Many who have read the memoirs of my dear friend Dr. John H. Watson know that my voice seldom takes the helm. It is my preference that his writings continue in this tradition. Readers will know that when my pen hits paper, it usually does so in the act of composing some arcane treatise on various matchboxes, or some monograph on the disintegration of various fabric when exposed to the elements. No; I do not take any part in adding to John's recordings of our forays into the criminal underworlds. I leave this entirely in his very capable hands. But in this instance, when John had said one morning at breakfast that he was "about to jot down our tale of intrigue concerning the hotels and depot of Las Cruces," I could not turn down the importuning of my heart. I felt compelled to express a succinct yet pathos-filled prologue to illustrate my keen amazement and indefatigable appreciation for my friend, John Watson.
And so there you have it, dear reader. I will not outline the main points of our tale, as I wish to let John do what he does so well. Yet, I desire to inform minds behind the eyes following these words that it will reveal my friend a person of selfless cunning, who has been there through thick and thin, but most importantly a man who saved me from death's grasp. If not for his loyalty as a friend, I, Sherlock Holmes, would be lying in a lonely grave beneath the soil on some hillock of Las Cruces, New Mexico. I will let the man himself tell the tale, the man to whom I owe my friendship and my life.
From the Journal of John H. Watson, M.D.
It was October of 1895 when Mrs. Hudson brought up the letter that began our adventure to the West. London hazed over and temperatures were cool but not cold. Holmes and I both read from our library, my choice manuscript being an autobiography on Henry Fielding and his being what appeared to be a monograph on the construction of Britain's interlinking railways.
"This was just delivered for you, Dr. Watson," Mrs. Hudson said, entering the room. "By the postage alone, I daresay they wanted it to get to you expedient-like."
She handed me the letter, the return address of which I recognized being from the American southwestern territories.
"Can I get you both some more tea?" Mrs. Hudson asked, collecting our tray.
"That would be lovely, Mrs. Hudson. Thank you," I said. I moved over to the sofa, glancing over at Holmes who briefly flashed his eyes at my tearing of the letter and quickly returned them to his reading.
The letter was from my American brother-in-law. You see, dear reader, many years prior my half-sister, Samantha, had married a businessman she met upon her visit to the States. She and her husband, Barnaby Higgins, had a daughter. I corresponded with my sister for a time until her death at a young age. Ever since this tragedy I had kept in touch on an annual basis with Barnaby and my niece, Serena. I knew Barnaby to be a very busy and straight-laced man. Serena on the other hand was very charming and a bit more carefree than her father, at least in writing.
It had been some months—had it been a year?—since I had last heard from either of them. The letter I beheld, written by Barnaby, detailed an urgent matter and quite rattled my nerves:
Two murders took place at my El Paso hotel. I was forced to close down my establishment there. In addition, my contracted station agent was killed while on duty at the depot. I thought I had rid myself of this horrific cloud over my dealings, but it has followed me to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I have another hotel and hope to strengthen the train line up to Albuquerque. So far at my new location, there has been a death at both my hotel, the wife of a Texas senator, and at the local station, one of my hired watchmen.
I will pay for both your and Mr. Holmes's travel and lodging expenses and more. John, please talk to your friend, make him see that this is indeed most dire. It is not only my business I fear—you can imagine how I feel about the deaths thus far! I have received letters threatening not only my life, but that of Serena's as well. It is bad enough the Pinkertons I have hired have gotten nowhere. I did what I only could do and that is, write to you and your esteemed friend to bring this murderous saboteur to justice.
Mrs. Hudson had just left the room after setting down the tray. I don't even remember thanking her. My hand, almost involuntarily, slammed down upon the table, rattling the china.
"Watson," Holmes asked, setting his book down, "whatever is the matter?"
"It is just too much, Holmes," I said, shaking my head. I loosened the top button to my shirt, suddenly feeling the excessive warmth of the room. "Someone or some party is threatening the life of not only my brother-in-law, but my dear niece!"
Holmes stood up and walked over. "May I read the letter?"
I handed it to him and took a deep breath in an attempt to calm my nerves. I knew not to interrupt as he scanned the words with his assiduous gaze. I secretly hoped my friend would see something in Barnaby's summary, perhaps that spark that so ignites his ingenious mind to the hunt.
Upon finishing, Holmes looked up and said, "I am sorry, Watson, that you have received such news. It indeed appears someone is after your brother-in-law and consequently your niece, though there is not one singular motivation that stands out. There can be many. Nevertheless, of course, I would like to help you."
"Really, Holmes?" I said, feeling my brows rise. "Would you agree to it?"
"Watson, as you know, my case itinerary is currently fallow—but that is neither the point. You are my friend and I will do what I can to assist your family."
* * *
I will not bore the reader with mundane details of our sea voyage and my anxieties over the situation facing my niece and her father. Despite these worries, I did anticipate seeing my first glimpses of the North American continent, the land that my late sister had called home for so many years. Surely there was some charm to the western frontier that enticed her away from her native isle. I was to have a taste of this allure as Holmes and I disembarked from port at Galveston, taking a train through the vast farmlands and infinite prairies of west Texas, stopping briefly at El Paso to arrive in Las Cruces, New Mexico territory.
A man in a nicely trimmed suit with close cropped hair greeted us at the depot.
"Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes?" he asked, smiling broadly.
"I believe it is the other way around," Holmes said after being addressed as myself.
"Oh, I do apologize, gentlemen. Mr. Higgins has tasked me to escort you to his hotel The Emerald. I am Percy Chalmers, his concierge and if there's anything you need during your stay, please let me know."
"Where is Barnaby now?" I said, weary from the train. "Could he not meet us here? We've traveled a long distance."
"He apologizes that he had a prior engagement." Chalmers checked a shiny pocket watch, which bore an etched inscription. The article impeccably matched his silver cuff links and tie clip. "He instructed me to accompany you back to the hotel dining room, where he will be waiting to meet you."
"Very good," I said, looking to Holmes who also nodded. Both of us were tired and had not eaten for more than half a day.
* * *
The Emerald sat in the center of downtown, the main thoroughfare lined with various wagons and coaches and plenty of horses. Chalmers was very polite, though I believe he sensed Holmes's and my fatigue after excessively pointing out points of interest then stopping abruptly. It was all intriguing to behold, but The Emerald itself was a grand three-storied, green-painted edifice.
As Chalmers led us into the lobby, I became even more impressed with the look. Everything was of fine quality. I could have easily been in Kensington.
We entered a grand dining hall. Rising from a table were my brother-in-law and niece, the picture of my sister.
"Uncle, is that you?" Serena said, walking briskly forward.
"Serena?" I said, feeling my eyes water.
She embraced me. "You have your mother's looks, my dear."
"Oh, Uncle, I am so glad you two have made it. I feared our letters would be all that I would know of you."
"I for one am grateful to be here," I said. "Please meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"It is pleasure, Serena," Holmes said.
"Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Holmes," Serena said, her golden hair mirroring my sister's.
"Yes, it does, sir," Barnaby said.
I embraced my brother-in-law, making introductions.
"Please sit," Barnaby said. "Chalmers, take their orders. They are surely hungry."
Holmes and I ordered meat and potatoes. Barnaby began introducing us to the party of three with whom he'd had a meeting. "This is Miles Bridgerton, an associate of mine, and these two fine gentlemen are related. First, please meet Thomas Simmons current Mayor of the City, and his son, Reginald Simmons, attorney-at-law."
The mayor and his son stood out as clean-cut individuals, though Bridgerton exhibited a ruggedness. Being a medical man, I couldn't help but notice a deep scar on his face.
Acquaintances were made and I enquired as to how Serena and Barnaby were getting along since the move from El Paso, to which Barnaby said, "We shall discuss such things later. Mayor Simmons and I were on the topic of expanding my rail lines north east of the city to various yards. Fortunately, his son can draft up the legality issues."
"Pray tell," Holmes said, "what issues do you speak of?"
"Come, Mr. Holmes," Barnaby said, "surely you know how much money is involved. When I buy land and the seller sees how much I'm willing to pay, they may raise the price after the ink is already dry. Out here, people tend to get greedy and renege quickly on contracts. Luckily, Mayor Simmons and Reginald can use their influence to help smooth things along with such folks."
"Surely, if your seller will not vacate the land he has sold you, there are constables at standby?" Holmes said.
"You may be surprised to hear this, Mr. Holmes," Barnaby said, "but Las Cruces currently has one sheriff and two deputies in a city of thousands!"
Holmes and I looked at each other aghast. It truly was the wild west I'd heard of in stories.
Holmes and I finished our meal and the mayor and his son took their leave, as well as Bridgerton, who lived in a suite on the first floor.
"Now that we have privacy," Barnaby said, "I can discuss who I think is after me."
"Remember, they are after us," Serena corrected.
"We all know it is because of my dealings. I have political and business rivalries, and someone from either arena surely has a vendetta. Though I suspect the culprit is in the political realm."
"Tell me, Barnaby," Holmes said. "You have plans to run for Texas senate. Why did you move further west?"
"How did you know, Mr. Holmes?" Serena beat her father to it.
"Watson allowed me to read a few of your prior letters to him. They spoke of consolidated rail lines in west Texas, depots in Abilene, Odessa, and El Paso—promoting commerce. It was only a matter of time, and your haste to vacate the environment of murder in El Paso showed your distancing yourself from further scandal in that area. Though it has followed you. Furthermore, I saw the mayor carried with him a scrap of paper that listed names of current state senators, whom I read about in the paper on the train ride here. Perhaps that was also the reason for your meeting. The two of you are finding allies, supporters in your future bid. Subsequently the mayor and his son will benefit from your business by backing your rising political clout in this city and all the way to Austin."
"Holmes," Barnaby said. "When I said your reputation preceded you, I meant it."
"What of this political rival?" Holmes asked.
"Mitchell Havens," Barnaby said. "He owns the Moonstone Hotel up two blocks. He has put in his bid for senator and knows of my plans to run since the rumors started in El Paso. Occasionally, he was a guest at my hotel there, though I knew he was spying, soaking up rumors, and spreading falsities."
"The Moonstone will be the first place where we inquire," Holmes said. "Now, how did you come by your bodyguard, Bridgerton?"
"Serena," Barnaby turned, "perhaps you can answer this. Miles and you have been given to talking quite frequently."
"Father, it just so happens that he is always around. We both live here after all," she said, irritably. "Mr. Bridgerton is a veteran of the Indian Wars who saved father's life while he was surveying for his railway. An Apache raiding party attacked father's survey crew, and Mr. Bridgerton held them off, putting a bullet between the eyes of a brave aiming a weapon at father."
"That scar he carries?" I asked.
"Must have been incurred during that same attack?" Holmes inquired.
"Yes," Barnaby said. "A knife slashed his cheek. He saved my life and I keep him close because he would do a better job than the sheriff's deputies and the Pinkertons whom I have sent home combined!"
"Father has made him a shareholder," Serena said.
"And I have no qualms. He's earned it," Barnaby said folding his arms. "Forgive me, it is a bit late, and I am certain the two of you can get some shut eye. I will have Chalmers show you to your room."
"Very good," said Holmes. "Tomorrow we shall inquire further, discreetly, with hotelier Havens's acquaintances. Rest assured, Watson and I will upturn some rocks regarding these slayings."
* * *
Holmes and I both awoke early to a rapping on our door. I opened it, and Chalmers rushed in.
"Gentlemen, I'm sorry to disturb you," he said. "But there has been a murder."
"Murder?!" I said, immediately becoming more lucid. "Are Serena and Barnaby alright?"
"Yes, they are fine," Chalmers said rubbing his hands. "It was a guest. Knifed to death."
Holmes and I wasted no time in getting dressed. In a mere two minutes we arrived to the third floor directly above us. Chalmers led us to the suite. Blood stains were being wiped from the door sill.
"No. What are you doing?" Holmes sad angrily. "You are erasing evidence." He put a hand to his eyes, shaking his head.
"I'm sorry," Chalmers said. "Barnaby wanted me to have it cleaned right away. He is on his way up here after waking Mr. Bridgerton to stand outside Serena's room."
"And the sheriff?" I asked.
"He has been sent for, though I would not count on him getting here soon. They are always notoriously late."
Holmes and I walked in. A low lamp was lit on the wall, casting an eerie glow. A well dressed man lay sprawled two feet from the entrance.
"Two deep thrusts to the chest and abdomen," Holmes said. "It was a quick and decisive attack with the desired effect."
I nodded, noting the precision of the killing blows.
"As seen from the bloodstains being cleaned at the door, the man was stabbed as he began entering his room," Holmes said. He then reached inside the dead man's coat pocket, examining his billfold. He pulled out a few bills and notes, perusing and replacing them back inside the coat. "An appalling signature, but one of the notes I'm sure has Mitchell Havens's signature."
"You're sure, Holmes?" I said.
"If I were a dilettante, I'd say no, but I am certain."
Barnaby's voice came from the corridor. "I do not want to enter, John, but know that I am here and you take all the time your friend needs."
"We're done here anyway," Holmes said, frowning.
"What have you got?" Barnaby asked, as we exited the crime scene. The bellhop had finished wiping up the blood on the door and was now using a wet cloth in attempt to clean the deeper areas where wall met floor.
"We have enough," Holmes said. "Watson and I will have some tea and breakfast, during which we will devise a plan of attack."
"Oh, thank God," Barnaby said. His hands shook, and I pitied him and his travails.
* * *
"I am going with you, and that's the end of it," Serena said suddenly.
She had joined Holmes and I in our room, despite her father's protestations. Undaunted by the morning's events, Serena had volunteered to be a part of our investigations.
I admit that I startled. My mouth fumbled before I could argue. Holmes sat with his hands steepled, mild amusement glinting from his eyes.
"You may think I am just a pawn in my father's life, Uncle, but I assure you that you are mistaken if that is indeed the case," Serena continued, stepping closer. "My father may be a brusque man who has made enemies in business and government. He may attempt to rule over me like he does his financial affairs. But I am still his daughter. Don't I have a right to care for him? And what about my life too? And besides, I carry this."
From a hidden dress pocket she pulled out a small derringer pistol.
"But Serena—the danger involved . . . " I began, exasperated.
"Danger? Danger, sir? Uncle, forgive me, but you and Mr. Holmes here have been a world away when just down the hall a senator's wife had her throat slashed. Or when Collin, a friend as well as employee, lay knifed to death on the depot platform. No," she shook her head. "Do not lecture me about danger. I have lived my life alone and ventured out beyond my father's shackles since my mother died. You may cage this bird, Uncle, but I will find escape. Now you either let me help you, or I shall continue inquiry on my own."
I had known my sister Samantha to be stubborn in her way, and it appeared this quality along with American resolve had passed to her daughter. I stood bewildered, catching a glance at Holmes who was now unabashedly smiling.
I looked back to Serena, standing tall with a slight tilt to her chin. Holmes stood up from the wingback chair where he sat. "Watson, it appears there is nothing we can do. Your niece is ardent and unbudging. She shall accompany us in our endeavors, though I hope you have devised good excuses to give to your father?" He glanced over to her, his eyebrows raised.
"Have no fear, Mr. Holmes. I have long been acquainted with filial subterfuge. He won't know a thing."
* * *
As we made our way to the Moonstone, we were stopped in route by the owner himself. Mitchell Havens greeted us within several feet of the entrance.
"Serena, you look lovely, and you two must be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson," he said, bowing. "Doctor, I have read a few of your publications with fervor. My name is Mitchell Havens."
I looked to Holmes who showed no surprise. "I am grateful, Mr. Havens." I said. "How did you know who we are?"
Before Mr. Havens could answer, Holmes said, "He has spies everywhere it appears."
"Well, not everywhere," Mr. Havens said, "but I keep them spread out. You have to if you're to be a senator."
"I guess so," I said, perplexed.
Mr. Havens was tall and lean with long hair beneath a wide brimmed hat as was the fashion. He had a familiar look I could not put my finger on. Perhaps I had seen his portrait in the papers on our train trip from Galveston.
"Why do you bother my father?" Serena said, her voiced raised.
"Bother?" Mr. Havens said, his palms upward. "How am I a bother? I am merely doing what is within my right, surveying my options, just like your father does with his train tracks and other aspirations."
"Like becoming senator?" Holmes asked.
"Well, I wouldn't say he is becoming one," Mr. Havens said, chuckling. "He's got a long way to go on that front. You can't completely buy your way to politics. You have to be able to persuade and get people to like you. A tough thing for him."
"Oh, I see," Serena said, sneering. "You mean he has to have something like your charm? Your disregard for respect and manners?"
"I take it you don't like my bawdy events at this here hotel?" Mr. Haven said. "Your father can run his hotel all prim and proper, but at the Moonstone we like to drink, gamble, and have fun. There's no harm in giving the people what they want."
"If it's working out for you, then why do you spy on him?" Serena countered.
"Always got to know what the competition is up to," Mr. Havens beamed. "Now, come on. Don't fret none. Come on in. Have a cup of coffee."
"I'm afraid we have an appointment to keep," Holmes said, turning around. "Good luck with your campaign, Mr. Havens."
Serena and I looked at each other, uncomprehending. We quickly turned to catch up with Holmes as he made his way back down the way we came.
* * *
The three of us sat in our room. Holmes said he needed time to think as he sat looking out the window. I conversed with my niece, learning of her suitors, one of whom included Reginald Simmons, the mayor's son. She had quickly distanced herself from him, as he was given to drink and the midnight crowds at the Moonstone.
Suddenly Holmes broke from his revelry. "Watson, can you please accompany Serena down to her father's office and find Mr. Bridgerton? He needs to stay with her."
"What is the matter?" Serena asked.
"Please, Serena," Holmes said, taking her hand. "I will explain all later. Right now we must keep you near your father's bodyguard."
"But why must we worry so?" She said.
"I fear someone or some party is going to act brashly. I want to keep watch here at the window to see if anyone suspicious enters the building. Watson, do you have your revolver?"
"Good. Please escort Serena downstairs and find Bridgerton. And be on the lookout."
"Okay, Holmes, if you say so," I said, leading Serena to the door.
We descended the stairwell and reached the lobby, stunned by Holmes's warnings.
"He thinks someone will strike today?" Serena said, as we passed the front desk.
"He must have seen something that leads him to think so. As stumped as I am, I have always trusted his methods." As soon as I said this, I caught a familiar personage vanish up the stairwell we had just descended.
"Wait," I said, rounding. "We need to go back to my room. Quickly now." I ran back across the large lobby and up the stairwell, Serena close to my heels.
As I opened the door, I saw Chalmers with a fake mustachio and wearing droopy street clothes.
"We used to have a big Texas house." Chalmers stood over Holmes. My friend did not look good. His eyes were open but they sagged. Blood matted his hair and stained his collar where it trickled down from a blow to the head. A broken whiskey bottle lay askew on the nearby bed.
I reached into my pocket but Chalmers revealed his own revolver from behind the chair, pointing it at Holmes. "I wouldn't do that Doctor, if you don't want to see your friend's brains exposed." He smiled maniacally. "Now, be a dear, and slowly lay your concealed gun on the floor, sliding it toward me."
I glanced at Serena to my right. Her hands were slightly raised, and I feared Chalmers might point the gun at her next, her being one of his originally intended victims. I had no choice and slowly laid my revolver down, pushing it across the floorboards.
"Chalmers—how could you?" Serena said.
"Don't interrupt, dear," he said. "As I was saying, we used to live in a big house, back when Pa worked for your father. Old Barnaby, the magnate, the almighty. The slavedriver! The Civil War may have ended, but he made slaves of us all, didn't he? You see, my father was his main foreman."
"Look, Chalmers," Serena said, "if you have a grudge with my father, it has nothing to do with him." She gestured to Holmes.
"Him? He's trying to thwart my efforts to tear down your father's empire." Chalmers looked down, perplexed, then back up. "And what about me?" His voice was strangely calm. "Your father requested this man's help to find a monster. But we know who the real monster is. Did you know your father had a posse slaughter a family of Comanche, all because they were camped near his tracks? Did you know he stole land from ranchers near Socorro? Families were forced to flee with nothing."
"My father has made mistakes, but surely . . . "
"You wonder why I've done the things I done?" Chalmers smirked. "My Pa died building Barnaby's bridges. He worked my Pa so hard, we never saw him. The money he sent home was barely enough. My mother could scarcely provide for me and my siblings. Your father worked my Pa day and night to meet deadlines. And one night my Pa worked to the wee hours, lost his balance, and fell off that bridge into the Rio Grande. They tried to save him but it was too dark to see. He washed up the next morning."
"I . . . I'm sorry, Chalmers" Serena pleaded. "I had no idea . . . "
"Your father's greed and disregard for human life made him the monster!" He rasped. "Afterwards, it was too much for my mother, that she in turn grew sick and died, leaving all us brothers and sisters to fend for ourselves!"
"And your brother Havens, not his real name," Holmes interrupted groggily, "helped you in your plot to destroy Barnaby's life brick by brick."
"You shut up," Chalmers shouted, "You think you're so smart. I'll destroy all I can."
My heart sank as Chalmers cocked the trigger. Suddenly a pop filled my ears and Chalmers stumbled back. Serena had pulled her pocket derringer and fired, hitting Chalmers near the collarbone. He lost control of his gun and I charged.
Shattered glass erupted around us as we crashed through the window. We hit the second story awning and I felt air gush out my lungs as my chest grazed an iron rung. More pain followed as I landed on top of Chalmers who had hit the dirt road right before me.
I rolled off of him, dazed. My head whirled and someone came into focus. Chalmers managed to find his gun. I saw him cock the hammer and point it at me. A shot rang out and he toppled over.
In the distance I made out the imposing figure of Miles Bridgerton. His bullet had caught my assailant square between the eyes.
* * *
It was miraculous. Despite some stiches, I remained unscathed. I will be forever grateful to the awning that slowed my trajectory.
We sat in the dining hall the next morning, five of us including Holmes, myself, Barnaby, Serena, and Mr. Bridgerton.
"Watson, I honestly don't know what got into you," Holmes said.
"I saw no other course, Holmes" I said. "The window happened to be conveniently placed."
"You are a hero, my friend, and don't you forget it." He smiled, sipping his tea. "I know I won't."
"How did you know it was Chalmers and his brother Havens?" Serena asked, wanting, like the rest of us, to get to the bottom of it.
"Merely a line of deduction," Holmes began. "When Chalmers picked us up from the depot, he checked his pocket watch. In the moment I noticed a quoted inscription credited to the initials "M.H." I filed this away and later made the connection to Mitchell Havens. As soon as I saw this rival hotelier and aspiring senator, I immediately recognized the resemblance, though he tried to hide it with his grown-out hair."
"The clincher actually happened before. The murder victim discovered our first morning here was a James Smyth hired by Havens to spy on Barnaby's operations, but really he was hired to be murdered to show the futility of our arrival and to further taunt father and daughter. I easily gleaned the connection in that the victim's billfold contained a monetary note signed in messy scrawl simply as 'Havens.'"
"Havens knew his brother was a killer. Together they used their special talents and influences to slowly erode Barnaby's endeavors. A tragic accident had morphed both men into vengeance obsessives. But I daresay this can be a lesson to those who hold the safety of others within their purview." Holmes glanced at Barnaby.
"It is a tragic state of affairs," Barnaby said. "Had I known Chalmers and Havens were brothers whose father worked for me, I would have offered them assistance. They changed their names. If I remember correctly, their father was my foreman named Reynolds. I believe I mailed an insurance check to their mother. Sadly, it may not have lasted long due to their hardships and her medical bills." He shook his head, wiping his face wearily with a steady hand. "And those rumors about that posse ambushing Comanche are true. I should have never hired them. When you let loose blood-hungry men, you realize too late that you could never control or stop them. Some past decisions haunt me each day . . . "
"Well, we can only move forward," Holmes said, "for that is nature's inevitability. Try as we might to turn back the pages and relive moments of the past, we can only do so in mind, not reality. A cold-blooded killer is dead, and yesterday I sent a request to have his accomplice brother arrested, which the sheriff notified me not an hour ago has been fulfilled. Havens will be forced to abandon his path towards holding public office."
"Now you both will have time to see a bit of the West," Serena said.
"A few telegrams from Scotland Yard, unfortunately, are calling me back," Holmes said, "and I will need the assistance of my trusted amanuensis."
"Well, Holmes," I said, "I daresay we have not done without a bit of a wild west adventure."