Peter, Holmes, and the cop who brought them there left the hospital, leaving the others behind. Gregory was no longer in their custody, and had chosen to remain behind to meditate on what had been brought to his attention, and perhaps offer what services he could provide. The Ancient had welcomed this.
The cop was shaking his head, "I didn't make sense out of any of that mess."
Holmes nodded, "It is hard for me to make sense out of it as well, especially as it involves spiritualism and belief in the power of objects to do things beyond the observable senses."
"How do we find Asmodeus?"
"It is something that I must do alone. I suggest that you get some rest."
Peter shook his head, "Don't you be holding out on me!"
Holmes assessed Peter, as he often did with those around him, "Your father alluded to experiences beyond the normal range of experiences. Perhaps that might be an asset that I can use. Feel free to accompany me if you don't wish to catch up on your rest, but I must sadly tell you that we will be walking to our destination."
"Where are we going?"
"The scene of the crime. Where else do we find the criminal?" //. . . and the guardian . . . //
* * *
Once more, they approached that murder scene where they were the night before. It remained untouched, just as it was, but this time, there was a visitor. Peter saw the man this time.
"Asmodeus." Holmes spoke not in a soft voice, but rather a firm voice of controlled volume.
Peter's eyes opened in shock. Here was a man that he hadn't noticed a moment before. "Holmes?"
"Meet Asmodeus, guardian of the Key to Solomon. But that is a concept, is it not? It will never be an actual object found as those Germans found Troy."
The rogue shook his head sadly, "It is a Golden Barge that will never be found, only glimpsed from a distance. I think you come here with more knowledge than Caine had found."
"Yes. I can now believe that you did not commit these murders. Technically, these men did the damage to themselves, but I believe that you still played a role as do the Sing Wa. My question is, did you order their actions or do they have their own agenda?"
Asmodeus had a genuine belly laugh. "Of all the questions I've been asked by mortals, I've never once been asked a question like that! Always on business, your mind is . . . "
"'Mortals?'" Peter was sick of all this otherworldly nonsense, regardless of his experiences and capabilities. "Come on!"
"Oh, I bet you want a great carnival show to display my true nature, eh? I'm standing here now, and that's all you're going to get! But as Holmes has asked me a question, I have to answer him. I guard only the Key, and I have nothing to do with the Sing Wa. In fact, they've never even shown an interest in finding the truth of God, since they have a Devil of their own."
Holmes nodded, "Then everything is put in its proper place, and the case is solved."
That nearly put Peter through a spastic conniption fit. "What?!"
"I said, I have solved the case. Asmodeus has nothing to do with this, but you are free to handcuff him if that is your inclination. I would feel amused to see the sight of an Angel doing something not in the ordinary to get out of the predicament of confinement, considering that they are already confined."
Asmodeus looked at him with an odd expression . "You? A skeptic that would put Randi to shame, believe that I am an Angel?"
"I deal with facts, and as I have observed when viewing my current client, I see qualities that have no other explanation. For one, you have no shadows, when your physical location demands one. Whether you serve Heaven or Hell, I would imagine that Angels have a source of illumination denied to mortals. I also notice that we are faintly illuminated and that our shadows face the wrong direction. There are no other visible sources of light that would explain what I see with my senses, and it is the visible source of light that would dictate the location of shadows."
Peter noticed these details himself, "You're right."
Holmes smiled sadly, "I have seen proof of such things that would defy my view of reality, but sadly enough, I shall forget what I have seen, just as I shall forget my client when this is done."
"Why?" that seemed to intrigue the Angel.
"I must have both a trained and childlike mind to function as a proper detective. Depend upon it -- there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones. This is a useless bit of knowledge."
Holmes returned to the hospital alone, as Peter felt that he needed some sleep aided with a few beers. Holmes' own body felt a need to wrap up some more personal issues, which had brought him here. Ray, the Chicago policeman, had recovered on his own with very little memory of his episode. As the Gnostic priest had predicted, Ray had made his own internal decisions and acted accordingly.
The Canadian Mountie had also arisen, but was not quite in the same world as most other people. He had chosen to remember his experiences, but remained alone, as he could not talk with anyone else about them. Alone, he approached Holmes.
"Mr. Holmes. I hear you have solved the case."
"You gave me the crucial evidence, by burning the Root of the Devil's Foot."
"Forgive me for saying so, but I wish I had never done it." He shuddered, "They tell me it was only a bad drug experience, but the things I saw . . . "
"You saw yourself?"
Fraser stared at him in shock.
"I too smelled the smoke of the root. I know from personal experience what you saw. I saw the manner in which I will die, and knowing the man in question, I have no doubts that I will meet that end. It is all very logical. But the question is, does the root open your eyes to truth beyond the normal sight of our eyes, or is it like hemp, which is used to open ourselves to ourselves? Many artists use hemp or alcohol for that very reason; to touch their sources of creativity." He didn't mention his own use of cocaine, which he knew was very illegal in this time and place.
"All so very logical, but I don't know how to interpret what I've seen when they were very real to my own senses. What if the world is functioning without working senses?"
"Then I would not envy your position, being the only one in the world with knowledge where the world sees only an ignorant bliss. As Gregory, the Gnostic priest, said, 'Ignorance is bliss, and knowledge can be painful; it is up to the individual to make the choice.' You must make your choice."
The Ancient was the only one remaining outside the door when Holmes was finished talking with the Canadian and allowed him some rest, which the man would probably not get in any event. "You are like the clam or the dragon, showing many scales on the outside but hiding the true treasure inside."
"I have been described in many ways, old man, but never like that. I believe you are alluding to the fact that you believe I am hiding something? Detective Caine accused me of the same thing."
"I do not allude to that. I allude to the fact that you are as the Shaolin, and have arrived at the truth on your own, without need of temples, masters, or holy pilgrimages. You have many qualities that I still envy."
"What would thase be, if I may ask?" Holmes spoke out of sheer curiosity.
"Why, you see what is there, and do not see what is not there. That is not what made you a good detective, but rather why you were good at being a detective."
Being a modest man, Holmes did not pursue that track. "Be that as it may, I believe that there is something else you have wished to say for a long time, but have not."
"You looked as if you had recognized me."
"Oh, but I do, but as you do not recognize me, I believe I must remain silent until the time is right. I do not know if the time will ever be right."
"I see." Holmes chose not to pursue that either. He could recognize a hint when he saw one.
* * *
Fraser was soon found 'fit' enough to walk the streets once more, though Holmes knew that the man's inner struggles had just begun and would stay inside. The man had more of a barrier between emotions and body than a Norwegian.
Once Fraser was released, Holmes explained his conclusions, especially since nothing new was placed on the table. "After traveling down all the convoluted trails of evidence, it is very plain what had happened. Johnson had helped the various Gnostics to kill themselves. The root was at the heart of the problem. It showed them what they wanted to see, and allowed them to see things that were very true, and part of themselves, that they did not want to face. They were not ready. It was their own colossal sense of guilt that precipitated the deaths. As one diary in evidence shows, there was a gradual decline from elation and hope to knowledge and despair. While in jail, Johnson reached the same conclusion. He wanted to die, and he arranged it for himself.
"Johnson was an agent of the deaths and a supplier of the root, having obtained it at a dear price from the Sing Wa, who use the root as a tool of assassination, which is a much more mainstream use for it. The Sing Wa have shown themselves in a manner that would only suggest that they were strategically trying to cover up evidence or create misdirection. It is most likely that they were the ones who killed the Chicago witness. Photos from the crime scene indicate that there are slight differences in the handwriting than those from the other murder scenes. It was most likely done by a Sing Wa member who had closely studied scenes from the other deaths.
"In summary, gentlemen, the death of hope was the murderer."
"What role did Asmodeus play in this?" asked Peter.
"Asmodeus? Who is he?" Holmes raised his eyebrows. "You might as well ask who Jesus or Santa Claus is."
Peter nodded, "You're not touching that with a ten foot pole, right?"
"What about the runes?"
"'Curiosity killed the cat'? Perhaps a subconscious warning or a overt one. Surely you see how the message and the one in English both fit the context."
Thus, a baffling series of deaths were considered 'solved'. The further questions were merely commentary.
Holmes lit his pipe outside.
"I'm very impressed. You solved the case in far less time than these modern cops would have." It was Sandric, jovial as usual, even though he'd returned from a place to which he apparently hadn't wanted to go.
"I believe that is why you wanted me to come here . . . Asmodeus. It is much easier to be a guardian when you don't have to guard a treasure from anything. I take it that Caine is either a very good actor, or doesn't know who you truly are. Answer me this. Why was it necessary to immobilize Kermit?"
"He was of a more dichotomous nature than Fraser, and shut himself down. I have a feeling that like Fraser, he will wake up even more disturbed than the Mountie. However, on the good side, he has the support of the elder Caine and the Ancient to point the way. The Mountie is stoic enough to avoid being an embarrassment even with such inner problems. He may have ulcers some day, but he'll handle it."
"I am ready to leave this place. I don't belong here."
"As you wish. Just open your eyes. It's all been a dream."
* * *
Holmes opened his eyes to find a needle in his arm. Watson was staring at him with concern, "Another moment and I would have feared for your life. Are you well?"
"Yes, Watson. I had a vision, perhaps based on a conversation topic that I seem to remember you bringing up, about the Japanese scientist and the cause of tetanus. It appears as if my mind was walking sideways."
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