It was the in the early years of the new century, and the old queen clung grimly to the throne, while her eldest son impatiently rogered his mistress. Sherlock Holmes, in dressing gown and deerstalker hat, was snorting cocaine and playing the violin in his Baker Street lodgings. Oddly enough, he was blowing it like a trumpet.
Sitting in the armchair opposite him, I sighed and laid down the “Times” crossword. “Can’t get fourteen across,” I grumbled. “Body Canal. Ten letters.”
“Alimentary, my dear Watson,” Holmes replied instantly, ceasing for a moment his musical and narcotic peregrinations.
I laughed heartily, and was about to return to the “Times,” when there came the sound of boots running up the stairs outside. They stopped outside of Holmes’ door, shuffled uneasily for a while and then came a single peremptory knock.
“Forty three years old. Served with the army in India but was shipped home after a scandal with a young elephant. Has fallen on hard times, but has hope of returning to his former status. Married twice, the first time to a Filipino waitress, the second time to a packet of cornflakes.” Holmes uttered these words with an affected casualness.
My long acquaintance with Sherlock Holmes should have inured me to amazement, yet he never ceased to dumbfound me. I crossed the floor to the door and swung it open.
“It’s the pizza boy,” I called in to Holmes, bringing in two steaming boxes.
Scarcely had I closed the door on the delivery boy, when there came again the sound of boots pounding two at a time up the front stairs. Outside the door the boots stopped, then suddenly performed the tap-dancing routine from the Gene Kelly musical “Gee! She’s a Swell Gal, ain’t she Bob?” followed by several large poundings on the panelled door. I glanced quizzically at my companion, but he was studying intently the mushroom topping on his pizza.
For the second time that evening, I crossed over to the door and proceeded to open it. I was however nearly bowled over by the large, burly figure that crashed into our parlour. He had the wild-eyed look of a foreigner and his hair stuck out like a mad toilet brush. He stopped in the middle of the floor, his head darting crazedly between Holmes and myself.
Holmes stopped sprinkling cocaine on his pizza and eyed the foreigner curiously. “You are an old Etonian,” he addressed the stranger. “You prefer haddock to whiting, but you wouldn’t be seen dead with either. You have a dog called Tibbles. You once severed a nostril in an incident in a library, and your name, unless I’m very much mistaken, is Lionel Edward Mentary.”
“Good Lord, Holmes!” I ejaculated. “How could you possibly know that?”
“L.E. Mentary, my dear Watson. I went to school with him when I was a boy. A time, dear friend, that I have often maintained, is the best one for going to school.”
“Begging your pardon, sir,” interjected the stranger. “But you must be confusing me with somebody else. My name is Oliver Byrne. You may have heard of me. I used to drink with David Johansson.”
Holmes snorted loudly and reached for the leather bound copy of “Who’s Who” on the bureau shelf. Flicking impatiently through the pages, he came at last to the desired page. “Here we are,” he said. “Byrne, Oliver, football…Shelbourne…cigarettes..Johansson, David.”
“Rugger?” I exclaimed hopefully.
“Association Football,” remarked Holmes deflatedly. “A minority sport practised by ruffians, I believe.” He turned to our visitor. “Well, Mr. Byrne,” he said coldly, indicating a seat, “What brings you to London?”
Oliver Byrne sat down heavily in the proffered chair and wiped his brow profusely. He was a large, burly man, one who might have been considered handsome, but for the fact that he wasn’t. He glanced towards me nervously.
“Watson is my oldest and most faithful friend, Mr. Byrne,” interjected Holmes, seeing the other’s distress. “As well as being the father of my children. You may speak in complete confidence before him.”
“Oh, Mister Holmes,” began the other, “I have travelled this very day from Ireland to visit you” – here I saw Holmes reaching for the atlas – “about a matter that has tormented me for a considerable period of time. It all began several months ago. As you know, I run a very large and profitable association football club in Dublin. That is in Ireland, Mister Holmes. This club is called Shelbourne.
In this city of Dublin, I have numerous rivals, but the greatest of these is a large, portly chap named Dolan. To say that he is the bane of my life is an understatement. He runs a rival football club, named St. Patrick’s…”
“After the saint?” I ventured.
“Indeed verily,” he answered, “but let me assure you, Mister Watson, there is nothing saintly about this football club. A bigger gang of ruffians you never saw in your life. Dolan is the mastermind. Everything goes through him. Oh, but he is very clever, Mister Holmes. He keeps his nose clean at all times.”
“How so, Mister Byrne?” questioned Holmes sharply.
“Well, with a hanky mostly,” replied Byrne. “But lately, there have been tales of dark deeds coming out of his organisation. One of his minions was caught without registration. There were stiff penalties imposed on St. Patrick’s. But Dolan has power. He controls people. He got the penalties rescinded by people more powerful than himself. I have been vilified in the press in Ireland. I have even..” and here he began to sob uncontrollably, “I have even been criticised.”
“I fail to see your problem, Mister Byrne,” purred Holmes. “What do you want me to do?”
“Mister Holmes, Dolan is an evil man. He threatens to take over my organisation. If I could only find the letter he purported to send….”
“Letter?” said Holmes suddenly, sitting bolt upright in his chair. “Did you say letter?”
“I did, Mister Holmes. Is it significant?”
“Not really,” replied Holmes. “I just had a piece of tomato in my ear and couldn’t hear you properly. Pray continue.”
“Dolan claims the letter was sent by ordinary post. The recipients said they never received it. The only explanation is….”
“That it was lost by the Post Office?” I scoffed. “Come now, that’s hardly very likely, is it?”
“Preposterous,” added Holmes.
“My feelings exactly,” cried Byrne. “Yet, here is the mystery. Dolan has produced a receipt for the letter!”
I stood up quickly. “What a bounder this fellow Dolan must be,” I stated. “How dare he malign such a venerable organisation as the Post Office?”
“He has a hard neck,” replied Byrne sorrowfully, “though the rest of his body is quite soft.” He turned to my companion, “Mister Holmes, will you help me?”
“Watson!” commanded Holmes with a smile. “It seems that we travel to Dublin this very night. Pack a valise for me, there’s a good chap. Make sure you pack my nightie. The peach one with the lacey bits.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
The hansom cab rattled over the glistening cobbles of London’s smoky streets. This however had no bearing on the story, as Holmes, Byrne and I were descending the gangway in Kingstown, a coastal village ten miles south of Dublin. The journey from London had been largely uneventful save for a horrific train accident and the accidental sinking of the passenger ferry with the loss of 500 lives. Holmes however was in playful mood and continually pinched our companion’s backside until he protested.
There were no hansom cabs to be had on the quayside in Kingstown, so we hired an ugly one instead. Byrne had wired ahead to arrange our lodgings in a reputable tavern in the city centre, and within an hour, Holmes and I were comfortably ensconced in our room, our host having retired to his own abode, with promises that he should meet us at ten o’clock the following morning.
“How did you find this Byrne chappie, Holmes?” I asked, as I clipped my toenails merrily.
“I didn’t. He found us. Remember?” Holmes replied. “Bit of a rum chap. Kept on asking if I wanted a cigarette. When I declined, I caught him pushing one into my pipe."”
“Good Lord, Holmes!” I began, but Holmes suddenly put his hand to his lips and tiptoed deftly towards the door. I picked up the largest object I could find, which happened to be a bronze statue of a squirrel defecating in Donadee Forest, and stomped noisily to the other side of the door. Holmes carefully reached for the door handle and I raised the statue above my head. Then on the count of three, Holmes swung the door inwards, and I just caught site of a small, sprightly figure tumbling into the room, when I brought the statue down on its head.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“How could you, Watson?” Holmes said for the twentieth time, as he paced the narrow confines of our prison cell.
“I’m sorry, Holmes,” I repeated crestfallen. “How was I to know that the Archbishop of Dublin was staying down the corridor, and that he was just leaning against our door while adjusting his mitre?”
“Yes, yes, dear friend. I’m sorry,” continued Holmes magnanimously. “I continually credit you with having an intelligence similar to my own, yet in reality you are as thick as the smog we have left behind in London. Please forgive me.” And he kissed me passionately on the lips.
“Steady on, old chap!” I cajoled him, though secretly feeling rather pleased.
“I wonder where that Oliver Byrne chap is,” murmured Holmes. “I sent him a wire two hours ago to come and bail us out.”
“How did you know his number, Holmes?” I enquired wonderingly.
“I didn’t. I just sent him a piece of wire,” replied the other disingenuously.
“Pardon me, sir!” said a voice to our left. We both turned around sharply. Then, for the devil, we turned around bluntly. There, before us, stood a little, wizened old man. I estimated his age to be four hundred and seven. He was barely five feet in height, but seven feet six inches in width. He had a recalcitrant baboon on his shoulder and wore a rather fetching orange trouser suit. His hair was long and plum-coloured and on his feet he wore flippers. As the only other occupant of our cell, I wondered idly how we hadn’t noticed him before.
“Pardon me, sir!” he repeated, “But I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Are you expecting the imminent arrival of one Oliver Byrne?”
“What of it?” demanded Holmes peremptorily, striking the man firmly on the buttocks. “What business is it of yours?”
“Forgive me, sir, for appearing so forward,” replied the other, “but you won’t see Mr. Byrne within one hundred yards of a polis station, sir. He doesn’t like them, you see, sir.”
“And how do you know this, man?” cried Holmes. “Come on! Speak, you rat! Speak! Speak!”
“He can’t, Holmes,” I interjected. “You’re squeezing his lips together, old boy.”
Holmes relinquished his grip on the man’s lips, and the latter sank back onto the bench. He took several deep breaths, and then gave them back again.
“I work for Dolan…” began the man. At these words, Holmes immediately sprang into a crouched position and made the sign of the cross with his arms. The old man regarded him oddly and continued.
“I do odd jobs for him, like. He’s very good to me is Mr. Dolan. Gave me one of his pies once. Took it back immediately, of course, but…”
“What kind of “odd jobs” do you perform for that fiend?” cried Holmes, seizing the man’s left nipple between his thumb and forefinger.
“Just odd jobs, sir,” replied the other. “Hiding the roller. Forging receipts from the Post Office. The usual sort of thing.”
“The roller?” quizzed Holmes. “You mean, he likes to curl his hair?”
“On the contrary, sir,” retorted the old man, as a small trickle of urine ran dejectedly down his leg. “He plasters his hair down on to his head, as though he’s afraid it might fly away.”
Holmes resumed his pacing of the cell. “This is a very singular development, Watson,” he muttered to me behind his hand.
“How so, Holmes?” I asked, bewildered.
“Well, in so far as it’s not a plural development, I suppose,” my friend replied. “Must you question me on everything?”
Suddenly, there was a rattling of keys and the cell door swung open. A police constable eyed us malevolently.
“You were born on a small satellite of the star Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion,” snapped Holmes immediately. “Your mother was a failed cocktail waitress who made it big in the movies. There is a mole just on the left-hand side of your groin, but it normally sleeps during the daytime. You once had a horse called Kylie and you store the cheese that you pick between your toes in a jamjar.”
“Yes, sir,” said the constable condescendingly. “Your bail has been paid. You’re free to go. You must surrender your passport. You are not permitted to leave the country except when emigrating. You must report to the desk sergeant every afternoon except Wednesday, when he has ballet classes.”
“Come, Watson!” cried Holmes, “We have a mystery to solve!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Holmes and I purchased some rather sickly looking mussels and cockles from M. Malone & Co [Shellfish Importers], and proceeded to a nearby tavern to review the evidence so far. I had just achieved the double-sixteen, much to Holmes’ disgust, when the burly figure of Mr. Byrne pushed his way through the rowdy throng to our table.
“Mr. Holmes, Mr. Watson,” he exclaimed, displaying a remarkable memory and shaking us firmly by the leg. “I am so glad to see you. Have you heard the latest developments?”
When Holmes and I both replied in the negative, he produced a copy of the Evening Standard and unfurled it roughly on the table. “There!” he pointed triumphantly. “Read that!”
“ ‘William Gladstone Ate My Hamster,’” I read out loud. “Good Lord, Holmes! Gladstone is carnivorous.”
Mr. Byrne’s hand roughly tore the paper out of my grasp as he perused it wildly. “There! There!” he pointed, slamming it back down in the beer slops.
“Impartial Adjudicator Rules In Dolan’s Favour,” I read again. “What can it mean, Holmes?”
My companion, who was slyly retrieving his third dart from the hatstand, was quick to answer. “I think you’ll find, Watson,” he said quietly, “that the impartial adjudicator has ruled in Dolan’s favour.”
“Good Lord, Mr. Holmes!” cried Byrne. “You’re spot on. He has. Dolan is in the clear…..”
“And the reputation of the Royal Mail is in tatters,” finished Holmes. “I smell something decidedly fishy here, gentlemen.”
“That must be the cockles you secreted in your waistcoat pocket, old boy,” I said, rather pleased with my own powers of deduction.
“I think,” said Holmes, ignoring me completely, “that the time has come for us to pay a visit to this Mr. Dolan. Where can we find him, Byrne?”
“Find him?” echoed the other incredulously. “You cannot find him. He is but a shadow in the night, flitting half-sensed from one foul abode to the next under cover of darkness. His companions are stealth and cunning, and a large bag of chips. If you seek him, he will be watching you. He has the third eye and can sense danger. Some say he has the features of a bat, some say he looks like a teapot. The truth is, nobody knows for certain. His Machiavellian mind plots and schemes………” He broke off as he realised that Holmes was watching him carefully under raised eyebrows. “Inchicore,” he finished, deflatedly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The hansom cab rattled along the cobbled streets of Kilmainham as twilight fell with a startled cry. In the back, I idly wondered how much faster we would be travelling, if the wheels had not been stolen two miles back. Our horses flinched nervously, as though eager to flee this accursed place.
“I feel a strange foreboding,” said Holmes who was sitting on my lap with a curious expression on his face. He flung back the curtain of the cab, and gazed out at the wretched creatures staggering along the grimy street. “Look at them, Watson. Like the very residue of Hell itself. Notice the red and white scarves they sport. Obviously some kind of secret society, some foul devil-worshipping pagan cabal. Come, Watson, let us get this business over with.”
Rapped premptorily on the ceiling of the cab, the driver stopped immediately, and Holmes bounded through the door and into an old dilapidated house, leaving me to pay the fare. I idly wondered why the driver was a giant black bat, but bid him a hearty “Good day!” even though he moaned dejectedly when I had nothing smaller than a penny.
Hurrying through the ramshackle door, I ascended the narrow staircase with urgent haste, pausing only once to consume a tomato and lettuce sandwich. At the top, I came upon a large door marked ‘Door’ and pushed through it.
There were two men seated in the room on opposite sides of a wooden desk. One was my friend, Sherlock Holmes, whom I recognised immediately. The other was a large, corpulent man dressed in a black waitcoat and striped shirt. Curiously, he was naked from the waist down.
“Ah, Watson,” exclaimed Holmes, displaying once again his remarkable memory for names. “Allow me to introduce Mr. Dolan. Mr. Dolan has just invited me to sample a slice of gooseberry pie. Simply delicious. Would you care for a slice, old boy?”
“Not too big now,” interjected the larger man, nervously.
I declined, having once being the victim of an unsavoury incident at Eton involving a gooseberry and a bicycle pump. Since then, I have been unable to look a gooseberry in the eye without breaking into a cold sweat.
“So you see, Mr. Holmes,” Dolan continued, “your journey to Dublin appears to have been a wasted one. As you see I have a receipt for postage. Mr. Byrne is a very deluded old man. I am surprised that a man of your abilities could have been hoodwinked by such an imbecile.”
“This is a blank piece of paper with the word 50p written on it in ballpoint pen,” snapped Holmes impatiently. “It is like a barrister with no legs – it wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.”
Dolan allowed a faint smile to play around the corner of his lips, then told it to come in and get ready for bed. “I think you will find that the Impartial Adjudicator found in my favour, Mr. Holmes,” he said softly.
Holmes however had spotted a paper handkerchief lying on the desk. He snatched it up eagerly and opened it out. There in letters big and bold was the word ‘Lies’ repeated some four dozen times.
“I put it to you, Mr. Dolan,” exclaimed Holmes, “that this is a tissue of lies!”
Dolan blanched visibly. Then he blanched invisibly. Then visibly again.
“Enough blanching, Dolan!” called Holmes, leaping to his feet and drawing his cane.
“Nice picture, Holmes,” I murmured, when he showed it to me. “Good use of colour.”
Suddenly there was a puff of smoke and a large explosion and Dolan disappeared. We just caught a glimpse of a big bat in a black waistcoat flapping out of the open window. I made a mental note of the fact that it was the first time I had seen a flying cricket bat.
“What knavery is this, Watson?” called Holmes, dashing to the open window and gazing out into the smog of the Inchicore evening.
It was a difficult question. By the time I was ready to articulate an answer, Holmes had bounded down the staircase, caught a cab back into town, and spent several days observing the activities of the city’s postal workers.
(Unfinished due to boredom)