"A Sherlock Holmes Story"
By John Pirillo
"Hickory, Dickory Doc, the Mouse Ran up the Clock. Now, come on Charlie, surely that's a contradiction of gravity as well as very bad colloquialism." Holmes said amiably to his friend, and partner in crime, Charlie Dickens, an up and coming author with no qualms about bragging about his writing prowess or insight into humanity.
Charlie, who lay on the crest of grass besides Holmes, resighted his binoculars on the second story window of the home they were going to break into. "I find it neither restrictive, nor worrisome, dear Holmes. A man may interpret the world as he likes, as long as he compromises no souls, nor enslaves or murders any."
"I admire your long views." Holmes replied, taking the binoculars from his friend, and sighting it on the first floor window. "But truly it is madness to allow just anyone to interpret the world as they like. Why criminals might come to think they could rule the world!"
Charlie turned to admire his friend, who was on the adventure with him. "Perhaps, but then we would have to find a way to stop them, wouldn't we. Imagine this, Charles Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, Crime Stoppers Extraordinaire!"
Holmes laughed. "I'd rather smoke a bloody pipe, than partner with my worst enemy."
Charlie barked with laughter. "I beat you once at chess, and now I'm your worst enemy?"
"You are until you write an apology." Holmes replied tersely.
"So what's the strategy, my good man?" Charlie asked, flipping his reddish hair aside, to reveal a freckled face with wide eyes, a thick nose, and a grin that would scare a lion.
Holmes laid down the binoculars, then steepled his hands in what was fast becoming a signature gesture for him over the years as he developed into full manhood. "I suspect the midnight approach would be best. These manners of people tend to go to sleep early."
"How can you tell they are that type? We've only been observing them for ten minutes?"
Holmes took the challenge. He pointed to the yard. "First, their laundry hangs on the lines still."
"Does not most laundry lie that way?"
"No, not of a night watchman. He usually brings them inside prior to dark. The fact that they are still wet, tells me that they allow them to dry over night, while at work."
"Then you are assuming there is no lady of the house?"
"Not at all." Again, Holmes pointed to the laundry line. "You will observe the thick trousers, the heavy suspenders, the woolen shirts and underwear with the boots drying beside them."
"Yes. That is all I see."
"Precisely." Holmes agreed. "Were there a woman of the house, she would never let him put the shorts next to the shoes on the line, for fear of them becoming discolored."
"Remarkable. What else do you see?"
"The man stands at least six feet tall. Weighs about 200 pounds, is barrel-chested, and carries quite a large belly."
Charlie shook the binoculars free of the grass, and took another look. "I see clothing, not sizes and heights."
"The clothesline is hung at approximately six feet off the ground. A shorter person could not reach it comfortably, and certainly not to place the pinches on the clothing to hold them there."
"I'll give you that. But what about the sizes?"
"See the waist of the pants and the shirt next to it?"
"The shirt is almost three times as wide as the waist, telling me that he has a large chest."
"But the belly?"
"Observe the bottom of the shirt."
"Yes, by the extra fat in the folds of his flesh when he's working."
"Quite remarkable, Holmes. My hat is off to you."
"Your hat is nowhere near you."
"Matter of speaking."
Holmes gave Charlie an amused glance. "Now as to our attack. You shall fetch the ladder we built from the spare lumber below and place it to the rear of the cottage. I shall enter via the lower window in the kitchen."
"Why that way? If he's as big as you say, he probably lives in the kitchen."
Holmes laughs. "True enough, but when he eats so much, it draws the blood from his brain and starves his body for oxygen. He grows more tired, and compounded with his loss of sleep as a night watchmen, he goes to bed early and sleeps generally from about noon to ten, when he arises to face his new night of work."
"Why those particular hours? How can you tell that by looking at his clothing or the house?"
"Because night watchmen always begin their pursuit when the second bell before midnight chimes, and before the last bell from nine finishes. It is an old tradition in this part of the country."
"It is believed that demons come out at midnight, and that angels protect men who start their work before nine, but not after ten oh one."
Holmes faces Charlie with a frown. "The demons or the tradition?"
"You tell me, since you're the criminologist."
"Very well. Demons can't survive the daylight, or the early part of night because of the moon's light...."
"But what when it's gone, hey old man?"
"The light is still there, but it is not as visible. It is reflected by the earth's atmosphere."
"I see. And the tradition?"
"Begun when London was still a rundown series of quickly built huts near the Thames."
"So you admit that the tradition could be flawed!"
"Not at all, Charlie. Traditions always have their roots in a truth, even if it is fantastical."
The sound of a bell ringing began from the distance.
Holmes rolled over and cupped his hands beneath his head, then closed his eyes.
"What are you doing now?"
"Getting some sleep. The night watchmen will rise just after ten, secure his clothing, then return inside to eat and leave for his job. We will break in shortly after that, but not at midnight, or after."
"Practical. Good night, Mister Dickens!"
"Goodnight, Mister Holmes."
Charlie rolled over and relaxed as well, but could not sleep, because of all the avenues of pursuit his mind was traversing at that time. What if the guard did not leave at the appropriate time? Their bet had been to secure the item before Midnight and return it by dawn before he returned. The challenge was amusing at best, but worried him anyway, as most challenges they had received so far had cost them both many hours of slavish studies by their professor, who hated it when they made their adventures and came back with naught to share.
"One thing bothers me, Holmes."
"If the night watchman leaves his clothing out to dry all night while he works, why would he come outside to retrieve them then?"
"Another tradition." Holmes yawned. "One never leaves one private wears for thieves to discover and take."
"But he can't watch them all the time!" Charlie insisted.
"Did you not observe the long stretches of brown near the poles for the clothing?"
Charlie stiffened. "Dear lord, we're going to break into a home with a hound?"
Holmes began to snore.
Charlie lay there, pondering all the imponderables, and then fell asleep quite by accident. When he awoke, Holmes was up already and rubbing his hands together vigorously to warm them. The moon was high overhead.
"Ready, my good man?"
"Rather, but the hound?"
"How so, if it is a guard dog?"
Holmes smiled, and revealed a small vial which he uncapped to allow Charlie to smell it. Charlie did so, making a face. "You devil you!"
"Compliments will get you nowhere."
"Then lets at it!"
They both shrugged back into their proper cloaks, and then crept down the rise to the cottage.
When they returned to the campus the next morning to reveal the item they had captured from their adventure, the Professor gave them both a huge smile. "And everything went perfectly?"
"Yes, except the part where the hound tore the bottom of my britches off." Charlie said angrily, giving Holmes a scowl.
The Professor eyed Holmes questioningly. "It's really quite elementary. Mister Dickens here made a common mistake."
"To eat that horrible cheese that smells like rotting corpses."
"I do not!" Charlie protested, and then he simmered down. "Well, maybe a little."
"Hounds have a superlative sense of smell, and once Charlie had descended into the home from the second floor, even though he was as quiet as a mouse, his odor preceded him."
"Then why didn't you tell me I smelled so?" Charlie protested angrily, his face turning crimson red.
The Professor laughed, and then put a hand on Charlie's shoulder to calm him down. "You see, I've played a bit of a trick on you, Mister Dickens. My father has trained his dog to hate that odor, and when I persuaded you to eat that sandwich I had made of it, I knew full well you would be caught."
"I could have lost more than my britches!" Charlie protested.
"Not at all." A very large man said, entering the classroom from the Professor's office. "I was watching the entire time."
Charlie glared at Holmes. "You knew this was going to happen?"
"The item we were sent to steal was an apple from the kitchen table, but the item I was sent to retrieve was your pride."
Charlie's face reddened. "I should challenge you to a duel for this insult to my honor!"
Holmes shrugged. "You would lose."
"I am a crack shot."
"But you forget one thing."
"And that is?"
"Without this night, you would have no material for your thesis, which I might add, is long overdue." The Professor jumped in.
Charlie sighed. "I can't win this battle."
"Nor should you." Holmes told him with a smile. "If we are to become partners in crime, then we must also be able to take our lumps, as well as our prizes."
Charlie nodded, but his mind was elsewhere. He suddenly had this great idea for a story. About a man who gives up everything, his kingdom, his way of life, even his wife, to learn what a poor man must experience.
Charlie brightened. "I just had this brilliant idea for a novel. I shall call it the Hound of the Baskervilles. About a man who gives up everything, and then is murdered."
"Sounds like a tale of horror." The Professor said with a grin.
"It shall be a hound from hell like the one that nipped my behind."
The Professor's father laughed, and then clapped his hand. A dog barked and came running from the office. It was the hound. Its ears shot straight up as Charlie backed away.
The Professor glanced at Holmes. "You put the cheese in his pocket?"
Holmes said nothing.
Charlie screamed like a madman and ran for his life as the hound bounded after him.
"He shall never forgive you for this." The Professor told Holmes.
"Perhaps, but now he shall have an even better story to tell."
"How to avoid being eaten by a hunting hound."
They both broke into laughter.
Holmes nodded to the Professor's father. "I'd better catch the two of them, before the hound does put an end to his life."
"Don't worry, lad." The father said. "That hound couldn't harm a fly!"
"HOLMES!" Charlie's word of terror shot into the room.
All the men ran outside and saw Charlie on the grass, and the hound licking his face vigorously, while fellow students laughed and laughed.