A lot of the stories I write never quite make it to publication. Sometimes I write a story for with a specific publication or editorial in mind, other times I write something and then, for whatever reason, I decide not to pursue it any further.
The following story is an example of the former.
About a year ago, I submitted The Vigil at Camden House to an editor who was on the look out for Professor Moriarty inspired stories. At the time, I was pretty stuck for ideas for my own stories so I decided to take up the challenge and write a story about (arguably) the first literary example of a master criminal in literature.
As you might have guessed, the story I came up with wasn’t quite what the editor wanted, but he nonetheless applauded my effort (the same editor would later also turn down another of my stories, Dressed to Deceive – and we all know how well turned out for me in the end).
I gave myself a few rules.
First, I wanted to stay as true to the original material as possible. As such, I reference events that already occur in Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes stories.
Second, given that Holmes and Moriarty only ever meet at the incident at the Reichenbach Falls in the stories, on no account could Holmes ever meet Moriarty in person in my own. The story had to take place before The Final Problem but could, in theory, happen at around the same time as The Valley of Fear.
Thirdly, I should try to replicate the tone of the original stories as much as possible.
And finally, (most importantly, in my opinion) I should enjoy writing the story that I eventually come up with.
Over the next five days I will be releasing the five chapters of The Vigil at Camden House. I hope it will entertain all those who enjoy the Holmes stories (and my writing more generally) as I enjoyed writing it.
The Vigil at Camden House – Chapter One
“I think that we can do business together, Mr. Carstairs!”
Andrew Carstairs stared excitedly across the table. His fingers fidgeted and groped at the rim of his hat whilst his leg jerked around in such an unusual fashion that he looked to be suffering from some sort of seizure. From across the desk, Professor Moriarty stared back coldly. His eyes were fixed and undistracted like a predator stalking its prey. As he observed his client on the opposite side of his desk, he stretched out his bony fingers until he felt them pop and crack as the tension was released before allowing them to retract back into a more relaxed position. But beneath his fixed smile, his jaw began to clench with a marked irritation for the man sat opposite him.
“That is most excellent news,” declared Carstairs, he face beaming with contentment. “But you will not harm her?”
Moriarty shook his head slowly. “If that is your wish!”
Andrew Carstairs was not a tall man, nor was he particularly short, but his broad shoulders and large muscular neck gave off the impression of a medium sized man who had far larger being trapped inside of him. At various points in the meeting, Moriarty had found himself imagining that the young Carstairs would burst open before his very eyes to reveal the giant hidden within, an idea that was only strengthened by Carstairs’ low, booming, Scottish accent. Such thoughts were mere fantasy of course, but Moriarty had taken a particular dislike to this man and anything to numb the sheer torture of this early evening meeting was gratefully accepted – even flights of the bizarre.
As Carstairs began to calm down, Moriarty leant forward and picked up his tobacco. He carefully loaded it into his clay pipe and lit it using a match from the matchbook sat on the desk in front of him. He quietly sucked on the pipe, carefully considering Carstairs who stared absent minded around Moriarty’s study. As the aroma of tobacco smoke filled the room, Moriarty finally withdrew the match, tossed it in to the ashtray on his desk and continued his keen observation of his newest client.
“So,” he announced, finally. “To the details. Your mother is due to take the morning train from London to Edinburgh Wednesday next, correct?”
“That is so, Professor,” Carstairs agreed.
“And she will bring the Athens Diamond with her?”
“And how is the diamond to be transported?”
“In the usual way. The diamond will be locked in a secret compartment in the bottom of my mother’s case. The case will remain in my mother’s cabin throughout the journey and will be guarded by one of mother’s aides.”
“I see,” noted Moriarty. “And does this secret compartment require a key?”
“Naturally,” replied Carstairs. “But the aide is not permitted to have one. Only my mother and I possess a key to the case that we carry with us at all times. I can lend it to you if it would help matters…”
“On no account,” Moriarty growled. “You are to ensure that the key remains until your arrival in Edinburgh the day before your mother departs London.”
“The day before?” Carstairs repeated, a look of utter confusion shooting across his face.
“You should make whatever preparations and excuses are required so as to not arouse suspicion…”
“But why the day before? Should I not be on the train?”
Carstairs huffed, crossing his arms and slumping his shoulders like a petulant child.
“I don’t think I like your tone, Professor,” Carstairs declared, attempting to sound as authoritative as possible. “I don’t believe you have given this very serious matter the thought it deserves and I don’t understand your reasoning for sending me on an earlier train!”
“Naturally,” Moriarty murmured in a deprecating voice, his eyes staring hard at his arrogant client. “I doubt that you have the patience or the intelligence to understand its subtlety!”
Carstairs looked as though Moriarty had flicked burning tobacco ash in his face. After the initial shock of the Professor’s words, he shook himself out of his surprise and pointed a pudgy finger across the table.
“Now see here…”
“You are to take the train for two reasons,” continued the Professor, waving a hand of dismissal in Carstairs’ direction. “Firstly, an attempt will be made to steal the Athens Diamond when your mother is on the train to Edinburgh. My man will steal the key from Lady Carstairs, without her knowledge of course, disable the aide guarding the case and steal the diamond before returning the key to Lady Carstairs’ possession. She will neither be aware that the key has gone missing nor that the diamond has even been stolen until the train pulls in to Edinburgh station. As there are only two keys to the secret compartment, suspicion will naturally fall on you. Thus, it would be wise for you to be somewhere other than the train when the crime is committed. Would you not agree?”
“Makes sense,” agreed Carstairs, reluctantly nodding his head in approval and lowering his pointing hand back down to his hat.
“In the second instance,” continued Moriarty, “when you arrive in Edinburgh you will immediately be taken into the custody of the police…”
“The police?” spluttered Carstairs.
Moriarty sneered back calmly.
“Quite. I will have one of my men send a messenger on ahead. He will report that he was assaulted by a man matching your description; a man that he knows to be due to arrive in Edinburgh by train that afternoon. Thus, as your train arrives, you will be immediately taken in to police custody and held overnight to face the magistrate the following morning!”
Carstairs’ face contorted with anger and frustration. He glared at Moriarty and leapt to his feet, swiping a couple of books off the desk in front of him.
“You are mad, sir!” he exclaimed, banging his fist on the desk. “What kind of fool do you take me for?”
“The kind that would attempt to steal his own inheritance,” sneered Moriarty, coolly puffing on his pipe. “But if you would indulge me…”
“This is absolutely nonsense!” Carstairs exploded, towering over the relaxed figure of the Professor. “What makes you think I would risk such a thing? I had it under good authority that you were the best at this sort of thing! Now all I see is that you are a swindler, a man who makes the simple complex and puts your clients through unnecessary torment under the pretence of being thorough. But you are not as smart as you think, Professor, not remotely. What is to stop me from taking your clever scheme and hiring my own man to do the job? I imagine it would save me the trouble of being imprisoned for assault!”
“True,” admitted Moriarty, relaxing back into his chair. “But you must understand, Mr. Carstairs, if you were to hire a thug who got caught, they would have no hesitation in naming you as their employer if they thought it might get them a lighter prison sentence. I, on the other hand, have at my disposal a far-reaching network of professional criminals who, in themselves, have their own men to do the deed. If my man were to be caught, the only person who could possibly lay the blame at your door would be me. I can assure you that I have far too much experience and far too little love of prisons to ever get caught myself. But if you would rather take that chance, you are welcome to use the door!”
Carstairs stood awkwardly beside his chair, glaring down at Moriarty. His fists clenched and unclenched as he pondered Moriarty’s words. The Professor took a few more sucks on his pipe, blowing the smoke out towards Carstairs who, having failed to think of a way to solve the problem on his own, reluctantly sat back down in his own chair.
Moriarty smiled cynically.
“In answer to your concerns,” he continued, “it would be necessary for you to be in police custody when you arrive in Edinburgh. I can assure you, when the case comes to the magistrate the following morning, my man will not make an appearance and you will be set free without a stain on your character. Whilst the Athens Diamond is being stolen on a train leaving London, you will have the perfect alibi of a magistrate and several policemen to confirm that, without a doubt, you were in a courthouse in Edinburgh at the time of the offence. They will believe, as I intend them to, that there is no possibility of you having committed the crime!”
“Ingenious,” declared Carstairs, returning to his original excitable disposition.
“Moreover, “ continued Moriarty, “when you are admitted to the police cells that night, the officers will almost certainly search your pockets and confiscate any items found there until you are allowed free. Amongst those items will be a certain key that opens the lock to the secret compartment of your mother’s case. If any suspicion were to fall on you for organising the theft, the police records themselves will point to the fact that you could not have possibly provided the thief with the key. And thus, my dear Mr. Carstairs, I have provided you with most infallible of alibis.”
Carstairs beamed across the desk. “Amazing, Professor!”
“I think you will find it is actually quite simple, my dear Carstairs. Rudimentary, boring and utterly logical!”