It was only a few months after the horrible incident at the Reichenbach Falls where I lost my dear friend Sherlock Holmes when I received a most unusual summons from his brother, Mycroft, to meet him for luncheon. I was not to meet him at his habitual residence or offices at Whitehall nor the Demosthenes Club, but at a nearby restaurant across the street in Pall Mall.
“Took a slow rug uptown, John?” Mycroft Holmes said with a slight smile. He was seven years older than his brother, whom he resembled and though almost my height was considerably stouter. He had alert steel grey eyes with which he regarded me with almost scientific precision.
“Mycroft,” I said, as I extended my hand. I had not seen him since Sherlock’s funeral and had concentrated on my private practice to distract me from grief. He, I suppose, had returned to his routine working in a shadowy department of the Foreign Office. I had never seen him express much emotion, much like his brother, but I think, much like Sherlock he simply masked powerful emotions with a screen of reason.
We were in the stylish, quiet restaurant, the gaslamps casting slight yellow light on us. The corpulent Holmes ordered a plate of beef stroganoff and ale. I had only soup and some wine. We sat quietly until the food came, at which point my curiosity was at a peak.
“Talk to me, Mycroft,” I said between sips. “Your note was mysterious—you implied this was important.”
“Patience, John,” he said with an enigmatic smile. “Better if you hear the details from—ah here she is.” Just then we were joined by a third for lunch, and you could have knocked me over with a feather.
The figure that swept into the restaurant was the loveliest woman I had ever seen. She had fire-red hair, and the kind of perfect facial features that Renaissance artists aspired to.
The fact that she was followed by gentlemen that, though in civilian cloths had the bearing of military men on guard duty, made her more interesting.
Mycroft rose and I followed suit.
“Doctor John Watson,” Mycroft said formally, “may I introduce Princes Flavia of R-----”
I was at a loss for a moment whether to bow or offer my hand.
“Forgive me, Doctor Watson, for such mystery and urgency,” the princess said, “I asked Mister Holmes to ask you here.” She offered me her hand, palm down and I took her fingers lightly.
The four bodyguards took up positions around us and were not shy about being visible. The princess called the waiter over and ordered an ale for herself. Not my idea of a royal diet.
“I imagine you are wondering why Mister Holmes arranged this meeting, Doctor Watson?” The royal said.
“Your Highness, I am a bit confused.”
“But first, I offer you condolences on your friend Sherlock’s death.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” I said.
“I have, of course, read your accounts of the cases with Mister Holmes’s brother and Mycroft has also spoken highly of your integrity and skill when he said you could help me.”
I glanced to Mycroft wondering just what he had promised me for. “I am flattered, Your Highness, but how can I be of use?”
Mycroft had a stony expression which was all but unreadable, deliberately so, I thought and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“My brother Rudolf was murdered last night, Doctor Watson,” she said, her voice choking. “A violent death in a most impossible of circumstance.”
“I am so very sorry for your loss, Your Highness … but how can—”
“I suspect someone is intent on destroying treaty negotiations with R-----’s neighbors,” she said quietly.
“But how can I help? That seems a matter for the authorities.”
“It is, Doctor,” Mycroft said, “but there are jurisdictional issues as the Prince died in the R----- embassy—it is sovereign territory. And Princess Flavia has reasons to want outside eyes on this, but that can not be seen to be biased for The Empire.”
“Are there no investigators in your realm, highness?” I asked.
The princess shook her head. “We have never had such … such a violent and vile act before, and by the time we could have a police official come here from our home …” Her voice trailed off and I could sense hopelessness in her tone.
“I still do not see where this concerns me,” I said. “I am a simple doctor—”