It is now four days since Holmes’s return – an event I take little pride in recounting, given my own failures of observation. Were it not for Nat and Gadget I doubt the matter would have reached such a happy or timely conclusion. As it was, their keen eyes brought us to Wheatstone, and the crude laboratory where my friend was held. Whatever my other failings, my revolver was encouragement enough for the single guard to release Holmes into our care.
But any urge to introspect over my failings must fall second to my desire to see to my friend’s recovery. Though Holmes shows every sign of physical health, the memory of his alert face held senseless beneath that monstrous machine strikes a chill into my heart. For a man who subsists entirely on brainwork, any assault upon that delicate organ necessarily brings concern, and for the past days, my friend has been deeply distracted; his mind evidently preoccupied with visions of his ordeal.
Holmes was lost in just such a reverie when we heard a quiet rap at the door. Motioning Holmes to remain seated, I made my way down with the thought of dissuading any bothersome caller. All such thoughts left me, however, when I opened the door upon Miss Bookworm Heinrichs — a woman whose visits are seldom inconsequential, and whose actions have often proved vital to the city as a whole. Her expression told the seriousness of her errand, and I escorted her quickly to our cluttered sitting room.
My friend’s eyes narrowed as they fell on our visitor, losing their dreamy air and growing intent once more. His scrutiny was not lost on Miss Heinrichs, who took his curiosity in good humour, returning his searching glance with equal weight.
Miss Hienrichs smiled at last. “It’s good to see you, Mr. Holmes.”
Holmes nodded, waving her to a chair.
“Likewise. I believe we’ve both suffered some peculiar happenings, Miss Heinrichs.”
This comment seemed to have a strong effect upon our visitor. She froze where she was beside the fireplace.
“Please,” she asked, her face troubled, “do not tell me what’s happened to me is common knowledge!”
Not at all,” Holmes replied, lightly. “it is merely an explanation that came to me. I have been puzzling over the reason for it all.”
Miss Heinrichs sighed at that, and relaxed at last into a fireside chair.
“What can you tell me of what happened to you?” she asked, anticipating the question that Holmes seemed poised to put to her. He blinked in surprise, but if the reversal troubled him he showed no sign of it, and began to relate the story of his captivity. He began with his his abduction from the baths during an alarm of fire (upon which subject I shared what few facts I knew) and continued with those few facts he had gathered during his imprisonment and return to consciousness. His testimony was necessarily sparse, but Miss Heinrichs showed great interest, leaning eagerly over her steepled fingers. When at last Holmes mentioned Obolensky’s name, she gave a grim nod as though it were no more than she had expected.
“Were you conscious at any point during your captivity?” she pressed.
Holmes shook his head with a wry smile.
“I’m afraid I can’t be certain which events took place within my dreams and which did not. I would not swear to it — I fear I was not at my sharpest.”
“You seemed to me somewhat delirious,” I added. “When we broke in at last, they had that thing off you, and you were conversing easily enough with that brute.”
“I woke fully only when the contraption was taken off me,” Holmes affirmed. “As for your brute, what I learned from him was that “The Doc” had taken me because I was “the best boxer.””
I snorted at the memory of the uncouth servant.
“I would not take too much from what that fellow said,” I muttered, receiving an impatient glance from Miss Heinrichs.
“That is what he said, in any case,” Holmes continued mildly. “Otherwise he seemed rather harmless…slightly dim-witted perhaps.”
“Well, in that respect, at least, he was eminently correct,” Miss Heinrichs said.
I waited for some further elaboration from either of my companions, but none came. Finally Holmes folded his hands in his lap and leaned towards our visitor.
“Can you tell us a little of what happened to you, Miss Heinrichs?”
Miss Heinrichs nodded, her hand working at the flap of her pocket. To my surprise, she drew out a small pipe and began to charge it with tobacco as she spoke.
“You understand,” she said, “this goes no further. The night before my boxing match, I was working late at the Militia headquarters. I fell asleep–or so I thought at the time–for a few hours. At the third round of the match, my boxing techniques — so I was told by Mariah — changed.” She paused, as her hands sought out a match from among her belongings. “Changed into Mr. Holmes’s techniques.”
“Most interesting,” Holmes muttered.
Miss Heinrichs nodded, and for a moment my friend’s eyes were fixed on her as she lifted the pipe to her mouth. She struck a match quite carelessly and put it to the bowl, for all the world like a bachelor sitting at his own fireplace, but the moment the pipe began to smoke she fell to coughing violently.
“Oh not again,” she exclaimed, grabbing the pipe away and reaching for a tamper. Holmes, too, seemed bothered by the clouds of sweet smoke, and motioned for me to open the window a crack.
“I do apologize, gentlemen,” she said, as the smoke cleared.
Holmes waved away her apology.
“By strange coincidence…I not felt like smoking of late. Perhaps it is some lingering effect.”
“Really? How interesting.” Miss Heinrichs looked keenly at Holmes. “Have you … tried playing your violin recently? No? I wonder if you’d be willing to oblige me for a moment?”
This request struck me as peculiar in the extreme, but Holmes nodded lightly and reached for his violin. He took up the bow gingerly, and lifted it to his shoulder as though the thing was somehow distasteful to him. Despite his habits of tormenting our ears and neighbours, I had only once seen Holmes show such hesitancy in handling his instrument (that during a particularly ill-advised experiment with coal-tar poisons which left him bedridden for a week, and saw me very nearly at my wit’s end.) His bow hovered uncertainly for a moment, before scraping briefly and discordantly upon the strings. He let the bow fall with a whine before tearing the instrument from his shoulder with a muttered “Good lord.”
Miss Hienrichs steepled her hands in front of her. “Not just sharing, then. Transference,” she muttered with obvious interest. “May I have it for a moment?”
Holmes hesitated for the briefest of moments, before handing bow and instrument to Miss Heinrichs. Her hands closed eagerly on the violin, though her brow remained drawn and troubled.
“Understand — I never learned the violin. A bit of piano and flute, but that’s all.”
At that, she tucked the instrument beneath her chin and began quite naturally to play. I should have called it miraculous, were the implications not so ghastly. Her playing, the set of her shoulders, and even the slight tremble of her hand upon the bow were precisely that of my friend. I glanced at Holmes to see that he, too, was fixed upon the spectacle with a strained excitement.
Our visitor played for a moment longer before snatching down the instrument with evident discomfort. I was conscious for the first time of her own distress at such an imposition as she struggled to resume her habitual posture.
“I think I can say with fair assurance, Mr. Holmes, that if you tried to box now, you’d have a very difficult time indeed.”
“It seems that boxing is not the only skill that has been transferred…though I would not perhaps call smoking a skill.”
Miss Heinrichs smiled wryly, and it seemed to me that some silent understanding passed between the pair.
Holmes regarded her levelly. “Yes, I have not been feeling quite myself lately.”
I watched my two companions with some bemusement. If they appeared collected I found myself furious and horrified in equal parts. I had heard only once of such an experiment at the hand of Professor von Baumgarten, and had dismissed the tale as mere fancy. To be faced with the reality was something else entirely.
“You mean that device allows the …the theft of a man’s faculties?” I exclaimed “Why that’s monstrous!”
Miss Heinrichs set the violin down carefully and sat once more.
“Only what to expect from Dr. Obolensky. Though I do wonder if he intended the transfer to carry beyond boxing. That may be an unexpected side-effect. Or a side-effect he knew of, but didn’t concern himself with.”
“Side effect or not, I’ll be damned if he’ll get away with it,” I cried, for in my concern for my friend I had half forgotten our visitor. “Excuse me, Miss Book…but surely there is some cure for the complaint.”
“I’d been hoping you might have heard something while you were in his custody, Mister Holmes.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Well, then. There’s only one person who can tell us…probably.”
“The blackguard,” I muttered. “I should like to lay my hands on him.”
“Wouldn’t we all?” Miss Heinrichs sighed. “But at this point, he has the upper hand.”
Holmes, who had been silent throughout our visitor’s exposition, stood now and clapped a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“Calm now, Watson. We will find a solution soon enough.”
“I should think the solution is the same as the injury,” I ventured. “But forgive me, Miss Book, I forget that you have been subject to the same outrage.”
“The solution may be the same. But then again, it may just make things worse.”
The possibility had not dawned on me, but I saw the implication at once. I stood aghast as Miss Heinrichs looked at Mr. Holmes with amusement. “Would you mind if you received my indifferent sewing skills, for instance?”
Holmes smiled, fingering his threadbare handkerchief.
“Any sewing skills might come in handy, perhaps. But I’m afraid you are quite right.”
Miss Heinrichs gave a weary sigh. “I think…I think, distasteful as it is, we need to talk with Dr. Obolensky.”
“Perhaps that would be for the best,”
“I don’t suppose we can trust him to speak honestly,” said I. “Though I should be more than happy to show him reason to.”
“Actually, I think we can,” said Miss Heinrichs. “He’s accomplished what he wanted–what reason would he have to dissemble now?”
“What exactly *did* he mean to accomplish?” I wondered. “Certainly his scheme was devilish enough, but why should he care whether Holmes can box or smoke, or that you should for that matter?”
“He wanted to ensure that I would win. This also goes no farther–but he did actually…try to persuade Ms. Ginsburg to “take a dive,” as the parlance goes.”
“Hmm, and for what reason…” Holmes began.
Miss Heinrichs appeared thoughtful. “I have my suspicions, but I’m not sure of them yet.”
I shook my head, for the matter seemed plain enough to me. “It would hardly suit a woman of Miss Heinrich’s integrity and reputation. Surely that is what he meant by it? Forgive me for being so blunt. I have heard his agents make unpleasant insinuations before – threaten a man’s reputation. Perhaps he has simply fallen to engineering what he cannot simply invent.”
“Ah, but is my reputation dimished or enhanced by my winning the match?”
” Well…by winning fairly, not at all. ..but if he meant to reveal this business with Miss Ginsburg…he did intend that, I suppose?”
“No–only she and I know of it.”
“Then I can see no sense in it at all,” I cried, and found myself the subject of two equally impatient stares.
Miss Heinrichs sighed, folding her hands in an all too familiar didactic pose.
“He wanted me to win because I am, for all intents and purposes, his nemesis. A nemesis who can be bested in boxing by an untrained boxer would not help *his* reputation. Or so, I believe, is his thinking.”
I all but ground my teeth at the devilry of the man.
“Then it is all for the sake of his pride! Damn the man. If there was ever a villain with a convoluted sense of his own importance…”
My outburst seemed to amuse Miss Heinrichs, and she shared a jovial glance with Holmes before holding up a hand in appeasement.
“Mariah has been…teaching me something about the mindset of what we call the Traditional Villain. Reputation is, indeed, quite important to them. The better skilled their opposing Hero, the better they look.”
“So I understand,” Holmes said, a trace of amusement on his lips.
“It does actually work both ways,” Miss Heinrichs added with a slight smile.
I could only shake my head, quite unable to see any humour in the matter.
“You have certainly been a thorn in his side…the matter of the oil bees, and a dozen of his other devilish schemes.”
Miss Hienrichs nodded, an for a moment silence fell on our little gathering as we considered what must be done.
“Well, the question now is, who approaches Dr. Obolensky, and how?”