by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
Rain poured down from the darkened sky like millions of tiny hammers.
It pounded against the windows of 221b Baker Street, making the glass rattle
with the force of its savage blows. Holmes smoothed his brown hair back
from his face and bent down to his computer book, words forming on the
screen and then disappearing as he read. Watson stood on a dustcloth in
the centre of the room, carrying out some minor maintenance work on his
mechanisms and treating himself to some oil in his joints. Eventually
Holmes looked up from the screen and leaned back.
"Well," he said, stretching. "Thatís about as much of this drivel as
I can stand for today. How are you faring, old chap?"
Watson closed his stomach panel and polished a splash of oil from
his arm. "All done, Holmes; Iím now fully operational once again. There was
so much grease buildup around my knees, Iím surprised they functioned at
"Well, better late than never for a service, old chap; I think we
all need a bit of maintenance once in a while." His knuckles cracked as he
flexed his hand and he smiled, staring out the window at the pelting rain.
"At least weíre safe indoors, I donít fancy travelling in this weather."
Watson stared out."No, not after the hours I spent on my feet this
morning; youíd be amazed what grit can do to droid feet."
Holmes laughed. "Iím sure I would."
Suddenly there was a knock on the door, barely audible above the
rain. Holmes stood up. "Iíll get it; try and move some of your tools out of
the room for a while."
The girl outside must have been late teens, but she didnít look it.
Holmes met a pale dark-eyed girl with flattened light brown hair, almost
honey-coloured, flowing over a thin, tired face. "Mr Sherlock Holmes, I
"One and the same."
"I have heard you help people with unusual problems! I have come to
pick your brains over mine."
Holmes stepped aside and let the soaking girl in. She pulled off
her dripping overcoat to reveal a school uniform and a satchel.
"I see you are studying at Hawthorn Academy of Arts, and have
recently moved schools."
The girl flicked her wet hair out of her face. "Yes, my mother and
I moved from Colchester. How did you...?"
Holmes smiled and pointed to her school badge. "The uniform and the
fact that you reached for a hat when you came in, even though you wore
none, indicating that when in school uniform you usually wear a hat. Since
schools like Hawthorn are strict on dress code and you look too old to be
changing from primary to secondary, I deduced a change in schools. You
already have the advantage of knowing my name, yours is?"
She held out a hand; Holmes shook it lightly. "Rachel Morris."
Watson emerged from a doorway.
"And this is my friend and companion, Dr Watson."
"Pleased to meet you!" She shook Watsonís hand too and was shown
to a seat by the fire. Once they were all settled, Rachel began.
"I know you are busy, Mr Holmes, so Iíll be as brief as possible. I
have been having some unpleasant and frankly rather frightening experiences
at school. One of my friends has already been seriously hurt and I fear more
will follow if I donít do something."
Holmes pressed his hand together in his typical listening position.
"Thank you. I only started there three months ago, studying drama
and music. I was granted a scholarship from the Arts Council and since my
mother has to move around quite a lot because of her catering business, it
made sense to board at the school as well. Everything was fine until I
signed up for the annual musical." She stopped, shivered and rubbed her
hands together as if to dispel some inner chill.
"The musical is Phantom of the Opera, and I managed to get not only
the part of Meg but the understudy for Christine. After a few weeks of
rehearsals had passed I started getting notes and flowers. At first they
were nice notes, in my locker, on my dressing table, my desk, telling me
how well I was doing and how good my singing voice was."
"And the flowers?"
Rachel jumped at the sound of his voice. She had been wrapped up in
her own story. "Dead black roses, a single one with each note."
"And do you have one?"
She pulled a large envelope from her bag; inside were the dust
remains of a plant. "They crumble practically as soon as you touch them.
May I continue?"
Holmes fingered some of the dust and nodded.
"Then about a month and a half after rehearsals started, the notes
started getting...I donít know, cold and unfriendly, the language was still
nice but it was different somehow, giving me advice on my technique telling
me where to stand at rehearsals, all of which I ignored."
She stopped and reached into her bag bringing out a handful of stiff
cards and pushing them towards Holmes. The paper was gold edged, but the
handwriting was blocky and done in red ink, as if someone had dipped a
matchstick in drying blood.
"The last two I received scared me the most."
Holmes flicked to the last two cards. "Dear Rachel, Once again an
amiable performance, although a little high toned in ĎAngel of Musicí. I
write to inform you of the impending retirement of Miss Fisher from this
yearís musical through an unfortunate incident in the near future. I hope
this will not cause you too much sorrow, especially as the squirt will be
no doubt the centre of attention for the next few days. Yours Sincerely,
the Opera Ghost. P.S. You would be wise to pay attention to previous
recommendations on your performance."
"The very next day Bell was hurt, a trapdoor opened up beneath her as she was walking about
on the stage."
"Did you tell her about the note before the incident?"
"Yes, but she just laughed it off, thought it might be our friend
Dodger playing a joke on her. Heís playing Erik, the Phantom and heís been
trying to get into character."
Holmes turned to the next card.
"Bravo, Cherie, tonight you sang so beautifully even angels wept. My
heartfelt congratulations on your new role as Christine; you have a pretty
voice, but it could be glorious...with my help. We will meet after
rehearsal. Until then. Opera Ghost."
"The last note...was on my pillow in my bedroom, which I always
lock when Iím not there, now even when I am."
Holmes bent the paper between his fingers and then sniffed the edge.
"Very high quality paper, and sprayed with rose scent, I believe. Do excuse
my peculiar methods, Miss Morris; they have worked more than once."
"Then by all means continue with them, Mr Holmes. But I must be
quick; if I am caught outside after lights out I will be in serious trouble
with the halls mistress."
Holmes laid the paper down. "I gather this...Opera Ghost kept the
"Yes, He was very punctual."
Rachel rubbed her head where water had began to drip from her hair.
"His voice, it was melodious, deep and rich and most definitely male...very
musical and yet with an edge to it. I was in the auditorium trying to
remember my steps and lines; the play isnít very far away and I have been
thrown in at the deep end so to speak. Suddenly the lights went out, all
except the main spotlight. I am terribly frightened of the dark, Mr Holmes,
especially when I know that there is an edge to the stage somewhere leading
straight down into the orchestra pit, or those horrible trapdoors. Anyway,
somebody started singing to me. At first I thought it was Dodger playing a
trick, but it didnít sound like Dodger. I told him to put the lights on but
he told me that I would prefer them off and asked if I liked his song; he
said he had written it especially for me. We talked...no, we argued about
Bell and then something brushed past me and the lights came on."
"And you saw?"
"Nothing, Mr Holmes, an empty auditorium and a rose at my feet. I
came straight here after that...itís so weird, though; rumours have been
flying all over the place."
Holmes straightened, his eyes opening. "What rumours?"
"Well, last time this musical was performed, the person who was to
play the Phantom fell to his death through an open trapdoor, and strange
things are disappearing; weíve had props and paint disappear and some dry
ice which was to be used in the fog machine." She glanced at her watch.
"Oh, zed, Iím going to die if I donít hurry. Mr Holmes, can you look into
this for me, please?"
"The case is interesting; I will certainly give it some thought. If
you could write a list of the missing objects for me... and is there any way
I could see a rehearsal?"
Rachel looked thoughtful as she dragged on her coat and snatched up
her satchel. "Theyíre trying to drum up publicity; journalists could get
"Thank you. Watson and I could give you a lift back."
"Thank you, but no. I have to go in the back way and a sky car will
just attract attention. Goodbye, Mr Holmes and thank you again." She opened
the door and ran out into the rain.
Holmes closed it as the wind howled in. "I think, Watson, we have a
very interesting week ahead of us."
On to Part 3!
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