I and Holmes had seldom crossed paths recently. For me it was simply a case of juggling my work at the practice, my marriage, and my mistress, a negro woman smuggled up the Thames by a Prince, no less, as reward for my having cured him of a rather nasty case of hairy feet. I still couldn’t pronounce her name and I did worry that the coal-shed was possibly not the best place to keep her chained up and certainly less than desirable when the urges for wanton acts that my good wife would violently refuse took ahold. As for my dear friend, Holmes spent each week either experimenting with new ways to take the cocaine he lived for or working feverishly on some case or another where my assistance – such little as I could ever afford – was not required. I recalled reading a little of his exploits at solving the Mystery Of The Murdered Marmot in the previous week’s London Zoo Digest, and there was, of course, the much-publicised events surrounding the climax to The Aberystwyth Aardvark Affair. In truth, Holmes’ fascination with solving animal-based crimes did not interest me as much as it once had. Not since Fluffy.
As I stepped out from my civil practice on the evening of the ninth of August, 1891, with the only thought in my mind that of whether to use the vacuum pump or the new-fangled electrical generator on my nubian’s nipples while my darling wife was away in Norfolk visiting with her sisters, it was with some surprise that I found myself face-to-face with Wiggins, the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars. His dirty face filled me with disgust as easily as his scrawny, yet toned buttocks straining at the trousers two sizes too small for him aroused some other primeval urges. Quickly he told me that Sherlock Holmes was currently out of his drug-induced dreamstate and asking for my aid and then, without so much as a wave, he sprinted down the street. I might normally have chased him on the pretext of gaining more information while really enjoying the muscles of his gluteus maximus rippling through the coarse fabric but the lure of my friend Holmes quenched my unmanly desires and I strode towards Baker Street with great haste.
I was shown in and up to his office immediately upon arrival. Holmes stood in the centre of the room, his chin resting on his chest, his hands clasped behind his back. He glanced at me, smiled, and pointed to the Chesterfield.
“Seat yourself, my good doctor, and please take a cigar and some brandy to ward off the chill of the evening,” he directed. I sat and took up his offer despite there being no chill whatsoever, it being the height of the heatwave you remember. Holmes paced up and down a couple of times and then swivelled towards me sharply.
“Watson, you have recently wet yourself!” he exclaimed. I was shocked and clasped a hand to my crotch where, amazingly, I discovered a large damp patch I’d not noticed before.
“Astounding Holmes!” I remarked. “But how?”
“Simplicity itself, doctor,” he said, waving one hand dismissively. “As I swivelled I took you by surprise and saw the glass of brandy jerk and spill its contents onto your lap.” I looked down at the glass and sheepishly conceded the elementary observation. “Be careful with that cigar Watson, ” he continued. “If you drop any ash you’ll likely go up in flames and neither your wife nor your negro mistress in the coal-shed will appreciate that.”
“What!” I stood up, probably quite purple in the face, and cigar ash barely missed by wet groin while the remainder of my glass arched upwards and landed in the lit fireplace with a satisfactory explosion. “Really, Holmes, how can you possibly know that?”
He smiled and explained. “I spied coal dust on the bottom of your shoes as you sat down and crossed your legs. This means you were most likely in your coal-shed quite recently but your house now runs on gas so there is no reason to enter your shed unless you have something there that perhaps you shouldn’t. Next, you are wearing your hair in dreadlocks – it suits you by the way – which means you have become close to African culture, something I would consider most unlike you based on your well-known support for the British National Party unless there was a woman involved somehow. Finally, my eyes tell me that there is a slight reddening around the corners of your eyes and the first indications of a rash developing around your mouth. From my own experiences in the Congo and various chronicles from explorers to the regions thereabouts I deduce that you have been in contact with a woman who ritually paints her face using the secretions from a particularly venomous type of toad indigenous to Africa.”
“Holmes,” I laughed, “that’s simply incredible. At every step your explanation is so simple that I think that there is not a single person who should not be able to see as clearly as you do, and yet I am glad that this talent appears to be yours alone.”
“Watson, you see but you do not observe. It is a failing of society at large.” The glint in his eyes faded and the smile on his lips straightened as he passed over a copy of the latest English Anglers Society Weekly. “Take a look at the ills that haunt us all,” he said as he sat down and filled his own glass.
I read about an eel-fishing competition that had been won by Lord Stornbrooke and news relating to the delay of this season’s Freshwater Trout Bricking due to a strike by the workers of the brick-firing kilns in Stoke. I saw an advert for thigh-high waders which I made a personal note about and read several letters from anglers up and down the length of the country bemoaning the low water levels as a result of the hot weather. Inside the back page I filed into memory a recipe for Salmon Crumble and then I passed back the paper.
“These are, indeed, bad times we live in Holmes,” I said and I topped up my glass from the decanter. For a moment he was lost in thought and then nodded before jumping up in surprise. “Watson!” he shouted. “I gave you the angling periodical by mistake. Here, take this issue of the Murder Death Kill News Daily instead.”
I took it. “Perhaps I can trouble you for a towel?” I asked. “This shirt is probably ruined and I think some of the brandy has soaked into the chair too now.”
While Holmes was away in search of a towel I tried to ignore the growing coldness of the liquid seeping into my best suit and read from the newspaper – little more than a newsletter in fairness – that I had been tossed. “Clive The Ripper Strikes In Whitechapel” proclaimed the lead article. It transpired that Annie Johnson, a whore, had been discovered in Castle Alley, her throat slit, her uterus removed, and one leg expertly amputated and replaced with a wooden copy. In many ways it seemed exactly like the dastardly Ripper murders of several years ago but there were some differences too; Annie’s nose had been stuffed with peanuts, for one, and her breasts had been surgically removed leaving no scarring.
“Tell me what you think?” said Holmes as he entered with a towel to dry myself off on.
“If I did not know you so well Holmes I would say that this sort of mystery would tax even your brain but I have been bitten more times than I can recall so I surmise you already know all there is to know about this case and my assistance is not even needed.”
“You are right, old friend, but I welcome your insight from the little you have read anyway.”
“Well, ” I began, reaching to fill my glass warily for the third time. “I would guess that Clive The Ripper is a pseudonym dreamt up by the gutter press to sell newspapers and that the real murderer is not named Clive at all. The surgery appears skilled, much like the original murders in Whitechapel, but the differences tell me that it is likely to be a copycat killer, possibly from the butchery or surgical profession with a background in joinery. A leopard doesn’t change its spots after all. Except on the Case Of The Fading Leopard, but that was Moriarty’s doing. Otherwise, I confess that I am clearly seeing and not observing once more Holmes. Pray tell, what have you concluded from this ghastly event?”
“Watson, dear Watson, you are always the ray of sunshine in my overcast day with the promise of a light rain by early evening and the chance of prolonged showers overnight. Observe! First, as someone who is a regular visitor to the ladies who ply their trade mainly at night, you do not seem surprised that the name Annie Johnson is unfamiliar, yet surely you know them all quite initmately by now. Then there are the peanuts. The body has obviously been dead long enough for an insect of some sort to make its home in Annie’s head and drag in food, further indicating that the victim was killed near the elephants’ enclosure at the circus that has just set up in Hyde Park and then moved to Castle Alley under cover of darkness. Next, what type of surgery leaves no scarring? Elementary! No surgery! Thus, Annie was born without breasts and therefore a man. This would also explain the lack of a uterus and the false conclusion by the press that a ripper-style case had occurred. Instead we have a simple anger-killing cover-up not worthy of my concern.”
Holmes seemed quite pleased and sat down. As he fiddled with the lock on the cigar case I pondered the matter further. Suddenly I exclaimed “But Holmes! The wooden leg! Have you forgotten the leg?”
Holmes blew out a ring of smoke from his freshly lit cigar smiling. “Aliens, Watson, aliens,” he said cryptically. I waited, unwilling to let this information enter too far into my brain, hoping that it was a joke, but Holmes continued. “London is overrun with aliens who are replacing limbs with wooden equivalents. Scotland Yard are aware of the problem but keeping it quiet and I have all the Baker Street Irregulars out looking for clues.”
“Aliens? But Holmes, that’s preposterous! Why would aliens do such a thing?” I was finding it hard to believe my ears from my old, dear friend.
“Watson, they do these things because they’re aliens. If they did things the same as us but with a twist we’d merely call them French and be done with it. It is the way of aliens to do alien things Watson, and don’t you forget it.”
“But Holmes,” I cried. “Let us assume you are right – because you always are – and that this was a leg-replacement of opportunity. Is there no Clive The Ripper then?” I needed to take a large mouthful of brandy to steady my now-trembling hands.
“Certainly there’s a Clive The Ripper, Watson, and he’s standing behind your chair about to slit your throat right now.”
I leapt up faster than I would have thought possible after several years of over-indulging in minced meat-of-indeterminate-origin pies, deftly – though I say so myself – sweeping up my walking cane from its resting position by the fire as I did so. With freshly-thrown brandy stinging my eyes and blurring my vision I still, nevertheless, managed to swing around and connect the tip of my improvised weapon with the blur apparently advancing upon my vacated position with some metallic object grasped in its hands. I felt the impact jar my hands but was pleased to note that the strength of my army days was still prevalent in my wrists and I held firm as the shape crashed to the floor.
“Bravo!” I heard Holmes shout. I found the towel and dabbed at my eyes and my dreads to stop them dripping before peering at my would-be assailant. It was the prone figure of Mrs Hudson carrying a silver tray upon which even I could deduce there had recently been a teapot, two cups, and a bowl of sugar.
“Holmes! What have I done? What have you made me do?” I beseeched him.
There was a wide smile on his face and he held up the copy of Murder Death Kill News Daily. “John, my friend, in this instance the data from the case is less important than the medium in which it has been delivered. Look closely at the paper and in particular the smudges from where your own brandy-soaked hands have touched the ink. See how fresh it is. Then look to your right and my personal printing press. Do you not see that it was I that produced this paper and there is no case at all?”
“This was some cruel sport at mine and poor Mrs Hudson’s expense!” I gasped. “But for what purpose? Holmes you must explain!”
“I wanted to see how many times you’d spill brandy on yourself. And Mrs Hudson is evil, pure evil. She deserves everything she gets.”
I was stunned into sitting down on the damp Chesterfield, forgetting even the possible head trauma suffered by Holmes’ housekeeper. “So there was no murder of a man dressed as a woman in Whitechapel, no new Ripper, no newspaper article on the event, and no aliens,” I said quietly.
“No Watson,” said my friend. “The aliens are real and they’ve replaced my head with a wooden version.”