- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Ingeniously contrived and shrewdly executed by some of the finest talents at work in crime fiction today—Anne Perry, Loren Estleman, Gillian Linscott, Edward D. Hoch, Peter Tremayne, Stuart Kaminsky, Jon L. Breen, Bill Crider, Howard Engel, Carolyn Wheat, and L. B. Greenwood—the eleven stories in this premier volume celebrate the keen mind and singular manners of the Great Detective. "This collection is of the highest order and should be required for every Sherlockian shelf."—Minneapolis Star Tribune "A worthier ...
Ingeniously contrived and shrewdly executed by some of the finest talents at work in crime fiction today—Anne Perry, Loren Estleman, Gillian Linscott, Edward D. Hoch, Peter Tremayne, Stuart Kaminsky, Jon L. Breen, Bill Crider, Howard Engel, Carolyn Wheat, and L. B. Greenwood—the eleven stories in this premier volume celebrate the keen mind and singular manners of the Great Detective. "This collection is of the highest order and should be required for every Sherlockian shelf."—Minneapolis Star Tribune "A worthier gift for any mystery aficionado cannot be imagined."—Chicago Sun-Times "Uniformly faithful to the spirit of Doyle's creation."—Publisher's Weekly
The Man from Capetown
* * *
Stuart M. Kaminsky
It was raining. It was not the usual slow, cold gray London rain that spattered on umbrellas and broad brimmed hats but the heavy relentless downpour that came several times a year jungle drumming on the rooftops of cabs reminding me of the more mild monsoons I had witnessed in my years in India.
Time in India always moved slowly. Time in the apartment I shared with Sherlock Holmes had moved at the pace of a torpid Bombay cat during the past two weeks.
I kept myself busy trying to write an article for The Lancet based on Holmes' findings about the differences he had discovered between blood from people native to varying climates. At first Holmes had entered into the endeavor with vigor and interest, pacing, smoking his pipe, pausing to remind me of subtle differences and the implications of his discovery both for criminology and medicine.
Several days into the enterprise, however, Holmes had taken to standing at the window for hours at a time, staring into the rain-swept street, thinking thoughts he chose not to share with me.
Twice he picked up the violin. The first time he woke me at five in the morning with something that may have been Liszt. The second time was at one in the afternoon when he repeatedly played a particularly mournful tune I did not recognize.
On this particular morning, Holmes was sitting in his armchair, pipe in hand, looking at the coal scuttle.
"Rather interesting item in this morning's Times," I ventured as I sat at the table in our sitting room with the last of my morning tea and toast before me.
Holmes made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a sigh.
"A Mr. Morgan Fitchmore of Leeds," he said. "Found in a cemetery on his back with a railroad spike plunged into his heart. He was gripping the spike, apparently in an attempt to remove it. The night had been damp and the police found no footprints in the mud other than those of the deceased. About twenty feet from the body a hammer was found. The police are baffled."
Holmes grunted again and looked toward the window where the rain beat heavily on the glass.
"Yes," I said. "That is the story. I thought it might interest you."
"Minimally," said Holmes. "Read the rest of the story, Watson, as I have. Fitchmore was a petty thief. He was found lying on his back. The dead man appears to have left no signs that he attempted to defend himself."
"Yes, I see," I said reading further.
"What was a petty thief doing in a graveyard on a rainy night?" Holmes said drawing on his pipe. "Why would someone attack him with a railroad spike? Why were there no other footprints? Why did he not struggle?"
"I couldn't say," I said.
"Railroad spikes make passable chisels, Watson. A thief might well go into a graveyard at night with a spike and hammer to chisel away some cameo or small crucifix or other item he might sell for a slight sum. Such assaults on the resting place of the dead are not uncommon. A rainy night would ensure a lack of intrusion."
"I fail to see ..."
"It is not a matter of seeing, Watson. It is a matter of putting together what has been seen with simple logic. Fitchmore went to the graveyard to rob the dead. He slipped in the mud flinging his hammer away as he fell forward on the spike he held in his hand. He rolled over on his back, probably in great agony, and attempted to pull the spike from his chest, but he was already dying. There is no mystery, Watson. It was an accidental if, perhaps, ironically apropos end for a man who would steal from the dead."
"Perhaps we should inform the police in Leeds," I said.
"If you wish," said Holmes indifferently.
"May I pour you a cup of tea? You haven't touched your breakfast."
"I am not hungry," he said his eyes now turned to the fireplace where flames crackled and formed kaleidoscope patterns which seemed to mesmerize Holmes who had not bothered to fully dress. He wore his gray trousers, a shirt with no tie and a purple silk smoking jacket that had been given to him by a grateful client several years earlier.
In the past month, Holmes had been offered three cases. One involved a purloined pearl necklace. The second focused on an apparent attempt to defraud a dealer in Russian furs and the third a leopard missing from the London zoo. Holmes had abruptly refused all three entreaties for his help and had directed the potential clients to the police.
"If the imagination is not engaged," he had said when the zoo director had left, "and there is no worthy adversary, I see no point in expending energy and spending time on work that could be done by a reasonably trained Scotland Yard junior inspector."
Holmes suddenly looked up at me.
"Do you have that letter readily at hand?"
I knew the letter of which he spoke and in the hope of engaging his interest I retrieved it from the portmanteaus near the fireplace which crackled with flames which cast unsettling morning shadows across the sitting room.
The letter had arrived several weeks ago and aside from the fact that it bore a Capetown postmark, it struck me as in no way singular or more interesting than any of a dozen missives that Holmes had done no more than glance at in the past several weeks.
"Would you read it aloud once more, Watson, if you please?"
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes," it read:
I have a matter of the greatest importance to set before you. I have some business to attend to here in Capetown. It should take no more than a few days. I will then set forth for England in the hope of seeing you immediately upon my arrival. I must hurry now to get this letter on the next ship bound for Portsmouth. This is a matter of money, love and a palpable threat to my life. I beg you to give me a consultation. Cost is no object.
The letter was signed, Alfred Donaberry.
I folded the letter and looked at Holmes wondering why this particular correspondence, among the many so much like it he had received over the years, should draw his interest and why he had chosen this moment to return to it.
As he had done so many times before, Holmes answered my unspoken questions.
"Note the order in which our Mr. Donaberry lists his concerns," said Holmes looking in my direction and pointing his pipe at the missive in my hand. "Money, love and life. Mr. Donaberry lists the threat to his life last. Curious. As to why I am now interested in the letter, I ask a question. Did you hear a carriage stop in the street a moment ago?"
I had and I said so.
"If you check the arrival of ships in the paper from which you have just read you will note that the Principia, a cargo ship, arrived in Portsmouth from Capetown yesterday. If our Mr. Donaberry is as concerned as his letter indicates, he may well have been on that ship and braved the foul weather to make his way to us."
"It could be anyone," I said.
"The rig, judging from the sound of its wheels on the cobblestone, is a large one, not a common street cab and it is drawn by not one but two horses. I hear no other activity on the street save for this vehicle. The timing is right and, I must confess to a certain curiosity about a man who would venture from as far as Capetown to pay us a visit. No, Watson, if this man is as anxious to meet me as his letter indicates, he will have been off the boat and on his way catching the seven o'clock morning train."
A knock at the door and a small smile from Holmes accompanied by a raised eyebrow in satisfaction were aimed my way.
"Enter Mrs. Hudson," Holmes called.
Our landlady entered, looked at the plate of untouched food in front of Holmes and shook her head.
"A lady to see you," she said.
"A lady?" Holmes asked.
"Most definitely," Mrs. Hudson said.
"Please tell the lady that I am expecting a visitor and that she will have to make an appointment and return at a future time."
Mrs. Hudson was at the door with tray in hand. Over her shoulder she said, "The lady said to tell you that she knows you are expecting a visitor from South Africa. That is why she must see you immediately."
Holmes looked at me with arched eyebrows. I shrugged.
"Please show her in Mrs. Hudson and, if you would be so kind, please brew us a fresh pot of tea," Holmes said.
"You've eaten nothing Mr. Holmes," she said. "Perhaps I can bring you some fresh biscuits and jam?"
"Tea and biscuits will be perfect," Holmes said as she closed the door behind her, the tray balanced carefully in one hand.
"So our Mr. Donaberry is not the only one who would willingly venture out in a storm like this," I said pretending to return to the newspaper.
"So it would seem, Watson."
The knock at the door was gentle. A single knock. Holmes called out, "Come in" and Mrs. Hudson ushered in an exquisite dark creature with clear white skin and raven hair brushed back in a tight bun. She wore a prim black dress buttoned to the neck. The woman stepped in, looked from me to Holmes and stood silently for a moment till Mrs. Hudson had closed the door.
"Mr. Holmes," she said in a soft voice suggesting just the touch of an accent.
"I am he," said Holmes.
"My name is Elspeth Belknapp, Mrs. Elspeth Belknapp," she said. "May I sit?"
"By all means Mrs. Belknapp," Holmes said pointing to a chair near the one in which I was sitting.
"I have come ... this is most delicate and embarrassing," she said as she sat. "I have come to ..."
"First a few questions," said Holmes folding his hands in his lap. "How did you know Donaberry was coming to see me?"
"I ... a friend in Capetown sent me a letter, the wife of a clerk in Alfred's office," she said. "May I have some water?"
I rose quickly and moved to the decanter Mrs. Hudson had left on the table. I poured a glass of water and handed it to her. She drank as I sat down and looked over at Holmes who seemed to be studying her carefully.
"Mr. Holmes," she said. "I was, until five months ago, Mrs. Alfred Donaberry. Alfred is a decent man. He took me in when my own parents died in a fire in Johannesburg. Alfred is considerably older than I. I was most grateful to him and he was most generous to me. And then, less than a year ago John Belknapp came to South Africa to conduct business with my then husband."
"And what business is that?" Holmes asked.
"The diamond trade," she said. "Alfred has amassed a fortune dealing in diamonds. Though I tried not to do so, I fell in love with John Belknapp and he with me. I behaved like a coward Mr. Holmes. John wanted to confront Alfred but I wanted no scene. I persuaded John that we should simply run away and that I would seek a divorce citing Alfred's abuse and infidelity."
"And was he abusive and unfaithful?" asked Holmes.
She shook her head.
"I am not proud of what I did. Alfred was neither abusive nor unfaithful. He loved me but I thought of him less as a husband than as a beloved uncle."
"And so," said Holmes, "you obtained a divorce."
"Yes, I came to London with John and obtained a divorce. John and I married the day after the divorce was approved by the Court. I thought that Alfred would read the note I had left for him when I fled with John and that Alfred would resign himself to the reality. But now I find ..."
"I see," said Holmes. "And what would you have me do?"
"Persuade Alfred not to cause trouble, to leave England, to return to South Africa, to go on with his life. Should he confront John ... John is a fine man, but he is somewhat on occasion and when provoked given to unconsidered reaction."
The woman removed a kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.
"He can be violent?" asked Holmes.
"Only when provoked, Mr. Holmes. Alfred Donaberry is a decent man, but were he to confront John ..."
At this point Mrs. Hudson knocked and entered before she was bidden to do so. She placed biscuits and jam upon the table with three plates, knives and a fresh pot of tea. She looked at the tearful Elspeth Belknapp with sympathy and departed.
"Next question," Holmes said taking up a knife and using it to generously coat a biscuit with what appeared to be gooseberry jam. "You say your former husband is a man of considerable wealth?"
"Considerable," she said accepting a cup of tea from me.
"Alfred? He is fifty-five years of age, pleasant enough looking though I have heard people describe him as homely. He is large, a bit, how shall I say this ... Alfred is an uneducated, a self-made man, perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but a good, gentle man."
"I see," said Holmes, a large piece of biscuit and jam in his mouth. "And he has relatives, a mother, sister, brother, children?"
"None," she said.
"So, if he were to die, who would receive his inheritance?"
"In his letter to me, he mentions that his visit is in part a matter of money."
"I suppose I might unless he has removed me from his will."
"And your new husband? He is a man of substance?"
"John is a dealer in fine gems. He has a secure and financially comfortable position with London Pembroke Gems Limited. If you are implying that John married me in the hope of getting Alfred's estate, I assure you you are quite wrong Mr. Holmes."
"I am merely trying to anticipate what direction Mr. Donaberry's concerns will take him when we meet. May I ask what you are willing to pay for my services in dissuading Mr. Donaberry from further pursuit of the issue?"
"I thought ... Pay you? John and I are not wealthy," she said, "but I'll pay what you wish should you be successful in persuading Alfred to return to South Africa. I do not want to see him humiliated or hurt."
"Hurt?" asked Holmes.
"Emotionally," she said quickly.
"I see," said Holmes. "I'll take your case under advisement. Should I decide to take it, how shall I reach you?"
Elspeth Belknapp rose and removed a card from her small purse. She handed the card to Holmes.
"Your husband's business card," Holmes said.
"My home address is on the back."
She held out her hand to me. I took it. She was trembling.
"Holmes failed to introduce me," I said glancing reproachfully at my friend.
"You are Dr. Watson," she said. "I've read your accounts of Mr. Holmes' exploits and have remarked on your own humility and loyalty."
It was my turn to smile. She turned to Holmes who had risen from his chair. He took her hand and held it, his eyes on her wedding ring.
"A lovely diamond and setting," he said.
"Yes," she said looking at the ring. "It is far too valuable to be worn constantly. A simple band would please me as much but John insists and when John makes up his mind ... Please Mr. Holmes, help us, John, me and Alfred."
The rain was still beating and the wind blowing even harder as she departed closing the door softly as she left.
"Charming woman," I said.
"Yes," said Holmes.
"Love is not always kind or reasonable," I observed.
"You are a hopeless romantic, Watson," he said moving to the window and parting the curtains.
"Not much of a challenge in this one," I observed.
"We shall see, Watson. We shall see. Ah, she wears a cape and carries an umbrella. Sensible."
I could hear the carriage door close and listened as it pulled away, horses clomping slowly into the distance.
Holmes remained at the window without speaking. He checked his watch from time to time but did not waver from his vigil till the sound of another carriage echoed down Baker Street.
"And this shall be our forlorn former husband," said Holmes looking back at me. "Ah yes, the carriage has stopped. He has gotten out. No umbrella. A big man. Let us move a chair near the fire. He will be drenched."
And indeed, when Mrs. Hudson announced and ushered Alfred Donaberry into the room, he was wet, thin hair matted against his scalp. His former wife had been kind in describing him as homely. He had sun darkened skin and a brooding countenance and bore a close resemblance to a bull terrier. In his left hand he carried a large and rather battered piece of luggage. His clothing, trousers, shirt and jacket were of good quality though decidedly rumpled and the man himself was quite disheveled and in need of a shave. His wrinkled suit was dark, a bit loose.
"Please forgive my appearance. I came here straightaway from the railway station," he said setting down his suitcase and holding out his hand. "Donaberry. Alfred Donaberry."
Holmes shook it. I did the same. Firm grip. Troubled face.
"I am Sherlock Holmes and this is my friend and colleague Dr. Watson. Won't you sit by the fire."
"I thank you, sir," Donaberry said moving to the chair I had moved next to the warmth of the hearth.
"I may as well get right to it," the man said holding his hands toward the fire.
"Your wife has left you," Holmes said. "Some three months ago. You recently discovered that she is in London and you've come in pursuit of her."
"How did you ...?"
"You missed her by but a few minutes," Holmes said.
"How did she know I ...?" Donaberry said perplexed.
"Let us lay that aside for the moment," said Holmes and, if you will, get to the heart of your problem."
"Heart of the problem. Ironical choice of words, Mr. Holmes," he said. "No, I am not pursuing Elspeth. If she wants no more of an old man, I can understand though I am broken of heart. The minute I read the note she had left me those months ago I accepted reality and removed my wedding ring."
He held up his left hand to show a distinct white band of skin where a ring had been.
"You do not want to find her or her new husband?" Holmes asked.
"No sir," he said. "I want nothing to do with him, the jackanapes who stole her from me and polluted her mind. I want you to find them and stop them before they succeed in murdering me within the next month."
I looked at Holmes with a sense of shock but Holmes simply popped yet another piece of biscuit and jam into his mouth.
"Why should they want to murder you Mr. Donaberry?" I asked.
He looked at me.
"I have entered my will for change in the courts," he said. "In one month time, Elspeth will be my heir no longer."
"Why a month?" I asked.
Donaberry shifted uncomfortably in his chair and looked down before speaking.
"When we married, because of my age and sometimes fragile health, I feared for Elspeth's future should I die. Though by law she would inherit, I have distant relatives in Cornwall who might well make claim on my estate or some part of it. Therefore, I entered specifically into my will that Elspeth should inherit everything and that there should be no revocation or challenge to my will and my desire. My solicitor now informs me, and Elspeth well knows and has certainly informed her new husband, that it will take a month longer to execute the changing of the will, so carefully has it been worded. For you see, the word 'wife' never appears in the will, only the name Elspeth Donaberry."
"But what," I asked, "makes you think they plan to kill you?"
"The two attempts which have already been made upon my life in South Africa," he answered with a deep sigh. "Once when I was in field a fortnight past. I spend much of my time when weather permits and the beating sun is tolerable, in the flats and mountains searching for gem deposits. It was a particularly blistering day when I was fired upon. Three shots from the cover of trees. One shot struck a rock only inches from my head. I was fortunate enough to escape with my life. In the second instance, an attempt was made to push me off a pier onto a trio of sharpened pilings. Only by the grace of God did I fall between the pilings."
"You have other enemies besides Belknapp and your wife?"
"None, and Mr. Holmes, I don't blame Elspeth necessarily, but that John Belknapp is a piece of work with friends of an unsavory bent and though he might have persuaded her otherwise, I know from my most reliable sources that John Belknapp is in serious financial trouble. He is a profligate, a speculator and a gambler. I think he wants not just my wife but my fortune."
"And you want me to protect you?" asked Holmes.
"I want you to do whatever it takes to keep Belknapp from killing me or having me killed. He's more than half a devil."
It sounded to me like the kind of case Holmes would have sent straightaway to Lestrade and the Yard.
"The price will be two hundred pounds payment in advance," said Holmes.
Donaberry did not hesitate. He stood up, took out his wallet and began placing bills on the table counting aloud as he did so.
"Thank you," said Holmes. "Dr. Watson and I will do our utmost to see to it that murder does not take place. Where will you be staying in London?"
"I have a room reserved at The Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street," he said.
The Cadogan was a small hotel known to be the London residence of Lilly Langtree and rumored to be an occasional hideaway for the notorious playwright Oscar Wilde.
"You've told no one," said Holmes.
"Only you and Dr. Watson," he said.
"Very good," said Holmes. "Remain in your room. Eat in the hotel. We will contact you when we have news. And Mr. Donaberry, do not go out the front door and do not take the cab that is waiting for you. You may be watched. Dr. Watson will show you how to get out the back entrance. There is a low fence. I suggest you climb it and work your way out to the street beyond. Mrs. Hudson will provide you with an umbrella."
"My suitcase," he said.
"Dr. Watson or I will return it to you the moment it is safe to do so. I cannot see a man of your size and age climbing fences with the burden of this luggage."
Donaberry looked as if he were thinking deeply before deciding to nod his head in reluctant agreement.
"Then be off," Holmes said. "Remember, stay in the hotel. In your room as much as possible with the door locked. Take all your meals in the hotel dining room. The food is not the best but it is tolerable."
Donaberry nodded and I led him out the door and down to the back entrance after he had retrieved his coat and Mrs. Hudson had provided an umbrella.
Holmes was pacing the floor, hands behind his back when I returned to our rooms and said, "Holmes, while I sympathize with Mr. Donaberry's situation, I see nothing in it to capture your attention or make use of your skills."
"I'm sorry, Watson, what did you say? I was lost in a thought about this curious situation. There are so many questions."
Excerpted from Murder in Baker Street by . Copyright © 2001 by Carroll & Graf Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|The Man from Capetown||1|
|The Case of the Borderland Dandelions||25|
|The Siren of Sennen Cove||51|
|The Case of the Bloodless Sock||75|
|The Adventure of the Anonymous Author||98|
|The Case of the Vampire's Mark||109|
|A Hansom for Mr. Holmes||128|
|The Adventure of the Arabian Knight||148|
|The Adventure of the Cheshire Cheese||166|
|The Remarkable Worm||201|
|Sidelights on Sherlock Holmes||229|
|100 Years of Sherlock Holmes||245|
|And Now, a Word from Arthur Conan Doyle||263|