Wyndam and The Final Problem

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story that takes place in the woods.... view prompt

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Mystery

The morning sun filtered through the live oaks casting shadows on Wyndham’s morning paper. The counters were clean, the appliances polished, and the cabinets smelled of old oak. There was serenity in the air. Mr. Windham Holmes sat at the kitchen table enjoying his morning coffee. “Watson!” he shouted. His voice, while thin, managed to cut through the tranquility.

“Coming, Mr. Holmes.” I am Wyndham’s caregiver. My name is Richard Chang, but he prefers to call me Watson. I hurried to his side, “Yes, Holmes.”

“Watson,” he pointed to a lost and found ad in the paper, “it says here that Mrs. Landers has lost her cat. We must pay her a visit and see if we can crack the case.”

“That’s a fine idea, Holmes.” A little over a year ago, Wyndham had a stroke. Deep in his misfiring synapses, he believes he is the great Sherlock Holmes, and I, Dr. John Watson.

I set down a bowl of oatmeal, tied his bib, and walked into the dining room. I returned with an envelope I had been holding on to for a week. “Mr. Holmes, I have a post for you.” I handed it to him.

“Where did you get this?” he asked suspiciously.

“It was delivered this morning by messenger.

“I don’t recall hearing the door chimes.” Wyndham might be eighty-nine, and living in a fantasy world, but at times he is amazingly sharp. He opened the envelope and held the card in his trembling hands.

“Shall I read it to you?” My question flustered him.

“I am perfectly capable of reading my own mail. Thank you very much.” He placed the invitation on the table where it no longer shook. He read out loud, “You and a Guest are invited to a special performance of, The Final Problem, at the Murphys Creek Theater in Murphys, California. The performance is this evening and shall begin promptly at 8:00 pm.”

“So, he thinks he can pull one over on me,” Wyndham said, “but he is sadly mistaken, Watson.” At this, he struck his walking stick upon the kitchen table.

“Who is trying to pull a fast one, Mr. Holmes?” Wyndham has a special place in my heart, and if my playing Watson to his Holmes brings him joy, so be it. Wyndham and I live in his modest three-bedroom house in Angels Camp, California, which is about a fifteen-minute drive to Murphys. I have been his caretaker and companion for the last seven years. During my first two years, I cared for him and his wife, Eleanor, before she, unexpectedly, passed away. I was certain Eleanor would survive Wyndham, but I was wrong. Two years ago, his family asked if I would become a live-in. I asked again, "Who is trying to pull a fast one?”

“Why, Moriarty, of course.”

Mr. Ority was a member of Wyndham’s stretching class at the senior center. The name resembled Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, and that was all it took for the two of them to become mortal enemies. Wyndham would often steal Mr. Ority’s juice boxes at lunch for fear that he would poison one and then offer it to him.

“Mr. Holmes,” I said, “Moriarty, passed on a couple of months ago. We went to his memorial service. Don’t you remember?”

“That’s what he would have us believe, Watson. We never actually saw the body, did we?”

“They cremated him, Holmes.”

“The perfect ploy. Moriarty would have us think he died, but I know better. This invitation is the proof I have been seeking. You are familiar with the Final Problem, are you not?”

“I am.”

Wyndham gestured for me to expound. “In the Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes –.” At this, Wyndham cleared his throat. “Excuse me, sir. What I meant to say was – that, in the Final Problem, you and Moriarty fall to your deaths as you both plummet over the Reichenbach Falls.”

“And yet I survived. Did I not?”

“You sure did.” I smiled

“There it is then, proof positive that Mr. Ority, is Moriarty in the flesh. This invitation is his way of luring me to the theater so that he may finish what he started.” Wyndham raised his walking stick above his head. “Put on your Sunday best, Watson. For tonight we are going to the Murphys Creek Theater. The game is afoot, Watson. The game is afoot!” He struck his stick upon the table, smashing his coffee cup.

“Perhaps we should take a little nap before embarking upon this adventure.” Wyndham nodded.

I helped him into the bedroom and put him down for his morning nap.

“Have you seen the Woman?” he asked gently.

“Are you referring to your wife, Eleanor?”

“Damn, it, Watson. I have told you never to mention her name in my presence. From here on out, we will refer to her only as the Woman.”

“My apologies, Holmes. The Woman was suddenly called away, sir.”

“Is she safe?”

“She is in the best of hands.”

“She wasn’t kidnapped, was she?”

“No, Holmes. She was not.”

I tucked him into bed. “I miss her, Watson.”

“I know you do.”

“Shall I ever lay eyes upon her again?”

“From the bottom of my heart, sir, I believe you will.”

He yawned, “I’m glad, Watson.”

I left him muttering something about Moriarty and walked away. The mind is like a sponge; it can hold much, but if left unused it dries up. These days it seems that most of his memories come from his books. More and more, I see his grasp on reality slipping away. His family understands his obsession with Sherlock Holmes, and like me, they play along. If it makes Wyndham happy, we are all glad to do it. I went back to the kitchen to pick up the shattered cup.

***

The Murphys Creek Theater is tucked away in a thicket of trees. Upon first seeing it one might think Mother Nature carved out a crescent of land to accommodate the floorplan. It sits at the edge of the woods surrounded on three sides by Ponderosa pines. It is a quaint, 300-seat theater next to the Murphys Library. The lot is expansive and serves as overflow parking on Saint Patrick’s Day when the town of Murphys fills with tourists. On Main Street, the lines are painted green, and giant shamrocks are stenciled in the road.

Proof, a Pulitzer prize-winning play, by David Auburn, has been showing for the entire month, but tonight, when the theater is ordinarily dark, a special production of Arthur Conan Doyles’ The Final Problem, is on the marquee.

We arrived with forty-five-minutes to spare. Wyndham hates being late. “Punctuality,” he would say, “Is the highest compliment you can pay your host.”

The parking lot was empty, but for a few cars that belonged to the theater staff. I pulled into the closest accessible parking spot and helped Wyndham up the four steps into the lobby. A wheelchair would have made my life more comfortable, but this wasn’t about me. It was about Wyndham, and his pride prohibited him from taking the path of least resistance.

The lobby was about five-hundred square feet. A highly polished wood bar was at the far end. “Would you procure me a merlot, Watson?”

I walked to the bar and ordered a cranberry juice in a wine glass. We sat in the lobby until he finished his drink. “I’m feeling a little ditzy, Watson. You’d better get me to my seat.” The bartender cleaned up after us and told us to enjoy the evening. We walked down the aisle and sat in the front row. Seating was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Wyndham paused before taking his seat and looked around the empty theater. “I’m getting a strange feeling that things are not what they appear, Watson.”

“How so, Mr. Holmes?”

“This theater smells of death, my dear Watson. I fear my adversary, Moriarty is at hand.”

“You don’t find it odd that we are the only patrons in the theatre, Holmes?” My comment flustered him.

“I was getting to that, Watson. You didn’t let me finish.”

“My apologies, Mr. Holmes.”

“Now, as I was about to say. I find it odd that we are the only patrons in the theater. Let me have another look at the invitation.” I handed him the envelope. “There is no return address, on the envelope. This invitation is a trap, Watson. Why didn’t I see it sooner? Moriarty has lured us here. This is the Final Problem.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had already come to that conclusion. “Well done Holmes. Perhaps our next move should be to go backstage and interrogate the cast.”

“You read my mind, Watson. Yes, I shall observe the cast members as they interact with one another. I should like to see who will portray me, but more importantly, who will play Mr. Ority.”

“You mean, Moriarty?”

“Yes, yes, of course, that’s what I meant. Just a simple slip of the tongue, Watson. You make too much of it.”

“Forgive me, Mr. Holmes.”

“To the staging area, Watson.”

I took him by the arm and led his four-foot-ten-inch frame up the three steps. He was moving more slowly than usual, and I had to stop a couple of times, allowing him to catch his breath. “Where are the cast and crew?” he asked. The backstage area was dimly lit and unoccupied. Costumes hung on racks, and props were neatly stored away.

“He is a devious one,” Wyndham said, “I fear he has trapped us in his web. He clings to the silk thread that announces our arrival. Take copious notes, Watson. I will not have you miss a single detail. Tonight, I take on what may be my greatest and final case. Moriarty!” he yelled, “You shall not prevail.”

I allowed a smile to cross my lips. Wyndham was on a grand adventure. An adventure he had longed for his entire life. A life he had lived vicariously through his books and his movies, but tonight he was actually living it. It was his puzzle to solve. “Perhaps the theater is closed,” I said, “Perhaps we got the date wrong.”

“Nonsense. Why then was the bartender on duty? No, this is a snare, Watson.” I helped him onto a stool. Slowly he looked up at me. “The bartender,” he said in a voice barely audible. “The bartender is, Moriarty.”

“But he is much too young, Mr. Holmes.”

“Nonsense,” he yelled again, and then he reverted to a whisper. “Moriarty is a master of disguise. It is he who will write the final chapter of my life. But if I must perish, Watson, so must he.”

“No one is going to perish, Holmes. Why don’t we explore the front stage? Perhaps we might find a clue there?”

“Damn it, Watson, you must permit me to follow the clues.” He allowed a moment to pass. “I think we should explore the front stage.”

“That is a grand idea, Mr. Holmes.”

“Think about it, Watson. If Moriarty wanted to kill me, where would he do it? On stage, that’s where. The world is a stage, and he would want this to be my final curtain.” At this, he stopped abruptly. “No, I shall not fall for this ruse. We shall exit through the back door, walk around to the lobby, and take him by surprise.”

I tried to persuade, Wyndham to walk onto the main stage, but his resolve was unshakable. I acquiesced and led him out the back door. The walk around the building must have been seventy or eighty yards. It was a moonless night and the cover of the woods added to the darkness. We stepped lightly avoiding, pine cones, and needles strewn in our path. It was a much longer walk than I wanted him to make. It took us a few minutes, but we made it to the front of the building. Wyndham was gasping for breath. “Watson, look.” He pointed to a couple of dozen cars in the parking lot. “We’re either missing the performance, or Moriarty is planning to take down the theater. Hurry, Watson. Hurry. We have lives to save.”

We rushed back into the lobby, Wyndham's steps were short and quick. He was on Moriarty’s trail and would not be denied. As we entered the lobby, the bartender gave me a puzzled look. He flashed me a “what’s up” gesture, and I signaled that everything was okay.

Wyndham saw the bartender’s from the corner of his eye. “He’s up to something,” he whispered. “Keep walking as if we don’t suspect him.” Wyndham's breathing quickened. I felt like going back and getting the wheelchair from the car, but that would have embarrassed him. Sherlock Holmes would never be caught dead in a wheelchair.

I steadied him for a moment. The bartender came over to assist. “Get your hands off me, you scoundrel!” he yelled at the bartender, “You think I don’t know what you’re up to?”

The bartender blurted out, “He knows?”

I shook my head and placed my index finger to my lips.

“You!” Wyndham caught me in the act. “How could you betray me, Watson? How long have you planned and plotted with Moriarty?” He lowered his head. “This is my final scene,” he said, “The last act finds me at the hands of my nemesis, and a betrayer I once called a friend.”

The bartender backed away. Wyndham's legs shook with feebleness.

“Wyndham, are you okay?”

I could see how disappointed he was. He yelled at me. “It is Mr. Holmes, to you!”

“Of course, forgive me, Mr. Holmes. Let us take our seats and watch the play.”

“Sic temper tyrannus,” he shouted, “As Lincoln died in his theatre seat, so shall I!”

I walked him down the aisle. Dozens of patrons sat in the center aisle seats. A few turned to see us and then quickly looked away. Wyndham kept his head down, and tears trickled down his cheeks. I have never felt so bad in my life. This poor, sweet man no longer saw me as his loyal companion but as his Judas. Our seats were still unoccupied. “Let us sit, and enjoy the performance,” I said.

Wyndham looked at the person seated to his right. “Robert, is that you?” he asked.

Robert, a friend from the senior center, put his index finger to his lips, “Shhhhh.” Wyndham turned to me, confused that a friend was sitting in the audience. I winked and gestured for him to look at the stage.

The curtain opened, and Wyndham’s family, who had collectively traveled thousands of miles to celebrate his 90th birthday, broke into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. His children and their spouses, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren sang with joy in their hearts. His friends stood and joined in the chorus. When the echoes died down, family and friends applauded. The bartender came down the aisle with a birthday cake in tow. Balloons fell from the ceiling and were batted around the theater.

“Speech. Speech!” A voice from the audience yelled, but Wyndham did not react as they hoped he would. He did not stand, nor laugh, nor cry. The surprise had been overwhelming. He sat, slumped in his chair, a smile forever plastered on his face. The Final Problem, it turned out, was his last case.

His family rushed from the stage, and the bartender called 911. I stepped back and watched as his children made every effort to revive him. Tears flowed, children cried, and friends wept. He was surrounded by family and friends on his special day, and as sad as the moment was, I could not think of a better time for him to go and see the Woman.

April 15, 2020 21:21

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2 comments

Jack O'Brien
12:53 Apr 23, 2020

Good story. As a fellow Conan Doyle fan, I enjoyed the Holmesian banter that supports the story and misdirection. The ending, while bittersweet, takes away from the story a bit, though. The twist is the surprise, not the passing. I'd let him go with a whimper, not a bang, some time later. Of course, that's just me. Nicely done, Rudy.

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Rudy Uribe
21:37 Apr 23, 2020

Jack, I appreciate the comment. It's critiques like yours that make us better writers. Thank you.

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