Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Dead Deliveryman
Based off the story 'Murder is Corny' by Rex Stout
Additional material by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rex Stout
Chapter One: An Unexpected Delivery
When contrasting my personal habits with that of my ingenious friend the casual observer often mistakes me for a bit of a ladies' man, and I suppose I am, compared to the solitary habits of that self-styled hermit, Mister Sherlock Holmes. But no man in my experience is as great a mysinogist as Sherlock's brother, his senior by some seven years, Mister Mycroft Holmes. I often remark, somewhat unfairly, of my friend's aversion to women, but this is a misleading assessment, since Holmes' disinclination to form new friendships also extended to his own gender.
My friend's misanthropy also seemed to extend to his own family. For the first six years of my long and intimate acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life. This reticence upon his part had increased the somewhat inhuman effect which he produced upon me, until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon, a brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was preeminent in intelligence. I had come to believe that he was an orphan with no relatives living; so you can imagine my surprise when I actually got to meet his brother.
To describe Mycroft Holmes would take more talented writers than me. Suffice to say that to my ignorant eyes he appeared to be an exaggeration of my friend and his eccentricities to a level bordering the unbelievable. Indeed, even from my friend's lips Brother Mycroft has been described as 'one of the queerest men'. When you understand Sherlock Holmes' quirks and foibles as intimately as I do you can only begin to imagine what Mycroft Holmes must be like.
For example, when not on a case, Holmes would often enter a period of intense lethargy, spending his days lying upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. According to my friend his brother's physical inactivity surpassed this, and the only exercise Mycroft ever takes is the short walk to his office in Whitehall that is just around the corner from his lodgings in Pall Mall.
Sherlock Holmes seems to shun any company but my own but he does correspond with other criminal investigators at home and abroad. He is not completely friendless, he merely appears so. Mycroft, on the other hand is so misanthropic that he has joined a club so antisocial that no member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one and conversation is confined to a special room that has been set aside to provide strangers social intercourse. Naturally this singular club is opposite Mycroft Holmes' rooms. He would never join a club that was more than a block from his residence after all, for then he would actually have to go somewhere.
But to my friend's credit, he not only claimed that his flaws were magnified in his brother but also his strengths as well. My friend asserted that his brother possessed superior powers of observation and deduction. Brother Mycroft's memory was as near eidetic as mortal man can achieve. His job, as far as I can infer is a kind of human repository of knowledge that the ministers of government can access merely by consulting him. By memorizing, analyzing, and cross referencing any official document that falls on a government desk Mycroft can predict national and international trends as accurately as Sherlock can deduce a man's occupation. There have been indications that Mycroft's word in the right ear can direct government agencies and subcommittees. Sherlock Holmes once hinted to me that at times his brother is the government, but whether this is reality or exaggeration is not for a humble Boswell to explore.
My tale takes place in the year of 1887, before I met my beloved Mary, when I was still a free man who kept an eye out for a prospective bride. I had taken up ballroom dancing much to Holmes' displeasure and at times it seemed that he went to great lengths to distract me by bringing me along on his cases. Once, when he was not on a case, he contrived to invite me to dinner at his brother's house. Such a singular experience was not to be missed, and I admit I was curious.
"Dinner at your brother's?" I asked while we ignored the fog outside our window at our Baker Street address. "What's the occasion old boy?"
"Ah, my brother fancies himself a gourmand," my friend shrugged apologetically from the sofa. "Among the numerous outré sciences that can be found in his head is the art of aristology. He feels that dining is an art to experience, from the preparation to the presentation to the actual consumption of the meal, and not merely a chore that is necessary for the nourishment of the body. To Mycroft, the art of cooking and eating is necessary food for the soul."
"Whereas you claim that eating is a waste of energy," I chuckled. "Well that explains the difference in appearance between you two. I wouldn't be surprised if you looked like twins if your dining habits coincided but since you forget to eat and your brother never misses a meal it's hard to tell that you're even related."
"Ooh!" Holmes winced. "A touch, Watson! A distinct touch! A wound from which the house of Holmes shall never recover I fear. Yes it is true that I have been known to miss out on the fine points of dining at times. I suppose that some of the best meals prepared have been wasted on me. Mycroft is disgusted by the way I just toss any old thing down my throat without any thought to the taste or experience. Like you, he disapproves of my use of tobacco and cocaine and only partakes of snuff himself. He seems to think that I am the only Holmes with a self-destructive habit."
"You think he might eat too much?" I teased.
"Me?" Holmes shook his head in false innocence. "I am but a dabbler in the medical sciences, a lowly consulting detective. It would take a professional physician to make such a diagnosis. Who am I to presume to make judgments on my brother's health when I room with a medical man who has seen action overseas? Surely you can judge Mycroft better than I can in that regard."
"Is there any Holmes who doesn't have a self-destructive habit?" I asked with gentle sarcasm.
"The question is: is there any man alive who doesn't?" Holmes countered. "But you're right of course. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms. My grandmother, you know, was the sister of Vernet, the French artist. Many an artist has ruined himself with his self-destructive habits. Therefore I have taken the precaution of rooming with a medical doctor who frowns on the overuse of pills. When there's as much art in the blood as there is in mine you have to nip these things in the bud you know."
"What precautions has Brother Mycroft taken?" I asked dryly.
"He has hired a professional chef who uses only the freshest ingredients," my friend informed me. "In addition to being a master chef himself, Brother Mycroft has also done a thorough study of the budding science of nutrition. Though he may eat to excess, he will not allow any one toxin to accumulate in his system from repetitive dining. The cuisine changes from day to day, thus ensuring that only thing that is wrong with his body is that there is far too much of it."
"What is on the menu this evening?"
"Tonight's treat, my friend is corn," Holmes purred. "By an arrangement with a farmer named Duncan McLeod, every Tuesday from July 20 to October 5, twelve ears of just-picked corn are delivered, twenty tonight to accommodate you and me. They shall be roasted in the husk, and we'll do our own shucking as we eat - four ears for me, four for you, eight for Brother Mycroft, and four in the kitchen for the cook. The corn has to arrive no earlier than five-thirty and no later than six-thirty. It is just after five-thirty now. Shall we go to Pall Mall to see a master at work?"
"Yes, let's." And once again Holmes had kept me away from my quest to form an acquaintance with a member of the fair sex. I forgave him. A true gentleman doesn't devote his all his time to dallying with women anyway.
When we arrived at Mycroft's address the master of the house was in as foul a temper as decorum would allow. What had caused tragedy to befall the house of Holmes, as my friend flippantly put it? The answer was simple, Mycroft's chef Fritz replied in agitation. The summer corn had not arrived. Mycroft Holmes, as you may have inferred, was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock. His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother. His eyes, which were of a peculiarly light, watery gray, usually held that far-away, introspective look which I had only observed in Sherlock's when he was exerting his full powers. Now they resembled those of my friend when he was threatening some miscreant.
A knock on the door seemed to herald a reprieve. "That must be the corn now!" I smiled optimistically as I went down the hall. "I'll get the door."
When I opened it, I was taken aback. The large carton the man carried had the words MYCROFT HOLMES printed upon it, but the man himself was all wrong. Don't mistake me. I didn't find the little ferret like man with the beady clever eyes foreign in any way. No, the reason I found his presence so disorienting was because he was so familiar.
"Inspector Lestrade?" I frowned in confusion. "What in the devil? Are you moonlighting now, inspector?"
"Hardly," he snorted. "Although I'm surprised to see you, Doctor Watson. I guess the similarity in names is no coincidence. Who is Mycroft Holmes, by the way, Sherlock's lost cousin?"
"No, his brother actually," I said as I let him inside. "I'm surprised inspector. I would have thought Gregson would have told you all about the Melas case. Didn't he tell you about Mister Melas, the Greek interpreter?"
"Oh yes, Gregson told me about that," the weasel like inspector admitted. "I thought he was making it up. Holmes has a brother? I would have thought his parents would have learned their lesson the first time."
"Mycroft is the older brother actually," I informed him.
"Ah! That explains it," Lestrade nodded. "They would never have had another if Sherlock had been the first. Where are the Holmes brothers by the way?"
"This way inspector," I said as I led him down the hall to the study.
"Inspector Lestrade! Bless my soul," my friend purred as Lestrade set the box down on a counter and used a knife to cut the cord.
The Scotland Yard inspector then opened the flaps, took out an ear of corn, held it up, and said, "If you were going to have this for dinner, I guess it's too late."
Mycroft moved to his elbow, turned the flap to see the inscription, his name, grunted, circled around the desk to his chair, and sat. "You have your effect," he said. "I am impressed. Where did you get it?"
"If you don't know, maybe your brother and Doctor Watson do." Lestrade shot a glance at me, went to a red leather chair facing the end of Mycroft's desk, and sat. "I've got some questions for you and for them, but of course you want grounds. At a quarter past five, two hours ago, the dead body of a man was found in the alley back of the hoity-toity restaurant known as the Royale. He had been hit in the back of the head with a piece of iron pipe which was there on the ground by the body. The wagon he had come in was alongside the receiving platform of the restaurant, and in the wagon were nine cartons containing ears of corn." Lestrade pointed. "That's one of them, your name on it, Mister Mycroft Holmes. You get one like it every Tuesday. Correct?"
Mycroft nodded. "I do. In season. Has the body been identified?"
"Yes. Identification and other items in his pockets, including cash, thirty-some shillings. Kenneth Faber, twenty-eight years old. Also men at the restaurant identified him. He had been delivering the corn there the past five weeks, and then he had been coming on here with yours. Am I correct Mister Holmes?"
"I wouldn't know," Mycroft replied. "A servant answers the door." He glanced at the ear of corn Lestrade had dropped on his desk, before he picking it up and feeling it by gripping it in the middle, and soon he was shucking it. From where I stood, the rows of kernels looked too big, too yellow, and too crowded. Mycroft frowned at it, muttered, "I thought so," put it down, stood up, reached for the carton, said, "You will help, Sherlock," took an ear, and started shucking it. My flatmate glanced at me and shrugged before taking an ear and joining him.
Once Lestrade realized he was being ignored, he turned his attention on me. "Doctor Watson, there are some particulars you can help me with. Were you at the Royale at any time on this fine day?"
"No of course not," I laughed. "I'd spoil my dinner, I..." My voice trailed off when I saw the penetrating look he was giving me. "Something wrong inspector? I don't have anything on my jacket do I?"
"May I ask where you were at five-fifteen this afternoon?"
"I was at home," I stammered, "with Holmes. He's right over there, you can ask him yourself."
"My dear Inspector, do I understand that our very own Doctor Watson is a suspect in this foul crime?" my companion asked in an amused tone.
"Yes, I'm afraid he is," Lestrade nodded.
"Goodness me!" Sherlock Holmes laughed. "The game, if you'll allow me to paraphrase William Shakespeare my dear Watson, is afoot."
Next: Murder Is Corny