When Dr. Watney last saw Schlock Homes, the great detective was flinging himself over a waterfall. Since then, Watney has lived quietly at 221B Bagel Street, mourning the death of the most unique detective the world had ever known. That all changes on the day Homes comes back from the dead. His fall was just a ruse, he announces, and it is time to get back to work. In such classic tales as “The Adventure of the Hansom Ransom” and “The Adventure of the Big Plunger,” Homes and Watney chase the most ingenious criminals of the age—and never come close to catching them.
These immaculate pastiches of the great detective’s adventures are far more than mere parody. In Schlock Homes, Robert L. Fish has created a character for the ages: a detective who understands that brilliance means knowing you’re right—even if the whole world disagrees.
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.
Read an Excerpt
The Memoirs of Schlock Homes
A Bagel Street Dozen
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
The Return of Schlock Homes
It was with bitter thoughts that I trudged down the broad stone staircase of St. Barts that late afternoon of a cool September day in '62 and turned my steps in the direction of the modest quarters I had—so long ago, it seemed!—shared with my dear friend Mr. Schlock Homes. The day had gone quite badly: the cardiectomy I had performed that morning had seemed successful and yet the patient had inexplicably died. Far worse, the pretty young nurse I had asked to commiserate with me by sharing an afternoon libation had curtly refused my offer.
It was in a black mood indeed, therefore, that I tramped through the streets, recalling in my memory the last time I had seen Homes, and the vivid scene of that struggle on the rocky cliffs of the Corniche—Professor Marty armed with gleaming sword, and my friend with only a fragile bit of ashwood, and the hungry rocks below reaching up through the angry surf! And then, when the Professor had lost his balance and gone over the edge, that horrible moment when Homes, his last bow ruined, had gone to fling it to the waves and had also fallen to his death!
Schlock Homes no more!
Even after these many weeks it still seemed impossible. With a deep sigh that owed, perhaps, almost as much to the memory of my friend as to that of the young nurse, I turned at last into Bagel Street, came to our rooms at Number 221B, and clumped up the shadowy stairway.
The room was darkening with the growing evening, but sufficient light still remained for me to make my way to the bookshelf and remove my address-book without the necessity of turning up the lamp. I was in the process of tearing out the page with the young nurse's name on it, ripping it angrily into shreds and flinging the pieces from me, when a sudden sound gave me pause. Had I not been positive of Mrs. Essex's intense dislike of felines, I could have sworn that a cat was mewing in the room.
Turning, I searched the gloom of one corner, and there, to my utter consternation, sprawled a lanky figure idly drawing a bow across the strings of a violin and producing what was, even to my untutored ear, a reasonable facsimile of Zetzenbull's Suite Sioux. So grave was the shock that I am afraid my mouth fell open.
"Homes!" I cried, my knees weakening.
"Watney," replied my friend with a dry chuckle, "your mouth is open." He laid aside his instrument and drew himself lazily to his feet. "In addition, you are littering the floor."
"Homes!" I repeated, my eyes widened in shock. "You are alive! How is it possible?"
He eyed me thoughtfully. "When I was so careless as to fall over that parapet in Monaco," he replied after a pause, "I was fortunate in selecting a spot where some night fishermen were preparing to spread their nets for drying, pulling them taut before fastening them down. Professor Marty had already managed to free himself from the cords and was scuttling off down the beach when I arrived. Needless to say, a second tangling of their nets did little to soothe the fishermen, and by the time I could assuage their anger and climb back to the road, you had already disappeared. Upon arrival at the hotel I found you had taken my effects with you, and I was therefore forced to remain in Europe, although I was not particularly averse to so remaining."
"And what brings about your return now, Homes?" I asked curiously.
The great detective smiled at me. "What brings about your haste to tear pages from that small morocco notebook, if questions of motives are being asked? You enter the room and immediately repair to the book-case, take down your address-book, and violently rip out the pages. The only possible conclusion one can draw from your actions is that you are in dire need of the binding. Taking into consideration the season, one can only conclude that you have decided to go hunting and require elbow-patches for your huntingjacket."
"Homes!" I repeated once again. "You have not changed!" I stared at him carefully. "But what brings you back to London? And are you here to stay?"
My friend walked over and raised the lamp, bringing into sharp focus his familiar and beloved profile.
"Why, as to that, Watney," he replied easily, "only time can tell. Actually, the need of an old friend was communicated to me and I felt it necessary, in his cause, to return."
"Homes!" I said, overwhelmed with emotion at his statement.
"Lord Epsworth," he continued, much as if I had not spoken. "Surely you remember him?"
"Of course," I replied. Lord Epsworth was an old friend of ours whose eccentricity for having all neighbors at a minimum distance of three miles from his estate had brought this measure to be known in those parts as the Epsworth League. "Just what is causing his Lordship concern?"
Homes smiled gravely. "Later," he said quietly. His keen eyes surveyed me. "You appear a bit under the weather, Watney. If you are free to join me in this case I should be much delighted. I suggest that the fresh air of the highlands may be just the prescription you require for the obvious disappointment of missing your hunting."
"I should like that, Homes!" I cried.
"Good. Then I suggest you pack without delay, for in anticipation of your acceptance I have booked us space on the Glasgow Express which leaves Euston within the hour."
I went to my room and began throwing clothes into my old campaign bag, the young nurse now forgotten. The thought of Homes's return, and his request for my help on a case, was like wine to me. Feeling better by the moment, I joined Homes in the living-room and we descended together to take a hansom to the station.
We arrived in good time, and once seated in our compartment Homes lit a Bulgarian and leaned back, flicking ashes on the floor. I smiled at the well-remembered gesture.
"This is like old times, Homes," I remarked warmly. "It has been some time since a case has taken us above the Scottish border."
"It has indeed," he conceded. "The last time was when we were so fortunate as to prevent warfare among some of the eminent Scottish families, when their tempers got the better of their judgement."
I nodded, recalling the case well. In my notes it still remains waiting to be delineated, bearing the title of The Adventure of the Steamed Clans.
"Well do I remember, Homes," I said, and then leaned forward. "But enough of these memories. If you don't mind, please favor me with the details of Lord Epsworth's problem."
A frown crossed my friend's face. He reached forward, crushing his cigarette out against the carriage window-sill, and turned to me in all seriousness.
"The facts are these, Watney. As you know, Lord Epsworth is the owner of a famous pig, known to all fanciers as the Duchess of Bloatings, and winner of countless medals and ribbons. Well, to be blunt, the Duchess of Bloatings is missing. Upon learning of his loss, Lord Epsworth immediately instituted a search, and even managed to engage the services of a wandering band of gypsies he had allowed to camp on his grounds, as the Duchess of Bloatings seemed particularly partial to the refuse their campsite offered.
"But all to no avail. When, as of last evening, no sign of the missing animal had been noted, he thought to advise the local constabulary, who in turn made contact with Scotland Yard, who got in touch with the Sûreté-Générale, who managed to locate me. It is for the purpose of finding the missing prize-winning pig that we are travelling north."
I nodded my head in understanding. "Tell me, Homes, do you have any theories on the matter?"
"None," he replied honestly. "Until we are upon the actual scene, I fear there is little to do. I suggest we dine and then have the attendant make up our beds. My trip from the Continent was quite tiring, and we shall have need for clear heads to-morrow!"
The following morning we engaged a trap at the station and drove through the sparkling Scottish sunlight to Bloatings, the home of Lord Espworth and—until recently—his prize pig as well. We found his Lordship puttering in the garden, using an old wood-shafted putterer of a type long out of style below the border. At sight of the two of us he dropped the club and hurried forward, peering at us queryingly through his thick spectacles.
"Homes!" he cried at last in recognition. "You have come!" He paused. "But why?"
"The Duchess of Bloatings," Homes replied imperturbably.
"A beautiful animal," his Lordship stated, nodding his head. But then his face fell and he added sadly, "But she is missing."
"I know," Homes said gently. "You asked me to investigate."
"I did? That's right, I did, didn't I? Come, let us repair to the study and I shall give you all the details of this foul kidnapping!" He paused uncertainly, staring about. "Now, where is the study?"
Homes, as usual, was able to supply the answer to the question, and moments later we found ourselves seated in the vast library and being served coffee.
"And now, Lord Epsworth," Homes said calmly, putting down his cup, "the details, if you please."
"Of course," his Lordship said, smiling agreeably. "The details ... of what, Homes?"
"The loss of your pig," Homes reminded him.
"Oh! Yes! Well, it seems that about two evenings ago—or it may have been three—or was it four?—the trainer, Jerkins, went to feed the Duchess and she wasn't there. Most unusual, I assure you. She was often late for shows, and occasionally for fairs, but never for meals. Jerkins looked about, of course, but he failed to spot her. Eventually he told me, and I also looked for her, but to tell the truth I'm rather nearsighted. Actually," his Lordship said sadly, "we never did find her."
Homes nodded thoughtfully. "Is there any possibility she may have merely wandered away?"
"The Duchess?" His Lordship shook his head. "She weighed over twenty-two stone. Normally she had trouble standing, let alone wandering."
"I see. Tell me, your Lordship, do you recall anything out of the ordinary that may have occurred that evening? Or any unusual sound that might lend itself as some sort of clew?"
Lord Epsworth thought deeply for several moments. "Possibly the word 'unusual' is too strong," he said at last, "particularly since it happened every day. But I do seem to recall the cook's children singing one of their little nursery rhymes. I had quite a time understanding Jerkins at first, the little ones made so much noise!"
A sudden gleam appeared in my friend's eyes. "Nursery rhyme?" he asked softly. "Very interesting! From the mouths of babes, you know, Lord Epsworth.... Can you recall exactly which nursery rhyme they were singing?"
Lord Epsworth frowned. "Let me see ..." Suddenly he looked up, his eyes bright. "By Jove, Homes, you are amazing! Now that I remember, they were singing some song about pig-stealing!"
"Ah!" Homes said in satisfaction. "And where might I find these children?"
Lord Epsworth's face fell. "In London, I'm afraid. They are off on a holiday to their home in the section of Stepney." His faced cleared as one mystery, at least, was resolved for him. "So that's why it's been so quiet here lately!"
Homes disregarded this. "Then we shall have to solve the case without their help," said he, and springing to his feet he began to pace before the library shelves, peering intently at the titles facing him.
Suddenly he withdrew a book and began to study its contents. When he turned to us there was a smile of satisfaction upon his face.
"Can this be the nursery rhyme the children were singing, your Lordship?" he inquired, and began reading aloud:
"'Tom, Tom, the piper's son
Stole a pig and away he run.'"
Lord Epsworth sat up, astounded. "Homes, you are a genius! How you do it I'll never know! That was it exactly!"
"But in what way does it help us, Homes?" I asked, confused by the entire affair.
"That we have yet to determine," replied my friend evenly. He replaced the book on the shelf and turned to Lord Epsworth. "We had best get to work. I shall want a word with Jerkins and a look about. As soon as I have news for you, I shall be back."
"Do that," said his Lordship heartily, and then paused. "And when you are speaking with Jerkins, ask him if he's seen the Duchess of Bloatings about anywhere, will you?"
Without further conversation we left the library and made our way towards the sties that constituted Jerkins' domain. Until now I had held my tongue, but I thought I saw the solution to the mystery and could not refrain from voicing it.
"You know Lord Epsworth as well as I do, Homes," I said simply. "In my opinion he did not lose this pig, he merely misplaced her!"
Homes shook his head. "The thought had also occurred to me, Watney, but a twenty-twostone pig is difficult to misplace. Besides, you are forgetting the nursery rhyme."
"I fail to see what a nursery rhyme could possibly have to do with it," I replied with some exasperation.
"You shall," he answered cryptically, and turned into the pen area.
Jerkins was there, mournfully cleaning the empty pen of his lost champion, but try as he would to help us, the poor fellow had no useful ideas on the subject, although he did recall the children singing that evening.
Homes dismissed the man and turned, studying the surrounding countryside carefully. In the distance the camp of the gypsies could be seen, and with a brief nod in my direction, Homes started off across the moors with the camp as his destination.
The camp was typical, consisting of ornately painted charabancs drawn in a rude circle about a campfire from which the odor of a succulent barbecue could be discerned. At our approach a tall, swarthy fellow rose from the group beside the fire and made his way hastily towards us, meeting us beyond the circle of the charabancs.
"Yes?" he asked truculently. "What do you want here?"
"Please forgive our intrusion," Homes said placatingly. "We are investigating the disappearance of his Lordship's prize pig, and we thought it possible that you might have noticed some strangers in the vicinity the night of the event."
The dark-faced man opposite us shook his head. "I have been asked before and I have answered!" he said with some anger. "Do you doubt the word of Tomás, King of the Gypsies?"
Homes hastened to reassure him, and with the man glowering at us threateningly we withdrew and headed back in the direction of the main house, although the delicious odor of the meal cooking over the spit made me realize we had scarcely eaten that day.
"You were exceptionally polite to that crude fellow, Homes," I said.
Homes nodded. "You must remember that the gypsies were at their meal," he replied. "It would have been the worst possible form to interrupt them. Besides, I am beginning to get a solution to this puzzling affair, and my time would be better spent in pursuing it."
While he spoke we found we had returned to the pen area, and Homes fell silent, dropping into a brown study, staring about him with a blank expression which might have misled others, but which I recognized as his normal expression when his great brain was busy with an abstruse problem.
I could hear him muttering to himself, and suddenly I realized that he was softly repeating the children's nursery rhyme to himself. With a puzzled shake of his head he was about to leave when his eye happened to chance upon a mark in the dust at his feet, and instantly he was a changed man. With a muffled cry he fell to his knees and stared in fascination at the smudge.
"Homes!" I cried. "What is it?"
Without deigning to answer he reached into his pocket and withdrew his magnifying-glass, bending closer to whatever had caught his eye. I could see his thin figure stiffen in barely concealed excitement as he read some significance in what appeared to me to be a mere smudge in the dust. Suddenly he looked up, his eyes gleaming in a manner I well knew.
"This mark!" he cried. "Do you see it?"
I bent closer, but again I could make nothing of the slight smudge before us.
"What is it, Homes?" I asked, mystified. "Certainly it is not a footprint!"
"But it is!" he exclaimed. "It is! Not, it is true, from a conventional boot—but a footprint none the less! As you know, I have made an extensive study of the wooden shapes and forms upon which various Indian tribes mould their moccasins, for each tribe uses a different form. And I tell you, without any doubt, that this mark was made by a moccasin formed on the last of the Mohicans!"
"Indians, Homes?" I cried. "American Indians?
Here? In Scotland?"
But my friend was paying me no heed. Once again I could hear him muttering the nursery rhyme, almost as an incantation, while his eyes stared fixedly at the smudge before him. At last he nodded briskly and rose to his feet.
"Of course!" he said softly to himself. "I am a fool! It was all there before me!" He turned to me, his fine dark eyes brooding. "I am afraid we must be the bearers of sad tidings to his Lordship. The Duchess of Bloatings is gone forever. By this time she is undoubtedly aboard a sailing ship bound for the American colonies, stolen by the savages of the Chesapeake region!"
"But, Homes!" I cried. "Certainly you did not come to this conclusion on the basis of that single smudge in the dust?"
Excerpted from The Memoirs of Schlock Homes by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1974 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Return of Schlock Homes,
The Adventure of the Big Plunger,
The Adventure of the Widow's Weeds,
The Adventure of the Perforated Ulster,
The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarters,
The Adventure of the Disappearance of Whistler's Mother,
The Adventure of the Dog in the Knight,
The Adventure of the Briary School,
The Adventure of the Hansom Ransom,
The Adventure of the Great Train Robbery,
The Adventure of Black, Peter,