The Adventure at Baskerville Hall & Other Cases
THE ADVENTURE OF THE BLACKMAILER'S SECRET
Contrary to the documented account of the affair I have already laid before the public, my first meeting with Charles Augustus Milverton was not on a winter's evening in Baker Street. It was almost two weeks previously that I received a telegram one afternoon asking me to meet with him at 9 o'clock the following evening in the Red Lion public house, on the street of High Holborn.
The name meant absolutely nothing to me. Since arriving in London I had had several anonymous sexual encounters with other men like myself in various locations around the city, always being careful to schedule such excursions for evenings when Holmes was absent or closeted in his bedroom and I would be safe from his scrutiny. I had likewise always been careful not to give my real name, and I believed that nothing about myself was distinctive enough to make me easily traceable – there are many moustached ex-military men in the capital after all. Nevertheless, my first thought on reading the telegram was that it was one of these anonymous men who had somehow, against all probability, managed to track me down and wished to meet me. It was for this reason that I said nothing to Holmes when I left that evening, and also for this rather frivolous reason that I regret very much to say that, at the outset, I failed to appreciate the gravity of my situation.
I made my way to the public house and succeeded in engaging one of the private alcoves. Milverton arrived punctually, and I quickly realised that not only had I never seen this man before in my life, but that something about him made my very skin crawl. A short, stout man, I put his age at around fifty or so and his fixed smile and seemingly benevolent appearance did nothing to alleviate my instinctive dislike of him.
"Dr. Watson, I presume", he smiled suavely at me as he removed his shaggy astrakhan coat and settled himself in the seat opposite.
I refused to acknowledge the rather feeble witticism, which I had already heard several times since Morton Stanley had made his famous remark.
"And you must be Mr. Milverton. How may I help you, sir?" I asked stiffly, keeping a firm grip on my manners despite my revulsion to the man opposite.
I cannot bring myself to detail the conversation that followed – it went from bad beginnings to worse. Furthermore, I confess openly that I am too embarrassed by my blindness in my initial assessment of the man's character to wish to recall my foolishness more than is absolutely necessary.
Suffice to say that he claimed he had obtained some compromising material, which implied that Holmes and I were engaged in a homosexual affair, but that for a trifling sum he could be persuaded to return the document to me. While the idea of intimate relations with Holmes did not disgust me (on the contrary), it was regrettably not the first time that we had had this accusation flung at us by various elements of the criminal underworld. There was not the slightest scrap of truth in it and likely never would be – to which unfortunate fact I was resigned by now – but this was no deterrent. So when this odious little man implied, with many sidelong glances and an unwavering polite smile, that he had obtained proof of an imaginary affair between Holmes and me, I am afraid I dismissed his words rather lightly.
Offended as I was by the topic of conversation, I brought our discussion to a rather abrupt end. When I rose to leave, Milverton narrowed his eyes at me behind his fussy little gold-rimmed spectacles.
"I fear, Dr. Watson, that you are not treating this matter with the seriousness it deserves," he said, his smooth veneer showing the tiniest of cracks. "We shall meet again in a few days, and I hope very much that I shall find you of a different opinion."
Infuriated, I leaned back down, bringing my face closer to his than was strictly polite and using my height to tower over him. "Do not ever dare to contact me again, sir," I growled at him in an undertone, conscious of the attention we were attracting from the other drinkers in the establishment. "If you bring your lies and foul insinuations to Baker Street, rest assured that I will personally thrash you within an inch of your miserable life."
* * * *
Despite his words, I dismissed the incident entirely from my mind as the hollow threats of a petty criminal, secure in the knowledge that any document he claimed to possess was surely a fiction created to cow me into
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