Authors: Lyn McConchie
Tags: #mystery, #detective, #sherlock, #holmes, #sleuth
Copyright Â© 2016 by Lyn McConchie.
All rights reserved.
Published by Wildside Press LLC.
ALSO BY LYNN McCONCHIE
Sherlcock HolmesâBeastly Mysteries
Sherlcock Holmes: Repeat Business
SOMETHING THE CAT DRAGGED IN
I was near the front of the house when the knocker sounded and I opened the door to find a familiar figure on our doorstep. As I peered closer I saw that in fact there were two familiar figures, since in one hand the lady carried a wicker hamper. I stooped to lay a hand on the small aperture that permitted its inhabitant air and a look at his surroundings, and I heard a small mew of acknowledgement and was licked affectionately.
“Miss Emily Jackson,” I said. “And Mandalay. What can we do for you?” I realized that I was keeping her standing on the doorstep and hastily moved back. “Please, come in. Holmes is upstairs and I'm sure he too will be delighted to see you both.”
I conducted her to our suite and once the lady was seated, Mandalay released, and each provided with refreshment, Holmes eyed them both. The neat woman was dressed in her usual garb suggesting a secretary, and Mandalay, her brown Burmese, sported his plaited leather collar and shining fur.
“What can I do for you, Miss Emily?” Holmes asked. We watched as she took a large envelope from a corner of the cat's wicker carrier. From that she withdrew two items and Mandalay rose to walk over and sniff them, emitting a churring, possessive cry.
She patted him. “Yes, I know they are yours, but your friends would like to see them.” He appeared to agree but nevertheless he sat closer, watching as she raised and held out the first item, a pocket watch on an intricate chain.
Miss Emily looked at us. “Yesterday morning Mandalay came in with the watch. He had asked to go out late the previous evening and I let him leave by the window. It can be locked so that if it is left open a distance sufficient to admit a cat, it cannot be opened further still. As the back yard is enclosed by a high wall, I did not scruple to allow him to leave, nor was I distressed that he had not returned by the time I retired. It is not uncommon for him to remain outside for some hours if the weather is fine. I admit to wondering where he was when I rose yesterday morning, but as I sat down to my breakfast he entered through the window, and brought this to me.”
Holmes had taken the watch in his long fingers and was examining it. I leaned over to look and observed that there was no inscription. Nor was the watch of great value; it was an ordinary watch in a polished brass case, and the chain was also polished brass, howbeit beautifully worked. Holmes clicked the case open and shut.
Miss Emily produced a second item from the envelope and held it out. This was a single glove of the type that might be purchased in any haberdashery catering to a man of the middle-classes. It was grimy, but no more so than usual from the dirt that any man might pick up in the course of a day in and about our great city. Holmes turned it inside out and Miss Emily shook her head.
“I looked for a name, however there was none. Mandalay brought that in yesterday evening. He wished to go out again at that time and I allowed it. He came back almost at once with the glove and took it to his basket.”
Holmes inclined his head towards the envelope. “Then it is the third item he brought back this morning that worries you. Perhaps you fear some violence has taken place?”
Miss Emily shivered. “I do not understand how you know that, but it is so.”
Holmes indicated the cat. “See how he acts. He sniffs the envelope containing only that one item, his mouth opens, his lips peel back slightly and if you listen, you hear the sound of a very faint growl. There is only one likely reason for his behavior.” As Holmes spoke, Mandalay reached a paw into the envelope and hooked something, dragging it free. It fell limply to the carpet and I saw that it was a handkerchief, a very fine one of red and white linen, beautifully embroidered in a corner with what appeared to be three, or even four, entwined initials.
I pounced and held it up, the cat indignantly disputing my right to take his find. “No. Ouch!”
Holmes took the square from me, shook it out, and I fell silent as I saw that what had looked like some sort of pattern was revealed as splotches of blood, mostly older stains, but with a little fresh blood that could only have been smeared on the fabric within an hour or two.
He considered that and nodded. “Tell me, Miss Emily, how long has it been since Mandalay brought this to you?”
“No great time at all, Mr. Holmes. I saw at once what he had, and I did not delay. I placed the three items in an envelope and put them and Mandalay in his carrier. I hailed a cab and came at once. He had brought me that handkerchief no longer than a half hour since.”
She regarded us calmly as her hand dropped to stroke her cat. “At first I thought that he must have found a couple of articles someone had dropped in the alleyway beyond the back wall. However with his bringing me the handkerchief, I feared that instead he had found someone grievously injured. But I am puzzled. The first two items are not of quality, yet this one surely belongs to a man of wealth and prominence.”
Holmes nodded slowly. “Let us not waste time. Call us a cab, Watson, if you will, and we shall return to Miss Emily's home. I think it better that we act at once.”
In minutes we were bowling down the road in the direction of the lady's rooms, while Holmes expanded on his observations.
He held up the watch. “This shows no engraving save an old maker's mark. Yet that is informative, since it is the mark of a firm that specialized a generation ago in making watches and chains for the police. They produced three types, all of them similar, but the cheapest was made of brass, the next of silver, and the third of nine-caret gold. Policemen who rose in their profession would buy each in turn, often passing on the earlier model to a younger relative also in the force, or laying it aside to be given to a son should he follow in their footsteps. Sometimes a more expensive chain, such as the one with this watch, would be added to enhance the gift.”
“And you believe that this belongs to a policeman?” I questioned.
“Perhaps, but the mark also shows the year in which it was made, and that is some time ago. It may be that a son who has not followed his father's profession inherited the watch and chain. Look at the glove, Watson; that too is of similar quality to the watch. It would be worn by a man of the middle classes, yet what policeman do you know who wears gloves?”
“A detective,” I told him, knowing he asked to see if I could answer and not because he could not. “One, perhaps, who was on duty in a more fashionable neighborhood. One,” I added with rising excitement, “who was in the house of a good family. Holmes? Could that explain the handkerchief? Was he given it by the householder? Does a detective lie mortally injured somewhere, hoping against hope that we will find him? How can we do so?”
The cab pulled up outside number 14 South Street and we alighted, Miss Emily paid the driver, and we entered the large house that held her self-contained suite. Once inside she released the cat, who left his carrier in one leap, seized the glove from her as he exited and retired muttering to a corner to pat and sniff his trophy.
Holmes went at once to the window and stared out. “Yes, a high wall, and one moreover that is topped with broken glass. Nor are there signs that any person has passed over it recently.” He turned to Miss Emily. “What is Mandalay's favorite food? What thing above all else does he desire to eat?”
Miss Emily smiled. “He loves salmon. I buy myself a small portion several times a year and always I allow him the final mouthful. He adores it.”
Holmes dug into his pocket and produced a coin. “Watson?”
I sighed. “I know. I am to purchase a small portion of salmon and return swiftly.”
Holmes's mouth quirked in amusement. “If you will, my dear fellow?”
“I will, I will.” I bustled from the room, heading off in search of salmon, and was fortunate that a fishmonger's shop was no great distance from Miss Emily's rooms. I bought the salmon and returned to find no apparent alteration in the attitudes of the three who had remained behind. That changed after my entrance, foretold as it was by the aroma of fresh salmon. Mandalay rose to his feet with an imperative cry and advanced on me. Miss Emily spoke at once.
“No! No, Mandalay.”
The cat gave her a look and sat down again, beginning to wash so we should understand it was of no moment to him if we had salmon, and that in any case he had merely changed his mind, not obeyed an order.
Miss Emily turned to Holmes. “What are we to do?”
“I shall tell you some of what is in my mind on this, and we shall allow Mandalay to compose himself.” With that he displayed the glove again that he must have retrieved from the cat. “Consider this; it is the glove of a man of middle-class, a man however who has large hands and thick wrists, such as are found in men who work with their hands. And,” here he turned the glove completely inside out and showed us a tiny tag partly hidden in the finger portion, “here is the glover's name. It says âA.J.,' which stands for Alfred Jessup, a firm that often caters to the police of that rank.”
He turned the glove right side out again. “I think it likely that the owner of these two articles is a detective of lower rank, the son of a detective who passed the watch on to him and bought a better chain to go with the gift, and who may also have imparted knowledge of where to buy gloves that may easily be put on or removed without appearing too loose-fitting, and which are of a type that do not hamper a detective in anything he may be required to do. Gloves of such a type that may be required for certain duties.”
“Certain duties?” I asked.
“Now and again a detective may be required to stand guard in some place, a gentleman's home, a nobleman's residenceâ¦”
“A Government department, such as the Admiralty?” I concluded. “Could that be the origin of the handkerchief?”
“I think it so, Watson.”
“Then there may be two men out there: a detective and the man he was guarding, injured, helpless, abducted perhaps, but in need of assistance.”
“Exactly so. Now, please listen to me carefully, and do not act before I say so. In a moment I will give you the glove, which you are to take, sit down, and handle it a little, then appear to lose interest and allow it to slide from the arm of the chair to the carpet. Do not look at the glove when it falls, do not look at Mandalay, for I will tell you what he is doing. I want him to believe that he has successfully regained one of his treasures.”
I did as he told me, allowed the glove to slide from my grasp, and waited. All the while Miss Emily said nothing but sat quietly, watching Holmes and listening.
Holmes sipped his tea. “He approaches.” We sat in silence again. “He is circling the chair to come at the glove from where you cannot see him.” A briefer silence, then, “He has taken it, and he carries it back to his basket. Good, now let us leave him with it for a brief period before we act.”
We did so, then Holmes, taking up a small portion of salmon in a spoon, moved to fold himself into a kneeling position before the cat. He advanced the spoon in one hand while reaching for the glove with the other. Mandalay shifted position to sit on the glove while stretching towards the spoon. Holmes withdrew spoon and other hand. The cat stared at him, clearly wondering how to proceed. He wanted the salmon but without losing the glove. After several advances and withdrawals the cat understood that he could only have either the glove or the salmon. With what in a human would have been a sigh, he relinquished his grip on the glove, accepted the salmon, and settled happily to eat. Holmes made a great play with the glove before returning to the armchair, the glove finally placed in his pocket.
“Now,” he instructed. “Miss Emily, if you will, open the window the usual amount for Mandalay to leave if he wishes, and return to talk to Dr. Watson. I shall be watching from elsewhere. Ignore the cat and his actions, and once Mandalay has been gone for several minutes, exit the back door of this house, open the gate in the back yard that leads to the alley behind, and look for me.”
I was puzzled. “Holmes, what are you about?”
Miss Emily laughed. “I know. You have shown Mandalay that he may obtain salmon if he shares his prey with you. He'll go to find something else.”
“Yes,” Holmes agreed. “It may not be from the same source, but we can only hope. He has still a second glove to bring us.”
And with that he walked across the room, paused briefly at the table, opened the door and was gone, shutting the door behind him while we engaged in rather disjoined chatter. I was aware from the corner of one eye that the cat, having eaten his salmon, had risen and was prowling along the edge of the room. I patted him absently as he passed my chair and he moved on, reached the window and paused, after a leap onto the sill. When we neither acknowledged that nor spoke to him, he slipped out and vanished. I indicated that my companion should remain seated, keeping my eyes now upon my own watch. Once three minutes had passed, I rose without speaking, conducted her to the door, and from there we passed quietly down the corridor, out the back door, and through the gate at the far side of the yard.
I saw Holmes at once and would have spoken but he gestured for silence, pointing to the yard beside the one we had exited. All at once he indicated that we should turn away, and we obeyed, positioning ourselves however so we could still see the top of that wall, where a small form abruptly appeared. It dropped lightly to the path and trotted along, passing the back yards of a number of houses, but still within our view, since this section of the path was straight. Then with effortless grace the figure appeared to float upwards from a convenient dustbin, topped the wall beside which the bin stood, and vanished into the yard.
Again we were signaled to remain silent and motionless. We stood in that state until my legâinjured in Afghanistan when I was in the armyâprotested my immobility. I eased it by shifting my weight to my good leg but that did not suffice for long and I was grateful when at last Mandalay reappeared and trotted towards us, bearing something in his mouth. Holmes produced a small specimen tin from his pocket, stooped, and to the cat's delight, emptied salmon from it. Mandalay dropped his prey and began to eat voraciously, while Holmes quietly picked up the small limp item and showed it to us.