by the fire place.

    “I think he finds himself out of his element being outdoors on any occasion, but I pray he is here to do more than exchange pleasantries about the weather. The door, if you would, Doctor.”

    The bell boy had relieved the gentleman of his hat and coat and announced the Professor Reginald Ophim before ever the man had completed his wheezing ascent of the stairs. Having entered, he gladly accepted the proffered chair in the centre of the room and the glass of water which I had filled from the decanter tray. He glanced between us enquiringly.

    “I am Mr Sherlock Holmes, and this is my dear friend, Doctor John Watson,” said Holmes. “No doubt you have come on account of your missing butler.”

    Professor Ophim started in his chair. “How the deuce did you know about the devil, Huantecah?”

    “Your shoes are well shined, sir, but spattered with dried mud and it has not rained since yestermorn. Your manservant has failed in his duty on just this one occasion, or else he is absent without sufficient notice for you to hire a replacement. And surely you would not feel pressed to seek my services to report a single episode of laxity.”

    “No indeed, I would not. I have come about another matter entirely.” Professor Ophim shot a meaningful glance toward me. “A matter of discretion.”

    “You may speak freely before the good Doctor Watson, as you would speak before me. He has been my companion and able assistant on many of my successful cases, and as an officer of Her Majesty’s Army you may consider his honour and discretion vouchsafed. And what is this matter? The theft of some valuable article, perhaps?”

    Professor Ophim gestured at the decanter again and considered his response. “An article, was, let us say, misplaced this last night. As to its value, that may be trivial, but the damage to my reputation as Curator of Antiquities at London Museum could be considerable. If the loss became common knowledge.” Professor Ophim produced a wrinkled slip of paper and held it at arm’s length to read it aloud. “ ‘Plaque Twelve of the Third Chamber of the Sacred Archives of Oyxl’ is the item in question. It is an ancient stone tablet found in ’78 on Professor David Ormley’s expedition to the Amazonian Interior, God rest him. I had taken a recent interest in the inscription and was working on the translation in my chambers, otherwise I might not have noticed its absence.”

    “Yet you say it was ‘misplaced,’ not stolen.”

    “The plaque is large. A man might carry it a short distance, but not without effort, and we have two sturdy and reliable men standing watch at every entrance to the museum. There have been no deliveries of large packages, nor removals since last I saw the plaque with my own eyes.”

    “Therefore you deduce that the article is still contained within the London Museum. You have done much of the detective work yourself, dear professor. May I ask why the plaque attracted your interest at this time? Perhaps another antiquarian may have had a similar bent.”

    “Another antiquarian can arrange a viewing of the plaque at any time, by appointment. The reason for my interest was the twin tailed comet which appeared in our skies this past week. The plaque has a depiction of the same, or similar, at its centre. I mentioned this to my fellow academic, Doctor Gordon Chifley, Curator of Astronomy, who, of course, has been observing the comet. He was delighted to find there was some reference to it in antiquity, as it would help him to discern its period and better plot its path, and so he pressed me to translate the glyphs and determine a date for the plaque. I expect he desires to have the Academy put his name to the comet if his calculations are sound.”

    “Might he have taken the plaque?”

    “For what purpose? He cannot divine its meaning. I took an impression of the glyphs to my lodgings two nights ago and I have struggled to translate much of it even with the considerable resources of my personal library.”

    Holmes sprang to his feet. “Good Professor Ophim, I am intrigued by this conundrum and sympathetic towards your parlous situation, therefore I am at your service, for the usual fee plus expenses. Let us visit your lodgings immediately, Sir!”

    “Surely we should instead go to London Museum,” I interjected, “is it not the scene of the crime?”

    “No indeed, good Doctor. The Esteemed Professor Ophim is a man of science, such as myself, and used to observation and deduction. If there were signs to indicate the methods or the identity of the thief, he would have reported the same. It is the writings upon the plaque itself which, however inscrutable, which will elucidate the motive behind its removal, and the Professor has indicated that he has removed a copy to his residence.”

    ****

    Professor Ophim’s lodgings were, in fact, only a street away from the London Museum. Upon the doorstep, the professor fumbled in every pocket for his keys. Finding none, he tested the latch and discovered that the door was unlocked. The air inside was as redolent of the must of antiquity as the museum itself, and the rooms were in darkness despite the hour being eleven in the morning. “Huantecah, you devil!” he called, “why are not the blinds drawn?” then, “the scoundrel has not returned, then. I took him in as a kindness when his master Professor Ormley passed away some years ago, and he repays me with this truancy.” The professor continued to mutter about unreliable foreign types as he threw open the blinds and light was cast upon a scene of disordered studiousness. There lay scholarly books, held carelessly open with small items of historical interest. Sheaves of paper covered with notes written in a precise hand interleaved with more mundane documents such as a bill for the gas and advertisement for the opera programme. There was one space only, upon a bureau by a window, which was clear of paraphernalia. A look of bafflement crossed Professor Ophim’s face as he noted it. “My work on the plaque was here. The impressions that I took of the original and my notes.” He turned to Holmes in mute appeal.

    “No more, it seems,” the great detective supplied. “It is as warm a June as any I recall. Why then, good Professor Ophim, was a fire set upon the grate this morning?”

    Our host shrugged, clearly ignorant of the answer. I went to the glowing hearth and observed that it was a sheaf of papers, not coal which had been burned. Holmes took the tongs and carefully lifted the largest of the spent ashes and held it to the light. Before it crumbled, I perceived the singular image of a snake or great wyrm enveloping a circular object.

    “That is the forty-third glyph of the tablet. It depicts the Serpent God, Sotek, devouring the Earth,” stated the professor. As he was most vexed at this new loss, Holmes bade him sit and recount to me what he had divined from the mysterious stone. The detective himself seemed uninterested in what the man spoke, for he poked about the remaining artifacts on display and leafed through many of the volumes which were scattered about.

    “The plaque,” began the professor, “has, as I said, a depiction of a twin tailed comet at its centre with the full moon to its side. Scattered across its breadth are sockets or pits which I believe once held jewels or semi-precious stones. Tool marks around their edges show the industry of grave robbers before the stone was recovered. I had believed that the jewels were for mere decoration, but Doctor Chifley immediately realised their configuration was that of a constellation of stars, although not of any zodiacal convention. As for the glyphs, they are not ordered left to right, such as for Latin script, nor it seems vertically as for the Hanzi of Cathay. Thus, although I have translated words and short phrases, here and there, I could not grasp the full import of the message. Now, without the plaque or my notes, I fear I never will.”

    Stung by curiosity, I pressed him, “what words were revealed to you, good professor?”

    “There was the world devouring serpent god, as I said, and blood. Depicted also was a glyph denoting thirst or hunger, presumably for the same, and an indication of a change of seasons. That one equally might indicate a change of years, or even epochs. Interspersed with these ideograms are detailed images of reptiles, some small, some enormous. There were even fantasies of lizard-men that walk on two legs and hold tools or weapons in their claws. There also was an additional image to seize the sordid imagination or stir horror in the sensitive viewer, and it was the reason the plaque was not on public display. Shafts of light from the comet and moon shone down on a reclining figure from whom the heart from his breast had been excised by a heathen figure with a serpentine blade.”

    At this, it seemed to me that a shadow passed across the open blinds and I was transported, in fancy, to some primitive backwater where the miasma of ignorance and pagan ritual held sway. Before, though, I could utter my dismay, there was a tentative rap at the open door and here was another man, slight of stature and dressed as would befit a person of working class. His complexion indicated that he was another who did not seek the rays of the sun. He ignored my companion and I, or perhaps he had not spied Holmes in the shadows by the bookshelves.

    “Mr professor, sir,” he hesitated, obviously in great agitation. “There has been a dreadful business at the museum.”

    “Out with it man!” demanded our host.

    “Doctor Chifley, sir. He is deceased. I found him myself not an hour ago when I went to give him my farewell, sir.”

    “He was in fine health when I spoke with him yesterday.”

    Sherlock Holmes loomed out of the shadows and gave the man a start. “Good day, sir. Who might you be?”

    Professor Ophim vouched for him, “he is Mister Arthur Felina, the Night Caretaker of the London Museum. Mister Felina these are Mister Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson.” The man nodded and twisted his cap.

    “Are the remains of the late Doctor Chifley yet as you found them?” The man nodded again and Holmes sprang to collect his coat and hat at the door. “Come, Doctor Watson, before the undertaker obliterates all signs, and you also Mister Felina, would you be so kind as to show the way. Good Professor Ophim, I suggest that exert yourself no further, beyond securing the services of a new butler, for the last is beyond redemption.” And with that the detective was on the street with myself and the Night Caretaker scurrying to match his furious pace.

    ****

    The rooftop of the London Museum was furnished with a small observatory with broad shutters forming its roof such that they could be opened to display the heavens. It was here that the unfortunate Doctor Gordon Chifley lay. I knelt beside the cadaver. “The poor man looks to have died of fright,” I exclaimed.

    Holmes circled the tiny room before replying. “It seems rather that he died in fright. Observe here his journal.”

    I looked over the document, an indecipherable table of numbers, angles and times written in a light, scuttling hand. “See here, the date of yestereve and the observations from thence are written with smooth upstrokes and loops, but here,” Holmes indicated the last handful of annotations, “the hand trembles, as with fear. Doctor Chifley met his assailant here at twenty-four minutes past eleven of the clock whilst in the midst of his work, and he was compelled to train his telescope on a different part of the sky and make further measurements. Here, see that the bearing of his last observation was one hundred and sixty-nine degrees and the inclination eighteen degrees.” He attended the brass telescope on its mount. “The clinometer and compass agree. He made no further observations after those, and nor will he, poor soul. Quickly, I hear the tread of the undertaker on the stair! Let us examine Doctor Chifley’s person!”

    It was a perfunctory examination, given our haste. I quickly determined that there was no penetrating wound or evidence of gross trauma. It seemed to me that the man’s heart had just stopped, and given the turgor of his skin and tone of his muscles it seemed likely that he had indeed passed away near to midnight. Holmes examined the face and hands with his glass and identified two tiny pin pricks on the web of the left hand between thumb and forefinger and then the undertaker was upon us. I moved to delay him to allow us to complete our examination, but Holmes waved him through and descended the stair without a backward glance. “Mister Felina, if it pleases you, let us repair to a quiet place, for you yourself have presented a new mystery, which may be the key to unlocking the greater matter.”

    Mister Felina shewed us to room aloof from the public galleries. There Holmes interrogated him. “The enigma is thus: how comes the Night Caretaker to discover a body at noon?”

    “I came to Doctor Chifley to give my regards and farewell as I have given notice of my immediate retirement to the Head Curator this morning, and the doctor and I had formed a friendship over the years, both of us being active in the museum at night.”

    “And did you come upon him alive this past evening?”

    “Why yes, Mister Holmes. Around ten of the clock, and all seemed well. At that time.” Mister Felina’s demeanour indicated that he had more to tell, but wished to keep his counsel.

    “What provoked your decision to retire, may I ask?”

    Mister Felina’s cap was unrecognisable for twisting by this moment. “I hadn’t thought myself prone to fancy, Mr Holmes, but the dark and the exhibits… One time you look up and see the glass eyes of a lion meeting yours. The next it is a bear or such. Last night was the last straw, if you take my meaning, sir. I felt eyes were upon me, and I saw a shadow move. There was a fierce hissing that made me jump and I felt a breath caress my cheek. I’m not ashamed to say that I fled. Any man would have. There is a ghost or similar here and horses couldn’t drag me back, come the nightfall. Good day, sirs, and I will be on my way.” He thrust the misshapen cap onto his head and hurried away.

    “One other detail, if you please,” Holmes called after, “where were you when you saw this apparition?”

    “Coming from the Hall of African Mammals into the Vivitarium, now good day!”

    Sherlock Holmes shrugged and said, “we have the afternoon at our disposal, and the vivitarium does entice. Let us journey via the Jungles of Africa.” Having said this, Holmes scarcely paid heed to the exhibits we passed until we entered the atrium between the Hall of African Mammals and the Vivitarium. Here Holmes paused. “Mister Felina would have stepped beneath the skylight and his eyes would have been dazzled by the light of the moon, which is nigh full, and the glow of the twin tailed comet also. Stand here, my dear doctor, and I shall assume the role of a shadow.” He entered the Vivitorium and pressed close to the side of an arch of the atrium, and there he shot an outstretched arm and finger towards my astonished face. “What do you see behind you, dear Doctor?”

    “A stuffed and mounted Gorilla with crossed eyes. A Highland Mountain Gorilla from The Congo according the plaque attached to its plinth.” Holmes strode over and ran his hands over the beast’s breast and torso. “In addition it says, ‘do not touch the exhibit,’ ” I added.

    The detective looked perplexed, “I had thought there would be… unless…” he stepped up onto the plinth and palpated the gorilla’s neck and came away with an object in his hand which he quickly placed onto a white handkerchief. It resembled a long thorn with coloured feathers fused to its base with black gum, and its point was moist with residue which was milky white. “The good Caretaker, Mister Felina has used one of his nine lives, it seems.” Holmes wrapped the object up and thrust it in his pocket. “I wonder if you might enjoy an afternoon repast in the Museum. You might find of particular interest any antiquities of South American origin, and the live specimens in the Vivitorium. Would you be so kind as to join me for a late supper at Baker Street afterward?”

    “Will you not stay?”

    “No, I have other academic studies to pursue. Good afternoon!”

    ****

    When I returned to 221B Baker Street that evening, I discovered Sherlock Holmes in the midst of his chemistry apparatus like a spider at the centre of its web. He peered at me through lenses which magnified his eyes to outlandish proportions. “Among the live exhibits of the Vivitarium did you perchance discover specimens of Dendrobates Lustriensis?”

    I was astonished by his perspicacity. “Why, yes,” I replied, “the Dart Poison Frog. There are several live specimens on display from the Amazonias. By what means did you deduce this?”

    “I had presumed,” he intoned as he held up, with tongs, the barb he had discovered earlier, “that the venom may have been a plant based alkaloid, such as curare, but it was not neutralised by vitriol. Through experimentation upon the dog which soils our step each day, I determined that a tiny dose induces paralysis, and a larger, death by asphyxiation. I limited my perusal of the volume, ‘Crofters Toxins and Narcotics’ to those of South American Origin, and found none which might have such an effect and retained potency on a long sea voyage from those parts. There remained one only which could have been collected freshly, and from a live specimen. Where else than the famous reptile house of the London Museum might one discover such a deadly creature? Perhaps in a private collection, but none such has presented itself at the centre of a murderous plot.” He removed his eye glasses. “What other Amazonian specimens did the vivitarium hold, my dear friend?”

    “There was a Green Anaconda of prodigious size, and also the more modest Bothrops Atrox.

    “Ah, the lancehead, a particularly venomous serpent of the Amazonias.” Holmes selected another volume from his library and scanned a page. “You saw before you the killer of poor Doctor Gordon Chifley. Do you recall the pricks upon his hand?”

    I felt a chill run down my spine at that thought, and at the recollection of the languorous and malevolent eyes of the creature as it had regarded me through the glass of its enclosure. “No wonder he died in such fright. However came he to be bitten?”

    Holmes continued unabated. “I presume that you also examined the anthropology exhibits associated with the Americas. Did you find therein a singular blow gun: a pipe some sixty inches long for the projection of darts such as this?” He held up the tongs with his earlier prize. Without pausing for an answer, he enquired, “what other artifices were associated with it?”

    “There was the blow gun, decorated with bright feathers, and a gilt face mask resembling a serpent, and there was also a dagger of obsidian glass and a javelin furnished with a point of the same. All of these were secured within a locked glass cabinet.”

    “As was the lancehead secure behind glass, I’m sure. Come, good doctor, the twilight fades. We should repair to the London Museum, wherein edification is to be found!” Holmes went to the stand and selected a stout cane with a brass knob and then, to my surprise, pulled on his heaviest winter coat.

    “A strange selection,” I remarked, “in this sultry June.”

    “A precaution only, my dear Doctor Watson: I would not wish to catch my death. You also should be prepared. Bring your revolver in your pocket and be ready to use it. We face a foe who is as inscrutable as he is bloodthirsty.”

    ****

    Soon after our hansom deposited us at the London Museum which had closed its doors for that day. Two watchmen lounged by the doors. “Come, Doctor. Rather than cause a commotion on the street let us negotiate access with the good men to be found at the rear entry.”

    When we came to that place we found but one, who appeared to be asleep. “ ‘Two sturdy and reliable men’ indeed. See if he will wake for you, doctor.”

    I shook the man and he toppled, or less toppled than collapsed into himself and sprawled onto the stoop. “He is dead Holmes!” I cried, “and every rib is broken!”

    “Draw your revolver, Watson! We may yet save the other!” Sherlock Holmes thrust the doors open and fled into the dark interior. I checked that the chambers of my weapon were charged and pursued the diminishing figure before me. I had no hope of heading him until he skidded to a dead halt at the atrium between the Hall of African Mammals and the Vivitorium. There I heard him cry, “Huantecah, tlozoqan!” and I beheld a frightful tableau: Holmes’s words had interrupted and petrified a ghastly figure caught in the combined light of the full moon and twin-tailed comet, barely greater in stature than a child. The figure wore the same serpent mask which I had examined earlier that afternoon, was draped in a cloak of iridescent feathers and had clutched in one hand the obsidian dagger. There was a glass topped cabinet, of the type used to display pinned specimens such as butterflies, which had been dragged bodily from some other area and upon it lay the other watchman, insensate and with his vest and under tunic torn open to expose his bare chest and abdomen. The most horrifying feature of the scene was the Amazonian anaconda, freed from its enclosure and coiled about the legs of the cabinet.

    The figure shook off his paralysis and shouted unintelligible words, and the serpent reared up as if to keep Holmes and myself at bay, then the devil seized the feathered blow gun, and with a malevolent hiss, dispatched a deadly barb directly at my companion. Holmes, perceiving his imminent demise, billowed his winter coat before him and the dart discharged its venom harmlessly in its folds. By that time, the Holmes was upon the figure, driving him back and dashing the blow gun from his hands with his cane. After that my attention was consumed by the anaconda which had departed the cabinet and was striking out towards me with mouth agape.

    My revolver was in my hand, but the mark was small and constantly weaving. Once, twice and thrice I fired without deterring the vile creature. With my fourth shot I wounded it, and it whipped back and forth until I could place my boot upon its neck and administer the coup de grâce. Even then, the foul beast writhed and knotted in an insensible parody of life for many long minutes afterward.

    Sherlock Holmes had fared worse than I during this diversion. His cane had been lost or discarded in the charge and his opponent was armed with the wicked knife which darted out repeatedly. Despite the detective’s considerable prowess as a combatant, he had been unable to evade the flickering blade and close the distance to reach his opponent, indeed he had suffered several shallow wounds and had been forced to give ground. I saw him take a further step back and stumble on the thrashing anaconda, and the serpent masked murderer raised his dagger for the killing blow, shrieking, ‘Sotekruz! Kaitecahloqaz!”

    I had but an instant to raise my revolver again and fire, and the assailant fell back with a gurgling scream and was still. As I reached down to lift his serpent mask, Holmes bid me wait and he retrieved his cane. With it he probed the fellow’s feathered cloak, the collar of which came alive and lunged toward the ferrule with fanged mouth agape. It was the lancehead. Holmes dashed out the snake’s brains with the cane before it could lunge again. “And that has accounted for both of the accomplices,” said he, “let us behold the mastermind of this villainous exploit.”

    The detective lifted free the serpent mask, and before us was revealed, by the mingled light of moon and comet, a face made scarcely less fierce by the repose of death. His features were flat and swarthy and a tracery of cicatrices writhed from forehead to cheeks, and from thence in a widening row of scale-like chevrons down his neck and onto his torso. Most disturbing of all were his teeth, which were filed to points like those of a reptile. “Who is this devil?” I said.

    “My dear Doctor Watson, is it not abundantly clear? This is Professor Reginald Ophim’s missing butler, known to us as Huantecah. His long wait, and short reign of terror are at an end.”

    I tended to the watchman on the cabinet. He had been rendered paralysed and insensible by a venomous blowdart, but sensation and movement were already returning to his limbs. The constabulary attended presently, and for Holmes and myself it was a walk in the moonlight back to Baker Street. “How did you determine the killer’s identity, good Sherlock? How also did you know he would strike again this night?”

    Holmes sighed, “simple deduction, my dear Watson. The simultaneous disappearance of the Plaque of Oyxl and Professor Ophim’s manservant might have been coincidence, but the destruction of the notes in a room which showed no signs of forceable entry put a connection beyond doubt. I discovered in the professor’s lodgings some works of interest, including ‘Anthropology of the South Americas’ by a familiar author, the late Professor David Ormley. It seems he returned from his expeditions with more than a singular plaque in his possession. Being unable to prevent the plunder of articles which were to him sacred, and perhaps not even being aware of what precisely had been taken, this Huantecah joined the scientific party, earning himself barely a footnote. Perhaps he imagined he would be able to recover some of the items or prevent them leaving those distant shores, but they arrived in England nonetheless. Huantecah entered Professor Ormley’s service, and the plaque and other antiquities disappeared into the echoing recesses of the London Museum. The Professor passed away soon after his manuscript was completed, and it may be that his untimely end was orchestrated by our villain. From there he ingratiated himself into the household of Professor Reginald Ophim, our esteemed client.

    “Thus circumstances persisted until the twin tailed comet grew large in our skies. With it came the copy of the plaque to Professor Ophim’s residence, and its location and urgency to Huantecah’s attention. Using the professor’s own keys, he took the stone and secreted it within the museum in some unknown niche.”

    “How did he pass by the watch and enter the museum undetected?”

    “Did you not observe Huantecah’s bare feet? They were horny and tough and quite unaccustomed to footwear, and indeed they were calloused between first and second digits. Remember, here was a savage from the jungle, quite as nimble among the trees as an ape, and it seems equally at home on the rooftops and pipework of civilisation. I discovered first hand his formidable strength and agility.

    “Between the hours of ten and eleven twenty-four last night he busied himself. First he removed the blow gun and darts from their display, and to render them effective, bathed them in the secretions of the dart poison frogs. Then he went to remove the venomous lancehead from its enclosure where he was disturbed by Mister Felina. With the Night Caretaker in headlong flight, Huantecah was at leisure to threaten and, in turn, murder Doctor Chifley.”

    “What motive had he, then, to assassinate the astronomer at his work?”

    “The plaque depicted comet, moon and a configuration of stars which were unfamiliar to Doctor Chifley but known to Huantecah by his own primitive astrologic system. By the declination and horizontal bearing at of the last observation of the telescope, the constellation must be visible in the extremity of our southern skies and therefore easily viewed from the Amazonias. One question was posed to the astronomer, ‘when might the constellation and comet fall into alignment as depicted on the plaque?’ The poor soul was perhaps doomed whatever his answer, and the serpent was goaded to strike with its fangs, or otherwise Doctor Chifley sought to defend himself from his interrogator, and having raised his hand, was bitten. After this, the deadly tools were returned carefully to their displays, and the plaque hidden. By good fortune, those tasks took all night and Professor Ophim had departed his home before the thief returned to destroy the papers, otherwise we might have only learned of the good professor by reading the obituaries in tomorrow’s papers. The professor noted the plaque’s loss upon his arrival to the museum and had the wisdom to engage my services without delay. We were barely an hour behind Kurapako at the professor’s lodgings, by the warmth in the grate, but had no chance of discovering his whereabouts until he moved again, and indeed all that I knew of him before Mister Felina’s arrival was of his implacable and bloodthirsty zeal.

    “Your logic is as flawless, as usual, but given the years that have elapsed since the plaque’s story began, what persuaded you that the brute would move again this very night?”

    “Look above you, Watson. The full moon and comet stand together on this night and this night only, and Doctor Chifley’s last observation of the antipodean constellation indicated that it was within a whisker of its zenith at the same time. Huantecah would need to wait another millennium before such a convergence recurred.”

    I shivered despite the balmy night. “Who can understand the primitive mind? What urges drive it to such savagery and disregard for human life?”

    Holmes barked a bitter laugh. “Are these ‘enlightened’ masses we dwell among so different, John? As much blood is spilled in the name of nation or religion within the civilised world, although it can be said that we do it with a greater efficiency. Huantecah, like all zealots before and after him do what they do driven by hope for an ideal, not by motives of selfish gain. Perhaps he deserves more sympathy than our usual thieves, extortionists and murderers.”

    I stopped in my tracks, struck by Holmes’ words. “Hope for an ideal? For the world to be overcome by serpents?”

    “If the world is to be scoured clean, can you think of a better way?” he called back over his shoulder.


    Epilogue

    Constables Whitworth and Vasey had been assigned to watch over the crime scene until morning when the last traces could be scrubbed away and the London Museum returned to order. Neither considered himself prone to superstition, but the shadows of the exhibits and the hissings and stirrings in the vivitorium kept them on edge even after the body of the savage had been carted away.

    Conversation had been abandoned because the vast galleries added portentous echoes which lent even the most innocuous observation an undertone of doom and horror. Idleness was no better, for the unfettered mind flew toward equally ominous fancies. Constable Whitworth chose activity as a salve for his frayed nerves. “Help me move this plaque thing over to the light. I want to read what it says.”

    Constable Vasey lent his effort and discovered that the plaque was very heavy and awkward. The pair wrestled it up and staggered with it into the light of comet and moon.

    “That’s it, your edge down… mind your fingers… blast!”

    “You’ve dropped right in that fellow’s blood, Eric.”

    “I didn’t, it slipped, see. Hey, look how those pictures glow in the moonlight. That snake one’s eyes are really sparkling red.

    Constable Vasey squinted up through the skylight. “It’s not the moonlight, Eric. That comets gone brighter than the moon now. Bigger too. Have a look.”

    Constable Whitworth did as he was bid. He observed that the comet had doubled in size and brightness since he last noticed. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “Was it kind of red before, Walter?”
     
  2. thedarkfourth
    Temple Guard

    thedarkfourth Well-Known Member

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    Wow! This deserves more than a mere contest victory. Desperately want to read some sequels about the coming lizardpocalypse!
     
  3. spawning of Bob
    Skar-Veteran

    spawning of Bob Well-Known Member

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    I toyed with writing a prequel for the comp - in the style of and immediately following Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" which would explain how the Plaque and Huantecah came to the civilised world. But time did not permit :(
     
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  4. Paradoxical Pacifism
    Salamander

    Paradoxical Pacifism Well-Known Member

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    Such a well paced and intricate/complex written crime and detective story, i really enjoyed it a lot! That ending had me in eerie shudders.

    thx for sharing, bob :))
     
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  5. King Dust
    Skink

    King Dust Active Member

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    What an excellent homage to Sir Arthur, and with a lovely lizard twist!
     
  6. Scalenex
    OldBlood

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    I think this hit Holmes pretty well. Unfortunately, I had a college professor who did not like th works of Arthur Conan Doyle a whole lot. He pointed out that inductive reasoning is actually one of the least accurate and efficient ways to find the truth and that "The butler did it!" was not only a cliche but it was steeped in elitist attitudes. More than often than not, it was the case that Sherlock Holmes and other literary detectives dealt with lower class people getting uppity and violent. Figure out the butler did it, punish him, and order is restored.

    Given what I know of Lustria, Holmes probably made a few errors due to ignorance. Inductive reasoning falsely filling in the blanks. Regardless of who writes him, Holmes is almost always right even with inductive reasoning. Because the author knows what happens and then works backwards coming up with subtle clues for the brilliant Holmes to see. Given the subject matter of this piece, I've wondered if Holmes actually had divinatory magic and either worked his magic or hid it through spouting inductive reasoning. Sort of like the show Psych in reverse. In Pysch the main character uses mundane detective work then makes up psychic baloney to show how he knows what he knows. Maybe Holmes gets psychic information and then covers that up by making up reasons for it to be true.

    Fun times.
     
  7. spawning of Bob
    Skar-Veteran

    spawning of Bob Well-Known Member

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    This took a bit more going back and forth than usual writing - inserting clues, moving clues to different places, trying to make them a little more subtle, adding unnecessary details to give texture as well as content.

    I did bother reading two of the earliest Holmes stories - the Red Headed League and the one after, and was surprised to find that there is a lot that the reader or Watson has to work out for themselves about Holme's reasoning - his inevitable monologue links enough data points to tie it all up but some of the conclusions are assumed that the reader can reach them with the benefit of hindsight.

    I couldn't resist referencing a butler, because, it is after all, a mystery and some tropes deserve a nod. And I am Bob, therefore unnecessary gags are expected.

    Despite attempting to channel Conan Doyle, I had very much in mind the Mysteries of Doctor Fu Manchu which I haven't read for a good 30 years. In them the crimes are far more fantastic / supernatural in nature and there is a criminal mastermind behind the plots.
     

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