The Adventure Of The Missing Cellist
The Adventure Of The Missing Cellist
If I may break from a literary tradition and linear narrative I would like to furnish you with how I met with this man of so unique a mind and intellectual capacity. It was during the spring of 1888 and I had returned from my military service due to a bullet wound that had given me a pronounced limp. I had taken a small attic apartment in Westminster and a job as an assistant to a general practitioner, the job was below my skills as a doctor and required a short period of readjustment. I had been employed there for only a few weeks and was growing accustomed to the work. I was doing quite well, if I do say so myself and it seems my employer felt the same as he gave me use of his season ticket for a private box at the Royal Albert Hall. The player's name was Patrice Von Houton and the rendition was that of Johann Sebastian Bach and his cello suites. I went alone and desired to get lost in the music and I did. The tunes and melodies served to drift my memories toward happier times, times I had spent in University with long since departed friends, of first loves and first achievements and first experiences of all kinds, the wine I had taken beforehand did nothing to aid me and lift me from a sombre mood of melancholy of all things gone. I dwelt upon such things further as I left the theatre and made my way along the short narrow cobbled street. I took note of the other people, as I left the theatre, women in fine gowns of varying colour and gentlemen in dress suits, all making their way home in carriages and cabs and it seemed I was the only person who had decided to walk home, such was my meagre income at the time. I didn't know a soul in this fair city and looked on at these most elegant of persons all engaged in small talk and familiar chatter. One felt like an outsider of the rarest kind. I turned and walked on, limping, when a unfamiliar voice came from the shadows of an alleyway adjacent the theatre, startling me out of my melancholy thoughts.
"A rather poor rendition, do you not think?"
"I...I...I..." I did not say more, and stepped back, not ashamed to say, afraid. The voice came, aerial and unattached from the dark shadows of the alley. After a moment, he stepped forward out of the darkness, I did not get a reasonable look at the man as my view was caught in the glow of a nearby gaslight. I squinted and shielded my brow as best I could. The man had an apologetic smile on his face, his hair and dress suit looked ruffled and a glint of sweat shone on his forehead. He struck a match and lit a cigarette, the smoke that poured from his mouth further obscured a full view of the man.
"Sorry to startle you," said he. "I saw you were alone in the theatre and thought you might have need of company."
I hesitated at his most forthright decorum and bid some fumbled excuses about being tired and having drank of too much wine.
"Very well, I shall leave you to your own devices, Dr. John Watson." I stopped dead and turned in shock, my fear further heightened. How did this man know my name? But before I could ask him as much, the man was gone, only his footsteps I heard.
"Excuse me, sir. Excuse me." I cried out my voice echoing around the stone walls in a most uncomfortable volume. The man turned at the end of the alleyway he smirked and arched an eye brow, tipped his hat and continued on, turning at the end of the street.
The matter and the man troubled me for a great many days. My normal day to day affairs walking to and from the surgery or stopping for dinner in a bistro or café suddenly became a paranoid affair. I was given to glancing over my shoulder and staring at any face that resembled the man who approached me that evening. Did he mean to do me harm? He certainly didn't conduct himself as such. After all, he merely commented on the player and the music, spoke my name and walked on. If he wanted to do me harm or kill me, he would've done it right there and then, for there was no one else around. So what were his intentions? The war and being amongst it, the constant gun fire, the scurrying through enemy territory had done its work in making me a fearful man, constantly aware. I was unaccustomed to the friendliness of city life and social graces. It took a number of weeks for me to get fully acquainted with such things and shake the horrific memories. In such time, I met Mary at the very same theatre.
A week later I used the tickets given to me by my employer again, he didn't like music for some reason. Mary and her friend had intruded on the private box. This particular evening, a rendition of Antonin Dvorak's Requiem was playing. And on this intrusion I stared at her for longer than was comfortable, so stunned was I by her beauty and her crystal blue eyes, her hair was uniquely black and straight as an arrow in a deliberately affected fashion and I noted it was cut short and bristled against her neck in the most appealing way. I was spellbound and could barely string two words together and inform her that the intrusion was nothing to concern herself with. But the moment was gone and she and her friend had already left in search of the correct box. It was to my delight that she returned at the interval, alone to once again apologise for her early intrusion and told me her friend had taken ill with a headache. She didn't want to miss the performance. and informed me of the background in its composition and how artistically unique it was, "A supreme opus of classicist- romantic synthesis." she dubbed it and you'll forgive me if I remember her exact words, so marked was the moment. She asked if would let her intrude of my company, she didn't want to watch alone and expressed a desire to share the experience. "For what is art if not shared," said she. And of course, I didn't mind in the least. We sat quietly through the rendition and I marked inwardly at the irony of this particular composition being a funeral mass, when so much could and was being born. My thoughts of my earlier encounter had almost vanished, but was reminded of such as I escorted Mary along the very same narrow cobbled street and past the same darkened alleyway. My worries were all for naught as he did not appear and I was free to enjoy the rest of the evening in the company of Mary at a small café not too far away from the Royal Albert Hall. We whiled away the evening with talk of other composers and music we found enjoyable and while I admittedly harboured thoughts of a romantic nature I knew it could not be, for she was a high born lady of leisure and I, a mere apprentice Doctor, with a secure, but not financially grand future. I settled upon a friendship and felt lucky just to be in the company of such a woman. I expected nothing more, that we would part friendly company and not see each other again, when, toward closing time she suggested we go out again. I, of course accepted, to be polite and accommodating, I thought at the time she was doing the same, but when she set date and time, I was surprised if not shocked. On my stroll home under the magical street lights of London, I wondered how long I could restrain myself before the urge to declare myself and my profound feeling toward her would come out. Before I could get carried away with these thoughts I happened to pass by the theatre and the very same alleyway where I saw the man again. He was engaged in most peculiar fashion, bent over, peering at the ground, but not searching for something as one might first have thought, it was as if he were studying the ground and the very nature of the cobbles that lay under foot.
"Most intriguing," said he, as he straighten his back and stood, still peering down at the cobbles. I had paused, hoping he would walk on and that any eye contact would be avoided. Alas, he saw me. "Ah, if it isn't the esteemed apprentice, Dr. John Watson. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Have a pleasant evening." I replied and hurried past him, hoping to avoid any further conversation and to my relief, he didn't pursue me. I did not see him again for another two months.
I had established myself in my own surgical practice and had developed a relationship with Mary, much to my surprise and delight. I was turning over a comfortable income and Mary was very supportive of my efforts.
The third time I met Holmes I was alone in a café near my apartment in Westminster, sipping a Mauresque, as I was leant to do of a Friday afternoon after work. The man seemed to come out of nowhere, or at least I did not notice him before he was seated in the chair opposite me, lighting a cigarette with a smirk.
"So, you're doing quite well. Considering."
"Considering, considering what?" I said.
"The trauma of war, where you acquired your debilitating leg injury, and the fact that you're... you're average in your chosen field of profession."
"Average?" I was trying hard to resist the temptation to get up and walk out, such were his insults.
"Who are you?" I asked, peering at him, harshly.
"I am Sherlock Holmes and we have met before."
"Twice? I recall meeting you only once previous to this."
"Once, twice, three times, who cares? What do you want?"
"My, such harsh words. If you do not like my company, merely say so and I will leave."
"I do apologise," I remarked, "I misspoke."
"I imagine your reaction is born of some frustration and my directness does get the better of me, resulting in reactions similar to yours. If we are to be friends I would recommend you accustom yourself to it and take it as part of my character. Now, as to why I am approaching you like this. It is a matter of considerable concern and involves the disappearance of the cellist who was, up until recently, employed at the Royal Albert Hall. I'm sure you've read about it."
I looked at him blankly, because up until he mentioned it I had not heard about this. "Ah, too caught up in the affections of Mary no doubt. It is understandable. Love, is something of a distracting pursuit. You say we've encountered each other three times?"
"Yes, the first as I was leaving the Bach performance. The second I saw you in the very same alleyway, of all things studying the ground."
"And the third?"
"Why, right now."
"Of course. It is this first encounter that interests me and concerns the investigation in which I am currently employed. The police have all but given up on the case and the cellist's family have come to me."
"So you are something of an amateur detective, independent of the police?"
"Yes, although the distinction between amateur and professional is something of a contention. Various Inspectors and officers I have encountered could only be described as amateur, such is their manner. Whereas I have a 100% record in solving the cases I'm employed with. The distinction is merely one of institution and one of payment. People do put a lot of stock into a uniform. And the clients that come to me, do pay me, if their circumstances allow it. But we must get to the matter at hand, I believe this first meeting is or will be key in explaining the cellist's disappearance and locating his whereabouts."
"Does this cellist have a name?" He smiled and took out a small kodac picture of the young man and slid it across our table. A most handsome man, his eyes full of optimism and innocence.
"Patrice Von Houton, of Dutch descent, 22 years old and studying music at the London school of music and theatre. It was his first performance and was last seen leaving the theatre hall via the performers entrance. He never arrived home and hasn't been seen since."
"Have you considered that he might be... might be..."
"Yes I have, if not for the most unusual and singular thing about the case. The suit he hired from 'Charvet', a tailors situated on Savile Row was returned two days after his disappearance. If he is dead, I hardly think he could rise from the grave just to return the suit. It suggests he may still be alive."
"Perhaps he has merely run away."
"It is possible, but why would a man who wanted to disappear, go out of his way to return this particular suit. And it goes against his character and his situation. By all accounts, I have interviewed his family and his room-mate, the young man was enjoying his studies and was excited about his new employment and the future which lay before him."
"So, if the man isn't dead and he hasn't run away, then where is he?"
"The precise question that I have been employed to answer. And one in which I need your help, if you would be so kind."
"Of course," I said.
"Then you must come with me to the exact spot where you believe you first encountered me."
After this café meeting we walked along the narrow market street in silence of the most uncomfortable kind. Dusk was beginning to fall and the Lamplighter was lighting the gaslight street-lamps as the glow of the setting sun set an orange hue over the streets. There were still some market traders packing up and I noted the fruit seller where I regularly bought my fruit and vegetables for the week, they stocked the most exquisite and juicy oranges from Spain. We continued on, passing a jewellery shop, and the proprietor was in the midst of locking the door and closing the wooden shutters covering the barred windows. Further along, I saw a bridal shop with the most exquisite white wedding gown proudly displayed in the window. In all this time I had many questions for Holmes, about this missing cellist and how it related to my experience earlier, but I didn't venture to ask, for some reason it didn't seem appropriate and I was quite sure all would be revealed in short time. And the gentle silence and the general air of the street was most tranquil and pleasant. A few moments later Holmes suddenly said.
"I would advice against a marriage proposal at this point. You have only known her for a few weeks, patience, wait until you've established yourself as a fully fledged doctor, women do require a certain amount of financial security in their suitors."
I was utterly shocked, for Holmes had responded to a question I hadn't asked, or rather, responded to a thought I was considering.
"Have you the ability to read minds?" I exclaimed.
"Nothing quite so supernatural. I merely observed you as we walked and noted what you were looking at. And knowing a little of your background I deduced what you were thinking. After your service to Britain and the war in Afghanistan, you spent some months in Spain. You had grown accustomed to the heat and were reluctant to return north."
"And what evidence led you to this?"
"The browning of your skin, has left you with a healthy glow and I noticed the Spanish currency in the café mixed in with your Sterling when you paid for our drinks. And I dare say, with your romantic spirit you met a woman there, which further adds to the reasons for your long stay in Spain. You noted with significant interest, the oranges, you only purchase Spanish ones. I have seen you before and as you looked you fingered a keepsake with a forlorn look."
"Your cuff-links, they are particular to Spain and I know for a fact they don't export them."
"How do you know this?"
"My work requires a significant knowledge base and a mind that, to the layman, resembles a catalogue." He paused and we walked. "My guess was, or is, that the relationship ran its course and you returned to London. Then I saw you gaze at the jewellery shop and concluded you had a desire to move on from such forlorn thoughts, with Mary no less. The wedding gown in the bridal shop confirmed it. Thus the obvious conclusion was that you were considering asking Mary's hand in marriage."
"Remarkable," I replied, "you have the advantage of me."
"A simple trick, now, onto the matter at hand." We had passed the entrance to the concert hall and the intersecting point of the alleyway where I had my encounter a month ago.
"You were here, in this exact spot?" He asked.
"Actually no, I was stood a little further back, under the street-lamp." Holmes looked up at the lantern, which as yet, hadn't been lit. "So apart from that, all the circumstances are correct?" I looked from my position and noticed something else that was missing.
"There was a pile of wooden crates to the left there, at the time they were blocking my view of the path into the alleyway. The man appeared from behind them."
"So he was stood here." Holmes said, now standing in the exact spot the man was. I simply nodded.
"If you don't mind my asking, what is all this for?"
"A reconstruction, so I may be sure of all the facts, before making any conclusion. And to help you."
"Aid your visual memory. So you might discover additional facts you didn't notice previously. Facts that you have in your subconscious mind. Reconstructing the exact circumstances have the desired effects of bringing these subconscious memories to the fore." Those were his exact words, but I had no clue as to what he was talking about.
"I'm still confused as to the significance of this encounter."
"Because it is singular and an odd coincidence. Every detail of it must be exploited." I looked at him, blankly. "Patience, Watson all may become clear. Now I want you to study the area and take yourself back, remember the man's face, what he said to you, the atmosphere of the surroundings, everything, no detail is to be left unfurnished."
"I had consumed quite a lot of wine, so..."
"No matter, no matter. Begin with what he said."
"Well, I was walking along, and I stopped under the gaslight when... when I heard a metal clank and he appeared from behind the crates and said..." I paused unable to remember his exact words, then suddenly it came to me. "A rather poor rendition, do you not think?" Holmes looked at me sharply and studied my face upon hearing this.
"You're sure that's what he said?"
"Yes. Yes I am." I replied, suddenly certain that those were his exact words. "He stood where you are now and he lit a cigarette. I peered at him, my vision impaired by the light somewhat and... and I, I remember now. His cuffs where laden with dirt as well as his trousers. At the knee. His general appearance was unkempt as if the man had been running, there was sweat on his brow and his hair was ruffled." It was remarkable how I could remember, with such visual clarity almost as if I were sent back in time.
"I think that is of profound significance."
"What?" I replied bluntly.
"That those were the first words he spoke to you, a comment on the performance. It suggests," he paused again in deep thought, "something. Please, continue."
"In the next moment he said. "Sorry to startle you, I saw you were alone in the theatre and thought you might have need of company." I bid him some fumbled excuses about being tired and having drank of too much wine. And then he said. "Very well, I shall leave you to your own devices, Dr. John Watson."
"He knew your name?"
"Yes, I too was surprised and I have to admit somewhat frightened."
Holmes paced up and down in deep thought. "This does put a new inflection on the case," he said. "You say you didn't get a good look at his face, enough to furnish a description for the police."
"What is the significance of him commenting on the performance?"
"Well it indicates this man has more than a passing interest in music, and it may suggest..." He trailed off. "But it is best to keep such ideas at bay until the most assured conclusions can be drawn."
"And how do you think he knew my name?"
"Perhaps he was a patient of yours or your employer. How else? Both have an interest in music."
"My boss has very little interest in music, it's why he gave me use of his tickets."
"It is a marked coincidence none the less. You say there were wooden crates here?"
"Yes, they were blocking at least half the entrance to the alleyway. He appeared from behind them." Holmes studied the ground and paved cobble stones at his feet, much in the same fashion he had done when I saw him for the first time. I joined him. "Did you find anything previously?" I asked.
"Yes, some loose change on the floor, a broken key and a receipt."
"From the 'Charvet' tailors. For the suit Patrice hired."
"Of course. Perhaps he was fishing inside his pocket for something and these items fell out unnoticed?"
"Perhaps," said he. It was then that I noticed something odd. Holmes looked to me with interest. "It is a passing interest of mine, a rather odd one, by normal standards."
"Please, tell me."
"It concerns the world of cast-iron manhole covers, sewer grates, street tree covers, and other pieces of urban street furniture embedded underfoot. Every day, hundreds of thousands of feet pound, skip, saunter, or slog across them. Yet very few people stop to look at the cast iron embedded in London's roads and pavements. Some pieces are intricately designed; many glisten with the patina of feet and the passage of time. They are beautiful artworks in their own right, insights into history and clues to the everyday workings of London. And this one, I now notice has been replaced upside down."
Holmes arched his eye brow and looked at me with the most impressed curiosity. "You do impress me, Watson. One would hardly think a person could speak so poetically concerning such a thing. You shall prove most invaluable as a companion. But this is folly, perhaps a sewage worker merely replaced it that way."
"Impossible, see how it doesn't fit correctly or most awkwardly," I said pointing it out. "It comes in the design, a sort of clue or in-joke by the architects of such things. They design them in such a fashion as there can be no mistake."
"So you suggest this one has been replaced by an outsider?"
"Well, shall we go down the rabbit hole, so to speak."
I removed the heavy cast iron manhole cover with something of a struggle, and. after the effort I then proceeded to follow Holmes down the ladder into the darkness of the sewer. The smell was so profoundly disgusting, I almost vomited. Holmes seemed unaffected and concerned himself with igniting a match and the nearby lantern hung on the stone wall. The light from which revealed the canal of waste water and the arched stone above it. It seemed to go on forever, a grim abyss of blackness and the sound of the ebbing waste water exuded an eerie atmosphere. There was a brief squeaking of rats and they scurried back into the retreat of darkness at the sound of our footsteps and our very presence. The narrow ledge on which we were stood and the light from the lantern also revealed a body. And I recoiled with a gasp at its gruesome façade. It was a deathly pale white, and his torso and legs showed signs that rats had been gnawing at his flesh. The most unusual thing, however, was the fact that, apart from his undergarments, he was naked. It was the missing cellist, Patrice Von Houton. Despite considerable bloating and some slight decomposition, his identity was unmistakable. Which explained to a short extent how his suit had been returned to the Charvet tailors after the fact of his death, it must have been his murderer.
"What do you make of it?" Holmes asked as I was studying the body in the dim lantern light.
"Well, using my rather 'average' skills as a medical practitioner. I'd say he's been dead for between three weeks and a month, perhaps two months.
"And the cause of death?"
"Two things, the contusions around the neck suggest strangulation, but there is significant head trauma at the back of the head.
"Could it have been caused by the fall?"
"From being dropped through the man hole cover."
"I have considered that. But it doesn't fit with the evidence. The broken ankle suggests he fell feet first. If he was dropped head first there would be damage on the crown of his head, rather than toward the rear.."
"And what do you make of the fact he is naked, but for his under garments?" I pondered this for a moment.
"Obviously his murderer stripped him of the hired suit and returned it to the tailors in order to keep up the pretence that this young man was still alive."
"It is possible and a conclusion that does fit the facts..."
"But isn't it also a possibility that a sewage worker happened upon the body, undressed him and took it back to the tailors? Or perhaps the rats chewed the suit right off his body."
I looked at him with confusion as these theories he was presenting to me had considerable holes in their logic. "But without the receipt how would this sewage worker know where to return the suit, and wouldn't he have sold it on, rather than returned it. If his motivation was profit. He might even have washed the suit and kept it for himself. As for your rat theory..."
"Yes, it is unlikely, if not impossible."
"Then why present the ideas?" I asked.
"Until one proves a theory I find it a good mode of practice to propose others. In case the most likely one turns out to be incorrect. I have little doubt in my mind that this man you encountered a month ago is our murderer. All we have to do is discover his identity and the key to it is in the first words he spoke to you."
I stood up and looked down upon Patrice's body and thoughts of an emotional and melancholy nature kept resurfacing. The tragedy of a young life cut short, a life full of optimism and opportunity. Being 26 years old, not four years older than this young man, it felt particularly poignant. And I vowed to myself to take more risks and seize the day. Carpe Diem as the saying goes. Holmes looked around at our surroundings.
"Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form."
"A line from a Victor Hugo novel that suddenly came to mind. It is nothing and this is London, not Paris. I shall inform the police of our discovery."
I waited in that dark alleyway for Holmes and the police to return for nearly two hours. When they did I was asked to give an account of how we happened upon the body. The tone of questioning was accusatory in nature, to the point where I felt under suspicion for the murder. Still, I resisted any turn of phrase that would appear confrontational and conducted myself in a manner most amiable and helpful. I even offered my services as a doctor in examining the body further, to see if any more clues or information could be gained. My offer was refused and I was sent home.
I didn't see Holmes again that evening and made my way home by Hansom Cab, with a police escort no less. The reasons for which baffle me to this day. Perhaps they, the police, thought my connection to the case put my life at risk. A thought that did not sit well with me on my journey home, in fact the whole evening had a kind of 'Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol' tone about it and I felt like a player in its amoral intricacies. It was a relief to finally arrive home to my modest attic apartment. Sleep did not come easy, even the three glasses of wine and a cosy fire didn't help. The young Patrice's death had affected me, more than I thought possible, even after encountering it during my time in England's service and surpassing even my chosen profession as a doctor. For some reason Patrice's death overwhelmed my thoughts. Perhaps because of the ill justification. In war, killing and death are righteous pursuits, in service of a higher ideal, one of country and empire. In my profession as a Doctor, death was part of the territory in the fact that the disease claimed responsibility, a more intangible thing to be sure. For a man to take the life of another by choice, I found deeply disturbing. Life suddenly felt a little futile and cheap. As if we are all walking, and our footsteps, flee into silence. I wrestled these thoughts away with refreshed positivity and thoughts of Mary, her smile, her lovely pale, porcelain like skin and her dark hair that complemented it so well. I even recalled the freckles on her face. If she were in this room I would've asked her to be my wife right there and then, despite Holmes's earlier advice to the contrary. I even had ideas of sending her a midnight telegram, or wishing someone would invent a device that enabled immediate contact. Alas, I retired to bed, after having finished the bottle of wine.
In the morning I was rudely awakened by a thumping on my door and a telegram from Holmes which read:
Meet me, Savile Row, 10 in the a.m. If convenient, if inconvenient, come all the same.
And suddenly I remembered I had arranged to spend that particular Saturday with Mary, and would have done so, if not for a burning sense of responsibility and perhaps my own personal desire to put this killer behind bars and the matter to rest. As well as this, the very pursuit of the investigation might open some doors with the police, doors of an entrepreneurial nature. So I quickly wrote Mary a telegram apologising for the cancellation and suggested we meet in the evening when my business with Holmes and this murderer would surely be done.
After dressing in the most hurried fashion, it was already a quarter to the hour, I took a Hansom Cab to Savile Row where I waited for Holmes. The place was bristling with activity and the sound of jovial chatter, footsteps and hoofbeats filled the spring air. I looked on at the people and wished to be enjoying it with Mary and for those minutes leading up to 10 a.m. I questioned myself and my choice to meet Holmes, why for example had I chosen him and this investigation over spending time with Mary? Three things occurred, I perhaps desired to further my friendship with him, for I had made few friends outside of Mary's circle since my return to London. Maybe I had a need to follow the job through and discover out of intrigue who the murderer was and see him caught. Put the whole evil business behind me and then set forth on a more pleasant path with Mary and my surgical practice. I hadn't time to dwell much further on these thoughts as a sharp tap on my shoulder diverted my attention. I whirled around and found myself face to face with Holmes.
"Delightful morning isn't it?" said he. I nodded in agreement. "I must apologise for my late arrival, the cab I took went at a considerably slower pace than I had anticipated."
"Holmes, it's only five minutes past." I said, after checking my pocket watch. "There's no need to apologise."
"Minutes can be vital, imagine if they were your last, would you be so dismissive of them in that situation?" I paused in silence, not at all sure how to respond to this question. The uncomfortable silence was broken swiftly. "Shall we," he said and led the way across the street betwixt the passing carriages, cabs and horses.
"Where are we going?"
"To make further enquires concerning the cellists missing suit, of course," he said, as we reached the other side of the road.
The Charvet tailors shop was a small boutique located on the corner, and although small it was highly refined. The suits and shirts on display were most elegant and the surroundings elegant too. The bell tingled as we entered and the shop was very busy, its owner a diminutive man in his fifties with greying hair, horn rimmed glasses and a long measuring tape hung around his shoulders. He was busy at the point of our entrance, but on seeing Holmes and myself hurried his activities, and rushed the previous customer almost to the point of escorting him out.
"Ah, Monsieur Holmes, pleased to see you again. How may I help on this occasion? A new suit perhaps or some accessories?" He asked most gracefully. Holmes seemed confident in these surroundings and accustomed to them, which I now reflect as unusual since he, for the most part shunned social interactions and graces. "A pretence," he later told me, "an act, like those performers on stage in the theatre, a grim means to an end and one that furnishes results."
"Or perhaps a suit for your friend here. His attire seems a little, under the weather shall we say." The man said. As he uttered these words I looked down at my suit, it had been freshly washed and it looked reasonable enough to me. When I glanced up again, I noted a slight smirk on the man's lips.
"I'm afraid we're not here to purchase anything on this occasion, Monsieur Charvet."
"Then you must forgive my manipulative sales ploy, Monsieur..." he left his sentence unfinished and Holmes took the prompt.
"This is my friend, Dr. John Watson." Holmes said by way of introduction.
"Pleased to meet you."
"Manipulative sales ploy?" I asked.
"Indeed, one remarks on the ill fit or the wear and tear of the potential customers current clothing. It instils a sense of insecurity and they are more readily willing to purchase a new suit."
"One must earn a living. So, gentlemen why are you here?"
"It concerns Patrice Von Houton and his suit."
"Ah yes, a lovely young man with the most exquisite talent, and a bright future. As I recall you came in some weeks ago and I told you he had returned it, a day late, but triple the cost as compensation. I was most surprised as the full amount he ended up paying was approaching the actual cost of purchase. Well, perhaps I over exaggerate, over half." Holmes paused and studied the man for the longest moment. "Is something wrong?" Charvet asked nervously.
"Yes, something is very wrong Monsieur Charvet. And one is at pains to explain it."
"How a man, murdered on the Sunday, can return a suit the Tuesday after the fact of his death?"
Monsieur Charvet recoiled in shock on hearing of Patrice's death. "How can you be sure he died on that particular Sunday?"
"A very particular chain of evidence. Patrice was last seen after his performance at the Royal Albert Hall and my friend here evaluated his body and has determined the moment of death to that Sunday. The 19th and you claim he returned the suit on the 21st?"
Charvet calmed a little, as his expression showed a realisation. "Well Mr. Holmes he didn't return the suit personally, but by way of a note and a courier or representative."
"Courier?" Holmes asked.
"Not of the normal kind. A most refined gentlemen."
"Can you describe him, his face?"
"His suit was cut very elegantly, a midnight blue, approaching black, a slim fit with double breast. A swallow tail and a turn down collar, most unusual dress for the daylight hours. One is more likely to wear a tailcoat like that as evening dress, but it was late in the afternoon and I presumed he had an engagement later."
"Your expertise in fine garments notwithstanding Monsieur Charvet, but do you recall the man's face perhaps, his height any distinct features would help?" Charvet paused in reflective thought.
"You think this courier is the murderer?"
Holmes didn't respond and a silence hung thick in the air as he glared at the tailor, prompting a response.
"Dark hair, he had dark hair, slightly pale in the face and gaunt. And he was as tall as you, just shy of six foot. I believe I still have the note he left with the returned suit." Monsieur Charvet scurried into the back and both I and Holmes awaited.
"You see what leaving out one seemingly small detail can lead to?" Holmes said to me. "I think I might have reached a conclusion much earlier." Monsieur Charvet returned and handed the note to Holmes, he read it, then handed it to me.
"Thank you for your help."
"You are most welcome. I hope you catch your man, and if you have any dress needs don't hesitate to return."
Holmes tipped his hat, turned and left without much further ado. I too nodded my leave and followed Holmes outside.
He picked up a ferocious pace, while stopping intermittently to hail any available Hansom cab and I had some trouble in navigating the slue of pedestrians and shoppers along the pavement. Holmes took bold purposeful steps and the crowds seemed to part before him, whereas I was not so forthright and adjusted my path at any oncoming pedestrian. Eventually I caught up with him at the end of the street and the awaiting cab, panting with exertion. I hopped in, glad of the rest.
"The Royal Albert Hall!" He said, loudly and knocked on the ceiling of our cab with his walking stick. The cab trundled away, the hoof beats and wheels rumbling over the cobbles below.
"So what do you make it of it all, Watson?" Holmes said, after some moments.
"Well I believe you have someone in mind, but I am baffled as to his identity. Perhaps the man I confused as you on that Sunday evening?"
"Of course. And does the note give you any further clue?" I plucked the now crumpled note from my pocket and read it over again, my brow furrowed in confusion. It read as such:
Dear Monsieur Charvet
Please accept my humblest apologies for the late return, as compensation I shall pay you triple the cost. Which you shall find with the courier.
Thanking you graciously.
"It's written on ordinary foolscap paper, with perhaps a Quill? The ink used is... well I don't know. There is little else to distinguish it or identify any particular person."
"Quite true, Watson."
"Then how on earth do you know the murderers identity? You must tell me everything you do, so I can be of assistance."
"Very well, as I said previously the key to it is in what the man said to you. "A rather poor rendition, don't you think?" Now why would he choose those words, a comment on the performance as a way of introducing himself?" I looked at him blankly. "He knew you had attended the performance, and you were in a private box, so he must have had you in full vision, but why you, he had full vision of a great many people in the concert hall, it doesn't mean he knew everyone. What was particular to you being in that private box on that evening?"
"The season ticket," I said in sudden dawning realisation. "It was given to me by my employer at the time."
"Indeed, which leads us to the conclusion that our murderer had some prior association with your employer, perhaps a friend or a patient of his. Our murderer noted his absence and you in his place. I have previously interviewed the manager of the Royal Albert Hall, François-Antoine Habeneck, he is responsible for hiring or choosing the lead cellist. He conducted several interviews with potential candidates and whittled them down to two. Patrice Von Houton a graduate of London school of music and theatre, and a man approaching forty going by the name Bernard Duris, who at the time of his audition was suffering from a cold and it perhaps hindered his performance and he missed his opportunity because of it."
"And he had an appointment with his doctor, for a quick cure?"
"But why would such a missed opportunity lead a man to murder?"
"A passion and a single minded goal to perform and show his skills in front of an audience. The manager told me that he preferred to promote from the university and Bernard Duris, being an outsider, yet a superior cellist was not chosen. A matter of bitter slight toward the institution that wouldn't employ him and one of wrong timing. Which in turn led to desire to seize control from the hands of fate or destiny and choices made beyond his own will. By eliminating Patrice Von Houton he furnished himself with another opportunity and assurances that he would be chosen this time around."
"We must find this Bernard Duris and see if he fits the description given to us by the tailor. Seen as how your view of him was obscured by the gaslight."
"Then we go to the police with our evidence and chain of facts." I thought on this as the cab rumbled its way to Westminster and the Royal Albert Hall. Holmes remained silent and I too.
"Why do we not go to the police now?" I asked.
"I fear their heavy handed ways may allow this Bernard Duris to escape and as yet I am not so confident of my theories. I feel a little more patience is required. A considerable amount of time has passed since the murder and Duris has taken his position as lead cellist for some months now. By accident, or of circumstances, not of design he has been lulled into a false sense of security and I wish to catch him unawares. Any heavy handed movement by the police will alert him."
"So we are to acquire his address from his employer?"
"Alas he couldn't give it to me. He has his correspondence delivered to a private box within the post office. He has covered his tracks well. Our only recourse, to catch him at the concert hall, either this afternoon or at this evenings performance. You do still have use of your previous employers private box?"
"Then the set up is complete."
"It is?" I said. "What is this set up?"
"We confirm his identity, confront him and make a citizens arrest, then escort him to the police where I shall explain my reasoning and give my evidence. Charvet can confirm his identity." I was not convinced of his plan, it seemed most dangerous and built on sand, although his logic served him, there was very little hard evidence to convince a Judge.
"I must protest your course of action, Holmes." I exclaimed boldly and he turned to look at me with the harshest glare. "It is dangerous and I feel we would be better served by police involvement." He remained quiet and contemplated my remarks.
"My relationship with police at present, is somewhat spiky. They are dismissive of me and my self styled occupation as a private detective. Convincing them would take time and undue stress. Be brave, Watson, your experiences during the war will serve you well, I don't doubt it." I was still unsure, but left it at that as we had arrived at the concert hall.
We were unable to catch Duris this early as he wasn't around, and the manager had no clues as to his location. I was about to tell him he had a murderer in his midst, but Holmes stopped me from doing so, later reaffirming the need for delicacy, if I had told him in that moment, the manager might act and give us away. He added that the Saturday evening performance was a premier of the grandest kind a new composition by a highly revered French composer, Jean-Baptiste Camile (it proved to be his last composition and his fame has since fallen into obscurity). Holmes also pointed out that there was little to no chance that the manager would let us spoil an event that would be highly profitable and one that took numerous pains to prepare and market, even if there was a murderer in the mist of the players. "It is a sad truth that financial gain and public perception almost always takes precedent over any moral qualms," he said on our journey home.
So we waited for the evening performance. In such time I invited Mary to attend as we had missed our day together and I thought it might be saved by inviting her. It also provided an opportunity for her to meet Holmes. She was more than willing and excited to meet my new friend and expressed relief that a long held concern that, up until that point, I seemed to have no friends or any leisurely acquaintances. She was getting worried that there might be some secret I held that was detrimental to my character. I held back the fact that I had only recently made Holmes's acquaintance. I felt a little uncomfortable doing so, but such was the fear of losing her over the smallest thing, my grasp on such a fine lady felt tenuous as she was so high above my station and class. And feeling such insecurities I ventured back to the Charvet tailors and bought myself a new suit and Mary a new dress. Looking back on it, it was rather frivolous as I only just had the finances to fund the purchase. However the delight on Mary's face was priceless and I felt a warm and proud glow as we made our way to the concert hall.
And there we waited, and waited, and waited further, watching as the other patrons in their splendid gowns and dress suits entered the concert hall. I looked at Mary and she at me the unspoken question hung in the silence between us and just as I began to entertain thoughts that something horrible had happened to Holmes and he had tried to catch Bernard Duris alone, a lone Hansom Cab pulled up, Holmes hopped out and ascended the stairs to join us.
"I really must do an extensive study of Hansom cabs and carriages and their speed, my calculations seem to be running quite shy of their actual journey time or my estimations of it," said he. He paused and addressed Mary, looking her up and down as if he were studying her. "And who is this?"
"Mary Morsden," she said before I could make a formal introduction.
"So you must be the problem solver and reader of situations and minds John has told me about?"
"I am indeed. Sherlock Holmes, at your service," he said. "Shall we?"
Inside the concert hall, Holmes hung back as we were about to enter the private box and he stopped me before I could follow Mary inside.
"Do you not think it is dangerous to bring her here, given what we are about to undertake?"
"Rest assured I'll make sure she is always out of harms way." He paused in reflection and seemed reasonably satisfied.
"It is unlikely, but if he sees us Duris might steal away during the intermission. If he does, we must go outside and cut him off at the performers entrance."
"The alleyway?" Holmes nodded and we entered the private box and took our seats.
The air in the concert hall was filled with hushed chatter and the sound of the players tuning their instruments in the orchestra pit.
"Do you see him?" Holmes said from behind me. I looked down and tried to make him out, it was a little difficult to fit the man to the description Charvet had given us at this distance.
"See who?" Mary asked me. I didn't answer and asked if I could borrow her Opera glasses. She plucked them out of a small leather case and using them I peered down. And there he was, engaged in plucking the strings on his cello and sliding the bow across. I started with a shudder of fear as his eyes found mine and he stared right at me with a dry smile.
"He's seen us." I declared.
"Who?" Mary asked.
"Then it is him?"
"What are you two talking about?" Mary asked again. I was about to answer but the crowds hushed and a still silence filled the air. The players where about to begin.
I kept a close eye on Duris, throughout the first half of the performance, on a couple of occasions I had gotten so caught up in the music and the energy it stirred within me. It didn't take much for me to remind myself why we were there. The intermission came and Holmes left our company to wait by the performers entrance, while myself and Mary took a drink at the bar. Mary was bursting with questions about the business I and Holmes had become involved in and I gave her a brief account of our exploits and Holmes's logical reasoning behind his theory that Bernard Duris was responsible for the missing cellist's murder. Mary recoiled in shock.
"It seems most dangerous, yet most exciting," she said. "If I can help in any way."
"No, no, you must not get involved."
"Very well." She said and sipped her glass of wine. During the entire conversation I noticed a man, stood quite close to us and he appeared to be eavesdropping on myself and Mary. I didn't give it much account at the time as the bar was quite busy. The bell rang, prompting us to return to the box for the second half of the performance. We ascended the stairs and took our seats in the private box once again. Holmes rejoined us minutes after the performance had started again. Between time I saw Duris in conversation with the man that I thought eavesdropping on mine and Mary conversation. Duris handed him a note and the man left. I thought little of it. Duris hadn't slipped away and we would catch him after the performance was finished. The set up was still in place.
Again I, and Holmes kept a watchful eye on Duris throughout the rousing performance. It lasted a little over an hour and when they finished, was met with a standing ovation.
"Wait outside with Mary, in case he comes out there. I'll be in the alleyway." Holmes said in my ear as the applause went on. I simply nodded my approval, although I felt a little uneasy at his choice to confront Duris alone. He patted me on the shoulder as a show of confidence and left our company.
Both I and Mary waited outside in the warm spring air of the evening. We said little to each other, if anything at all and merely exchanged nervous smiles. The crowds left in intermittent bursts and I was constantly on watch for Duris. The similarity in the men's dress suits made it somewhat difficult, but I concluded he would be alone and most of the gentlemen had a lady on his arm, that and he was particularly tall. After half an hour the last trickles were exiting and making their way to their awaiting cabs and carriages. I put Mary in a cab as the main entrance doors were finally closed and locked.
"Good luck. And be careful." She kissed me goodbye and I tapped on the door with my walking stick, prompting the driver to go. I watched the cab trundle away and felt a nervous rush of anxiety. I took a deep calming breath and stepped forward toward the alley way that had become so familiar to me.
It was dark and shadows played against the towering walls of the buildings, a lock of smoke spilled into the air and I turned to its origin. I started a little when Holmes stepped forward, I had thought it was our murderer, such was the shape of his silhouetted frame- coat tails hanging down about his legs and top hat perched upon his head.
"You didn't see him then?" Holmes said, darkly.
"No. Did you?"
"Not yet." Before I or he could say anything further, there was a rattle and a clunk from behind me. The performers entrance door had opened. I whirled around and saw a figure appear. Holmes stepped forward taking a position beside me.
"I am most impressed, Mr. Holmes." Holmes glared at him with tempered shock, his nerve remained as steel.
"How do you know my name?" He asked blankly.
"I and my comrades have been following your activities for quite some time. I identified you as a threat some months ago, when you were first referred to in this matter." He said with a notable Bavarian accent.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"I go by many names, and you will surely discover just who I am when I allow you to and I feel safe doing so. For now, it must remain... a mystery, beyond the name Duris, of course." He smirked the most sinister and devious smile.
"I'm sorry gentlemen, your efforts are already thwarted." He tipped his hat and was about to turn to walk away.
"You gave yourselves away, or at least, the good Doctor did, not an hour ago." I cursed myself and my loose mouth. The eavesdropper! An agent of his.
"I have already set my protection plan in motion. Why even now, one of my comrade is confessing to Patrice's murder." Holmes glared at him again and his arched eye brow showed the slightest sign of frustration. But, he kept his emotion checked.
"A confession that will surely have as many holes as the sewer grate. If we take you now..." I was interrupted mid sentence.
"John?" The voice came from behind the silhouetted figure of Duris. Before I could warn Mary not to come any closer it was too late. To my utter horror Duris grabbed Mary and drew a knife, in the swiftest of time. He held the knife at her throat as she gasped and trembled with fear. He backed away from us and they became swallowed in the shadows of the alley. I lurched forward, but stopped dead on hearing his words.
"You two amateur detectives already know I am capable. So one more step and your lovely young friend here will suffer the same fate. Let me slip away and her safety is assured." I looked to Holmes and he back at me, but before we could react or stand down, Mary took it upon herself to elbow the man in the gut. Such was his surprise, and the stinging shock of pain in his gut, the knife fell loose with a clatter on the cobbles below. Without hesitation and with swift skill Mary whirled around and punched him square in the face. My jaw dropped in awe and shock at her audacity and the power with which she connected her fist. Duris stumbled backward blinded by pain, when he regained some semblance of lucidity he turned and ran, disappearing into the shadows and out of the alley, his cello on the floor and Mary panting with the exhaustion and excitement of the moment. When I joined her, she was trembling with the after effects of the rush of adrenaline. I looked her over in my medical capacity and notices a slight trickle of blood upon her neck where the blade had nicked at her skin.
"Are you all right?" I asked and she nodded
Holmes looked on, still and silent, it was as if he had become one of the shadows that played on the wall. And then, he lit a cigarette, turned and walked away.
I saw Mary back to her home and on the journey back to my apartment I was greatly troubled by Holmes's reaction or lack thereof. I took a glass of absinthium in front of a cosy fire as I could not rest. Was Holmes disappointed in me and Mary. She had told the cab driver to turn around as she was travelling home, the worry about my fate in confronting the murderer had overwhelmed her and she knew she could not rest until my safety was assured. Her good intentions and her concern for me not withstanding, I couldn't help but think it was this fact that had foiled Holmes' capture of Duris. I felt somewhat ridiculous, I had only known the man for a short time. Why was I so concerned at loosing his friendship and my position as his companion? I dismissed the thought, friends do come and go in this great landscape of life.
In the morning I sent Holmes a telegram and I read the morning newspaper with surprise. The banner headline read: Notorious Criminal Kingpin Confesses.
Sebastian Moran had been wanted by the police for some years now, on charges of counterfeiting, racketeering and fraud., but despite his infamy the police and the courts had never made any of the charges stick. According to the article he walked straight into the police station in the early hours of the morning and confessed to the murder of Patrice Von Houton. He gave an account and is now in custody awaiting trial.
After reading the article Bernard Duris' "protection plan" suddenly became clear to me. His eavesdropper heard of us closing in and reported it to Duris, I recall seeing him hand Duris a note. Duris then must've sent word out to Moran, and I assume he had paid him for his false confession. The police now doubly satisfied as to the identity of the cellists murderer and to have caught one of its most wanted men. Well, they would hardly hear of mine and Holmes's exploits and our conclusions, given Holmes's tenuous relations with the police. Moran would be tied up in court for some weeks and no further investigation into the murder would be undertaken. For why, when you already have your man? This would then allow Duris to escape and go back underground.
Even so, I took it upon myself to report the incident to the police, giving a long account of our trail behind Duris and the confrontation in the alleyway. As I thought, I was dismissed with the self same reason I gave earlier. They had Moran and they would be damned if a couple of amateur detectives were going to set him free. When the case did come to trial I was compelled to give evidence for Moran, which left a bitter taste in the mouth. Indeed his confession was full of holes. He claimed to have killed him in a fit a rage and revenge, as Patrice had bested him at a game of chess. Moran claimed to have followed him home and along a dark alleyway, he jumped from behind him and strangled him to death, disposing of his body in London' complex network of sewers. I dutifully pointed out the holes in his account. Firstly, Moran had no conceivable business socialising with Patrice and Moran couldn't give a true description of the man. Secondly, he claimed to have carried him down into the sewers and using a boat placed him in the location, I and Holmes found him. This didn't account for his broken ankle, post mortem. These two points dismissed his confession and the charges. He was, however charged with wasting police and the courts time, a substantial fine, that Moran was now well equipped to afford, if he wasn't before. After these conclusions he was set free.
I spent the next few weeks attending to the business of my medical practice and spending time with Mary. I received no response to my telegrams and letters to Holmes and when I went out of my way to visit him, his landlady and housekeeper Mrs. Hudson informed me he was busy with another case, in Vienna no less. She didn't know when he would return.
A month later I received a letter from Holmes and it read as follows.
I do not blame you or Mary for the failure to capture Bernard Duris and I am sure his plan and his execution of it has become apparent to you now. I have spent some time attempting to track him down. Which sent me to Vienna. Alas, all my attempts to unearth him have failed, it would seem we have met with a formidable foe and I am sure we shall come across him again. I do ask one thing of you, if we are to remain partners and confederates in cases. That is, until your relationship with Mary is secure please do your utmost not to involve her. It is not that I don't trust her or you. But men tend to be hopelessly romantic and leaves them susceptible to irrational thinking and actions that jeopardise logical investigation.
P.S. Mrs. Hudson has suggested that I invite you around for dinner. She is rather good in preparing food. Set a date that is convenient and I shall inform Mrs. Hudson.
Before this dinner I visited Holmes in his rooms, late one evening and found him seated in a chair staring into the fire, in a cocaine inspired stupor and his mind seemed occupied elsewhere. In his fingers I was a telegram. He glanced up at me, when I entered and took a seat adjacent him on the couch.
"Is everything, okay?" I asked. I noticed a small wooden box on his side table, inside it: a syringe needle and a solution bottle that was half full.
"What is it that motivates a man to do the things he does and say the things he does." I was very confused by the question.
"I guess it depends on the situation." I said gently.
"My own situation, it would appear that I am constantly stuck in the middle. Disrespected by the law and fascinated and compelled by the criminal mind. My attempts to divorce myself from emotion too. I fail and am pulled back to feelings that don't serve." A long pause. "Take you, for example, your desire to have Mary included in your life took precedent over any risk. Any foreseen harm that might come to her. This Bernard Duris too. His desire to play the cello amongst the highest players in London, forced him to murder. I am almost compelled to take the Buddhist line, and instead of divorcing myself from emotion I should divorce myself from desire and put my mind in a state so as to want nothing." I was again confused and could make little sense of what he was talking about. No doubt it was brought on by the cocaine.
"You should rest. All will seem clear in the morning." He smiled and lit a cigarette. After this he handed me the telegram, it read as such:
You have inconvenienced me and it won't be forgotten. Consider this a warning, if you interfere with me again there will be dire consequences for you and those that you care about.
After reading it, I tossed it into the fire and we sat in silence watching the paper burn amongst the flames.
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