The Megaphone Murder

The client who sat, or rather, fidgetted, in our sitting room was middle-aged, short, rotund, and sported an impressive iron-gray moustache and sidewhiskers. His accent told me he was an American. Or a Canadian. They all talk funny over there.

Holmes had undoubtedly summed the man up at a glance and deduced his political affiliation, shoe size, favorite color, and mother's maiden name. "And with what may I help you?" he asked the client, as if he didn't know.

"My name is Humphrey Hugo Blount III," said our visitor, drawing himself up proudly. With a name like that, a fair bit of pomposity could be expected of him.

"And I," he continued, with even greater drama, "am the Commissioner of Megaphones for the Borough, City and State of New York. It is my sworn duty to see that every man, woman, and child in the Borough, City and State of New York is provided with a megaphone. And I fear that someone is trying to kill me."

Holmes steepled his fingers and regarded our guest with acute interest. "American politics appear to be even more corrupt than I had suspected. Do you believe, Mr. Blount, that the person or persons who wish you ill do so because of your efforts in regard to the provision of megaphones?"

"I do, indeed, sir," said the little peacock—that is, I mean to say, the gentleman from New York.

"And rightly so!" Holmes exclaimed, leaping to his feet.

"I say!" I protested. "The man may be a pompous ass with a stupid job, but that's no reason to kill him."

"I beg to differ! New York is a city roughly the size of London, is it not, Mr. Blount?"

Mr. Blount's visage was pale and his posture rigid with shock, but he managed to nod.

"Think, Watson!" Holmes rounded on me. "Imagine that every resident of London had a megaphone. How would you like it if I rose at my customary hour of half past six, but instead of inoffensively going about my business, reached immediately for my megaphone, and shouted—" Here he mimed holding the beastly contraption to his lips and bellowing through it. "'GOOD MORNING, WATSON! I TRUST YOU SLEPT WELL!'"

"If you did," I replied, rubbing my ringing ears, "I should be inclined to do you serious bodily harm."

"PRECISELY!" Holmes bellowed, causing our visitor to jump. "A perfectly understandable reaction. Consider next, Mr. Blount, a megaphone in the hands of Watson. As it is, his romanticized drivel reaches a readership numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Suppose he could shout it from the rooftops as well?"

Before I could so much as sputter, he continued, "Not to mention the disastrous effect upon civilized behavior that would be wrought by giving megaphones to the police! Most of them are large, able-bodied men with powerful voices quite sufficient for shouting, which they do regularly. Those who are not large of stature make up for the lack very well by force of personality."

I cringed, having deduced what would follow that remark.

I have sung Holmes' praises as an actor often enough that the reader ought not to be surprised by his little production. Again holding the imaginary megaphone to his lips, he did a remarkably accurate imitation of Inspector Lestrade delivering one of his smug, Cockney-tinged speeches. "'WELL, WELL, MR. HOLMES, WE CAN'T BE RIGHT ALL THE TIME! WE CAN'T ALWAYS HAVE WHAT WE WANT WHEN WE WANT IT, NOW CAN WE? NO! NO, INDEED! AS I INFORMED CONSTABLE NOBODY JUST THE OTHER DAY, WE CAN'T-"

"ENOUGH!" I shouted.

Mrs. Hudson tapped on the door. "Gentlemen, would you mind not screeching like banshees for the next half hour? I've a cake in the oven, and the noise will make it fall. Inspector Lestrade, your wife sent to tell you not to drink more than one glass of Dr. Watson's port, as you mistakenly brushed your shoes and polished your hat the last time you were intoxicated, and also that you're to be home in good time to put the trash out for the dustman."

Mr. Blount and I sat dumbstruck by this announcement, but Holmes wasted no opportunity to be right. "There!" he crowed. "If Mrs. Hudson had had a megaphone just then, all London would know Lestrade's business, whether they cared to or not."

"You've made your point," I conceded. "Handing out megaphones willy-nilly might very well constitute grounds for murder."

"Well said, Watson!" Holmes exclaimed. "As for you, sir—" He pointed a long, accusing finger at the client. "My advice to you is as follows: Firstly, give up this mad megaphone scheme and all will be well. Secondly, vacate these premises immediately upon paying my fee—in cash, if you please."

As our client scurried down the stairs and out the door with all the aplomb of a mouse pursued by hungry cats, Holmes settled in his favorite chair and lit his pipe.

"Well, Watson," he said, "there's another case brought to a satisfying conclusion."