THE CASE OF THE ROMANTIC DETECTIVE

24 Nov

I examined the envelope carefully and the strong handwriting bearing my name and address in Rome took me back over a great part of my life. This was unmistakably a missive from Sherlock Holmes and I was curious to know what he was up to these days, since his marriage to Annabelle, now Annabelle Holmes. I had written to him and was awaiting a reply, considering it impolite not to write again until I received one.

I held the envelope expectantly and then I opened it carefully, and there was his writing on several sheets of near perfect calligraphy that sloped in a clearly legible italic style.

My dear Watson,” I read, and as the words leapt off the paper it seemed that I could hear his voice in my head.

Many thinks indeed for the letter I received from you several weeks ago, and I must apologise that you have had to wait so long for my reply. I don’t want you to think me in any way remiss for not writing sooner than this, but nobody explained to me the delights of marriage.

You were shocked, I know, when I told you that Annabelle and I were to be married because, and this is perfectly true, we had only known each other for a few hours. But I am of a mind that it doesn’t take long at all for a man (or a woman, come to that) to make their mind up over even important matters, and the dedication of one’s life to another person is a truly important matter. Kings may reign, Prime Ministers serve, whole civilisations rise and fall, but the relationship of two people is more vitally important than any of those….”

“This is going to take a bit of reading if he’s being philosophical,” I thought to myself, and I poured myself a glass of red wine. It would come as some surprise to Holmes that I have taken to be a wine drinker, but when in Rome, etcetera … and I’m in Rome and anyway Italian wine is first class. I will send him a few bottles by and by!

I returned to the letter.

Annabelle is a true treasure, Watson. She not only fulfils the role played by our dear friend and late landlady Mrs Hudson, but she has taught me how to be a husband when all my existence I’ve lived the life of a self-obsessed bachelor. No, Watson, don’t protest when you read this! You know it is true. You must recall how I expected you to be at my side in difficult cases even though your dear Mary was at home expecting your return or even after her passing, when your waiting room was filled with patients in need of their doctor!”

“That is true, Holmes,” I muttered, “though you never quite appreciated how a friend can’t always be at your side when he has a life of his own to live.”

The letter called me again. I was curious to learn how Holmes was coping with someone else to consider other than himself. I read on.

You would be shocked were you to return to Baker Street, Watson. Upon entering the familiar front door and making your way up the stairs to our first floor rooms you would observe that little has changed, though dear Annabelle says that she has plans! But our own rooms, those we shared together during the long years of our joint toil now have what I believe is called the feminine touch, and there is rarely even a single sheet of paper or envelope out of place. It is quite amazing how different the room looks, and my violin (in its case) now has a special stand that makes it the centre of attention.

Do you recall how you often nagged me about the cocaine I used to employ as a means of concentrating my mental powers when I have a particularly hard problem to solve? Well, she has managed to convince me that in the long run the stuff may be doing my mind no good and possibly even harm, and I have voluntarily ceased turning to it for release from mental stress. Not that, in all honesty, I get much mental stress these days. I have few cases on my ledger, and those that I do accept occupy precious little of my time. I refuse to turn my powers to domestic issues like lost wives or recalcitrant husbands because that was never my trade, and yet that sort of issue seems to be the dominant one in my mail, though there was one case quite recently that intrigued me and that I called, in my notes, the case of the errant pig after I had dealt with ut! I may explain more should I see you again soon.

To tell you the truth, I consider myself to be retired from work. I have accumulated sufficient funds to see Annabelle and myself comfortably to the next world when our time comes. She has no offspring from her previous marriage and there is absolutely no chance that we will be blessed with such in this at our respective ages! And, you know, Watson, I don’t think I could cope with the disharmony of babies and toddlers. Even though my life is considerably less rigorous than it used to be, it still requires a certain amount of discipline.”

I grunted to myself. “If you consider the way you behaved at Baker Street as disciplined you clearly have no idea what the word means,” I muttered to myself.

Then I turned back to the letter. I did say that it was on several sheets of writing, didn’t I?

I felt the need to write to you in order to apologise for my lack of understanding when it comes to the way I was when you were wed to Mary. You see, what I never knew anything about nor began to understand was the intimacy that lies between a woman and a man when they have considerable feelings for each other. But there is such a thing as love, of that I am totally convinced despite the fact that I have, occasionally in the past, been cynical about its existence. And, Watson, I’m sure that I love Annabelle with all my heart, and will until the ending of my days. I dared say I will be writing to the already knowledgeable when I say we spend long minutes in the morning or at night whilst in bed and possibly half asleep discussing nothing very much, and reminiscing about moments that the other knows nothing about because we are still in the green years of our lives together. And there are other things that it would be imprudent and, indeed improper, for me to mention but that you will know all about from the way I refuse to mention them! But closeness and joy are involved, and such things have, I’m sure, made me a changed man!

But I am not idle despite the lack of cases. Under the encouragement of the sweetest lady I know I am resolved to compose a musical piece and fill it with what is going on in my heart. And it will rise, in its piquant notes, to a great height of living joy and fall in moments to the sleepy dreaming depths of sleep. That will be my gift to tomorrow, that, and maybe, a cleaner, calmer, more honest world as a consequence of my previous labours. A man must always dream that his passing through life is no negative thing, but that it offers a change to the affairs of mankind that is, to say the least, unique.

Well, that is me for the moment, Watson, and I will write again should any news cross my mind or any events be worth reporting. Until then, my dear fellow, I send my regards, and Annabelle, who is by my side as I write this, sends her love.

Yours ever,

Sherlock.”

“Well I’ll be blowed,” I thought, “who would have thought it possible? The man is clearly stricken by the bug of love. Best of luck to him, that’s all I can say, best of luck for today and tomorrow.”

© Peter Rogerson 02.10.17

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THE CASE OF A CHANGE OF NAME

21 Nov

This is very nice, very nice indeed,” murmured Annabelle Hyde as Holmes showed her into 221b Baker Street. I was standing on the landing as they entered, for I had seen them leaving the motor vehicle that must have brought them from the station as I gazed through the window. I had not been long back myself and, looking round, thought I might have spent the few moments I’d had putting a few of Holmes’ piles of clutter out of sight.

So there you are, Holmes,” I said, peering down the stairs that led to our first floor rooms.

Ah, Watson, you’re back,” replied my friend and colleague, “it’s good to see you again! How did your conference and your speech go?”

My thoughts were well received, as it happens, but it’s good to be back,” I replied. “Yet I have news you might find a little disappointing,” I added.

Wait, and we will join you in our rooms,” replied Holmes, “and then you can tell me all about it. Meanwhile, let me introduce you to a good friend of the later Mrs Hudson. This is Mrs Hyde, and she is here in part to help sort through our late housekeeper’s personal effects. I do believe she is of the opinion that two middle-aged men can have no idea as to the worth of female trinkets!”

I noticed the two words “in part” and wondered what the other part might be.

I think nothing of the sort,” protested the lady, “I am sure that Sherlock is fully au fait with most things, even those little things that we silly females choose to adorn ourselves with.”

The fact that she referred to him by his Christian name wasn’t lost on me. Very few people used that mode of address when referring to Holmes! Maybe only Mycroft, his brother, and myself on rare occasions. Other than that he was either Holmes or, where strangers and clients were concerned, Mr Holmes.

He allowed the lady to precede him up the stairs, another symbol of gallantry that he was usually blind to, and the two of them entered our rooms, which were, as I have already alluded, in their usual Holmesian chaotic state. I had not been back from my overseas conference long enough to do more than place my hat on the hat-stand and hang up my coat. I hadn’t even unpacked my suitcase!

How was Rome, Watson?” asked Holmes when we were all three seated.

I wanted to talk to you about that, Holmes,” I said. “You know my medical practice is little more than half a dozen elderly ladies afraid they might contract something unknown from spotty children playing on the streets? It’s not really enough to keep a doctor fully occupied…”

We have our cases as a diversion,” Holmes pointed out.

Agreed, but they’re not as plentiful as they once were, with no Moriarty left and half the criminals in London behind bars, thanks to your efforts, Holmes,” I said. “Anyway, I’ve been offered a chance in a lifetime and I intend to take it after fair consultation with you,” I told him. “It will mean me moving abroad…”

Abroad, Watson? You mean not in England? Not in London? You mean…”

Rome,” I said, trying not to flinch.

Then you must take the chance, John,” he said. “It will be the making of you and be some small reward for the way you tended to your lovely Mary…”

He called me John! Holmes called me John!

And,” he continued, “it will make my own news easier for you to swallow.”

You have news as well?” he queried.

You did, of course, receive my letter regarding the sadness of our losing dear Mrs Hudson,” he said.

I was shocked, but there was no way I could have got back in time for the funeral,” I told him. “I was already in Rome, which is quite a delightful city despite the huge amount of religion in evidence.”

Religion, Watson, is the main source of man’s greatest trouble,” muttered Holmes. “And I never expected you to be able to return in time. In fact I’m shocked that you’re back this soon: the funeral was only this morning!”

I thought it only right to have a chance to pay my respects,” I told him.

So we come to Mrs Hyde,” said Holmes, introducing the lady into the conversation for the first time. I looked at her and was impressed by what I saw. She was about the same age as Holmes (and myself, if the truth be told) yet had about her the beauty she had clearly displayed in abundance in her younger years, and her complexion was not spoiled by excesses of make-up. Her eyes, though showing a hint of the sadness we were all feeling, were none-the-less bright, and when she smiled her whole face lit up. As for her clothing, she was dressed simply yet fashionably, her skirt tending to rise above her ankles and she not bothered about it. A decade ago she would have been called a harlot displaying so much flesh, but today she is merely a beauty. I liked the look of her very much.

It’s good to meet you, Mrs Hyde,” I said.

Annabelle. You must call me Annabelle, Doctor Watson,” she said. Her voice was well modulated and yet it had a fascinating hint of the Scottish brogue to it. It was the kind of voice I could have listened to all day and found pleasure in the sound of it without needing to pay any attention to the meaning of the words she might utter.

Sherlock has spoken of you a great deal, as did Martha Hudson in her many letters to me,” smiled Mrs Hyde. “I believe you are a highly skilled medical man?”

I qualified as a doctor,” I told her, “and have endeavoured to keep up with the latest discoveries in the field of medicine.”

Then I will know who to turn to if I get pains in the chest,” she said, shockingly, but her face told the truth: she was teasing me.

And I will gladly offer you a vial of medication to calm it,” I told her.

Touché!” she smiled, and laughed. I was beginning to like Mrs Hyde.

Mrs Hudson and my good friend Annabelle were friends who communicated regularly,” Holmes said, breaking into our conversation.

He called her his good friend, yet they can’t have met more than a few hours ago, I thought.

It is true we are relative strangers,” he continued, addressing my unspoken thoughts, “but sometimes it takes a mere moment for a decision to be made. We travelled by train back to London together and the few hours taken by the journey were enough for us to reach an understanding. Mrs Hyde is…” he paused.

Going to replace Mrs Hudson?” I suggested.

He smiled that old impish smile of his. “Not quite,” he murmured, “Mrs Hyde is going to metamorphose. She is going to break forth from the constraints of widowhood and become Mrs Holmes!”

I was dumbfounded. If ever there was a confirmed bachelor it was Holmes! And now, in his middle age, he was planning to marry! You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather!

Golly me,” I spluttered.

© Peter Rogerson 01.10.17

THE CASE OF THE GRIEVING WIDOW

15 Nov

Doctor Watson was still in Rome where he was to speak at a medical conference concerned with the long term effects of conflict on damaged young men, and Sherlock Holmes was standing sadly next to a freshly-dug grave in the churchyard in Dumfries where his long-time friend and landlady, Mrs Martha Hudson, had been lain to rest.

It’s so sad, don’t you think,” said a voice at his elbow. The funeral service was over, he few mourners, and they had been very few, were drifting away, one here and one there, and he was bidding a last farewell to the woman who had cared for his life over many years, and then he intended to return to London and life without either Watson or Martha.

He looked round to see who had spoken to him.

It was a woman, maybe middle aged, maybe a little older, and there were trails down her face left by tears that must have flowed freely during the funeral service. And that face, thought Holmes, was almost lovely in a sad and mournful way. It shocked him when he thought that. It simply wasn’t like him.

Yes, it is, Mrs… er ….” he replied.

Annabelle. You can call me Annabelle,” she replied, “I’m not married, not any more, though some things never really end.”

It’s just that … I noticed your ring,” he told her.

She smiled at him, a pretty smile contrasting with the sadness that still haunted her eyes.

I was married,” she murmured, “but he died. It’s what you men seem to do, is die. It’s ten years now, but I still wear his ring. We were both young when he gave it to me. It seems wrong, somehow, to take it off. Did you know Martha?”

Mrs Hudson? Oh yes, I knew her well and she was a good woman. She was my landlady on Baker Street far away in London.”

Oh. So you’re Sherlock Holmes, the great detective?” she asked, her eyes opening wide. “Martha spoke of you often, in her letters. She wrote many letters over the years and I got the impression that she … that she had feelings for you.”

I was of some practical use to her some years ago, over a personal matter,” nodded Holmes. “And she served my friend and colleague Doctor Watson and me very well. She will be sadly missed, and not just for simple reasons like the way she helped us stay reasonably human! And it’s out of respect for her that I arranged to have her repatriated to the land of her birth, so to speak. She had a family plot here.”

I’m so pleased to meet you…” The woman, Annabelle, sounded hesitant, and then, “I feel that I know you already!”

And I’m delighted to meet you. I’m sorry it’s such a brief meeting, but I must catch the train very shortly. I’m due back in London very soon. There are things to do there, matters to be sorted out, her effects to be gone through… it seems cruel, but some things must be disposed of.”

I suppose there’s nobody?”

You mean, to cart her things away? The house is hers, you know, but her will gives it to me for the remainder of my life or until I wish to leave, and then it must be sold and the proceeds used to provide for the poor and needy. She was very firm on that, was Mrs Hudson.”

I meant, nobody to help with her effects?”

I believe she married away from her family and settled with the late Mr Hudson on Baker Street, and when he died…”

He wasn’t the best of men. She should never have married him, but she wouldn’t listen!”

I believe she loved him. There’s no accounting for the way our minds work when it comes to the emotions, Mrs…”

Annabelle. Annabelle Hyde.”

Mrs Hyde.”

She shook her head. “There’s not,” she agreed. “I hope you don’t mind, but I need to ask: can I travel with you?”

What? To London?”

Of course. I told you Martha and I were in contact over all the years, and she would have wanted me to help with her affairs. I’m on my own. I’ve got nobody to consider, not now, now that they’re all dead… Martha was the last of my friends, and my husband and I had no children even though we would have welcomed them had they come along. And anyway, you might … appreciate … the company. Funerals are such sad affairs.”

Then I suppose … yes, of course, you must!” nodded Sherlock Holmes, nodding too vigorously as it crossed his mind that the railway journey down to London was a long one and he would welcome the company, even of a stranger. And Annabelle, there was something about her, the way she held him with her eyes instead of looking shyly away, the way she spoke of the sadness she must have experienced in her own life, with a kind of inner strength that warmed him.

You never married?” she asked. It was half statement and half question.

He shook his head. “No, I suppose the trite thing for me to say is I never found anyone and I’m still looking, but no. I’ve lived a busy life and believe that in some small way I’ve been useful in the great scheme of things.”

I suppose you know that’s an excuse?” There was that little, almost teasing, smile again.

Mrs Hyde!” he murmured, and “I suppose that you’re right again.”

Again?”

Well you were right over me appreciating company on the journey back to London, and you may well be right about my personal life. I’ve had a substitute, of course, with my friend and colleague doctor Watson, though for several years he was married to his Mary, and it was tragic when she died. But he was someone for me to test my hypotheses on, to use as a sounding-board for my sometimes abstruse theories.”

I wish I’d had a friend like that, after Johnnie died,” she whispered.

Look,” said Holmes suddenly, “I don’t want to hurry you, but there’s a train to be caught, and if we’re to travel together we’d best not miss it!”

Of course.”

He looked at her again. She was careworn, yes, her face was streaked the residue of tears, but this woman had about her something that was so precious it must be preserved. He knew that with a certainty that shocked him.

He didn’t usually consider women in this way. It wasn’t the Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. Maybe, and there was a hollow beating in his chest when he thought it, maybe it was the Sherlock Holmes of tomorrow…

They turned and walked away together. The rest of the small funeral party had dissolved away. There hadn’t been many there to bid Martha Hudson a last goodbye. But, he thought with a twinkling corner of his mind, there wouldn’t be many when he passed away either.

Preoccupied with detection, he’d never made many friends. Not the sort that go to funerals anyway. But that didn’t matter.

Nothing matters to the dead.

© Peter Rogerson 30.09.17

THE CASE OF THE CONFUSED CLERIC

11 Nov

I’ve had enough of this weather,” growled Sherlock Holmes as rivulets of water trickled down the window panes in the first floor room at 221b Baker street.

We all have, but it can’t be helped,” I told him. “There’s nothing anyone can do about it. The weather’s the weather and in the lap of the gods.”

If you believe in such entities,” said Holmes with a grimace. “I overheard the Reverend Pyke in the drug store this morning when I got soaked to the skin fetching my tobacco, and he was telling everyone in a very loud voice that he intended to pray for a cessation of the rain the moment he got back to the vicarage. The Lord will listen to me, he said, and bend to my will, for I have lived thus far a good life and all men and my lovely wife know it.”

The Reverend Pyke said that?” I asked, “the Reverend Josiah Pyke?”

I believe that’s his name,” nodded Holmes, picking up his violin case and opening it gently. “Why? Do you know him?”

I knew him,” I murmured, “in the Afghan war. He was the pastor responsible for the moral guidance of the soldiers, and to call him an innocent would be to misinterpret his attitude to the men he was supposed to be guiding,” I said. “I am not guessing or I wouldn’t be saying this, and it is no intended criticism of his nature, but he developed a fondness for one or two young men who were, in turn, offended by what they saw as unnatural attention.”

I think I know where you’re going, Watson, and hope you’ve not misconstrued honest decency and called it by another name,” suggested Holmes. “For I would have thought that in the intimate closeness of men nursing a natural fear of death tomorrow or sooner than that it would be easy to misunderstand a Christian attempt to calm nerves and … you know what I mean.”

There was one young man who resented the attention being shown to him whilst he was wounded and laid up,” I said, “a lad called Cawker. He decided that the reverend had gone too far, and I will not go into any details concerning what he told me that Pyke had suggested to him as I bound the stump of his leg, but it made my skin crawl, I can tell you. You know me, Holmes: I respect a man and his nature, I’m not one of those who would judge another in ignorance, but there must be limits…”

So you suspect that the Reverend’s prayers for a cessation to the rain will have fallen onto deaf divine ears?” smiled Holmes. “You think that Pyke’s good Lord, if indeed he exists, would condemn the cleric for the nature that his birth and his god provided him with, and use that condemnation to punish the rest of us by permitting this foul weather to continue?”

I am doubtful…” I began.

About what? The morality of a misplaced sense of affection? Or the presence anywhere in the Universe of a Creator?”

I was about to reply, and that would have been a difficult thing to do because Holmes was particularly skilled at playing the devil’s advocate, when the door was knocked and Mrs Hudson, our landlady, put her head into the room.

You have a visitor, Sherlock,” she said.

Ah, Mrs Hudson,” nodded Holmes, “and who might it be?”

It is a one-legged man,” she told him, “I said he could meet you downstairs, for it is no easy task for a man with a limb missing to climb these stairs, but he insisted.”

Then let him enter,” said Holmes, “we cannot cause undue suffering to one who has been maimed in such a way.”

The door was flung open and a man walked in, leaning heavily on a crutch. He was smartly dressed in a suit whose trousers had been skilfully adapted to suit his unusual shape and he had a rugged countenance. And, in addition to that, he was familiar to me.

Mr Cawker,” I said involuntarily.

He looked at me and smiled. “Doctor Watson, what a pleasure,” he said in well-modulated tones, then he turned to Holmes.

Mr Holmes, I have come to see you because you were recommended to me by your brother Mycroft,” he said, “for after my return home from the wars with only one leg and the possibility that I would never again be able to be gainfully employed, and my army pension being insufficient to more than feed me, he offered me work in his government office. You see, I have some skills left to me, those that a man can perform sitting at a desk, and I am happy to do that.”

Excellent,” I enthused, glad to see that since I had last seen him Cawker had recovered enough strength to make something of his life.

Anyway, in the office where I sit day in and day out as clerk to Mr Holmes there is a young lady who, though performing a menial task involving a kettle and tea pot, I started taking a fancy to. She is bright and cheerful and she seemed to like me in much the same way as I like her. She is an angel, is my Angela, and very properly named by her parents when she was baptised! To cut a long story short she and I decided to wed, and I called on the vicar at the local church in order to make the proper arrangements.”

And you met the Reverend Pyke again, I suppose?” I put in.

He looked at me, and nodded. “I was shocked when I saw who it was, and made a swift excuse and left the church intending to seek another. But Angela has her heart set on a service at Mr Pyke’s establishment, and I would do anything in my power to please her. But how can I accept the blessing of a man like that, a man who would have condemned me to hell fire and damnation when he was pastor to the forces who were fighting a bloody war on foreign soil?”

So you asked Mycroft for his opinion?” said Holmes.

Cawker nodded. “If you don’t mind me saying, he’s an odd one, sir, is your brother,” he said frankly, “and he told me that I might get better advice from you.”

What do you make of Reverend Pyke?” I asked him, “forgetting what you know about him, you know, the things you mentioned to me when I was tending to your injuries?”

You remember, Doctor? Yes, I’m sure you must, for I was hurt by the emotions behind his attentions and didn’t in any way share them. But war is a dreadful thing and numbs one to the wrongs in the world, so to speak.”

They’re only wrongs if imposed on unwilling souls,” I told him.

And I was unwilling!”

Of course you were,” I purred.

But it was war… and I was young and green … and I let him kiss me!”

The situation…” I murmured.

Was alien! There was I, in an army bed, unable to do much for myself, and the Reverend Pyke was standing over me, telling me that God was love and that … and that… and that….”

Say no more,” said Holmes with uncharacteristic gentility. “You seek advice?”

Cawker nodded. “I wasn’t exactly an unwilling victim,” he confessed, “I was confused, doctor. You had been obliged to remove my leg, which had gone gangrenous and I was depressed to the point of believing that my life was as good as over before it had properly begun. And I had, within me, feelings…”

For the Reverend?” asked Holmes.

Cawker shook his head. “For anyone … anyone who would look at me!” he said, and tears formed in his eyes. “I was in a bad place… goodness knows how I’ve regretted it! Kissing another man… what was I thinking of?”

As you said, you were in a bad place,” said Holmes. “I’ll tell you what: go to the church and the Reverend Pyke and tell him that you intend to wed in his church. Tell him that you have a lovely fiancé and that you have chosen his religious authority to be your guide…”

But what if he…?”

He won’t. But if he does, ask to see his wife and say you have things to confess to her. That will give him pause to think!”

He’s married?” asked Cawker.

Holmes nodded. “And to a very remarkable woman,” he said, “one blessed with an understanding heart. But look, Watson, out of the window!”

I looked.

The sun had broken through the rain clouds and our windows were becoming dry in its warmth.

Wonderful,” I said.

© Peter Rogerson 29.09.17

THE CASE OF THE EMPTY WAREHOUSE

9 Nov

Holmes gave the impression of being a man-sized arachnid as he pounced from point to point on the bare floor and peered so closely that I swear his nose touched it from time to time.

We were in a large warehouse in which all manner of goods had been stored for a major High Street department store and which had mysteriously been emptied of almost every single object over one night.

It would have taken an army, Holmes,” I muttered, “the space is huge and Mr Tillotson said it was crammed from floor to ceiling and that most of the articles stolen were somewhat delicate and needed handling with care, especially, he said, the lady’s … er … lingerie.”

It would seem that way,” admitted Holmes, “yet Mr Tillotson assures us that he saw it only yesterday before he left for his home in Drayton Edge and that every package was in place, every article whole and undamaged and everything satisfactory before he signed the stock sheet.”

Then how could it have been emptied overnight with nobody noticing a fleet of vehicles lined up outside and nobody hearing anything?” I asked.

It would seem to have been impossible, yet we are assured that it happened,” muttered Holmes.

What about Mr Tillotson? Is he an honest broker?” I queried, though to tell the truth I had found the man to be a delight to deal with.

I reckon myself to be as fair a judge of character as any man, and I would be prepared to stake my reputation on his honesty,” said Holmes, leaping once again to one side and peering through his unique magnifying glass at a mark on the floor. “Say, Watson, what do you make of this?” he asked.

I stared and could see nothing until he held the glass in front of my eyes. “A grain or two of sand?” I queried.

Precisely, Watson,” he smiled at me, “and of itself I’m sure it has little significance, but I have seen several other traces of what looks to me like Eastbourne sand, too may to be explained away by calling them incidental. What, I am tempted to ask, is a floor in a London warehouse doing being smeared with Eastbourne sand?”

There’s nothing special about Eastbourne sand surely?” I asked, “and even though you have detected several traces, not enough to mean very much?”

It is a clue, Watson, and leads me towards the solution,” he smiled. “Now take a look here, along this wall where it meets the floor. What do you see?”

I looked, perplexed. “A wall and the floor, Holmes,” I grunted.

And nothing else?” he asked.

There are smears of a sort, maybe scratches, something like that,” I admitted.

Exactly,” he grinned, “and where do they lead?”

They appear to disappear under the wall,” I said, and then “but that’s not possible!” I ejaculated. “Surely the wall has been here since the warehouse was first erected, yet the scratches look to be fairly recent…”

You are reading the evidence like a professional,” smiled Holmes. “Now attend to this,” and he led me towards the main entrance to the warehouse. “Look at the floor and what do you see?”

I gazed again at the floor. It seemed that Holmes had become obsessed by flooring in a way that I found hard, initially, to understand.

It looks perfectly normal to me,” I confessed.

It does indeed,” he said, nodding his head, “indeed, it is so normal as to indicate that whoever had the job of sweeping it had, over the years, been somewhat lazy and has left dust and dirt behind him when he should have more carefully swept it up. But it tells me more than that. If heavy containers, cases, boxes and the like, were moved in haste from this room to the world outside they would most probably have been pushed and slid along. They would have led marks of their passing, as would the feet of those doing the pushing. But there is nothing like that. There has been no coming and going by an army of men this way, Watson. We and a handful of others have been in, but nobody else.”

Of course,” I nodded.

So what do we have?” asked Holmes keenly.

I shook my head. “It’s all a bit odd to me,” I confessed, “and we are no closer to the answer, I would have thought.”

The manager, Mr Tillotson, came through the door, shaking his head and looking thoroughly morose.

I have been ordered off the premises,” he muttered, “by the owners who have decided that such a monumental theft is my fault. They maintain that I must have left some door unlocked or some entrance open, and therefore I am dismissed from their service.”

That’s a bit harsh!” I exclaimed.

They’re like that,” he grunted, “only last month they dismissed dear Mrs Florry from her work in the lingerie department after thirty years of honest service because a garment was found to have a tear in it. I mean, one tear after thirty years, and it can’t have been her that tore it!”

Also harsh,” I agreed.

That’s how they make so much profit,” he sighed. “They’re wealthy men, you know, very wealthy, and it’s all on the backs of we who toil long hours, and the only gratitude we receive is dismissal at the least difficulty.”

You called the lingerie woman dear Miss Florrie,” remarked Holmes, “and I understand that to use the adjective dear usually means a special understanding?”

A man can refer to a lady as a dear without there being anything in it!” objected Mr Tillotson. “I often do. Later, when I’m having a gill in the hostelry by my home I might tell my friends that I’ve been in the company of dear Sherlock Holmes, and that won’t mean anything special!”

Holmes smiled. “Point taken,” he concurred, “but in this instance I believe you have a special, what shall we call it, feeling for Mrs Florrie?”

I’ve tried to help her since her man passed away, though Bert Florrie was hardly the nicest man around,” confessed Mr Tillotson. “he could be harsh to her, and that’s a fact.”

And then the store managers dismiss her?” asked Holmes.

They did, and for not her fault!” almost shouted the warehouse manager.

Tell me, how often did the big men, the owners and managers of the store, come here, to the warehouse?” asked Holmes.

What? Them? They never would, not ever!” almost laughed Tillotson. “They wouldn’t soil their feet on such a mundane task as looking at their stock in here!”

So they wouldn’t instantly realise when it shrunk?” demanded Holmes.

I don’t know what you’re getting at…” flustered Mr Tillotson.

Oh, but I think you do,” murmured Holmes quietly. “I do believe that the huge theft you reported and which you were sure would lead to your dismissal never actually happened, but that you and with the assistance of the good Mrs Florrie, lingerie expert, spent last night in here, erecting a partition to look exactly like a wall, with a row of bricks cemented in place and a partition placed onto it, and placing all of the apparently stolen stock on one side of it whilst maintaining that the whole lot was stolen from the empty half. You thought that nobody would be any wiser, and to make your point solid you invited Sherlock Holmes to examine an apparently impossible theft. But it never happened did it, Mr Tillotson? How you must have laboured at home building a flimsy wall in sections and erecting them in here last night, and then sliding box after box into one side and hiding the whole lot by erecting a final section of artificial wall. And then, I suppose, you intended to siphon off the goodies in the concealed section at your convenience and maybe even selling them back to the store yourself, disguised, no doubt as a manufacturer’s agent. Very clever!”

Holmes!” I gasped, “Well I never!”

Oh, I’m undone…” wept Mr Tillotson.

And the widow Florrie? What part did she really play?” asked Holmes.

Tea,” sobbed Tillotson, “she kept me going with cups of tea… And when it was over we was to get wed. The two of us, and her in the best lingerie available this side of the channel!”

And now?” asked Holmes.

That’s up to you, sir,” wept Tillotson.

Let’s say I never came,” decided Holmes, “let’s say your scheme works. Would you have been happy? Looking over yours and Mrs Florrie’s shoulders for a constable with his truncheon in his hand, to arrest you?”

He shook his head. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, sir,” he mumbled.

Then this is what you must do. I judge you to be a decent and honest man, so return tonight and take away your false wall and tell the owners of the department store that you have solved their problem by employing the detective Sherlock Holmes at your own expense and on their behalf. And I will tell them what a gem you are and how lucky they are to employ you and that I will recommend you for a special award from the King… that should both return your job to you and, if you’re lucky, get you extra remuneration.”

Oh, sir….” he wept.

And tell Mrs Florrie to make sure she doesn’t wear the very special underwear she took away with her last night, not in the region of the store where it might be accidentally discovered anyway…”

© Peter Rogerson 28.09.17

THE CASE OF THE TWICE DEAD MAN

7 Nov

It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that there was a time before Holmes and I met, but there was, and that was before there was anyone around to record his unique methods. But the holder of the pen is myself and I am pleased to do Holmes a service by using it. Today, I have been reminded of one account he gave me of his early days by the attempt by the vagrant Sammy Spencer to rob our home one hot summer’s day recently. I will therefore recount that earlier adventure here, and it will perforce have to be written in the third person as I was not there in person (obviously) but was probably hacking some poor devil’s leg off in a medical facility close to the battle-field in Afghanistan where I was medical orderly.

There had been a spate of burglaries in an area of London not noted for honesty or wealth except for one largish residence belonging to the infamous Tommy Tapnut on the edge of what might be seen as a small village, and that Tommy Tapnut was renowned as the worst kind of loan-shark and blackguard imaginable, being responsible for more mutilations when his borrowers failed to repay him on time than I’ve had glasses of brandy. He was, indeed, a nasty piece of work and it was in the general area where he lived that the aforementioned spate of burglaries occurred.

Holmes was approached by Scotland Yard to assist in the apprehension of the thief. Inspector Lestrade, then a young officer at Scotland Yard, considered, apparently, that the neighbours of Mr Tapnut were poor enough without having to suffer physical abuse and even mutilation if they were late in repayment of a high-interest loan they had begged from him.

Might Tapnut himself be responsible for the burglaries?” asked Holmes, “after all, his reputation is hardly that of a guardian angel benevolently protecting his neighbourhood flock!”

I suppose it might be argued that he is,” sighed Lestrade, “but only indirectly in that his attitude to late payers of loans he has issued is one of violence rather then understanding. Therefore his neighbours, scared for their very lives quite often, turn to theft in order to escape the worst he can offer, and the only people available to steal from are their equally poor neighbours.”

I will see what I can do,” murmured Holmes, “but I warn you, Lestrade, although I abhor crime I more greatly abhor the causes behind crime and it would seem that a loan-shark is just that, in this particuar instance.”

If only we could catch him with his sadistic reminders of overdue debts we might be able to take him out of circulation for a while, but he’s too clever to be caught himself. He employs a team of thugs to do his dirty work for him. You know, Sherlock, the sort that delight in mutilating others, and although the odd felon might occasionally be caught but I’ve yet to trace any of them back to Tapnut.”

Then I will investigate,” sighed Holmes. “It is wretches like money lenders with their unreasonable demands of interest that make crime almost forgiveable.”

I never thought I’d hear you say that, Sherlock,” murmured Lestrade, grinning quietly to himself.

The next day Sherlock Holmes, skilfully disguised as an Irish tinker and with a convincing accent was to be seen in the neighbourhood of the spate of thefts that had troubled the police. The house in which Tapnut lived was at the end of a very private cul-de-sac lined with lime trees and a coppiced shrubbery, and must have contained at least six bedrooms, which contrasted with the mean and crowded terraces of back-to-back houses in a higgledy-piggledy array abutting his land where his pauper neighbours lived.

Holmes, adopting a sullen expression and carrying a tatty carpet bag of tools, approached the house and knocked on the front door. It was opened by Tommy Tapnut himself, a man in an expensive jacket and mismatching trousers, though everything about him looked slightly wrong, as if he was trying too hard to fit into the ambience and refinement of his home. For instance, the trousers were the wrong style for lounging at home but were more like those worn by college types applauding at the boundary of a cricket square, his pince-nez were obviously barely necessary as he didn’t seem to care whether he looked through them, round them or over them, and his green shirt clashed with his bright blue jacket.

Holmes doffed his torn and stained cap. “Sorry, sir,” he began in a strong Dublin accent, “but I was wondering … leaking pipes, dripping taps, sir, anything like that needing a tinker man to fix it?”

The other looked at him scornfully. “Unless you can fit a burglar-proof lock I’ve no work for you, you scoundrel!” he said.

Holmes looked wounded at the attitude, but managed a smile. “I can fix you up like Fort Knox,” he said, and he adopted a secretive pose. “Tell me, sir, are you being burgled all the time?”

The other leered at him. “I would if it weren’t for the dogs,” he said, “but the dogs keep the riff-raff at bay. Keep the hounds hungry and they’ll even eat the kind of meat that the scum round here manage to cultivate on their bellies!”

Ah, sir, ‘tis a cruel sad world we live in,” muttered Sherlock. “So there’s no dripping taps? No leaking pipes? No pots and pans gone to hole?”

No there isn’t, and if there was I’d call on the services of my own staff to see to it! Now be off with you before I call the dogs!”

You’re a fine cruel man, sir,” muttered Holmes, and he turned to go.

Then, suddenly as though the deed had been scripted, a lanky young man, ill-muscled and with a beard turning to grey despite his apparent youth, leapt from a coppice behind Holmes, darted past the detective and lunged at the irate man in the door, a rusted blade, the sort used in kitchens to cut bread into slices only old and filthy rather than shiny and pristine, in his hand.

Now I’ve got ya, ya swine!” he croaked, and careless of his own safety he launched himself at Tommy Tapnut and somehow managed to create a veritable fountain of blood from a wound on the man’s neck caused by the rusted blade being forced by every fibre of the attacker’s being as deep into the offensive Tapnut as it would go.

He must have died at once. He tried to gurgle out his attacker’s name, but no sound came other than a squishing gasp.

Well done, my fine fellow,” said Holmes, resorting to his own persona despite his tatty appearance. But the attacker retrieved his knife, flung it into the coppice behind him, and vanished as quickly as he had come.

Well, well, well,” muttered Sherlock.

He turned to go, and had barely taken ten steps, when a second youth appeared, moving furtively out of the coppiced shrubs and lunged towards the dead man on the ground. He, too, held a blade and was clearly intent on doing Mr Tapnut some serious harm. And he did try. Before he could stop himself he had made a serious wound in the dead man’s side, quite spoiling the blue sporting jacket he was wearing.

I wouldn’t do that,” murmured Holmes, “for it’s quite plain to me that the wretched man’s dead already.”

The youth looked confused as though nothing had turned out like he’d planned it. “He’s the very devil,” he mumbled. “And he sent his bullies to my place on account of me not paying him the five shillings I owe ‘cause I never had it, and they scared my missus something rotten and smashed the place up.”

I heard that he could be vindictive,” suggested Holmes. “I think you may need me as a witness, young fellow. I reckon the constable may add two and two together and come to an odd number, and you may need a referee with more mathematical skill that the average policeman.”

I came to kill the swine,” gabbled the youth. Me? I’m Sammy Spencer, an’ proud of it!”

Then if you need evidence that will save you from the gallows, Mr Spencer, you’d best remember my name,” said Sherlock. “I’m Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, and I’m willingly at your service. And I know for sure that the man you killed was already dead!”

© Peter Rogerson 27.09.17

THE CASE OF SAMMY SPENCER

5 Nov

Sammy Spencer must be the most ill-informed and ineffective burglar under the sun! I mean, what kind of thief would consider breaking into 221b Baker Street and dream of robbing Sherlock Holmes in broad daylight whilst he was playing a misery-inducing fugue on his best violin and contemplating the world outside as he glanced randomly through the bay window onto the street below our first floor room.

We are about to be robbed,” he told me, and I looked up curiously. I had never before contemplated the possibility that anyone, not even a moron with suicidal tendencies, would dream of invading Holmes’ territory with malevolent intent.

We are?” I asked, perplexed.

There is a scruffy individual, wrapped unseasonably in a greatcoat even though the sun is burning a hole in the road outside, lurking on the pavement opposite and he is showing more than the smallest curiosity when he stares at our building as though he were trying to commit its architecture to memory, which he clearly isn’t because nobody with so much dirt behind his ears would be remotely interested in such esoteric delights as the construction of Baker Street,”

You can really see his ears, Holmes?” I asked.

Quite clearly,” he murmured. “Tell me, Watson, why would anyone want to be wearing a thick tweed greatcoat in temperatures like those we are being subjected to today?”

Maybe he was a military man?” I suggested, “returned from conflict overseas and separated from his luggage in the way that travellers abroad often are, ergo he has little to wear other than his greatcoat.”

You have a point, Watson, though I see things differently. A military man would have standards. He would, for instance, polish his shoes from time to time, he would attend to the cut of his hair and he would pay at least a modicum of attention to personal hygiene, particularly, as I’ve already alluded, to his ears. In other words even though he may have been left with nothing of note to wear he would look vaguely human. This man does not.”

I moved to look at the object of Holmes’ curiosity while he put his violin down and frowned.

Keep back from the window. I don’t want him to suspect that he’s been noticed. I want to see what he’s up to,” he said.

The fellow lurking on the opposite pavement certainly didn’t look the sort to be spending much time on Baker Street with its atmosphere of gentility and commerce.

He does look like a suspicious rogue,” I commented.

He’s quite clearly on his uppers,” agreed Holmes, “and I am curious to see why he is paying particular attention to our quarters. See … he is looking up furtively as though he was making a mental sketch of the possibilities being offered by the building’s structure. Ah, now what is he about?”

He’s crossing the road, coming our way,” I whispered, though why I whispered in our own front room is beyond me.

And have you ever seen such an obvious attempt at sneaking?” asked Holmes, clearly amused. “If I hadn’t noticed him during his lurking phase I’d be most unlikely to fail during this sneaking episode. Come, let us go down. Mrs Hudson may be out of her depth with such a rogue as that may be.”

We climbed down to the ground floor as Mrs Hudson went to open the door, which had been rattled by, no doubt, our scruffy visitor.

Phew, you smell!” she exclaimed as a whiff of unwashed flesh and, sadly, dried urine flooded through the open door.

You think as you’re better than me?” he rasped at her, “Saying as I smell when I have no control over whether I stinks or not? I’ve come for ya silver an’ you’d better have some, or else!”

Mrs Hudson was never a feeble or easily dominated woman and was perfectly capable of dealing with felons like the one who had presented himself at our door. “Or else what?” she asked calmly.

Or else you’ll get a headache after meeting with this fella!” he growled, producing a length of lead pipe from beneath the fragrant folds of his filthy greatcoat. “And I knows how to deal ‘eadaches out,” he added.

I was about to leap forwards in the defence of Mrs Hudson, but Holmes held me back. “Wait a moment, Watson,” he hissed.

And what makes you think that a simple widow woman like me has any silver?” demanded an authoritative sounding Mrs Hudson. “And how do you know that my man or husband or whoever you think I share my accommodation with isn’t ready to defend me against the likes of you?” she added.

I’ve bin watching, see,” he said, gruffly, ignoring passers by on the street who must have noticed that something was awry at 221b but were loath to interfere. “I know as there’s rooms where two gents live, an’ I asks you, what kind of two men lives together like that? There’s summat wrong with two gents like that, I promise you. They’s up to no good, but that’s no affair o’ mine as long as I gets their silver afore they come back from whatever dive they’ve gorn to.”

That was enough for Holmes. He knew that there are some gentlemen who, for reasons more of their natures than because they mean offence to anyone, choose to share accommodation and he also knew that for myself and him it was merely a matter of convenience, my lovely Mary having passed away and me requiring stability in my life when I wasn’t off at my weekly surgery doling out medical advice to mainly elderly ladies who sought comforting assurances rather than relief from pain. Anyway, Holmes leapt down the last two steps and pushed past Mrs Hudson, with me at his shoulder, willing to have a go at the wretch who had forced his way into our lives.

So what does Sammy Spencer want with me?” he asked, and there was the ring of steel in his voice. “I seem to recall that last time we met things went none-too-well for you and, to put it bluntly, you were fortunate to escape the rope! Have you returned for a second round that you will sadly lose?”

Sh … sherlock Holmes!” he gasped. “I never knowed you lived ‘ere or, I swear it, I wouldn’t’ve troubled you.”

Holmes fixed him with eyes that glinted with ice. “Sammy Spencer, last time we met you were accused of murder, but somehow managed to wriggle out of the charge on account of the fact that the man you murdered was already very dead when you took your blade to him,” he said. “So it couldn’t have been murder by you, though you no doubt intended to pierce the fellow in his heart and maybe would have made the world a better place by so doing. The man was the lowest, a Fagin of a money-lender with a cruel heart. But I see you’ve progressed from what some might see as a social service to threatening ladies alone in their homes, and with lead pipe that would, if you used the one in your hand for what you intended it for, certainly lead you back to the noose!”

I’m skint, Mr Holmes,” he whined, dropping his length of pipe to the ground and kicking it away from himself in order for it to be disassociated from him. “I ain’t had a morsel to eat, not all day yes’day and not t’day, and I reckoned as this were a fair place t’ pick up a crust or two.”

Then you must seek the workhouse, for that’s why it’s there,” I put in, disliking this man for both his paltry excuse for poverty and the scent he gave off.

Why you…” he growled, his face a mask of venomous hatred as he looked at me. “You might be Mr Holmes’ best man, but you’ve no right to speak to me about workhouses!”

Spencer,” said Holmes, his voice filled with immense and laudable dignity bearing in mind the manner of man he was speaking to, “Spencer, on this one occasion and on no other in the future I will give you a shilling coin, no more and, fortunately for you, no less, in return for your lead pipe and on the understanding that you spend some of it on breakfast and the rest at the bath-house where, for a single penny you can remove the filth and disease from your flesh. Then you will present yourself, as my friend and colleague Dr Watson mooted, at the workhouse where employment and ready meals will be found for you. And if it is your desire you will work your way up from that institution, putting everything inside your addled brain to work until you have gained respectability and a proper place in society. Now go!”

And Holmes picked up the lead pipe and offered a shining coin to Sammy Spencer, who grabbed it greedily.

And, Spencer, if I ever see you again you will return the shilling to me,” growled Holmes, “or forfeit your life!”

You won’t see me again, Mr Holmes,” he whined, and ran off, hobbling on boots so worn his feet must have been two big blisters.

That was very generous, Sherlock,” approved Mrs Hudson.

Well,” said Holmes, “he’s not had the best of luck in life. Maybe a lowly fresh start will help him … who can tell?”

© Peter Rogerson 25.09.17