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and the Copycat Murders
By Barry Day
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2000 Barry Day
All rights reserved.
"Indeed you could, Watson — indeed you could."
"Indeed I could what?"
It was not the first time Holmes had interrupted one of my reveries.
"Indeed you could show these young fellows a thing or two about fighting when things get worse in South Africa — as they inevitably will."
"But Holmes, you've read my mind precisely," I spluttered, "but how ...?" And then I stopped, realising that, once again, I had fallen into his favourite trap for me.
Sitting as usual in the chair opposite mine, Holmes threw back his head in that paroxysm of silent laughter that was peculiar to him and clapped his bony hands together once in satisfaction. When he is in this mood small things amuse him immoderately.
"As a piece of applied psychology it is really quite elementary, my dear fellow," he replied when he had recovered himself sufficiently. "I could hardly fail to notice that when you entered the room and sat down you immediately picked up this morning's Chronicle, which I had left folded at the story of that rather gruesome double murder in Wapping. The slight shudder that passed through your body was a perfectly understandable reaction under the circumstances, since the couple were bludgeoned to death with a candlestick.
"Your gaze then drifted to the candlestick on our own mantlepiece, an obvious association of thought. Once there — and with violence on your mind — your eyes moved to the adjacent frame which holds the medal you were awarded for your conduct at the Battle of Maiwand. At which point you winced and rubbed your war wound — something I've seen you do a hundred times or more. Then you became truly abstracted and, without realising it, sat up straighter in your chair. Your hand brushed your moustache and you distinctly pulled in your stomach.
"It seemed a fair assumption that your mind had moved on to the current conflict and the old warhorse in you was beginning to paw at the ground. Having heard your views on the youth of today on more than one occasion, it was — as I say — an elementary deduction to infer that you were even now putting yourself in their place."
"Holmes," I said ruefully, for I can never withhold my admiration for long, "you never cease to amaze me."
"Come, come, old fellow, you should be used to my parlour tricks by now. Once they are explained the process is no more complicated than winding in a ball of twine. Anyone can do it. Why, even you can do it. Now, let me see ..."
And he steepled his long thin fingers in front of his face as he concentrated.
How often had I seen that expression? And how relieved I was when I did, for it meant that that engine of a mind was in gear and no longer idling, consuming him with frustration at being underemployed.
Too often lately I had had cause for concern as I would come upon him pacing our small living room like a caged tiger, unable to settle for long at one or other of his evil-smelling chemical experiments or even find distraction in his beloved Stradivarius. On occasions like these even his shelf of Day Books provided only temporary relief and a brief grunt of what might pass for satisfaction as he contemplated some reference to a previous problem, now safely solved. Even that could prove a mixed blessing, since it would often cause him to turn a sombre gaze in my direction, as though all this inertia were my fault.
"The world has grown dull, Watson, deadly dull. Where are the great cases? Where are the great criminals now that Moriarty is taking his sabbatical ...?"
"But Holmes," I would invariably interject, "logic says that Moriarty died after that Alice in Wonderland business ..."
"Then logic — like the law — is an ass. Moriarty is no more dead than I am — which, at this precise moment, is not saying a great deal. He is my alter ego, old fellow, my doppelgänger, and while he hibernates a part of me sleeps, too." We had had this conversation or one like it too many times in the past year to make it profitable for me to pursue it further.
At such moments I seemed to detect a feverish gleam at the back of his eyes and my old concerns would well up. He was no longer, in some indefinable way, the man I had known before the traumatic Reichenbach episode. He had always been driven but there were now times — like this one — when his internal fires seemed about to consume him and I feared for the fragile balance of his mental health. It was, after all, not too long ago that I had had to summon up such authority as I possessed as his medical man — as opposed to his friend — and force him to take a holiday of sorts. Even though it had proved to be what I believe is called a 'busman's holiday' and involved a case that had almost cost us both our lives, he had returned from it with his batteries perversely recharged. Now, however, I seemed to sense he was returning to that critical state of nervous exhaustion that I knew and feared. For the past couple of days there had been moments when I had the distinct impression that he was in remission and that something of significance was beginning to absorb him once more but a moment later I was no longer sure.
So here we sat on this morning in early September 1900 in postures identical to those we had adopted so many times before that we might well have been figures in a Grecian frieze, as the sun warmed the yellow brick walls of the houses opposite and the sounds of the city drifted through the partly open windows like an inadvertent overture to some cacophonous modern piece.
Finally Holmes spoke. "I have it. What, my dear chap, do you make of that?" The door bell had just pealed below. "Pray describe our visitor."
"Let me see," I tapped my pipe against my teeth for added gravitas. "Not a hesitant ring. Therefore, no trembling maiden undecided as to whether she should unburden herself of some dread family secret ... Not an aggressive ring. Therefore, no angry squire from the shires demanding satisfaction for some imagined wrong. No, a confident ring suggestive of a strong male hand ... someone who has every right to be here ... a man in the commission of his duty ..." I glanced at my fob watch. "Too late for the postman — we heard him earlier ... too imperious for a telegram ..." I pondered for a moment. "I would venture to suggest an officer of the law ... not Inspector MacDonald — the parsimony of the Scot is in his ring. No, if I were a betting man ..."
"Which you are," Holmes interrupted, rather unnecessarily, I thought.
"If I were a betting man ..." I refused to have my denouement undermined — "I would plump for the good Inspector Lestrade."
The expression on Holmes's face was a veritable study — veiled surprise crossed with genuine amusement and, I thought I detected, a touch of genuine respect. It was a good moment, made even better when Mrs. Hudson knocked, put her head around the door and announced — "Inspector Lestrade to see you, Mr. Holmes."
I thought it superfluous to inform my friend that I had earlier intercepted a note from Lestrade indicating his intention to call at this hour. After all, we consulting detectives have certain trade secrets of our own.
Lestrade bustled into the room. The man has always struck me as having the air of a self important whippet although, to be fair, he has more of the bulldog about him once he has been pointed at the right quarry. Holmes has always referred to him as the pick of a bad lot. Just as one finds oneself locked into a pattern of behaviour when faced with one's schoolmaster, an older relation or anyone who represented authority in one's early years, so Lestrade always seemed to me to display an amalgam of bravado and submissiveness in my friend's presence. Today was no exception.
"Morning, Mr. 'Olmes ... Doctor." The battered bowler was being turned in nervous hands as he took the proffered chair and arranged his inevitable mackintosh around him with the care of a dowager at a society tea party. "Just happened to be in the neighbourhood and I thought ..."
"You thought?" Holmes interrupted. "Excellent, Lestrade, excellent!" Deciding that, once again, he was the butt of my friend's somewhat questionable humour, Lestrade laughed rather more than the pleasantry was worth and, having had his fun, Holmes — who had a genuinely soft spot for the man — now leaned forward in his chair.
"So pray tell us in what way my friend and I can be of assistance to you this fine morning?"
"Well, since you mention it, Mr. 'Olmes, there is one small thing you might be able to help us with." He rearranged the folds of his coat more precisely to avoid catching Holmes's eye.
"My lads were called early this morning to a house out Bayswater way. Landlady took the usual early morning tea and newspaper to one of her lodgers — a Mr. Montague. Second floor front. Knocked several times but couldn't make him hear. Finally got one of the other gentleman 'guests'— she calls them — to force the door. They go in and find Montague stiff as a bloomin' post sitting at the table. He'd been strangled. Well, I won't say that's all in a day's work for us at the Yard but we have seen a few in our time, haven't we?"
When Holmes showed no sign of responding, Lestrade continued.
"Well, I got over there sharpish like. I always tell my lads to move nothing. It's a little rule we professionals have. 'Who knows but what the smallest detail may contain the whole story?' I say to them ... The rub on a man's cuff, a woman's glove, a stray hair ..."
I tried to catch my friend's eye without success but I could see that the corner of his mouth was trying not to twitch.
"An excellent modus operandi, Lestrade. Watson, perhaps you will be good enough to take a note?" Holmes had now tired of the badinage. "And what detail did you observe? Omit nothing, no matter how insignificant it may appear. It has always been one of my cardinal rules that the little things are infinitely the most important."
"Only this, Mr. 'Olmes, but I thought you should see it." And the Inspector extracted a folded piece of paper from an inside pocket and passed it across.
As Mr. Holmes unfolded it, I rose and went to stand behind his chair, so that I could read it over his shoulder. It was a sheet of ordinary cheap stationery and the words were made up of letters cut from newspapers. The variations in typography made it obvious that several different papers had been employed. It said —
JABEZ WILSONREQUIESCAT IN PACE
"Jabez Wilson!" I exclaimed, "why isn't he the fellow who ...?"
"The victim of the so-called Red-Headed League and dead, poor fellow, these many years? The very same, Watson, the very same."
Handing the paper back to Lestrade — "I see entirely why you would wish to bring this to my attention, Inspector. If you have no objection, Doctor Watson and I will impose further on your good offices?"
"Certainly, Mr. 'Olmes, what did you have in mind?"
"Since the weather is fine, what do you say, Watson, to a little day trip to, say, Bayswater?"CHAPTER 2
The house was a three storey terraced affair in a quiet square just off the Bayswater Road. Looking back as we got down from the hansom that Lestrade had chosen over a more obvious police vehicle I could see Hyde Park. The prospect of people strolling idly in the late summer sunshine seemed a stark contrast to the sight I knew was waiting for us.
The open door was guarded by a uniformed policeman attempting to be as inconspicuous as a London bobby ever can. In the cramped, over-decorated hallway, positively reeking of gentility, a tearful middle- aged lady was being comforted by one of her lady 'guests'. I don't know quite why but I gained the distinct impression that her hysteria was tinged with more than a little excitement. The square was in for its share of gory details the moment Lestrade and his men packed up and left.
Lestrade himself was sufficiently impressed by the lady's performance, however, to remove his hat as he squeezed past her. Holmes and I, I regret to say, did not.
At the top of the narrow staircase a door stood open and a moment later the three of us — the constable having waited by the front door — were standing in a small room which appeared to have suffered from the hand of the same decorator who had furnished the hall, almost certainly the landlady herself.
Overstuffed armchairs with antimacassars, potted plants in profusion, spindly tables covered with knick- knacks from foreign parts. Every surface it was possible to cover was covered with wallpaper or drapery and every cover seemed to boast a striking but strikingly different pattern. If not exactly a sight for sore eyes, it was a sight to make eyes sore.
And yet none of this prevented my eye being drawn immediately to the centrepiece of this gaudy stage set.
Sitting in an upright chair next to a writing table and slumped over it, as if, tired by his literary labours, he had just laid his head to rest on his folded arms for a quiet nap, was the figure of a man I judged to be in his late thirties or early forties. But the thing about him that shouted out to the heavens was ...
"His hair, Holmes — look at his hair!"
The dead man had a full head of the most flaming red colour hair I had seen since ...
"Someone's, I grant you, Watson, but most certainly not his."
And with a rapid movement of his gloved hand Holmes plucked off a red wig and held it up to the light. The suddenness of the gesture caused Lestrade and myself to draw in our breath as one, while the dead man seemed to settle deeper in his chair, as if glad to be rid of the alien encumbrance.
"As I thought." Holmes had now turned the wig inside out and was peering at a label. "Nathan's theatrical costumiers. Suppliers to just about every stage production throughout the land. Though I very much doubt that our murderer will have been naïve enough to leave us a trail through their record of rentals. No, I fancy some unfortunate production will find their Property Department somewhat depleted. Watson, would you be good enough ...?"
I went over to examine the body. Rigor mortis had set in and I quickly determined that the man had been dead a good twelve hours or more. It would take a postmortem to be more specific. The cause of death, however, was quite clear. I turned to Holmes.
"The murderer stood behind him, leaned over and seized him by the throat. There are no signs of a struggle, which would seem to suggest that he was either taken completely by surprise or that he knew his assailant well enough not to be suspicious."
I held up the murdered man's right hand. "No defensive indications that he clawed his attacker's hands, no skin or blood under the finger nails. I would say he was taken totally by surprise."
I moved aside to let Holmes conduct his own examination. He concentrated on the marks around the neck, moving the head — sparsely coated with hair now that the wig had been removed — from side to side as he studied the indentations in the flesh made by the murderer's fingers. He muttered to himself, as I had heard him do so often. It was as if he were dictating notes to himself in an undertone. The face, as usual, might as well have been a mask, the features drawn, the brows set in two hard black lines.
While giving him room to work, I stayed close to the table and it was then that I noticed something odd. On the other side of the table but not close enough for the man to reach was an ash tray with the dottle from a pipe. What was odd was that, although it was clearly fresh — and the pin bright neatness of the room made it inconceivable that that landlady would leave it from one day to the next — the victim had no pipe. Nor did a quick survey of the room reveal any other signs of his having been a smoker.
Rather proud of myself, I related my findings to Holmes who was regarding the body thoughtfully, his finger to his lips. Without a single word of praise or even conjecture, he took the inevitable envelope from an inside pocket, moved to the other side of the table and tipped the ash into it. Only then did I receive a perfunctory, "Good work, Watson."
It was Lestrade who brought him out of his reverie.
"All right to move him now, Mr. 'Olmes?"
Suddenly it was as though a switch had been thrown and my friend returned to us from wherever he had been.
"Certainly, my dear Inspector, there is nothing more for us to learn here."
Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes by Barry Day. Copyright © 2000 Barry Day. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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