Authors: Dan Andriacco
Tags: #Sherlock Holmes, #mystery, #crime, #british crime, #sherlock holmes novels, #sherlock holmes fiction
No Police Like Holmes
introducing Sebastian McCabe
2015 digital version by Andrews UK Limited
First edition published in 2011
Â© Copyright 2011, 2015 Dan Andriacco
The right of Dan Andriacco to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998.
All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without express prior written permission. No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted except with express prior written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended). Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damage.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and not of MX Publishing.
Originally published in the UK by MX Publishing
335 Princess Park Manor, Royal Drive,
London, N11 3GX
Cover design by www.staunch.com
This book is fondly dedicated to
PAUL D. HERBERT, B.S.I.
and members of the Tankerville Club, past and present - they are nothing like the Sherlockians in this book!
Murder, She Said
Lynda Teal, my former lady love, had lied to me.
Looking back now, I realize that wasn't the only possible explanation for why she had driven away from her apartment instead of toward it after telling me she was going home to change her clothes. But it was the only one that occurred to me at the time.
She was up to something and she was dealing me out. Was it a line on the crime we'd been investigating - or some new romantic entanglement? I had to know.
Her bright yellow Mustang was just at the edge of campus, stopped at the traffic light - a notoriously long light. I still had a chance, just a chance, of catching up. I pulled my Schwinn out of the rack behind Muckerheide Center, mounted it, and shoved off, pedaling furiously.
Unseasonably warm wind for March pushed across my face. It was six-twenty on a fine near-spring afternoon, clear and fresh. Birds should have been chirping.
I felt like hell.
Lynda had never lied to me before, so far as I knew. She'd yelled at me, sure, and called me unpleasant names on numerous occasions. But she'd never lied to me when we were a couple. The realization that things were different between us now, and probably always would be, cut into my gut like a butcher knife. I pedaled harder.
I weaved in front of an elderly woman hunched over the wheel of a silver-gray Buick Lucerne. She had her windows up and her air conditioning on, rushing the season by at least a couple of months, so I don't know what she had to say to me, but she was vigorous about it.
By the time the light changed I'd managed to get behind Lynda. Being on two wheels instead of four, I was able with effort to weave myself into what I judged to be her blind spot.
We snaked through downtown Erin, past the Gamble Bank & Trust Co., the Masonic Hall, the Beans & Books coffee house and bookstore (right across the street from Starbucks), the Sussex County Court House, Garrison's Antiques, Daniel's Apothecary, and the offices of the
Erin Observer & News-Ledger
, where Lynda works as news editor. Just as I was beginning to wonder how much longer I could keep up the pace, Lynda turned into the garage of the Winfield Hotel several blocks ahead of me.
Erin also has another quality hotel, the Harridan, and a few chain motels, but the Winfield is the oldest hostelry in this college town, the most elegant, and the closest to campus. Most of the out-of-town participants in the “Investigating Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes” colloquium were staying there.
The lobby had flocked wallpaper, red carpeting, and two banks of three elevators each, with walnut doors. The tan of Lynda's skirt was just disappearing into the farthest elevator when I entered the lobby. The old-fashioned needle above the elevator door slowly swung in a half-moon arc to the number nine as I watched. When the middle elevator opened in front of me and a family with three kids spewed out, I got in and pushed the same number.
My stomach was in Ulcer City on the way up. Here my ex-girlfriend was meeting somebody in a hotel room and it didn't take a sleuth in a deerstalker cap to figure out who and why. That hurt me like I hadn't been hurt since Wendy Kotzwinkle threw me over for a football player in the eleventh grade. (The football player later became a used car salesman, and not a very good one.)
I guess I wasn't over Lynda after all. Who had I been trying to kid?
When the elevator doors opened on the ninth floor, I found myself in an alcove. Feeling like some sleazy private eye - much sleazier than Max Cutter, the hero of the detective novels I write in my all-too-abundant spare time - I peaked around the corner into the main corridor.
Nothing to the right.
I turned my head the other way for a second, then quickly jerked it back before Lynda could see me. She was in the hallway, standing in front of a door, fingering one of the those rectangular pieces of plastic that passes for a hotel key these days.
I risked another look and she was gone, having no doubt disappeared into the room.
Now what the hell should I do?
For some time I essentially did nothing, just stood there waiting for a brainstorm. I didn't get one. Just as I finally started walking tentatively down the hallway toward where I had last seen Lynda, she re-emerged, coming out of the room back first. When she turned around I was right in front of her. Her face was pale, her eyes wild.
“Jeff!” She threw her arms around me. Her body was trembling. Instinctively, I held her tightly. The proximity was not unpleasant.
“What's wrong?” I said finally. “What is it, Lynda?”
“It's murder,” she said. “That's what.”
You Call This a Party?
Before the mayhem was all over I was accused of murder and Lynda got conked on the head. But the whole business started innocently enough at a party less than twenty-four hours before she found the body.
Everywhere I looked that night, people were wearing deerstalker caps. Not everybody, mind you, but enough to give the idea that this was no ordinary cocktail party. Which it sure wasn't. From where I stood in my sister's hallway, nursing a caffeine-free Diet Coke, I was bombarded with snatches of strange conversation from the living room on one side and the dining room on the other.
“Of course Sherlock Holmes was illiterate. Why else would he have Watson read everything to him?”
“I'm so tired of Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper stories.”
“In fact, Holmes is
This last was proclaimed by one of the deerstalkered gents, a tall, lean specimen in his early forties with a sharp nose. He was holding forth to the living room contingent, a group of half a dozen or so, a few of whom seemed to be actually listening. I stepped into the room for a better look and saw that, sure enough, he was wearing a button that said SHERLOCK HOLMES LIVES!
I didn't hang around for the rest of the lecture. I turned, intending to check out the action in the dining room. At least there was food there. The movement brought me practically nose to nose with the kind of woman you don't often see outside of Greek and Roman statuary: oval face, creamy complexion, wide brown eyes, raven hair spilling over bare shoulders. The simplicity of her black dress was counterbalanced by enough silver at her throat, wrists and ears to keep a crew of Navajo silversmiths in business for a good while.
“But no funny hat,” I said.
“Pardon?” The look she gave me was puzzled, but by no means unfriendly.
“Oh, sorry, just thinking out loud,” I said. Jeff Cody, Mr. Small Talk, that's me. I didn't even know where to take it from there, that's how out of practice I was at schmoozing with beautiful strangers. This one was in her early thirties, just the age when women get really interesting. She was also tall and nicely built, meaning she knew how to eat but also when to stop.
She smiled at me and said, “Interesting collection of individuals we have here.” Was it just my imagination or was she including me in that collection? It wasn't impossible. I'm six-one, reasonably presentable if you like red-headed men, and always careful to dress only slightly out of style as befits my academic environment.
“Interesting is one word for it,” I conceded. “No offense, but I've never really understood this whole Sherlockian thing. I mean, I guess the Holmes stories are readable enough, but I don't get the obsession over them. I'm more into hard-boiled private eyes, myself.”
She chuckled, a pleasant sound. “Then what are you doing here?”
For a guy who was thirty-six years old and unattached by virtue of being recently thrown over by a woman I was in love with, it marginally beat being alone on a Friday night. But I didn't get into that.
“I'm Professor McCabe's brother-in-law,” I confessed, “and also the public relations director at St. Benignus College. This Sherlock Holmes colloquium he's putting on tomorrow is a fairly big deal for us. And the presentation to the school of the Woollcott Chalmers Collection of Sherlockiana is a
She smiled at my babbling. “That I know all about.”
“Part of my job will be to promote it with social media and mass media. And then later I have to do write-ups for the alumni magazine, the annual report, the fund-raising newsletter... it's endless. So I'm here to soak up information. Tomorrow I'll be taking notes and tweeting.”
I patted the reporter's notebook salted away in my left breast pocket. “Are you one of the speakers?”
Most of the guests at this soirÃ©e were, but she shook her head. “I'm afraid I don't have much in common with Sherlock Holmes except that we both play the violin.”
Better and better, I thought. “Can I get you a drink?”
“A light beer would be nice.”
That shows how wrong you can be about a person. I had pegged her for a white-wine woman.
The drinks were in the bathroom at the other end of the long hall. Sebastian McCabe, husband to my sister, Kate, has a beer tap in his study. But when he throws a party, he fills up the claw-footed first-floor bathtub with ice and lets his guests serve themselves. I fished through the icy water and pulled up... Guinness, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Rivertown Dunkel. Not exactly light beers. Finally I found a bottle of Samuel Adams Light for - whom? I hadn't even asked her name. I really
rusty after four years out of general circulation. For myself, I pulled out another caffeine-free Diet Coke. I know all the studies say that moderate intake of alcohol is actually healthful, but moderation has never been my forte. Besides, I have a history of saying things I shouldn't after just a couple of beers. So I only partake in cases of extreme need or high celebration.
With a bottle in one hand and a can in the other, I was just turning to leave the bathroom when a bright light exploded in my face. For a second all I could see were white spots in front of me. I blinked furiously and the spots made way for a smiling Japanese man with a camera in his hand. My first thought was something like, “Who invited the press to this party?” Then I remembered all the Japanese mystery enthusiasts I'd once seen at a meeting of the Mystery Writers of America in New York. This one was probably a member of the Bartitsu Society, the incredibly huge Sherlock Holmes group in Japan.
No ugly American I, I bowed in his direction and said, “Ohio,” which I believe means hello or good morning or something like that. It's the one bit of Japanese I can always remember because it's the state I've lived in since I first came to St. Benignus College from Virginia as a student a couple of decades ago.
But the man with the camera regarded me in obvious puzzlement. “What about Ohio?”
As soon as he opened his mouth, I knew my picture belonged in the dictionary next to the word “fool,” with the appropriate synonyms: numbskull, buffoon, knucklehead. The guy didn't have a trace of an accent. He wasn't Japanese at all - he was an American. His parents or grandparents or honorable ancestors even further back must have come from the Land of the Rising Sun, but not him.
“Uh, it's a nice state,” I answered lamely. “Where are you from?”
Light dawned. “You must be Bob Nakamora.”
He acknowledged as much and I introduced myself. Nakamora was to give a talk on Sunday morning about “Holmes on the Radio.” Appropriately, I'd scheduled him for an interview with the campus radio station. I filled him in on the time and where I'd pick him up.
“We'll have to talk about Philadelphia some time,” I said. “I write mystery novels about a private detective named Max Cutter who lives there.” I've actually only been to Philadelphia a couple of times, but I decided long ago that Erin, Ohio, population 29,098 (although seemingly double that on St. Patrick's Day), was no place for a murder mystery. Too bad I was wrong.
“Oh, sure,” Nakamora replied. “I've read a couple of those books.”
Unfortunately, that's not possible. None of my five Max Cutter yarns has been published. But I had the feeling that if I didn't leave right away the polite Mr. Nakamora would start telling me how much he liked my work, which is always depressing. I held up the Samuel Adams Light in my hand. “Somebody's waiting for this. Catch you later.”
But when I got back to where I'd been a few minutes before, the beautiful woman in black was gone.
Why was I so surprised? Max Cutter would have figured out right away that if she weren't one of the symposium speakers herself then she must have been brought here by one of them. She could have even been married to him. I'd been so dazzled by all that silver that I hadn't checked to see if her jewelry included a ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. But I was betting it did.
I looked around for her anyway. I had her beer. So I wandered into the kitchen for a while, heard a woman in a deerstalker cap say, “Watson must have been good at something; he was married three times!” and wandered back out. In the dining room I waved at my sister, Kate, fair and red-haired like me, who was slicing a knife through a cheese ball. Before I could say a word of greeting, somebody I recognized tried to squeeze past me in the doorway. You would have recognized him, too, even though he looked bigger and tougher on television and on the dust jackets of his books.
“Al Kane,” I blurted out.
He nodded wearily, as if tired of a quarter-century in the public eye.
“I'm Jeff Cody. We talked on the phone.”
“Right. Good to meet you.”
He let his teeth show a smile through the familiar bandit's mustache as he shook my hand. In his mid-fifties, Al Kane wasn't the man he once was - and maybe in reality he never had been. He was only about five-seven or -eight and his rust-colored hair was tinged with gray. His wire-rimmed glasses - which he didn't wear on TV or his book jackets - made him look like an accountant moonlighting as a shoe store clerk, not the author of a dozen blood-and-babes novels. But then, he hadn't come out with a new Red Maddox mystery in five years or more. Too bad. Red had been one of my heroes ever since I was a kid reading with a flashlight under the covers in bed. But all of Kane's energies these days seemed to be devoted to appearances on commercials and talk shows as the pistol-packing spokesman for the National Pistol Association.
I'd called Kane about a week before to set up a telephone interview with Maggie Barton of the
Erin Observer & News-Ledger
, our local outpost of the Grier Media Corp. empire. It had worked out great from my point of view. The resulting story about the symposium was picked up by the Associated Press and used by a lot of other papers. The “Red Maddox meets Sherlock Holmes” angle had gone over big.
“Frankly, I don't understand why you agreed to talk to these Sherlock Holmes fanatics,” I told Kane in a low voice as I grabbed an hors d'oeuvre off the dining room table. “The science of deduction doesn't exactly figure in the adventures of Red Maddox.”
He shrugged. “Mac asked me to do it.”
Sebastian McCabe, the Lorenzo Smythe Professor of English Literature and head of the popular culture program at St. Benignus College, has more friends than I have rejections from publishers. Apparently their ranks include just about the entire membership of the Mystery Writers of America as well as something like 4,374 people on Facebook. You probably know that Mac himself is the author of the popular Damon Devlin mystery series, Devlin being a magician who solves murders on the side. When I tell you that my brother-in-law was once a professional conjuror before he settled down to get a college degree as a non-traditional student, you don't need to be Sigmund Freud to see this as wish fulfillment. I don't think much of these tales, and I don't believe for a minute that Devlin or any other amateur could out-sleuth my Max Cutter in real life. But they sell.
“I've read all your books, including
The Baker Street Caper
,” I said to Kane, “and these Sherlockians are going to eat you alive for that one.”
Kane took a drink of what appeared to be bourbon, then set down his glass on the dining room table. “That story satirizes the Baker Street Irregular types, not Holmes himself. I respect Holmes as the protagonist of the modern-day private eye of fiction. What I don't like is the game some people play, pretending that Holmes is real and Conan Doyle was nothing more than a literary agent.”
“But of course Holmes is real!”
That didn't come from me, you may be sure. The fellow with the Basil Rathbone nose, the one I'd seen in the living room, had butted into the conversation. He introduced himself as Dr. Noah Queensbury, Official Secretary of the Anglo-Indian Club. That's the Holmes group in Cincinnati, about forty miles downriver from Erin, to which Mac and many of the other colloquium participants belonged. Apparently the group took its name from a club mentioned in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
“Perhaps you missed my monograph on âTen Proofs for the Existence of Sherlock Holmes,'” Queensbury said.
Kane gave me a “What the hell?” look.
“Proof number one.” Queensbury held up a finger. “There used to be a Metropolitan Line train on the London underground called
The Sherlock Holmes
. The British do not name trains after fictional characters.”
I abandoned my unfinished Diet Coke and opened the Samuel Adams Light. This was not to be endured without fortification. My sister, still hovering over the cheese ball, gave me a weak smile as I swallowed the brew.
“Proof number two,” Queensbury droned on. “In 1988, I wrote a letter to Mr. Holmes at 221B Baker Street, London. It was answered by a secretary. Fictional characters do not have secretaries. Proof number three-”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Sherlock Holmes has to be a fictional character. It says so on Wikipedia.” I just assumed that, having never looked it up.
Queensbury snorted. “That almost proves my case. Everyone knows Wikipedia is unreliable.”
“You're impossible,” Kane growled.
“Proof number three-” Queensbury persisted, unruffled.
I'd intended to press Kane on the state of detective fiction for an article in the alumni magazine, but that obviously would have to wait. I had to get out of there before I started screaming. I edged past Queensbury, who didn't seem to notice, and into the now-crowded hallway.
For a minute I felt trapped there amid the dozen or so lunatics gibbering about Sherlock Holmes. Then I spotted Mac on the other side of the hall, sitting by the unlit fire in his thirty-foot living room.