The Phantom

Chapter Two

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 all."

"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 presume?"

"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. "Pray continue."

"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 appointment?"

"Yes, He was very punctual."

"Why he?"

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 in."

"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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