Reluctant HolmesChronicles of the Reluctant Agent

A Sherlock Holmes Mystery



November 5th, 1917.

Sussex Downs, England.

"Gawd, it's quiet, ain't it, guv?"

"Too quiet." Gregson said from the back seat. He drew a calming breath, curled his gloved hand over the lowered window and peered into the gloaming.

The November evening was bitterly cold and drab, matching Gregson's mood. He stared at the dim glow of white-washed walls glimpsed through a copse of alders and poplars beginning just ahead of the elegant nose of the Bentley. Digby had extinguished the lamps, leaving only the gibbous moon aloft to light the scene.

"I'd say 'e's not 'ome," Digby murmured. "But even if he is, can't we just go up an' knock?"

"For any other night, for any other person, perhaps." He saw the whites of Digby's eyes roll, and added, "Why don't you go ahead and knock, then?"

"Right, sir." The bobby reached for the door handle with alacrity, and Gregson, not for the first time, envied him his innocence.

Digby put only one foot on the gravel, his hands swinging the door wide, when a single shot, loud in its unexpectedness, volleyed across the clearing. The bullet itself kissed the frame of the windscreen, and careened away with a sour note, sliding neatly between the Bentley and Digby's remarkable ear.

"Strewth!" It was a high, breathless hiss. Digby froze.

Gregson remained silent.

"I aimed to miss," came a low, guarded call from a patch of total darkness beneath the trees.

"I appreciate that," Gregson remarked through the open window.

"Your contraption has been sitting staring at my abode for ten minutes now. If you were innnocent in purpose you would have at least come up and knocked on the door."

"Told you we should've," Digby muttered under his breath.

Gregson shifted closer to the window, and wound it down fully. He addressed the patch of black shadows. "Forgive me, Holmes. I would have knocked, but I had been warned your mood today would be...less than jovial."

Again, there was a thoughtful silence, while the tops of the poplars rubbed in the little wind.

A long, thin shadow detached itself from the main, and moved out onto the roadway, a pace or two from the car. A wide brimmed hat, a great coat, the collar standing up, leaving the face in complete darkness. Only the flesh on the hand that held the revolver showed white.

"Bloody 'ell...." Digby muttered, startled again.

From beneath the brim issued the familiar voice. "Gregson. Chief of Police, Tobias Gregson. And young Digby, I assume. Get back in, lad. You'll freeze without your coat."

Digby scrambled back into the Bentley, and slammed the door, rocking the vehicle.

Holmes pocketed the revolver. "You've obviously been sent, Gregson. Only two people could have warned you of my mood, and I wouldn't put it above either of them to send a message boy. I'm surprised it's you they ferretted out. All the way from Scotland Yard on a night like this -- should I be flattered?"

"You've already guessed otherwise, I'm sure," Gregson said mildly.

"As soon as I heard your voice and realized who it was sitting staring at my cottage," Holmes agreed. "Come, Gregson, you've had courage enough in the past to bait me in my den regardless of my mood. Why baulk now?"

Gregson gripped the window again, feeling the chill creep further into his flesh.

"It's your brother, Holmes."

Again, there was a small, telling silence. Holmes would be reaching for those logical connections that to a lay man appeared to be plucked from thin air.

"Mycroft wasn't the one that sent you," Holmes said.

"No, Holmes."

"Is he dead?"

"He's at Saint Thomas's Hospital. It was a messy affair...they don't expect him to live, Holmes. I'm sorry."

Gregson heard him draw a deep breath, and let it out. A sigh. Holmes' voice came again, lower. "Someone attempted to murder him. That's why you're here."

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