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Requiem for Sherlock Holmes

After a late night putting the finishing touches to my account of the case 'The Adventure of the Six Napoleons' so that it would meet the publishing deadline for the next issue of The Strand, I afforded myself the small luxury of a longer spell in bed the following morning. When I finally awoke, I dressed quickly and made myself presentable, after which I went to the sitting room to partake of some breakfast.

I entered the room to find Sherlock Holmes sitting in front of an empty table and evidently in the foulest of moods.

"Has breakfast been cleared away already?" I asked as my stomach instinctively rumbled for food.

"No, it has not," Holmes snapped back at me irascibly. "The breakfast has not arrived at all. I have rung the bell six..." He broke off and consulted a notebook that lay on the empty table before continuing. "Seven times, and all to no avail. Does Mrs. Hudson not know that I am a busy man with a very pressing schedule? One thing is for certain - she had better have a good excuse ready when she comes."

At that very moment, Mrs. Hudson knocked on the door and walked straight into the lion's den. As if sensing Holmes' bad humour, she made sure that she got the first word in.

"I am dreadfully sorry, gentlemen, but I am afraid that breakfast will be a little while longer in coming this morning; we are all working as fast as we can downstairs, but things are all in a terrible muddle because regrettably, we were broken into last night."

Holmes' eyes lit up and his whole demeanour changed in an instant.

"A robbery?" he asked excitedly. "Here?"

"Yes, sir. In the kitchen," she replied.

"That's outrageous," I uttered. "Has much been taken?"

"They took all the pots, pans and fine china," she groaned. "I do not think that I have a single piece of cutlery left to my name."

"Calm yourself, Mrs. Hudson," said Holmes benevolently, putting an arm around our distressed landlady, "do not worry so. Both Watson and I will go downstairs now and we will see if we can be of any assistance to you."

"Oh, thank you, sirs," she said with a smile. "I also got Billy to go and fetch the police. They are down there at the moment."

I saw a momentary change in Holmes' countenance but he managed to hide his expression of displeasure before Mrs. Hudson had a chance to notice it.

"I would have preferred if you had alerted me first," replied Holmes, "but, of course, this is your house and your judgement is law; let us survey the scene while we still can."

Saying this, Holmes walked briskly out of the sitting room with Mrs. Hudson and myself following behind.

"Once again, I am sorry about the breakfast," Mrs. Hudson offered, trying to keep up with Holmes on the stairs.

"Do not worry about it for one moment, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes declared. "I cannot say that I was very hungry in any case."

Inspector Lestrade stood waiting for us at the foot of the stairs and looked like the cat that had got the cream. He smiled at Holmes and it was obvious that he was planning on enjoying every minute of this.

"My dear Mr. Holmes," said the Inspector wryly. "So good of you to join us. Such a surprise for a crime to happen right under your nose and yet the yard still manages to beat you to the scene."

"Good morning, Lestrade," replied Holmes, not taking the bait. "I trust that your men have not totally obliterated the evidence."

Lestrade gave Holmes a mocking look and wagged his finger at him before leading us in to the kitchen to explain the finer points of the case.

"No doubt you will want to check things for yourself," began the Inspector. "But you will, without question, come to the same conclusions as I have. No lock has been forced and no window has been broken. Therefore, it is obvious that the crime has been perpetrated by a member of this household or, at the very least, one of them has aided and abetted a thief so he could gain entry. It is my belief that the items stolen are most likely sitting in a local pawnbroker's window, even as we speak."

Holmes nodded as he listened to the Inspector's assessment. "I take it then that your intention would be to interview all the staff to ascertain the criminal?"

"That is what I propose, Mr. Holmes," he replied arrogantly. "Of course, I will also have to interview the good Doctor and yourself, purely to see that the letter of the law is being fully complied with. I am sure that you will understand that there is nothing personal in it."

"Quite so," Holmes replied, once again rising above the Inspector's taunts. "Before you begin though, might you permit me to inspect the scene?"

"By all means," replied the Inspector, who then addressed the three policemen searching the kitchen, instructing them to wait outside.

Holmes looked around the kitchen, his eyes darting left and right like a hawk seeking out its prey.

"I presume that the windows were locked last night, Mrs. Hudson?" Holmes asked, while pulling on the catches.

"Oh yes, sir, most definitely," came her reply. "I always check that everything is locked when I do my rounds before going to bed at night."

"Good, good," muttered Holmes absent-mindedly as he ran his finger along the window sill. "Mrs. Hudson, I do wish that you would refrain from cleaning as often as you do. If this window sill had a layer of dust on it any intruder coming in through the window would have disturbed it and left a mark for us to see."

"I am sorry, Mr. Holmes, but I cannot live in a pig sty just on the off chance that we may have a burglar one day," Mrs. Hudson retorted, somewhat affronted.

"My apologies, Mrs. Hudson," Holmes said in atonement. "It can be quite an annoyance to me at times in my profession; dust can be a detective's friend, you know."

Holmes opened one of the windows and clambered up in an ungainly fashion onto the table. From this position, he leant out of the window, presumably to check for any signs of disturbance outside.

"I am afraid that I must agree with you, Lestrade," began Holmes as he awkwardly made his way down from the table. "If someone did break in, it was not by these windows."

"I am glad to see that you are finally coming around to my way of thinking, Mr. Holmes," the Inspector responded proudly.

"Well," Holmes continued, "that only leaves us the windows in Mrs. Hudson's sitting room, the front door and the back door, not to mention the skylight in the ceiling above us. I feel that we can dismiss the bedroom windows, would you not agree, Inspector?"

The grin that had grown on the Inspector's face rapidly became a sneer. He was used to Holmes' constantly getting the better of him and perhaps he could see the first signs that his grasp upon the sequence of events behind the case was slowly slipping away.

"Everything has been checked, Mr. Holmes," the Inspector remarked. "Please cease your games and let my men continue with their work."

"Presently, Inspector," Holmes replied. "First, shall we have a look in the sitting room?"

Holmes bounded across the hall with Inspector Lestrade wearily trudging along behind.

"Ah, this looks much more promising," Holmes announced, entering the room.

To my untrained eye, I could see nothing out of the ordinary, so I asked if he could possibly elaborate.

"Well, Watson," he replied, "you see the window sill here? Even though Mrs. Hudson has been as thorough here with her duster as in the kitchen, the sun has been kind enough to fade the colour of the wood over the years. It is faded everywhere, apart from underneath the bowl of potpourri that sits in the centre."

"I understand that, but I cannot see how it helps us," I countered.

"It is for the simple fact that the bowl does not sit in the position that it would normally, as it is now four inches to the right of the unbleached circle, so the bowl has been moved and hastily replaced."

"Good lord," I cried out. "So this is where he got in then."

"Oh no, I highly doubt if he came in here," Holmes responded as he opened the window. "There are footprints in the mud outside but none left on the sill or inside. I believe that Mrs. Hudson's belongings were passed to an accomplice outside through this very window."

"Well, that still fits in with my theory that it was an inside job," Inspector Lestrade remarked, clearly clutching at straws.

"Perhaps, but does it not seem odd to you that someone would steal some pots and pans and leave behind items such as this cut glass decanter here?" Holmes suggested, indicating the display cabinet filled with the finest glassware.

"There is something very peculiar about this case, I must say," Holmes added. "At any rate, I feel that the back door would be the most likely point of entry, so I suggest we examine that next."

Holmes led the way to the back door, which was at the end of a corridor that ran adjacent to the kitchens. Once there, he opened the door and started to inspect the lock, armed with his trusty magnifying glass.

"Lestrade," Holmes called. "These locks were examined by you?"

"Not by myself personally," Lestrade responded, crouching down by the detective to get a better look at the lock, "but one of my men assured me that it had not been tampered with in any way."

"It may appear so on first inspection," announced Holmes, "but if you look carefully around the keyhole, you will notice minute scratch marks. Normally, if someone tampered with a lock they would leave far greater marks than this; whoever did pick this lock must have been a master of his trade."

The Inspector looked at the marks around the lock, using Holmes' magnifier and I could see his shoulders drop as he realised that he had once again been defeated by the great detective. Oblivious to this, Holmes walked out in to the garden, trying to find further clues. Feeling sorry for the poor officer who would soon be feeling the wrath of Lestrade, I followed Holmes into the garden.

"Now we are sure that they broke in by means of the back door," Holmes continued, "let us see if they have been kind enough to have left any more clues behind for us."

Holmes went down on his hands and knees and began scouring the garden methodically, picking things up, inspecting them and tossing them aside if they did not pertain to the case in hand. Suddenly, he came to a stop and cried out in triumph.

"Aha! Look!" he hollered, racing along the garden. "Two sets of footprints, and there are more leading up from the garden gate."

"So, we have two men: one appears to be around a size ten," stated Holmes, who had slipped off his own shoe to compare the size, "with the other being much smaller, maybe a seven. Both were wearing quite common footwear so there is little to be learnt there but the indentation of the larger shoe is considerably deeper, which would imply that this gentleman was of a much larger stature. I would also suggest that he carried a walking stick with him, judging by the regular markings alongside the footprints, not the usual accessory for a thief, I am sure you will agree."

"So, there were three of them," I remarked, trying to make sense of it all. "Two went in by the back door and another waited by the sitting room window."

"You are quite right, my dear Watson. There were three of them," Holmes confirmed, "but only one man went inside the house. Let us go through the sequence of events from the very start," he added, walking to the far end of the garden.

"First, the smaller man climbed over the wall and landed here," declared Holmes, pointing to the disturbed flower bed. "Once in, he lifted the latch on the gate to let in the second man. They walked together towards the house but the second man stopped at this point here while the other man walked on, picked the lock and entered the house."

"Do you mean to say that he just waited there while the robbery was going on?" Inspector Lestrade asked.

"That is how it would appear, Lestrade," Holmes acknowledged. "The two men made their departure together and left this set of tracks here. We can be thankful that it rained heavily last night."

"But how could he have had the nerve to stand there while it was all going on?" I enquired.

"Some people get a thrill out of taking risks such as this," Holmes replied casually, "but the important thing is what did he do while he waited? If he had a cigarette, he would have dropped some of the ash and as I have told you countless times before, Watson, you can tell a lot about a man by the type of cigarette that he smokes."

Once again, Holmes laid himself down on the grass and closely inspected the area, paying no attention to the dirt that he was wallowing in. Finding nothing, he turned to sit up when something glimmering under a nearby bush caught his eye.

"Hullo, what is this?" Holmes exclaimed excitedly, clawing underneath the bush and unearthing a small, jewel-encrusted box which he held up for us all to see.

"Why, it's a snuffbox," I uttered.

"Yes, indeed. The fellow must have dropped it and was unable to find it in the darkness. Now, let us see if I can recognise the type."

Holmes opened the box and taking out a small pinch between his thumb and forefinger, inhaled it through his left nostril. He closed his eyes for a short time afterwards as if he were analysing it internally.

"Well," said Holmes, holding his finger to his nose trying to stave off a sneeze, "that is a very rare brand, very rare indeed. In fact, the only person whom I know that uses it is…"

A look of shock swept across Holmes' face and with it, my friend suddenly broke off his discourse.

"Watson! We need to leave now," he bellowed, running through the house.

Lestrade and I chased after him and we finally caught him up in Baker Street, where he was trying to hail a hansom.

"What is going on, Holmes?" Lestrade demanded. "What have you discovered?"

"I am afraid that I had better not say, Inspector," Holmes replied hurriedly as our cab approached. "All I can tell you is that the matter will be cleared up shortly."

We climbed into the cab and I turned around as it set off to see an infuriated Inspector Lestrade slowly fade into the distance.

"Where to, gentlemen?" the driver asked.

"The Diogenes Club, if you please," Holmes replied.

"The Diogenes?" I gasped. "You cannot mean to say it's…"

"Yes, I am afraid it is," Holmes interrupted.

A short time later, the cab pulled up at our destination. Holmes tossed the man a coin, jumped out and ran up the steps and into the club. The man on the front desk, recognising Holmes, stated that we were expected and that we should go to the library, where we would be met.

Holmes led the way towards the library. The light from the morning sun was streaming through the windows over to the left and whilst it did little to illuminate the dimly lit room, instead it highlighted the dust that hung in the stagnant air. The library was virtually empty save for two gentlemen, one fast asleep in an armchair, his newspaper about to fall from his hand and the other sitting in the far corner, his chair turned towards the window so that he could watch the traffic making its way along The Mall. Holmes walked towards the second man with myself following in his wake.

"It is so nice of you to visit me, my dear Sherlock," said the gentleman, still sitting with his back to us. "It is also a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Watson."

Holmes and I walked around the chair and stood in front of the gentleman.

"Watson, no doubt you remember my brother Mycroft," Holmes declared, before turning to his brother. "Mycroft, I believe I have your snuffbox."

The story continues in Requiem for Sherlock Holmes,
which can be ordered using the links to the right.

© Paul Stuart Hayes, 2012

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