In Which Dr. John Watson Offends a Rottweiler
Mr. Thorne’s bed is pushed up against the corner of his small room. The room has become even smaller recently after the addition of a new tenant – an elderly man from El Salvador named Fidel.
The area underneath Thorne’s bed is dark and thick with shadows. It’s in these shadows that I now lurk, seeking desperately to find his dentures.
“I’d do it myself, but you know how bad my back is.”
Did you know there are syringes under here?
Ignoring my question, he hops on the bed, more spryly than his phantom back pain might have allowed had it not been, indeed, phantom. The springs bash into my back and knock the breath out of me.
Why do you have a sword under here?
“I won it in a raffle.”
Well, there’s no dentures under here, Mr. Thorne.
Pulling myself out from the bed I notice my hands and shirt are black with filth.
“Well, no shit, dummy. They’re in my mouth.”
Then why was I digging around down there?
“Hell if I know.”
You deliberately did that to me.
Can we get on with it now?
“Oh, right,” he says, nodding. “The doctor is in.”
I just want to know if you’ve got any serials. I may have a market for them.
Well, how about something you could split up in a serial format.
“I can do that with just about anything,”
Not necessarily. For this opportunity, you would need to present something that could be perpetual. A continuing story that leaves every episode’s ending with loose threads that never get resolved. Something that would keep a reader waiting and longing for each new episode.
“Give me an example.”
Like Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who.
“I don’t know who they are, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”
Well, if you can, we might have found a gig for you.
Adventure of the Prime Machine
1. Baker Street and Turmoil
In the multitude of years I have been chronicling the adventures of my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have taken great pains to present a fair and balanced portrayal of the events surrounding the cases he has sought out or found himself a part of. Many of these adventures I relate from personal experience, though a few I translate to written word from the singular description of Holmes himself.
Often throughout my life, and growing less so now as I reach a doddering old age of forgetfulness, I suddenly remember a case we had shared involvement in that I had forgotten for a great many years only to have every detail flood back with a connecting familiar scent, or locale. Such sudden remembrances have fueled my writing for years after I felt I had written all there was to be written about my friend.
Now though, unlike the smiles that accompany the fond memories of our adventures, my mood is dark as an unlit alley and my face is a portrait of fear and distaste for the past suddenly dredged up from a foul, murky lake bottom where I had hoped it would stay for eternity.
I cannot recall at what point I tied rocks to this memory and cast it away in disgust and loathing, nor how long ago the incident truly occurred. Only just now did the first shimmering glimpses of the case suddenly spring back into my mind’s eye, and I feel it necessary to relate them as they come, in fear that they may be lost forever as I, in my old age, grow ever nearer the long kiss of eternal sleep. Holmes has been lost to us for several years now, and it is for him and his memory that I trek back through this darkest adventure … towards whatever terrors may come.
My wife had only just passed on and the time was shortly after I gave in to Holmes’ demands and moved back in to share with him the dwelling on Baker Street. I found myself in a haze of depression that was unrelenting and my practice had begun to suffer until, through intervention by Holmes himself, I sold it. Holmes was my only friend during that time, save my personal psychiatrist who I saw on a regular basis to alleviate some of the fear, guilt, and loss I felt daily. On this particular day, being the first day that I can remember of the affair, I entered the door to our shared rooms and found him sprawled out lazily across an old ratty chair and footstool with his fingers steepled, and his eyes shut while he drew heavily on his pipe.
It was mid-morning and though the shades were drawn, the fire had on a good blaze and lit the room in bursts of orange and yellow. For a moment, it appeared that the room was in a terrible state of disarray – more so than usual – but I soon put to right the true situation of the room. In the middle, lying tipped over and somewhat smashed, was a brand new reclining chair. A moment’s thought brought the chair’s origin to mind. It had been a gift to Holmes after he had solved a difficult case of forged identities and false claims to birthrights in a small hamlet in Northern Scotland. The man who had hired Holmes had been a keen engineer, as most Scotsmen tend to be it seems, and had built the chair with an automatic lever system that both reclined the back of the chair and extended the equivalent of a small foot stool from the chair’s front. It really was quite ingenious; however, Holmes, being eccentric as he is about his furniture and his space in general, had obviously given the recliner a try, found it lacking it whatever traits he felt necessary for a recliner to have, and promptly tipped it over and begin destroying it for firewood. I deduced this more by obvious association of a wooden leg in the fire matching one still attached to the chair than by anything bearing resemblance to Holmes genius of deduction and observation.
As I sat putting together the state of the room, my friend had obviously allowed one eye to open and in a few seconds gathered enough facts to detail my entire week so far.
“You’ve been drinking at the public house again, Watson,” he spoke to me with eyes closed again. “And not only that, you’ve tried to hide it from me.”
“Holmes,” I began but could not continue as he interjected.
“You spent last night sleeping outside Jeffrey Tobin’s out of shame, and decided at some point very early this morning to come to Baker Street through the alleys, hoping to avoid the notice of my young spies.”
I stood stunned.
“You should really get that hand looked at by a doctor other than yourself,” he continued. “It was the Rottweiler, was it not?”
I pulled my left hand from behind my back and stared silently at the bandages Holmes had no way of having been able to see.
My friend’s eyes were then upon me, but the lids were still heavy over them in that way they often were when Holmes was still going over the scene presented in his head. I sat down heavily in the remaining unbroken chair in the room and heaved a sigh of surrender.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“You really are quite off the game, Watson. Years ago you’d have been keen as a dog on hares to my methods in this singular case.” He rose suddenly and glided over to where I sat, looking down his stately nose at me.
“You only drink ale at the public house, but you drink in excess. And there you also smoke the poor tobacco offered you by Henry Juddholm. You’ve attempted to hide this by dipping your fingers in brandy and running them down your lapels to hide the stale smell of ale. This I noticed as the firelight gave away the streaks with a subtle shine and discoloration from the normal color of your coat. You have also gone out of your way to tip ashes from an expensive cigar onto your lap and midriff, but you failed to address the most telling part of your wardrobe. The bottom of your pants show stains where you’ve leaned too close to one of the public house’s leaking kegs, and additionally the ash from one of Juddholm’s atrocious cigarettes still lies lodged in a lace hole of your left shoe.”
I put my head in my hands, guiltily awaiting the rest of his sentence.
“There is a white mixture of dirt and mortar on the heel of your left shoe, a mortar made by only one who specializes in the restoration of historic districts who uses that particular blend to more closely resemble the aged mortar used in older surrounding buildings. The only such restoration project I know of between here and your usual haunts connects directly to our back alley through the series of dark corridors interwoven throughout the neighborhood.”
He began to pace, pausing intermittently to pick up various sheets of paper and artifacts only to gaze at the momentarily and then return them to their place.
“You often stand with one hand behind your back when hiding something, whether gun or warrant; but never your left hand. I therefore surmised that the object meant to be hidden had something to do with the hand being hidden itself. Having deduced your course through the alleys to us this morning and your likely time of intersection with the Uxbridge’s garden, I surmised that either one of the two Uxbridge dogs gave you a nasty bite as you squeezed through the narrow passage between the garden and the Smith house. Seeing as how the terrier sees you on a regular basis at the Danvers with his master, it could only have been the Rottweiler.”
“And Tobin’s place?” I queried painfully, but still in awe of his intellectual prowess.
“You have the distinct impression of burlap on the left side of your face. Which means since today is Wednesday, Jeffrey, as usual, had his rags out for collection in his usual burlap sack and set upon the very bench you used as a bed.”
“I can’t hide anything from you, Holmes,” I lamented.
“On the contrary, Watson,” he spoke in retort, “I am at a loss as to why, being so inebriated as you must have been last night, you have come at this hour to my doorstep.”
I sat bolt upright with a start. I had forgotten the reason I had come until just that moment. Quickly, I pulled out the morning’s paper from my coat and handed it to Holmes opened to the front page where a spectacular story was taking up most of the space.
Holmes’ eyes darted back and forth over the words I had read in shock earlier that morning. In the earliest hours after previous nightfall, while investigating a disturbance near one of London’s handful of opium dens, an Inspector Bridges, who was well known to both Holmes and I, had been brutally murdered and dismembered in a manner so foul that the entire area had to be evacuated not only to keep innocent eyes from seeing such a horrible sight, but to keep the bodily evidence intact over the fifty or so yards it was spread. Scotland Yard was bustling like an anthill that had been kicked by a wrathful child.
Holmes, much to my disappointment, merely scoffed and handed the paper back to me.
“Have you ever heard of such a thing?” I expelled. “What dastardly manner of criminal would have the nerve to do such a thing? There must have been a dozen people loitering around that area. Serial killers there have been who were less brazen than that.”
“A simple murder. An obvious location. No case of interest to me, though my heart goes out to his family. Scotland Yard has lost a good man,” Holmes said, sitting back down in his chair.
I stood slightly shocked at his bland reaction to the crime; but his manners, as I have said were eccentric. Many times he would pass up case after case of murder, espionage, rape, ransom, royal theft, and worse for a simple case of fraud.
“I realize, Watson, that you hope that I shall get involved in so spectacular a case,” he said as he stared into the fire. “Scotland Yard, however, is not at my door asking for my assistance. And as the case, so far, is singularly uninteresting save the method of murder, I was hoping you would assist me on another matter in the Yorkshire Dales.”
My eyes lightened at this news, “A better case then?”
“A simple case of fraud,” he said with a slight smirk. “We shall set off this afternoon, if you are willing.”
“I need a respite,” I responded. “I shall return refreshed at noon.”
Holmes absently waved his approval and I showed myself out. It was truly a highlight to the darkness I had found myself drowning in of late, but I had no idea the depths of darkness I was about to stumble into.