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NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES
By JASON LETHCOE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Jason Lethcoe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA SHARPE BOY
Griffin Sharpe noticed everything.
When people spoke, he noticed the color of their teeth. He also counted the number of frayed threads on men's shirtsleeves or the number of feathers on a lady's hat. And he didn't just notice that they were there. He also carefully noted the color and the type of bird that had supplied each one.
He memorized entire sections of the Bible, Webster's Dictionary, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and could recall any part of them when he needed to. Everything he saw was photographed with his mind's eye and stored for use at a later date. In other words, Griffin Sharpe was one of those rare individuals whom people refer to as a "genius."
But even though he was incredibly smart, Griffin was a humble boy. His father, who was a Methodist minister, had taught him that the sin of pride was the basis of many others. And Griffin did his best to resist the temptation to correct others when they were wrong. He'd found out quickly that being right all the time didn't help him make friends.
In fact, one of the main reasons Griffin had traveled all the way to London from Boston was because he hadn't been invited to spend the summer at a local camp with his schoolmates. The other children hated him for being the teacher's pet. Answers to questions seemed to pop into his head before the schoolmaster had even finished asking them, and it was hard for Griffin to contain his excitement when he saw the solution to a problem. That never went over well with his classmates.
Griffin had the bruises to prove it.
He gazed around the tiny train compartment in which he now sat, his sad, blue eyes taking in all the details. He was alone; the other three seats in his compartment had been empty for several stops. Griffin had just finished counting the number of tassels on one of the velvet window curtains when the brass-trimmed door slid open and a friendly man's face appeared.
Griffin reached into his coat pocket and removed his ticket. As he handed it to the conductor, he noticed that the man wore round brass glasses that were called Pince-nez, that one side of his handlebar moustache was waxed and curled more tightly than the other, that he had a spot of Dijon mustard on the left side of his jacket's lapel (probably from his lunch), and, most strangely of all, that the edges of his shirt cuffs had dirty, gray marks around their edges.
All of these things Griffin noticed in the split second before the conductor had torn his ticket. Everything about the man was acceptable and ordinary in Griffin's opinion, but the man's soot-stained shirt cuffs gave him pause. Then, as the man handed back his half of the ticket, Griffin quickly deduced an explanation.
"Oh ... excuse me, but has the train been shorthanded today?" Griffin asked politely.
The conductor hesitated, appearing confused. "Excuse me?"
Griffin smiled and indicated the man's sleeves. "I don't mean to be rude, sir. I was just curious since I happened to notice the soot marks on the edges of your cuffs. I assumed that perhaps you might be helping with the fireman's duties, shoveling coal into the engine's firebox. The coal dust on your sleeves indicates that you probably weren't wearing gloves."
The conductor gave Griffin a long searching look and then burst out laughing. "My word, young man! You're a regular Sherlock Holmes!"
Now it was Griffin's turn to be confused. "I'm sorry, but I don't know who Sherlock Holmes is," he said.
In response, the conductor reached into his back pocket and pulled out a rolled-up pulp magazine. Handing it to Griffin, he said, "Mr. Holmes is the greatest detective in the world. Everybody in London reads about his adventures in the Strand Magazine. My wife can't get enough of them ... waits in line every Tuesday to get the next installment."
Griffin flipped through the beautifully illustrated magazine quickly. One of the pictures caught his eye almost immediately. It showed the famous detective standing in front of a modest brick building.
The address was 221 Baker Street.
Griffin gasped with surprise. He glanced up at the friendly conductor and said eagerly, "But that is precisely the address to which I'm heading. I'm going to visit my uncle!"
The conductor studied him with a curious expression. Then with a chuckle, he said, "Well, as I live and breathe. Wait until I tell my wife that I met the nephew of Sherlock Holmes. She'll be so excited that she might faint right there on the spot."
Then, after giving him a friendly wink, the man ducked back out of Griffin's compartment. The boy sat staring at the magazine, overcome with excitement. He'd never met his uncle before, but his mother had always referred to him as Snoops, a nickname she'd used since they were children. He'd never heard her say his real name, so Griffin had to call him Uncle. After all, calling a relative he'd never met Uncle Snoops seemed a little strange.
Could it be possible that his uncle was the same great detective that the conductor had mentioned? He knew that his uncle and his mother were half brother and sister, so it was possible they had different last names. He studied the picture of Sherlock Holmes, noting his tall, lean frame and angular profile. If he squinted at the picture, he thought the man did resemble his mother's side of the family a little.
Filled with anticipation, Griffin settled back into his seat and began to read. And the more he read about Sherlock Holmes, the more excited he became. For here was someone with a mind not unlike his own, someone who observed even the smallest details and was helping people with his talent.
For so long Griffin had prayed that God would give him an opportunity to use his talent for good, and that he could find a friend as well. He'd asked Him to help him find somebody who wouldn't make fun of him and call him names for being smart.
And finally, after a very long time of asking, he'd received an answer to his prayer.
Chapter TwoTHE CONSULTING DETECTIVE
But you don't look anything like Sherlock Holmes!" the woman exclaimed, waving her copy of the Strand in his face. The scruffy man stared back at her with an annoyed expression. After a moment he sighed and rubbed a tired hand across his forehead.
"No, madam," he replied, forcing a smile. "I never claimed anything of the sort."
She was right, of course. The man knew exactly what Mr. Holmes looked like, and he didn't resemble him in the slightest. Rupert Snodgrass had seen Holmes's arrogant, hawkish profile and his triumphant smirk too many times to count. The mere thought of the detective sickened him.
"Mr. Holmes lives next door. You're at 221A Baker Street. You'll find him at B just over there." He indicated the door next to his that led to the upstairs apartment.
As the woman turned to leave, the man couldn't help introducing himself. "Forgive me, madam. But my name is Rupert Snodgrass, and, as unlikely as it may seem, I'm also a consulting detective."
He smiled wide, displaying all of his teeth with the hope that he could entice her to stay. Since she hesitated, he pressed on. "Actually, you'll find my rates just as reasonable as his, if not more so." Mr. Snodgrass winked, hoping that being friendly would make her feel that he was making a special exception just for her.
The fact was he desperately needed some business. He had been living on a small tin of stale biscuits for over a week and was dangerously close to being kicked out of his flat. This might not have been such a bad thing, considering that he happened to live next door to the world's most famous detective and had competing businesses. But he was determined to stay and not allow his neighbor to destroy his dreams of becoming England's most famous detective himself.
Rupert Snodgrass was not going to take defeat that easily.
If the woman heard his offer, she didn't show it. She whirled from where she stood and without a second glance backward was at his neighbor's stoop. Seconds later she was being ushered into Mr. Holmes's apartment by Dr. Watson.
Snodgrass scowled. After slamming the door shut, he stomped back into his study. The cup of tea that had been prepared from old tea leaves was cold. Disgusted, he dumped the murky liquid on top of one of his numerous wilted houseplants and went down the hall to his bedroom.
He cleaned his teeth while gazing into a small, cracked mirror. The man with a receding hairline, red-rimmed eyes, and an unshaven beard who looked back at him seemed defeated. Then, with a depressed sigh, he toweled off his face and climbed into bed.
As he lay there, staring at the ceiling, he realized an important truth: people with elegant surnames like Sherlock and impressive features to match inspired confidence in their clients. Since when, he wondered, had a "Rupert Snodgrass" ever amounted to anything but a fishmonger or a tailor? He didn't look the part of a great detective, and he knew it.
His head ached, fueled by anxiety over his unpaid rent, his lack of success as an investigator, and indigestion from moldy biscuits. Snodgrass felt sure that if he could just solve one case before Sherlock Holmes, his entire life would turn around. He lived with the hope that one day it would be him staring back with a triumphant grin on his face as the newspaper reporters took down the story of how he solved the mystery before his neighbor did.
Oh, what sweet revenge!
While on the last case, the one with the cursed dog that haunted the Baskerville moor, he'd nearly done it. But, like most things in life, coming in second place just wasn't good enough.
The delicate strains of a violin playing a perfect Mozart concerto filtered down from the apartment above. He could imagine his neighbor's long fingers caressing the strings, creating music that was beautiful and pure. There seemed to be no end to Holmes's maddening talents. Rupert Snodgrass grabbed the broom from the corner and pounded on the ceiling as hard as he could, shouting for quiet.
But Sherlock Holmes didn't stop playing.
Chapter ThreeTHE ARRIVAL
The following morning Snodgrass was awakened by a sharp, insistent rapping at his door. He flung back the sheets with a bearlike growl and, after grabbing his dressing gown, stomped to the door. Seizing the handle he yanked it open, expecting, for some irrational reason, to see Sherlock Holmes standing there.
But it wasn't Holmes. Instead, a boy of perhaps twelve stood on the steps. The child was shabbily dressed and had a mop of shaggy blond hair and the saddest blue eyes Rupert had ever seen. They stared up at him with an anxious expression.
"Uncle Holmes?" the boy asked.
Rupert Snodgrass glared down at him, unable to process the question. His sleep-addled brain couldn't imagine who the boy was or what he was doing on his doorstep. "Uncle?" Did the boy say, "Holmes"? Well, he certainly wanted nothing to do with any children, especially a child related to Sherlock Holmes.
Without a word, Snodgrass slammed the door shut and wandered back to bed. But his head had barely touched the pillow when the knocking began once more. Whoever this rascal was, Snodgrass thought, he evidently had no idea of the danger he was putting himself in.
This time Rupert Snodgrass practically tore the door from its hinges.
"What?" he demanded. He was furious.
"My name is Griffin Sharpe. I'm looking for my uncle, Sherlock Holmes. I thought he lived at this address."
"You're wrong. He lives next door."
Griffin stared at the man, looking confused. "Then this isn't 221 Baker Street?"
"It is. But Sherlock Holmes lives at B, and I live at A. He is upstairs, and if you're looking for him, then you've come to the wrong place. Stop bothering me."
* * *
Griffin was about to turn away when something caught his attention. It was the distinctive color of the man's eyes. They weren't quite blue and not quite green, and their size and shape reminded him of someone else's, someone he knew very well ...
Griffin's heart sank as his eyes darted over the man, taking in the tiniest details. Now that he looked, he could see several family resemblances. In addition to the eyes, his uncle's hands, his jawline, and the color of his hair told him everything he needed to know. It was hard to accept, but the visual evidence suggested that this horrible man was his uncle!
Griffin stared up at the slovenly figure in the doorway and frowned. The man looked like he hadn't slept in weeks, and Griffin was pretty certain the smell of cheese that wafted toward him wasn't cheddar. But there was one last question he needed to ask to be sure. He hoped that somehow, his observations had been wrong.
"Um ... sir, can I ask one other question? Does the name 'Snoops' mean anything to you?"
"W-what? Snoops? Where did you hear that?" Snodgrass blustered. "Who told you that name?"
"Never mind," the boy said meekly. His eyes hadn't deceived him. The great Sherlock Holmes was not his uncle after all.
"I, er, see that your real name is Robert Snodgrass. I'm sorry; I should have noticed it sooner," Griffin said.
Snodgrass looked startled and then annoyed. After a moment, he said, "What, is that some kind of magic trick? How did you figure that out?"
"I simply noticed the initial R monogrammed on your dressing gown pocket. Robert is the most popular name that begins with that letter. And when I glimpsed the Snodgrass coat of arms hanging in your parlor, I figured that it must be your last name."
* * *
Observant. Snodgrass realized that the boy had determined all of this after his having had the door open for only a few moments. But he was tired and hungry, and he wasn't in the mood to be lectured in the fine art of observation by some arrogant child.
"Well, you're wrong. My name's Rupert, not Robert. And just who do you think you are, boy? I don't have time to stand here arguing with you. I'm a very busy man!" he said.
A look of regret flickered across the boy's face. "I-I'm sorry. I assumed that I wouldn't be an intrusion, being that we're family."
"Family?" Rupert Snodgrass barked. He gave the boy a ferocious stare. "I don't have any family. I thought you said Holmes was your family."
In answer, the boy reached into his pocket and removed a small envelope. Snodgrass snatched it from his outstretched hand.
The detective's eyes darted over the paper, taking in the contents. It was from the same address as a letter he'd received weeks earlier. He hadn't bothered to open the first letter, because he had mistakenly assumed it was from a bill collector.
Rupert tore open the envelope and found that it contained some money and a note from his sister who lived in America. After a moment he realized, to his horror, that the letter's intention was to introduce him to his nephew. His sister had sent the boy to stay with him for the entire summer because she said it "would be a valuable cultural and character-building experience for Griffin to learn about my homeland."
Character building experience? Obviously his sister, whom he hadn't spoken to in years, had underestimated her brother's aversion to children. As far as Rupert Snodgrass was concerned, he would rather forget that he had ever been a child himself.
As if reading his uncle's mind, Griffin Sharpe turned and gave his uncle an awkward smile.
"I'm looking forward to getting to know you, Uncle," the boy said quietly. And then, indicating his suitcase, he added, "I hope I won't be a bother."
Chapter FourA BAD START
So now, after traveling thousands of miles to London and being shown to a very shabby room that smelled of mothballs and mildew, Griffin felt a surge of regret. He realized that by blurting out the connection between the initial on his uncle's dressing gown and the painting of the Snodgrass coat of arms in the hallway, he must have made his uncle feel stupid. Like so many times before, he'd said his thoughts as soon as they'd popped into his head. And it didn't take a genius to notice that the minute he'd mentioned it, his uncle had thought him annoying and rude.
Excerpted from NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES by JASON LETHCOE Copyright © 2011 by Jason Lethcoe. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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