Twelve loving parodies of the great detective—each a masterpiece in its own right
The world-famous amateur detective Schlock Homes is making his way through breakfast when a telegram arrives. It takes but a moment’s deduction for the brilliant sleuth to determine that it was sent by a woman named Miss Wimpole, and that she is terribly upset. Homes knows this because the telegram reads, “I am terribly upset,” and is signed, “Miss Wimpole.” Miss Wimpole brings a case that stretches from the tombs of Egypt to the deserts of Mexico, with a stop at the racetrack in between, and it is but the first misadventure in this riotous collection of tales.
Whether chasing a counterfeit sovereign or an “Adam Bomb,” Schlock Homes and Dr. Watney never fail to have a marvelous time—even if they don’t quite catch their man.
About the Author
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
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The Incredible Schlock Homes
12 Stories from Bagel Street
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1966 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
The Adventure of the ASCOT TIE
In going over my notes for the year '59, I find many cases in which the particular talents of my friend Mr. Schlock Homes either sharply reduced the labours of Scotland Yard or eliminated the necessity of their efforts altogether. There was, for example, the case of the Dissembling Musician who, before Homes brought him to justice, managed to take apart half the instruments of the London Symphony Orchestra and cleverly hide them in various postal boxes throughout the city where they remained undiscovered until the denouement of the case. Another example that comes readily to mind is the famous Mayfair Trunk Murder, which Homes laid at the door of Mr. Claude Mayfair, the zookeeper who had goaded one of his elephants into strangling a rival for Mrs. Mayfair's affection. And, of course, there was the well-publicized matter involving Miss Millicent Only, to whom Homes refers, even to this day, as the "Only Woman." But of all the cases which I find noted for this particular year, none demonstrates the devious nature of my friend's analytical reasoning powers so much as the case I find I have listed under the heading of "The Adventure of the Ascot Tie."
It was a rather warm morning in the month of June in '59 when I appeared for breakfast in the dining room of our quarters at 221-B Bagel Street. Mr. Schlock Homes had finished his meal and was fingering a telegram which he handed me as I seated myself at the table.
"Our ennui is about to end, Watney," said he, his excitement at the thought of a new case breaking through the normal calm of his voice.
"I am very happy to hear that, Homes," I replied in all sincerity, for the truth was I had begun to dread the long stretches of inactivity that often led my friend to needle both himself and me. Taking the proffered telegram from his outstretched hand, I read it carefully. "The lady seems terribly upset," I remarked, watching Homes all the while for his reaction.
"You noticed that also, Watney?" said Homes, smiling faintly.
"But, of course," I replied. "Her message reads, 'Dear Mr. Homes, I urgently request an audience with you this morning at 9 o'clock. I am terribly upset.' And it is signed Miss E. Wimpole."
He took the telegram from me and studied it with great care. "Typed on a standard post-office form," he said thoughtfully, "by a standard post-office typewriter. In all probability by a post-office employee. Extremely interesting. However, I fear there is little more to be learned until our client presents herself."
At that moment a loud noise in the street below our open window claimed my attention, and as I glanced out I cried in great alarm, "Homes! It's a trap!"
"Rather a four-wheeler I should have judged," replied Homes languidly. "These various vehicles are readily identified by the tonal pitch of the hub-squeal. A trap, for example, is normally pitched in the key of F; a four-wheeler usually in B-flat. A hansom, of course, is always in G. However, I fear we must rest this discussion, for here, if I am not mistaken, is our client."
At that moment the page ushered into our rooms a young lady of normal beauty and of about twenty-five years of age. She was carefully dressed in the fashion of the day, and appeared quite distraught.
"Well, Miss Wimpole," said Homes, after she had been comfortably seated and had politely refused a kipper, "I am anxious to hear your story. Other than the fact that you are an addict of sidesaddle riding; have recently written a love letter; and stopped on your way here to visit a coal mine, I am afraid that I know little of your problem."
Miss Wimpole took this information with mouth agape. Even I, who am more or less familiar with his methods, was astonished.
"Really, Homes," I exclaimed. "This is too much! Pray explain."
"Quite simple, Watney," he replied, smiling. "There is a shiny spot on the outside of Miss Wimpole's skirt a bit over the exterior central part of the thigh, which is in the shape of a cut of pie with curved sides. This is the exact shape of the new type African saddle horn which is now so popular among enthusiasts of equestrianism. The third finger of her right hand has a stain of strawberry-coloured ink which is certainly not the type one would use for business or formal correspondence. And lastly, there is a smudge beneath her left eye which could only be coal dust. Since this is the month of June, we can eliminate the handling of coal for such seasonal purposes as storage or heating, and must therefore deduce her visit to a place where coal would reasonably be in evidence the year around—namely, a coal mine."
Miss Wimpole appeared quite confused by this exchange. "I was forced to leave the house in quite a hurry," she explained apologetically, "and I am afraid that I was not properly careful in applying my mascara. As for the jam on my finger, it is indeed strawberry," and she quickly licked it clean before we could remonstrate with her manners. She then contemplated her skirt ruefully. "These new maids," said she sadly, with a shake of her head. "They are so absentminded! The one we now have continues to leave the flatiron connected when she goes to answer the door!"
"Ah, yes," said Homes, after a moment of introspection. "Well; it was certain to have been one or the other. And now, young lady, if you should care to reveal to us the nature of your problem?" He noticed her glance in my direction and added reassuringly, "You may speak quite freely in Dr. Watney's presence. He is quite hard of hearing."
"Well, then, Mr. Homes," said she, leaning forward anxiously, "as you undoubtedly deduced from my telegram, my name is Elizabeth Wimpole, and I live with my uncle Jno. Wimpole in a small flat in Barrett Street. My uncle is an itinerant Egyptologist by trade, and for some time we have managed a fairly comfortable living through the itineraries he has supplied to people contemplating visits to Egypt. However, since the recent troubles there, his business has been very slow, and as a result he has become extremely moody, keeping to his own company during the day, and consorting with a very rough-looking group at the local in the evening.
"In order to understand the complete change in the man, it is necessary to understand the type of life we enjoyed when itinerant Egyptologists were in greater demand. Our home, while always modest, nonetheless was the meeting place for the intelligentsia. No less than three curators, an odd politician or two, and several writers on serious subjects counted themselves as friends of my uncle; and the head mummy-unwrapper at the British Museum often dropped by for tea and a friendly chat on common subjects.
"Today this has all changed. The type of person with whom my uncle is now consorting is extremely crude both in appearance and language, and while I hesitate to make accusations which may be solely based upon my imagination, I fear that several of these ruffians have even been considering making advances against my person, which I am certain my uncle would never have countenanced at an earlier day.
"While this situation has naturally worried me a bit, I should have passed it off without too much thought, except that yesterday a rather odd thing occurred. In the course of casually arranging my uncle's room, I chanced upon a telegram in a sealed envelope sewn to the inner surface of one of his shirts in a locked drawer. The nature of the message was so puzzling that I felt I needed outside assistance, and therefore made bold to call upon you." With this, she handed Homes a telegram form which she had drawn from her purse during her discourse.
Homes laid it upon the table and I stood over his shoulder as we both studied it. It read as follows: "WIMPY—WE HEIST THE ORIENTAL ICE SATURDAY. AMECHE OTHERS. HARDWARE NEEDLESS—THE FIX IS IN. WE RIG THE SPLIT FOR TUESDAY. JOE."
A curious change had come over Homes's face as he read this cryptic message. Without a word he turned to a shelf at his side and selected a heavy book bound in calfskin. Opening it, he silently studied several headings in the index and then, closing it, spoke quietly to our visitor.
"I wish to thank you for having brought me what promises to be a most interesting problem," he said, tilting his head forward politely. "I shall devote my entire time to the solution. However, I fear there is little I can tell you without further cogitation. If you will be so kind as to leave your address with Dr. Watney here, I am sure that we shall soon be in touch with you with good news."
When the young woman had been shown out, Homes turned to me in great excitement. "An extremely ingenious code, Watney," he chuckled, rubbing his hands together in glee. "As you know, I have written some sixteen monographs on cryptography, covering all phases of hidden and secret writings, from the Rosetta stone to my latest on the interpretation of instructions for assembling Yule toys. I believe I can honestly state, without false modesty, that there are few in the world who could hope to baffle me with a cipher or code. I shall be very much surprised, therefore, if I do not quickly arrive at the solution to this one. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that there are very few words employed, but as you know the only problems which interest me are the difficult ones. I fear this is going to be a five-pipe problem, so if you do not mind, Watney, handing down my smoking equipment before you leave, I shall get right to it!"
I reached behind me and furnished to him the set of five saffron pipes which had been the gift of a famous tobacconist to whom Homes had been of service: a case which I have already related in "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pipes." By the time I left the room to get my medical bag he had already filled one and was sending clouds of smoke ceilingward, as he hunched over the telegram in fierce concentration.
I had a very busy day, and did not return to our rooms until late afternoon. Homes was pacing up and down the room in satisfaction. The five pipes were still smoking in various ashtrays about the room, but the frown of concentration had been replaced by the peaceful look Homes invariably employed when he saw daylight in a particularly complex problem.
"You have solved the code," I remarked, setting my bag upon the sideboard.
"You are getting to be quite a detective yourself, Watney," replied Schlock Homes with a smile. "Yes. It was devilishly clever, but in the end I solved it as I felt sure I would."
"I was never in doubt, Homes," I said warmly.
"Watney, you are good for me," answered my friend, clasping my hand gratefully. "Well, the solution is here. You will note the message carefully. It says: 'WIMPY—WE HEIST THE ORIENTAL ICE SATURDAY. AMECHE OTHERS. HARDWARE NEEDLESS—THE FIX IS IN. WE RIG THE SPLIT FOR TUESDAY, JOE.' Now, disregarding the punctuation that separates this gibberish, I applied the various mathematical formulae which are standard in codifying, as well as several which have not been known to be in use for many years, but all to no avail.
"For some hours I confess to having been completely baffled. I even tested the telegram form for hidden writing, applying benzedrine hypochloric colloid solution to both surfaces, but other than an old shopping list which some post-office clerk had apparently written and then erased, there was nothing to be discovered.
"It was then that I recalled that Mr. Jno. Wimpole was acquainted with a mummy-unwrapper, and the possibility occurred to me that in the course of their many conversations, it was possible that the secret of ancient Egyptian secret writing had entered their discussions. Beginning again on this basis, I applied the system originally developed by Tutankhamen for the marking of palace laundry, and at once the thing began to make sense. Here, Watney; look at this!"
Bending over triumphantly he underlined the letter W in the word Wimpy, and then proceeded to underline the first letter of each alternate word, glancing at my startled face in satisfaction as he did so. The message now read: WHOS ON FIRST.
"Remarkable, Homes," I said dubiously; "but if you will forgive me, I find I am as much in the dark as before."
"Ah, Watney," said my friend, now laughing aloud. "When I first read this message, I also found myself baffled. But that was some hours ago, and I have not spent this time idly. I am now in possession of the major outline of the plot, and while it does not involve any serious crime, still it has been quite ingenious and clever. But there is nothing more to be done tonight. Pray send a telegram to our client advising her that we shall stop by and pick her up in a cab tomorrow morning at ten, and that we shall then proceed to the locale where the entire mystery shall be resolved."
"But, Homes!" I protested. "I do not understand this thing at all!"
"You shall, Watney; the first thing tomorrow," said Homes, still smiling broadly. "But no more for tonight. The Wreckers are at Albert Hall, I believe, and we just have time to change and get there if we are to enjoy the performance."
The following morning at ten o'clock sharp our hansom pulled up before a small building of flats in Barrett Street, and Miss Wimpole joined us. Both the young lady and myself looked askance at Homes, but he leaned forward imperturbably and said to the driver, "Ascot Park, if you please, cabby," and then leaned back smiling.
"Ascot Park?" I asked in astonishment. "The solution to our problem lies at a racing meet?"
"It does indeed, Watney," said Homes, obviously enjoying my mystification. Then he clapped me on the shoulder and said, "Pray forgive my very poor sense of humour, Watney; and you also, Miss Wimpole. I have practically solved the problem, and the solution does indeed lie at Ascot Park. Watney here knows how I love to mystify, but I shall satisfy your curiosity at once."
He leaned forward in thought, selecting his words. "When I first decoded the message and found myself with another message almost as curious as the first, namely, WHOS ON FIRST, I considered it quite carefully for some time. It could have been, of course, some reference to a person or commercial establishment named 'Whos' which was located on a First Avenue or Street. While I did not believe this to be true, it is in my nature to be thorough, and since New York is the only city to my knowledge with a First Avenue, I cabled my old friend Inspector LeStride, asking him to take steps. His reply in the negative eliminated this possibility, and I returned to my original thesis.
"Note carefully the last word, which is 'First.' This might, of course, have been an obscure reference to the Bible, in which it is promised that the last shall be first, but in perusing the original message I sensed no religious aura, and I am particularly sensitive to such emanations. No; instead I allowed myself to consider those cases in which it might be important to be first. I do not, of course, refer to queues or obstacles of that nature. The logical answer, naturally, is in wagering. The various means available to the Englishman of today to place a wager are extremely proscribed, and after checking the team standings and finding Nottingham still firmly in the lead, I turned to the racing news.
"And there I found, as I had honestly expected to find, that in the second race at Ascot today, the entry of the Abbott-Castle stables is a three-year-old filly named Who's On First."
He turned to the young woman at his side. "My dear," said he, "I fear that your uncle is involved in a touting scheme and that the group with whom he has been meeting lately have been using the telegraph system to send advices regarding probable winners. This is, of course, frowned upon in most racing circles; but as I have so often stated, I am not of the official police, and therefore feel no responsibility for bringing people to their so-called justice over minor vices. I shall look forward, however, to the proof of my ratiocination at the track in a few moments."
"Oh, Mr. Schlock Homes," cried Miss Wimpole, clasping his hand in gratitude, "you have relieved my mind greatly. I have been so worried, especially since I have accidentally come across large sums of money hidden in obscure places in the house and feared that my uncle had become involved with some desperate characters engaged in nefarious practices. Now that I am cognizant of the nature of the enterprise, I can relax and may even replace at least a part of these sums with my conscience at rest, knowing that they were not gained through fearful means. But you must let me pay you for your efforts in this matter, Mr. Homes. Pray tell me what your fee is."
"No, Miss Wimpole," replied Homes with simple dignity. "If my theory is as good as I believe it to be, there shall be no question of payment. I shall take as payment the benefits of the information which you yourself were so kind as to bring to my attention."
Within a few minutes our hansom drew up at the ornate gate of the famous racing meet, and while Homes went to study the posted odds and speak with some of the bookmakers with whom he enjoyed acquaintance, I purchased the latest journal and retired to the stands to await his return. He was with me in a few moments, smiling broadly.
Excerpted from The Incredible Schlock Homes by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1966 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction by Anthony Boucher,
The Adventure of the ASCOT TIE,
The Adventure of the PRINTER'S INC.,
The Adventure of the ADAM BOMB,
The Adventure of the SPECTACLED BAND,
The Adventure of the STOCKBROKER'S CLARK,
The Adventure of the MISSING CHEYNE-STROKE,
The Adventure of the ARTIST'S MOTTLE,
The Adventure of the DOUBLE-BOGEY MAN,
The Adventure of the SNARED DRUMMER,
The Adventure of the COUNTERFEIT SOVEREIGN,
The Adventure of the LOST PRINCE,
THE FINAL ADVENTURE,