Read Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings Online

Authors: Dan Andriacco

Tags: #Mystery, #Holmes, #Short, #Opium, #Chrime, #Watson, #Moriarty

Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings (2 page)

BOOK: Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings
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“It is commonplace. I noted a few moments ago one or two cases with which I am familiar that seem to point in the direction of a solution. The rest of your narrative only strengthened the parallels. I shall be making inquiries in the next few days to confirm my deductions, but I have every confidence that matters shall be thoroughly resolved by week's end.”

“But what shall I do in the meanwhile?”

“Do nothing, Mr. Harden. I shall do the doing. The forces working against you are real, but it isn't your life they want. You are in no real danger.”

 

Two mornings later, rushing towards the High Street in Marylebone on a pre-dawn summons from Stanley Hopkins of Scotland Yard, I finally induced Sherlock Holmes to explain at least some of his reasoning.

“It was obvious from the first,” he said, “that someone wanted our client to return to Kentucky – or at least to leave England. The incident of the hotel room was designed to so disgust him that he would quit the country in a huff, which he very nearly did. The bogus telegram was to lure him away, the apparent attempt on his life to frighten him away. Each time, you see, a somewhat different approach toward the same end. There's the touch of genius in that, Watson. We're up against a worthy opponent this time. Hardly a killer, however.”

“But surely, Holmes, you owe it to Mr. Harden to pursue – ”

“And pursue I did, Watson. I talked with Evelyn Weber, the clerk at the Langham, this afternoon. Didn't I mention that?” Really, at times Holmes was exasperating. “This Weber is a stooped fellow with a thick mustache. Squints at you through his spectacles. ‘Mr. Harden checked out right enough,' says he, ‘no matter how he tells the tale.' I have also wired the Lexington, Kentucky, police with two vital questions. Ah, here we are. Let's see what compels friend Hopkins to roust us out of our beds at this hour of the morning.”

Stanley Hopkins was in those days a promising young official detective in whose career Sherlock Holmes had taken a great interest. One of his greatest assets, I had always suspected, was that he knew when to call on Holmes for help.

“It's a rum business, Mr. Holmes,” said he, leading us into the main room of William Russell's cluttered bookshop. The body of a small man lay outstretched there on the floor, within feet of a wall of bookshelves. Beneath his extended hand, as if he had just pulled it off a shelf, lay an ancient bound edition of
Hamlet
. From his back protruded a silver-handled knife.

“Mr. Russell here” – Hopkins nodded toward an old man with long white hair and a beard like Father Christmas – “lives upstairs. He found this corpse lying here just like this when he came down this morning. I warned everybody not to touch anything until you arrived, sir. The peculiar thing is, Mr. Russell says he's never seen the man before. We are inclined to believe Mr. Russell, he being a well-known and well respected businessman in this neighborhood. So what the devil is this mysterious Mr. Unknown Bloke doing getting himself murdered on Mr. Russell's floor during the night?”

He seemed to take this unfortunate occurrence as almost a personal affront.

Eager as a bloodhound, Holmes dropped to the floor and began examining the dusty area around the body with his lens. His eyes shone and his pale cheeks gained colour. He was in his element: “A falling-out among thieves suggests itself immediately, of course. Two thieves came in; only one left. But this man's dress – ”

Holmes uttered a strangled cry as his examination of the body brought him face to face with the dead man. “I am an old woman, Watson! I am Lestrade's idiot nephew! I am not competent to farm bees on the Sussex Downs! Hopkins, we know this man. His name is John Vincent Harden.”

 

Seldom have I seen my notoriously moody friend as melancholy as in the following twelve hours. He smoked prodigiously, scraped out mournful sounds on his violin, and scarcely acknowledged my existence.

“If you won't tell me your conclusions about this case,” I said bitterly, “at least tell Stanley Hopkins.”

“Soon enough,” he replied tersely. “A few more days can't hurt now.”

In this, however, Holmes was in error, as became apparent that evening with the arrival in our quarters of Miss Ophelia Harden.

“The police have made an awful mistake, Mr. Holmes,” she said. “They have arrested Paul – my friend, Mr. Herbert.”

Miss Harden was a handsome, full-figured young lady fashionably dressed in pale colours to accent her blonde hair and blue eyes. Though small, such was the force of her character that few would have labeled her “dainty.”

“This is grief piled upon grief, as if Father's death were not horror enough,” she wailed. “You must do something!”

Holmes regarded her through half-lidded eyes. “Tell me, Miss Harden, by what idiotic logic did the police decide to arrest young Herbert?”

“He and Father had strong words in public.” She lowered her eyes. “They were arguing about me, of course.”

“Of course. Your father mentioned the altercation during our meeting. He also made it quite clear that he did not approve of your poetic friend.”

“Father thought Mr. Herbert too young, too brash, too immature and thoroughly lacking in prospects. And he was right on every point! Oh, Mr. Holmes, Paul needs the steadying hand of someone like me, even though I am two years the younger.”

“And your fiancé?”

“Mr. Winter is perfect in every way, I suppose. He is handsome, tall, wealthy, charming – and, of course, boringly respectable. He may desire my affection and my company, but he doesn't need them the way Paul does. I am fond of him, but not nearly so fond as Father is – was. I was quite undisturbed at writing him about my developing feelings for Paul.”

Holmes threw up his arms. “Surely even the Scotland Yarders don't find a murder case against your Mr. Herbert in all of this?”

“Well, there is one other thing against Paul, Mr. Holmes. It's that bookshop where they found Father's body. Paul works there.”

 

Through the kind offices of Stanley Hopkins, we were permitted to interview Paul Herbert in his cell at the Bow Street police station the next morning.

“As God is my witness, Mr. Holmes – if there is a God, which I doubt – I wouldn't have blunted my knife on that benighted man,” he proclaimed.

He was a flush-faced, red-haired youth about my own height, pacing the small cell with a nervous energy akin to that of Holmes in one of his bloodhound humours.

“It was your knife, then?” Holmes asked, seeming surprised.

“I don't even own a knife,” the young poet snapped. “That was just a figure of speech.”

“We have yet to determine the ownership of the knife,” Stanley Hopkins told Holmes, somewhat stiffly. “But how much proof do we need? The victim was found dead in the accused's place of employment just a few days after a frightful row between the two of them in the lobby of the Langham Hotel, observed by the hotel staff. He might as well have carved his initials in the man.”

Paul Herbert sniffed. “Being arrested for murder at least has a certain dignity. Now you're saying I'm bloody stupid. That's bloody insulting!”

“Watch your tongue, young man,” Hopkins chided. “Of course he didn't plan to leave the body there, Mr. Holmes. The way we at the Yard have it figured, the accused here lured Mr. Harden to the bookshop in the late evening to kill him. Miss Harden confirms her father received some sort of message at the hotel that night. He rushed out, refusing to tell her where he was going. He never came back. Mr. Herbert killed him as planned. Things only began to go wrong when something stopped him from moving the body. It was probably the shop owner, Mr. Russell, coming down the stairs.”

“But Harden left his hotel in the evening and was killed then,” Holmes objected. “Russell didn't find the body until this morning.”

“Merely a detail, Mr. Holmes.”

“Details are everything, Hopkins. How many times must I tell you that? Now, how did Herbert here get into the bookshop after hours?”

“When he isn't writing poems, he sells books. As a long-time, trusted employee of William Russell – almost like a son, we understand – he has a key to the shop. Russell told us that. Didn't want to, but we got it out of him.”


Had
a key,” Paul Herbert spat, his face more flushed than ever. “I told you I was set upon by a ruffian last night and knocked out. When I woke up, nothing seemed to be missing. I was puzzled as the devil. Then I was brought here on this absurd charge and the official hooligans searched me for the key to the shop. That's when I discovered it was gone.”

“Very convenient,” Hopkins said heavily. “We'll find it yet.”

“Doubtless,” said Holmes. “One further point, however: Have you arrived at a theory explaining why John Vincent Harden used his last ounce of strength to grasp a copy of
Hamlet
, a play he had seen a few afternoons previously? One might have thought he was attempting to indicate his killer, and yet there is no murdering poet in the work as I recall it.”

“There is, however, a young lady named Ophelia,” Hopkins rejoined smartly. “We reckon Mr. Harden's last thoughts were of the poor deluded daughter he tried to protect from this swine. Really, Mr. Holmes, we of the official force seem to have done rather well without you this time. Is there any little point we may have missed?”

Holmes stroked his chin. “Let us see, Hopkins. You have missed the real killer, the real motive, and, oh yes, the real country.”

Stanley Hopkins stood open-mouthed. “Country, sir? I'm afraid I don't – ”

“No, you don't. The origin and the solution of this crime lie in America, Hopkins. If you fail to grasp that, you are hopeless.”

The truth of these words was quickly borne out. Waiting for us back at 221B when we returned from the police station was a telegram. “This tears it, Watson!” Holmes exclaimed, tossing me the wire. “We have our man.”

The wire read:

 

LEAR ON JOB. WINTER UNSEEN ONE WEEK. R.J. SENTER, POLICE CHIEF, LEXINGTON, KY., USA

 

“Our bird will fly as soon as possible now that Herbert is headed for the dock. He needed to stay in London only long enough to make suitably incriminating testimony against our young poet. Grab your service revolver, Watson, for we haven't a moment to lose.” Holmes was already on his way back out the door. “I'll tell Billy to have Hopkins meet us there with a pair of strong bracelets.”

“By all that is holy, meet us where?” I shouted after him.

“At the Langham, of course.”

“This is beyond me, Holmes!” I cried.

“No doubt.”

The Langham remains one of the grandest of London's grand hotels. Holmes marched up to the magnificent front desk and hailed the clerk, a stooped figure of uncertain age hidden behind a thick, sandy mustache. The clerk peered at us through round spectacles, squinting. “Oh, hello, Mr. – Holmes, was it?”

He spoke in an indefinable Colonial accent, which I make no attempt to reproduce – some strange cross-breeding of South African and Australian, it seemed to me.

“Frightful goings-on since our little chat,” he said. “Mr. Harden showing up dead and all, naught but a couple days after that awful row with Mr. Herbert right here in the lobby.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “They were both mad as hatters, if you ask me.”

Holmes leaned forward. “Well, Weber, I'm quite sure you told the gentlemen from the Yard – Oh, excuse me.” In an uncharacteristically clumsy move, Holmes had managed to knock the clerk's spectacles clean off his face.

“Terribly sorry,” Holmes said, holding the lenses out at eye level. “But do you know, I've found that clear glass like this can scarcely hope to improve the vision anyway.”

Like a frightened rabbit, Weber looked nervously from one to the other of us, then bolted. Holmes dived after, with me close behind. The crowd in the great lobby was sparse, giving the villain a nearly open field – but us one as well. Across the huge expanse we pursued him, only occasionally jostling a guest or two. We narrowed the gap but couldn't quite close it. Our prey was within an arm's length of a side entrance when the door unexpectedly swung open. Weber had up such a head of steam there was little he could do save collide with the newcomer.

“Here now – what's the hurry?” that person asked, grabbing Weber by the scruff of the neck.

“Hold him, Hopkins!” Holmes cried, for it was indeed our young friend from Scotland Yard who stood holding the clerk.

Hopkins quickly clamped a set of handcuffs on his captive even as I leveled my revolver for good measure.

“Who is this man, Mr. Holmes?” Hopkins demanded.

“The persecutor and killer of John Vincent Harden – Mr. Stephen Winter.”

So identified, the man gave up all pretensions of being that which he was not. He shed the unnatural stoop of the hotel clerk, showing his true rather considerable height. He ripped off his mustache, revealing it to be as false as his spectacles. As he addressed us in his own Southern American voice, I realized that the unusual accent of the clerk Weber was but an unsuccessful attempt to sound English.

BOOK: Baker Street Beat: An Eclectic Collection of Sherlockian Scribblings
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