by Mark Hodder (2006)


Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute
Security Level: SteelCage 1
To: George William Coutts IV
From: Sir George William Coutts III
Date: 31 December 2005
Subject: Special Dispensation 5 and 6 (plus 5, Appendix 1)

I extend to you my heartiest congratulations. As you take over the Directorship of The Craille Institute, I step down secure in the knowledge that the organisation is passing into highly competent hands — furthermore, it 'remains in the family'; a fact which fills me with immense pride and satisfaction.
That this should happen on its 50th anniversary would no doubt please its founder — old Eustace Craille always had a taste for symmetry.
In the days leading up to your promotion, I have given you a full handover bar one thing: you have undoubtedly noticed the absence of any references to Special Dispensation 5. You must also be aware that I have not handed over the key to the security vault or box containing that file.
There is a reason for this. Vault 3 Box 5 contains material which bears a particular and very special significance to our family. I have left it until now to brief you for the simple reason that the content of those files is rather astonishing to say the least — were you made aware of it before today, you may have found it difficult to keep your mind focused on the task at hand.
Now, however, you are ready. When the Director's Office is opened to you at midnight tonight, you will find in the safe, on the middle shelf, the key to V3 B5. You will be able to read the 'official' reasons why Special Dispensation has been granted to 5 (and 6).
But first, I want to tell you about it non-officially, in my own manner, for the individuals concerned are without any doubt the most extraordinary and best men I have ever met.


Security Level: ExtraNet - SteelCage 1
From: Edward Carter [address withheld]
To: Sexton Blake [address withheld]
Sent: 18 December 2005 13:37
Subject: Home for Xmas!


I have good news — I'll be home in time for Mrs Bardell's Christmas pudding!

The Kestrel Conspiracy turned out to be a dud. Lawrence Kestrel is, as you suspected, a descendent of Leon but it seems the vital genes got left out when he was cobbled together. Far from being a 'Master Mummer', he turns out to be a 'Minor Meddler' — and a darned ugly one too. He has definitely inherited his great-grandfather's physiognomy but not, I'm glad to say, any of his genius. Lawrence is a petty swindler and nothing more. Actually, I should write 'was' — as he is now banged up inside a Swiss prison and unlikely to bother anyone again for the next couple of years.

Anyway, that's the end of that and I'll be packing my bags tonight and heading home first thing in the morning.

Yours, as ever



To: Mr and Mrs Reginald Howard
From: Sexton Blake
Date: 20 December 2005

Dear Reg and Susan,

Thank you for your letter of last week. I'm delighted to hear that Pedro's training is complete, though his rapid progress comes as no surprise. As you know — having trained his sire — Pedro comes from a long line of extraordinarily intelligent bloodhounds, each named Pedro and each a vital and beloved member of the Blake clan. This latest will, I am sure, be a credit to his illustrious ancestors.

May I extend to you, once again, my heartfelt thanks for the sterling work you have done over the years. Your breeding and training program is of such high quality that it feels as if I'm accompanied by reincarnations of my faithful friend, rather than successive generations.

Last time we met, you mentioned your plans to open kennels in Hampshire and Dorset. I hope that the enclosed will help to finance these worthy ventures. Please do not attempt, as you did last time, to return the cheque. As far as I am concerned, this is money very well spent.

Tinker will be over to collect Pedro on the morning of the 23rd.

Merry Christmas! I wish you prosperity and happiness for the New Year and beyond.

Your friend

Sexton Blake


To: Mr Sexton Blake
From: Mrs Martha Bardell
Date: 19 December 2005

Dear Mr Blake

Which I am imforming you of the readyness of the Baker Street reticence.

The bilders have completed their work and I might say a right noise they has been a-making these past three months too. I tell you now Mr Blake that these contiguous changes are too much for an old woman of my age to put up with. First Baker Street then Barkly Square then Baker Street again then all them forin places and now back to Baker Street. Far be it for me to say in writing and all but why don't you and master Tinker just stay put for once in your lifes?

There now, I have said my peace, but in writing like what I said, I mean wrote, just now, and we will leave it at that.

Your furnishings was delivered yesterday morning and a fine thumping them men made as they stumped up and down the stairs. Already the new carpits are near worn to shreds. They arranged everything as you instructured but it looks a fine muddle to my eyes and so I shall put it right afore you arrive for Christmas.

Which I must also mention that I am an old woman with corns and there is more dusting and cleaning and arranging to do than any woman of my age should do, though I does it for you with good grace like what I always do and always have done and will do do.

And saying, I mean writing, that, I should now mension the matter of my wages what you pays me. Mr Blake, far be it for me to interject in your finanshal affairs but this is not a sensible amount of money and I suspend that you might have made a miscalsification. I do not requite nor request such an absorbent sum and does advertise you to be more circumcised with your money. Please pay what you payed before and we shall say or write no more about it.

Now I must tell you that the kitching, dining room, living room and bathrooms will all be ready for Christmas but your insulting room, file room, labarotry, bed room and Master Tinker's bed room and sitting room are all in a state of dismay and will not be habitual until the new year. The desecrators are due back after Christmas to paint and paper. I daresay you can sleep in the bed rooms straight away if you don't mind the kerfuffle.

Today a young man came round and gave me cheek and delivired a kennel out back, by which I presumates that the gallumping great Pedro is coming back. I will not stand for my best crookery being smashed again, Mr Blake! That aminal is a hazzard!

Anyways, I is expecting yourself and Master Tinker on Christmas Eve. Dinner will be served at 8. On the subsequenshal day, what is Christmas Day itself, I understands that we shall be joined by that nice gentleman Lord Coots and his son. I will serve the fetid dinner at 2pm and high tea at 8pm.

Dispite the misheavals, I am very pleased you are back, sir.

With felicitudes and congrements

Mrs Martha Bardell


The Daily Post
20 December 2005
Afternoon Edition
Page 4
Kent's 'Conspiracy Couple' Killed
World 'conspiracy theory' expert, Michael Loring (52), shot dead his young wife, Helen (28), then took his own life after a furious argument last night. Shocked friends, who'd been attending a dinner party at the Loring's home just outside Tankerton in Kent, described how the couple had been discussing the contents of a manuscript they'd recently received through the post from an anonymous author. Its subject matter, the supposed manipulation of the western world's press by a secret organisation, had caused a disagreement between the husband and wife team which quickly escalated into a full-blown row.
"They were going at it hammer and tongs," says Mark Griffin, one of the three guests, "And we simply couldn't calm them down."
Off-duty policewoman, Joanne Harker, was also at the party: "I noticed that Helen was jumpy earlier in the evening. I suspect they may have been arguing before any of us arrived."
The third guest, Rupert Billings, described how the Lorings had locked themselves in their study: "We were left feeling awkward in the dining room and started to wonder whether it would be better to leave. Mark went upstairs to the bathroom and I wondered into the living room thinking I might put on some music to cover the noise of their row. I opened the French windows for a breath of fresh air when suddenly there was a loud gunshot from the study, quickly followed by another. I heard Mark and Joanne run down the hall and struggle with the study door, which was locked, so I ran out and across the front of the house to look in through the windows. I saw Michael and Helen lying on their backs in the middle of the room. He had a pistol in his hand and both of them were bleeding from head wounds. The windows were also of the French type and were locked shut, so I picked up a rock from the edge of the driveway, smashed the glass, reached in and unlatched them. I ran into the room and felt the Lorings' pulses but they were both dead."
Michael Loring wrote two best selling books during the 1980s: 'The Chains of Consumerism' and 'The Devil's Dynasty', both dealing with alleged conspiracies. He then embarked on a succession of lecture tours, during which he met journalist, Helen Mannering. They married in 1999.
In recent years they devoted their time to research and to collecting conspiracy theory works by unpublished authors. Michael Loring once said during a BBC interview that "if an editor considers a particular manuscript of this type to be a bad commercial proposition, there's a good chance that the manuscript in question contains an unpalatable truth".
The full contents of the manuscript which caused the argument and subsequent tragedy will never be known as it was found burned to ashes in the study's fireplace.


Security Level: ExtraNet - SteelCage 1
From: Sexton Blake [address withheld]
To: Edward Carter [address withheld]
Sent: 20 December 2005 18:54
Subject: Re: Home for Xmas!


Well done, old son. I'm glad to hear we don't have an 'old style' Kestrel on our hands.

A slight change of plans for you: our splendid provider of all things garrulous and good has sent me a rather long-winded letter to say that the new Baker Street house is ready for Christmas. As usual, her language is somewhat obscure but, if I translate correctly, we will be comfortable on the first floor but roughing it on the upper. As far as I'm concerned any slight inconvenience is well worth it for a good old-fashioned Christmas bash in Baker Street — and I'm sure you'll agree.

Upon your return, then, forget our most recent bolt-hole and head straight for the new place. I have had all your things transferred, so this will be a real home-coming for you.

To make things even better, on your way over, please stop off at Reg and Susan's and pick up Pedro. His training is complete and he has, as expected, passed with flying colours. He will now live with us on a full-time basis — a fact which probably has you punching the air with delight (as I am too)!

One final item of news: the two Couttses will join us as honoured guests on Christmas Day. As you know, Sir George (or 'His Lordship' as our landlady insists on calling him) has just retired and George Jr. will become Director of The Craille Institute on the first day of the New Year. We therefore have much to celebrate!

Safe travels, young 'un!



Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute (continued)
I should first tell you the truth about the founding of The Institute, for the history you already know is the tailored version — it leaves out items of information which relate directly to Special Dispensation 5.
As you are already aware, Eustace Craille was once head of an Intelligence agency which operated at a higher level than either MI5 or MI6. During the years when the existence of these latter establishments emerged into the public domain, Craille's organisation sank further into the shadows. Through judicious investment, the agency became self-sufficient and, under the virtual dictatorship of its leader, its mission remained unsullied by any political agendas.
However, politics is a ravenous beast and, from those few people outside the agency who knew of its existence, pressures came to bear. Inevitably, the purity of Craille's vision was threatened and there was little he could do to counter this without appearing to oppose the principles of democracy itself.
But Eustace Craille was a wily old goat. He founded this Institute; an organisation so secret that, outside of its staff, very few people have ever known of its existence. The original agency became little more than a front. Behind it, the real work was done.
And what work! You are familiar with Craille's inaugural address; I need not repeat it here. But I will draw your attention to that one crucial phrase of his: "We work beyond the Credibility Gap, in territory the police and security agencies regard as fiction, in a realm where threats border on the fantastic and individual criminals are so far outside of the norm as to seem wholly unreal."
And it is here, George, that I must reveal to you the truth of the matter: before The Craille Institute and before Eustace Craille himself, one man and his assistant fought those terrors alone. I refer, of course, to Special Dispensation 5 and 6 — or, as we know them, Sexton Blake and Edward 'Tinker' Carter.


From: Edward Carter [address withheld]
To: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
Sent: 23 December 2005 23:12
Subject: Xmas invite!

Hey Flatfoot!

Did you miss me? Have you passed The Globe each day and gazed longingly at its doors, dreaming of the time I would return to dazzle you with my wit and wisdom over a pint or three? Well pine no more, my old mucker — I'm back!

I know you think we consulting detectives live lives of 'absconding wives and cheating husbands' but, the fact is, my absence has been due to a rather accomplished swindler who's been leading me a merry chase across Europe. Fortunately the trail of financial destruction he left in his wake wasn't too hard to follow and I caught up with him in Switzerland. He is now chipping at stone in a chain-gang — or, more likely, relaxing in a luxurious prison sauna. But whatever you might think about the current prison system, at least he ain't swindlin' no more!

Anyway, I'm back and today I moved into my new home in Baker Street. You remember I pointed it out to you when it was little more than a building site? Now it's a luxurious residence fit for a King — or a Tinker!

If you're around over the Christmas period, why not drop by? The guv'nor says you are always welcome. Mrs Bardell says you can come in if you wipe your feet first. Be warned, she has her broom at the ready in case you don't (not to sweep up after you — you understand — but to beat you over the head with).

All the best



From: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
To: Edward Carter [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 09:48
Subject: Re: Xmas invite!

Mr Carter

You've been away? I didn't notice. I was too busy dealing with thugs, drug peddlers, thieves, pick-pockets, drunken louts, shoplifters and vandals — you know, the real day-to-day criminals who blight the lives of us Londoners. Hope you enjoyed your holiday in Switzerland.

If it's okay with you I'm going to pop in tomorrow to say hello. Would noon-ish be alright? And if you don't mind, I'd like to bring one of my constables along — a talented young policewoman named Harker. She has a bit of a puzzle which might be right up Mr Blake's street.




From: Edward Carter [address withheld]
To: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 5:07
Subject: Re: Re: Xmas invite!


Yes, that'll be fine. You don't by any chance mean Joanne Harker, do you?



From: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
To: Edward Carter [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 5:33
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Xmas invite!

Yes. You know her?


From: Edward Carter [address withheld]
To: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 12:21
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Xmas invite!

I know of her. The guv'nor told me she'd joined the Force a few months back (sorry, you call it a 'service' nowadays, don't you!). He used to know her great-grandfather, who was a Scotland Yard man. Coincidentally, when you visit, Sir George Coutts will be here. His father used to work alongside the Harker I'm referring to.


From: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
To: Edward Carter [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 13:50
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Xmas invite!

Tinker, you clown! Was Sexton Blake consorting with elderly ex-Scotland Yard men when he was in nappies?


From: Edward Carter [address withheld]
To: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
Sent: 24 December 2005 14:17
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Xmas invite!

Of course I meant 'knows of' rather than 'used to know'. He's done loads of research into the history of the Yard and the various characters who've worked there over the years. All part of being the world's foremost criminologist, I guess.

Anyway, by all means bring Miss Harker along, I know the Chief and old Couttsey (and his son Couttsey Minor) will be delighted to meet her and to tackle the mysterious puzzle you mentioned.

See you tomorrow. I hope you've bought me a suitably expensive present.


Mrs Bardell's Christmas Menu
Wild Mushroom Paté served with Melba Toast and Cumberland Sauce
Dill-cured Scotch Salmon with Honey Mustard Dressing
Stilton and Port Soup
Christmas Roasted Goose with Giblet Gravy
Roasted Chestnuts
Roasted Potatoes
Roasted Parsnips
Brussels Sprouts tossed in Bacon Fat
Glazed Carrots and Peas
Cropwell Bishop Stilton served with Honey Dressing and Fresh Walnuts
Toasted Sesame Crackers
Flaming Christmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce
White Raspberry Truffle Cake
Christmas Cookies


Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute (continued)
You have often commented on the strangeness of Sexton Blake's name and have marvelled at the coincidence that he, a skilled criminologist, should share it with a fictional detective who achieved great popularity in years past. And you have laughed at the fact that he nicknamed Edward Carter 'Tinker' — the name of the fictional hero's sidekick.
Now for another revelation: the hero of all those books and magazines was never fictional, he was a real man — and 'our' Sexton Blake is that man, just as 'our' Tinker is the same talented youth who stood at the detective's side throughout all those supposedly imaginary adventures.
You are no doubt thinking your old man has gone potty. You have immediately spotted the flaw in my claim — the stories began more than a century ago, so even if the fictional Blake and Tinker were actually real, they'd be long dead by now.
Son, in V3 B5 you'll find a file entitled 'Doctor Berkeley Blake Research' (Ref: 000027489). Read it. It records what might be the most astonishing achievement in the history of the human species. I will not go into details here — everything you need to know is in that file — but I will tell you the consequences: in 1908 three people — Sexton Blake (SD5), Edward 'Tinker' Carter (SD6), and their housekeeper, Mrs Martha Bardell (see SD5, Appendix 1) — stopped ageing. Or to be more accurate, their ageing slowed enough to become almost imperceptible.
Sexton Blake is well-over 150 years old. His 'youthful' assistant is actually about a century older than you. And as for that marvellous woman who has served you her wondrous Sunday roasts on countless occasions, I daren't think how old she might really be!


Joanne Harker's Diary — 26 December 2005
This will be a long entry and I hardly know where to begin. Yesterday and today have been the most amazing days of my life. The Loring case is solved and I have Mr Sexton Blake to thank for it.
I need to write this in detail, as it happened. I must remember everything, every word that was said. So let's start at the beginning:
On Christmas Eve, at teatime, Sergeant Withers telephoned (I've started calling him 'JW' now, like all the other constables). He's at a loose end this Xmas and knows I'm in the same position and am depressed after Helen's death — I think he has a brotherly sort of concern for my welfare. It's nice — I like him, even though he can be an obstinate idiot at times.
Anyway, he was going to visit friends on Xmas Day and wondered if I'd like to join him. I said no — but when he mentioned that one of them was a very successful criminologist and private investigator — a bit of a 'Sherlock Holmes' in fact — who might be interested in the Loring case, I changed my mind.
He picked me up at about half eleven on Xmas morning and we drove to Baker Street. I was a bit confused at first because he took me to an office building — you know, one of those nice old houses that got converted at some point. Very posh-looking but not very domestic! Obviously the business was closed for the season but JW rang the doorbell and, after a short wait, a young man answered (blonde hair, blue eyes, saucy grin, well-built — very handsome!!!). JW introduced him as 'Tinker' — about the stupidest name I've ever heard — though it turns out that his real name is Edward, which is what I'm going to call him.
Anyway, we were shown into the office and for a moment I wondered what on earth we were doing there — but then Edward vanished into a side-door on the left — which I hadn't noticed — and when we followed we found ourselves in a sort of hidden foyer at the bottom of a staircase. There were pictures on the walls and it all looked rather grand and elegant. At the top of the stairs we turned right into a wide hallway then right again through a door and into a magnificent lounge — very Victorian-looking though without as many ornaments and knick-knacks as they used to have in those days. There were big comfortable leather sofas and armchairs, beautiful antique-looking tables, bookshelves and rugs — all very homely and made magical by a wonderful Xmas tree and old-fashioned decorations. I was so overwhelmed by all this that introductions to the people in the room passed in a bit of a whirl. But they ushered me in and sat me down and in no time at all I had a glass of wine in my hand and was laughing along as they shared stories and jokes together like a big happy family. I felt at home immediately, they were so friendly and attentive.
So anyway, as well as Edward, there was a very stately old man named Sir George Coutts who used to be in the Force many years ago — as did his father before him. With Sir George was his son (in his early forties, I'd guess), also named George and also ex-Force. Funny thing is, it's not just policing that runs in the Coutts family — they're the spitting image of each other too. And when Sir George showed me a photograph of his old dad, taken in the 1920s — he was identical as well! — the same bristly sticky-out moustache, big burly physique and twinkly eyes (and probably the same short spiky red hair but I couldn't see as the man in the photo had a bowler hat jammed tightly onto his head). The 'original Coutts', as Edward rather strangely referred to him, had been a C.I.D. man.
His two descendants were full of tall tales and were constantly poked fun at by Edward, who has a very cheeky sense of humour indeed. But they took it in good grace and got in a few pops back, as well.
Also in the room was a massive dog — a bloodhound named Pedro — who, initially, I was terrified of. But he turned out to be the friendliest and most intelligent dog imaginable — very young and full of mischief. I wanted to take him home!
Next, I must write of Sexton Blake, the owner of the house and the most charismatic man I've ever met. He's tall, broad and slim with one of those 'rangy' sort of physiques, like an athlete — you know, long tough bones and iron-hard muscles. His eyes are grey and incredibly piercing, like he sees what you're thinking before you've even thought it. But, also, they are warm eyes which make you trust him immediately. His cheekbones are quite sharp and pronounced and he has a strong jaw and sort of determined-looking mouth. His hair is very dark brown, nearly black, receding far back over the temples and with flecks of grey around the ears.
Blake is a quiet man but very kind and tremendously clever. His humour is dry and his comments never less than fascinating. He seems to know about everything! I must admit to being in absolute awe of him!
The final member of the household I didn't meet until a little later — Mrs Martha Bardell is elderly but as fit as a fiddle — unbelievably energetic in fact — and possibly the best cook and the nicest woman in the whole wide world. She is so much like my own dearly departed grandma that I feel like crying when I think of her — good tears though.
Anyway, JW and I settled into the Xmas spirit and without even realising that we hadn't intended to stay so long, we ended up joining our hosts for Xmas dinner, which seemed to delight Mrs Bardell, who told me that Mr Blake and 'Master Tinker' never eat enough (hard to believe considering the way Ed shovelled the food down his gullet).
Oh, I should also mention that Mrs Bardell has an extraordinary way of messing up her words. Mr Blake and Ed also have a rather odd turn of phrase; for example, they refer to their CD player as a 'gramophone' (actually, they both use quite old-fashioned words and phrases a lot) ... Mrs Bardell, though, calls it a 'graphalone' — I had no idea what she meant when she suggested we all listen to some 'carousels on the graphalone'. It all became clear when we ended up singing along to 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' — something I'd have found excruciatingly twee at any other time but which seemed strangely appropriate — and fun — on this very Dickensian occasion. (Come to think of it, wasn't there a character named Martha Bardell in a Dickens book? I seem to remember it from school — must check up on that).
The Christmas feast (and what a feast!) took place in the dining room, which opens onto the lounge via tall folding doors (both rooms are big but when they are opened up like this the space is enormous).
I'll try to describe the house — Mr. Blake showed me and JW around it a little after we'd eaten. The first floor is made up of the lounge and dining room, which both face the front of the house looking out over Baker Street. Opposite, on the other side of the hall, there's what Mr Blake called 'Mrs Bardell's domain' — a cosy little sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. These latter rooms are very Victorian indeed, cluttered with ornaments and keepsakes, pictures and vases, knick-knacks and whatnots. There's also a very big and well-fitted kitchen (a door opens from it onto outside steps which go down to a back yard). Finally, there's a laundry room and, under the staircase, a storeroom.
Up the stairs to the second floor, which is still being decorated, and the first door on the left leads to Ed's 'sitting-room' and, beyond that, his bedroom and en suite bathroom (all at the front of the house, as the stairs between the floors are at either end of the hall, if you see what I mean). Opposite, there's what was referred to as 'the waiting room'.
Next along, on the left, is a very large chamber which Mr Blake called the Consulting Room (he said it was an advantage having it on the second floor as only very serious clients would be determined enough to climb all the stairs!). Hard to tell what this will look like as nothing was unpacked. The boxes appeared to be filled with antique weapons, African shields, and various artefacts from all over the world, most of which seemed very old. I saw a framed black and white photograph of a huge African warrior — a Zulu, I think. It had written on it 'Lord Averstock, Sixth Baron of Averstock and Marne', which I remember distinctly because it seemed so strange.
There's a door from the Consulting Room to Edward's bedroom, and another, in the opposite wall, which leads into Mr Blake's bedroom, which also opens onto the hall further along. Apart from a bed (single!), it was empty. An en suite bathroom and a walk-in wardrobe (a little room in its own right) opened onto the bedroom.
Across the hall from the Consulting Room is a largish room which I was told would become a 'laboratory'. Finally, next to that, there's 'the file room'. As far as I could see this is going to consist of a huge desk, walls lined with shelves, lots of filing cabinets and some sort of mega-computer set-up like they have in scientific research institutes. God knows how big their electricity bills will be!
If all this sounds huge and luxurious — it is. But there's more: at the end of the hall a little staircase climbs up to a fourth floor which, though smaller than those below, is still pretty spacious. Apparently this'll be used for storage until it's needed for something else. Amazing!
Anyway, after we'd eaten a stupendously huge and utterly fantastic meal (I'll have to diet for months) and had our wander around the house, we settled in the lounge with drinks and chocolates. Mr Blake astonished me by smoking a pipe, which seemed a very quaint thing to do. The Couttses smoked cigars.
The conversation was merry, we played a lot of silly traditional games, Ed and Mrs Bardell had me in constant fits of giggles, and I forgot my troubles and had the best Xmas of my entire life.
Then, by about 7pm, when it was all quietening down rather, and Mrs Bardell disappeared to prepare 'high tea' (my God! More food!), Mr Blake turned to me and said in a quiet voice, "Miss Harker, your great-grandfather was a fine man ... and a very good Detective-Inspector indeed."
"Hear! Hear!" agreed the elder Coutts, "My father spoke very highly of him.'"
And even though I knew Mr Blake must be talking about what he'd learned from Scotland Yard's records, it honestly felt as if he were referring to an old and trusted friend.
"Thank you," I said. "My father and mother died in an accident when I was very young and I was brought up by my grandmother — D.I. Harker's daughter. She always used to talk about him. I think that's what inspired me to join the Force."
"And are you a good police constable?"
"I try to be, Mr Blake ... but ..."
He said nothing; just looked at me in a certain way, and all of a sudden I found myself blurting it out: "Oh dammit! I'm junior — only been in uniform for eleven months — but sometimes it feels like everything is too regulated! If evidence points a certain way, that's it — even if instinct screams that it's just not right!"
Mr Blake gave a peculiar little smile and said, "You're referring to a specific circumstance? Jim mentioned something about a puzzle."
I looked at Sergeant Withers and around at my new friends. Sir George was gazing at me with a lovely sparkle in his blue eyes. 'Coutts Minor' (as Ed calls him) was leaning forward with interest, his eyes just like his dad's through the smoke from his cigar. Edward was looking serious and encouraging, one hand hanging down and fondling Pedro's ears.
"It's my friend Helen," I said, in a none-too-strong voice, "She's been murdered and I was there when it happened."


The Craille Institute
Communications Records
Item: MP000157888
Medium: Mobile Phone
Security Level: SkyLock 1 Absolute
Date: 25 December 2005 22:12:08
From: Sir George Coutts (Codename: Brahma)
To: Operations Centre, Operative 9 (Codename: Agni)
Details: Order to arrange permission for Special Dispensation 5 and Special Dispensation 6 to attend crime scene: Kent Constabulary, Loring murder. Victims: Michael Loring and Helen Loring.
Action: Relevant authorities instructed. Passes and codeword issued. Command chain broken. Clean Sweep activated.
Completion Time: 25 December 2005 22:59:47


Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute (continued)
Sexton Blake became a private detective towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign. He had a number of assistant's over the ensuing years until, by 1904, Edward 'Tinker' Carter became his permanent aide.
Their work at the time, while successful in the extreme, cannot be classed as 'extraordinary' — at least, not by The Craille Institute's standards. But after 'The Event' in 1908, this gradually started to change.
Blake didn't begin to suspect that he, Tinker and Mrs Bardell had been physically affected by the circumstance described in File Ref: 000027489 until around 1912. By sheer coincidence, his realisation of the truth coincided with a remarkable outbreak of villainy originating from the other side of what we at the Institute term 'the Credibility Gap'.
George, you once told me that you thought some of the so-called super-villains of the apparently fictional Sexton Blake stories were based on the real case histories we have recorded in our vaults. For example, the fictional Mr Reece, you noticed, bore a distinct resemblance to the man we have filed as 'Mr Kellerman' (Ref: 000897777). Let me tell you now — it's the other way around. All those records have been doctored to preserve the secrecy of the files pertaining to SD5. While their substance is true, the names attached to them are not. There was no Mr Kellerman — but there was a Mr Reece.
You will find the full details in V3 SD5 but for present purposes I shall give you a few more examples (you know all these cases well):
Tian Sung (Ref: 008463725) was, in reality, Prince Wu Ling.
Prof. Mallory Goddard (Ref. 000005553) was Doctor Huxton Rymer.
Baron Gregory Kravitch (Ref. 227888901) was Count Ivor Carlac.
'Cold Lightning' (Ref. 066566565) was Zenith the Albino.
These, and the others who crossed the Credibility Gap with them, formed the first recorded wave of the type of threat which eventually formed the basis for The Craille Institute's existence. That initial tide petered out during the late 1930's but its impact gave a young Intelligence operative named Eustace Craille an idea which came to fruition when the second wave hit during the 1960s. It led directly to the foundation of our organisation.
As incredible as this may seem to you, about 70% of the Sexton Blake saga is absolutely true. The 30% fictional element was purposely inserted as misinformation to keep Blake's enemies confused. In fact, the publication of his cases, written up by talented authors and published in story papers and booklets, served Blake well for many years, building a myth which obscured the reality of the man in exactly the same way that his opponents' flamboyances, outrageous ambitions and sheer bizarreness placed them in the 'blind spot' of the down-to-earth police forces (with the exception of your grandfather and a few other Scotland Yard notables who worked with Blake).
What I am telling you here is ABOVE TOP SECRET. As the new Director of the Institute you are the only person alive, other than myself and the individuals concerned, to have access to V3. As soon as you have finished reading this communiqué, you must enact Special Order 0003. It will be your first action as Director and it will ensure the security of the information.
I suggest your second act should be a lengthy interview with Sexton Blake — because all the signs suggest that a third wave of extraordinary villains is imminent — and there is no one more expert in this matter than that man. Always remember this: Sexton Blake has the ability to see at a glance what no other human being on Earth can see, even when it's staring them right in the face. As a species we seem incapable of understanding anything that transcends our own conception of reality. Sexton Blake is an exception. And while he will never be a member of The Craille Institute — he is resolutely independent — he remains this organisation's greatest ally.


Kent County Constabulary
Statement by P.C. Joanne Harker
Date: 20 December 2005
Time: 00.45
Recorded in the Presence of: DI Pearson and DI Graves
I have been off-duty since 16 December 2005. I am not due back on until 2 January 2006. The following events, which occurred earlier tonight, the 19 December, therefore took place while I was out of uniform.
I was invited, on the 17th, to join my friends Helen and Michael Loring for a dinner party on the 19th, starting at 7pm. I have known Helen since I was at school.
Since her marriage in 1999, I have seen far less of her. She always seemed consumed by her work, which was to undertake research for her husband, as well as writing articles for magazines on a freelance basis.
I liked Mike as soon as I met him, even though he's a lot older than I, and despite the fact that his books — he's an author — concern a subject I know nothing about. He has — he had — a relaxed attitude and a very sharp sense of humour — I think that was his appeal as far as I was concerned. He was quite a secretive man and rarely spoke about his work. The dinner party tonight, though, was an exception.
There were two guests besides myself — Mark and Rupert — neither of whom I had met before.
Mark Griffin was a neighbour of the Lorings. He told me he was a writer and this was the basis for his friendship with Mike and Helen.
Rupert Billings is, apparently, a self-employed IT Consultant from Canterbury. A few years ago he'd begun corresponding with Mike after reading one of his books and had subsequently visited him on a number of occasions. He is, I suppose, what you might call 'a fan'.
I was the first guest to arrive — on the dot of seven — and I immediately noticed that something was wrong. Helen seemed flustered and distracted and Mike was rather uncommunicative. I had the feeling that they'd argued and so tried to brighten the atmosphere with harmless gossip and chatter. It didn't seem to do much good.
Rupert arrived about ten minutes after me and didn't seem to notice the tension. He started asking Mike about his latest acquisitions but this only made things worse. Mike took him into the study to show him a 'Thoth' manuscript, whatever that is, and when they came out they continued talking about it even though Helen kept telling her husband to 'change the record'.
When Mark arrived at 8pm-ish, he realised that the party had got off to a bad start and, like me, attempted to lighten things up by joking around and so forth.
But Rupert steam-rollered ahead with his questions without seeming to realise that he was making matters worse.
By the time we sat down to eat, an argument had flared up between Helen and Mike. It was difficult to follow what it was about, as it related to their work and this 'Thoth' thing, none of which I much understood. As far as I could make out, Mike had, about a week ago, received a manuscript through the post from an anonymous source. He told us it was 'fireworks'; that it exposed a conspiracy at the very heart of western society — "the wilful manipulation of the populace by four power-crazed individuals" I think is how he phrased it. This group — four men — is named 'The Hand of Thoth' but, according to Helen, it's nothing but an urban myth. She felt that Mike had taken the manuscript too seriously and that he needed to curb his enthusiasm and examine its claims more carefully otherwise he was in danger of making a fool of himself.
It became very uncomfortable to witness their row, so I was slightly relieved when Helen stormed out of the dining room and into the study, which is on the other side of the hall and at the front of the house.
Shortly after, Mike left the table and followed her, slamming the study door behind him. They started to argue again.
Mark excused himself and went upstairs, presumably to the bathroom. Rupert said he was going to find some music and wandered out into the hall and, I assume, into the living room. I remained at the table and thought about whether to leave.
Three or four minutes later I heard two sharp reports and the Loring's argument immediately stopped. It was about 21.15.
I had recognised the sound as gunshots but they were so entirely unexpected that my mind and body froze. It wasn't until I heard Mark running down the stairs that I moved. I ran into the hallway and nearly collided with him. We both ran to the study but found the door locked on the inside. We hammered and kicked at it but it wouldn't budge. We opened the front door — the main entrance to the house — and went out intending to look in through the study windows. Rupert ran past us as we emerged — he had come out through the French windows in the living room. He yelled "Stay back!" and we hesitated. He reached the outside of the study and smashed the glass of the window — which was also of the French type — with a rock he'd picked up from the driveway. He shouted, "Joanne, phone for an ambulance. And the police. Now! Mark, get towels or sheets or something for bandages and a bowl of hot water!"
Mark dived back into the house. I dithered, and then moved towards Rupert as he reached in through the broken glass and opened the doors. I tried to see in but there was a Japanese-style screen blocking the view. Rupert pushed me back towards the front door and shouted, "Now! Phone now! They're hurt!"
I turned and ran into the house and to the living room where there was a telephone. I called for police assistance and an ambulance.
By the time I returned to the study, Rupert was standing by the French doors. He was still holding the rock, which he threw out into the drive as he said, "It's no good. They're dead."
I pushed past him and went inside. Helen and Mike were lying on their backs with their feet facing towards the window. They both had bullet wounds to the head. There was a lot of blood.
Rupert stamped his feet and hugged himself like he was cold; he seemed to be going into shock. He said, "Looks like he shot her then killed himself."
I saw a pistol in Mike's hand. At this point, my police training kicked in. I ordered Rupert out of the room and told him not to touch anything anywhere in the house. I checked to confirm that the victims were dead — which they were — and stopped Mark from entering when he arrived with towels and a bowl. I also noticed that a fire was raging in the hearth. It appeared that a manuscript had been thrown into the fireplace and set alight. I tried to salvage it but the flames were fierce and by the time I managed to hook it out with a poker, there was little remaining but ash.
The police arrived at 22.05.


Joanne Harker's Diary — 26 December 2005 (continued)
After I had told Mr Blake about that awful night, he asked just one question:
"So where's the puzzle, Miss Harker?"
And although I felt rather embarrassed saying it, I told him exactly what I've thought every single hour since that horrible night: it just doesn't feel right.
Sexton Blake leaned back, stroked his chin a moment, and then said, "Miss Harker, in a minute Mrs Bardell will push a trolley laden with teatime delights into this room. When she does so, I want you to forget your terrible experience and enjoy the rest of the evening with us. You are very welcome here and your presence has made this a very special Christmas Day for all of us.
"But tomorrow morning, we shall pick up the subject again. I want you to be here bright and early, let's say eight o'clock, and we'll drive down to Tankerton to examine the crime scene."
"But Mr Blake," I objected, "It's still cordoned off and guarded. The police won't let you near it; especially with me. I'm a material witness!"
He smiled and said, "Never mind about that. I have some pull with the authorities. And the two Georges here—" he gestured towards the Couttses, "have even more. Sir George will make a telephone call later to sort it all out."


Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute (continued)
In 1969, The Craille Institute granted Sexton Blake and Edward Carter Special Dispensation — they are the fifth and sixth of just eleven individuals who have this power. As you know, it means they can, at any time, activate a chain of command which will quickly gain them entry wherever they need to go, as well as putting practically any resource they require at their fingertips. As each link of a command chain is activated, the links behind it are 'broken' — in other words, the original source of the order becomes completely untraceable while the order itself retains absolute credibility.
Blake and Carter's SD status coincided with a change in their working methods. For almost 80 years, Blake had made good use of the publishing industry to 'fictionalise' his existence. From the 1970s onwards, The Craille Institute made this unnecessary — no person or organisation can obfuscate, confuse, mislead, redirect or render invisible so completely or with such cunning as we can. So when I became Director, Blake allowed the Institute to take control of what you might term his 'public image' — and we erased it; we made him disappear. Not only that — we removed the 'myth' from public consciousness as well. This was no mean feat — the fictional Sexton Blake had been a familiar character the length and breadth of the country and beyond. But ask anyone today who Sexton Blake is and, chances are, they won't know.
We did our job well.


Joanne Harker's Diary — 26 December 2005 (continued)
So that was yesterday.
This morning I returned to Baker Street. I was on my own this time, as JW is on duty.
Mr Blake and Edward greeted me and took me, via the back steps, through the yard into what I can only describe as a sort of hidden mews. From a garage, Edward drove out a big silver-grey Mercedes-Benz. Blake told me it was called 'The Grey Panther' (these two men, as well as being extremely nice, intelligent, trustworthy and handsome, are also very very strange in so many ways!).
We drove down to Tankerton and arrived at the Loring's house at about half nine. The cordon was still up and a forensics van was outside. There were two constables on duty.
Mr Blake parked and told me and Ed to wait in the car. He got out, walked over to the PCs, showed some sort of pass, and had a short conversation with them. I saw one of the PCs speak into his radio then nod to Blake who turned and gestured for us to come over.
And it was as simple as that — we entered a crime scene with no fuss, no objections, not even a raised eyebrow. He wasn't joking when he said he had some 'pull'.
Seeing the house again was a real test of my training. I had to bite my lip and hold back my emotions — not easy, under the circumstances.
We walked up the drive then Edward muttered, "Wait, let him look it over," and we halted while Mr Blake strode to the study windows and examined the area around them. A complete change came over him. The warm and relaxed man I had spent Christmas Day with seemed to vanish; replaced by a hard, cold, razor-edged individual. You should have seen those eyes!
For about five minutes he stood outside the study ... then he suddenly stiffened as if something had occurred to him. He turned and called me over.
I glanced at Ed.
"Go on," he said, with an encouraging grin. So I walked over to Mr Blake and for some reason I felt nervous.
"Miss Harker," he said. "When you heard the shots, you tried the study door then, finding it locked, you ran out of the front door — yes?"
I nodded.
"As you came out of the house, Rupert Billings ran past you?"
"He did," I confirmed.
"And when he reached these windows, he stood where I am now and broke the glass?"
"And even though he had ordered you to keep back, you moved towards him?"
"Yes — rather indecisively, I'm ashamed to admit."
"Very well. I want you to show me how far you got before you turned back to go to the telephone."
I looked at him and at the window then took a step backwards. "About here."
"About?" he said, and his voice was a little cutting. "I need you to be as sure as you can be."
"Okay," I replied. "Yes, here. I'm sure."
"Good. Thank you. And from there, you looked into the room?"
"Yes, just quickly though."
"And what did you see?"
"Nothing. The view was blocked by a Japanese screen." I pointed into the room, "It's there, look; leaning against the wall next to the fireplace."
"Yes. I noticed. Stay there please."
He reached in through the empty window frame, just like Rupert had done, and unlatched the door. Then he stepped in and examined the carpet.
"I see the screen had stood here for some time," he announced.
"Had it?" I said. "I don't know. What makes you say that?"
"Because — despite all the police-issue boots which have no doubt stamped back and forth over this area — there are still indentations in the carpet."
He moved over to the screen, picked it up, and positioned it just where it had stood when I last saw it.
"I suppose," said Edward, who I hadn't realised was right behind me, "you're expecting him to say 'elementary.'"
"It wouldn't surprise me," I whispered.
Blake came around the screen and stepped out.
"Does that look right?" he asked.
"Exactly right," I answered.
"Then I congratulate you, Miss Harker, your instincts were spot on. Michael Loring didn''t murder his wife and he didn't commit suicide."


The Craille Institute
Communications Records
Item: EM000157684
Medium: Email
Security Level: ExtraNet - SteelCage 1
Date: 27 December 2005 16:06:26
From: Sir George Coutts (Codename: Brahma)
To: Operations Centre, Operative 3 (Codename: Kartikeya)
CC: George Coutts (Codename: Vishnu)
Details: Request search term 'Hand of Thoth'. Full report.
Action: Search completed. Report compiled. Follows:

The Hand of Thoth is generally grouped with 'conspiracy theories' of indeterminate plausibility. It is not related to the Illuminati groups — it does not claim to possess secret knowledge gained through arcane texts or higher powers achieved through esoteric means. It does, however, relate to the premise of a New World Order — the idea that a small group of highly placed individuals are seeking to dominate the world by manipulating events and public opinion towards the establishment of a single world government. Elements of this theory include the seeding of the atmosphere and water supplies with mind-altering drugs to increase susceptibility to suggestion, the rewriting of history as it happens, and the gradual erosion of traditional Western freedoms such as the freedom of speech, the freedom to form political groups and the freedom of movement.
Whether the New World Order is reality or paranoia has yet to be established. The same can be said of the Hand of Thoth. If the latter group does exist, and if it does so within the larger framework of the New World Order, then its primary objective would seem to be rather more commonplace than that of its parent body, as will be seen from the evidence:

The first recorded mention of the Hand of Thoth was in 1968 in a political pamphlet produced by a pseudo-political group in San Francisco. The pamphlet, published privately and distributed by hand, was a quasi-esoteric plea for peaceful non-cooperation with the established order. Recipients of the leaflet (we estimate that just 500 copies were published) were urged to stop paying bills, discard all proofs of identity, ignore television and newspapers (radio was not mentioned, probably because the writer was influenced by the music of the time), and to abandon their jobs.
In the paragraph dealing with the media, the following statement was made:
'Your newspaper is not a record of events. It is a fiction written by the Hand of Thoth. It is not designed to inform. It is designed to influence. Newspapers are the strings through which you, the puppet, are made to dance by the Hand of Thoth.'
No details pertaining to the precise nature of the Hand of Thoth were given.
The name of the group — if it is a group — appeared in comparable publications, sporadically, over the ensuing decade. All of these mentions (we have recorded 28 to date) are similarly obscure in nature and merely restate the San Francisco claim.
A more detailed (and credible) statement appeared in 1980, in a book entitled 'It's Not What You Think' (subtitle: 'It's What You Believe') by Crawford Wendell (published by Stenner and Hadley Ltd, UK). It casts the group in a rather different light (page 189):

Most of these theories can be discounted as paranoia, racism, nationalism, a lack of understanding of the structure of big business, or sheer idle speculation.
Occasionally, though, a component of this generally amoebic disquietude breaks through the cacophony with a level of cohesiveness which demands consideration. One such is a faction named the Hand of Thoth.
Supposedly comprised of four elderly men and a small number of younger assistants, this body is said to be responsible for the manipulation of information in the Western world's media not for political gain, not for religious hegemony, not for racial domination, but simply for money. Furthermore, the organisation is reputed to be far more 'hands on' than its theoretical counterparts; employing hypnosis, psychotropic drugs and extravagantly staged scenarios to manoeuvre specific (and usually high-ranking) individuals into acts — or into making statements — which become media-worthy. Through the subsequent publicity, public opinion is influenced, business decisions are made and — and this is the objective — the financial markets are affected.
What makes the Hand of Thoth different to the 'average' conspiracy theory is that the motive is so mundane — mere revenue — and the methodology so precise. Add to this the lack of the usual ingredients of race, creed, esoterica or politics and we find ourselves with something that seems plausible, at least.

Three months after the publication of 'It's Not What You Think', Crawford Wendell was found dead in his car. It was parked in his garage with a hose running from the exhaust to the side window. The coroner recorded a verdict of 'asphyxial death by automobile exhaust inhalation' — suicide. The same week, Stenner and Hadley Ltd went out of business when two warehouses containing stock burned to the ground and their insurance cover was found to be at fault.
We have one subsequent reference to the Hand of Thoth on record:
In 1998, Gregory Cranham, Chairman of the Winwood Group, returned from a two week holiday and made a number of sweeping structural changes to business practices relating to his tobacco factories in Cuba and South West India. These adjustments proved disastrous and led to a plummeting of the Group's fortunes and a rise in those of its main competitor, Blessington Industries.
On 15 September 1998, Gregory Cranham was found hanging at his home in Manchester. He left no suicide note. He had been a habitual diary-keeper for most of his life but had made no entries in his journal since 28 May — the day he went on holiday — except for one: on the day of his death, he wrote 'Doctor Quaestor is Hand of Thoth' and nothing more.
The Craille Institute has not been able to trace anyone by that name.

Completion Time: 27 December 2005 19:32:08


Joanne Harker's Diary — 26 December 2005 (continued)
"Murdered!" I said. "How? By whom?"
Mr Blake looked past me at Edward and said, "Would you care to explain, Tinker?"
Ed stepped forward and looked around — at the driveway behind us, at the piece of rock lying a few feet away, at the French windows and the Japanese screen, at the shards of glass which glittered on the carpet.
"Ah," he said, "I get it."
"I don't," I replied.
He grinned that infectious grin of his then said, "Ok, we're going to do some play acting. Would you mind stepping back, guv'nor?" (this to Mr Blake who nodded and took a couple of steps away from the window).
"Right," said Edward, "I want you to imagine that you are Rupert Billings on that night. You are in the living room, you hear the gunshots, and you run out and along the front of the house towards the study. What next?"
I thought a moment, walked a few steps towards the front door, then returned towards the study window.
"I run along here," I said, "to the window. The view is blocked by the screen but here—" I said, taking another two steps until I was opposite the right-hand side of the right-hand door, "I can see past it into the room. I see Helen and Michael on the floor. I push the door but it's locked. I turn, looking for something to use to break the glass. I see the rocks lining the drive ... oh. That's odd."
"Exactly," said Ed. "That's not how it happened, is it? The gap where he pulled up the rock is here, two steps to his left. Billings pulled the rock up from the edge of the drive before he reached the part of the window through which the inside of the room could be seen!"
"That's right!" I exclaimed, feeling something in my stomach turn over. "He should have looked inside then turned around and pulled up one of the rocks at his feet."
"But he didn't. It's almost as if he already knew what he'd see," said Edward. "And look at the doors. They are divided into eight panes of glass each; two panes wide by four high. He smashed the second pane down on the right-hand side of the right-hand door. Why? Surely it the pane beside it is the one to break — it's next to the latch. As it is, Rupert had to reach past that pane, stretching his arm in to unlock the door."
"I don't understand," I said. And I didn't. Even for a man in the middle of a shooting incident, it was just too illogical.
In a quiet voice Sexton Blake said, "We've already established that there's something about the right-hand side of this door which makes it different to the rest, Miss Harker."
"What?" I asked. Then, "Of course! It's the only part where you can see past the screen!"
"She's catching on!" said Edward.
"No I'm not!" I exclaimed. "I still don't see any reason for breaking that particular part of the window!"
"Okay, let's think about time," he said. "What was Billings doing while you and Mr Griffin were trying to get into the study?"
"He was in the living room. He must have stood, surprised by the shots, then he ran out through the French windows."
"Why?" asked Edward. "The living room's almost opposite the study. Why didn't he run to the study door like you did? Surely that's the most obvious thing to do?"
"So what was he doing?"
"That's the big question. And it's not the only occasion it applies. What about when you went to phone for help and Mark went for towels and water? How much time was Billings alone at the crime scene?"
I thought a bit, chewing my lip. It was true; Rupert was in the study for quite a while before I got there after making the phone call.
"And," muttered Blake, as if he were reading my mind, "when you arrived on the scene, why was he still holding the rock?"
"I don't know. Had he been doing something with it?"
"What had you already seen him doing with it?"
"Breaking glass," I said. Suddenly something very like a light bulb flickered on inside my head. "Oh my God," I whispered, "I know what happened."


The Craille Institute
Communications Records
Item: EMMBLL57701
Medium: Email/phone
Security Level: SteelCage ExtraNet SkyLock - Level 1
Date: 28 December 2005 07:00:01
From: Sir George Coutts (Codename: Brahma)
To: Operatives 4 through 11 (Codenames: Rama; Narasimhavatara; Matsyavatara; Parasurama; Kalki; Agni; Ramachandra; Ganesh)
CC: George Coutts (Codename: Vishnu )
Details: Order. Priority: RED. Security: RED. Urgency: RED. Seek evidence of individual named or known as Doctor Quaestor. Possible lead: seek whereabouts of individual named or known as Rupert Billings. Further information: Doctor Quaestor may be linked to Hand of Thoth (File Ref: 000027511). Also linked to death of Gregory Cranham (File Ref: 000027501), Chairman of the Winwood Group (File Ref: 000027510). Rupert Billings is currently wanted by the Kent County Constabulary on suspicion of the murder of Michael and Helen Loring (File Ref: 000056822). Billings' profile is in File Ref: 000056829.
Action: Enacting.


From: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
To: Police Constable Joanne Harker [address withheld]
Sent: 27 December 2005 10.15
Subject: The Loring Murder


I heard your gabble on my answer phone when I got home last night. Didn't call you back — it was late ... besides, you sounded delirious. What the hell is going on? I heard through the grapevine that you were down in Kent at the Loring place with Blake and Tinker. Now I find that Rupert Billings is wanted for murder. Have you been meddling with evidence? I'm starting to regret taking you round to Baker Street! (Mind you, it was damned good Xmas, don't you think?)

PS. I'm office-bound today, so email me.


From: Police Constable Joanne Harker [address withheld]
To: Police Sergeant James Withers [address withheld]
Sent: 28 December 2005 13.41
Subject: Re: The Loring Murder

Dear JW

What an amazing man that Sexton Blake is! As is Edward (or 'Tinker' as you all seem to insist on calling the poor boy)!

The Kent police got it all wrong — even forensics — because the murder scene and witnesses (including me) told a completely plausible story. Mr Blake was the only one who saw the faults in the plot. And he did so with merely a glance!

So, this is what really happened that night:

Rupert Billings, it seems, was a fanatic. His belief in conspiracy theories had turned him into a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that Michael Loring was purposely withholding evidence of secret societies and plots for world domination. He therefore, in his own twisted mind, came to the conclusion that Loring had to be disposed of. Since Helen was seen to be 'in collusion' with her husband, she became a target too.

Rupert befriended the Lorings and inveigled his way into their confidence. All the time, he was just waiting for his chance. It came on the 19th of December.

I don't know whether he purposely encouraged the Lorings to argue. Certainly, they had already been doing so before any of their guests arrived. But, remembering back to that evening, I can't help but feel that he took advantage and kindled the flames with a cunningly placed and seemingly innocent comment here and there. In some ways, Helen and Michael played straight into his hands. When they locked themselves in the study, he knew his moment had come.

With me in the dining room and Mark Griffin upstairs, Rupert entered the living room and opened its French windows. He crossed the front of the house until he was outside the study and, looking in past the Japanese screen, he saw Helen and Michael arguing in the middle of the room. He pulled a pistol from his jacket's inner pocket and shot them both in the head, firing straight through the glass. He ran back to the living room, returning the gun to his pocket then paused and waited until he heard me and Mark opening the front door. Then he raced back the way he had come, passing us as we came out and ordering us to stay back, which would cause us, at very least, to hesitate for a moment. As he reached the study, he halted long enough to pull up a stone before moving across to the right-hand side of the French window. He used it to smash the pane he had shot through.
While doing this, he shouted at me to phone for help and Mark to fetch towels and water. This was to keep us out of his way for a few more valuable moments. He opened the windows and entered the study. He took out his pistol, wiped off his prints, and placed it in Michael's hand. He then took the Thoth manuscript, which Michael had shown to him earlier and which seemed to be the focus for his (Rupert's) mania, placed it in the fireplace and set it alight. Why he did this, we'll probably never know — his madness was driving his actions.
Finally, he picked up the rock and used it to break into smaller pieces some of the larger shards of glass from the window. He did this until he heard me pass the study door on my way out of the living room. He then stood and, as I approached, threw the rock out onto the drive. A minute or so later, when I was examining the bodies, he continued to break the glass fragments by stamping on them — giving the appearance of being cold and shocked. He did this to destroy, as much as possible, any indication that the glass had been originally shattered by bullets.

Rupert Billings killed Michael and Helen. Now he seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. But we'll get him.

JW — thank you for introducing me to Sexton Blake. I had an incredible Christmas and saw a true master at work. I feel inspired and somehow renewed. I know that sounds stupid but — well, you know what I mean ... ...


Internal Communiqué, The Craille Institute (continued)
So, George, here we are on the eve of your promotion. It comes at a crucial time. As you have seen for yourself during last week's Loring case, the 'Credibility Gap' is becoming an issue once again, after four decades of relative peace. The Hand of Thoth issue will — believe me, it will — grow into a crisis. I therefore hand to you an Institute in a state of high alert.
The cover story — that Rupert Billings was nothing more than a paranoid schizophrenic — has been accepted. As far as the police authorities are concerned, it's a case of a 'man gone over the edge'. The Hand of Thoth doesn't figure in their calculations. It's become nothing more complicated than a manhunt.
They won't get Billings.
And the end is nowhere in sight — in fact, things have only just begun.
But these past forty years have not been wasted. The Craille Institute has never been as efficient or as well-hidden as it is now. I have streamlined the structure, refined the processes, and trained the operatives.
And working independently but on our side, we have that astonishing man Sexton Blake. He, too, is honed to perfection; a Victorian man with Victorian ethics who is better equipped to exist in these modern times than anyone actually born in them. His Special Dispensation status puts our vast resources at his fingertips — he has free access to our technology, our information, and our people. He is our friend, our colleague ... and our greatest weapon.

We are ready.

The End