Archive | August, 2017

THE CASE OF THE PRETTY GIRL

30 Aug

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden, Mr Holmes,” said Miss Ava Goodright perfectly seriously.

Fairies?” asked Holmes, “What do you make of fairies, Watson?” he asked me.

I paused for a moment when I tried to put the ridiculous into some kind of perspective.

It depends what you mean by fairies,” I concluded.

Oh, that’s quite easy,” almost whispered Ava, and as I looked at her I knew I’d probably believe every word she said. She was that kind of young woman, exceedingly pretty, immaculately turned out, hair and other feminine wiles done with casual perfection, and a smile most men would do anything for.

Fairies are little folk,” she said after a moment. “They are, of cause, magical and can perform wonders when they have to. And they can fly. They have the prettiest gossamer wings that they use to soar and dive through the skies and go round and round like a coronet or crown! They’re really rather special, and we have a family of them at the bottom of our garden.”

I could tell that Holmes was trying not to smile. Ava was so serious it would seem cruel to make mockery of her determination to make us believe in the existence of a life-force we had neither seen nor experienced in any way. And as everyone knows, Holmes exists via the gift of logical thought rather than fancy.

But…

I would dearly like to meet your fairies, Miss Goodright,” he said in all seriousness. “I have long given thought to the possibility that there are some unknown and unsuspected realities that exist on this Earth, realities that keep themselves so well hidden from the five human senses that they might as well not be there.”

Ava’s face slowly blossomed like a delightful flower might blossom when kissed by the newborn sun of a shining summer day. Her smile was rapturous and her eyes bright like twinkling stars in the night sky. I was enchanted by everything to do with her, and to my everlasting shame I found my mind wandering towards the nature of her undergarments as if I was still a teenage boy in the first flush of disgraceful enquiry. But it passed, thank goodness, and I smiled at her.

We will accompany you, my dear,” said Holmes crisply. “The train, I think, this very afternoon, from St Pancras.”

But Holmes…” I spluttered, trying to reverse the mischief of my own thoughts.

I will take no buts, Watson. This matter is of the utmost importance and needs dealing with. I am aware that Mycroft is due to call on me this afternoon to discuss matters of national importance, but I will leave a note with Mrs Hudson. He will have to understand that there are some things that are more vital even than the nation that protects us all! Meanwhile, you may need to wear something a little less threatening to the fairy folk. Watson, we will both wear shorts!”

I was flabbergasted.

Shorts?” I stammered, “but Holmes, I haven’t worn shorts since I was a babe in arms! And neither have you, I swear it!”

Quite, Watson, but we both have trousers past their useful prime and you, in your medical bag, have sharp scissors, I believe…?”

You mean…?” I spluttered.

Yes, Watson, you will cut the legs off our oldest pairs of trousers, mine as well as yours, and we will be at the station this afternoon by one thirty at the latest, wearing them! Now get to it, man, while I consult my book of the fairy folk and try to determine what they want of us!”

I didn’t say they wanted you, Mr Holmes,” smiled Ava, “but it would be really sweet of you to come with me and visit them. They will like that. But pray, what is your fee for such a venture? I understand that you are somewhat flexible when it comes to finance…?”

For you it will be absolutely nothing!” beamed Holmes in the least Holmesian way imaginable. “For me it will be a source of vital information that I will store in my mind and maybe even write a monogram about, and that may prove to be of more worth to me than the shillings you might have to pay me.”

You are too kind, Mr Holmes,” she bubbled.

It was before one thirty that same afternoon that Holmes and I in knee-length breeches trimmed smartly by myself, and in the company of Ava Goodright, stood on the platform at St Pancras as, with a great burst of steam and smoke, our train rolled to a standstill and the milling crowds rushed to the carriage doors.

Come!” commanded Holmes as he climbed into the first available carriage and took his seat in an empty compartment.

He looked far from splendid in his knee-breeches. My own snipping had been quite immaculate,for being a medical man I have been used to cutting more precious stuff than trousers, but his legs, starved of sunlight for all of his life, were pasty and tended to be knobbly in the region of his knees and consequently far from beautiful. My own, I’m sure, were equally disgusting.

You two gentleman look like the perfect escorts for a lady such as myself,” murmured Ava, “I do hope my fairies will be pleased to see you and that they even deign to break their silence and greet you! Oh, that I should have lived to see this day!”

It is our honour,” said Holmes gravely.

The journey, though short, was completed in silence on the part of Holmes and myself, though Miss Goodright chattered away, it seemed effortlessly, completing our education on the ways and whims of the fairy folk, providing such information as made me wonder at her sanity.

They visit me at night,” she whispered, “with their little wings all a-flutter and their faces filled with love. And they settle like angels on my bed and sing to me, the girl fairies in voices high and descant like angels and the boy fairies deep and bass like choirmasters in the church, and the hoary old men who sing there. It is so wonderful to hear them!”

And then she went on to describe their home, their ways of living, their meals, their friendships, even the tenderness with which they courted each other in the springtime of their lives, their whispered platitudes, their homely lusts.

Yet it is sad to think,” she almost wept as the train slowed down to our stop, “that their lives are so brief. They fall in love, they sing and dance, and then they die, and all within a year.”

It is indeed a cause for concern,” murmured Holmes, breaking for a moment into her monologue.

We arrived, before two thirty, at her home.

I don’t know what we were expecting but it wasn’t what we were taken to. Miss Goodright was, as I have made clear, particular about her appearance in every respect. Her clothes were immaculate and even the subtle fragrance that accompanied her was what I would call heavenly. I suppose we were expecting a mansion at least, a granite house that reflected her particulars. Yet her home when we arrived there … it was little more than a hovel made of splintered wood and with dusty windows that looked very much as though they were tear-stained by the lines made by seasons of rain that had run down them and not wiped away.

We are here!” she cooed, and then I knew what it was about her that so enchanted me. It was the perfection of her innocence, the sweetness of her belief, the beauty of her soul.

She pushed the door open and walked in, smiling as if she was entering the vestibule of Heaven. And she may have been for all I know.

Mother,” she called, “I’m home, and guess who’s come a-calling with me? Mother, do you hear, it’s the great detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes! And also his biographer, dear Dr. Watson! They’ve come to meet the fairies at the bottom of our garden.

But there was no reply, no warm response from a fond mater, just the silence of a tumble-down hovel and the buzz of flies.

Can you hear the fairies?” asked Ava, giggling sweetly at us, “flapping their pretty wings and flying to mother? They do love her, you know, they love my mother.”

Watson!” barked Holmes, suddenly, it seemed, in his own mind for the first time that day, “Come!”

And I followed him into the only other room in the simple home.

Ava’s mother sat where she must have been sitting for weeks or even months, immobile, incapable of word or thought or deed and bereft of life, and round her head like a vaporous coronet swooped Ava’s fairies.

Though to me and Holmes they bore a striking similarity to bluebottle flies searching for a bed to lay their eggs.

© Peter Rogerson 09.08.17

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THE CASE OF THE LIDO THIEF

28 Aug

They are opening a new lido today,” said Holmes unexpectedly as he twiddled on the tuning keys of his violin, a frown on his face. “This darned thing is out of tune and it’s got stuck,” he added.

What’s a lido, Holmes?” I asked.

Surely you know that, Watson?” he grunted, “it’s an open-air swimming pool where patrons can get the benefit of the sea or lakes without having to travel miles to get there.”

Oh,” I muttered, disinterested.

And I’m going there this afternoon,” he announced. “Everyone who’s anyone will be there and I have a notion that the latest wretch to plague London society might put in an appearance.”

You mean the Invisible Jewel Thief?” I asked.

I do indeed, Watson. The announcement has been made, and aware that there has been a spate of jewel thefts over the last few weeks it has been suggested that visitors intending to take a dip in the waters should leave anything precious at home. But you know what people are like. Being told to do one thing there are some who will do exactly the opposite because they don’t like being told what to do. It’s a human weakness and a boon to the criminal classes.”

You may be right,” I told him.

You can be assured that I am, Watson. It’s really quite elementary,” he replied with that assured smile that I have got so used to. “Now, Watson, prepare your swimming costume.”

Me, Holmes?” I spluttered, “I have never possessed such a garment and I can assure you I never will! There are some in my profession who swear by the life-giving benefits of a good soaking in cold water, but I’m not one of them!”

Then you will have to stand on the boundary and watch me,” he said. “Pray inform Mrs Hudson that we will be out this afternoon and ask her as sweetly as you can if she would mind preparing a flask of tea for our excursion.”

A flask, Holmes?” I asked.

Indeed. The one imported from Germany where such items are all the rage. They keep liquids at the same temperature even if they are in them for hours on end. I would have thought that a man of science like yourself would have been familiar with such things.”

I’m a medical man,” I protested, “and not exactly a man of science!”

We set out that afternoon for the opening of a lido some miles from town, but fortunately it was easily reached by train.

It was clearly going to be some occasion as crowds of people of all classes were making the same journey and trudging the same mile of so from the railway station to where an open-air swimming facility was decorated with banners and bunting, and a quartet was playing a variety of jolly melodies. The whole atmosphere was one of pure excitement and gaiety.

There were clearly delineated areas for women to enter the water and, if they could, swim, and these were set well away from the main area which, of course, was for men. One of the advantages of our advanced society is that temptation in the form of the unnecessary exposure of flesh to the opposite gender is prevented whenever possible, though I am aware that some common dancers in music hall exhibitions stretch decency a great deal too far.

After a light lunch, “I have my costume, Watson,” said Holmes to me, indicating his bag. “There are rooms for men to change from their outdoor clothes to their costumes, and I intend to avail myself of one whilst at the same time keeping my eyes open. Meanwhile, if you would, my good fellow, I beg you to watch the goings on at the poolside with equal concentration.”

Do you know what the jewel thief looks like, Holmes?” I asked.

He shook his head. “That is the very devil of it,” he expostulated, “it would appear that he … or she, we mustn’t be fooled into thinking it isn’t a woman … is the master of disguise. There was a robbery at the home of Lord and Lady Devere only last week and diamonds with a huge combined value were stolen, and yet the only visitor was a chimney sweep, and I was assured he went nowhere near the safe.”

Was the chimney sweep a boy?” I asked.

Watson! we’re not primitives! We no longer allow mere children to risk life and limb sweeping chimneys! No, this was a full grown man with brushes and a huge apron. His disguise, if I may be permitted to speculate, was simply that he was coated in a layer of unpleasant black soot.”

It would make the clean him hard to recognise,” I agreed.

And in another robbery the only visitor was a lady of high standing who herself was awash with gemstones and clad in voluminous skirts. But when I asked during my investigation it appeared that not one person could recall hearing the lady speak and consequently accepted the possibility of she being a he in disguise.”

It would seem that apprehending the criminal will be no easy matter,” I muttered. “At least it helps if we know the nature of the criminal!”

So keep your eyes open. I am going to change,” he announced. He then raised his voice so that anyone within ten feet of where we were standing would hear him quite clearly. “I am taking my antique studded cuff links and albert chain with its diamond fob with me, so they will be safe from any jewel thief who takes a fancy to them.”

Then he vanished in the direction of the changing room.

As he went I saw a figure detach itself from the crowd and follow behind him. Was this the jewel thief who has been troubling so many Londoners of late? If it was we were all in for a surprise, for this figure had the build of a child, maybe ten years old, maybe even younger, but it moved with the assurance of a shadow and it was clearly going after Holmes.

I was about to follow on and warn him when a second figure also sloped off in the same direction and with a purposeful determination that was highly suspicious. This time, though, it was apparently a woman. I say apparently because the figure was dressed as a lady of some standing with a fine expansive dress and extravagant hat. But, and this is what made my brow furrow, she was moving in such a way that her only destination would be the gentleman’s changing rooms, and no lady would surely never dare to enter such a place and hope to conceal her mistake from a single soul, such would be the outcry.

But she didn’t actually enter that room, but stood as close to its entrance as she could. Gentlemen entering with the intention of getting changed into their costumes had to push past her, and she didn’t move one inch to aid their entrance despite a huge number of frowns and scowls.

How rude,” I thought.

I must admit I took my eyes off everyone else and concentrated on the woman. She was easy to see, being aided by her hat to appear taller than most.

After about ten minutes she took a step away from the door, a laboured somewhat awkward step, and I sighed my relief that she obviously had no part to play in any jewel theft. But I was premature in my thinking, for like a demon from the depths Holmes appeared clad only in his shiny black swimming costume, and he grabbed hold of the woman and swung her round to face him.

So what have we got here?” he asked.

Get yer ‘ands orf me!” screeched the woman in a man’s voice.

Then Holmes did the unthinkable. With a single pull he dragged her expensive-looking dress off her and dashed it to the ground, revealing the child I had seen following Holmes into the changing room clutching on to what looked like a bespoke piece of corsetry round her waist and hanging out of sight inside where her outer dress would have been had not Holmes whipped it off her.

Here we have out jewel thief,” cried Holmes, “or should I say thieves!”

Then the truth dawned on me. The woman (or man dressed as a woman) was like the famous Trojan Horse, and acted as both a vessel for the child-thief to come and go undetected as well as a diversion, for many a man might be distracted by charms he perceives as feminine and not notice a snotty child with his hands where they shouldn’t be.

Come, Watson,” said Holmes once the two criminals had been carted off by a police officer, “after so much excitement I feel like a cup of tea.

He produced the flask Mrs Hudson had prepared, and miracle of all miracles, the tea was still hot and exactly as we like it.

© Peter Rogerson 07.08.17

THE CASE OF THE AFFAIRE DE COEUR

25 Aug

Holmes was in a strange mood. I’d never seen him like this before, and I’d seen him in some unusual moods over the years, to say the least.

Watson, I feel we should take a turn in the park,” he said, suddenly, out of the blue, and Holmes absolutely never took any kind of turn in any park unless he was on a case, and even then he usually preferred to go in some kind of outlandish disguise in his endless pursuit of evil.

What’s got into you, Holmes?” I asked.

He looked at me with that odd quizzical expression he sometimes adopted and then he shook his head.

If I were to tell you it’s certain that you wouldn’t believe me,” he said sharply.

Try me,” I suggested.

Watson, how would you react if I were to tell you I’ve spotted a particularly lovely young woman who enjoys a turn in the park and who appears to be on her own and possibly hoping to attract the attention of a bachelor?” he asked, eyeing me as if ready to pounce on any reply I might make.

I’d say about time too, Holmes,” I replied cautiously. “A man proceeds through life much better if he has a better half to concern him, to care for, to provide for. It’s a story as old as life itself. Mr Darwin expressed it particularly well in his little book.”

I’m not thinking of the long story,” said Holmes, “but of gratification, which is often a temporary thing. I seek it when I resort to cocaine to relieve the drab monotony of daily life, but I have become almost acquainted with a lady of decent standing who, as I said, enjoys a turn in the park on her own.”

Almost acquainted, Holmes?” I asked. “There appears to be a contradiction somewhere in the combination of almost and acquainted!”

It fits our relationship exactly!” he snapped. “I, er, I chanced to be on the park the other day, on business, you understand, meeting Mycroft under the willow where he wished to consult me on the efficacy of morphine as a means of forcing the truth out of the sort of villainous creatures as operate in the darkest recesses of human society, and when he had gone and I was left contemplating more deeply what I had suggested to him, what I might describe as one of the most radiant creatures I have ever seen drifted past me.”

Say more, Holmes. Describe her to me. I may, after all, know of her,” I suggested, more out of curiosity than because I actually believed it possible that I had attended on her during my working day as a medical man.

Twentyish, maybe a little older, I’ve never been what you might call precise in my assessment of the ages of the fair gender, blonde of hair and clad in a dress in the modern style, which is to say a little shorter than of yore so as not to pick up muddy stains from the recent rains, and floral in appearance, with little pink flowers decorating a lime green tone. Very pleasing. Very appealing. Very pretty.”

You say a great deal more of her dress than of her actual self,” I ventured, “and you still haven’t quite suggested what almost acquainted actually means.”

You are being tiresome, Watson,” he said sharply. “Now, are you going to accompany me on a stroll through the park or not? I might need your advice before I actually venture to approach the lady, for you define yourself as a man of the world and you have, after all, been married!”

I’m no expert, though, Holmes,” I told him. “There are some men who have a vast repertoire of experience when it comes to their conquests of the fair sex, but I’m afraid my own experience is somewhat minimal.”

That’s as may be, but I should imagine it’s more comprehensive than my own,” he retorted. “As you know, my own experiences have been of a, what shall I call it, cerebral nature. I have studied females from the point of view of crime, both as criminals, which they can be from time to time, and as victims, and not once given much thought to what I believe might be called their tender side…”

Nobody knows anything like all the answers when it comes to the fair sex,” I murmured. “The thing about them is the simple fact that they’re all different from each other. Yet they have some things in common, amongst them a firm belief in families and their offspring and a powerful wish to control the destinies of their men.”

He laughed nervously when I said that. “Control the destinies of their men?” he snorted, “What arrant nonsense! Men control their own destinies! It is what we can be most proud of! Look at me, Watson, I have no woman at my elbow, no little floral-scented delight in my heart, and yet I am in perfect control of my destiny! It is the most notable aspect of maleness!”

Get yourself a wife and see if you can still say that,” I told him. “Anyway, if we are to take a turn on the park it would be best if we do it now! I have a sense that there might be rain to come, and that’s one thing that drives both men and women away from walking in leafy bowers and enjoying the world of nature!”

Come then, Watson,” he almost shouted, and he pulled his cape on. “Would you say that I am shaved well enough?” he asked, nervously, “and is my appearance acceptable? Come, Watson, you can be honest with me over such matters. I would hate for my appearance to interfere with a closer and possible amorous acquaintance with the fair maiden.”

I was astounded. Holmes was surely smitten in a way I would have hitherto have thought impossible for him to be. It was against everything I knew of his nature. It was, I thought until that moment, an impossibility

You’re absolutely fine,” I said. “Now come on before the weather changes and let’s see if your lady is also out, also taking the air.”

It didn’t take us long to walk to Regent’s Park, and to my amazement Holmes was more nervous than I’ve ever seen him before, adjusting this or that, ensuring that he could never be described remotely as untidy in appearance.

My shoes. They are clean, Watson, are they not?” he asked more than once as he adjusted his tie with a nervous hand.

We reached the area that he said he’d been with Mycroft, and his pale face and odd nervous twitch told their own story of a Holmes so unHolmeslike that I was truly astounded. It was as if I was in the company of another man entirely.

Here she comes!” he hissed suddenly, and he seemed to seek the shelter of my own shadow as a woman approached from our left.

From a fair distance she was roughly how he had described her, having traces of blond hair escaping from an elaborate florally-inspired hat and a dress, not quite full in length, and as inspired by flowers as was her hat. And she walked along slowly, on her own, face turned up as if to catch the sun.

I have a problem, Holmes,” I said in the quietest whisper I could manage.

You have, Watson? Tell me: is she not the most ravishing creature you have ever seen?”

Holmes, what has happened to your famed deductive powers?” I hissed. “Can’t you see what is coming towards you?”

A fair creature,” he sighed.

Really Holmes!” I said, louder, “consider the care you took with your own appearance. Don’t you think that … madame Lestrade would have had a more thorough shave before putting that hat on?”

Why, Mr Holmes,” said the woman in Inspector Lestrade’s voice, “sorry I can’t stop to pass the time of day, so to speak, but I’m in disguise. There’s a mad man at loose, one as gets joy from displaying to ladies those parts of a man best kept hidden, and I’m after tempting him to flash in front of me before I arrest him!”

Really, Watson, what are we doing here?” snapped Holmes, “when rain is so obviously due! My lady doesn’t look as if she’s coming. Not at all! Maybe another day?”

Then he turned to the detective in a frock and nodded. “Good to see that you’ve got your best hat on, Lestrade, on a day lie this,” he muttered and stalked off.

Now what’s got into him?” asked Lestrade. “Good morning then, doctor,” he added, and sauntered off, the very image of a whiskery angel from Heaven.

© Peter Rogerson 08.08.17

THE CASE OF THE SPIRIT GUIDE

23 Aug

Now, Watson, I want you to give this your full consideration. What’s your opinion of psychic phenomena?”

Meaning what, Holmes?” I asked.

Mediums. Those who contact the deceased and convey messages between what they describe as two states of being. Seances. That kind of thing.”

My opinion, as you probably know full well, Holmes, is that those who claim to be able to communicate with the dead are charlatans at best and confidence tricksters in general,” I said. “When a person is dead I am afraid that he is dead. I’ve seen too many poor souls blown to pieces in needless conflicts to believe anything else.”

Yet you call them souls, Watson, and souls must surely belong to another universe,” he said, with an annoying smile on the corners of his lips.

It is a phrase, a euphemism, that’s all,” I told him.

Then you will be happy to accompany me to Sister Maria’s Paranormal Meet,” he suggested.

Who in the name of goodness is Sister Maria?” I asked, confused.

Listen, Watson. I have had a communication…”

Not from the dead, I hope,” I interrupted.

Don’t be silly, Watson. In this morning’s post I have had a communication from one Peggy Minecroft of this parish. She is a widow and has at her disposal a not inconsiderable sum of money that she inherited from her late husband Ernie, who had done well in leather goods. She has been informed that her late spouse wishes to communicate with her via the good offices of Sister Maria’s Paranormal Meet, and has beseeched me to discover whether it would be worth her while to invest a heavy sum of hard cash in such a venture.”

It’s a confidence trick of the worst kind,” I declared. “If there were spirits hovering here, there and everywhere, which I deny, then hard cash would be of no use to them at all seeing as it is currency used by the living in exchange for physical goods and not, I assume, the worth of such esoteric goods as white fluffy clouds!”

You maybe assume too much, Watson,” he said. “But with your approval you are to attend the Meet of Sister Maria this very evening, by appointment, in the company of a weeping widow woman.”

I am?” I ejaculated, “you could have asked me first! And who is this widow woman?”

I can’t hide it from you, Watson. With a little close attention with my razor and a fetching grey wig I can look the very image of a weeping widow woman if I don widow’s weeds,” he said, smiling, and, in an almost convincing falsetto, “I am so poorly, ma’am, poorly with fear of the future and needs to know…”

Very good, Holmes,” I muttered, doubtfully.

But that evening, and after considerable tutting and hawing, Holmes appeared before me in so convincing an appearance that even I thought that maybe he was no longer my friend but a bereaved soul in the very pits of grief.

Come on, Mr Watson,” he warbled, “I’ve a ‘pointment with a good sister and mustn’t be late for I needs to greet my Alfie an’ be guided by him…”

I think I’d already said it earlier in the day, but “Very good, Holmes,” I repeated.

The Meet, as it was described in a cheaply printed leaflet, was in the back-room of the Pince-Nez public house, an institution not normally visited by men of my position, but I have great reserves when it comes to lowering my standing in society for a case, and happily accompanied my weeping widow woman. And to his credit Holmes was playing the part well. He was bent over, the curls of his grey wig concealing much of his face and his gait that of a woman consumed by grief. As we walked into the Pince-Nez I found his leaning heavily on my arm, and stumbling as if his eyesight was dimmed by the presence of tears.

Don’t overdo it, Holmes, I hissed almost silently.

But he did nothing to reduce the debility of his grief.

There were a dozen or so others there, and to my chagrin I was the only man. The others were all women of a certain age, as they like to put it, and one or two were weeping, though none with the over-riding distress displayed by Holmes.

Then Sister Maria entered after a brief delay. She was a tall woman wearing a shawl and hat pinned neatly on top of a dark bob. Her face was the colour of an embarrassed blush, either through the injudicious use of make-up or from an unpleasant natural condition usually associated with the partaking of excessive strong drink.

Her accomplice, if that’s the right word, introduced her. She was a much shorter woman with a mean face and chiselled nose and chin.

Ladies,” she said in a wavering voice, and then, glancing my way, “and gentleman, let me introduce Sister Maria, our Clairvoyant for this evening. She has been consulted by kings and princes, and even our Prime Minister has sought advice on many occasions regarding a lost one. Is there anyone in this Meet who wishes to ask a question of the Sister while the air is thronging with the invisible voices of the dead?”

Holmes stood up.

I might have wept myself if I hadn’t know who it was. His voice, at first breaking as if with grief, was only just audible and I swear genuine tears were rolling down his cheeks.

I am called Peggy Minecroft,” he wavered, “and my better ‘alf passed over but a month ago, ‘e did. Oh bless me, my good sister, but I needs to know … ‘e left me comfortable, like, and it don’t seem right me hangin’ on to all that money, pilin’ it into banks and so on, when ‘e might want me to do summat with it that might do good in the world he jus’ left… ‘e was such a good man, carin’ for me through thick an’ thin ‘til the Lord took ‘im…”

You poor soul,” murmured Sister Maria with a voice so like a man’s I was instantly convinced that she was one.

“”Can you accost ‘im in the other world an’ ask ‘im?” asked Holmes, still weeping visibly. How, I wondered, can he produce tears in such a volume when he is doing little more than play-acting?

Give me his name, you poor weeping widow woman,” begged the medium, “and I will send my waves across the mighty void and seek him out for one in such desperate need as yourself.”

“’E was Ernie as ever was,” wept Holmes, “my own sweet Ernie, an’ he got that cough of ‘is, that ‘ackin’ cough, an’ the Lord took him barely a month since…”

Ernie, Ernie, are you there?” called the medium in a slightly more womanlike voice, the sort that might emerge from the mouth of a man feigning femininity.

Then the medium jerked in a huge spasm, her head rocked back and forth, and she spoke in a gruff, distinctly masculine voice. “Is that you, my own sweet Peggy,” it said.

“’Ere, you never called me that, not ever in my nat’rel!” squawked Holmes, “that ain’t you, Ernie, it must be some other Ernie…”

No, ‘tis me, Peggy,” intoned the medium, sounding, if anything, slightly annoyed at being challenged. “I am in the great beyond, and am cleansed from the way I was when we were bolted together in wedlock…”

Cleansed?” squawked Holmes, “tell me ‘ow, my Ernie, ‘ow was you cleansed when you was always allergic to water?”

I went into the great celestial river, and it washed over me and took all my old sins away,” intoned the almost irate medium. “I am not the man I was, Peggy, but a perfect version of the man I was.”

“’Oo would’a thought that!” screeched Holmes, then “what does I do wiv the money you left me, Ernie? The thousands? The piles of notes? What does I do wiv them?”

Trust Sister Maria,” soothed the tall cloaked creature whose head was still bobbing. “She will guide you … she will do everything for you and all will be well. It will be my guiding hand and she will go the right way. Trust me, Peggy. Now, is there anything else, my dearest Peggy?”

Yes,” said Holmes, “Ernie, where is it? I know we had loads of notes, but where did you secrete them for safety? Tell me where I can put me hands on ’em… I’ve looked bloomin’ everywhere an’ there’s no sign of any cash anywhere. I’ve even unpicked the mattress…”

At this the medium stood up, an expression of barely suppressed fury on her ruddy face. “You mean you don’t know?” she barked, “you mean you’ve come ‘ere expectin’ me to know where your dead man hid his wad ‘cause you don’t know? Well I don’t, and that’s a fact … and I need a drink! The Meet’s over for the night!”

At that she stormed off, out of the public house back room and into the bar where she ordered a very large gin in a voice we could all hear.

Well, that answers Peggy’s question,” grinned Holmes as we stepped back out into the street.

I’ve never seen anything like it,” I muttered, shaking my head, “a man disguised as a woman upstaging a man disguised as a woman! Incredible.”

But … what’s the word, Watson? Elementary…” he said.

© Peter Rogerson 06.08.17

THE CASE OF THE STOLEN ARM

21 Aug

It was a quiet time of the year, summer being upon us and crime being low. Holmes was racking his brain over a notice in the Times, of a grave at the church cemetery being dug in the night and robbed of an arm and why that should be important, when Lestrade arrived unannounced.

It’s one of the worst scenes I’ve ever witnessed,” growled Inspector Lestrade as he paced back and forth in the front room of 221b Baker Street.

Sit down, man, and tell me all about it,” said Holmes irritably. “I can do or say nothing to help if I’m in total ignorance. You might as well be talking about a muddy pool in East Grinstead for all I know.”

A murder,” breathed the almost shaking inspector. “And not just any murder…”

I see,” replied Holmes. “Who was murdered, and why?”

The best I can tell you is it’s a woman,” replied Lestrade. “and the only reason I can tell you that is because her feather hat was untouched by the fire and still next to her charred head. A tank in which fish were swimming around must have tipped over in the struggle and soaked the feathers.”

So the victim was burned to death,” murmured Holmes. “Nasty!”

Most unpleasant,” I interjected.

And what of the rest of the scene?” asked Holmes.

It’s been left exactly as it was found, and guarded by a constable whilst I came to consult you on the matter,” said Lestrade. “I know how particular you are to examine crime scenes before they’re interfered with by my men. And although I’m more than competent when it comes to solving most cases I may need some of your specialist skills with this one.”

Then we are with you, Lestrade,” barked Holmes, “Watson, your coat and my hat if your please. Lead on Inspector. I am at your service.”

We were taken in a police wagon to the outskirts of town where a large stone house was surrounded by police officers. At first glance there was little to mark it as different to any other large stone house in a street of such buildings, but on closer inspection there was evidence of fire damage, in particular to the windows of one of the rooms on the first floor. The windows had obviously been shattered, probably by the heat, and the shards that remained were blackened by smoke and tar.

Come,” ordered Holmes, and he walked swiftly towards the front door, which was swinging open. A police officer tried to intercept him, but at a word from Lestrade we were allowed to pass.

Inside, the house had a neglected feel to it, as though furnishings and the like were being used long beyond their useful life, and when worn, not repaired or attended to but made to linger on, untidily. I concluded that this was a house in which the rewards for honest toil were far from adequate.

A maid servant was in a parlour as we passed by, and I wondered as I glanced through the door why the household employed a woman who appeared to be dressed in a considerably ill-fitting uniform, for though she was slight and petite of build the dress she was wearing, and the apron, were clearly for a much larger person. Once again I wondered if there were financial problems within the household to explain the provision of inadequate attire.

Holmes grunted, and we climbed the stairs.

The room that had been devastated by fire was filthy with the remnants of that fire, with black dust smeared on and coating everything. And the smell in the air, it reminded me of the concentrated stench of roasting meat mixed with toxic smoke.

But that wasn’t what made me gasp in horror. On the floor, lying on what until recently must have been polished floorboards, was the unmistakable shape of a human body, blackened beyond recognition and smelling of the same smoke that had made the whole room stink. Incongruously, the large white feathers of a fashionable piece of female headgear lay next to the shattered remains of a fish tank and two dead fish lay next to them like Piscean signposts to a nether kingdom in which the dead live again.

The room was generally damaged. A cocktail cabinet complete with glasses, decanters and a couple of bottles, stood testament to a kind of normality. Next to the bottles was the barely legible brochure to a seaside resort, Scarborough I believe, though it was almost burnt to an illegible crisp.

Holmes became his usual analytical self as he moved around the body, peering close now and then before standing back and briefly taking in the whole scene, and then touching the black charred remains of charcoal flesh and what may once have been fine worsted clothing with a gloved finger.

Interesting, Watson,” he murmured. “What do you make of it?”

She’s dead,” I told him, “of that there can be no doubt.”

You’re right about the dead part, but I would challenge the she,” he rejoined.

There can be little doubt, Holmes, “I said, “No man would be seen out and about wearing a hat like that! Feathers ill-become the male sex!”

Ah, but look closely, Watson … and you, Lestrade. “The feathers are unburned. They’re not even scorched, and we are being led to believe that water from a fish tank accidentally extinguished any flames and prevented damage from further conflagration when feathers are amongst the most combustible things on Earth? Now, if you please, observe what we are meant to think of as the sad individual’s right hand. What do you see?”

I looked, curious in case I had missed anything, but nothing looked to be amiss to me. The withered, not quite totally consumed arm and hand lay in a natural position, gripping a walking cane as if about to take another step, and a fleeting image of an imagined other world sprang into my mind.

The deceased is holding a walking cane,” pointed out Holmes, “and not any old walking cane but one with a silver handle and worn ferrule. This was an expensive cane when it was new, but one that has seen better days as can be determined by the wear on its tip, and from a casual examination, bearing in mind its dimensions, the length of its shaft and so on, it must have belonged to a male of around six feet in height. A woman needing a cane would, if she could afford it, have a delicate stick, one manufactured for the lighter frame of a female. And whoever afforded this cane could most certainly have afforded the very best and most suitable and if the deceased was a woman would almost certainly have used a lady’s model.”

I see, Mr Holmes,” murmured Lestrade. “That makes sense.”

So I conclude that the corpse before us, though burnt beyond any kind of recognition, is possibly that of a man,” continued Holmes, “and that the fish tank and its contents were used by the killer (if killer there was) to confuse us, for the presence of the hat indicates that at least somebody might be lying on the floor in front of us.”

How can you say that, Holmes?” I asked. “It’s a man, I’d swear it!”

You will observe,” said Holmes, “that there is so little remaining of identification that even a doctor of pathology would struggle to find any trace of who the fellow was? Is that not true, Watson?”

I nodded. It is impossible to put an identity to charcoal unless there is other evidence present.

I believe,” said Holmes with a smile lurking on the corners of his lips, “that you will find that lump of charcoal is meant to be the master of the house who has has tragically spontaneously combusted. I further believe that it will be shown that he was a heavy drinker of spirits, which can be used as a possible cause of his sudden combustion. After all, gin burns with a hot and consuming flame.

I read it like this. We are led down a path. We see a pile of charcoal and assume that a man was incapacitated by drink, possibly from constant worries about debt, and the cheap gin was draining any wealth he had. His problems were driving him insane and consequently to the forgetfulness of strong liquor.

You will find his wife in a parlour downstairs, disguised as a maid servant because her own clothes were possibly red with a great deal of blood and gore discolouring them.”

So she killed him?” I could see that Lestrade was confused.

Nobody was killed,” announced Holmes. “Haven’t you been following me, Lestrade?”

Then what…?” he stammered.

This black shape, still smoking from the flames, was never a man,” said Holmes.

Then it was a woman?” suggested Lestrade.

Pig, maybe, or offal stuffed into an old suit,” mused Holmes. “But not a man or a woman.”

But why…?” asked a totally befuddled Lestrade.

Holmes smirked. “I’ve no doubt that when the coroner has finished with his task of deciding the manner of death the maid downstairs will emerge from her ill-fitting uniform, don a fresh disguise as either herself or her own husband depending on who the coroner decides is dead, and claim a handsome insurance payout on a tragic death before joining her husband elsewhere, possible, I believe, in Scarborough.”

So it’s just fraud?” demanded Lestrade.

But the fellow’s arm, Holmes,” I interjected, “it might be scorched badly, burned even, converted into ashes, but I’d swear it was a human arm!”

Remember, Watson,” he said, “I think there’s a little notice in The Times of a freshly dug corpse minus one right arm… It might be interesting to look into that, don’t you think?”

© Peter Rogerson 05.08.17

THE CASE OF THE OLD TRAMP

19 Aug

Penny for the Guy, Mr ‘Olmes!” chirruped a crude juvenile voice, and we were joined by an urchin as we made our way down Baker Street towards the tobacconist’s shop where Holmes was to buy the shag he loved to smoke.

I suppose I might have,” murmured Holmes, “and I’ll tell you what, Charlie, I’ll make it twelve pennies if you run a little errand for me.”

Cor, Mr ‘Olmes! A whole shillin’!” exclaimed he Holmes had called Charlie. “What is it, guv?”

I want you to go to Scotland Yard and get this message to Inspector Lestrade,” said Holmes, and he slid a folded sheet of paper into the rascal’s hand. “Here are six pennies, and when you hand it over to Lestrade he will give you another six.”

Cor! Coppers from a copper!” hooted Charlie, and he pocketed the coins given him by Holmes and ran off like a dusty, grubby and slightly aromatic wind.

What was that all about, Holmes,” I asked once the air had cleared.

I want Lestrade to look into something for me,” sniffed Holmes. “It’s his job and he’s paid to do it! But I am deeply concerned about the gentleman following us.”

I stood stock still and looked around. Baker street was, as usual, a mix of large-skirted matrons and weedy bowler-hatted gentlemen going about their various businesses. The road was being constantly churned by iron-rimmed wheels and the more delicate rubber of the odd motor vehicle, but both sprayed dust into the air. A seedy-looking pauper was crouched on the curb, begging openly and a woman passed him buy, dropping a small low-value coin into his upturned hat. One thing was not obvious to me and that was the possibility that we were being followed.

I see no one, Holmes,” I muttered.

Then you are not looking properly, Watson,” he said as if he was reprimanding a young child for carelessness.

Well, I couldn’t see the cove,” I said, moodily, and traipsed on.

You will have observed the vagabond,” murmured Holmes, “the gentleman of the road, as it were, the individual in a torn coat and with trousers that have surely seen better days? Sitting on the curbside, weeping?”

I looked again. The seedy-looking tramp was surely not weeping! But when I stared I was suddenly aware that he was. There was more than poverty distressing him, for paupers rarely weep because they are poor. There was something else, and it must have struck Holmes as being worthy of investigation, hence his message to Lestrade.

I shouldn’t think there’s much we can do for the fellow,” I said, sounding more sympathetic than I felt.

I would ordinarily agree with you, Watson,” he replied, “but don’t you recognise the man?”

I’m hardly likely to! I don’t frequent bars like his kind do!” I protested, “As you know I enjoy a small drink occasionally in a hostelry where people of his class never go! I’ll wager he’s weeping for lack of gin rather than something properly emotional, like the passing of a loved one beyond this veil of tears.”

So speaks a medical man! Just take another look, Watson: glance merely, don’t stare!”

I looked again, this time allowing my eyes to pass over the fellow as if I was looking at something important that was beyond him, maybe at the other end of the street.

There is something a little familiar about him,” I murmured.

Watson, be more careful and less circumspect! Why, man, you were shot in your duties to his mother!”

I was nothing of the sort!” I protested, “True, I was shot in the Afghan war when I was a surgeon hacking off shattered limbs, but so far British bullets have completely evaded me!”

It was the Afghan bullet I meant, Watson. Be a good fellow and take a third look.”

This time when I looked the tramp was staring directly at me and for an impossible moment, underneath the grime and whiskers, I thought I saw a familiar face.

Prince Arthur?” I whispered to Holmes, “He has the likeness of Prince Arthur, brother of His Majesty and son of the late blessed Queen!”

But what of his appearance, Watson? What do you make of that?”

He has the likeness of a royal prince but the cut of an urchin,” I said. “There are surely many who share that likeness, men blessed by chance with almost royal features. After all, the male face has a limited number of attributes and quite often like must coincide with like!”

I would agree with you but for one thing, Watson,” said Holmes, “and that one thing is that man sitting there in the gutter actually is Prince Arthur.”

Impossible, Holmes!” I ejaculated. “Dressed like that, and weeping openly!”

I had a message from Mycroft,” said Holmes, pulling me along so as not to draw unwarranted attention to us, “and he informed my that Prince Arthur has intentionally disguised himself as the lowest of the low in order to see how the lower orders survive in this age of plenty.”

They survive in music halls and gin palaces!” I told him.

No, Watson, not those. They have meagre coin for their entertainment and to help them towards oblivion, but they do have the coin. No, I believe the royal Prince wants to comprehend the hardships of the very lowest classes.”

But he’s a military man, Holmes, and no military man, surely, would sink that low!”

We entered the tobacconist’s shop and Holmes bought an ounce or two of dark shag for his pipe.

You are wrong in every perception Watson,” he said as we left the shop. “The streets are thronged with beggars who fought for Queen or King and country! It is the one shame that soils the name of our greatness as a nation, that we send young men, fit though often undernourished, into battle so that our rulers can have ever broader lands to reign over and riches to bring home, and on their return we offer most of them nothing but poverty, starvation and death. It has long been so, and it is a blight on our national name!”

And we have a Royal Prince enquiring by imitation?” I asked.

Lestrade will be along shortly and he will arrest the Prince, will take him off the street for his investigation is surely over and has learned first hand the fate of soldiers.”

Arrest him, Holmes?” I almost exploded, “arrest a Prince?”

It is one way of removing him secretly from the streets, Watson. There is no sign saying here weeps a prince! Every day his kind are taken, often drunk or with minds warped by narcotics, by the forces of law and order and locked away in cells until they are fit to rejoin the humdrum of life. There was a time, thankfully past, when they were hanged for appeasing their hunger with stolen bread, for goodness’ sake! But the Prince, being a military man himself, wanted to see what became of those who bled in battle on their return home, and see for himself. Look!”

A police wagon had drawn up to the tramp-like Prince as we spoke, and he was hauled, almost cruelly, behind its bars and driven off.

Nobody looked. Nobody muttered about it being a sad scene for a noble warrior to live by, just a dirty old tramp being taken out of their way so that the air they breathed was once again untainted by his stench.

And that was why he was weeping, Holmes?” I asked.

He was weeping for those who returned to their kin with pieces missing, legs or arms that you yourself may have amputated in a blood-stained field hospital in faroff battles. He was weeping for the way our nation cares for those who make sacrifices so that they rest of us can eat beef on Sundays and smoke our pipes in peace.”

It’s an eye-opener, Holmes,” I breathed, “it truly is.”

And yes, Watson, you and I, we can open our eyes and we can hope to see!” said Holmes thoughtfully. “There are some who can’t.”

The police wagon, polished and with shiny brass hinges, pulled away, and through its small grilled window I saw a pale face looking out. The grime of the day had already been washed or wiped away.

© Peter Rogerson 03.08.17

THE CASE OF A GYPSY CARAVAN

16 Aug

You’ll never know what you think about it unless you’ve had a real go at it, Watson,” said Holmes to me as he sat on the front bench of a borrowed caravan, reins in hand and with that self-satisfied smug expression he often adopted when he wasn’t quite sure of something.

But why a gypsy caravan, Holmes?” I asked. “It may look pretty in an idealised image of the good old days when men were free and children played in mud round their mother’s skirts, but today…?”

And today we’re off into the sunset, you and me, tasting the sweetness of your much vaunted freedom of old and finding out exactly what it’s like to sleep with very little between our fragile flesh and the stars…”

It’s not like you to be so poetic, Holmes,” I protested as we jolted long. “And talking of freedom, this jolting is beginning to affect my sit-upon!”

Then select another cushion, Watson, and breathe the free air,” he said, and he directed the horse to pull into a right turning, but had yet to manage accurate communication with that noble beast, and it continued in a straight line, ignoring the right turn as if it wasn’t there.

I’ll get the hang of it, Watson,” he hissed when I suggested I took the reins for a while.

I’ve had more than a little practise driving wagons,” I told him. “In service, in Afghanistan, I was the usual driver of the medical wagon. There are ways and means and skills to be learned…”

But Holmes was determined to master the horse himself, and to his credit I must admit that by lunch time he had managed to coax the beast into pulling our wagon to the edge of a patch of uncultivated waste ground where we could light a fire and prepare a light meal.

That was easy enough once I got the hang of it, Watson,” he murmured as he turned some sausages in a sizzling pan and added a handful of mushrooms. The horse that had reluctantly pulled us thus far contented itself with devouring a selection of greens from the hedgerow nearby.

I hope they’re not toadstools,” I muttered, having little faith in some aspects of the Holmes education.

Mrs Hudson provided them, and she knows her mushrooms,” he assured me.

Then maybe you’ll be good enough to tell me why you’ve got me and that horse in the wide open countryside with rain threatening and a cold wind getting up,” I said.

He laughed at me. “The trouble with you, Watson, is you lack the adventurous spirit,” he said.

I had enough of that in the wars,” I told him. “Afghan bullets take away the need for adventure, I can assure you of that. And if the bullet doesn’t then the subsequent fever does!”

He softened for a moment. “Yes, I see that, Watson,” he murmured. “You’ve adventured enough for any man.”

So why are we here, Holmes?” I asked as at first one then a dozen large drops of rain splashed down, threatening both sausages and fire.

I thought we both needed a holiday, and as Rover Bowless was laid up and his wagon and Nobby were going nowhere for the duration I asked if I could borrow the two of them, and here we are!”

Is that it? Just a holiday, Holmes? I don’t believe you!” I said. “And didn’t Rover Bowless die? That’s a little more permanent than being laid up for a while! After all, I went to his funeral.”

Ah, Watson, there are more aspects to funerals than are dreamed of in your philosophy,” he grinned.

Now you’re being your usual obtuse self! Surely a man dies, is placed in a wooden box which is then buried six feet down, and that’s a funeral,” I protested.

That would seem to be the sum of it, Watson,” he said. “But come … let’s get these sausages inside us, and a plate of mushrooms, before this rain soaks everything through! At least old Nobby has a bit of sense and is happy eating half the countryside whilst sheltering under that tree.”

You’ve hit the mark there, Watson,” he said, and we set about demolishing the pan of sausages before leaping into the caravan and sheltering from what was showing signs of becoming a steady downpour.

You were being cryptic about funerals,” I said when we had dried ourselves off, “and when you’re cryptic about anything there’s usually a story to be told.”

You knew poor old Bowless, then?” he said.

You know I did, Holmes! A ruffian, there’s no doubt about it, and he lived a hard life, but he had a heart of gold buried somewhere inside him.”

Rover was no ruffian, Watson! He was born a gentleman,” said Holmes, “the third son of Lord Hempsey of Bow. “And you know the system. The first son inherits the business, the second son enters parliament and the third son becomes a cleric and makes his living preaching.”

It was like that once,” I concurred, “though times have marched on somewhat.”

It still is in some families,” he said brusquely. “It takes no account of the individual and his capabilities unless one of them is truly a simpleton, and then he finds his way into an asylum for gentlefolk. Anyway, Hempsey of Bow is a fine example of the good old fashioned system, and true to form his eldest son, called Dandy, was put into training and eventually inherited the business and all the lands of Bow. The second son, Aldred, fought in the Indian wars until an unexpected blow separated his head from the rest of him … and the third son renamed himself as Rover Bowless, and took to the road with his beautiful, faithful dog, also called Rover.”

I didn’t know any of that!” I exclaimed.

And he was perfectly happy until his elder brother died during the cold of last winter. The Bow mansion might have had above thirty rooms, have fireplaces in all of them, but Dandy was little more than a miser and burnt little coal in his many hearths, and succumbed, as did many poorer people, to death that winter. It would have been better had he burned his riches in his hearth. Maybe he’d still be alive!”

It is foolish to challenge the elements,” I agreed. “And it was a cold winter!”

The rain battered down onto our caravan, which was snug and warm inside with a fire burning in a stove although the fire on which we had cooked our sausages was little more than steaming ashes.

The political Bow, you recall, dies some years ago in a scandal involving a call girl and a dose of the pox,” murmured Holmes. “And that left the third son to inherit all.”

I think I see…” I frowned. “All three sons dead…”

Almost, but not quite,” said Holmes, knowing that he’d left out the greater part of the story and teasing me with its absence.

I counted three sons,” I frowned. “What of Rover Bowless, then? He died too, and it was around the winter period.”

It was Christmas day,” confirmed Holmes. “He breathed his last on Christmas day. You can confirm that, for you attended his funeral. Remember?”

I can,” I said.

And now we get to the nub of the issue,” said Holmes, virtually twinkling. “We come to why I have borrowed poor old Rover’s caravan this fine but rather damp summer.”

We do indeed,” I said.

The answer must be obvious to you, Watson. We are delivering this cosy and some might say almost extravagant home…”

Extravagant, Holmes? I said, “it seems to be too rudimentary to be called extravagant!”

It is still relative luxury, Watson, and we are delivering it to the rightful owner, the Lord Rover Hempsey of Bow, where he will probably park it somewhere on his extensive grounds and occasionally spend the odd hour in it whilst he’s thinking of his poor dead best friend, the friendly and lovingly faithful dog that travelled with him down many a long road in this wagon, Rover, who he named after himself, of course…”

Ah, I see,” I mumbled. Then: “And the funeral?” I asked.

That was Rover,” sighed Holmes. “the man Rover thought it somehow appropriate to provide a funeral for the dog Rover. To give his best friend the burial he deserved, for that dog deserved to be honoured and was far more worthy of a good Christian burial than many a man who has crossed swords with me down the years, you can take my word for that…”

© Peter Rogerson 02.08.17