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