This is a shortish chapter – it’s the pivot into the last act of Part 2 which will wrap up in Chapter 11 with lots of action, blood, angst… all that fun stuff.

By way of roadmap, basically Part 1 was mystery, Part 2 is adventure, and Part 3 is romance. I figure there’s something in that information to disappoint almost everyone. On the plus side, it should help you decide what parts to skip entirely.


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Chapter Ten: Shards of Silver

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I stood at the wide bedroom window, gazing at the Eiffel Tower as it soared above the low line of trees. The silvery shape fountained up from the ground, as though its filigree structure was made of numberless iron filings, straining up into the sky toward the lodestone moon that hung just out of reach. The two would never touch, but the endless dream of it was beautiful. I was keenly aware of the beauty all around me as an almost physical sensation, as if my bare skin hummed with its energy. Everything hummed. The satin sky, the white night, even the silence.

It was strangely quiet, I noticed. There was no argument, no murmured, angry words of French. Perhaps the sense of peace that radiated from my chest had spread far enough to calm the tempers in the next room. It was a strange fancy, but it appealed to me. I was made up of nothing more than strange fancies it seemed. They flickered through my mind, each thought image was clear in isolation but put together they seemed to overlap and blur at the edges like a kinetoscope with a guttering candle.

The Tower was as beautiful as any magic lantern show I’d ever seen. It shimmered as white points of light danced around it in the glowing nimbus. I wondered when those white points of light had returned in such numbers and looking about the dimmed bedroom I noticed the same pale glow surrounded the edges of every object. That was a bit worrying. There was the little matter of concussion, I reminded myself, it seemed for the hundredth time. Really, it was very tiresome to have to be concerned about such things. I would have preferred, I thought, to enjoy the feeling of evanescent calm, but it was growing harder to touch as my thoughts so persistently skittered and jumped ahead of me. It might have actually been disconcerting if I didn’t feel quite so good.

I did feel very good although my skin was warm and my teeth were cold. I couldn’t remember if that was among the lists of effects I’d studied. I had spent a great deal of time reading about cocaine use out of concern for Holmes’s health and mental state. I read all about heightened senses, confidence and stamina, feelings of indomitable energy and clarity, enhanced desire and physical sensation and the wish to have all those things last forever. Instead of just reading, I thought, I might have been well advised to try the drug myself. If I was so concerned about it, I wondered, why hadn’t I done just that? It seemed rather high-handed of me. Clearly, it was just one more in a long line of poor decisions. If I had tried it before I mightn’t have to stand in this window wondering why Holmes hadn’t asked me what solution might be best for a man who had never used the drug and was suffering concussion and blood loss.

Where was Holmes, I wondered. I didn’t hear his voice outside and that was worrying. He might disappear again at any time. But, I reminded myself, the important thing was that he was back now and even if he didn’t care for me nothing had changed, really. It was good to keep that in mind because I kept forgetting. I had to remember because I was under the influence of a drug that sometimes made one more voluble l and it would never do to tell Holmes I loved him.

At that I felt the edges of my sense of delight contract, as though the world outside was gnawing away at it. The exhilarating calm was starting to fade. The drug was already losing power, I knew, and my contentment crumbled further at the understanding that the feeling would soon be gone. At least, I reasoned I’d be better able to concentrate. Then I could just enjoy how much better I felt. In fact I felt more startlingly alive than ever in my memory. I wondered what my memories would be like. Would they make sense later? They were making some sense now although they persisted in slipping away.

Really, the way my thoughts refused to light on anything was exasperating. How had Holmes found it restful? Maybe that came with more experience. He’d certainly had a great deal of it and I trusted his judgment on the use of the drug, of course. Between his skill as a chemist, his knowledge of human physiology, and his own extensive use, there were probably not many men better able to judge the required solution. Yet he hadn’t consulted me. Holmes could be very trying. I was still a doctor though I didn’t have an active practice at present. If I were more sensible I might have stayed in London and concerned myself with such things. It was clear I was not proving much use to my friends. Now that I felt so much stronger that would change, of course. While my renewed strength wasn’t likely to last an hour in my depleted state, my nausea and vertigo were completely cured. Even the pain in my head had dwindled to the merest twinge. No that wasn’t quite right, I thought. My head seemed to hurt just as much, but I only felt it as a twinge. Well, that was certainly nonsense. It either hurt or it didn’t.

The important thing to bear in mind was that I had a concussion and I should use caution if I didn’t want to find myself unconscious or worse. In fact, as a doctor, I should advise myself to lie down immediately. Although it probably didn’t matter at the moment whether I laid down or not. I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not with this vibrating in my skin. It was almost a shame. What dreams I might have. No visions of howling water and bare cliffs would come with this feeling. Instead I might dream of still, mossy green forest floors or hillsides of yellow mignonette burning like the Mediterranean sun and Holmes there to share them with me.

I wondered if Holmes had ever felt this same quickening of desire. Most certainly not. Such feelings held no appeal for him. Holmes was drawn to the drug because it heightened his natural powers. I had worried repeated use of the needle would damage that unique mind of his. It was silly, of course. Holmes’s mind was fine and his health clearly wasn’t broken. He didn’t seem to have spent his time away from me wandering from vice den to vice den. He was no Isa Whitney. Poor Isa’s experiment in the addictive effects of opium had left Kate a widow. Yes, I considered, opium was a far stronger snare. Though I had to admit it was hard to think of losing this feeling.

Some self-important part of me had always wondered what rational person would pursue a sensation that, at its peak, lasted only a few seconds. My question had certainly been answered. It couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, I reasoned, to feel so contented with life and with oneself. I wondered what the effects were like in a sound body. If I used the drug again, and there was no reason I shouldn’t now the initial fear was gone, it would be out of such curiosity. The sense of being in splendid accord with the world was better than intoxicating. Where brandy only rounded the edges of sadness, cocaine turned it inside out. What had been gray and bleak a few moments before now all but sparkled, like the Tower just out of reach beyond the glass.

I would have very much liked to share the sight with Holmes. It would be near to heaven to stand here together and look out over the shimmering night. I could almost still feel his breath on my naked shoulder, his sensitive hands at my back, his heartbeat so close to mine… my stomach tightened at the sensations sleeting over my skin and through my mind. It would never be the way I’d wished, but imagining it was breathtaking.

I felt a surge of irritation as light brightened behind me, washing out the image of the Tower. I realized the door to the sitting room had been pushed ajar and I heard Séraphie gasp. The door swung closed and after several minutes she reached my side. Her hands closed on my arm and she began tugging me away from the window.

“John, ange, no. It isn’t wise. Come away, please.”

I was reminded how much I enjoyed listening to her lovely, sweet voice and her hands felt astonishing. I was almost tempted to resist so I might pull her to me and feel the fabric of her shining pink dress against my skin, but in the end I allowed her to drag me away from the window because it seemed very important to her.

“It’s all right,” I said trying to calm her show of nerves. “It’s perfectly safe.”

“You know better than this, cher,” she said guiding me toward the bed. “Now your Sherlock is anxious to go and if you are determined to be in the danger with him you must make yourself prepared. So here is your shirt and I will help you slip it on, yes, and we will fasten it here… I asked Sherlock to please have patience just a little and I will help so you may not strain your poor head any more than may be. If you will stand just so I will arrange here and here. Ah, there we have your shirt and your trousers so tidy. Bon. Now your new cuffs…”

My attention kept wandering from what she said to what she was doing. As her voice lilted on, she fastened my clothing with quick, deft movements. I wondered if all courtesans were so charmingly adept at such things. I smiled down at her and she cast me a quick, curious look as she fastened a shirt cuff at my wrist.

“Here is your other cuff, yes, très bon. Your Sherlock said I should say to you, ‘You must come now or stay behind.’ And as I think you want to go with him very much… Here is your collar and with this you must help just a little, cher, for you are tall and if you will just bend so–” She looked up and I saw her eyes widen as they met mine.

“Oh,” she said with a little start. She stepped back with the collar still in her hand and shot a quick glance at the closed door before she reached up and guided my face toward hers with a gentle touch on my cheek. She slipped the collar around my neck, fastening it back and front, as she said, “So Sherlock, has made you know you must use the strength where you may find it tonight? Well, I think this is wise, as you know, although I would not like it if you followed this advice from your friend too many times.”

“No, no,” I reassured her. “It was my idea to use the drug. I don’t imagine Holmes was pleased by it. Although, as you say, it’s hard to tell with him. I suspect he would have preferred to lock me in the bathroom, to be honest, but he’s always been considerate about not coddling me.” I smiled as she looked up, her lips parted in surprise. “I don’t like to be coddled.” I explained. “Although I don’t mind when you do it,” I added.

“I am glad to hear so,” she said, smiling. She reached back to the bed and returned with a cravat. “For you are very nice to coddle and to speak with.” She guided my face toward hers and reached around my neck, encircling it with the tie. “Also,” she said, her smile widening. “You are most pleasant to the eye.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” I replied. “You may be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. And you smell wonderful.”

I had never seen Séraphie blush before. “Ange,” she said, concentrating with unwarranted intensity on my tie, “You do not mean that.”

“No, I do,” I assured her. I caught her hand in mine and held it to my lips. “You are enchanting, my angel Séraphie.”

“John,” she said, looking up into my eyes, “I begin to think we are all just moths to a flame. And such a pretty flame.” She gave a light laugh as she retrieved her hand. “But it would not do for your men to hear you say such things. Are not things as tangled as they may be now?”

“I have no idea,” I said frankly. “You make references to a disagreement and I know there’s some sort of dispute that seems within a few words of fisticuffs, but I really haven’t an inkling what it might be. When I return later perhaps we shall open another bottle of champagne and you might explain it to me at last.”

Séraphie paused, her hands at my tie. She bit her lip and as I looked into her eyes it took a moment to recognize the emotion I saw there. It was the first time I’d seen sadness in those sea green depths and it was all the more shocking for its suddenness.

I took her gently by the shoulders. “Séraphie,” I said softly. “Don’t worry. We’ll all be fine. Holmes knows what he’s doing.”

“No, ange,” she said. “I am afraid, but not of this. The danger is great, but you men– you take these chances all knowingly, each in your way. No, what makes me afraid is that you may think hard on me in time to come and I cannot change this and perhaps I would not if I could. Only remember that I would not have you be pained any more if it can be at all helped. Please just do as your Sherlock says and all will be as well as may be.”

“Séraphie, what–”

Before I could voice the question, or even decide what it might be, the outer door opened and closed. Immediately, Villard’s voice sounded in the next room and Holmes’s rose in response.

Séraphie sighed. “Ah, now the disagreement will go on a little more. We may not hurry so much. Let us finish making you tidy so you may be ready when Sherlock has finished his present argument.” She moved behind me toward the bed. Over my shoulder I saw her retrieve my new jacket from where it lay. “And while we do this I will ask you a question on which I have wondered for a little time.” She slipped the coat sleeves onto my arms and as I shrugged it over my shoulders she indicated the rust-colored book on the bedclothes.

“When first I put away your poor ruined coat, it was strange to me to find you should have this poetry. If I am not too mistaken, and I am not often in these things as you may imagine, I do not think you may be the great follower of poets and it is even more the mystery because you do not speak French as I very well know.” She smiled up at me as she smoothed my lapels. “Does this belong to Francois, perhaps?”

“Ah, no,” I answered. “It’s mine, actually. I suppose it is at any rate. Holmes gave it to me.”

Séraphie’s silence was striking in its rarity. She was gazing at me with her eyebrows drawn together in a look I had come to associate with rapt attention. “Sherlock,” she said slowly. “He gives this book to you.”

“Yes,” I said. “Although in point of fact he sold it to me.”

One delicately curved eyebrow arched.

“It’s a complicated story,” I said quickly. “In every way that matters, he gave it to me. Do you know it?”

“This book? A little,” she said. “I have heard Monsieur Verlaine read from it.”

“You know Paul Verlaine?” I said.

“Ah, oui.” She gave a little shrug. “I have the friends who visit the Lapin Agile from time to time for the art and the verse and other things. I have met this Verlaine. His poetry is mostly very pretty, but I did not care for him too much. He is a very angry man. But that this book should come from your Sherlock is a surprise to me. He reads this book to you?”

I blinked. The thought of Holmes reading poetry to me was one of the more absurd fancies that had crossed my mind that evening. “Read it– Holmes? Good Lord, no, Francois read me some of it.”

Séraphie gazed up at me, her sea green eyes wide. “Cher,” she said softly. “You did not tell Sherlock this?”

I thought back. “Well, I think he must assume it. We did…” I hesitated. Though it seemed a moot point now, I felt sure neither Holmes nor Villard would approve of me divulging the use of the book for coded message even to Séraphie. “Yes, I’m sure he must assume it.”

She sighed. “Ah, well, this may explain at least a little.”

Outside the voices rose again. Séraphie narrowed her eyes as she looked toward the door and I followed her gaze. The words were still French, but now I felt that I could almost understand them. It was an interesting sensation.

I looked back to find her watching me. “You would like to know what these men say, John? I think– Sit down by me here.”

Séraphie guided me down to sit at the edge of the bed. She looped her hand around my waist and rested her cheek against my shoulder. Because it seemed the natural thing to do, I put my arm around her slim shoulders.

“The personal matter of which I told you,” she said softly. “These men are talking of it now. I think they should speak of it with you, but instead they are speaking together in a way you cannot understand. At this time, it is right that you should know what they say. Listen, John, and I will tell you their words in English…”

And with that she began to speak in a syncopated rhythm that was like counterpoint music to the argument in the next room.

“What will it take to convince you that this man is outside? Will it take one of us being killed? I think even you may agree we have come close enough.”

“Do not try this. I tell you I will not be distracted now. Please do not embarrass yourself in this sad attempt. My question is simple and I thank you to answer it without all this wasting of my time.”

“I have no idea–”

“I warn you to no more play the fool with me, Monsieur, or I will begin to think it is no fraud. Just say if you will let him go on so or if you will not put an end to his unhappiness.”

“You believe you know how it is with him after less than forty-eight of the hours.”

“I know how it is with him after so many minutes. You have the years to see and yet you don’t. This makes you the biggest fool there can be in my imagination. It is beyond belief that you should be so fortunate and yet you will not notice it.”

“Is this not a poor time for you to be so concerned for what I do or do not notice in a matter that does not concern you? Or is it that this matter concerns you very much?”

“You try my patience to the utmost with this tactic. This is not the subject between us.”

“Is it not? Maybe this is exactly what we discuss though not in so many of the words. Maybe you only want to know where you stand in this question that you imply.”

“Why do you persist in this delusion that there is some question? I tell you again there is no question in his mind, there is only you. I am not happy by this and I will not comment on the wisdom of his choice, but I must accept it. How is it you will not see something that is so plain?”

“You say this is so plain. I do not think the evidence supports this.”

“Evidence? You speak of evidence? What other evidence exists in your sadly deranged mind?”

“Only the fact that he talks ever of you.”

“He– No. You cannot be so stupid as all this. These are the so great powers of observation and of deduction we have all heard too much? This is the master detective in his work? I am overthrown. Fine. If your brain is so weak why not listen with your heart? That is if it may be found.”

“I suppose you can tell me what is in this as well?”

“Ah, the first true thing you have said in so long. I know this as well as I know my own. How could there be but one answer? That you will not act on it leaves me only to think you are the basest coward.”

“I thank you for this succinct description of my character. May I understand what is this action you would have me take?”

“Not too much. Only open your mouth. You are quite good at that without encouragement in all other cases. What is it that makes you so afraid of this? Surely by now it is harder not to say.”

“I think I have indulged you enough for the present. I have work if you do not. This foolishness is at an end.”

“I disagree. Where you are concerned the foolishness yet goes on. I begin to see there is but one way to end it.”

“Oh, and what is it you suggest? This duel Séraphie so wants to see?”

“No. Nothing so formal as this. I would simply like to knock you down and see if some sense may be administered that way.”

“You have lost what reason you once had.”

“I would not test my patience, Monsieur, or I will have no regard for the fact we have other appointments at this time.”

“I think you would be unwise to attempt this.”

“Are you so sure of this? Let us now find out. I am all prepared. Why do we not–”

At that moment there was a loud knock at the outer door of the suite. Séraphie and I both started violently and I had to catch her around the waist to keep her from tumbling off the bed.

We listened as Villard apparently conversed with a gendarme in the passage. There was no sound from Holmes.

“Do you understand now, John?” Séraphie whispered. “Do you understand the disagreement?”

It was the same feeling of a few moments before – of almost being able to speak French. Like the shards of silver that made up the Tower, the words were being dragged together, tugged by an invisible force into a semblance of order. A shape was forming, but I couldn’t make it out. “I’m not sure…” I began.

“It is all right, cher,” she said quickly. “It will be clear soon, I think. But there is one thing– I would not ask this, but I must because it is very important. Tell me. Who do you choose? I know, but I must hear it. Francois or Sherlock, who do you choose?”

I couldn’t think. The question made no sense. I said the name that first appeared in my mind. “Holmes.”

She took in a sharp breath. “Yes,” she murmured, “Yes. Maybe there is time–”

“Watson!” Holmes’s voice rang out from the sitting room. I shot a glance at the door and made to rise. Before I could release her, Séraphie reached up, took my chin in her hands and kissed me. It was startling and wonderful and by the time I realized her lips tasted like honey, she had leant away.

As I sat blinking dazedly, she whispered, “Men are not smart, cher. They believe thinking and saying are the same. It is not true. I cannot say you are smarter than most, but you are much braver. If the chance should come, you will be the one who is so brave as to say what must be said.”

“Doctor. I cannot wait any longer,” Holmes called. “If you will not collect yourself and come along I will leave without you.”

“Come, come.” Séraphie was on her feet and pulling me toward the door. “You are all dressed and ready now. You must not keep your Sherlock waiting. Oh.” She stopped suddenly and reached up to brush her thumb across my lips. “It would not do for you to emerge with the lip rouge,” she whispered. She tugged the door open and all but pushed me through.

Holmes was leaning against the door to the outer passage, his arms crossed tightly on his chest. He did not look at me, but studied my companion with a look of fixed interest. For her part, Séraphie did not meet his gaze but went straight to a table against the wall where a few items of fresh clothing yet remained.

In some confusion, I glanced about the room. Villard was nowhere in evidence.

“He realized he had work to do,” Holmes said evenly. “May we venture out now? By my watch you have some fifteen minutes of useful time remaining. I suggest we make the most of it.”

I opened my mouth to answer, but he was glaring at Séraphie. “You know your part?”

“Ah, oui,” she said, turning from the table and flashing a startlingly bright smile. “Francois will look to see me turn the mannequin.” She gestured at the wax figure I saw was now standing on the console table where it was visible at the side of the window. “It should be turned just a small amount every few of the minutes. I understand what is expected.”

I stared between them. “Just a moment,” I said. “I don’t like this. Séraphie, are you sure you’ll be safe here on your own?”

Her smile softened. “Yes, I will be safe. I will not be seen by the window.”

“And you know where we will be,” Holmes asked her.

“Yes. And you will make sure my John is safe and will stay from harm.”

“I will do my best.”

“And you will also take good care of yourself for the sake of John,” she said.

Holmes blinked at this request, but made no answer.

I cleared my throat. “Look, I’m growing a bit tired of being discussed as if I were some sort of half-witted pet. I am standing right here.”

Holmes pursed his lips. “Yes,” he said evenly. “Of course. Well, we had better go then.”

“Here, my ange,” Séraphie said and somehow she was standing on her toes before me, fitting a bowler over my bandages. “Your pretty hat is all gone somewhere and it would not fit now nonetheless so I have found this one for you.” She bent toward me and breathed, “Do not let Sherlock go to the Tower.” Before I was even sure of what I’d heard, she leant back and said brightly, “La! It is very nice. Now you must go.” She stepped back and pushed me gently toward the door.

Holmes had it open and was already in the hallway when I arrived. We became a little entangled at the door and the next instant Holmes was propelling me toward the stairs with a touch on my elbow. I looked back to see Séraphie framed in the doorway, a vision of pink and gold, then we were around the bend of the hall and she was lost to sight.

“Will she really be safe there alone?” I asked as Holmes strode past the elevator toward the stairs.

“Safer,” he said without looking around.

We were at the ground floor in no time and I was glad to find I felt only a little winded from our brisk trot down the stairs. It was small comfort for my head was again throbbing with every beat of my pulse, which seemed to be going twice normal speed.

The hallway we paced along was not anything I would have recognized as a lobby. Boxes of linen and vegetable crates indicated we were making for the service entrance. As Holmes pushed through a door at the end of the passage, warm spring air brushed past my face bringing with it the smell of kitchen refuse. A wave of nausea surged up strongly enough to bring a resurgence of my earlier vertigo, but I barely faltered as I pushed through the door behind him.

We were out in the alley behind the hotel and moving at a quick march toward the adjoining road. As we crossed behind a row of buildings, at one stage darting through what was apparently a private garden, I kept at my dogged attempts to understand the exchange Séraphie had been trying to reveal for me.

If I had followed the burden of the conversation as it was translated, Villard had reasoned or deduced or simply observed my love for Holmes. It was, apparently, not difficult to do. Seemingly everyone I passed on the street might read it in my face.

However he had come by his knowledge, Villard had laid the fact before Holmes, expecting that Holmes would… what? It sounded as if Villard thought Holmes should tell me one way or the other whether he returned my feelings. Well, I thought, I knew the answer to that. But it was difficult to deny, painful as it might be to hear the worst from his own lips, it would be preferable to this constant, aching hope. For as much as my mind understood Holmes would never return my feelings, as Villard had said, the heart doesn’t listen to the head.

Still, if it weren’t for the drug, I reflected, I might be acutely furious with Villard for sharing his observations. It was hard to overcome the sense he’d somehow betrayed a confidence. As things stood, however, even as the more obvious benefits dwindled away, the lingering shreds of that sense of peace still clung to my mind, muting any outrage I might have felt.

Earlier that day I’d feared looking the fool. Now, I thought with a wry smile, Villard had removed that risk. He had made sure Holmes was fully aware that my love for him had not changed. As if, I amended, my merest glance weren’t confirmation enough. As Holmes had always told me, I had no gift for dissembling.

That remembrance triggered another thought. There was something I was missing in the brief snatch of discussion Séraphie had translated. I understand Villard’s position clearly enough. But it sounded as if Holmes was refuting it. Why should he do such a thing? All my reason told me he must know the truth of how I felt for him. There was no possibility it had escaped his notice.

Would he deny it to protect my pride? He’d certainly never showed such consideration before, I thought wryly. And, as I’d told Séraphie, he and I had always had an understanding about such things. There was no reason to think that had changed. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to discuss it. That seemed the most likely answer.

Villard had been importunate in his expectation that Holmes would want to resolve the unasked question of my feelings. Holmes had always considered emotion too outside the realm of predictable behavior to be of much use in his work and he was unlikely to want to discuss it as a matter of general interest. He must have soon wearied of putting the suggestion aside.

It occurred to me rather than feeling enmity for Villard, I was beginning to feel a swell of gratitude, even pity. Looking back over our brief friendship, I understood he didn’t indulge in gossip, but he was not one to let a thought remain unsaid if he felt it needed saying. He believed in setting out the facts as they stood for the better convenience of plumbing their mysteries. I could not recall ever hearing him say, “I don’t yet have enough information. Ask me later,” as Holmes was wont to do.

I could imagine him carefully framing his impressions for Holmes. Couching them by adding, “I have not the facts, as you understand.” At Holmes’s blank look he might have graduated to the “so humble policeman, not the philosopher” approach and finally, as a last attempt at drawing Holmes on the question, he may have even tried the “un-impossibility” gambit. I hoped for his sake he had not. I could only imagine Holmes’s reaction to such an unscientific exercise in logic, as useful as it had proved to be. He would be convinced Villard’s mind had come unhinged or that the Inspector had thrown in his lot with gypsy soothsayers.

Whatever had passed between the two men in that hotel room, it seemed their working relationship, even their friendship, had been sorely tried. Although I knew my small concerns were no more than a skirmish in their larger dispute, whatever it may be, it was terrible to think something so insignificant to anyone but myself should contribute to their falling out. It seemed, I decided, it was my responsibility to try to resolve at least this small conflict.

I could confirm Villard’s deductions and explain that the Inspector might have been too persistent in his approach, but that his intentions were good. His position was apparently that Holmes had a responsibility to bring the question to light, and to finally resolve it in my mind. The idea was a perspective I had not really considered and it was hard to dismiss out of hand.

But Séraphie had echoed what I had always believed. As the one who had the emotions at stake, it was up to me to express them or not. When I’d thought Holmes and I were as one in our feelings I had used to think I might make the emotions between us real by a word. Why should that have changed, I wondered. In that regard, at least, I had been given a second chance.

And surely, as Villard had argued, it was harder not to say it. My mouth twisted in an ironic smile as I considered how true his words were proving this day. It was only by the purest good fortune I hadn’t blurted out my feelings to Holmes in the garden before being shot, after being shot, in the carriage, in the hotel room, or, possibly even now. I felt a twinge of worry for as soon as the determination to be forthright formed in my mind, a doubt began to grow alongside it. What if it was only the drug that was fomenting this uncharacteristic fit of resolution?

If so, I thought, what of it? Maybe it was a case of ends justifying the means. What would be the benefit if I waited until my resolve was fully overthrown by fear and self-doubt? At the idea it might mean years more of the same tortured silence, my stomach lurched. No, I thought, surely if nothing else of benefit might come out of this experiment of mine, at least that one question might be forever put to rest.

So, I thought, for good or ill it was decided. I would tell Holmes how I felt in no uncertain terms. And, remembering another piece of Villard’s advice, it was best not to over-prepare. Nothing would be gained by rehearsing what I might say. After all this time, I reasoned, if I didn’t have the right words emblazoned in my mind I didn’t deserve to know them and I didn’t deserve this chance.

As is the way of such things, the instant I’d decided I wouldn’t churn through a thousand ways to express three short words, my mind proceeded to do just that. Fortunately, I was brought up short when Holmes came to a sudden halt before me.

I realized I’d been following him up streets and down alleys with absolutely no idea where we’d been or how long we’d been traveling. We stood now at the edge of an empty avenue.

Holmes peered down the road and up at the looming faces of the darkened buildings behind us then paced quickly across the deserted street to a line of tall, slender gray trees. I scurried in his wake. I guessed we must be entering the Champs de Mars. I wondered how far we were from the Eiffel Tower.

As we reached a broad expanse of lawn, showing pale gray in the moonlight, a bright shape coalesced from the white lights dancing at the edge of my vision and I looked up and up along a sweeping arc of silver. High above me a lacework shape swept toward the heavens. The moon that had drawn it inexorably upward now had rolled onward toward the horizon, leaving the Tower standing alone, etched against the sky and stars.

“Watson,” Holmes hissed at my ear. “This is not the time for sight-seeing. Do try to keep up.”

By the time I turned toward his voice he was striding away, turning rightward from the Tower and toward a cluster of trees that stood a little apart from the rest some little distance up the lawn. I hurried after him and reached his side just as he came to a stop.

Now, I thought. I should talk to him now. The time was all wrong, but hadn’t I already lost so much by waiting for the right time?

Holmes was looking up across the avenue we had just crossed, studying the front of a building that seemed to be made of white marble. Its elegantly curved face gazed in serene silence over the park. On a sudden I realized it must be the Hotel de Gaspard.

“Which is our window,” I asked under my breath as my eyes scanned the few bright squares of light.

“There.” Holmes pointed upward and to the left of the bowed center of the façade.

I picked out the profile on the curtain immediately. It was remarkably like my friend after all, I had to admit, at least in silhouette.

I cleared my throat. “Are we waiting for Moran to make his move?”

“No,” Holmes said, his gaze fixed on the window. “We are waiting for the fair Séraphie to betray us.”

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-«oOo»-
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~ Coming Soon ~
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Chapter Eleven: Moonlight and Mercury

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