I would like to thank my co-author, Protector of the Gray Fortress, for spearheading a widespread effort to make my day brighter last week and to bring me out of a very serious depression and case of writer's block that had lasted probably three weeks at least.
And, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you (I believe the final count was 13) fellow writers who contributed to the effort. I was astounded and floored by all of your responses, and I promise you I don't take the effort and time you each spent in making me feel better at all lightly. Thank you very, very much, and if you ever want me to return the favour please do not hesitate to ask.
That being said, this is for all of you. Was going to be a oneshot, but...when you broke up the writer's block you scared my muse into running away with me, so it'll be a few chapters probably. :)
According to my calculations, the nap of our sitting room carpet contains seventy-three or seventy-four fibres to the square inch, or roughly eight hundred seventy-six or eight hundred eighty eight fibres to the square foot. As the carpeting in the room is vaguely in the vicinity of sixty feet square, minus the hearth and the burnt spot under the chemical table, this equals out to somewhere around fifty-two thousand, five hundred sixty or fifty-three thousand, two hundred eighty, give or take a few dozen odd fibres.
Not that this interesting, though completely irrelevant, fact had any magnitude at the moment.
Perhaps if I turned my attentions to calculating the number of words on the pages of the Times I had scattered round my couch. Averaging seven words a sentence, four and one-half sentences to a paragraph, and taking into consideration the brevity of certain articles and the verbosity of others, together with the larger print of certain headers and sub-headers…
I cannot say I was overly disappointed when the sound of the doorknob slamming into the wall-plaster jolted my calculations off and I lost count on the third spread.
Watson had apparently been to see a wealthy patient all the way in Westminster, then to a stationer's, a druggist's, and then either to the Bow Street post office or the bookstore just round the corner from it; I could not tell from here the exact shade of the mud upon the inseam of his trousers and completely lacked the energy or interest to discover it for myself.
The cause of the vehement door-slamming was probably not any of those events, however, but rather the fact that in his excursions he either had refused to take a cab or had been unable to. Judging from the fact that his coat and hat were not merely wet but sopping (and that he suddenly sneezed with enough force that I heard the portrait of Lucretia Borgia that adorned my east bedroom wall rattling loudly), he had neglected to take an umbrella and therefore the probability lay in favour of his not being able to find a hansom between Bow Street and Baker Street, quite a distance to walk in the rain. He was about rather early today; the mantel clock read only sixteen minutes past eight. He must have gone out early whilst I had been asleep.
I barely noticed when he poured himself a hot drink and then vanished upstairs without a word, no doubt to change into less damp attire.
A few minutes – or was it longer? Fifteen, twenty, thirty? – later he returned, sans dripping clothing and bad temper. Good, I had no time or patience to deal with anyone's black mood but my own at the moment.
A tiny voice of conscience, squashed and smothered under a dank cloud of reason and justification, informed me that I was being incredibly selfish. I frowned and rejected the thought, banishing it into the outer darkness curling round my brain and noting with interest how much easier it became to smother the conscience, the more one did it…like water flowing over stones, eventually wearing the resistance down into a cold, polished smoothness.
"You know, your muscles will begin to tend toward atrophy if you remain on that couch for the duration of yet another day," I vaguely heard my friend's mild remonstrance from somewhere across the room.
Watson is a good fellow, but entirely too concerned with others. On the best of days, that quality is fascinatingly endearing. However, in a time like this, it is no less than infuriatingly annoying and I told him so in no uncertain terms, ignoring the slightly hurt look that flashed across his expressive face before he sat at his desk and opened a journal and a fresh inkwell (obviously the fruits of his visit to the stationer's) – scribbling out yet another floridly embellished memoir, no doubt.
That was all the world needed at the moment. Another step-by-step, play-by-play account of my methods and procedures, so that every literate criminal in the city's populace would grow even more wary and unadventurous, not daring to test their wits and mettle against my superiour steel.
Every criminal. Bah, sometimes (like this time) I wondered if I had not succeeded in singlehandedly driving out every criminal in London who had been anywhere within reach of my mental abilities. Did no one dare to tax my mind with a crime of import or note? Even the Continent had been far too quiet of late; this spring weather had brought with it only daffodils and warm showers and utter laziness on the part of the entire illicit populace in this hemisphere of the globe.
Fifteen minutes or an hour later the scritch-scratching of Watson's nib was growing positively maddening. And his blasted sniffling, which was growing worse as the minutes passed by. I decided to attack the scratching first, as it could be changed with the most ease.
"Honestly, Watson, can you not use a blunt pen instead of that confounded sharp nib?" I demanded; surely a writer would have more than one instrument on hand and at least one that could not double for a mental torture device!
"I always write the final draft of a manuscript with a fine point," his voice drifted over the couch to me.
"Then write it some other time, for the love of heaven!"
He sighed (rather over-dramatically, I might add) and closed the book, corking the ink-bottle and turning to fix me with a disapproving look that I had by now gotten thoroughly used to and that no longer bothered me in the least.
"Holmes, do you not have an experiment you could be working on? Updating your index? Practicing that new Chopin piece you got the score to last week?"
"You know full well the Bunsen burner has not yet been replaced since my experiment with the coal-dust in the Piccadilly Circle beggar case. Nothing of note has happened in the last fortnight to be worth the price of paste and the space in the index. And I do not feel like playing my Stradivarius."
I did not feel like doing anything, even moving an eyelid or breathing, but there was no sense in telling a medical man (especially that medical man) that. Why could he not take the infernal story-book upstairs so that I could escape this depression's clutches for a few hours via the only thing so far I had found that would take me above the black clouds? It was not out of any great love for Watson that I had not indulged myself already this morning, but merely that I had no desire to hear his traditional hour-long dissertation on the degeneration of brain cells and other medical claptrap.
But some Fate, kind or evil, had apparently heard my mental request, for the man in question pocketed his journal with another jarring sneeze and trudged out of the room without looking back at me. He did not need to look, as I had not moved from this position in over eight hours…or was it longer? No matter, I was moving now. Two steps to the mantel to reach for the syringe and cocaine-bottle, two steps back to the settee.
Now for it…
Blast. Only seconds away from escape, and the doorbell's infernally noisy jangling had completely broken my thoughts. I debated whether to continue but decided against it in the faint, somewhat hopeless whim that it might be a possible client at the door.
I should have even welcomed a crazed, vendetta-bent escaped convict after my blood at this point in the depression and lethargy that had swamped me in its murky hold for over two weeks now.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, I supposed) it was not an escaped inmate but a man who was rather adept at pushing me to be a candidate for Bedlam myself who appeared in the doorway behind Mrs. Hudson.
"Inspector Lestrade, what brings you out on such a morning? Nothing trivial, I hope?"
The man's little ferret eyes were gleaming at me with an excitement that either spelled a rather interesting case or merely something he wished to gloat over. For his sake, I hoped it was the former, or he would be making very personal and close contact with the front door in short order.
He seated himself without asking in Watson's armchair (I quashed a ridiculous flare of anger at his touching it) and shook a bit of water from his bowler before placing it before the fire to dry.
"How are you, Mr. Holmes?"
"You may dispense with the pleasantries, Lestrade, and tell me why you've come here so soon after fishing a body out of the Thames near the Victoria Embankment."
I do never tire of seeing unsuspecting people's eyes widen in that peculiar manner that signifies astonishment at a very simplistic deduction.
"How did you know that, Mr. Holmes?" the little official gasped, staring at me as if he had not seen me do this sort of thing dozens of times.
I sighed wearily, shoving the cocaine-bottle under the couch with my slippered foot before the man saw it; not that the man was perceptive enough to anyway, but it was better to be safe than have to scramble for an explanation that was likely to be embarrassing at best.
"Your cuffs are soaked with muddy silt, Lestrade, though your jacket sleeves are clean, and there is a large damp patch upon your left knee; you have been kneeling on wet ground, and while most places in London are damp I doubt you would be doing so in the middle of the street. Obviously you've been fishing about in water, Thames water from the texture and filth of your cuffs, and I doubt your police duties include catching trout. A body is involved, then, and it is attempted murder at the very least, else you would not have been called out to see it yourself in the first place nor would you have come round to me instead of home for dry clothes.
I am aware that you are the first man on call this early in the day at the Yard; it is barely a quarter of nine. Victoria Embankment is no very great distance from Scotland Yard, and as your boots are spotless though your clothing is not, I conclude that you were able to return to your office to clean your footwear up a bit before taking a cab here, all within a half-hour of your coming on duty. Where else could you have been fishing a corpse out of the Thames and still arrived here by this time?"
"Wonderful, Mr. Holmes!" the official cried enthusiastically.
I shook my head, despairing of ever teaching these official forces the value of cold, precise logic. "Commonplace, Lestrade. Now, what is it about this body that brings you to see me instead of home for a dry shirt?"
I had been half-expecting Watson to pop into the room to see if the visitor was a client, but apparently he was either too irritated with me or too engrossed in his writing to bother with my cases at the moment. That suited me perfectly fine, for I wanted to be left alone anyway, and as Lestrade did not broach the subject of the Doctor's absence I was not about to. Now if I could just get rid of this Inspector in short order…
"I'd like for you to take a look at the body, Mr. Holmes. Mr. Holmes?"
I realised the man was speaking only when he repeated the statement twice. But unless the affair were something out of the ordinary (I had seen quite enough over the years of drowned corpses fished out of the Thames by the water police, thank you very much) I had no intention of leaving a warm house and my comfortable depression into a disgustingly cheerful spring morning (the sun was now starting to peep warily out from the cloud cover, casting a long slant of light through the cracked blinds).
"Something unusual about the fellow, Lestrade?"
"Quite," the man intoned solemnly, his beady eyes glinting with puzzled intrigue.
"What then?" I asked slowly through clenched teeth – for heaven's sake, could the man not simply tell me what he wanted instead of this roundabout way of giving the facts, if they were even facts? His beating around the bush was even worse than Watson's storytelling.
"Just that, Mr. Holmes, this fellow apparently was killed before he was drowned."
"That is nothing overtly unusual, Inspector; men are murdered on a daily basis in this metropolis and the Thames more often than not is merely a means of effectively destroying the evidence. Many men have been killed before being dumped into the river," I said in annoyance.
"By both shooting, stabbing, strangulation, and poisoning?"
I blinked and sat up on the couch, the afghan falling carelessly into a pile on the carpet.
"Now I will concede that that is a bit off the beaten track, Lestrade."
"That's not the reason I want you to look at him, though, Mr. Holmes."
"Why then?" I asked curiously, my interest slowly, very slowly, starting to spark again, like the first car in a train beginning to pull on the rest of the line, unable to yet get completely moving but no doubt would be pulling out of the station momentarily.
"His pockets were empty save for one thing," Lestrade replied, reaching into his own pocket to retrieve the item. "This. A small card-case, filled with plain white, simple calling cards. But all of them bearing the name 'Mr. Sherlock Holmes' and the address '221B Baker Street, London'. How would you like to go about explaining that interesting fact, Mr. Holmes?"
To be continued...