“I must admit, I’m completely in the dark as to this Doctor’s actions,” I disclosed to Holmes back in Baker Street. He’s definitely hiding something; there is an irregularity to him and his professional conduct I can’t quite place. Holmes?”
My friend seemed distracted, his brow furrowed at whatever he happened to be contemplating at that moment. “What is it, Holmes?” He rose from his chair and began to pace the room.
“A thought.” He continued pacing steadily, eyes upon the floor. “Have you ever had a thought that, once it has occurred, remains at the back of your mind despite all distraction?”
“If it is something of importance or something I should not forget, yes.”
“This is no ordinary thought, Watson.” His blazing eyes fell upon me, dark with trepidation. “It is a wild and terrible thought which I dare not give credit to, and yet…” He had halted before the window and now turned his gaze upon the street below, musing. I sensed his turmoil, yet knew there was nothing I could do unless permitted entry to the thoughts of this great mind, of whatever fear he had uncovered from the facts laid before us. I kept my silence, therefore, and went over what we had learned in my own mind, trying to guess what had put my companion in such a foreboding humour.
For the following day Holmes did nothing but read the papers of both the present and the past several months.
“Any news of this ‘Camberwell Vampire’?” I asked. Holmes peered closely at me.
“You want to know whether to stock up on garlic?” he taunted sardonically.
“I’m merely curious, Holmes; I told you I don’t believe in vampires.”
“What else could this curious chain of events be?” he goaded.
“Ordinary bats attracted to a specific perfume? I don’t know. Why are you playing devil’s advocate?”
“No cause for offence, my dear fellow, only amusing you should ask at the moment I opened that exact page of yesterday’s paper.”
“Why, what do you think it is?”
“I’m no more certain than you are, Watson, but I think it will be resolved soon enough; such a strange affair must have the utmost attentions of the police.” His dark sarcasm exasperated me.
“Are we to do nothing else today but debate the existence of vampires?” I reproached him.
“There is nothing we can do but await fresh developments. Tomorrow we’ll visit the Doctor again and call in on Ms. Kingsley. Enjoy the time while we have it, Watson. It’s a beautiful day; I’m going for a walk.”
For our second visit to Doctor Berger, Holmes forewent the wheelchair, though he walked without his usual vigour and sense of purpose, swaying his limbs in such a manner as to make him seem lankier than he really was. The secretary recognised us this time and bade us go straight through. “Hand, Andrew, hand,” demanded Holmes as we passed through and grasped my hand. I smiled, in the character of the carer once more.
“No need to be afraid, James; no poking and prodding this time around.” The Doctor was hunched over his desk perusing some papers when we entered. Once again I was struck by his ghostly pallor which seemed even paler than before. “Sorry to disturb you. Doctor; we were wondering if you had a precise diagnosis for James yet.” Berger jumped, evidently startled, but immediately resumed a professional manner.
“Ah yes, Mr. Kingsley and Mr. Lake, isn’t it? My, you’re looking much better, and no wheelchair!”
“Yes, he’s recovering quite well after a good rest, aren’t you James?” Holmes ignored me, instead wandering over to admire a bookshelf.
“Well, I could find no anomalies in his blood, so it seems just a severe cold after all. He should be fine in another few days.” Berger started as his gaze averted to Holmes.
“Mr. Kingsley, could you put that down, please?” Holmes had discovered a small box tucked away at the back of the shelf and was in the process of gingerly rattling it to his ear.
“James! Put it back.” Holmes had just licked the box, much to our astonishment. He looked to me, his face a mixture of childish insolence and guilt.
“I want to see,” he declared stubbornly.
“It’s not your box, James. Respect the Doctor’s privacy and put it back where you found it. It might be something precious.” Sullenly, Holmes replaced the box and, in response to my stern gaze, slumped into one of the chairs.
“I must apologise,” I addressed Doctor Berger again. “He can be very juvenile at times and quite independent at others.”
“That’s quite alright, Mr. Lake,” Berger had recovered. “I’m sure he wouldn’t have damaged anything, but better to be safe…”
“Certainly. Well, thank you for your time; I’m relieved that he didn’t contract any debilitating illness. Shall I see your secretary to arrange the matter of your fee?”
“I would be much obliged. Just tell her that I will charge you the rate of one consultation.”
“Thank you, Doctor. James, time to go. Would you like to thank Doctor Berger for his help?” Holmes stood up and met the Doctor’s eye for an instant, but looked away again almost immediately.
“Thank you, Doctor Berger,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry about your shirt.”
“My pleasure, James,” replied Berger amiably, but remained seated. “That’s perfectly alright; I’ve already had it fixed. You enjoy your visit in London. How long are you staying for?” Holmes hesitated nervously and looked at me.
“You can tell him, James; there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Are you staying with your cousin?” enquired the Doctor innocently. Holmes shifted his gaze, as though struggling to maintain the conversation, and mulled this over.
“No. Near where she lives. Where do you stay?” Berger laughed.
“I live close to the surgery, quite near to your cousin as well, I believe.” Holmes grunted, now absolutely refusing to make eye contact, instead staring intently at the floor.
“I think we’ve almost reached the limit of conversation for today,” I smiled kindly. “You did well for him to speak with you; usually he doesn’t talk so easily to strangers.”
“Well, perhaps we’ll remain friends, eh James?” Berger smiled at Holmes who briefly returned it diffidently.