The Angry Corrie 17: Feb-Mar 1994

The Curious Affair of the Grey Man of Ben Macdui... (part 3)

(as related to Jack Reilly)

The story so far: Sir Hugh Munro, famous mountaineer, arrives at 221B Baker St to tell Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson of his rash wager concerning the exact number of three thousand foot mountains in Scotland. He stands to lose his ancestral home, Lindertis, but this scarcely explains why he now blasts Holmes to smithereens with an enormous elephant gun...

"You bloody bastard" said I, "You've killed Sherlock Holmes!" And lunging toward the murderer who had the barrel of his rifle pointed at my chest, I heard a familiar voice. "Put down your weapon Munro, or I'll blow your brains out!"

And as I looked to the source of that familiar voice, I began to cry with gratitude. My friend was no longer dead, apparently he had survived the rifle blast! For there he stood in the shadowy corner of the room, pointing his revolver at Munro's head.

"Holmes! Is it really you?" was all I could manage, for apparently I fainted, to be brought back to consciousness with a swig of the brandy I'd used earlier to revive Munro. Holmes stood above me with a look of concern on his features.

"It's all right Watson, I'm alive and well. Would you care to occupy the sofa? Friend Munro is quite comfortable on the fireside rug." Indeed, our visitor was lying face down in front of the fire, safely tied up with what I assumed to be climbing rope.

"How did you survive the blast?" said I to Holmes in wonder, once I was seated comfortably on the sofa, after I'd given Munro a swift kick in the ribs.

"Would you believe he missed me?" said Holmes. And holding up the charred remains of a papier-mch Sherlock Holmes - minus the head - he went on with his explanation.

"As I was listening to Munro give his account of the Edinburgh banquet of mountaineers, I noticed his eyes begin to rove around the room in the manner which is common to all psychopathic maniacs; I suspected that we were both in grave danger, and knowing that he had a firearm stashed in his suitcase, I decided to take action. Ah, you can shake your head in wonder Watson, but it really didn't require much brain power to deduce the presence of a gun in that fine crocodile case of his. After all, I could smell the gunpowder, which I knew from experience to be elephant gunpowder. Then I decided to retrieve that life-like dummy of myself which I used several years ago in the arrest of a certain murderous Colonel Moran who shot at it, thinking it was I. You will of course recall Watson, your description entitled The Adventure of the Empty House. Therefore, while Munro was explaining his wager, I sneaked out of the room in a cloud of tobacco smoke, and replaced myself with the dummy. I congratulate myself that neither of you even noticed the exchange which took place... what's that you say? Why didn't I simply step across to Munro's suitcase and remove the offending weapon instead of all the elaborate disguise? Tut tut man! You know I can't resist a touch of the dramatic, and I wanted to see your reaction in the event of a shooting! And you needn't look so hurt Watson, I wouldn't put you in any real danger, after all I had the rascal covered with my revolver all the time!"

Accepting his explanation, I turned to our trussed-up visitor. "Yes Munro, you are lucky to be alive. For if you had harmed my dear friend Holmes in even the slightest manner, you would now be floating down the River Thames as we speak! Now sir, do you wish to continue with your narrative, or shall I kick you down the stairs and out the front door?"

With effort, our visitor managed to upright himself on the fireside rug, and resumed his narrative, apparently as if nothing had happened.

"As I was saying Mr Holmes, I was forced by my pride and dignity to establish the exact number of Scottish mountains which exceed three thousand feet; I knew this number to be in the region of three hundred, which was in blatant contradiction to Professor Martin Eden's assertion that there are only thirty such mountains. He is a stupid bastard, in my opinion! During my task, I covered much distance and saw many wild districts, most of which were remote and uninhabited. Eventually, during my travels I came to the so-called Monadh Ruadh district, which is in the north east corner of Scotland. Oh, it's a fine stretch of country Mr Holmes, with great forests and rivers and even a few glaciers in the corries of the higher peaks. These are very remote mountains sir, and require a good deal of rough walking to reach even their foot. Now, it so happened that a raging storm descended on these mountains, and at the hour on which I arrived in Strath Spey, it had already lasted for days and showed no signs of abating. Necessarily, I could not afford to wait in the valley for even one day to allow for nasty weather, so I said to myself, "Hugh, get yer arse up there for Christ's sake an' stop a' yer procrastinatin'! Mind ye what's at stake here if ye dinnae complete yer task! Ye'll lose Lindertis tae yon bank managers!" So I packed my knapsack with every possible necessity, and set off towards the Lairig Ghru pass, a rocky canyon rising high above the great forest of Rothiemurchus. What an epic journey Mr Holmes! It was heavy walking all day in soft snow; on Ben Macdui the snow was blowing in spiral columns several hundred feet high, penetrating everything, filling pockets and drifting between waistcoat and shirt, where it melted and froze into a solid wedge of ice; Mr Holmes, I never wish to experience again such cold for the rest of my days!"

Here, Munro paused and stared briefly into the glowing embers of the fire, which was reflected in the watery gaze of his eyes like twin flickering gaslamps.

"Ah, and it was then I met a solitary walker approaching from the south. Now, this encounter was only noteworthy because until this point I had seen nary a soul since leaving the hotel in Avie-y-mhor earlier that morning. We approached each other, this fellow and I, and despite the raging storm and biting cold, we decided to stop and have a brew together. "Aye! 'Tis a fine day for the walking sir", said the fellow, who gave his name as John Grant, of Ryvoan. What did he look like you say? Oh, a short wiry fellow, about sixty years old, with a long white beard, very much a biblical type of character, I'd say. Ah, you like to take notes, Mr Holmes? Quite right sir, quite right! Well, after our brew of tea from my flask, Grant proceeded to offer a drink from his waistpocket flask, saying it was a special concoction from the jungles of Burma which his cousin had sent earlier that month. Not wishing to offend the poor fellow, I took a sip, expecting the liquid to have a foul taste. To my surprise however, it tasted very excellent, rather like a combination of honey and pine roots, a most unusual blend sir! And then, as soon as I had taken... what? What do you think... explain yourself sir! I demand that you..."

"You will do nothing of the sort", said my friend, with a malignant stare. Once again he withdrew the revolver from his dressing gown pocket, and pointed the barrel at our visitor's head.

"I am personally acquainted with Mr John Grant of Ryvoan," said he; "indeed I have had the pleasure of purchasing from the fellow a rather singular yellowish blue crystal which may be described as a Cairngorm. I have it here." And reaching into the other pocket of his dressing gown, he withdrew a large rock and flung it into the air, apparently without the slightest effort, where it landed at Munro's feet with an ear-shattering crash. Clearly, Holmes' so-called "Cairngorm" weighed somewhere in the region of 50lb, but he had tossed it in the air as if it were no more than a mere apple. In the silence that followed, I could hear a faint thumping from the room below; evidently Mrs Hudson was none too happy with the noise, and had resorted to hitting her ceiling with a broomstick handle as a token of her extreme displeasure. Holmes' voice broke the silence.

"There you have it sir, the finest Cairngorm in the country, and it goes into my private collection. Now Munro, or whoever you are, I think perhaps it would be better if you told us the truth, otherwise I can only offer you personal violence for wasting my time. Your mistake was made in describing John Grant as an ancient fellow with a white beard. Nothing could be further from the truth, for I know him to be a stout gentleman with a long ginger moustache, with both legs taken off at the waist from a blast of cannon fire during the Boer War; therefore when you said he was walking on the summit plateau of Ben Macdui, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that you were lying to us!" And with this, Holmes crossed the floor to where our visitor sat tied up with rope, and raising the rock above Munro's head, he reiterated his threat of personal violence if the truth was not told.

"That will not be necessary my good fellow. Replace the rock in your pocket and I'll tell you the truth." Clearly, our visitor had no choice in the matter, for it was either that or have his brains bashed in. And Holmes was not one to make idle threats, not by any means. "Release me please, for I grow uncomfortable in these knots. Ah, that's better", not without a sigh of relief. "If I may borrow some nitric acid? Thank you sir."

And to my utter astonishment, our visitor began to pour the foul liquid over his head. Apparently it seemed, Hugh Munro was in fact nothing of the kind, for as the rubber mask dissolved away in a cloud of smoke, the unmistakable features of a woman became established. However, the action of concentrated nitric acid continued beyond her curious rubber mask, and proceeded to eat away at her clothes; in a matter of moments the metamorphosis was complete, and there stood before us a tall slender woman, with luxurious black hair flowing across her shoulders, naked down to her very boots, which continued to sizzle unabated into the stunned silence of our living room.

"What's this then?" stammered Holmes, who had resumed his armchair seat in confusion. Our nude visitor stepped nimbly from her smoking pile of garments and stood by the fire. The glowing embers cast shadows across her pale flesh, which held me in a trance-like state for several moments. Holmes, however, appeared unaffected by this attractive naked woman who now stood at our fireside. Such reaction was typical of my friend, who rarely showed any response as far as women were concerned. "Perhaps you had better explain yourself Madame!"

"Mr Holmes, I apologise for my appearance, and to you also Dr Watson!" I simply nodded in acceptance of her apology. "I am Mrs Hugh Munro, and you must come with me to Scotland right away, for my husband is in terrible danger, and I fear for his life! No, I regret I cannot explain the situation to you now sir, for time is very short! Will you accompany me? Yes, it is very cold in the mountains at this time of year. I should certainly take a woollen balaclava as well as my deerstalker hat! What? These are for me? Thank you sir, I fear my previous set of garments are somewhat the worse for wear! And yes, you are quite correct to bring your revolver, now can we please hurry? If we are swift enough, we may yet catch the 12.15 train to Avie-y-mhor, but I fear we may already be too late to save my husband's life!"

And during that arduous journey to Scotland, Mrs Munro, wife of the well-known mountaineer Sir Hugh Munro, who had expertly disguised herself as her famous husband, told us the horrible details relating to the kidnapping and subsequent torture of her husband by the notorious Professor Hamish Shite of evil repute and foul temper.

To be continued...

TAC 17 Index