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Monthly Archives: January 2022

Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

While ruminating on the problem the young lad had thrust upon me, I spent a few minutes making sandwiches for Doctor Watson and Holmes (or whoever the man with the meerschaum might be). Leaving the lad to finish his sandwiches, I trudged back upstairs, trying to think of an unobtrusive means of working out the truth, and a way to let Watson know we might be dealing with an imposter.

As I entered the room, I found my companions checking their revolvers by the fireside, and standing watching them, it seemed ridiculous that Watson could possibly be unaware Holmes might not be Holmes.

“Ah,” said the big-nosed detective. “Food for the workers. Good show, Lestrade.”

I handed over the plates of food and retired to a chair by the window.

Between mouthfuls, Holmes said, “Our urchin friend’s gone, has he?”

“Er, yes. Must ‘ave.”

Holmes gave me an odd look, but before I had time to think about it, his face had resumed its normal bland expression.

“So,” I said, hoping to change the subject, “we still goin lookin for Mary, then?”

Watson nodded. “Soon as it’s dark.”

Taking out my police notebook, I made a show of catching up on my notes, while keeping a close eye on Holmes. Watching him eat the cheese sandwich, I tried to see any movements or mannerisms that didn’t ring true with the Sherlock Holmes I knew, but if this man really was an imposter, he appeared to be doing a first-rate job. It wasn’t until my subject had finished eating and taken out his pipe again that I had the opportunity to observe his pipe-lighting techniques. But instead of holding the pipe and matchbox in his right hand as my informant had insisted, Holmes held them in his left hand—just as the real Holmes would do. As he struck the Swan Vesta, he glanced up at me.

“Very quiet, Lestrade. Not sickening for anything, are you?” He strolled over to where I sat and gazed out of the window into the street below.

“Er, no, Mr ‘Olmes. Just checking me notes and whatnot.” I dropped my gaze to the notebook, feeling that to continue staring at him might give me away. Then, realising Holmes might see what I’d been writing, I flipped the notebook shut and swivelled round in my chair. Peering out into the darkening street, I saw the boy from downstairs leave the shop and trot across the lane. I couldn’t tell from the detective’s face if he too had seen the lad.

“Yes, indeed,” said Holmes, half to himself. “Think I might go for a stroll.”

Watson looked up sharply. “Not outside?”

“No, obviously not. Just need to stretch my legs etc.” Crossing the room, he stepped out onto the landing, and we heard him walk along the passage to the top of the stairs where a window looked out onto the back of the building. No further sound came to my ears, suggesting he must be looking out of the window.

I glanced at Watson. “Everyfing all right, Doc?”

“Aside from my missing wife, yes.”

“Course. No, I just meant, is everyfing all right wiv his nibs?”

Watson blinked. “How d’you mean?”

I had no answer to this, so simply said, “Just generally, yer know?” He nodded, but I could see from his expression something bothered him. With an ear cocked in case Holmes returned, I continued in a low voice. “I always thought he were right-handed.”

“He is.” He inclined his head. “Is something wrong, Lestrade?”

“Nah, not really. Just…”

He watched me carefully and I could see I’d piqued his interest.

“Just that the lad, the messenger boy, yer know, he said somefing that got me finking.”

Watson glanced at the door then back at me. “Something about Holmes using his left hand?”

“Somefing about that.”

“You do know he’s ambidextrous, don’t you?”

“Ambi-what?”

“Dextrous. He can use both hands, though tends to favour the right one.”

“Fuck.”

“Is there something I should know, Inspector?”

“No, nofing ter worry about. Just me being thick.”

“That’s not like you, Lestrade,” he said, but I suspected he didn’t mean it.

A couple of minutes later, Holmes came back into the room, and I continued my observation exercise, albeit feeling less sure of my theory.

A few hours later, the sky had darkened considerably and the three of us agreed to go in search of Mary Watson.

Slipping out via the back door, we crept along a narrow alley and out onto Drury Lane. The wind had picked up and I pulled my collar up against the cold. By keeping to the shadows, we managed to avoid eye contact with the various passers-by, who, seemingly intent on reaching their presumed destinations, stalked along the street with their heads down.

“Once we get to Russell Square it’ll be difficult to stay out of sight,” said Holmes.

“How we goin ter find Mary, then?” said I.

“We’re not. Her abductors will find us.”

Watson whirled round to face Holmes. “Have you gone mad? We’d be walking right into Moran’s hands.”

“Precisely,” said Holmes, pushing past him.

Watson looked at me. Keeping his voice low, he muttered, “Does this sound like something Sherlock Holmes would do?”

I shrugged. “Honestly, Doc, I’m runnin out of opinions on what he would or wouldn’t do.” I paused, then, “He does act a bit weird sometimes.”

The doctor nodded. “True. Let’s go along with his plan, but if I give you the nod, make a run for it.”

We trotted off after Holmes, keeping our eyes peeled for anyone acting suspiciously.

At the corner of Russell Square and Montague Street, Holmes pulled up short and stood for a moment, gazing across the large garden square before us. I couldn’t imagine what he might be looking for since the place lay in darkness, with trees and bushes blocking out anything that might be lurking in the undergrowth.

“Right, chaps,” he said, turning his beady eyes on us. “Let us find the nearest lamppost and deposit ourselves beneath it.”

Watson and I exchanged glances but followed our apparent leader along to a position close to the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. Next to the monument, a gas lamp illuminated the area nearby. Standing beneath it, Holmes leaned against the post.

“Might as well make ourselves comfortable, eh?” And with that, he took out his meerschaum and began stuffing it with tobacco.

Taking Watson to one side, I muttered, “So? Is he Sherlock Holmes or is he not?”

“If he isn’t, why would he bother trying to find Mary?”

He had a point. I peered at Holmes as the big-nosed detective struck a Swan Vesta. Just as he sucked the flame into the pipe, a gust of wind caught all three of us and the match flared up.

“Yarrgh!”

Throwing the match and the pipe to the ground, Holmes clasped his hands to his face.

Quick as a flash, Watson stepped forwards. Taking out a handkerchief, he took hold of the detective’s hands and forced them downwards.

“What the hell are you doing?” yelled Holmes. “I burned my ducking dose!”

“Yes,” said Watson. “And I’m a doctor, so hold still while I examine you.”

Holmes let out a whimpering sigh but allowed Watson to check the damage. Dabbing at the injured organ, Watson wiped the area around the singed bit. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t touch it.”

Watson stepped back while Holmes continued whimpering.

“Well,” said the doctor, taking my arm. “It appears you’re right.”

“I am?”

Watson opened his handkerchief where he’d folded it over, revealing a lump of what looked like plasticine.

“What’s that?” said I.

“That,” said the other, in a low voice, “is what actors call face putty.”

“Oh, hell.”

We stood looking at each other for a long moment.

“What now?” I said.

“Let’s wait and see what he’s up to. If Mary really is being kept prisoner around here, he can only be leading us into a trap.”

“For once, John-Boy, you’re absolutely right,” said a voice behind me.

Whirling round, I stared up at the statue of Bartholomew Cavendish. “Bloody Norah— a talking monument.”

Watson squeezed my arm and pointed to a dark shape emerging from behind the huge erection. “Colonel Moran, I believe.”

“Doctor. Inspector. Good of you to come along. Saved us the hassle of chasing after you.” He clicked his fingers and two thugs appeared, both holding pistols.

Walking past us, Moran looked at the man pretending to be Holmes and gave him a sharp slap across the face. “You stupid prick. Why’d you bring them here?”

The tall man with the beady eyes rubbed his face, then began peeling off the remnants of his false nose. “The boy noticed I’m left-handed. I’m pretty sure he told Lestrade.”

“So what? They wouldn’t have known for sure if you’d stuck to the plan.” He shook his head. “Bloody amateurs. I should send you back to Am-Dram Central, or wherever it is you lesbians hang out.”

“It’s Thespians, actually,” said the actor and made as if to walk away.

“On second thoughts, stay there.” Moran waved a hand at Watson. “Give me your gun, would you, Doctor?”

Watson blinked rapidly. “I don’t have it with me.”

“Yes, you do—it’s in your outside right jacket pocket.” He clicked his fingers impatiently. “Come on, come on.”

Careful not to make any sudden movements, Watson took out the weapon and handed it over.

Moran checked it over, cocked the revolver and pointed it at the actor.

“Be careful with that,” said Watson. “It’s loaded.”

“I know,” said Moran, “and this is what happens to people who let me down.” Taking aim, he shot the actor in the chest. The man fell to the ground with a faint sigh.

“You killed him,” said Watson.

“I shouldn’t worry, Doctor, he’s died on stage enough times to know the real thing when it happens.” He paused, sighed, and looked down at the actor who had begun to moan softly. “Don’t milk it.”

The fake Sherlock moved his head, looked up and patted his chest. “Ooh, that really hurt.”

Moran handed the gun back to Watson. “Yes. Unfortunately, blanks do sting a bit.” He waved an admonishing finger at the thespian. “Don’t let me down again or next time the bullets will be real.” He nodded at me and Doctor Watson and pointed to a house across the road. “Now, if you don’t mind, gentlemen…”

Watson and I walked across the street escorted by the two thugs. Giving Watson a nudge, I muttered, “Clever trick that.”

“Yes,” I said. “That bloody actor must’ve swapped the bullets while we were checking the revolvers earlier.”

Through a gate, we were pushed down a flight of steps towards what I presumed would be the basement of the house. Whatever awaited us, I guessed it wasn’t going to be pleasant.

As Doctor Watson would say—unfortunately, I was right.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Detective and the Doctor’s Wife

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

Colonel Moran and his nursey sidekick stood there grinning at us for a moment, before slinking off into another room, leaving the two thugs guarding the door.

“Where did they pick you up?” I said, keeping my voice low.

“Literally seconds after I’d left the Marks Brothers shop,” said Holmes. “I turned a corner, and someone put a knife to my throat.” He nodded towards one of the thugs.

“They made no attempt to disguise themselves, then?”

He gave me a sad smile. “I know what you’re thinking, Mary—we’ve seen their faces, so they clearly have no intention of keeping us alive.”

“But why have they only taken you and I?”

Holmes made a face. “I can only surmise they’re holding your husband and Lestrade somewhere else.” He frowned. “Though that makes little sense—why use two hideouts when one would do just as well? And if they intend to kill us anyway…”

“Unless they haven’t been taken,” I said.

Holmes rubbed his chin. “But if that’s the case, Johnny and Lestrade would surely notice our absence.”

“Maybe that’s what they want—to create confusion.”

Pulling up a chair to the fire, I sat for a moment, contemplating our situation. “Could Moran be in league with Blackwood?”

Holmes shook his head. “As I recall, Blackwood had Moran horsewhipped for fornicating with Blackwood’s own mistress. The pair hate each other’s guts. Which means it’s unlikely the two are now working together.”

I felt my mouth drop open. “Sherlock, d’you realise you’ve just quoted from one of Johnny’s stories?”

He frowned. “Really? One of my famous explanations?”

I coughed. “Well, no, actually. It’s from a piece Johnny wrote a few years ago about the murder of Lady Campanula Tottington of Tottington Hall—you suspected Blackwood and Moran but couldn’t prove it.”

“So it is one of my famous explanations?”

I bit my lip. “No, Holmes. Johnny told me how you’d gone into this long monologue about the rivalry between Blackwood and Moran, but that it was far too longwinded to use in the story, so he…paraphrased it.”

Holmes made an ‘O’ shape with his mouth. “Oh, well. I suppose one’s biographer must exercise the editorial red pen at times. Yes… Blackwood had a solid alibi and Moran couldn’t be traced. But in any case, it seemed unlikely the pair would have been in cahoots.” He peered at me. “The story didn’t appear in The Strand Magazine, did it?”

I looked away. “It didn’t, but Johnny submitted it to a periodical in Ireland—The Irish Investigator Monthly. They published it with the proviso that the case couldn’t be proved.”

Holmes let out a long sigh. “Which doesn’t alter the fact that Moran and Blackwood are highly unlikely to be in this together.”

“Unless Moran is trying to get rid of both Blackwood and us at the same time. With Moriarty dead, that would leave Moran free to take over both criminal empires.”

“Who says Moriarty is dead?”

“Moran told me. In the cab.”

“And you believed him?”

I shrugged. “Why would he lie?”

At that point, Moran himself came back into the room. “So, Mr Sherlock-Cleverclogs-Holmes…have you worked it out, yet?”

Holmes stared at him. “Where are Watson and Lestrade?”

Moran smiled. “All in good time. I’ve arranged a little entertainment for them. It’ll be interesting to see how they react when they realise the Sherlock Holmes they’ve been conversing with at the Olde Gin Shoppe, isn’t their Sherlock Holmes.”

Holmes laughed quietly. “A stooge. You’ve put a stooge in my place? And you seriously expect they won’t notice?”

Moran ran a tongue along his lower lip. “They haven’t so far.”

“And what’s the point?” I said.

“The point, Mrs Watson, is to have a little fun before…” He sniggered. “Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”

Still giggling away to himself, he went out, leaving us to ponder on his words.

We sat quietly for a few minutes, considering what we knew. Or rather, what we didn’t know. I couldn’t see any reason for carrying out the charade of replacing Holmes with a lookalike simply to entertain Moran. Then something occurred to me.

“Sherlock, d’you think it’s a test? A way of trying out their stooge to see if Johnny and the inspector notice?”

Holmes nodded slowly. “If this ‘stooge’ is good, he might fool them for a short while, or even fool them completely, and if he can deceive two individuals who know me well…”

“He could fool anyone.”

“Precisely.”

“But why?”

His mouth tightened into a hard line. “Because, Mary, if Londen’s only consulting detective and his closest friends could be replaced with an imposter, the entire city would be open to the worst cravings of the criminal underworld. And if one man controlled that underworld…”

“Oh, shit.”

“Shit indeed.” Holmes rubbed a hand over his face. “Our only hope is that Blackwood puts a stop to Moran’s plans before everything gets out of control.”

“But why would Blackwood do that?”

“That’s the problem, Mary—he wouldn’t.”

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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A Copper’s Intuition

Journal of Inspector G. Lestrade

Listening to Mr Holmes and Doctor Watson discussing the relationship between Blackwood and Moran, reminded me of something I’d noted earlier. Something in the gesticulatory behaviour of the Baker Street detective bothered me, as if his general demeanour had somehow altered. Thing is, for the life of me, I couldn’t put a finger on what it might be. Then, when the urchin lad arrived to tell Holmes about Mary Watson’s abduction, the boy seemed to be giving Holmes a queer sort of look, as if he weren’t sure what to make of the beady-eyed detective. Course, I knew the lad had run errands for Holmes many times before and must’ve come to know the man quite well (or at least as well as what any urchin would in such circumstances).

Having divested myself of the silly costume and put on my own clothes (which I’d sensibly thought to bring with me), I noticed something else—a distinct rumbling in my tummy.

“If you two don’t mind, I fink I’ll nip down an see if I can rustle up some grub.”

“Good idea,” said Watson, before continuing his conversation with Holmes about some aspect of the case.

Making my way downstairs, I located the back room which doubled as a storeroom and kitchen. The proprietor lounged in an easy chair in the corner but on seeing me, jumped up and gave a small bow.

“Ah, Inspector. Please feel free to help yourself to bread and cheese, or whatever…” He waved a hand at a table at the side of the room, then hurried back through to the shop.

Cutting myself two slabs of bread, I looked around for something to put between them and found my gaze resting on a small figure standing by the window. I presume I hadn’t noticed him due to his slight build and dark clothing.

“Oh. It’s young whatsname, isn’t it?”

“Hopkins, sir,” said the lad. In one hand he held a half-eaten sandwich and in the other a glass of milk. He appeared unwilling to continue eating in front of me.

“Don’t stop on my account—get stuck in.”

The boy gratefully chomped on the meagre meal while I continued with my own provisions. With a slice of Cheddar from a small cupboard that passed for a panty, I completed my preparations and took a bite. Munching thoughtfully, I gazed across at the boy who, in turn, gazed back at me.

It was then that I recalled my earlier observations and decided to quiz the youngster about it.

“You must’ve known those two chaps for a good while, eh?” I said, glancing at the ceiling.

“Suppose Oi must, yeh.”

“Mr Holmes looks funny in his disguise, don’t yer fink?”

The lad grinned for a second then looked sideways at me, a frown creasing his young face.

“You’re one of those proper detectives, ain’t yer, Mr Lestrade?”

“I suppose I am, at that,” said I.

“So, yer must know yer left from yer right, eh?”

Unconsciously, I glanced at my right hand, my fingers still holding the half-chewed sandwich. “I suppose so.”

He went quiet for a moment, so I said, “An I suppose you know your left from your right, too?”

“Course Oi does.” He glanced at each hand, as if thinking about it. “It’s easy for me ter remember, cos Oi wipes me arse wiv me right ‘and—” He reddened slightly and bit his lip. “Scuse me, Inspector. Oi ain’t normally one fer swearin an that.”

“Quite all right, lad. Continue, please.”

“Well, when we was talkin an that, upstairs, Mr ‘Olmes lit that smelly old pipe of his. An of course he always uses those Swan Vesta matches. Doctor Watson uses ‘em too. But that’s the funny fing, yer see? Mr ‘Olmes held the pipe and the matchbox in his right ‘and an struck the match wiv his left ‘and.”

My sandwich dropped to the floor. If I’d been holding a glass of milk, that too, would have cascaded downwards.

“Bollocks.”

The boy blinked. “Did Oi say summat wrong, Inspector?”

“No, lad,” I muttered. “You certainly did not.”

The pair of us fell silent for a moment, my mind racing with possibilities, none of which I could make anything of.

“But Oi suppose,” said the boy, “that using the wrong ‘and might be one of those fings Mr ‘Olmes does, yer know, ter make his brain work better, or summat.”

Knowing Sherlock Holmes as I did, this made perfect sense, but if this were the case, surely Doctor Watson would have made some comment on it, as he often did when Holmes altered some aspect of his behaviour. Thinking back to when the boy was in the upstairs room, I tried to recall what the good doctor had been doing, and more to the point, if he might’ve noticed anything odd.

“Got it,” I said, holding up a finger. “Holmes stood in front of the mirror for a minute or two. If he’d lit his pipe at that precise moment, it would’ve appeared to be with the wrong hand because it would be a reflection.” I clapped my hands together in triumph.

But my conspirator did not agree. “Nah, that weren’t it. Cos the reflection fing did confuse me, an that’s why Oi come down ‘ere ter fink it through before Oi said anyfing, see?”

“You mean, that even looking at him lighting the pipe in the mirror, you say he still used the left hand to strike the match?”

He nodded.

I’d said it before, but it seemed worth saying again. “Bollocks.”

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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The Strange and the Familiar

Diary of Mary Watson (Mrs)

As the carriage raced along towards whatever my fate might be, I noted with a degree of disquiet that my captors made no effort to cover my face. Clearly, they were not concerned I might recognise my surroundings, which could only mean they did not intend to keep me alive long enough to reveal their identities or the particulars of their hideaway.

Nevertheless, I took careful note of our route in the unlikely circumstances of an imminent rescue attempt (a rescue attempt I feared would not be forthcoming, since my dear husband and his big-nosed companion would not yet be aware of my disappearance, and even when they did notice my absence, the likelihood of identifying Colonel Moran and his villainous gang as possible culprits, had to be somewhere in the region of little-chance, and no-fucking-chance.)

Reaching into my coat pocket, I extracted one of my notebooks, thinking I may as well update my activities (given the likelihood of it being the last thing I’d do).

“I see you keep a diary, Mrs Watson,” said Moran. He had placed himself between me and the carriage door—rat-faced Ratched having taken up residence on my other side, preventing any escape.

Tilting my chin upwards in a rebellious pose, I said, “Of course, I expect I shall need it when the case gets to court.”

Moran chuckled. “Ah yes, the optimism of the Watsons—always worth a laugh.”

“Don’t underestimate my husband, Sebastian. After all, he helped put you in gaol last time.”

He nodded, solemnly. “Indeed. But not for long. As you can see.” He waved his hands in a regal gesture.

I said nothing for a moment, then as we approached Russell Square, I leaned towards Moran and muttered, “So, Moriarty got you out, did he?”

The colonel grinned. “Now then, Mary, you know better than to ask leading questions.” He sniffed and gazed out of the window. “Besides, Moriarty’s dead.”

Though I knew him to be an accomplished liar, the tone of Moran’s voice gave the impression that, on this occasion at least, he told the truth.

At that point, the carriage rolled to a stop, and I saw we had drawn up a few yards away from a recently erected monument.

Moran nodded towards the famous statue. “Ah, yes. Bartholomew Cavendish. Hero of the Indian Wars. Also known as the Duke of Bendover. Best known for his habit of ordering unruly subordinates to drop their trousers, prostrate themselves over his desk and—”

“Yes, Colonel,” I said, interrupting. “I’m well aware of the stories surrounding that man’s accomplishments.”

“Curiously enough,” he continued, “bending over is one of the many activities Maudie has in mind for you.” He laughed, maniacally.

Maudie herself had begun to alight from the vehicle and I saw two burly henchmen approaching. Reaching in, they grabbed me roughly by the arms and hoisted me out and onto the street. For a moment, I had the urge to scream, but one of the men produced a dagger and pressed it to my stomach.

“One word out ov you, girlie, an I’ll slit yer gizzard faster than a Dundee fishwife.”

I smiled sweetly. “Actually, humans don’t have gizzards. The primary function of it in fish is to aid the digestion.”

The man scowled. “That so? Well, ‘ow about I slit somfing else instead?”

I coughed. “No, that’s alright. I shan’t be any trouble to you.”

“That’s what I thort.”

The two gripped me firmly and led me towards a grand looking house with several steps up to a large front door. But it wasn’t the main part of the building we were headed for, and I found myself being pushed down a metal staircase that presumably led to the cellar. In any case, we were soon in a darkened room below street level, where a distinct but recognisable aroma filled my nostrils.

Peering through the gloom, I saw a dark figure sitting by the fire at the other side of the room. As I moved towards him, the smell of the tobacco filled my nostrils. The potent and slightly sweet aroma seemed awfully familiar to me and as I searched my memory, a churning sensation in my tummy told me I already knew the identity of the stranger.

As I stepped closer to the fire, the man with the pipe turned his head towards me. “Ah, Mary. I wondered when you’d show up.”

“Oh, my God! What the fuck?”

“My sentiments entirely, my dear. But have a seat—if we’re lucky, our abductor might entertain us with an explanation.” He turned to look back at Colonel Moran, who now stood a few feet away, a smug expression on his face.

“Au contraire, old friend,” said he. “Surely, as the world’s greatest consulting detective, you’ve already worked out what’s going on?”

“Of course,” said Sherlock Holmes, but the tight line of his mouth told me that for once, the hero of Baker Street did not have all the answers.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2022 in Detective Fiction

 

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