Holmes was sitting in a chair with a strange blue kimono on that apparently kept him well aerated to resist the sweltering London heat that descended upon all of our heads that week in July. It was a furious heat that rarely burned the London streets to this temperature such that the roads had begun to melt wreaking havoc. The yelling of the news boys was muted out in the streets. They sheltered in the dark recesses of alcoves to avoid the stamping and suffering of the horses. The straw stuck to the hooves and the slavering cantering made onrushing traffic a veritable maw.
I had a cold drink of lime mixed with water in my hand. Mrs. Hudson had been down to the ice man’s to ensure a steady supply of ice came up at intervals of about three hours. She brought us tidings of Mr. Hudson who owned a small delivery service next to where men loaded giant blocks of ice onto trams and carts. She seemed a bit frustrated with her husband, “He won’t keep his socks darned,” she mooted heavily. After she set down the ice bucket, Holmes gave her an even stare and she left.
Holmes appeared weak that morning; even the detective seemed to wither under the heat, although I was always cautious to not make judgments about his behavior. His malaise might have been owing to the fact that for many weeks there had been little to interest him. The criminal underworld of London had been muted of late. He was smoking furiously and drinking whiskey.
I was thinking about heading to the clinic to work on patients’ folders, to get some work done on a Saturday morning when things would be quiet. God forbid I would ever have a private moment with my pen and some good data. Life as a medical student was a nonstop parade of interruption. If you want to know the truth of the matter it was a salve to my intelligence to have quiet moments to learn. The nurses dislike arrogant doctors but the trade-offs must be balanced. Stiff upper lip and what have you.
Holmes, however, had better ideas lurking about in his mind, because just as I had resolved to rally he sank into a deep, feline stretch and coughed his way out of his stupor into a countenance of sobriety, and then said, “Watson! I was thinking about taking a stroll through Hyde Park; if you would care to accompany me, I wouldn’t mind the fellowship.”
Caught between a rock and a hard place I accepted the invitation. “We can stop off for a drink afterwards,” said Holmes, in an effort to cheer me up. He succeeded. “Very well,” he remarked, going to his bureau and opening it and pulling out a nice sheaf of pound notes, which he then pocketed. I had never asked about the state of his finances, nor had I ever seen him balancing figures in the flat. But he did have the peculiar habit of producing ungodly amounts of money or trinkets of unfathomable value when the case presented itself. By the look of the folded money I was at once surprised by the prospect of a jovial drinking lark. Suddenly the possibilities that I had been entertaining, of quiet study or lethargy in the oppressive heat, the dual notions that had been preoccupying the left and right pieces of my brain like a teeter totter were blown away like a breeze, and new horizons were opened up in my mind. “Hyde Park,” said Holmes, removing his kimono and grabbing his cane. “And the pub.”
We were in Hyde Park underneath a cloud of heat dropping down, swirling down like a falling leaf. Heat that confused the senses. Heat that made me feel the clamminess of my heartbeat. But it was a beautiful thing to be in Hyde Park with the grass green, leaves plush, the gravel under our shoes crunched as we made our way along speedily. There were gentlemen about their business, some taking in the scenery, but most on pressing errands. Tall, aloof, concentrated energy. The ruffians knew better than to fall behind their heels t-o closely. Queen Victoria’s able-bodied men. We walked along for twenty minutes without exchanging conversation. It wasn’t difficult because it was so hot. I kept quiet, enjoying the pleasant air. It wasn’t much to rival my days in Afghanistan, to be sure. But then I was dressed a bit more for the occasion.
When we came to a clearing at the end of a lane I saw a large party of my countrymen enjoying the summer sky as well as they could. There were about forty or fifty women and men there milling about on the grass and so forth. Mostly it looked like gentlemen who had met up to smoke and exchange pleasantries. They had their top hats on and were grinning at each other and laughing. And they were all about to die.
I noticed a man pushing something on wheels with a white tarp thrown over it across the grass.
Holmes and I were separated from the crowd by a distance of a hundred feet. The detective had gone still, and he leaned against my shoulder a bit forcing me to nearly trip over back under the branches of an elm tree. But I regained my footing, and was about to make a quip about his balancing skills when Sherlock’s face began to redden. He lowered his head while his irises drifted out across the Hyde Park lawn. He cocked his head at the man, who proceeded to throw the tarp off , and an explosion of gunfire filled the air. Loud, crackling, roaring, rapid gunfire as I had never heard before in my combat experience. I dove down, and rolled behind the elm tree. Holmes took off sprinting in the opposite direction.
I waited, listening to the report and hoping the bullets would not discover me. The noise and the heat and the smoke were overpowering, and I shut up my eyes and clenched my teeth fearfully while the bullets shattered the air.
As abruptly as the gunfire had begun it ended, and everything became silent.
Holmes appeared out of the smoky ether with rapier speed, and his presence held the weight of planets. He pulled me to my feet, and steadied me as he surveyed the dead gentlemen and white smoke. The sound of fire engines was audible, and constables were running across the field with bloodhounds lashing their tongues at the heat and braying with the lust of the hunt. Fox hunting. It always brought out the best in them. The digression of my thoughts was worrisome. I steadied myself with my hand against the bark of a tree while Holmes unscrewed a cap from a flask and handed it to me. I took a draft and it warmed and cured me. “Let us evade this scene of horror, doctor,” he suggested, while he studied the aftermath. A faint moaning was heard but Holmes had me by the arm, leading me back down the path to the entrance. By the time we hit the edges of the park the sound of the sirens and dogs barking seemed even louder than what I had experienced back at the scene.
“What about that drink?” suggested Sherlock with some enthusiasm. “Drink,” I said. “Perhaps first we should make our way to Haymarket, however; there is a bout I want to see there in a half hour.”
“Bout,” I said.
“Well, it’s a boxing contest, I suppose.”
“Yes,” he said, taking a draft from his flask and peering up into the sun skeptically. I noticed disapproval in his gaze, but whether it was for the horror show we had just witnessed or for my own shock and reticence it was hard for me to discern. I controlled myself, somehow, and he nodded approvingly, still without taking his eyes off the summer sky.
We jogged down the street to a streetcar and climbed aboard.
When we arrived in Haymarket I was a mess. Dehydration, shock, adrenaline and confusion. I wanted to replay the events I had just witnessed in my mind, to converse about them with someone and to take a guilty pleasure in reliving the trauma over and over. But Holmes was a silent ghost next to me on the trolley, and I thought then that his disapproval may have been justified in some respects. Perhaps I had something of the romantic in me, although this realization stirred me almost to shame as it dawned upon me and as I moodily drank. But Holmes played the mother hen. He kept a patient expression, and ejected himself with energy when we reached our destination. The halting trolley scattered pigeons from the rails, and I lurched towards him out of the carriage, mentally ready for the new experience.
As a doctor, I knew that shock and fever went hand in hand, and as I peered at the thrown open doors to the cellar of the shoe polishers, a bearded worker standing nonchalantly next to the black space to keep watch for bobbies, I considered this to be a possibly reckless use of my body. But Holmes was down the stairs like a cat. And I had to make up my own mind. I followed him down.
The air underground was sweltering. Men were sashaying around with the rhythms of fighting. Happy faces grinning and the smell of hot money and sweaty hands. The ring was cordoned off with a single blue rope. The floor was hard granite. Crates at the corners of the space. Holmes pushed us to the front of the crowd and produced the sheaf of pound notes. A little midget with a cauliflower ear and a tiny cigar between his teeth popped up seemingly from nowhere. Holmes said, “Mr. Night,” and forced a stash of notes into the fist of the midget who nodded at the money then turned in my direction. “Who is the opposing party?” I asked him, trying to choke back my inebriation and the pain ringing in my head. “That would be young Tully.” “I’ll take him for ten pound,” I said. Holmes couldn’t be right about absolutely everything. He just couldn’t, and when it came to games of chance some of the last vestiges of doubts or perhaps underestimation of his abilities nagged at my thoughts. We had only been flatmates for six months, and I had seen much that was impressive in the way of his problem solving abilities. But something about gambling fired my own ego a tad, no slouch or stranger to the tables or gaming halls of London.
Tully and Night came out of their corners like flat cold meat. Body shots. The first round ended with Night losing badly. But Night was a much larger fighter and more savage looking. I was surprised to see Tully beating him around the ears and loosening up around the middle. Holmes did not seem concerned, though. I had never seen him more relaxed. In the third round he kind of just shrugged his shoulders in the direction of Night as if to say, “End it before someone gets hurt,” and Night ended it, brutally. Holmes collected his winnings and we went out into the London evening for a bender.
The next morning it was still blisteringly hot, but the malaise of the news boys had been replaced with their howling. It made me smile. London. Like a bloody whirlwind. The papers bleeding ink about yesterday’s slaughter in Hyde Park.
I arose early in the morning as was my habit, even though we had been out for a lark until the late hours. After a drink of water I went out into the streets and purchased one of the papers. I peered up at the sky. The sweat was already beginning to coagulate on the undersides of my eyelids. One of the privileges of medical life was that I had easy access to showers. And in this heat I was fortunate enough to be able to scrub off the grime and ash whenever I wanted. I went to the clinic and bathed myself, breathing heavily and shaking off the hangover as best I could.
When I arrived back in the flat Holmes was sitting behind his desk looking erudite and professional in black. It may have been a strange choice to wear black under the circumstances, but if it had any effect on him it didn’t come across. His concentration was total and fixed on the gentleman seated across from him who had a thin mustache and a fine suit on with muted colors. He looked nervous and was unspooling a tale, but in a hushed tone. Holmes waved me over to a desk and the man got pensive, “It’s alright Mr. Trappings, this is my estimable colleague Doctor Watson of Charring Cross Hospital. He is a surgeon of some reputation, although he may be young I can assure you that he is a trustworthy man and veteran of Her Majesty’s military. Please do not fail to divulge any details of your account due to his presence.”
“Would you like a drink?” I asked the man quizzically.
“Yes that would do,” he remarked, “strong as the weather if you don’t mind.”
I was ruffled a bit by this command, but he was upper class. So I fixed him his drink – a strong Portobello Martini with a twist – and wiped the rim clean with fresh cloth, placed the ice into the liquid, and handed it over to the man, then sat down and concentrated on his account.
“As I was just telling you Mr. Holmes, my work at the Foreign Office includes some sensitive data and I have a steady workload. For the most part I am happy in my job; I am a widower, however, and recently made the acquaintance of a young American woman by the name of Sherry McClintlock.”
“And is your job at the Foreign Office somehow connected with the young lady?”
“No, but I believe we have a special connection.”
“Well, she has a brother who was in the Grand Army of the Republic who recently came to London. I met him once when I went to meet Sherry at a fish shop on the pier. He was a fiery, spirited man from Maine. At the time I would almost have thought him mad but I was perhaps over gracious in my charitable judgment owing to the fact that it was Sherry’s brother, and I was becoming deeply entangled with her in rapid fashion. She is quite beautiful.”
“A whirlwind romance?” I mooted this choking back laughter; this was an upper class Tory after all, the stodgiest and most bloodless of the breed. To hear that he had become smitten with a young lady and to hear him say the words was amusing to me in spite of my hangover.
“In a word,” said Mr. Trappings, who offered me the empty glass for a retopping.
Holmes was silent as I went over to the ice and liquor.
“Well,” said Trappings, “I suppose she’s an international arms dealer and manufactures the merchandise herself.”
“Ah,” said Holmes.
“Hmm,” said Trappings.
I put the glass in his hands and said, “Gatling guns?”
“I daresay,” said the man, taking a thick slurp from the glass and suddenly looking small. “I’m familiar with the gatling gun as I made my way through the G’s of the Oxford English Dictionary last spring. A weapon of epic destruction used in the American Civil War to extraordinary effect. But when I read this morning’s paper I just put the sums together and thought I might engage your counsel on the matter before going to the police. Perhaps you might help me resolve this difficulty without too public a showing.
“She has an apartment in South Kensington that I have been renting for her. Here is the address,” Trappings picked up a pencil from Holmes’ desk and wrote it out in perfect script.
“Ah,” said Holmes.
The man finished the second drink, “Hmm,” said Trappings.
“Get out,” said Holmes, “Watson show him the door.”
The man rose then and went out. And I watched him round the banister and head down the steps.
It was lunch time at that point and we set to some cucumber sandwiches and lemonade that Mrs. Hudson brought in for us.
An hour later we were inside her apartment. It was a nice place with sunshine pouring in on the burgundy carpet making things hot house humid. It was a snug little spot, well furnished and heavy with books, antiques, and other knickknacks.
Holmes found a key and I followed him down into a locked storeroom where we found her workshop. There were desks and pieces of iron bent into various shapes and of various sizes and weights. There were tools. There were polishing cloths.
“Remarkable that a woman could have the strength for such labor as this,” I said.
There was a small window and we saw a shadow pass by and pause, for some reason it gave me an eerie feeling and Holmes too seemed to pause momentarily and then the person had moved away from the window. Then we heard someone come to the open doorway then immediately turn and run.
We both took off up the stairs and out into the street where we saw a blonde woman in a light red dress sprinting down the street. As soon as we hit the pavement two other dogs leapt off the walls in pursuit. Giant men loping at a huge gate after her. It may have been the burning heat, the hangover, or the cucumber sandwiches, but my mind went woozy; darkness swept over me. The last thing I saw was Holmes in his black clothes sprinting off as my vision telescoped and I passed out in the street. “Probably from dehydration,” was the last observation I made before the cold and wet grip of unconsciousness overtook me.
I saw a bedouin man running towards me slowly. There wasn’t a bird in the sky or a sound emanating from anywhere. Total silence as he ran towards me and leaned down.
Then I was back awake in the street with a beggar holding my shoulders and looking down with concern: “Too hot for a gentleman my lovely?” he asked. I leaned forward and coughed, and he slapped my back, “Oh, just a bit of the rum,” he said. I nodded and coughed, and he helped me to my feet. “I’m a doctor,” I said, but he just tapped his toe and held out his hand.
I dug into my wallet and emptied it for him. “I’m a doctor,” I said again, exhausted. I leaned back against the a brick wall breathing deep, “Wait…” I said, as he walked off counting the notes. “Yes?” “Nevermind.” He kept walking.
I went back to Baker Street and went for the bottle of port like a ravenous monster, with succor did I quaff back those first few glasses then fell onto the bed like a princess who just saw her prince.
I felt the afternoon sun that was beginning to cool off the city just a tad. I fell asleep with a prostitute whom I had hired on my walk back.
Holmes didn’t bother me for the rest of the afternoon or evening. But when I came out of the bedroom that night he was sitting there smoking his pipe. He seemed to be waiting. Holmes then did something strange; he went to his violin case and pulled out the expensive instrument then ripped it apart with his bare hands. It made me jump, such a show of strength. He broke it in two.
“I say,” I remarked.
Then he showed me his teeth and grinned, “I quit this case,” he said. He looked out the window and we heard Big Ben tolling.