"A delightful romp...The last third of the novel is one of the finest, scariest sequences in current crime fiction... For anglophiles, crime-o-philes, and all fans of wonderful writing." Booklist (starred)
When brothers Reggie and Nigel Heath choose 221B Baker Street as the location for their law office, they don't realize that their new office space comes with one huge stipulation; namely, they must answer the letters sent to Sherlock Holmes, the most famous resident of that address. While Reggie is working on a new case involving one of London's Black Cab drivers, the letters to Sherlock Holmes are piling up. There's even one from someone who claims to be the descendent of Professor James Moriarty. With a case that would have puzzled even Sherlock himself, The Brothers of Baker Street is sure to please mystery fans, whatever their address.
About the Author
MICHAEL ROBERTSON works for a large company with branches in the United States and England. His first novel in this series, The Baker Street Letters, has been optioned by Warner Bros. for television. He lives in San Clemente, California.
Read an Excerpt
LONDON, AUTUMN 1997
In Mayfair, the owner of an elegant Edwardian white-stone sat down at the garden table with unusually high expectations for breakfast.
It was a bright September morning, quite lovely indeed; the roses in the garden were much more fragrant than in many days or weeks past — more so than anyone could possibly understand — and there was every reason to believe that breakfast would be equally remarkable.
The servant girl would bring tea and scones for a start. The tea would be hot and dark and would swirl together with the milk like vanilla and caramel taffy; the scones would be fresh and warm and appropriately crumbly when broken in two, and the butter would melt into each half like rain into loose garden soil.
The breakfast would be wonderful — especially so because it was no longer necessary to take the medications that accompanied it.
No medications, no nausea. No medications, no mental dullness. No medications, no loss of pleasure in the ordinary, everyday elements of life.
Not taking the bloody little pills was certainly the way to go.
The wonder was why the servant girl still bothered bringing them at all.
Several steps away in the parlor, the servant girl — a young woman, who had emigrated from Russia only a few years earlier and shortened her name to Ilsa (because there was a tennis star of that name and people could pronounce it) — arranged a china setting on a silver serving tray, with all the breakfast components her employer was expecting.
She placed the medications on the tray as well — a yellow pill for the schizophrenia, a round blue one to alleviate the depression caused by the yellow one; and a square white one to deal with the nausea caused by the blue one, but apparently not to great effect. And there was a small pink one, which was related to the effects of the other three in some complicated way that no one had adequately explained.
The pills had been part of the daily regimen ever since Ilsa was first hired. That was almost a year ago now. Ilsa's employer, just a few years older than Ilsa herself, had lost both parents to an automobile accident at that time, and needed some assistance with the daily routine. Ilsa had been brought in to prepare the meals, to put the medicines on the tray, and to do the housekeeping and other chores. She wanted to do all of her tasks well.
Keeping the place tidy was more trouble than it should have been. Like a cat bringing presents from the garden, her employer kept discovering and bringing in small pieces of furniture and such from the parents' estate. Ilsa had counted five lamps, three vases, an ancient portable typewriter, and innumerable scrapbooks and folders and yellowed paper items, some of which her employer had begun to take upstairs alone to study in private.
But as difficult as the housekeeping was, what worried Ilsa most was the medications. A new doctor had come by — a man Ilsa did not particularly like — and said not to worry about them. So Ilsa tried not to worry. But she continued to put the pills on the tray anyway, as she had been originally told to do. It seemed to her that she still should do so. And she was uncertain of all the regulations in her adopted country; she did not want to get in trouble.
Now she brought the breakfast setting out to the garden. And she also brought a copy of the Daily Sun.
Ilsa placed the silver tray on the table. Her employer smiled slightly and nodded. Then Ilsa stood at the table and began to read the headlines aloud from the tabloid.
This had been become a ritual in recent weeks, and she took some pride in getting good at it.
"'Prime Minister Calls for Moratorium on Queue Cutting,'" read Ilsa.
"No," said her employer.
"'Prince Harry Fathers Love Child with Underage Martian Girl.'"
"'Liverpool Louts Stab Man in Front of Pregnant Wife.'"
"No. Page two?"
"And on page three?"
"A woman in her underwear — and nothing on top. Shall I read the caption?" Ilsa giggled just slightly, because she was beginning to understand the British fondness for bad puns, and she was looking forward to demonstrating that knowledge.
"No, Ilsa. I don't need to know about the page-three girl. Go to page four."
"Two headlines on page four," said Ilsa. "The first is: 'Taxi Drivers a Terror to Tourists?'"
It was an article about a spate of robberies and nonlethal assaults against patrons of Black Cabs. Ilsa read the headline with the proper inflexion, making it sound as alarming as the headline writer clearly intended it to be.
"Hmm." Ilsa's employer seemed disappointed and began to butter a scone.
"And the second is a lawyer on Baker Street who denies that he's Sherlock Holmes," continued Ilsa. "There's a photo. I think one might call him good-looking, in a stuffy sort of way."
Her employer abruptly stopped buttering. There was silence for a moment. Then —
"Let me see it."
It was just three short paragraphs, not even breaking news; just a follow-up piece, about one Reggie Health — a thirty-five-year-old London barrister — and the unusual circumstances of a trip he had taken to Los Angeles a short time earlier.
Ilsa watched as her employer stared at the passage for a very long time, eyes searching intently, as though there were something more on the page than just the words.
"Is something wrong?" said Ilsa.
"It's like trying to find a gray cat in the fog," said Ilsa's employer finally, getting up from the table, with the Daily News in hand, and without finishing breakfast. "But I think I am beginning to remember."
Ilsa did not ask what was being remembered. She took the tray away, saw that the medications were again untouched, and wished it were not so.
THREE DAYS LATER
"Nothing is so faithful as a male goose," Laura Rankin had once said. "If he loses his mate, if she dies or becomes directionally challenged flying home from Ibiza after a holiday, the male doesn't take a new one — he remains solitary for the balance of his life, spending what's left of his sad existence at ale and darts and whatever else ganders do with their spare time."
It had not been so long ago that she said it. It had been a warning; Reggie Heath just hadn't known it at the time.
He was remembering it now, as he turned his Jaguar XJS south from Regent's Park onto Baker Street in a heavy rain. It was not a gentle London drizzle, but an angry drencher, and it suited his frame of mind perfectly.
As a result of his recent and unintentional adventure in Los Angeles, Reggie had lost most of his personal fortune, all of his law chambers' clients, and (at least he liked to tell himself the Los Angeles events were the reason) the affections of the one woman he knew he loved.
He wanted all of it back again. Especially that last thing. When it came right down to it, he was thinking of everything else as just a means to that end.
But driving across the bridge this morning, he had heard a rumor. His new secretary, apparently unafraid to be the bearer of bad tidings, called him on his mobile to warn him, and the call had come as a shock — in part because he wasn't aware she knew that much about his personal life.
But these days, apparently, the whole world did.
He didn't want to look, and see what everyone else had already seen. But he knew he must.
He pulled into the car park in the two hundred block of Baker Street. He was at Dorset House — a building that occupied that entire block, and that was home not only to the headquarters of the Dorset National Building Society, but also to Reggie Heath's Baker Street Chambers.
Reggie parked the Jag, and with his umbrella beginning to break at the seams against the windblown rain, he crossed the street to Audrey's Coffee and Newsagent.
"The Financial Times?" said the attendant. He offered Reggie's usual purchase. The Financial Times had headlines about the PM at an economic conference in Brussels, and the inflation rate, and a proposal to bring the technological advances of satellite navigation systems to the taxis of London. None of that was on Reggie's mind.
"No," said Reggie. "The Daily Sun."
"Second time in a week, Heath. Developing an interest in trash?"
"No. Trash has developed an interest in me."
Reggie entered Dorset House and crossed through the lobby in quick strides, trying not to broadcast that he was carrying the lowest form of journalism folded under his arm, but trying not to be seen as hiding it either.
The lift was empty. That was lucky. Reggie got in and pressed the button for his floor.
He paid little attention to the front-page headline — "American Couple Killed: Cabbie Caught," something about unfortunate tourists in the West End two nights earlier — and he jerked the paper open to the inside pages. He saw the teaser line his secretary had warned him of.
"Fun with Freckles in Phuket?" was the title.
"Bloody hell," said Reggie, aloud, so transfixed that he didn't even realize that the lift hadn't moved and the doors had opened again.
A tall, attractive brunette in her thirties, a loan officer for Dorset probably, got in and stood next to Reggie.
"Stuck on page three, are we?"
Reggie roused himself. Just opposite the page-two blurb he was reading was the bare-tits photo that always occupied all of page three.
"Sorry," he said. He closed the paper. Trying to explain would have been worse. Much worse.
"Oh, don't mind me," she said, as the lift reached Reggie's floor. "Hope she's pert."
Normally Reggie would have come up with a response to that, but today there was no time. He exited the lift.
"Touchy," she said, still within earshot as Reggie walked away down the corridor.
He was headed for his secretary's desk. Also his chambers' clerk's desk: it was the same desk; he had hired just one person, a fiftyish woman named Lois, to fulfill both roles. That was mainly a financial decision, but also, combining both roles in one made it less likely that the secretary would want to bash in the clerk's head. Once had been enough for that. He wanted no more murders in chambers.
Lois rolled — almost literally — out of her desk station as she saw him approach. She had the general shape of a bowling ball, and the enthusiasm of one crashing at high speed into pins. With any luck, Reggie hoped, solicitors would bring new briefs to the chambers just for the entertainment of watching her react to them.
But at the moment, he didn't want to talk. And the papers she held in her hand didn't look like something he wanted to see.
"A new brief?" he said, doubtfully, without breaking stride.
"No," she chirped. "Letters to —"
"Put them where I said earlier," said Reggie.
Reggie entered the sanctuary of his chambers office. He closed the door behind him and spread the Daily Sun out on his desk. He followed the page-two headline teaser deeper, past a large Tesco advert and a smaller, cleverly self-deprecating one for Marmite, until he got to the back pages. And there it was:
"'On with it or off with it?'" read the caption. And there was Laura Rankin, caught on a beach in Phuket with some man's hands — "an unnamed but well-known media mogul" said the text — either fastening or unfastening her bikini top, and doing so with more points of contact than should have been mechanically necessary.
The gall was astonishing. Lord Buxton had actually published a pic in Lord Buxton's own paper of Lord Buxton's hand trying to fondle Laura's lightly freckled left —
Bloody hell. This would not do.
Reggie read to the end of the short piece, and saw that the unnamed but well-known media mogul was said to be flying in his well-known private jet right back to his well-known media headquarters in London later on that same day the photo was taken — his apparent mission of adjusting Laura's bikini top having been accomplished. The Daily Sun wondered in print, "Will the lady soon follow?"
The lady will return to London, thought Reggie, but not following after the bloody well-known media mogul.
Reggie grabbed his raincoat and headed for the door. If the Daily Sun had the itinerary right, Buxton should be back at work in the Docklands at that very moment. Reggie could be there in twenty minutes and help jolt him out of his jet lag.
Then the phone rang, from the secretary's internal line, and Reggie felt obliged to pick up.
"What the hell is it?" he said, into the phone.
There was an anxious pause at the other end, as the new secretary regrouped.
"Sorry," said Reggie. "What is it, Lois?"
"A Mr. Rafferty wants to see you," said Lois. "From Dorset House Leasing Division."
This could not be good.
"I'm very sorry," continued Lois. "He called earlier, but you seemed so preoccupied when you came in —"
"Quite all right," said Reggie. "My mistake."
And now he had to choose.
Deal with the emissary from the leasing committee ...
Or go to the Docklands to confront Buxton.
Discuss annoying details with a man in wire-rim glasses ...
Or thrash the man who was stealing Laura, and with justification that every court in the land would understand.
Reggie exited his office and went to the lift. Rafferty and the lease could wait. Lord Buxton's unsolicited and unnecessarily public contact with Laura's breasts could not.
The lift arrived from the ground floor, and the door opened.
"Heath! There you are!"
It was Alan Rafferty — a smallish man with a tendency toward very expensive gray suits and what Reggie suspected was a bit of a Napoleonic complex, deriving in part, no doubt, from his position of power on the leasing board. He had some documents in one hand and a prepackaged sandwich in the other.
"I thought you might have forgotten," said Rafferty, cheerily. "You all right, Heath? You look a little pink."
"Perhaps this can wait until the afternoon?" said Reggie.
"Oh, no," said Rafferty. He said it calmly, with a confident smile. "I have your lease right here. Started to look at it, then thought I should pop down for a bite first. Egg and cucumber salad. Quite good, I think they've changed the recipe. But now that I've got the lease out, you may as well ride back up with me, don't you think?"
That was ominous. Rafferty did indeed have the lease right there in his hand, and his thumb was pressing so hard against one particular section that it was probably going to leave a permanent mark.
"I trust it won't take long," said Reggie, remaining in the lift. They rode up to the top floor.
There really wasn't much to the top level. It was mostly just shining hardwood floor and windows. But Dorset House wasn't the first financial institution to occupy the premises; perhaps they just hadn't gotten around to making full use of it yet.
Rafferty's office was at the far end, tucked away, with just a small desk and two chairs.
"Interesting story in there," said Rafferty as Reggie sat down. Rafferty seemed to be indicating the copy of the Daily Sun that Reggie still had under his arm.
"Hardly relevant to my lease, is it?" said Reggie. He assumed Rafferty was referring to the thing about Laura in Phuket, and he made no effort to disguise his annoyance. He folded the paper again to half its current size and stuffed it into his coat pocket.
"Not today's paper," replied Rafferty. "Three days ago. But perhaps you hadn't seen it? Have a look."
Rafferty took a three-day-old copy of the Daily Sun out of his desk drawer, opened to the intended section, and handed it to Reggie.
The headline was "Balmy Barrister of Baker Street."
He had seen it before. The story was a sensationalized account, mostly inaccurate but not quite libelous, of Reggie's unfortunate trip to Los Angeles three weeks earlier, and the letters to Sherlock Holmes — which continued to arrive at Reggie's Baker Street Chambers — that had initiated it.
"This is old news," said Reggie. "I'm not happy about it; but there you are." The Daily Sun had in fact run more than one of these stories. He had considered calling the reporter to complain, but his better sense told him that complaining to a tabloid writer would be like teasing a chimpanzee.
"You'll have to forgive me for not being caught up on my reading," said Rafferty. "I only just saw the story yesterday."
Rafferty looked expectantly across at Reggie.
Reggie looked expectantly back.
"Well, of course," said Rafferty, "it does have some small relevance to your lease, wouldn't you agree?"
Excerpted from "The Brothers of Baker Street"
Copyright © 2011 Michael Robertson.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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