Archive | October, 2017

THE CASE OF THE BULGING BULLSEYE

30 Oct

My main concern, Watson, is crime and the apprehension of criminals,” said Holmes over breakfast, “and at the moment we seem to be in a somewhat monotonous lull.”

That is, perhaps, a tribute to your success, Holmes,” I said, “the fact that all the major criminals are safely behind bars or dangling on the end of a rope means they’re not on the streets disrupting the affairs of ordinary folk!”

You may be right there, Watson, but it does nothing to cheer me up! I like to be on the case, pursuing evil wherever it may be and not stuck in here with my boiled eggs and toast and a whole day of inconsequential nothing in front of me.”

We should get out, Holmes,” I told him, “this new century has so much to offer the man of mental agility. We could, perhaps, go down to the river and watch the active young things in their regatta. There are bound to be unclaimed patches of turf where we could settle and maybe even have a picnic. I quite fancy some smoked salmon with, maybe, a few ripe tomatoes and a bottle of something French and fizzy!”

Such luxury, Watson! And what of me while you’re providing yourself with all the ingredients for a bout of chronic indigestion or your first heart attack?” Holmes could sound quite sarcastic when he wanted to, and that’s exactly how he sounded now.

There’s something about youthful energy, forcing the blade of the oar deep into the flow, heaving the boat forwards, winning the race,” I told him, “and you may be interested to know that this year they have included a ladies race! Think of that! All those powerful young things wearing the modern line in reduced skirts…”

Positively indecent, Watson!” admonished my friend, “ladies are perfectly all right in their place, organising balls, planning menus, doing all the things they’re so good at, but I swear … rowing boats on the river? That’s a young man’s sport if ever there was one, and always will be because of the more delicate cut of the female body, as you, being a man of medicine, must know full well!”

As a man of medicine I am fully aware of the strength in womankind,” I told him, seriously. “A man may fall ill with a malady that is so contagious that his wife catches it as well, yet if there are no servants around it is she who will look after him rather than the caring be the other way round. He will linger, moaning in his bed while she scrubs floors and attends to his every demand. No, Holmes, you underestimate the females of the species, and by a wide mark too.”

Be that as it may, rowing is no way for a delicate flower to spend her energy when there are domestic delights for her to attend to.” Holmes was adamant and I could see I had little chance of persuading him. But I tried one last tack.

It is at gatherings like the one today down by the river that many a petty criminal puts in an appearance, and you know, Holmes, that it is only a matter of time before some petty criminals promote themselves into a more major league. A dedicated criminologist would probably find more pleasure in apprehending a pick-pocket on his first outing than he would if faced with a desperate thief equipped with all the latest gadgets and a pocket of explosives!” I said quietly.

By golly you’re right, Watson!” he barked, and he leaped up suddenly, spilling toast crumbs onto the table cloth. “I will attend this function with you, and while you’re guzzling your champagne I’ll be casting a wary eye on who does what and to whom. If nothing else it will enlarge my knowledge of the birth of the criminal mind!”

With such delight on his face and shining in his eyes as he contemplated the advantage his already masterful experience might have on the apprehension and the correction of antisocial behaviour before it becomes dangerous, Holmes accompanied me to the river. I carried a basket in which we had the makings of a decent picnic, including a bottle of champagne. There are several areas down by the river where the grass is kept short by constant foot traffic and a couple of rather plump goats that wander from time to time from their normal confines in the land sweeping down from a large house set in its expansive picturesque grounds, well back from the river. We spread a blanket before us and sat down.

Holmes frowned. “This could be more comfortable with a proper outdoor chair each,” he said, “you know, one that folds for easy transportation.”

And an army of servants to carry everything,” I said pointedly.

Touchè,” he admitted. “Now for the main course. It’s refreshing to see so many families enjoying the open air, the sun and the river and I’ll be bound that amongst then there are scoundrels intent on theft and other nefarious activities when nobody’s looking.”

It’s all so peaceful,” I sighed, and it was. True, there were several children engaged in childish games, running and jumping and calling at each other in shrill voices, but even they were a delight as I reclined with my head pillowed on a rolled-up towel, and sighed with contentment.

This brings to mind an occasion from my boyhood,” murmured Holmes, with his eyes shut. “I had what must have been a nasty dose of influenza, my physical state ranging from shivering with perceived cold even though I was close to the hearth, to perspiring with heat as I sought to cool myself by moving as far from that same hearth as I could. We even had a cold floor-covering of linoleum in the room where I languished, and I recall resting my head on that, for the cold. My mother was the only other person at home, my father being, I believe, abroad at the time, maybe supervising some aspect of the Empire, and by then I seem to recall that Mycroft was already at University…”

And this break by the river reminds you of illness?” I asked, astounded.

No, not precisely that, but do you see that boy over there?” He pointed at a lad of about ten and with a bulging cheek. “I watched as his mother gave him a huge boiled sweet, what we used to call bullseyes, with peppermint flavouring and big enough to threaten to force our mouths to burst! Well, I must have been recovering from the influenza and my mother returned from the shops and gave me a bag containing several bullseyes! And I somehow managed to enjoy them all, one after the other.”

Ah, I see! Were you, maybe, about the same age as that child?”

He nodded, and reached into his pocket. “Now for the silly thing,” he said, slightly nervously, as he produced a bag containing what must have been identical sweets to the one the boy with the bulging cheeks was sucking on, “my mind even then told me that I was recovering from the sickness anyway, but I associated that recovery with the bullseyes! I attributed my recovery to them! And always, since then, whenever I have felt under the weather for one reason or another I have bought a bag of bullseyes as a cure!”

Really, Holmes,” I laughed, “we doctors would soon be out of business if all it took to render the influenza dead and buried was a small bag of boiled sweets.”

Not so small, Watson, not so small. Here: have one of mine. They’re delicious!”

I know, Holmes,” I said, taking one.

I was eventually rewarded by the appearance of the ladies race, a couple of elderly boats with a diminutive woman in each as a cox and about half a dozen Amazonian females with rippling muscles, well exposed legs that totally failed to titillate me, and complete with oars. I’d hoped this race might prove my point about the suitability of the female form, and to a certain extent it did, though Holmes failed to find any entertainment in the exhibition. Eventually one of the boats started to sink, not the fault of the rowers I’m sure, but some malfunction of their craft, and at that point he closed his eyes and sucked another bullseye.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon basking under the sun, sucking several bullseye sweets until the bag was empty, and I’m convinced that for half an hour or maybe even more Holmes dozed off. At least, if he didn’t his mind must have been elsewhere because he totally missed the pick-pocket who was trying to slide the Holmes watch out of his pocket when he thought nobody was looking, and might have succeeded had I not rapped him with considerable severity on the knuckles with the business end of my cane.

That taught the scoundrel the advantage of honesty, I hope. At least, he ran off howling and nursing what was probably a painfully chipped bone.

© Peter Rogerson 14.09.17

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THE CASE OF THE GOLDEN SOVEREIGN

27 Oct

Holmes and I had just spent a quiet night sleeping in the cabin of the narrow boat we had hired for our case of the smuggler’s ship on the river. The smugglers that we had been employed to drive into the arms of Authority had set off at the crack of dawn and, as their own more modern vessel passed us, it spluttered to a standstill as a consequence of non-petroleum products mixed in with its fuel, and drifted powerlessly with the flow of the river until it was out of sight. There was a confused noise of shouting and gunshots as the revenue men boarded her.

Meanwhile, we both enjoyed a hearty if cold breakfast.

Shall I put some sticks of kindling in the fire-box, and light it?” I asked, supposing that Holmes would be only too happy to get back to Baker Street.

If it pleases you, not yet,” he replied slowly. “I have a memory from my childhood that might fascinate you as my self-appointed biographer,” he added with a smile. “I spent my childhood with my parents not too far from here as the crow flies, and when my father was away on business my mother found a range of fascinating occupations with which to entertain Mycroft and myself. Mycroft, you understand, was then and, of course, still is, seven years older than me, so it was no easy matter for a woman on her own to find activities that appeal to, say, a seven year old and his fourteen year old brother at the same time.”

I should think not, Holmes,” I grunted.

Well, one summer she announced that we were to go for a journey by train into the country in order to collect a basket of blackberries in order for our cook to produce a few jars of blackberry jam, which has always been among my favourites. I was delighted, but Mycroft could see little point in that kind of adventure when, he said, jams of a wide variety of fruits are readily available in the village store.”

Always the practical one, your brother,” I contributed.

Quite,” said Holmes, thoughtfully. “Anyway, my mother, the dear woman, had to threaten him with the birch and he only grumpily condescended to accompany us when he was reminded how skilled our father can be when it comes to corporal punishment. In order to placate him my mother gave him a gold sovereign for his trouble, and you know how valuable a sovereign is!”

He still likes his gold,” I grunted, knowing how well the Government rewarded Mycroft for his valuable work on its behalf.

Quite so,” nodded Holmes, “and to bring my account to a conclusion let me explain what Mycroft did when we reached the area my mother had chosen, one where wild blackberries grow in great profusion, not far from an ancient priory where there dwelt what looked to me like a coven of nuns.”

Holmes!” I protested.

Anyway, my mater planned for us to walk round a particular field, attending to picking ripe blackberries as we went, and Mycroft was still being grumpy and generally disagreeable despite his sovereign. The blackberries were both plentiful and delicious, and we picked a good basket full by the time we were half way round the field when I spied Mycroft fidgeting with something golden in his hands, the sovereign, as if he had some devious scheme of his own. You must appreciate that any man who works so closely with the Government as Mycroft does these days must have a devious streak in his nature! And as I watched him I saw him as he lodged his valuable coin in a crack between two crude and unplaned fencing joists.”

To what purpose?” I asked, my curiosity aroused.

It was clear to me that he was going to create a scene in which he claimed that awkward climbing across styles and fences had dislodged his sovereign from his pocket, and it was lost. Mother, in her frustration, would most likely offer him a replacement after searching his pockets, and then, with a second sovereign in his possession he would secretly retrieve the first from its hiding place.”

Cunning,” I nodded, “and bordering on the criminal!”

Precisely, Watson,” agreed Holmes. “But, you understand, I saw through his plan and it was a simple affair for me to remove the sovereign from its hiding place when he wasn’t looking and conceal it somewhere completely different.”

Which you did, I suppose?” I grunted.

Again, precisely,” grinned Holmes. “And that replacement niche for gold was in a crevice of a fallen, rotting tree near the entrance to the field. And, you know, it is less than a mile from here and it has crossed my mind that we might see if it is still there forty years later!”

If the tree was rotting then it will certainly be rotten now,” I argued.

Come, Watson! We need the exercise, cooped up in Baker Street for half our lives! And, as I said, it isn’t so far from here.”

And it wasn’t. I knew we couldn’t be far off when we passed a couple of nuns in their full habit, women I would probably have judged to be harsh of countenance had I been able to see more than their eyes. After we passed them Holmes almost crowed his delight when we climbed into a field over a rickety old style.

The rotten tree!” he pointed.

But the tree wasn’t alone. A woman was sitting on it, supervising two small boys who were running hither and thither through tall grass.

That’s exactly where my mater sat,” whispered Homes, “and in exactly that position!”

And you were cock-a-hoop, like her scoundrels?” I suggested.

Much quieter, back in the 60s,” he smiled.

I’ll see what I can see,” he said to me, secretively, and he approached the seated woman.

Madam, you take me back over the years,” he said, politely, “to when my own mother brought me here with my brother, is search of blackberries.”

There won’t be any of those yet,” she replied, “not for two months at least. But I will probably return in the autumn for free fruits.”

May I … would you think it improper if I…” and he sat on the rotten tree and looked around at it for where he might have concealed the sovereign many years earlier.

There was a crack in this old tree trunk,” he explained, “and when I was a boy…”

But that would have been an age ago!” she laughed, “and this rotten timber hasn’t been here above five years! There was another one before it, though, that I recall, and that other one was very special to me for one day, when the twins were younger, little more than babies, I brought them here and sat on this very spot and, I doubt you’ll believe this, a sliver of the rotten wood fell to the ground and I discovered, inside its diseased pulp, a golden sovereign!”

How fortuitous!” I said as if astounded. “Just the one?”

She smiled at me. “Just the one,” she agreed, “and ever since then I have returned quite often in case my luck is repeated, for I have the twins, who are a mighty handful, and their father was slaughtered in the wars, though he did live long enough to return to us for a week before his flesh finally gave out. So if another tree were to yield to me another sovereign it would be more than welcome.”

A sorrowful story,” muttered Holmes. “Tell me of the boys’ father?”

He was a good man,” she sighed, “and he gave his life in the wars. He almost lived, but the poisons that were eating him eventually took him from me. He always said that if the army doctor, what was his name? Watson, I think he said it was, if had been able to continue his care for him he might well have survived. He loved that man, he did, and the care he took with him.”

Both Holmes and I rattled around in our pockets, and as if we were twins ourselves we each pulled a handful of coins and pressed them into her hands.

These are from your husband’s Doctor,” I said, almost choking.

And these are from his friend,” added Holmes, “come on, Watson, back to the boat before we miss the tide!”

And we almost ran off, lighter of pocket and heavier of heart as we climbed over the wooden style and out of the field, leaving a mother staring with disbelief at the contents of her two hands.

The country ought to take greater care of the kin of those who die for victory,” muttered Holmes. “I have often said that,” he added.

© Peter Rogerson 13.09.17

THE CASE OF THE SMUGGLER’S SHIP

25 Oct

This is the life, Watson,” sighed Holmes, lying on his hammock as our narrow boat slowly and majestically found its way down the river, with me at the helm and a faithful Birmingham steam engine plugging away so lethargically you got the idea it might stop at any moment.

So you’ve said before, Holmes,” I replied, “though to tell the truth I’m still not sure why either of us is here, why this boat is here, why this river is here and what we’re doing while we’re here!”

It’s peaceful, Watson,” he said, not answering my question.

It is, Holmes, if you can ignore the rattle and hiss of the engine, but the gist of my question was why are we here?”

Ah, Watson, the truth of the matter is we both need a break from the cut and thrust of life, and it was recommended to me that we hire this barge and spend a few days on the river where we will doubtless find ourselves free of any of the restraints forced on us by the City,” he murmured.

My suspicions were aroused. “Recommended by whom?” I asked, looking at him staright between the eyes.

Ah, there you have me Watson! Let me see … who mentioned boating on the river and the joys of steam?”

You know who, Holmes, you have a forensic memory!”

Then it will come to me,” he sighed.

Let me take a guess … it wouldn’t have been your brother Mycroft by any chance, would it?”

Holmes looked uncomfortable. “It might have been,” he conceded.

Not only might have been, but was!” I exclaimed, knowing Holmes and his brother only too well. “So what’s afoot, Holmes? Or is this truly no more than a wild goose chase after peace and harmony, neither of which we will find amidst the smuts from the chimney and the rattle of pistons.”

We can pull in shortly, Watson, and the engine can be allowed to cool down while we enjoy the twitter of the birds and the fragrance of the elder flowers that grow in such profusion here abouts,” he said, almost (but not quite) cryptically.

And what will we be looking for?” I asked, knowing there must be something. There’s always something afoot when Holmes breaks from his normal 221b Baker Street routine and does something uncharacteristic. And there was, in my opinion, nothing more uncharacteristic than this jaunt we were having on the river, going, it seemed, further down stream. I had a sudden and irrational fear of finding myself in the middle of the North Sea, lost in a tumbling mist and blanketing fog.

Nothing much,” he replied, “though Mycroft mentioned there may be a little smuggling going on, with rich rewards for the criminals who are bringing contraband into the country.”

I thought you had somewhat liberal ideas about smuggling, Holmes,” I told him.

It is the wealth of our country that’s at stake,” he said, louder, maybe even loud enough to be heard across the river. “Smuggled goods are, by definition, free of taxation, yet the smugglers sell them on as if tax had been paid, pocketing the difference! That way everyone’s being robbed: the original sellers, who probably had it stolen from them, the revenue office that would expect duty to be paid on the goods and the final purchaser who believes that nothing is wrong and buys what he sees as a perfectly legitimate bargain. And the smuggler makes a small fortune on the backs of all those losers.”

All right, I’m convinced, Holmes. But that doesn’t exactly explain why we’re here,” I said irritably, though, in truth, I had guessed.

We are to waylay the criminals until they can be apprehended, Watson,” he said, speaking as if we were a whole battalion ready for battle. “Now let me look at the map.”

He picked a slender volume from the deck next to where he lounged and flicked to what he considered to be the appropriate page. “Ah,” he muttered, pointing at something I was in no position to see, “we are all but there! Just round that bend ahead you will see a jetty and with more than a little bit of luck there will be a seaworthy craft tied up there. That should be the smuggler’s craft and we will have the simple task of disabling it.”

Simple task, Holmes? Do you know how to disable a steam engine?” I protested.

Possibly, but this one should be driven by an internal combustion engine, which presents us with fewer difficulties.”

How fewer?” I asked, the despair of ignorance certainly showing on my face.

You are aware of the workings of the internal combustion engine, Watson?” he asked, adopting his schoolmastery pose and addressing me as if I was a stupid schoolboy in need of a good thrashing.

Vaguely,” I replied uncomfortably.

Then you will be aware of the elementary way that petroleum fumes are ignited by a simple spark, thus providing an explosive force that is utilised by the engine in order to propel the vessel?” he asked.

I nodded.

Then you will also be aware that any non-explosive additive that is mixed with the petroleum, let us say water or a derivative of water, will totally disable the engine and render the vessel immobile?” he smirked.

I nodded again.

Now don’t be peevish and childish, Watson! Here, I have brought with us a quantity of fine ale in bottles. In order to celebrate we will pass the criminal’s vessel and tie up ourselves just round the bend beyond it, look here, on this map. It’s not a proper jetty but I have it on good authority that it can be used as one perfectly safely. But when we are secure we will celebrate by supping this ale and enjoying the rest of the day.”

Sounds too good to be true,” I told him, remembering to lace my words with a great number of sarcastic undertones.

You will enjoy this, Watson,” he grinned, and he climbed off his hammock. “There!” he pointed, “steer the vessel to that point over there!”

We did eventually get tied up, our ropes taught against the small current of the river as it flowed remorselessly towards the distant ocean. Then Holmes opened two bottles of ale and passed me one, together with a stone-glazed tankard that had come with the boat.

The ale did taste good, and the tankard helped with my appreciation of its flavour and hoppy body. Before long Holmes passed me a second bottle.

For your patience and forbearance, Watson,” he said, and we both languidly sipped a second pint. This, I was beginning to think, was the life!

Did you take note of the fuel tank on the criminal’s vessel as we passed it?” asked Holmes suddenly.

No I didn’t!” I protested, “I had all on steering this vessel!”

Then it’s just as well that I did,” he murmured.

Well that’s all well and good,” I replied, “now let me enjoy the remainder of this pint before I have to slip onto the tow-path and into the undergrowth in order to dispose of it behind a tree.”

Not behind a tree,” grinned Holmes, “our task is to disable the smuggler’s craft and we will do it by unscrewing the filler from the fuel tank on the ship and, er, emptying our bladders into the tank!”

What?” I exclaimed, horrified.

Fear not, Watson: there is nobody on board. It’s but a short walk to where it is moored, there is a plank leading to its deck, all nice and easy and presenting us with no problems, the tank is just there, right before us, and all we have to do is unscrew its cap and … you can imagine the rest!”

Half an hour later we had done as he described, and such is our sense of decorum and modesty that it took that long as we both, in turn, emptied what had become uncomfortably full bladders into the tank, but kept a decent distance from each other as we did so.

Then we returned to our own boat, which was no ,longer producing smuts and smoke as the fire had gone out, and helped ourselves to a third pint each of the fine ale that Holmes had brought with him.

I hope that does the trick,” I mumbled.

Oh, it will,” Holmes assured me, “They will get so f ar on the petroleum that is already in the pipe, and then they will try and fail to get the engine to pull on well-digested ale as fuel+, and it will go nowhere until Mycroft and his nautical chums turn up to tow them to jail. And your part in this adventure will be mentioned in dispatches, Watson, you can be assured of that!”

© Peter Rogerson 12.09.17


THE CASE OF THE SMOKY CELLAR

21 Oct

There’s a new entertainment in town, Watson, and I’m thinking of giving it a try,” said Holmes suddenly whilst he was in the middle of consulting his edition of “Who’s Who” in search of a commander from the Boer War who had failed to pay his account.

What’s that, Holmes?” I asked, curious as to what Homes should feel he needed to do in the field of entertainment, either as an entertainer or the one being entertained. “It’s not like you,” I added, “to feel the need for any kind of entertainment. Are you, perchance, intending to call in a Music Hall in order to see which of the girl dancers can also sing with a pleasing lilt to her voice or has the best looking legs that she is happy to flash in order to satisfy male lusts?”

Don’t be disgusting, Watson!” he snapped back at me. “The entertainment I have had recommended to me is of a far more cerebral nature! Apparently, in one of the better clubs…”

You mean the Diogenes?” I asked, being fully aware that the Diogenes club is the one frequented by his brother Mycroft when he wasn’t in his office in Government and that Mycroft had called earlier that day.

Could be,” he conceded. “Anyway, it would appear that every Wednesday evening before nine they have a session set aside in the back room for inexperienced entertainers with a musical bent to sing for the benefit of their fellows. Mycroft explained what they do. There is a gramophone and a selection of recordings of popular melodies, but with just the accompaniment engraved in the groove. Therefore, when it is wound up and played there is no voice, just a piano or quartet accompanying what amounts to silence. They also have a magic lantern that projects an image of the words of the song that is being accompanied, and members of the audience take it in turns to sing, getting the words, of course, perfectly right because of that magic-lantern projection!”

Sounds a bit low-brow for the Diogenes,” I commented.

Maybe, but it fascinates me. It would seem that the magic lantern operator has great skill at casting the words on a screen so that their appearance exactly matches the music being played! Anyway, Watson, I am going there this evening!”

I’ve a feeling there’s more to this than you have said,” I muttered. “It’s not like to you to lower your tastes to music hall melodies when you’ve got a perfectly good violin with which to torment the neighbourhood!”

I find that a tad unfair, Watson,” said Holmes, assuming a wounded expression. “My violin is one of the finest on this planet of ours, and I learned at the school of one of the finest violinists of the Victorian era. I would beg you to be less critical. But you’re right in the essence. I do have what you might call an ulterior motive for attending the Diogenes this evening. Mycroft has warned me that a master criminal from the far east, from Japan in actual fact, will be there with the intention of stealing something of great value.”

Really? And what might that be?” I asked.

Holmes shook his head. “Mycroft wouldn’t say,” he murmured, “but if he is concerned then it stands to reason we all should be concerned. The Japanese are a cunning lot when they put their mind to it and it is quite possible that some high carat diamond will be on display, maybe encrusted in a cigar case or other manly piece of equipment, and that the Japanese criminal will have his eyes on it, waiting for an opportunity to be off with it.”

So it’s a case?” I asked.

Sort of,” he replied airily. “Mycroft asked that I keep my eyes open, that is all. So are you with me, Watson? To the Diogenes club this evening?”

If I must,” I replied, sounding as reluctant as I felt.

The Diogenes club is a place where no woman has ever stepped, except when it is closed, to clean the debris that gentlemen leave in their wake whilst sitting in comfort and discussing with each other the latest cricket news or political machinations over far too many brandies and a pipe or two. But at all other times a gentleman can feel at ease in the club with not a breath of femininity anywhere near, able to, maybe cast the odd humorous comment about this or that lady with no fear of being misunderstood or his intentions misinterpreted. Not that it is frequented by men of a truly misogynist persuasion, for if that were the case most of the more influential men in the city could be described as misogynist.

We arrived and were escorted into a dingy back room by a waiting servant in tails and wearing a fine top hat, one that, in my opinion, needlessly exaggerated his place within society. The back room that Holmes had mentioned was, in fact a cellar that smelt of a heady mixture of fragranced oils and damp. It was already quite crowded, and besides the aforementioned scent the air was rich with tobacco fumes from both cigars and pipes. In the middle stood a table on which was set a gramophone with the most magnificent brass horn I have ever seen, and next to it a magic lantern that added to the general fume of the place with a trail of oil smoke that found its way out of its polished silvered chimney.

The servant at the table was also dressed in a smart tail suit and wore one of the tallest and shiniest top hats I have ever seen. All in all, the place was almost grotesque.

Right, gentlemen,” he called as Holmes and I took our seats and were served with brandy by yet another smartly-tailed servant, “Let us commence with a trip to the garden with Maud…”

Then, like a scientist making an exciting demonstration of something out of this world, he turned the handle on the gramophone and wound it up.

Next he set the gramophone turning, carefully placed a new steel needle onto the disc and filled the smoky air with the unmistakable sounds of Come into the Garden, Maud played by what sounded like a string quartet. It was quite magnificent if not, perhaps, the least bit on the fast side, and then he placed a slide into the magic lantern and the famous words of that wonderful song were just about discernible on a white screen.

The time for entertainment had come.

A fat man stood up and forced his way to the side of the room where there was a small raised stage in a position that wasn’t too far from the gramophone and from which he had a good view of the screen, and he started singing the song.

He ruined it, though he didn’t realise that.

The thing about music of all kinds, including the singing of songs, is that a certain amount of ability and expertise is essential, and this portly man had neither. But no matter|: he seemed to satisfy the rest of the audience who would possibly have applauded anything, even maybe silence.

This is dreadful, Holmes,” I whispered.

Shush, Watson!” he commanded, and pointed.

A gentleman, dressed as appropriately as everyone else, was sitting just to one side and making careful notes on a pad of paper. He was quite obviously of oriental origin but looked nothing like the criminal I had been expected, for he was small of stature and pleasing of appearance with a ready smile for all who went his way.

That’s it, Watson,” hissed Holmes, “come, if you find this entertainment beneath you, we xcan go now, the problem is solved,” and he stood up.

I followed him out of the club, grateful to be out of the dense fug of the underground cellar.

We returned to Baker Street on the first cab we could hail, and Mrs Hudson informed us that she’d just brewed a pot of tea.

We will enjoy that, Mrs Hudson,” said Holmes, and he turned to me.

What did you make of the evening’s entertainment, Watson?” he asked.

Not much,” I said, “and I was only too pleased to get out of that dreadfully smoky atmosphere. But what of the Japanese criminal in search of a high carat gemstone?”

Oh, he was there all right, but not after any kind of gemstone,” smiled Holmes. “You must have seen him taking notes. I fear he will return with those notes to Japan and in the fullness of time the poor inhabitants of that Eastern land will be introduced to a heady mixture of magic lantern script and gramophone music. He wasn’t after anything precious, like gemstones, but an idea! You know how the Japanese are when it comes to adapting and improving the ideas of others. Maybe he will turn the cacophony we were subjected to into silence!”

It’s a hope,” I murmured.

Exactly. And when they’ve refined it I wonder what they’ll call it? A fancy oriental name, maybe after the Diogenes club do you think?”

Or something truly eastern-sounding,” I laughed, “maybe like karaoke, maybe?”

© Peter Rogerson 11.09.17

THE CASE OF THE BEACHED SKELETON

19 Oct

You’ll do yourself permanent harm with that muck, Holmes,” I said to Sherlock, who was busy vomiting into a bowl and generally looking like death warmed up.

It’s not the cocaine, Watson,” he managed to force out between explosions of noxious vomit, “I must have caught something.”

It still can’t be good for you,” I informed him, as if he didn’t know.

It sharpens the mind, Watson,” he muttered feebly, “and if all you want to do is lecture me then you might as well go to your surgery and lecture the rich old women who visit you every week only to be told they’ll probably live for another few days if they do what you tell them before shaking off this mortal coil…”

My consultations are nothing like that, Holmes!” I snapped. “The trouble with you is you make an appalling patient!”

He was about to reply when Mrs Hudson knocked the door and pushed it open. She took one look at Holmes and said, without too much sympathy, “You ought to see a doctor, Sherlock.”

He is a doctor,” muttered Holmes, pointing at me.

He doesn’t take any notice of me, Mrs Hudson,” I said, despairingly.

Well, you’d better sort yourself out post haste and get rid of that…” she pointed at the bowl Holmes had been emptying the contents, it seemed, of his entire frame into. You’ve got a visitor, and by the look of him he’s a potential client who doesn’t appreciate being kept waiting.”

Holmes waved his hand in the direction of the offensive bowl. “If you’d be so kind, Watson,” he said to me, almost wearily. Then: “Send him in, Mrs Hudson!” he ordered, a fresh vibrancy replacing the feeble self pity of his voice.

I did as I was bid, thankful for the water closet in our bathroom. Meanwhile, Holmes draped himself in the softest of our easy chairs and waited.

The potential client, if that’s what he was, came scurrying into the room. He was a little man dressed formally in a decent morning suit and carrying his bowler hat in one hand. He wore a monocle and had bristling eyebrows that seemed to be a natural accompaniment to it.

Mr Holmes?” he enquired, looking at both of us in turn.

I am he,” replied Holmes, suavely, “and I presume you are fresh from the coast where you have been learning something of great advantage to you in your trade as an anthropologist with an interest in the evolution of the human skeleton…?”

You know of me?” asked the monocled man in a certain amount of confusion.

It is elementary deduction,” murmured Holmes vaguely, “much as you have taken great care of your appearance, not wishing to look in any way dishevelled, there is a patch on you left knee where you have been kneeling in sand, some of which has adhered to the fabric of your trousers, so it must have been moist. Also, I detect from the corner of a publication sticking out of your jacket pocket that you are acquainted with Phileas Green, who has published several interesting articles on the subject of human evolution…”

I am Phileas Green,” he told Holmes, “and your deductions are, in every respect, quite right.”

Then what may I help you with?” asked my friend, his lips twitching to the extent that I was fearing a fresh outbreak of vomit.

We have found bones at Bognor,” said Mr Green. “On the beach, there is a skeleton, almost intact, and it is the opinion of the local constable that it must be an ancient object, predating criminal law by many centuries, and that it was probably left on the sea bed after some tragic accident since time immemorial. His supposition is based on the fact that the skeleton looks to be that of a hominid that is different from mankind in several important ways.”

Such as?” prompted Holmes, “after all, if it is the skeleton of a different species, maybe some great ape or chimpanzee, the local constable would hardly be involved as any judgement he might choose to make could have no bearing on any crime I can think of.”

That’s why I’m here, Mr Holmes,” said Phileas Green, “I know a great deal about the evolution of the skeleton, both in humans and non-humans, and the constable will not take it that I am right in this when I suggest that the artefact looks wrong. I beg you, Mr Holmes, please offer me your advice, not as an anthropologist (though I know you have some expertise in the field) but as a scientist and student of detection!”

I would have thought that any police officer, be he a humble constable or a great inspector, would happily take the advice of the renowned Phileas Green,” said Holmes generously. “But tell me, what is your opinion?”

I am at a loss,” sighed Phileas, “I have pondered long and hard, and the skeleton, though complete and washed up by a mischievous high tide, looks like nothing I have worked on in the past. If it is a new species to science it is a truly wonderful discovery that will advance human knowledge quite considerably, but somehow I don’t think it is.”

I had best be honest with you Mr Green,” said Holmes quietly, and I noted what almost looked like a green tinge to his complexion, “but this morning I have been most unwell and feel it would be wrong for me to accompany you to Bognor until I have recovered from whatever it is that has afflicted me,”

Cocaine, I whispered under my breath, and Holmes, hearing it, frowned at me.

However,” he said to our guest, “I believe I can help you. I believe that the solution is in our hands here, with no need for Watson and I to take a long train journey.”

If that is possible…” murmured Mr Green doubtfully.

Correct me if I’m wrong in my assumptions, but is the creation on the beach intact? Is every bone where you would expect it to be even though it has the appearance of an alien humanoid?” asked Holmes.

You put it exactly,” nodded Phileas Green,

And are the bones all nicely smoothed and polished, as would be the case after having spent a long time on the sea bed, with waters and sands moving against them, wearing them down?” asked Holmes.

Mr Green nodded again.

And yet they lie there on the sands ready to be discovered at a time when the foremost expert on the subject is in town?” asked Holmes.

Another nod.

Then let us look at it like this,” said Sherlock, “the bones will have been washed up, if that’s what happened (which I very much doubt), and would be randomly scattered on maybe several miles of sandy beach and it would take more than a miracle for them to reform to make a recognisable whole?”

I see what you mean…” exclaimed Phileas Green, “that the whole thing, because of the neatness of the recreation, is a hoax?”

Holmes nodded. “And the hoax has been contrived to be at a beach where Phileas Green and his eyepiece are in the vicinity,” he said, smiling. “I fear you are intended to be in the vanguard of a trick, Mr Green, and can be either intended to laugh at the joke and exclaim its brilliance, or, by seeming to believe it, brought down in the eyes of the scientific world and maybe henceforth referred to as a charlatan. Your reaction, sir, will be considered most important by whatever scoundrel has tried to deceive you.”

Mr Green looked troubled. “I see,” he said slowly, “but what should I do?”

Holmes smiled broadly. “Return to Bognor, my friend, and tell the constable that you have considered his joke and find it most humorous. Tell him you will write it in a paper so that all intelligent men can laugh along with him, and he will become renowned as the officer who proved that Phileas Green can tell a man from a collection of unrelated bones on any old beach!”

Phileas Green nodded slowly. “You are right, he said in conclusion, I thought there was something a little bit strange about that constable. Now you explain things to me I know what it was. It makes me sick to think about it!”

Please, don’t mention that!” spluttered Holmes.

© Peter Rogerson 10.09.17

THE CASE OF THE PRIEST’S GOLD

16 Oct

The case that I’m about to embark on is quite sensitive, Watson,” Holmes said to me with that serious expression on his face that rarely bodes well.

Many of them are,” I told him.

This has to do with the Brough Street boys,” he said, quietly, no doubt afraid that Mrs Hudson might hear and pass it on in gossip.

The Brough Street Boys? Who might they be?” I asked.

Do you know Brough Street, Watson?” he asked.

I shook my head.

I rather thought not. I doubt any of the residents of that dark corner of London Town could afford the services of a medical man such as yourself,” he said. “Most of the men down there have a hag for a wife, upwards of ten scruffy urchins to support and very little honest work with which to pay their way through life. Brough Street is the last port of call for many before the workhouse!”

Sounds pretty dire,” I murmured.

Dire it is! Well, Watson, Lestrade of Scotland Yard has called on my assistance. Apparently two contradictory things are happening at the same time. Firstly, there has been an increase in petty crime in the surrounding area. Small but valuable things have gone missing, items of jewellery treasured by fashionable ladies who are fortunate enough to live in magnificent Georgian homes but at the same time unfortunate enough to have Brough street as a near neighbour.”

That thinking condemns all in an area to a common criminality, and is unworthy of you, Holmes,” I told him.

I understand, Watson, and I’m sure that you’re right, but it would seem that a large group of boys, most of them of school age but repeating truants, are responsible. Some will cause a distraction whilst others do the thieving and everything seems to be orchestrated by a devious criminal mind.”

I see. But you mentioned the sensitive nature of the case, and the antisocial behaviour of a group of vagabonds is hardly sensitive,” I said.

So we come to the second element on Brough Street,” muttered Holmes. “There is a church at one end, built no doubt as an attempt to spread some sort of good word amongst the paupers of the area, and Lestrade is convinced that every boy who lives on that street attends that church regularly, though at irregular times, and that there must be a connection between the thieving and the faith! I can’t see it myself, unless the priest is some kind of perverse Fagin, delighting in profiting from the activities of wretchedly criminal boys.”

But he’s a man of God, Holmes,” I protested.

Then I feel he and his church need looking into,” decided Holmes. “I would like to think that as a man of God he is looking after the eternal souls of those boys, but it has crossed my mind that he may be more a man of the devil!”

I can’t see that, Holmes,” I rumbled.

Then let us put it to the test, Watson. I have booked a cab for ten o’clock and would be delighted if you accompanied me! Your foresight and trust in the basic good of priests might come in useful!”

And so it was that we found ourselves at St Dennis’s church in the region of Brough Street later that morning.

It was a most depressing area, back-to-back terraced dwellings, all so clustered together it was a miracle that there was even room for a family in any of them, yet the street was awash with youngsters, playing simple games with make-do equipment and exuding a sense of deprived semi-starvation and a general escape from the accepted norms of hygiene and cleanliness. I noticed with surprise that they were mostly girls and that someone, their mothers I presumed, had made some attempt at washing their tatty clothes, but to very little effect.

The road itself was unmade and our cabbie stopped at the end of it and called down to us, “this is far as I go, Mr Holmes. Old Ned can’t be expected to pull us on a surface so full of pot-holes as this.”

That’s all right,” replied Holmes, and he jumped down. I followed him.

As luck would have it the church was at the end of Brough Street where we were standing, and Holmes, after requesting that the cabbie wait for us, walked purposefully into the building.

There was a hushed sense of people. We stood at the back of the main part of the, nave. At the front, or the other end, a cleric in his robes was surrounded by a group of boys, all looking up at him with rapt attention on their faces. In contrast to the white-robed cleric with his spotless vestments, they were scruffy urchins, but hushed as though learning some deep lesson.

There’s gold,” said the man, beaming at them, “a precious metal created by the good Lord in the beginning, and useful to those who wish to join him in Heaven when their time is up. And we all know, don’t we, lads, just how temporary life on Earth can be. There can be few who haven’t witnessed a love-one pass away.”

One boy stuck a grubby hand up. “Sir, my dad were ‘anged but a month ago,” he said, proudly. “Is ‘e wiv the good lord?”

Much depends on what he was hanged for, Davey” said the priest, “but hearken, my good fellows! A handful of gold is worth an eternity in Heaven and is measured against all the ill that we do when our time comes. Little Timmy just here, he managed to acquire a splendid gold pocket watch only last week, and when it was melted down it made the Lord enough pounds and shillings to teach little dark boys in Africa all about him…”

What about that sovereign I … found?” chirped another boy.

Ah, Freddy, that was special!” beamed the cleric, “and I’m sure that all the bibles it paid for are all on their way to the dark continent even as we speak. But listen. What do you boys know of diamonds?”

They’re like glass,” suggested one squirt of a lad, “but they reckon as they’re harder…”

You are so clever,” beamed the cleric, “but hush, my friends, I have just spotted that we have visitors standing at the back of the church! We mustn’t share our secrets with them now, must we?”

Holmes, having been detected, marched to the front of the nave.

Have I heard right?” he demanded, “have I just heard a lesson in theft? Is it possible that a man of God is encouraging the waifs and strays of this parish to steal and rob? And there is so much that is wrong in the world, yet you are increasing the burden of wickedness manyfold!”

Sir, this is my church,” rasped the priest, “and you are intruders! Please leave, or I will order one of my congregation here gathered to fetch a policeman!”

I wouldn’t do that,” I advised him, “for the policeman might ask the opinions of Mr Sherlock Holmes, my friend and compatriot, and you will find it very difficult to gainsay his opinion!”

Sherlock Holmes, you say?” stammered the other, “well, let me explain. I have a fund that is used for the education of the ignorant in far off lands. Bibles are bought and paid for, missionaries are sent, good souls willing to save the eternal spirits of the ignorant. And that fund is being added daily to by the diligence of these boys here.”

Who rob and steal and are responsible for a major crime wave in this area?” barked Holmes, “and if it is wealth you are trying to gather, why not spend it on the very people who live in this parish? For I have seen evidence in the street outside this church of more need and hunger in this area than could possibly exist in much of Africa, where the people are generally happy and well!”

But the dark people, the Africans, they need to be taught about God!” explained the priest in tones that suggested he might be preaching to an ignorant child. “They need bibles,” he added, as if it was an obvious truth.

And your neighbours need sausages!” rapped Holmes. “I must inform your reverence that I intend to report what I have heard to Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard and he will send an army of policemen down here to examine every minute detail of your good works! Come, Watson, it is solved! The Priest is a Fagin as I suspected and the boys are deceived by carefully composed words!”

Then he stepped into the midst of the little gathering of ill-fragranced boys.

Your criminal behaviour must stop,” he ordered, “for if you carry on like you are I fear there will be more hangings than this poor boy Davey’s father had to suffer, and you will never find your way to any Heaven I’ve ever heard of.”

And we left at that, leaving behind a confused rabble of confused boys. The cab was still waiting for us and we were soon on our way back to Baker Street.

A very stupid priest,” I muttered to Holmes.

Ah, Watson, but it’s the boys we should sympathise with. And I do, I really and truly do.”

© Peter Rogerson 08.09.17

THE CASE OF THE HANGED MAN

13 Oct

It was unmistakable in the morning air, the almost inaudible sounds of a man crashing to his death as the noose of the gallows tightened round his neck. And then the sort of silence that is bred of an unnatural calm as the soul is supposed to be drifting on its way to Hell. It wouldn’t be Heaven, not for this miscreant! Hell would be his destination all right, if you believe in such a place.

He was made for the place. He was a killer. The judgement had proved it.

Holmes had been strangely quiet as we stood by our buggy next to the horse and gazed at the prison, waiting for the sounds that told us our waiting was over. The gallows had done their work and I detected that he was troubled by it. We stood there for a good half hour, each with his own thoughts, trying to shake thoughts of what can only be called legally enforced murder out of or minds.

A moment, Watson, I need to answer a call of nature,” he said in an almost unfamiliar strangled voice as he disappeared round a nearby corner.

Don’t let anyone see,” I taunted him, and waited for his return. The morning was chill, there was nobody else about and I shivered. I particularly hate prisons and the very idea of a man’s life being so cruelly terminated, but that was British justice and I supposed I preferred not to think too deeply about it.

Well, Watson, I wonder what he’ll be up to next,” murmured Holmes on his return as he climbed into our buggy.

In Hell you mean, Holmes?” I asked.

No, Watson: here on Earth.”

But he’ll be dead even as we speak!” I protested.

Let me point out a few insignificant little things you might have noticed as we waited for the appointed hour, small matters that may well be nothing in themselves but which add up to a great deal of doubt about the actual present condition of Smithson,” he murmured as I joined him on board and the horse was coaxed into movement.

Smithson, Holmes, is dead,” I said determinedly.

If he is then it’s a gross miscarriage of justice!” he said in his more acerbic voice. “He was innocent of the crime he was convicted for, that much is obvious and pours a great deal of doubt on the quality of British justice. The clerk too his own life out of shame, and poor old Smithson, who is guilty of many other offences over the years, was set up to look guilty.”

Then, if you’re right, it’s a shame he had to die,” I murmured, still quite convinced that Holmes was backing the wrong horse for the first time in his life. “The hangman will have made sure that he is dead, and the doctor will confirm it and, if need be, the priest will be asked for his opinion!”

Then what’s afoot over there?” pointed Holmes.

The prison in which the condemned cell had been constructed had a second gate, a service entrance I suppose you’d call it, and through it, with a guard ensuring that nothing was amiss as it trundled along, came a delivery wagon, one of those modern motorised affairs powered by a rather smoky steam engine and hissing as if it might be about to explode at any moment. It wasn’t, of course, it was just the appearance of uncontrolled power that gave that impression and unnerved me.

It looks like the rubbish,” I said, “even prisons have rubbish you know, Holmes, a great deal of it when you consider the number of meals that are prepared for the convicts to chew on.”

And other debris,” he pointed out. “but the dead don’t leave that way! And there are more dead than those hanged by law you know, Watson. Some even take their own lives, wishing to meet their maker rather than suffer the humiliation of facing up to their crimes. Others, even, reach the end of their natural days in a confinement imposed by a judge. But they are a different affair and that wagon contains only half putrid rubbish, and Mr Smithson.”

There you go again, Holmes. The man’s dead, I am sure.”

Attention, Watson. Listen: did you notice the beggar hovering not too close and not too far from the main gate this morning? You must have done because I recall asking you what you made of the fellow.”

I did, Holmes, but he went away after a while.”

You saw him go, Watson?”

Not exactly, Holmes, but I did notice eventually that he was no longer standing there. What’s he got to do with Smithson?”

A moment, Watson, pray. Did you, perchance, happen to notice the good reverend in his surplice and robes when he arrived and was swept into the entrance by a guard waiting specially for him?”

Of course I did, Holmes! I thought he looked very much like an imitation of your brother Mycroft. Maybe it was his, er, corporation!”

And did you ask yourself what a priest was doing arriving at such an hour when the prison employs one of its own for the care of the spiritually bereft in their cells? Why import a stranger, eh?”

If he was a stranger! He was a man of God, Holmes, and therefore stranger to nobody.”

What was, shall we say, special about him, Watson?”

What are you getting at, Holmes? He may have been a little on the portly side, such men are, for they do the rounds of their parishioners and eat cake in most kitchens, and drink a great deal of port, I’m told!”

Quite so, Watson. Tell me about the exotic lady of the night, the woman who gave every appearance of being a whore on her way home after a successful night’s business.”

I did notice such a creature, Holmes, and considered her to be as far from being a temptation ready to lure the frustrated man as any whore could be. She had an almost masculine look to her.”

That would be, Watson, because she was a man! There are some strange and exotic tastes amongst humanity and one of them is a twist of nature which encourages an apparently normal man to have desires of, what shall I call them, a peculiar nature. And Madame Shallot satisfies that group of men, being a man dressed as enticingly as a woman as he can. And while he was cavorting on the path opposite the prison gates, adjusting this or that item of clothing and exposing a great deal of pale leg in an apparently casual and needful way, far enough from any watching eyes for them to be deceived and consequently tempted by what they imagined they might catch a glimpse of, the tramp disappeared under the robes of the priest as he passed through the gates.”

Really, Holmes? Should the authorities not be informed? We can’t have justice perverted by such deceit!”

I would agree if it was justice, but Smithson did not commit the murder he was accused of, and to my certain knowledge has never murdered or even harmed another human being. His crime, Watson, was of a financial nature. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that one such as Smithson can accumulate wealth in much the same way as city bankers do, yet he is a criminal being pursued by the forces of law and order and they are respected and wealthy and honoured?”

Yet a judge condemned him, Holmes, and who are we to dispute the decisions of such a high authority?”

Pah, Watson! Judge McKiver gambled financially on a scheme designed to make him rich, but it failed whilst Smithson, whose scheme it was, became increasingly wealthy! So Judge McKiver believed that he had good reason to respond harshly when the matter came to court, and when the charge had the unfortunate death of a third party through suicide added to the offence and called murder by an overenthusiastic police department, he was always going to reach for his black cap!”

So what happened at the hanging then, Holmes?”

Don’t think any less of me when I tell you that it was a scheme of my own,” murmured Holmes. “It doesn’t take much to persuade prison guards to look the other way, and when they did the cell into which the unfortunate Smithson was due to drop with a rope round his neck had two additional personnel, the false priest and the tramp, neither being what they looked. For the priest was my brother Mycroft and, you must believe me here, Watson, I was the tramp!”

I stared at him. “You?” I stammered. “But you were here, with me, and urinating over there!”

He smiled again. “Plain simple me,” he assured me, “and you travelled all the way to witness this triumph in the company of Josiah Pomfrey who, you must admit, does look a little like me, though I really ought to give him elocution lessons!”

Anyway, we caught Smithson as he fell, removed the rope and went off with him before anyone was the wiser. You can imagine how grateful he was. They’ll wonder where his body went, but probably conclude that he was buried in the jail grounds by an overzealous guard in undue haste, and forget all about him. And they’ll hopefully forget to wonder about the unauthorised rubbish cart and its extravagant steam engine, though it will make a fine story to tell the kids at home on rainy evenings!”

© Peter Rogerson 0.09.17