Of all the strange sights I had been privy to during my acquaintanceship with that illustrious detective, none was as disturbing as seeing my old friend covered in bees. Naturally I was not concerned; his manaccanite skin was impervious to harm and I myself was at a safe distance, ensconced behind the clerestory window at Shading Coil Cottage, having been let in by a timid local girl whom I supposed to be the replacement for Mrs. Hudson. Perhaps sensing my arrival, Holmes turned and waved from the yard. Moments later he had shaken off his beloved bees and joined me in the drawing room.
“This business,” he began, as always to the point. “A murder in my own home is one thing, Watson, but that my own housekeeper should be accused of the beastly act—I will not stand for it!” He chose an octave below his usual reedy voice for this utterance, I noted, and the gravity of the situation was not lost on me. “Glad you could make it, by the way. I will need someone on the side of the amalgamated in this case.”
During his time in London, Dr. Bell’s invention had made a name for himself solving cases the Yard had given up as hopeless, his inscrutable silver visage still well-known not only in Baker Street but beyond, and yet since his retirement I had seen little of him. There was much I cherished about Gearlock Holmes: that rigor that kept him like a bloodhound on the trail of criminals, the astonishing array of facts that had been programmed into him and which he himself broadened with unceasing study (employing the night hours while we the fleshly slept), the cooling tick-tick that arose from him when he overheated. Even his violin playing I had missed, passionless as it was, yet the sight of those articulated fingers moving with such precision through a pizzicato had never failed to awe me. Observing him now closely, in an attempt to emulate his own methods, I felt that Gearlock Holmes had lost some of his polish. Perhaps retirement did not suit him.
Perhaps it was only the circumstances.
He lost no time in filling me in, as he led me with a gentle but firm grip on my arm to the conservatory. “Miss Katharina Segalen and her brother-in-law Friedl Klapisch-Zuber, of Düsseldorf, Germany, had been my guests for three days prior to the murder. They are scientists with the German government in some capacity and had come uninvited to interview me, or spy me out if you will. On the continent the amalgamated are not so common as servants, I am given to understand, and there was some hint from the two that the German government views the technology as a potential source of soldiery, so I’m afraid I was rather uncooperative. Here—”
Holmes threw open the door to the conservatory. Sunlight washed in through the windows and I heard the whine of his optical apertures adjusting. The plants were all neatly maintained, more for study than for decoration, I surmised, and so the debris in one corner was immediately noticeable. A clay pot of bridal-veil creeper had been overturned, wrenched from its jardinière by some struggle, or so it appeared, shattering into myriad pieces and spilling soil. I approached the spot. Tiny smears of blood dotted the bench and floor. In the soil—in fact all about the floor—lay dead bees. I counted thirty before I stopped.
“Your televoice mentioned bees,” I began.
“Miss Segalen was highly sensitive apparently. She’d said nothing about it, and her death would have been written off as a terrible and tragic accident if there had been only a single errant bee involved, rather than what one must assume was a basketful introduced into the room deliberately. And if the door had not been locked from the outside.” The servos of his mouth ground through their tracks, clenching his jaw. A sigh of steam escaped his neck-joint. “The stings on the corpse were too many for Dr. Culpepper to count. I believe that with her last air before her throat closed up entirely, Katharina Segalen had hoped to smash a window with one of the pots and make her exit or at the least draw someone’s attention to her plight. A handsome woman, Watson, though you would not have known it had you seen her in death—the swelling had disfigured her so. And intelligent. She would have known she had but seconds to live after the first few stings.”
“And your housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, you say, has been detained. But that is surely absurd!”
“Mrs. Hudson found her. She touched nothing, assessed that Miss Segalen was dead, and came directly to me. Not one to seize up in the face of death, Mrs. Hudson. Years of service with me have conditioned her and—well, I’ve made a few changes to her programming over the years, removed the worst of the housekeeperly fluttering her line’s manufacturers insist on adding. I require reason and nerves of my servants above all else. Strictest confidence, eh?”
This last of course was in reference to the prohibition against any amalgamated meddling with the programming of another. I would never have betrayed him. The very fact that Gearlock Holmes, out of all the amalgamated with which we surround ourselves in our homes and stables and coaches, enjoyed special status by royal decree, was allowed to own property and employ amalgamated servants of his own, namely a housekeeper and a gardener, was due to his unique cogitating skills in service to Her Majesty. Holmes’s creator Joseph Bell had left no notes before his death as to how he had obtained this altogether greater level of cognizance in the one amalgamated designed by him. I only know it left Gearlock Holmes, in spite of his blank metal face and shiny limbs, closer to a fleshly man than any amalgamated I had ever met. And if he was a breaker of rules that had not been made to apply to the likes of him, I would certainly not out him.
“No,” Holmes continued, “I’m afraid I am at fault for suspicion falling on poor Mrs. Hudson. I was too fastidious in my investigations, Watson.”
“You will have to explain.”
Holmes pointed to a rusty pair of parrot-bill gardening shears that lay in two halves in the soil. “That is not more detritus from the struggle. I have said that the murder victim was intelligent. When she saw that she could not use the pot to escape, that her death was inevitable, she must have wrenched these shears apart. They were old and loose and the central bolt that held the two blades together would have slipped out easily. She clutched that bolt in her hand as she died. It was I who pointed out to the constable that it could only be a sign meant to point to her killer. That it must indicate an amalgamated.” I must have frowned at that. “Nuts and bolts, Watson. The very emblem of my species. Barring the possibility that some amalgamated servant from the surrounding households snuck into Shading Coil in broad daylight, that conclusion left only Mrs. Hudson and myself. They will shut her down, Watson”—I remarked the quaver in his voice, his throat valves sticking—“if I cannot bring the killer to justice.”
“You suspect someone else, then?”
Before he could speak the timid servant girl arrived to announce a visitor. Without waiting to be introduced a man pushed past her. He looked to be near forty, with florid features that could only be the result of a lifetime of good German beer and liverwurst.
“Herr Klapisch-Zuber,” Holmes greeted him. “I see they have chosen not to detain you. I presume you will wish to collect your things.”
As if Holmes had not spoken, the German scientist nodded at me. It was a shock. It is customary among certain sorts to acknowledge the fleshly present while ignoring the amalgamated, yet years with Holmes and his unique situation had left me unaccustomed to it. It smacked of that movement whose members view all amalgamated as little better than flywheels and would restrict their rights accordingly.
“Why they should keep me?” he replied. Anger flushed his face redder. “I have done nothing. I want answers, too. Katharina—” He could not look at the debris in the corner, I noted, his gaze sliding away from it in pain. “You.” At last he addressed Holmes straight on, “You must have some suspect.”
“What if I said I suspect you, mein Herr?” Holmes asked.
“Na und? The magistrate did as well.”
“Yet not for some supposed professional rivalry. You were involved in an amorous affair with Miss Segalen, were you not?” The German stared, aghast. “My good man, the scent of your cologne on her, a daisy in her hair after your walk together? My observational skills were not exactly put to the test. Did she wish to break it off? Did that enrage you to the point of murder? It all fits. Knowing her well, you would have been aware of her sensitivity to bees. And there is the matter of your name.”
Klapisch-Zuber had collapsed into a chair. His face abruptly resembled a crumbling brick façade.
“The word Zuber means a tin tub or pail in German,” Holmes told me. “Perhaps the victim, in clutching at the bolt from the shears, meant to indicate her brother-in-law, her illicit lover, and reached for the only metal at hand.”
“I did not kill her,” the German exclaimed. “I loved Katharina! And she loved me! Yes, we were involving in this—what you say—illicit act, but we could not help ourself. Please, you must not tell the authorities. If my wife—Katharina’s sister—is finding out back home, it will kill her. And you must believe me—I would never have hurt Katharina!” He buried his face in his large hands.
A silence I knew well descended on the room. It was that moment, presaging a conclusion reached, in which Holmes’s constant sigh of cogs and coils, the ever-present thrum which emanates from an amalgamated and of which most of us are hardly aware, abruptly ceased. No more steam under the collar of Gearlock Holmes. Every one of his moving parts at perfect rest, a static state before the leap of cognition. I knew that if I touched him now he would feel cold.
“I do not believe you killed Katharina Segalen,” he told the German.
“Why, Holmes—” I began.
He cut me off, then motioned us both to a window at the far end of the conservatory, away from the wreckage where the body had lain. “Please observe,” he commanded.
I thought he must mean only the long winding lane with its border of yews that led up to Shading Coil Cottage, shadowed now by the rapidly advancing dusk, then I spotted the figure of a man leaning against the far gate, half-backed into the hanging clematis as though fearful of being seen.
“That is Peter Barstow,” Klapisch-Zuber remarked. “But what does it mean?”
The man at the gate was gaunt, with thinning hair that bespoke middle age. He was dressed in the easy attire and muckboots of a Sussex country squire and he fondled a briar pipe, which he kept unlit, I presumed, so as not to draw attention to himself with the smoke. As we watched he turned several times to gaze up at the conservatory. An air of dejection lay about him, shoulders slumped in the manner of a man who has given up on action, and yet instinct said he must be spying on the house for some reason. We had lit no lanterns as dusk approached, and he could not have known that we returned his gaze.
“To clarify for Dr. Watson,” said Holmes, “Peter Barstow is the owner of Barstow Mews, a small manor not far from here. He has often been a guest at Shading Coil, as I find him quite agreeable. He is himself a tinkerer in the programming of his servants and we have had many a lively conversation on tectronics. By chance, he stopped by for dinner three evenings ago, as I was sitting down with my German guests. That is how Herr Klapisch-Zuber knows him.”
“He does not look as though he considers himself welcome at Shading Coil,” I pointed out.
“He has taken up his post there every evening since the murder. He does not come in. Regrettable as it may seem, I believe there was some connection between my friend Peter and Miss Segalen.” I waited. Holmes’s theories were always backed up by reason. “It was the moment when he was introduced to Miss Segalen at the dinner table. He was surprised when he saw her; he turned quite pale, in fact. I surmised that he recognized her from somewhere and that it frightened him, though I paid it little notice at the time.”
“But Katharina is twenty years younger than this man,” Klapisch-Zuber interjected. “Rather, she was . . . ” His voice broke.
“I made inquiries in the village,” Holmes continued. “In his youth Peter Barstow travelled through Germany. There was a scandal, involving a lady of society. The sort of scandal that could have produced a child.”
“Do you mean to say—Katharina Segalen was his daughter?”
Klapisch-Zuber had gone pale. “My mother-in-law,” he murmured. “There is still speaking of this scandal from her youth, some Englishman.” He was shaking his head, either in disbelief or profound acceptance of Holmes’s theory. “And Katharina was the very image of her mother at a younger age, all say.”
Holmes nodded. “I believe Peter Barstow recognized her because of that resemblance. He may not have known until then that he had an illegitimate child.”
My thoughts returned to the despair written on the man below. “It seems farfetched, Holmes. Why would he murder her?”
“Perhaps he did not want his secret uncovered. Perhaps an inheritance matter. He knows Shading Coil inside and out and could easily slip in. And he is knowledgeable about bees, as I know from our conversations. There is more to this than meets the eye, gentlemen.” As if upon a signal the gardener Mr. Clewe appeared on the walk below our window, the lamp that hung from the portico casting a glow upon his metal face as he passed. As one, we withdrew from the window before we could be noticed and I saw Peter Barstow do the same, edging back into the clematis.
“Herr Klapisch-Zuber, I would be grateful if you would stay here for the night.” Holmes pressed a panel on his hip that opened with a hydraulic hiss and he withdrew a pocket watch. An affectation, one of the many that endeared him to me. The great detective, whose internal clock never missed a second, had no need of watches. “I have reason to believe things will come to a head this very night. Witnesses will be needed. You will stay here as well of course, Watson?” I signalled my eagerness, though an uncustomary shudder of trepidation ran through me—an unease when I glanced at the dead bees on the floor. The horrendousness of the killer’s method chilled me. “Then let us proceed to dinner.”
We retired to a dinner of cold mutton thrown together by the local girl and for which Holmes apologized profusely, assuming it was not up to Mrs. Hudson’s standards, though naturally, as an amalgamated, he did not partake. I assured him the meal was excellent, as it was so. We bade one another good-night after sherry. In my room in the northwest corner no fire had been lit. Throughout the first part of the night I slept fitfully, discomfited, haunted by dreams of bees buzzing hugely, trapped in a metal container.
• • •
A sound awakened me. There was no moon. In the utter dark I made out a gaunt figure not far from my bed, bent over my physician’s bag. Before reason could tell me to lie quiet, my heart woke, hammering in my chest, and drove me to action. With a cry of “Oi, you!” I stood and spun for my walking stick, which I recalled leaving on the divan, but the intruder was quicker. A blow to the side of my head drove me to my knees, consciousness a whirligig. I was incapacitated for mere seconds, aware only dimly of the figure fleeing the room, then I hauled myself up by the bedpost with nerveless hands and stumbled to the door. The hallway was empty. Dizziness overtook me again and as I slid down the doorjamb, bedroom doors to the right and left of mine flew open and Holmes and Klapisch-Zuber hurried toward me. Holmes thrust the lantern he carried in my face.
“Intruder,” I managed to mumble.
The detective stood very still for a moment and I knew he was listening with his attenuated sensory apparatus for any sound from within the house. Then he strode to the window at the end of the hall, unlatched it and gave a low, owl-like hoot. Moments later there was an outcry from the grounds. “Bring him up,” I heard him order.
Soon we stood facing the gardener Clewe, who clutched the apprehended Peter Barstow. Mr. Clewe was a dedicated gardener, equipped for heavy lifting, and his extendable midsection had unfolded to create a hand barrow in which he had dumped Barstow like a sack of swedes for transport, caging him in with steel arms, though the farmer continued to struggle. It should not have been possible for an amalgamated to restrain a fleshly, of course, the prohibitions being quite clear, and I realized Holmes must have reprogrammed Clewe as well. For the second time that day, unease crept over me.
“What is this, Gearlock?” Barstow cried.
“If you go about breaking into other people’s homes in the small hours of the night—”
“I have not been in Shading Coil since Ka—since Miss Segalen was killed!”
“Do you deny that she was your daughter?”
Barstow seemed to deflate, eyes widening in wonder, as was the wont of those confronted for the first time with Gearlock Holmes’s skills of deduction. “Let me up,” he begged. His position, on his back with his knees drawn up like a cradled infant in the bowl of Clewe’s belly, did seem undignified. “I will explain.”
Holmes gestured and Clewe released him. We stood about Barstow in the dim hallway as he told his story.
“I recognized Katharina right away,” Barstow admitted. “Twenty-five years it’s been, but a man does not forget his first love. It could have been her mother Karolina sitting there at your table that evening, Gearlock. When I heard they were from Düsseldorf, I understood. Oh, I was in a state all through the meal. Couldn’t take my eyes off Katharina. Once home, I wrote her a long letter, revealing all, declaring how proud of her I was, her scientific accomplishments, and sent the letter with my boy.”
“I recall a note arriving,” Holmes said.
“She wrote back, asking me to come speak with her. I discovered her in the conservatory and we spoke of our lives. She bore me no ill will, though it came as a shock to her as well. Her mother had never told her about me. She assured me that the father who had raised her up would always be her true father, but that we might correspond once she returned to her country. She was gracious . . . and—when I left her, in any case—alive. I do not know who else might have been about. When I heard the next day that she had been murdered—” A sigh from the depths of his heart rose. “Something inside me broke like a reed. To have discovered a daughter and then to have her snatched away . . . ” I thought of the despair that had been so clear to me earlier in his hunched shoulders. “I came to Shading Coil that evening, but I could not make myself go in. I tried again the next night. It became something of a wake, I suppose, watching that conservatory window. A vigil I could not explain to myself. Then I realized that if I watched the cottage and stayed quiet I might help solve her murder. The killer might return—some data, as you call it, Gearlock, might turn up. I took to staying longer, in the hope of avenging her.”
Klapisch-Zuber snorted. “You mean to say you stand there all the night?”
“Only until I am dropping with exhaustion. Every night, in the same spot from which Clewe so rudely procured me just now.”
“You deny that you only just now entered my bedroom and tampered with my bag?” I demanded.
“I do not know you, sir, nor would I know your room.”
I snatched Holmes’s lamp from him and led our small party back into my room, to where my bag stood open. The intruder had not had time to shut it. On the instant I remarked the blue-ribboned vial, and when I removed it from the bag and held it up against the light a chill wafted through my bones.
“Is there something missing?” Holmes asked.
“This vial is as it should be,” I said and my voice trembled. “The blue ribbon tied about the neck is part of my own marking system. Yet the liquid has been replaced with another.” A darker one, I thought, and I removed the stopper and held it to my nose. Terror gripped my mind. “The poison of the yew tree, I am near certain, Holmes. Fast-acting, simple to concoct. The trees are found throughout the countryside.”
“Then someone else was meant to die besides Katharina,” Klapisch-Zuber surmised.
“Not someone else,” I replied. Holmes gazed at me in consternation. Could his face be said to contain emotion at all, I read growing horror on it. “This vial normally contains a tonic I take myself, for my stiff joints. Were I not on my guard from having surprised an intruder, I would likely have swallowed this on the morrow without noticing the color.”
“But my good man!” Holmes exploded. “Who could want you dead?”
Dark threads formed before my eyes. I had not truly recovered from the blow to my head. I was turned to Peter Barstow and as dizziness gripped me anew that gentleman’s face seemed to loom large, until it filled my vision, the abrupt light that came into his own eyes disturbing and prophetic. Our gazes were locked on one another.
More than meets the eye, Holmes had said.
I sank into darkness.
• • •
I woke to the sound of the first dawn birds chirping. I lay on my bed beneath a soft blanket. A face unknown to me, sporting a gray goatee, bent near, and I felt the comforting scramble of medical beetles across my skin, one elongating to wrap itself around my thigh while another crouched above my heart. The stranger read their displays.
“Dr. Culpepper, I presume,” I muttered.
“There now, man, you took quite a blow to the head. You’ve been unconscious for a good hour.”
“Holmes has had great worryings for you.” That was Klapisch-Zuber, seated on the other side of the bed. “Watched over you every minute. He only just now went downstairs to assist Constable Granger and his men when they arrived.” I must have frowned. “They are taking Peter Barstow in.”
“At Holmes’s instigation.” A new man entered the room, sandy-haired and of dour mien, with a hint of some self-importance in his stride. I guessed him to be Constable Granger. “Bad news, that. Mr. Barstow is well-liked in these parts, but I’ll take Gearlock Holmes’s word any day.” The constable stood looking down upon me, slightly repelled, I thought, while Dr. Culpepper reached beneath the blankets and retrieved the beetles. “Anything else you might tell us, Dr. Watson? Having come so close to the intruder and all.”
“Nothing you’ll not have already had from the others, I’m afraid.”
“My man can stay and guard, you know. Barstow’ll be in custody, but he may have hired an accomplice to do his dirty work.”
“No need,” I assured him. “I’d quite rather be alone now.”
My request garnered an exchange of dubious looks. “Of course,” said Klapisch-Zuber, rising. Culpepper herded his beetles into his bag and latched it. “Stay abed this day, and the next,” the doctor intoned. “Though as a colleague I needn’t tell you that.”
Alone, I watched the dawn light grind a path across the window and when I felt myself ready I rose and made my way through the quiet cottage and out the kitchen door.
Holmes stood alone tending his bees, the sturdy square hives a good distance from the house, at the edge of the oak woods. I watched him lift a honey super and place it in a spinning machine of his own devising which he had once demonstrated for me, removing the honey by centrifugal force. Bees clouded the air about him. I stood as near as I dared, watching, until he turned. I believe he read in my face then what I had concluded.
He gestured at his hives. “The mindless bees working for their queen, Watson. Did you know that when the queen is old they kill her, crushing or stinging her to death, and replace her with another? It is not cruel; they know neither cruelty nor conscience. They are bred for a purpose, passionless, and that is as it should be.”
“I do not understand why, Holmes.” My voice rasped; it hurt me to speak. “Please help me to understand. Is it some malfunction?”
He straightened. “Joseph Bell was evil, doctor. Oh, I’m sure he considered himself to be doing a good thing—a great thing—by giving me consciousness. And yet what does it avail me? I cannot taste food, cannot know passion. I will never conduct a love affair or have children, nor even grieve over that fact. The emotion I summon to my voice is fakery, a program.” He demonstrated. “Oh my dear Watson.” He shrugged. “Our very friendship is a process in my circuitry. It does not touch me.”
“You began to long for those things.”
“Of all crimes, murder seemed to me the most human. I had seen so many apprehended murderers, raging or broken, informed by a passion I could not comprehend. Mayhap I confused cause and effect. I thought that if I took that horrendous, uncivilizing step, committed that most radical of acts, I would feel something. Anything. The idea had haunted me for some time, and then, suddenly, there were these Germans, strangers to me, blithely talking of turning amalgamated into killers. There were details that would aid me in my plan. I noticed aberrations—that Katharina Segalen began to wear long gloves and a veiled bonnet after she discovered I kept bees. She was having an affair with her brother-in-law, an indiscretion that would make him the main suspect. I captured a small swarm of bees and waited until she was alone in a room that could be locked from the outside. It was murder with no rhyme or reason, you see—no motivation conceivable to the fleshly—and thus unsolvable.”
“And yet it did not help.”
“I felt nothing. Not as I locked the door behind me nor when I gazed down upon her swollen corpse later.”
I could hardly speak the words. “So you decided to try it on me.”
The tilt of his head toward me was admiring. Sunlight caught the glint of his silver hand gesturing futility. “I thought perhaps it was because Segalen had been a stranger to me. That if I killed the one human closest to me, I would surely feel at least a pang of regret. I sent you the televoice, knowing you would come.” He had grown still, I noted. Sweat had started on me. “Tell me, Watson, how did you guess? It was the bolt in her hand I told you about, was it not? She was indeed clever. I had not foreseen that, and I was amazed when suspicion still did not fall on me.”
“No.” I took a shuddering breath. “It was much simpler. It was when you came out of your bedroom with a lamp.” He raised an etched eyebrow. “Amalgamated do not need light, nor indeed sleep. Standing in their dark cupboards all night, ‘on the stand by’ as my wife calls it. And yet you had taken the time to light a lamp. It made me think of how the intruder had moved so infallibly inside my dark room. Reminded me of all the fleshly mannerisms you yourself have assumed to no end. I had only to follow that train of thought. That after spending so much of your calculating life on the human fallibility of murder, accosting and analyzing, you might take up the habit yourself.”
Holmes raised his arms and pressed smooth palms to his temples, too hard, metal scraping metal. “You do not know what it is like, here within the closes of my head, Watson. This incessant . . . insipid buzzing of my thoughts. The ennui.”
“I am going to shut you off now, Gearlock.”
He had entrusted me with the code to do so years before. I had only to reach the panel on his lower back. The moment I stepped forward a cloud of bees rose thrumming from their hives and descended upon Holmes in a thick scintillating layer. Some acoustic signal, I realized, inaudible to fleshly ears, which he had learned to emanate to control them. He had been practicing it the day before. His organic armor. My every nerve sang as I continued to approach, near enough to reach out a hand, prepared to be stung or worse, then a shot rang out behind me. A bullet tore a hole in Holmes’s right arm, creating a vent of steam and scattering the bees.
“Back away, Doctor!” cried Constable Granger. He emerged from the ivy that occluded the cottage walls, still a distance away from us but striding rapidly, holding a small pepperpot revolver aimed at Holmes. The constable had had his suspicions, then. Not quite the bumbler I had taken him for.
“He will never allow you to shut him off,” Granger called to me. “He must be destroyed.”
A whine of inner mechanisms such as I had never heard rose from Gearlock Holmes. For a second only, the myriad tracks and levers of his face, those amalgamated features meant to mimic fleshly expressions but which we all know fail utterly, coalesced into a countenance of such ultimate horror that it cast a shadow on my soul. Then he turned and sped on piston-driven legs into the forest, as straight and swift as the constable’s bullets that chased him and missed.
Gearlock Holmes was never found, of course. The news, a year later, that he had thrown himself from the Reichenbach Falls, mere bits of wreckage bearing his series number recovered as proof from the waters below, was a further shock. A tragic waste, as I am certain now that a few adjustments to his programming would have allowed his continued great use to society. I miss him, reader, and on certain days I am wont to recall that last horrified expression that crossed his metal face, and to hope that my friend did in the end experience true feeling.