A Scandal Averted - Sherlock Holmes
A Scandal Averted - Sherlock Holmes
‘My dear Watson,’ said Mr Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street to his companion, ‘the human mind is inexorably and most conclusively the oddest of all oddities I have ever had the privilege of busying myself with. Of course, I am unabashedly miles away from coming to fully comprehend the threads of silken wonders and awe-inspiring hypotheses it is capable of weaving, and that, I can most certainly opine, is one of my elegant failures.’
Dr John Watson blew a puff of smoke from his pipe, as he listened to the ordinary musings of his companion, high on marijuana, by the fireplace. Christmas was due in a couple of weeks and the warmth of the spirit fluttered about the otherwise cold, dark and grey London. Sherlock Holmes, unconcerned and unaware of the implications of merrymaking, forever a stoic, interlocked his fingers upon his chest as he lay sprawled on the settee by the fireplace, covering his modesty by nothing save a bathing gown. It was those eccentricities of London’s detective of such renown that drew his companion to 221B Baker Street recurrently despite having a marvelous mansion of his own in Hounslow.
‘I couldn’t agree more with your opinion,’ assented Dr Watson.
‘Tell me, Watson,’ interjected Holmes abruptly. ‘What do you make of the scandal at the Hammersmith, Gregory & Spall Bank we jointly solved last week? I have, on a most curious search of your journal, not found an account of that sole incident which indeed is the purpose of my anecdotal opinion here.’
Dr Watson did not respond to that; in fact, the last week Mary, his wife, and he were holidaying along the Champ-Elysees in Paris. He looked surprised, for he had kept Holmes in the loop of the vacation; Holmes was insistent on accompanying the couple, for ‘security’ but Dr Watson waved off the unwelcome suggestion by stating: ‘It is our honeymoon, for Christ’s sake, Holmes!’
‘You know, Watson,’ continued Holmes, ‘the case was by no means a no-brainer, for it involved the most complex interplay of irrational, unscientifically and biased human emotions with the scientific, logical and ever-so analytical human mind. An illusion, so as to call it.’
‘Indeed, so,’ replied Dr Watson.
‘Would you thus care to relay the occurrence to our guest present here, Dr Watson, for I fear I might fumble: the marijuana is the best I have patched in a while, you see.’
Upon Holmes’ request, Dr Watson nodded. I noticed as I turned my attention to the young doctor who had inadvertently aged much before time (thanks to his regular interaction with the murky world of crime), that he stole a ruminating glance outside the window at the subtle fall of snow, positioning himself steadily as a storyteller. It seemed like nightfall even at three o’ clock in the afternoon, as an ominous fog, coupled with thick black smoke from probably the Battersea plant and a dozen such others, hung over the city. A dozen horse carts clamoured hooves and wheel loudly on the cobbled Baker Street, a hundred voices reverberated through the glass windows of merchants and urchins alike down on the street. And he began:
‘Do spare me, for I will miss out the details and stick strictly to the events that gave shape to what could have been one of the most disastrous banking scandals our great country has ever seen, for had it not been nipped at the right time, it could have led to a massive collapse of the world as we see it. The weather had started turning frostier two weeks back, as you very well know. Christmas comes knocking but once a year, and it was the very time. Mr Sherlock Holmes, in his usual double-breasted coat, flapped hat and silver cane, and I were taking a casual stroll along the boulevard of Piccadilly, towards the Thames, on our usual route to St Paul’s. We were scheduled to meet Mary over there and then grab luncheon at the nearest public house. It was a dull, grey morning and it had been a while since Londoners had seen the sun. '
‘When we were headed towards the conjunction that led to the Strand, a most unlikely visitor approached us in the most unlikely fashion. She was panting heavily, as though she had been running. I’d have placed her between thirty and thirty-five years of age, had she not revealed it to me later during the developmental stages of our case. Nevertheless, she was too obese. Not slightly, but morbidly. A red flush had formed on her chubby cheeks and narrow forehead, which gave us the implication that she was no good at running distances.’
At this, Holmes let out a chuckle. Apologetically, he waved his hand for the doctor to continue.
‘“Is one of you Mr Sherlock Holmes?” she panted heavily, perspiring despite the December chill. In fact, I was tempted to offer my kerchief to her, when she collapsed on my shoulder. By Lord, she was heavy! It required the combined efforts of the pair of us to drag the wench all the way to the Eros and sit her down on the steps. Our dear friend offered her some water, which, by a rather fortunate stroke, he happened to be carrying with him in his overcoat. That brought her around, but only momentarily, for she seemed to be in a state of daze when she spoke the following words before fainting one more time:
‘“Mr Holmes, I swear by the Virgin Mary, by the Bank that helps me bring food to my table and by the mighty Eros underneath whom we now huddle, that some massive conspiracy is afoot therein. I work there as a receptionist, an usher for its clients, and for the past few days, strange occurrences within have baffled me to my wits.
‘ “I had joined Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall three weeks back, upon replying to an advertisement they placed on The Times. I was instantly wired by the evening to come for an interview with the partners, Mr Hammersmith, Mr Gregory and Mr Spall. The bank is a claustrophobic office, Mister Holmes,” she said, addressing both of us, “the size of a studio bedroom rather, in one of the larger buildings on the Moorgate, where I was chosen to be interviewed. In all honesty, I had never heard of the bank before in the city, but the offer was too lucrative to turn down. I was to avail £400 annually! Just as a receptionist, far from my wildest imaginations, Mister Holmes.
‘ “However, my suspicions began building the moment I stepped into their makeshift premises. Five people, that’s what I counted on my fingers, were present. Three of them wore expensive apparel, in my opinion nothing less than a Saville Row stitch, while two others seemed like mere cashiers. Nevertheless, I felt that as a boon as well, for probably they had sufficient funds at their disposal for a receptionist.
‘ “My interview was conducted by a Miss Perry Graham Fisher. She was among the cashier looking women. At the onset, she was surprised to find me there, having confirmed and reconfirmed from a sheet of paper that no interviews had been scheduled for the day. But, I do not know what changed her mind, she brought me inside a room, more like a broom cabinet, where there was barely space enough for one, and asked me three questions: where do you live, do you have knowledge in basic finances and when are you ready to start, and lo! I was hired!”
‘I asked her what her answers to those questions were, to which she replied, Shoreditch, no and right at this instant. I was rather befuddled with the brevity of her answers, yet I kept my mind clear of all prejudices and preconceived notions.
‘She continued: “I was sent off, with a promise to commence work from the next morning, to report sharp at seven thirty, which I did. To my surprise, the same five people in the same uniform were present there in their respective broom-cupboard bureaus. What struck me as odd, Mister Holmes, was that they looked like they hadn’t slept the night before – there were large bags under their eyes that were poorly concealed with makeup. Notwithstanding those, I began my work at Hammersmith, Gregory and Spalls’.
‘ “That, Mister Holmes, did not deter me from questioning the authenticity of the work the bank did. I had a desk to myself and no papers, no lists, no quill or ink to begin with, a mandate for every reception. When I asked around for the same, Miss Perry Graham Fisher rebuked me for not having thought of that earlier! I ran off to the stationers’ in the adjacent lane and bought, from my own monies, the relevant necessities. And that was just the beginning of the odd happenings I was about to witness at the bank, to which I must jump straight to.
‘ “A week went by and I stacked together cash ledgers, attendance sheets, client lists and so on. Needless to say, the bank was just being set up and Miss Perry Graham Fisher was ecstatic; I assume she had no knowledge of my experience as a receptionist at the Lloyds’ of London. The week went by in the empty office but when I returned on Monday, Mister Holmes, I was left baffled; the tiny premises of Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall had at least fifty heads bustling about a much, more broadened space! I was left gaping, for it was absolutely extraordinary that Miss Perry Graham could issue a crumbling down of the walls to extend their space further merely over the weekend! Nevertheless, I ignored that and the sudden flurry of hired colleagues.
‘ “The strangest encounter I had was with this lady who frequented the bank commenced on that Monday onwards. She called herself Helen Baker. Tall, brooding and emphatically beautiful, Miss Baker talked to the clients. I did not have any evidence that might appeal to any sensible human’s rationale, but I did not trust that woman even a trifle bit. It happened that day, when one of the men that saw Miss Baker, Mr Frederick Powell of Southampton, waited for her at the settee near my bureau, out of a happy mistake of arriving half an hour earlier than his advisor.
‘ “I made casual conversation with him, asking him about his interests, his investments and his expectations from our bank, just fleeting, you know. In this conversation, Mr Powell mentioned to me a company based in the Americas that made automatic motor cars that would replace horse-driven buggies around the turn of the decade, an investment suggested by Miss Baker that had tremendous potentials in other economies as well. The company Mr Powell referred to was called Montgomery Motors, headquartered in Texas. You may call it coincidence, Mister Holmes, that my sister lives in the very area where Montgomery Motors is said to headquarter at. That very evening I wired my dear sister asking her if a small investment in the said company could help me make some money. I received her reply day before yesterday. Oddly, no such organisation existed, to the best of her knowledge, either in Texas or anywhere else in the continent, for that matter!”
‘Holmes was listening to this lady quietly. I made quick mental observations, accordingly. Apparently, what our client was doing would be considered unlawful in both the countries, as you very well know. The cold had managed to bite through our flesh; I suggested sitting somewhere indoors, a highly practical opinion, but our dear Mr Holmes shut me up and beseeched the woman to continue.
‘ “Over the days, Mister Holmes,” she said, running out of breath continuously, “I went on to suspect Miss Baker. It happened a few days before yesterday when one of the clients, Miss Petunia, scurried into her office and demanded as to how a counterfeit currency note came into her position upon a cash request.”
‘This revelation alerted Holmes, for this was precisely the mystery that needed the solution to, naturally. The bank, Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall was, in our client’s opinion, pumping in counterfeit currency notes into the British system.’
Holmes remarked, ‘A case out of the ordinary murders. Counterfeit currency has far wider implications, as my dear brother, Mycroft, had remarked to me once. It could be the start of a war of a scale so huge that it would resonate for eons to come, most crucially in my experience, a drainage of currency into all the wrong hands that could fuel further crime. Money, my friend, is the ironically the most neutral necessity for all good as well as all evil to commence, depending entirely upon the hands it goes to.’
Doctor Watson nodded. ‘And thus, Mr Holmes chose to find out whose hands were the real currencies going to. At this juncture, our client had an intuition about the circulation of fake money into the system, but what she perhaps did not know what that the game was much, much larger beyond her comprehension.
‘She continued listing down her apprehensions regarding Miss Helen Baker, a lady who kept mostly to herself and dealt with only high-value clients. And, most mysteriously, recommending a Montgomery Motors to every single customer seeking her advice on overseas investments. It struck our client as bizarre and, like I have already aforesaid, her sister was kind enough to send in a reply two days earlier that nothing of such a name existed in her vicinity. That furthered our client’s doubts and she went to report this hunch to Miss Perry Graham Fisher, who by then, had turned into a tea-time friend and conversation buddy for our client. From what she recounts, Miss Perry Graham Fisher assured her that she would take care of the matter, but in clandestine, for Miss Graham Fisher’s hierarchy being a rung or two inferior to that of Miss Baker in all respects, rubbing any of those bankers the wrong way could cast the establishment into a puddle of quicksand.
‘And then, she mentioned to us that inevitable consequence of blowing the whistle, no matter how soft. She said, “I am being followed and I know of it, Mr Holmes.”’
At this juncture, I gasped. Doctor Watson and Holmes smiled in unison.
‘ “I have absolutely no idea,” said she, “as to how my pursuer got to know about me, where I stayed and all the other private material about me. As I left my Hackney house in the mornings for the bank, I could sense that ominous feeling that I was not alone on a desolate road. I turned around and looked back as a habit, but there would not be a soul as far as my eyes could see. It was getting frightening, Mister Holmes. Even today, I sensed my pursuer as I neared St Paul’s. When I hopped onto a cab to Baker Street to meet you, to my utter shock, I find my cab being followed in a close chase by another, for every street, every lane, every turn this city has to Baker Street! I owe Mr Stratham Cole, the driver, for his expertise in the more covert lanes and by-lanes of this wondrous city that I was able to shun the devil off one more time. I paid Cole bit more than the fare and got dropped off at the crowded Strand, and before anything, I spotted the pair of you gentlemen walking in my direction. I know one of you is Sherlock Holmes, I have seen you and your funny hat on the papers.”
‘So saying, she collapsed, this time on Holmes’ lap. I looked at my partner for traces of tension on his face, but on the contrary, I surprise myself by finding his left eye twitching in nothing but sheer excitement of the newest case at our hands.
‘ “Watson,” he remarked to me, “please arrange for this lady’s clandestine home at the earliest, for I fear she is, right now, in grave peril from a devil, whom I can sense is not more than fifty yards from us.” No sooner did he say that, than my friend rose almost abruptly, throwing the entire weight of the fat lady completely on my laps and tossed his cane wildly. I could not turn around in time, but I swear by Providence that I heard the sound of wood crashing down upon flesh and bone and consequential screams: Holmes had managed to bash this silver-plated wooden cane (that lies so innocently propped up against our settee, look at it!) on the assailant who bore a revolver with him, for I heard the cocking of the pistol – but before a shot could be fired, I heard the wretched character fall on the stone steps with a thud.
‘Before I could see his face, our assailant jerked up and dashed down the faintly crowded street far into the crowds of horse carts that moved towards, in my best judgment, Covent Garden. All I could see was that the short man wore a red overcoat of a dull maroon hue, and his ponytail was pitch black.
‘I was confused, to be extremely honest, but one thing was for sure – there was a case. And, that there was some, if not complete, truth in what the fat lady told us on the stone steps of Eros at the Piccadilly Circus. It was one of the emptiest case descriptions we had ever gotten, but for our friend here – oh, for God’s sake, we have guests in here, Sherlock! Do stop rolling marijuana!’
Sherlock Holmes looked up at Dr Watson, his eyes bearing the ignorance of a child. He was midway in rolling himself a joint of tobacco and the remnants of the crushed marijuana.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, almost unashamedly. “Am I being a nuisance here?”
I shook my head. ‘Carry on, Mr Holmes. It probably helps you think. Pray, continue with your most interesting narrative, Dr Watson. What became thereafter of your case?’
Dr Watson gave a stern look at Sherlock Holmes, who shrugged and continued rolling a perfectly slim joint of the crushed herbs, and continued with the story:
‘So, as I was saying, it was the most unusual of all circumstances, but Mr Holmes was already on his feet, planning the next probable step while the lady lay her round, blonde head on my lap. I noticed she was wearing a skirt that had taken the current fashion experts by a storm of criticism and enthusiasm alike. She wore no hat, but her face was decorated with expensive cosmetics, probably from Harrods’, that sparkled along with the sweat that trickled down her forehead. Holmes took out the bottle one more time and sprinkled some more water on her eyes. Gradually, she stirred.
‘Holmes then signalled me to get her to the safe-house at the earliest, while he would “run his horses”; we then scheduled ourselves to catch up for dinner in the City by six thirty, at a new pub with a rather hideous name by Southwark, with a progress report, if any. The place was called The Udder Monger.’ Dr Watson sighed and Holmes chuckled. He continued:
‘Hence, when the woman rose, I strolled down with her to the Strand, hailed a black cab and the pair of us clattered on towards St Paul’s. I was certain that we were delayed; my wife’s flushed face, as she stood waiting for me outside on the steps of the cathedral, corroborated that. I swear to you, the last thing I wanted her to see was another woman with me; but our client’s build cut me some slack.
‘Our client was quiet throughout the journey and all the more during luncheon. Although she did call for a hearty meal of rare steak and a bottle of fine sherry, Mary and I worked our way through simple fish and chips and a pot of tea. It was then that our client introduced us to herself, as Elizabeth Montrose, and retold her story the same manner she had recounted to us, to my wife, who seemed to have cooled down much upon hearing her version with rapt attention. She offered to help her stay at our Hounslow bungalow as well, and I stood relieved one more time by the woman I love dearest. God, she is a marvel!’
I grinned. The snow outside had further increased its pace of fall, but the fire crackling in the grate, coupled with the smoke curling gently out of the lit joint further eased my position in the apartment; I adjusted myself with much comfort on the hassock. Dr Watson continued:
‘For the record, please allow me to emphasize on the fact that my wife is an ace shot and through certain influences in Westminster as well as our friend’s connection at the Yard, she is permitted to carry a pistol with her wheresoever she goes, alone or accompanied. Immediately after our luncheon, Miss Montrose and Mary were dispatched off to Hounslow in a safe cab, whilst I commenced my walk down east towards Southwark, for I had nothing better to occupy my time to. I had the hunch, however, that Holmes was up to something.
‘What happened at Southwark, Mr Holmes still opines, was a stroke of my genius I imbibed from my military career and, by a happy coincidence that carried forward Miss Montrose’s anecdote. The wind had gotten worse by early evening and most of the bankers and lawyers that fill that portion of the City were stomping away over puddles in the cobbled alleyways only to catch the only remaining cabs that would drive them back to the fires of their respective homes. A light drizzle had commenced after a rain whilst we had been at luncheon, and it had soon snowballed into a pour once again: I had to flap my overcoat on, for the wind was too strong for an umbrella then. I was perhaps among the only few unfortunate loners who stood on the Jubilee Walkway by the raging Thames, gripping the rails tightly, waiting for … for, something to transpire, as I stood pondering over the morning’s events. Rains soothed me, for some odd reason, you must understand. The facts of our morning’s encounter replayed inside my head, howsoever odd they were.
‘A woman comes huffing and puffing up to us, asking for a Mr Holmes. Without appropriate introductions, the lady informs us of a scandal of phoney companies and counterfeit notes at Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall, where she worked as a receptionist. She was followed by an assailant, who tried launching an attack upon us. Holmes came to our rescue and sent the unfortunate rodent scattering off. The jigsaw pieces were there: I was getting all the edgier to complete the puzzle, but my mind instructed me to wait for the remaining puzzle pieces to be put in front of our eyes.
‘It was then that I felt a sudden shove at my back, from a rather robust hand, a man of unprecedented strength, and I found myself toppling over the rails and coming crashing down below on the sharp pebbles of the bank of the grey Thames that can dig deep into your skull and kill you in a jiffy. However, by God’s grace, I did not break a single bone or even manage to scratch myself a fatal cut, save for a slight graze on my arm as a pebble cut through the cotton of my overcoat. I turned up to search for my assailant, but, alas, I could find nobody standing there; it was as vacant as I had left it before. But almost instantly, before I could even gloat upon cocking up their plans of killing me, I heard bullet shots that were headed in my direction, aiming most probably at my skull. I ducked and shielded myself with my leather gloves.
‘I recognised that the shooters were amateurs, for the bullets ricocheted off pebbles far ahead of me. But, yes, they were drawing closer to me every second. I did not hide or protect myself, for then, I saw the marine boats zooming down the river. I shouted. I cried for help, waved my white kerchief out for the occupants of the boat. It was not a smack of genius, but a genuine cry to scare off the snipers. Needless to say, it worked: as soon as the boat started rowing towards me, the bullets stopped.’
‘Most would hide, Watson,’ interjected Holmes lazily, as he finished off half the blunt. ‘You’re not stupid like most people, you know that. Not bright, but not stupid either.’
‘Thank you, Holmes. As I was saying, the marine rescue force bought my story when I told them that I slipped and fallen off the rails and that I was frightened. They were apprehensive, for they too heard bullet shots, but I laughed it off. “Would I not hide, officer, had some foul soul tried to pin me down with a bullet?” I questioned him. With a warning to be more careful with my step the next time lest I voluntarily chose to spend nights in the prison, they dropped me off on the Walkway and sped off towards the Isle of Dogs in the heavy downpour that made the river at least a dozen notches more tumultuous no time.’
I wanted to applaud Doctor Watson’s sharp mind, but he carried on, just like the snow outside:
‘I, thereafter, wound my way towards the Udder Monger,’ he said the words with much contempt, ‘on the corner of Southwark, where I was scheduled to meet Holmes for our tete-a-tete. Although I was an hour and a quarter early for our dinner, I was gobsmacked to find the man seated by the window, munching upon a plate of fried potatoes!
‘ “Ah, Watson!” Sherlock Holmes cried in his usual self, waving to grab my attention. “Come, come! You must feast on their potatoes – they are ingenious! Do remind me to convey my compliments personally to the chef for his marvellously outstanding art very few can replicate!”
‘I took my seat opposite him. The restaurant was nothing fancy; a dozen or so tables were occupied, and the bar had not yet initiated operations. A small mousy waiter hovered over the polished wooden tables taking the orders; seeing plates on ours, he chose to avoid us and moved further to a table diagonally opposite ours that was occupied by a sole woman. The enthusiasm showing on my partner’s face was an omen, I observed. He was up to something.
‘ “Well? You have something, I presume, Holmes,” I asked him, for it was an abomination on Mr Sherlock Holmes’ character to initiate a desperately needed conversation by himself. However, almost unconcernedly and bordering on uncourteously, he continued munching on those fried potatoes of his. After what seemed like hours of me staring at his face morosely, he broke the silence.
‘ “What?” he asked me. “Why are you staring at me? It is making me uncomfortable, Doctor.”
‘ “Oh, nothing really, I was enquiring about the goddamn weather, Holmes… Do tell me what happened during the day, I pray you!”
‘He laughed. Not a giggle or a snigger, but a loud guffaw that turned heads to our table. I hope it is absolutely unnecessary to mention how disconcerting my partner can be in public places. And then, he broke into his version of the day, as I report trying my best to not undulate any of the facts:
‘ “Pardon me, my dear Watson, for the preoccupations I had regarding this most dangerous game forbade me in asking you the one question that could take me from here up the ladder of progression. Tell me, Watson, what you make of our client, Miss Elizabeth Montrose?” he asked me, like he usually does so, in case he needs a vain third opinion. I told him of my observations, that she kept up with the trends, shopped at Harrods, was a connoisseur bordering on gluttony. Holmes, like every time, rejected all my observations.
‘ “On the contrary, my friend,” he said, his mouth filled with the fried potatoes, “the stretch marks on her waist showed that she was starving herself for days, for her eyes sagged and drooped as well. The fact that she collapsed after a few yards’ jog, showed clearly that a lack of proper diet slowed down her metabolism. Also, those cosmetics were cheaply purchased, as they started draining off after profuse perspiration – a good brand would remain untouched by human sweat like there sits mentioned in my work which you have blatantly ignored reading for, what’s it been now, thirty days? Forty?”
‘I sat there, humiliated and humbled at the same time by Mr Holmes’ remarks, for they were anything but illogical or untrue.
‘ “Watson, the minute you departed with Miss Elizabeth Montrose, I did some snooping around myself. I headed on towards the grimy alleys of Hackney, to her apartment,” he said. I interrupted him then, asking him, how come he knew our client’s name when she had certainly not disclosed it to him. He smiled coyly, just as he is now.
‘He said to me, as though my interjection was a gust of air, “When I reached Miss Montrose’s rented apartment, I was greeted by her roommate who struck me as a highly curious woman, more curious than, you know who.” I knew he was referring to the one woman who had managed to shake the very nature of Sherlock Holmes as the man who harboured no feelings, who had made the otherwise man made of stone realise he did possess a heart that beat with palpable human emotions, contrary to the notion he had outgrown all his adolescence and part of adulthood with. He called her The Woman, Miss Irene Adler. Back to the narrative, for I see the mention of The Woman pokes some uneasy holes in my friend.
‘ “She called herself Rosalind Joyce,” Holmes continued telling me, “and her profession, as she described to me, was something we do not speak of in civilised gatherings. It got me thinking: the reason why Miss Montrose boarded with someone like Rosalind Joyce in the dirty Hackney obviously drew back to something more intimate and personal – and I chanced upon a photograph of the pair at their apartment. They looked quite similar, except that Miss Montrose was morbidly obese but prettier to look at. Rosalind Joyce seemed like someone who had initiated the wonderful pain of starving herself to death.
‘ “And then, she got talking and – er – started – er – touching me improperly, making me unacceptably uneasy. What struck me was that she knew of Miss Montrose’s plans of seeing me and, rather curiously, she had been expecting me. And, my dear Watson, the way you warded off an attack today, the same manner, I warded off that woman’s moves on me. I cannot bring myself to describe the voracious lust she showered upon me, trying her best to excite the demon that I have put so effortlessly to sleep since ages immemorial, you know, but I cleverly foiled her plans too.” At this juncture, I recalled a private joke my colleagues at Barts’ often shared over coffee, about the impotency of their most brilliant chemist.’
Holmes got impatient. ‘You surgeons consider my steadfast and unmoving dedication to this art and science my impotency, Watson?’ He clearly was not pleased. ‘Please, continue, Doctor,” I said before a storm could thunder down upon me.
‘ “However, something did come out of our casual – er – conversation, Watson,” Holmes said to me. “Miss Joyce told me that Miss Montrose had mentioned the scandal she was sniffing at the bank. She saw her roommate arrive late, even beyond Miss Joyce’s shifts and thump a dozen or so folios on her bed. When she probed our client, Miss Montrose told her one sentence, which I believe Watson, to be the last link to our puzzle. She told Miss Joyce, “What do you do when you have an adder in your backyard, Rosie?”, which led the former to wonder. She seemed astounded at her roommate’s crass opinion, for she clearly mentioned that she too had an account with Hammersmith, Gregory & Spall. But that was her stroke of genius, Watson, which linked all her suspicions to the fact! I then excused myself from Miss Joyce’s alluring nudity (she insisted so! She wouldn’t breathe a word unless…) and headed off to the Bank.”’
‘I still have my inhibitions about you, Holmes,’ said Dr Watson to Sherlock Holmes. ‘Whether you shared your nudity with Miss Joyce, but that one sentence broke open everything.’ My curiosity further leapt, while Sherlock Holmes made himself more comfortable on the settee, as he turned his back towards us.
‘Do ignore his childhood-induced lack of manners. As we went hogging about our fried potatoes, after my rather light lunch, Holmes told me about what he felt about the scandal – one of his theories, which could have been worked out by either of us, had I just been more vigilant with Miss Montrose and observed our interactions more closely. I too assented to the theory Holmes proposed – all we needed, was evidence, for which Holmes paid a visit to the Bank after departing from Hackney.
‘At the Bank, Holmes most picturesquely reported, he saw the fifty odd clerks and accountants and managers and clients hovering about the place. The noises of the Bank involved a dozen newly installed telephones clanging, a hundred voices yelling or whispering one couldn’t make out, and a hundred feet stomping around the campus that was large enough to host the House of Commons. The first thing he did was check the employee attendance sheet Miss Montrose had drafted. He moved on to fixing an appointment with Regulus Hammersmith, the partner who specialised in dealings and investment abroad.
‘ “Mr Regulus Hammersmith,” Holmes said to me, “struck me as quite a plain banker, in the prime of his health, an authority in fine wines and rarest steaks, owning two vineyards, one in France and the other in Australia, and, definitively, a master of his trade. And by all means, a smooth crook. I managed successfully to come across as an inexpert, haggard, more like a novice in the field of markets, Watson. I played upon his skills, asking him the basest of questions, such as, if I open an account here, I could let you double my wealth for me, and so on. His ego was satiated with every answer he supposedly convincingly threw back at my questions and that was when I caught his act when he told me that the markets in America are a strong buy right now, with the motor automobile gradually replacing the good-ol’ horse-drawn carts. He too recommended me Montgomery Motors, calling it an investment the bank wants to put every novice client to, for it was the easiest buy right now.”
‘Before I could ask Mr Holmes more about his opinions, he asked me to wait for some time, while he moved to the kitchens to thank the cook for the delicious food, leaving me dumbstruck. Mr Holmes and his ways!
‘It was a mammoth disruption, I tell you, when Holmes abruptly stood up, his meal unfinished, and went to the kitchen, whilst I waited like a schoolboy told to wait before a chiding. Although, I must confess, he does possess a certain proclivity that inclines him to such behavioural traits that could offend one too many, again a childhood-instilled lack of courtesy.
‘Probably half a minute thence, I heard a vulgar crash. A clang of knives and banging of head against wood, to be more precise. The doors of the kitchen flung open then and Mr Holmes walked out holding a mousy looking man with a handlebar moustache by the neck. “Meet Daymond Urquhart, Watson, the very man who had attacked the pair of us in the morning and you, my friend, not too long a while back and the splendid cook who prepared the most delicious, un-poisoned meal today!”’
I let out a loud wheeze. ‘A cook, did I hear that, Mr Holmes?’ I asked the back of Sherlock Holmes and saw the back of his head nod. Doctor Watson glared at Holmes and continued:
‘I was flabbergasted, to say the least. And then, almost as if throwing his opponent by surprise, Mr Holmes knackered a punch in Daymond Urquhart’s guts, knocking the latter out of consciousness. “Crafty arms, I must say,” Holmes had then said, wiping off a trickle from his brow, “to push a man of your build off the goddamned walkway, Watson, but might once again couldn’t last long in front of the power of the logical mind. Why is the human race peppered with such idiots, my dear Watson?” he questioned me, straightening his lapels and returning, one more time, to civilised society. Once again, heads had turned, but this time, there was an applause. Holmes tugged at me to leave the restaurant immediately, for it would be best to attract the least attention while on a case, a golden tenet he still abides by.’
At this juncture, Dr Watson paused and refilled his pipe with ample tobacco that would last him some more time. The weather had turned a shade more melancholic and the snow kept falling, refusing to cease. At a distance, church bells chimed four thirty. The fire was cackling louder and merrier in the grate, to our comforts, as the voices on the street outside began diminishing.
I asked my hosts for a cup of tea. While Sherlock Holmes did not even slightly budge, Dr Watson jumped up and put the water on boil. In the meantime, he brought out newly acquired crockery from the cupboard and sliced open the least dusty box of Earl Grey’s.
Dr Watson returned moments later, holding out a steaming cuppa. That, accompanied with the smile of the genial doctor’s face, ticked all possible boxes in terms of hospitality inside my head. I could hear the detective snore loudly on the settee, followed by a reddening face of the doctor. The marijuana was showing its effects on me: my eyes had begun drooping. The doctor strangely showed no symptoms of a passive intoxication.
‘Please continue, doctor,’ I insisted, sipping the delightful tea through my pursed lips.
‘Daymond Urquhart was out cold when we brought him out of the hideous restaurant with the appalling name. Holmes whistled to a passing police cab and urged the suspecting sergeants to take the bleeding man at once to the hospital. I, as a doctor, and not a very proud one since that moment, confirmed concussions and broken bones of the scum that had epilepsy attack. The coppers immediately rushed him out of our sights. “And now off to the Bank, Watson!” declared Holmes, as we turned the corner of the street and moved north towards Moorgate.
‘The rainfall had come to a halt, and Holmes and I fancied a stroll down to Moorgate to the headquarters of Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall.
‘The winds were favourable and we walked for about twenty minutes before we closed in on the doors of the premises of the bank. It was indeed a large building that probably took up a quarter of a mile on its own and was situated at a corner T junction.
‘However, the bank in its size was unimpressive. Located on the third storey, the place was strongly defined by white plastered walls freshly smelling of paint, rickety wooden bureaus recently hammered together and men and women hustling about the place as though it were a secret organisation commissioned by either terrorists or the government. I shot a glance at the empty desk at the entrance that was probably occupied by Miss Montrose. Another woman in her place, a more slender figure, was rummaging through the papers, clearly frustrated with the unanticipated absence of her colleague. We asked for the employee list, which she absent-mindedly handed over to us.
‘Holmes’ eyes brightened as he pointed out to a blank space amongst forty-eight other autographs, apart from Miss Montrose’s.
‘ “Helen Baker has not been reporting to work for quite a prolonged duration, Watson,” he said to me, pointing at the blank. “Probably she is back to the Americas with all the money? Or probably, she is still here in London attending to some unfinished business?” I suggested. “Or probably, she was eating her dinner with us at The Udder Monger, Watson,” Holmes whispered to me and I frowned.
‘ “Yes, Watson,” said Holmes, “we too are being followed. Except that it had been without any malignant intentions, but it ended with the attack upon us in the morning.”
‘ “So,” I said, “you are suggesting, someone let their intentions against out after we saw Elizabeth Montrose today?” Holmes nodded to that. So, then, I knew why I was pushed down to death today and why Elizabeth Montrose was certainly a contributing factor.
‘Holmes meanwhile mingled himself with the crowd, surreptitiously and quietly, shuffling about the place while I waited. People at the bank seemed unconcerned about our intrusion and went on with their work, most of them probably honest labourers with no notion as to what scandal was afoot, probably enticed with the yearly pay scheme that drew them into the scam automatically… Holmes returned after a few minutes. “I have seen what I had missed in the morning. Come with me.”
‘I followed him through the mob of bankers and we ended up at the far end of the building. A door stood ahead of us that could have led to nowhere, but it opened up to the backyard of the building.’
I said, ‘Adder at the backyard?’
Doctor Watson nodded. ‘Precisely. You’re a good audience.’
I blushed at the compliment.
‘We saw two people,’ continued Doctor Watson, ‘engaged in deep conversation. They rushed back inside almost immediately. Holmes pulled me and off we ran through the crowd, throwing about papers aside and pushing men and women away, down the iron stairs of the three storeys and on the streets where we caught up with those two absconding figures. Holmes gripped the slimmer, a more feminine figure from behind while her accomplice fled faster and disappeared around the corner.
‘Holmes was left bamboozled when he saw who the woman was. As for me, words failed to come out the moment I saw her face, for it was none other than Irene Adler.’
I put my cup down and placed both my palms over my open mouth.
‘Yes, it was Irene Adler, the Woman who had so enticed Sherlock Holmes, standing before him, all sweaty, in a professional banker’s attire, like a ghost arisen from the past. She was well clutched by Holmes. Any attempt to escape would result in a broken finger.
‘ “Well, well, well,” Holmes said, “and I was under the delusion that we would never meet again, Miss Adler. Tell me again, how does it feel to blow your cover when you least expect it?” I was left speechless. Holmes and Irene Adler reuniting one more time was absolutely a play of dice, in my opinion. Yet, they stood facing each other in the rain outside the Bank, not a word uttering out of each other.
‘I saw her smile. “And, even this time, Sherlock Holmes has beaten me to it,” she said and planted a soft peck on Holmes’ cheek. “Why?” said Holmes to her.’
I noticed Mr Holmes twitch a bit in his slumber, but Dr Watson paid no heed to the movement and furthered his narrative.
‘… To which, Miss Adler continued smiling. “It is a rather long story, Mr Holmes,” she replied. “I wish to tell you more about this over dinner sometime.” As soon as she tried turning around, Holmes gripped her wrist tightly. She frowned and put up a fight too, but in vain, for Holmes held his grip tight. “Let me go,” she said sternly. But Holmes wouldn’t. “Why?” he asked her one more time.
‘ “Because this is my art, Mr Holmes,” she said slowly. “How difficult is it for you to come to terms with the fact that I am but a con artist … a rather pretty thief?” Holmes then asked her, “How did you do it?” to which, she laughed. “I thought you were brilliant enough to figure it out yourself, Mr Holmes,” she teased him. “I want you to tell me your side of the story,” said Holmes. By then, his voice had grown, I observed silently, as cold as the weather.
‘When Irene Adler continued pulling up her façade, Holmes said, “Your game is over. You are not with an option. You can tell me your story right now, otherwise bother yourself with the police, which should be any minute now.” Irene Adler laughed one more time. “Save me the trouble, Mr Holmes. I’d rather recount the tale once.” “Then, say it to me and I swear I will keep shut about it.”
‘ “Well, Mr Holmes, if you insist,” she said and started off.
‘ “A conspiracy is brewing in London. A conspiracy to take down the royal family and your brother, Mycroft, is involved in the scheming as well. I believe you know the man, Jim Moriarty, Mr Holmes?”
‘Of course, Jim Moriarty, the professor of much renown, a connoisseur of mathematics and biology at Cambridge University, with a dozen publications followed as the Bible in Princeton, Oxford and Yale among others … Who didn’t know James Moriarty?
‘For the world, the man was a scholar. For Holmes, the man was the devil himself. A conniving schemer, James Moriarty would have been an ideal protagonist for a story on the most diabolical villains in the century, for he was both suave and wicked. A psychopath, he had a hundred odd murders and conspiracies wiped off his slim fingers, owing to his connexions in the British Parliament – all of those allegations are, till today, unproven.
‘ “Jim Moriarty,” said Adler, “is a man with a vision, Mr Holmes. He is someone who considered the royal family of Great Britain scum, a parasite that fed on the hard-earned money of the impoverished such as us. It was his dream to see the family, the king, queen, their progeny, all wiped off in jiffies.
‘ “And thus, he hatched a scheme months ago, which I believe, someone from his family is orchestrating in his absence. We haven’t seen their face or heard their voice; we have just received letters. To execute instructions to the T. Which we did, most willingly and few unwillingly.
‘ “And thus, we hatched an idea, a most ingenious plot, in my opinion, to execute our plan and to dissuade the two most nosy individuals from it.”
‘ “So you are saying this whole bank idea,” I said to her, “was a decoy? A – a distraction?”
‘ “You’re a smart’un, Doctor,” she said insolently to me. “Your friend here is rather slow.”
‘ “So everything that has been happening till now, is all part of a play?”
‘ “Everything,” she said rather smugly, “from the chance encounter with Elizabeth Montrose, to the attack on Doctor Watson, to Daymond Urquhart, to the Udder Monger restaurant, to the pair of cops who rushed Urquhart to the hospital… everything.” She leered longingly at Holmes while her words were directed towards me.
‘I was left stunned and, to an extent, hurt in my pride. If human intellect ranged on a spectrum from outstandingly brainy and able to downright imprudent and foolish, I believe, at that point in time, Holmes and I stood closer to the end where most wise men feared to tread! Obvious signals, we chose to ignore, such as, Elizabeth Montrose knowing which one of us Holmes was and which Watson was. Such as, such as – the obviously hustled up furniture from a second-hand store in Pentonville and the hurried paintwork done in no time to welcome us. Everybody we had met that day was an actor, perfectly timed and positioned. A rather clever form of theatre, wouldn’t you opine so, Holmes?’
Sherlock Holmes grunted his approval.
I put a palm on my forehead, my mouth open. ‘So you are saying that it was all an orchestration, Doctor? If you’d ask me, only someone with an unflinching attention to detail and genius nonpareil, except to that of our dear friend here, could have pulled that off!’
‘Yes. There was no counterfeit currency. There was no Montgomery Motors. There was no Hammersmith, Gregory and Spall. None of it was real,’ I said.
‘Before Holmes and I could deposit the woman to the Yard, she made a run for it and disappeared. We followed her to Tower Hill, but then, the woman slipped out of our sight.’
Holmes stirred at this juncture. ‘I knew from the second Elizabeth Montrose mentioned the stationery shop, Watson,’ he mumbled audibly. ‘There is not a single stationery shop in Moorgate and thence, I knew that the woman, Elizabeth Montrose, was not entirely truthful, you see. The charade was brought out in the open to me when I saw who shot the bullets at you. The nimble-gripped Daymond Urquhart himself slipped on countless occasions while pulling the trigger. The shove was not meant to kill you, was just a ploy to send a message to me.
‘Thereafter, our visit to the Bank was to catch the woman who, rather furtively slipped out from The Udder Monger, while I “caught” Daymond Urquhart and staged that little drama of my own. Do remind me, Watson, we have tickets to Macbeth at The Globe on Friday next week, I keep forgetting.’
Doctor Watson grinned. I shifted slightly on my seat, gripped by the narration.
‘What was the real ploy then, Mr Holmes?’ I quizzed the detective.
‘A plot,’ answered the detective gravely, getting up almost dramatically, ‘to simultaneously bomb the Buckingham Palace, the Windsor Castle and Clarence House, where the most significant members of the family were stationed at that moment.’
‘My Lord!’ I exclaimed. ‘That is treason of the highest order!’
‘The coppers weren’t brought under the loop for obvious reasons,’ said Doctor Watson, ‘but when Adler hinted at the blowing up of the King’s family, Holmes and I wired his brother, Mycroft, without further ado. It was sheer coincidence that he happened to receive the wire at the most opportune moment, for he was scheduled for dinner with the family that night where everybody would be present. His sources fouled the plans. Three rogue servants, nondescript low-level staff, in every hall of residence, were captured with the chemicals and powders needed to manufacture powerful ammunition that could have repercussions up till three miles.’
‘Sweet Lord Jesus,’ I breathed out. ‘So the family is safe now, I presume? Back to the Buckingham?’
Holmes frowned at me.
‘Well, yes, they are, Georgina, but Mycroft has augmented the existing security levels at all the residences. Including those offshore.’
‘But is that secure enough? I mean, it is not prudent to rely merely on men, is it? There are adders in every backyard, like you said, Doctor,’ I added, draining down the remnants of my cup of tea now gone cold. The snow had stopped falling, but the chill outside was evident in the fog that engulfed every exterior in London. There were no more horse carts or cabs or urchins or merchants. It was all quiet down there; time for me to take my leave.
‘Indeed. But the fact remains that the security arrangements are rather leak-proof…’
‘It was rather ingenious,’ I replied, getting up. ‘Of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to avert a national scandal! Bravo!’
‘Where are you going, Georgina?’ Holmes asked me.
‘I must apologise, Mr Holmes, but I need to take a cab to my brother’s house where I am scheduled to meet his wife and himself for supper. I presume, I will spend the night there and return tomorrow morning. You see, my rent with Mrs Hudson stands long overdue and my brother has promised me some cash tonight. Hence, it is a prerogative that I must, although very reluctantly, take your leave.’
‘Not so soon, miss,’ came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw a policeman and two comrades of his from the Scotland Yard standing. I am most certain I did not hear them coming upstairs.
‘Miss Georgina Moriarty,’ said the copper to me, ‘we would like to arrest you as an accomplice to your brother, Professor James Moriarty, in the conspiracy to annihilate the royal family!’
‘Even in a fat suit, Miss Moriarty,’ said Holmes coyly to me, ‘you wouldn’t fool me. The stretch marks on Elizabeth Montrose’s arms were rather out of place, as I observed them. The clear difference in shades of your wrist and your fingers gave away the suit as well, Miss Moriarity.’
Doctor Watson sat stunned at the latest development of the case he was so dubiously certain they had worked out and brought to a closure. I grinned.
‘Well, then, my brother is not completely wrong about you, Mr Holmes,’ I said to him, as the copper pulled me in handcuffs. ‘It takes a genius to come at par with Sherlock Holmes, but it takes divine intervention to outmatch him. My brother has both, Mr Holmes, and he will not rest until he gets you and your friend here, by the neck. I never should have trusted that Adler woman, after all, despite my brother’s recommendations. You know how it is, associating oneself with vile and disloyal women, don’t you, Mr Holmes?’
As they ushered me out of the apartment, I faced Mrs Hudson, who stopped dead in her tracks.
‘My dear!’ she exclaimed, the sweet, gullible landlady. ‘Whatever on earth is going on!’
‘It is just a detour, Mrs Hudson,’ I said to her softly, as the coppers opened the gates and a thick, cold wind hit me squarely on my face. ‘I’ll be back soon. Till then, you can ask Mr Holmes and his friend, Doctor Watson, to narrate you the tale of how they successfully prevented a scandal of the most bizarre nature, if that is what they so callously assume they have done … Goodbye!’