THE ADVENTURE OF THE FIVE SHERLOCKS
Editor’s note: All characters in this story are fictitious, except one
The four men who had, at various times, been known as Sherlock Holmes finished their monthly dinner and moved to the parlor. Three catering demons cleared away the remains.
Each man kept his own company. None seemed eager to start the meeting and consider the reports and rumors each had gathered from his resources.
Basil Rathbone, whose turn it was to play host, gazed languidly out his flat’s floor-to-ceiling bull’s-eye window. Christopher Lee busied himself with Rathbone’s library, seeking suggestions for his own collection. Though he seemed not to, Rathbone kept an eye on him.
Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett sat in overstuffed chairs near the low-burning hearth sipping brandy, either ignoring each other or enjoying a companionable after-dinner silence. It was hard to tell which, each was so good at both.
Rathbone looked across the expanse of Greater London as day surrendered to grim night and the rising of the astral Moon. Bisecting the metropolis, the sinuous River Styx changed from dull copper to a pale silver ribbon obscured by mists and vapors.
In the West End, he saw lanterns lofted by slaves winding their ways through the dark streets of Londinium. In neighboring Edwardia, tiny electric lights snapped on, and he fancied he heard the staccato put-puts of motorcars and tinny jazz bands. Away opposite, where lay such seedy East End districts as Cathay, Etruria, Whitechapel and New Bombay, narrow streets swarmed with pastel paper lanterns and copper lanthorns.
Southward, on the opposite shore, braziers blazed atop bawdy houses and theaters in Globe Towne, Londonistan was marked by fiery djinns floating amidst a dark forest of minarets, and in isolated Nova London, where lived the dead men and women of the future, strange lights burned cold, steady and pale. As always, the Isle of Dogs, bordered by the river on three sides, was shrouded with black fog and haunted by dire howls audible for miles.
Below Rathbone’s Tower Mansions flat in the West End district of Victoriana, a dwarf dutifully lit gaslamps. Rathbone smiled at the reassuring glow. Such illumination brought back fond memories of South Africa and, later, Derbyshire in England where his family settled after the Boers accused his father of spying. And, of course, they reminded him of the two films he made for Fox, superior in all ways to the later Universal, Hammer and Grenada productions.
Rathbone wondered about his status in this odd city, but he took pains not to mention it. There was, of course, the possibility they had been raised from sleep—the Big Sleep that chap Chandler had termed it—by an agency beyond human ken, though Rathbone thought it bad form to propose it. That idea had also been advanced by H.G. Wells, who had invited himself to a meeting one evening and drank too much sherry before being ushered unceremoniously into the sooty night, sputtering like a disturbed walrus.
Of course, that was the obvious answer, but it was the least palatable. Rathbone suspected it plagued his colleagues’ minds, but, as the only one who was actually a Victorian gentleman, repression of unpleasant truths was second nature to him.
Malacoda, supervisor of the demons, approached and made due obeisance. He accepted a pouch of gold, tipped his hat and departed, gesturing vulgarly to the others. The last of the trio lingered, leering witlessly and grinning at the four humans. A taloned hand snaked around the open door, grabbed the demon by one horn and yanked him out. The slam of the door was followed by the sound of a body bouncing down the stairs to cruel laughter.
“Cheeky little troll,” Rathbone said.
“Demon, actually,” Cushing corrected. “There is a difference.”
Lee concentrated on a new Shakespeare folio, lest Cushing feel encouraged to start one of his lectures.
Cushing opened his mouth.
“A foul night.” Brett’s eyes were shut, chin on steepled fingers. “The leprous astral moon rises, the powers of evil are exalted, and we shades must try to keep darkness at bay.”