Sorry to hear about the incident with the sardine tin, but if you will allow Mrs Hudson to go off on a walking tour of the cheviots at a moment’s notice without bothering to install a suitable replacement, you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps if you’d showed the slightest interest in your housekeeper’s domestic routines and, especially, her tin-opening technique, a ‘crisis’ of this sort might have been averted. Nevertheless, I hardly think a week recuperating in The Ullswater Institute for the Utterly Indisposed is essential for what is after all, only a small cut to the index finger, but I’m sure you know best.
However, I digress. Detailed below, you will find my notes pertaining to our current case:
Further to our discussion on the series of menacing missives received by Miss Penelope Pitstop, Mary and I travelled down to Tootbridge yesterday, to meet the lady herself at a small family-run hotel where she is currently staying. I had previously communicated Sherlock’s advice about remaining incognito and calling herself by a different name, though it may be that her fame will undermine any chance of remaining anonymous.
On arriving at the aptly-named Brooklands Hotel, we checked in as Mister as Mrs Sacker and made reservations for dinner. I had informed Miss Pitstop that I would be wearing a red rose in my lapel and had issued a brief instruction as to how she might affect introductions during dinner, so we might avert any suspicions regarding our business together.
As it happens, the hotel restaurant was barely half full, and by the time we’d been seated, Mary and I had the place almost to ourselves. When Miss Pitstop appeared, looking more like a film star than a racing driver, she made a show of ordering hors d’oeuvres in the way of potted wood pigeon and a bottle of Chateau Ee-bah-gum (a Lancastrian chardonnay). Then, making an even bigger show of noticing me, she waved a hand in our direction.
“Oh, ‘ello,” she said, approaching our table. “You’re not that philanderer bloke Orville Sucker, are ye?”
I coughed. “If you mean the philanthropist Ormond Sacker, yes I am.”
My dear wife stifled a giggle and said, “You look like a young lady on her own – perhaps you’d like to join us?” She raised her eyebrows seductively.
“Make it bloody obvious why don’t you?” I hissed. Turning back to our guest, I put on my most lenient smile. “Don’t worry my dear, everyone gets it wrong. And your name is…?”
Miss Pitstop extracted a decorative fan from one of her voluminous sleeves and wafted her face vigorously. “Eeh, Ah’m rate sorry luv, Ah’m always putting me foot in it.” She made herself comfortable, then added, “you can call me Penelope. Ah mean…Harriet.” Dropping her voice to a hoarse whisper, she said, “Sorry luv, Ah’m not very good at this pretendin lark.”
A young couple by the door whose attire was very obviously that of racing car enthusiasts, were watching us carefully and from the furtive conversation that followed, it was clear our guest had been recognised.
A baleful sigh emerged from my lips which I took no pains to conceal. Gazing around the restaurant, I judged it was likely that anyone with the remotest interest in the world of motor sports had already overheard us. Leaning forward, I said, “Right, let’s just forget the charade – I’m Johnny, this is Mary and I think everyone knows who you are, so let’s get down to it.”
It was about an hour later while we were having coffee, that Penelope showed us the letters.
“Mind,” she said, “Ah threw the first two or three away, thinkin they were just the ravings of some nut-job. But then they started to get serious.” She passed the latest communication across the table. “All the letters ‘inted at something bad, but with this one, there’s no misunderstandin.”
Without touching it, I peered at the single sheet of paper and considered what Holmes would make of it. The paper itself was a pale blue shade of Basildon Bond, hand written with no address or other marks of identification. I read it aloud:
You ‘ave smeared the good name of English racing, so now you ‘ave ter pay. I am going ter slit your throat wiv a sharp knife and bring an end to your winning ways.
“Well,” said Mary, “you’re right about one thing – the meaning is clear.”
I chewed my lip for a moment. “Perhaps, perhaps not. There’s a few obvious details – the signature is a mistake and should read ‘Number’ Plate. Also, the writer has attempted to disguise his identity by representing a common dialect, but has defeated the object by using punctuation correctly, which makes me think he is an educated man.” Looking at Miss Pitstop, I said, “What do you make of it?”
She tapped a finger on the note. “That’s interestin, Doc, but you’re wrong about t’spelling – Humber Plate’s the name of a race.”
“Then it’s someone within the racing world, someone who wants revenge.”
“But why – what ‘ave I done?”
“Isn’t it possible that one of your male counterparts resents your success? Being a student of human behaviour as I am, I imagine there’s many a man who might feel aggrieved to be bested by a woman. Particularly one as attractive as you.”
Penelope nodded slowly. “So you think this is some bloke what I’ve beaten in a race?”
I picked up the letter. “Quite possibly, although…” Having perceived what seemed to be a watermark within the paper, I turned the sheet over. There was nothing to see, but holding it up to the light, the design became visible – ingrained in the paper, most probably created via a cylinder-mould process, was the image of a man’s sleeve with a hand at the end. Except it wasn’t a hand, but a hooked device in the shape of a claw.
“Bugger,” I said. “He’s back.”