Thursday, 24 September 2015

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Phantom Lover

by Abid Ali

(source: Wiki Commons)
My understanding of Sherlock Holmes’ analytic skills has advanced greatly. I see through his eyes like you see through glass; I understand his patterns like any medic would understand the symptoms of a simple fever. I work backwards from a scene rather than theorising what was to happen next and now observe the data rather than just see it. After my 700-or-so cases and watching of Holmes, I believe my deduction skills have come to the point where Sherlock Holmes has met his match. However, I still respect Holmes in his prodigious methods, but I have come to the conclusion that I shall for once go on my own path and have my own shot at the hand of the great Holmes. Nonetheless, I have bargained my way through to get Mr. Holmes to abide with my rules if a case happened to come by; he shall come as my acquaintance, rather than the contrariwise and he shall be mute, not giving a single clue to as where my case shall head. For this mystery would be mine, and it was Holmes’ turn to admire my work. And coincidence happened to provide a case walking down the street.
I was always a light sleeper, and was immediately awoken by the slight shudder of Holmes. “It’s your time,” Holmes grinned. “Will you accompany me to the door?”
I arose from my bed and slipped on a robe. I heard the knocking of the door increase and rushed to it, where Holmes was patiently waiting.


He opened the door to welcome a woman as pale and thin as an autumn moon. She could hardly have been less than five feet two inches in height, excluding her bonnet. She had minor scars scattered around her wrist and opisthenar. Her dress was rich with scarlet, chaste velvet and suave satin, her waist strapped with a luxurious cloth. A strand of buttons lashed beneath her cotton collared neck and a skirt frolicked behind her. She concealed her hair with a luxuriant, white bonnet of linen and felt, but with the front of her dark, brunette hair curled away into her bonnet. She would have appeared charming if it weren’t for the tatters and tears in her skirt.


“It’s all yours.” Holmes backed away and smiled.
“Well, hello then, madam. What brings you here?” I asked her.

“221B Baker Street. Correct?”
“Correct.”
“Then you must be Sherlock Holmes?”
“Quite the contrary, madam. I am his acquaintance every other day, but today shall provide different. I will be your detective for today and perhaps for the days to come on your case, if need be. Please come in, take a seat.”
She staggered around and sat down. I recognised that she was squinting at our lamp.
“You are professional, are you not?” she asked.
“Of course! So, what brings you here, madam?”
“My name is Alexandra Saunders from the great Saunders family in Sussex, you may have heard. I have a mystery for you that must be solved. You see, I live only with my uncle as my parents have passed away. But only three nights ago, my uncle was murdered."        

                                                       
"A murder? Excellent! Oh, I'm so sorry, it must be tragic."                  

"Surprisingly, I feel no grief.”
"And why is that? He abused you, correct?"
“How could you possibly know that?”
“The shape of the scars on your hand indicates that you were whipped, and they are also very recent. If you feel no grief then he must have done, or continuously do something ghastly, for why wouldn’t you love your uncle who took you in? But how do you know it is a murder?”
“That’s what the police informed me at least.”
“Do they have any idea how he was murdered?”
“No, the police do not, or have not told me, if they have a clue how.”
“Interesting. Now, tell me about your uncle, from the beginning.”
“Ok. Both of my parents passed away when I was very young – around the age of seven – due to a fire mishap in the countryside. Fortunately, as it was in the countryside, it did not reach the main city and the fire was put at bay. I however was absolutely shocked, but they had also abused me and I felt some relief when they passed away. Obviously, all the wealth went to the oldest man of my father’s family, my uncle. I was also put under his care, and it was torture. He tormented me, physically abused me and hit me, drunk or not. I tried to reason with him, but he would just throw his beer bottle towards me. His coordination was always affected, and I would escape, only to be locked into my room. Whenever he felt like it, he would push me into my room without warning and lock the door from the outside, and would let me starve there for days on end. I would already prepare myself, though, by sneaking in food behind his back and would ration the food each day. He occasionally checked on me by whipping me and searching everywhere for anything except for clothing”
“Did he shred your clothes whilst he was in your room?”
She looked down at her skirt and blushed a rosy red.
“Yes, I’m ever so sorry, but this was the neatest thing to perfect I could find.”
“It is not a matter. I am not usually the one to tell a book by its cover. Anyway, you may continue.”
“Because he would always search my room, I had to create a hiding spot. Behind the window, I hide a black box – black so as to camouflage into the night – and store my food in there. The blinds hide the rest of the window, and for the days he keeps me in there, I survive. As you can see, my uncle was the cruellest man there probably is to live, and it was a horror each night to have even the thought that you were in the same house.”
“It appears so.”
“I thought things were always going to be like this, that things would never change. But one night, when I was reaching out of the window to grab myself a snack, I felt another hand. Immediately, I held my hand over my mouth to conceal myself from screaming. But then, he spoke. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not here to hurt you; I’m here to help you. Don’t fret.’ It was a calm, soothing voice. His voice urged me to look at him. And there, I stared gracefully into his eyes. How magical he looked that night. I’m sure he was thinking the same thing about me by the way his eyes looked. He explained to me that he had seen the cruelty of my uncle, and was there to rescue me. I did not question how he knew, but instead I took him in. I did ask where he lived, and he replied that he could not tell me, and that he did not have any wealth. Nevertheless, I still loved him. Each night he would come back to comfort me from my uncle, and each night I would love him even more. It was the only thing I looked forward to in my life.”
“But why would your uncle leave you in your room if you could escape?”
“Where would I have to go? I couldn’t consult the police; my uncle would just bribe his way through. If I consulted anyone else, he’d have them killed.”
“Fair point. Continue.”
“My uncle also never wanted me to marry, which is why I believe he locked me in my room all the time. I getting married would result in some of his fortune to become mine, and that would be disastrous for such a man like him, who spends all of his money on gambling and cigars. So, I pretended to go out to buy him some cigars to add to his collection in his bedroom cellar, when secretly I went along with the man of my dreams to get engaged. It had to be of top secrecy and very hasty to ensure it wouldn’t risk any of us in danger. We swore on secrecy of life and death, from life and death, until my vile uncle was to die. This is why I am able to come here.
“It was only last night when I heard the screaming. It was my uncle. My uncle never screams, unless it’s from laughter or the alcohol. My door was bolted from the outside, and there was no way I could escape. I couldn’t help him, even if I wanted to. I managed to get out through the window, but my uncle’s window was locked, and I couldn’t get in. I caught a glimpse of him falling, grabbing on to his desk. I ran. I tried to look for the police but it took almost a day. They never found out who or how my uncle had died. I saw a poster as I was rushing to the police about the ‘Great Sherlock Holmes’ and considered to be my second option. As the police failed, I rushed here by the train to London and took a hansom cab to 221B Baker Street. And here I am.”
“When did we place those posters Holmes?” I asked.
“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, if you recall.” Holmes replied.
“Oh, yes. Now, is that all Mrs Saunders?”
“Yes, that’s all.”
“I’m ever so sorry about your loss.”
“Thank y-”
“I’m talking about your husband Mrs, or should I say Ms, Saunders. You see, you have not told me everything. You have left one key thing out: your husband is dead.”
“But, but...” she began to stutter. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Your ring finger has a slight mark which indicates you once wore a ring. I thought of a divorce, but most people don’t wear their wedding ring as a necklace.”
“How could you know that it was not just a necklace?”
“Well, you squinting to my lamp showed that you were not adjusted to light, drunk perhaps, and you staggering confirmed this. And drinking is a probable side effect when someone you love has recently passed away. And according to what you said, you did not usually have the opportunity to drink if your uncle locked you away into your room, until he died, that is. But the question is, why did you conceal that from me?”
“Well, when we got married, he made me promise to never speak of his death to anyone, no matter what.”
“And why is that?”
“I don’t know. But he made sure I promised, so I know it must have been important.”
“It must have been. Is there anything I need to know, because to ensure that I find out the real culprit, if there is a culprit, I will need real evidence, and if you do not tell me, I will find out.”
“I am sure there is not a letter more I need to say.”
“Then we shall visit your abode at approximately noon to investigate more if you do not mind.”
“Of course.”
“I will also need your address.”
“Oh, yes. My address is King Edward’s Parade, Eastbourne, East of Sussex. And it is my utmost regret that I cannot pay you. Please forgive me, but it did not occur to me to bring any sort of money when I started running. ”
“Do not worry about it. We are both in it for the art of it, not for the money. You may pay us back when you have enough to spare for us.”
“Thank you ever so much, I will try my best to pay you when you arrive.”
“Thank you madam for your cooperation. You may be off now.”
She got up as Holmes opened the door for her. “We look forward to seeing you.” He waved goodbye as he closed the door behind her. He turned towards me. “Not too bad for an amateur, I must say.”
“Thank you, but we must get on with the case. I made an initial observation on the possible entrance paths to Ms Saunders’ uncle’s bedroom with the data provided. The window was bolted and that was the only possible entrance from the outside. It has to be someone that knows the building from the inside very well.”
“Ms Saunders’ husband?”
“But Ms Saunders’ husband is dead. Do you recall when she said that she went to acquire some cigarettes to add to her uncle’s collection in his cellar? A cellar in a bedroom is a very possible way to enter, but would take a rather long way to dig through, if it were not connected to somewhere else. Unless this person was very desperate to murder this person, no one would do such a thing. But we have not a minute to waste, we must get dressed.”



We rushed to our chambers to immediately clothe ourselves, for the journey to Sussex was not the shortest of journeys. We located our map and planned our journey to Sussex. It was 45 minutes past nine and the journey via train would take approximately no more than three-and-a-half hours, and the walk to King Edwards Parade would take approximately 20 minutes.


I equipped myself with my revolver in case any murderer was to enter and left Baker Street. We then took a hansom cab to Victoria Station. From there we took the five-past-ten train to Sussex. Ah, the ease and the serenity of a train. There’s nothing better than staring out of the draught proof windows to look at the emerald green fields and the stout waxen clouds scattered around the fabric of the stupefying azure sky. I took out my pipe, lit it and simply relaxed through the journey, staring at nature.


We arrived in Sussex by five-past-one and started our walk as soon as we departed. It was a massive bustle at Eastbourne Railway Station, and it was quite a miracle that we escaped from it. But once again, we had not a minute to spare. We were almost late and we still had a 20 minute walk to accomplish. We knew that no cab would beat a walk in the hustle and bustle of Sussex.


When we arrived, we feasted our eyes on something of a palace. It was the stuff of dreams, more in fact. It made us drool in envy and made us realise what little wealth we had. The Saunders family probably earned around £1500 a year! But we weren’t there for admiring their wealth; we were there to observe and confirm our deductions. We approached the door and started knocking. We were greeted by Ms Saunders, in the same dress we first saw her in.
“Welcome,” she greeted us; “here is your £1.50.”
We took it from her appreciatively.
“Please, come in, come in.” She gestured us into the house and directed us through the labyrinth of hallways to the bedrooms of Ms Saunders and her uncle. “Examine for yourself, please don’t mind the random dress here and there. I haven’t had much time to clear it.”
We entered the room, avoiding the skirt at the step. It seemed more or less like a normal bedroom: there was a wardrobe, (presumably with no clothes by the look at where all the clothes were), a desk, a fireplace and a bed by the wall of the window. We approached the window and looked out to the black box. We opened it and saw a small bottle of beer, the cap not properly screwed on and a few drops of the stuff and saliva around the neck. “May I ask what a lady would, other than having a few swigs of beer, do alone?”
She looked at me bewildered, and then began to speak. “Well, I came back almost just now, so I had a few gulps of the beer and heard knocking. I put my beer back in the box and came to the door to find you. That’s it.”
“Would you mind if we entered your uncle’s room?”
“No, not at all. Please do.”
And so we did. It wasn’t in a condition much better than that of Ms Saunders’. There was a door half open, which revealed a glimpse of the stairs leading to the cellar. The windows was indeed bolted and by the look of it, recently attempted to remove. His bed was smothered in red stains. It was none other than the fluid of blood. “The bed was where he died, I presume. Now, tell me exactly what you saw the day he died: was there any noticeable behaviour on the day?”
“Now that you mention it, there were in fact some things that were slightly peculiar. In the morning, he did not appear to be drunk, and was sweating as if someone had poured a bucket of water on him. He seemed rather nervous.”
I found a note and picked it up. It read

‘Don’t drink,
It will get to your ed.
By the end ov the nite,
Yoo shall be ded.’
“You have not seen this note?” I questioned Ms Saunders.
“No. I haven’t even entered his room until today.”
I observed the note further. The paper was thin, not of the richest, maybe a penny apiece at the most. It had to be someone poor, as the message was written by someone illiterate: the spelling was completely atrocious and the way it was presented was absolutely appalling. “May I ask if you know anyone who is illiterate?”
“Why would I know anyone illiterate? My family are rich enough to buy education, and none of my friends are of the lower class.”
“Interesting.”
I examined the bed, observing the shape and position of the blood stained bed. The blood that seemed to be stained the most originated from the pillow and worked its way down. The injury must have been sustained from the head as the blood had set in their the longest. The stains that are not that are still somewhat wet indicate where the blood started to all become a puddle. “What did you see when your uncle was dying?” I asked her.
“He was on his bed and I saw him sat up. He was shaking around and screaming, but I managed to catch a glimpse of him falling down back on to his bed.”
“Did you see any blood?”
“No, it was too dark. And the chandelier light was of no use either. But my uncle always keeps a dimly light candle in his chandelier, he never sleeps in the dark so he can always know where his bottles of beer are.”
I looked up at the chandelier, stepped on the bed and took the candle down. I examined it.
“This is no ordinary candle!” I exclaimed, “This candle is poisonous. When in contact with skin after being melted, it will prove like an acid and burn away skin, bones, anything. When he ignited it, it must have already be put in that position to make sure that it would fall directly onto his head. But the only possible way would be to insert it after coming up through the cellar. Your uncle rarely went out, am I correct?”
“Yes, he would send me to do all his chores.”
“We will visit the cellar now, if you do not mind?”
She opened the door to us and directed us down the stairs. Each one creaked and was worn out. He must have been here frequently.

There were plenty of shelves full of beer, wine, pipes and cigarettes. I wandered the rows and columns of shelves, and finally noticed one. It was slightly stained with blood. I tried to pick it up to examine it. Except it did not come off the shelf. It was glued to the it. Why would anyone do that? I thought to myself. Unless it was a secret passage. I pulled to see if it would reveal anything, but nothing happened. I pushed and saw results. Hidden within the shelves, or wall, should I say, was a secret room. And there was another surprise. There was another man.
“John!” Ms Saunders exclaimed. She ran to him and embraced him.
“That is your husband, is it not?” I enquired.
“Yes!” she sobbed.
“I missed you for so long!” she wept at him.
“Me too,” he replied, “Who are they?” he pointed at us.
“They’re here to investigate my uncle’s death.”
‘John’ took out a gun and pointed it at me. Ms Saunders backed away in shock, managing to yelp a quiet “
NO!”
I took out my revolver and pointed it at him.
“Quite a situation we’re in!” he smirked.
“Not the best of times, I do admit.” I replied.
I took out my pipe and lit a match. I threw the candle towards him as I brought out my pipe, ensuring he did not see it. I threw my match on the wick of the candle.
“How did you find out it was me?” He asked, still holding his gun at me.
“I didn’t, but you just told me.” I grinned. The candle had almost melted, and was approaching his foot.
“Drop your weapon, and I may consider sparing you.”
The wax had reached his foot and began to burn his bare foot. He screamed in agony as he bent over. I quickly shot him in the foot and he fell down. Ms Saunders had fainted.
“You really think you could fool me?” I laughed.
The Adventure of the Phantom Lover was indeed one that unravelled itself, but soon came to an end. Ms Saunders accepted that her husband was not dead, but rotting away in a prison. He recovered from his injury from his foot, and I should know since I was his doctor. Everything seemed well.
“Well done, my dear Watson,” said Holmes, “You can now add detective to your record.”
“This was a one-time thing, although I may fancy doing it again sometime. Who knows, I might put you out of business! But I can safely say, it was elementary, my dear Holmes!”
         



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