The Adventure of the Ransom Note is a pastiche that was anonymously submitted to the site in 2002. It’s a good example of the creativity and spontaneity exhibited by many Sherlockians, which is often shared these days on fan fiction websites, rather than over email. Keep reading to find this anonymous Sherlock Holmes pastiche and the original email that accompanied it.
Subject: Holmes pastiche
Date: Monday, June 24, 2002 06:14
From: Foo-asdf Bar-ghjk (email@example.com)
To: Chris Redmond
I've rather whimsically written a Holmes pastiche that you might find interesting. Its text is attached.
If you choose to host it, you are granted full rights to do so. This material is in the public domain, is anonymously contributed by me, and in fact didn't even exist before today.
If it be enjoyable, enjoy.
The Adventure of the Ransom Note
"Really!" uttered Holmes, with an expression of annoyance, casting down the papers he had been inspecting upon the drawing-table.
It was a hot afternoon in August. The sun beat down upon the pavements and blazed between the edges of our sitting-room shutters like bars of hot iron. The almost still air drifted faintly from the open window behind.
"What is the matter?" I asked him.
He seized the papers again, sprang to his feet, and began pacing nervously in the heat. "Watson, despite our many successes, you have many times seen me at a complete loss. Now and again a case has appeared in the most baffling manner, entirely bare of the evidentiary hand-holds even I would require to handle and master it. Some few times -- as in the tragic matter of the orange pips, or the terrible case of the Louisiana timber-merchant -- events have overreached our timing and brought a client to grief.
"But never in my long career have I been so tantalized, and yet so frustrated, as now. Even the Moriarty case was a matter of slow and constant progress. I have never come so close to the end of an investigation and then encountered such a complete obstruction as this."
I was aware that Holmes had been pursuing several matters at once, all from his Baker Street rooms. "Do you speak of the matter of the Scottish kidnapping ring?"
"Ay, and also the Blunt Street robbery -- you recall the event last week, Watson, in which over two hundred thousand pounds worth of securities were looted in broad daylight from Abbey National Bank by its own watchmen. I have names, cases, documentary and physical evidence enough to land both gangs and their leaders in prison for life -- and yet, the criminals themselves are well hidden and out of reach.
"Not an effort have I made to hunt them that has not met with absolute failure. Both have concealed with the greatest of cunning and skill every trace of their escapes and present locations, and from their hench-men and associates I have been able to tease nothing. I fear, particularly, that the bank robbers have contacts within the Yard. Three times we have traced them only to find their hide-outs abandoned."
"Well," said I, "I have complete trust in your ability to break the impasse. I cannot admit that a man of your temperament could come so far toward a goal only to be so frustrated at the last moment. Doubtless further events will give you the purchase you need, and as always I shall be at your service when the time comes to make the brace of captures."
"Your faith is heartening, my friend. It is true that my prey must succeed continually, and I only once. In this, the advantage rests ever with the detective and ever against the criminal. And yet -- and yet!" He ceased his pacing, threw himself into his arm-chair, and lapsed into moody silence.
As he resumed minute inspection of his papers, I could see in him the initial signs of the unhealthy nervous frustration which may come upon him at such times. And yet, I was promised in not an hour to attend my cherished wife at home, to jointly execute some business matters related to my practice. Not for the first time did I feel the uncomfortable tug of divided loyalties.
I determined at least to offer him advice. "Perhaps you should briefly explore some fresh matter, or spend some hours with your violin. I have known you to draw some startling new conclusion about a case on returning to it after spending attention elsewhere."
"Perhaps," he muttered, "perhaps -- " but remained intent upon his papers, and fell into a fierce and drawn-out silence. At length, I thought it best to disturb his studies no more. The hour being upon me, I made my apologies and left. It seemed that my advice had reached him, though, for as I made my way down Baker Street under a searing and absolutely clear sky, I heard from the window behind me the beginning strains of my friend's violin.
The business matters before us, my wife and I took a brief and pleasant supper, worked through the evening, then sent away our lawyer and retired, making an end to an unremarkable day.
In the early hours of the following morning, I was awakened from a sound sleep by a dreadful pounding at our door. I lit a candle, took up a heavy walking-stick, and came downstairs in my dressing-gown to investigate. I flung open the door. All was dark in the street outside, and I could just make out the retreating heels of an unknown messenger. I called sharply after the man, but he did not stop. As he vanished into the darkness, I saw an envelope resting on the doorstep. I seized it, tore it open, and read:
There is great danger. Come at once, with your revolver.
At the sight of this sharp warning, my heart jumped within me. I threw down the message, shut the door, and went upstairs to gather clothing and my weapon. My wife, sensing something of this exciting situation, had fully awakened and was concerned for my safety. As I dressed, I outlined the situation to her. She rang the butler from his rooms, and we briefed him as well. Then I took up my revolver and went out into the night.
A hailed night-cab brought me quickly to Baker Street. A light was in my friend's window, and there was some activity within. I knocked at the street door and then used my key to enter. Mrs. Hudson's door was open as I passed it, and I rushed onward, fearing some disaster. At the top of the steps I was confronted with a scene which shall be forever engraved upon my mind and memory.
The door to our sitting-room stood open, and Mrs. Hudson stood by it, weeping in shock. Within, Holmes' files and chemical equipment were wildly strewn about next to his overturned workbench. It seemed clear that some terrible struggle had taken place. A large dagger of dreadful appearance was stuck in the center of the drawing-table, pinning there the torn-off corner of some paper. Next to it sat a lit candle, melted nearly down. Behind these articles the window was shattered in pieces, and to my horror, a single long stain of blood streaked the floor leading to it.
I lunged to the table and observed the paper that was stuck there. It was a fragment of some message, printed in block letters:
My heart sank as I came to grips with the knowledge that my friend must have met with some foul violence, and yet there was hope, for he had not been simply killed and left, and the note could imply a deeper game. I leapt back to the door and asked of the swaying Mrs. Hudson, "Have the police been summoned?" She was overcome by the hideous situation and could not answer. I rushed past her, down the stairs, and back out into the street, where my desperate cries attracted a nearby constable from his midnight rounds. I gave him the situation in a few words and charged him at once to summon the Yard, as I returned to the scene of disaster to preserve it and to guard Mrs. Hudson from any further mischief.
I searched the adjacent rooms for Holmes, but found no sign of him, nor any thing out of order there. I then had the presence of mind to light a lamp and to extinguish the candle to prevent it from burning down further, all of which I did in Mrs. Hudson's view.
As we stood in vigil over the desperate scene, waiting for the arrival of the police, I questioned Mrs. Hudson as to what she had seen and heard. She had retired early in the evening with a headache. Not long before my arrival she had been abruptly awakened by a sudden sound of shattering glass. She listened further, but heard no other noise save, a minute later, the clattering away of a coach. She arose and came up the stairs to investigate or to complain of the disturbance. Light was visible beneath the closed door, but Holmes did not answer her knocks or her calls. At last she used her master-key and was confronted with this terrible scene. A moment later, I had come trampling up the stairs behind her. At no point had she stepped inside the room.
As I completed this line of questioning, a police carriage pulled up in the street and disgorged five men, whom once they had entered the hallway I made out to be Inspectors Lestrade and Hopkins, and three constables apparently under their command. Hopkins led the party, his face heavy with the news I had sent.
"A bad business, I hear, Watson," he said gravely. "I greatly fear for my friend," I replied. Lestrade was silent, his eyes wide and sad. I suspect that both men had shared my periodic concern for Holmes' safety as he had fenced daringly with the most ruthless criminals of the city and of the nation, but all of us had in some complacent way come to view him as possessing a charm of invulnerability. How terrible, and ultimately how damaging, an illusion it had been!
Hopkins entered and observed the scene. "Have you altered it in any way?"
"I entered the room to read the note, and searched the other rooms for Holmes, without success. I lit the lamp and blew out the candle just after sending this fellow for you -- it must have been about half an hour ago. I have touched nothing else. Mrs. Hudson said she did not enter."
Moving with energy and dispassion, Hopkins closely inspected the note, the stub of candle, the great arcing bloodstain leading from the table to the window, and the upset workbench and chemical glassware.
"This stain is dry," he said.
"Indeed!" I said in startlement. It surely was. "And could it have dried so quickly?"
"It could not have. It must have been present for some hours. The shattered glass is all beneath the window. None of the chemical equipment has broken. This is very strange, given the way the workbench was upset. As for the note -- "
"Whoever wrote it had knowledge of you. This means it was not a random burglary. Any who knew our valued colleague would know of you, directly or through your publications."
I felt a surge of emotion at his reference to my poor friend in the past tense, and at the earnestness of his compliment to a professional rival. I feared only that Holmes would never again hear a compliment, or any other thing. None of this reached my countenance.
He ceased to examine the note, and said: "This fragment is too short. We can tell nothing more from it. What brought Mrs. Hudson up?"
"A short while before I arrived, she was awakened by a sound of shattering glass, and a minute later heard the departure of a carriage."
"Mrs. Hudson, did you hear any other noises?"
"Unusual, considering the struggle that appears to have taken place here. This room is directly above hers. One could imagine some of the struggle lost in the sound of breaking glass, but she could not miss the thud of this heavy workbench being upset. Mrs. Hudson, how long did the shattering noises continue?"
"I heard a single sharp blow, the tinkling of its fragments, and then nothing else."
"This must have been the window. It is extremely odd that none of the test-tubes or flasks are broken. The test-tubes, in particular, are very fragile and should have shattered when the table fell. How long was it between the shattering and the carriage-noise?"
"No more than a minute."
"That is odder still. Even assuming the note was prewritten, could the intruder, after entering through the window, have done all this in such a time?"
Lestrade suggested, "Perhaps the intruder entered in some quieter way -- an open window, for instance -- and then closed and smashed the window after exiting it, to mislead us?"
"But then, why break it at all? He could have had a longer lead if he had remained undetected."
"No he could not have," I said, "because I was sent a warning message by Holmes, and arrived shortly after the event."
"But could the intruder have known you were coming? If not, he'd have believed that his actions might go undetected until morning. May I observe the note that was sent you?"
"I left it at my house. I will bring it to you as soon as I have been there."
"It is in Holmes' handwriting?"
"Well, then, he wrote it. That means he had some indication of danger, but warned you too late. You said it was short? -- Well, the danger was immediate."
Hopkins turned his attention back to the scrap on the table. "The block printing implies that this was written by an intruder with reason to disguise his handwriting. But if so, why leave only a corner of it?"
The detective scowled in vexation, and I keenly felt the lack of my friend. Were he here, these discrepancies would surely draw him to a theory. In his absence, we should be forced to blunder through the matter as best we could.
"Perhaps he changed his mind at the last moment?" offered Lestrade.
"Then why not take the entire note and remove the knife?"
"He had just smashed the window and was in a hurry to leave."
"A strange time indeed to change his mind. What could have prompted it?"
"A last-minute oscillation, perhaps. Crime can have the oddest nervous effects."
I could see that Hopkins was dissatisfied, but had no theory of his own. He turned to me. "Watson, who might have done this? Was Holmes involved in any case that could be related?"
"Indeed," I answered, "he was hot on the track of two desperate and ruthless criminal gangs, either of which might be capable of this deed. He told me only this afternoon of the frustration induced by his having such ironclad proofs of their guilt and yet failing so far to track the criminals."
"Well, that is something. You speak of the MacHugh kidnapping gang and the Blunt Street robbers?"
Hopkins' scowl deepened. "Well, I think you have told us all you know. We will continue the investigation, but there will be nothing served by keeping you up further. You should return home and reassure your no doubt nervous household. Let us meet in the morning to discuss any further findings."
I glanced around at the dreadful scene. "I shall not sleep," I said.
"Indeed you shall, for depending on what we find, tomorrow may demand all your energies. We see blood here but no body, and Holmes was pursuing kidnappers. Who can know what deviltry took place in this room?"
I caught my breath to hear these thoughts shared by another.
"Very well," I told him. "Mrs. Hudson, you too must rest. May I escort you downstairs?
"You are kind, Dr. Watson," she whispered mournfully.
"Perhaps a constable or two should guard her and this place, in case any criminals return?"
"Unlikely, but certainly possible. Rutgar, Clancy, you are so assigned. Cummings, go with Watson, in case he or his household are targeted." All of us made our way downstairs, Mrs. Hudson to her room, the constables to their new posts flanking the outer door, and Cummings and I to our short journey. As we left in another cab, the two inspectors had begun examining the street outside the door.
We arrived to find my wife and our butler -- a man named Mason -- sitting up for me. As curiosity could disturb their sleep as much as alarm, I had no reason to hold back a summary of the situation. They shared our shock and horror. Despite her own worry, my wife comforted me and somewhat dulled my own great distress. At last, the constable and the unflappable Mason took up guard-posts near the entrance, and my wife and I retired until the morning.
The next day dawned bright. It was clear that the hot weather remained unbroken. Not a cloud touched the sky from edge to edge. Mason and the constable had neither heard nor seen any unusual activity during the night. They were relieved by fresh officers, and as Mason staggered off to bed, my wife and I had begun a short and businesslike breakfast when a telegram arrived.
I tossed the messenger a shilling and he was off to his next delivery. I opened the paper and read:
DR WATSON YOUR FRIEND IS IN OUR HANDS IF YOU WISH TO EVER AGAIN SEE HIM ALIVE AND IN HEALTH GO TO GLASGOW AT ONCE STAY AT BUCHANAN HOTEL BRING NO POLICE
My heart nearly burst at this sight. Holmes was alive, and yet he was clearly in the hands of such desperate criminals as to give one continued fear for his life at each moment.
The telegram had been sent from Harrow and was unsigned. Should I avoid notifying the police? No: though it may be necessary to leave them behind by agreement. It was clear that I was about to enter a touchy negotiation for my friend's life. No prior case had brought him into such a precarious position for more than a few moments. I must rise to the occasion.
Filled with anger and resolve, I returned to the breakfast-table and discussed the message with my wife. "Mary," I said, "I shall have to go and negotiate with these criminals. I cannot allow them to kill Holmes."
"I greatly fear the danger to you. Have you any other choice?"
"None that I can see. These kidnappers have our advantage, and we must respond. I will first discuss this matter with the police, and then travel to Glasgow. I will arrange that you and this household shall be guarded until the danger is ended."
"Go then; and I pray you, take no unnecessary risk." I saw that tears had entered her eyes.
"This I swear," I told her. Driven by necessity, we said our painful good-byes, and then I gathered up the two messages, packed a small bag, and made ready to depart. The officers guarding the house told me that the inspectors had returned to Baker Street, where I went to meet them. On the way, I asked a friend and colleague with whom I often exchanged such favors to take over my practice until my return.
Several officers were milling about in the street, and a scattering of curious onlookers were watching the investigation. I entered, and found that Lestrade and Hopkins, having returned after a night's rest, had set up shop at the dining-table. "What news?" I asked them as I entered.
"Not a great deal," said Lestrade. "Marks in the street confirm the presence of a vehicle. By the wheel-gauge, it was a hired cab. No cab-driver has yet come forward with a tale of terror and murder last night, but he may have been in league with them, or paid for silence. There were too many foot-prints in the street to make anything out of them.
"The workbench must have been upset before the window was broken, because there is no broken glass under it. Holmes' bed was not slept in. He may have been sitting up for you. That would explain the burned-down candle -- he lit it at the beginning of his vigil."
"Why should he withhold his urgent message to Watson until hours later?" cut in Hopkins.
"Perhaps the messenger was delayed," riposted Lestrade.
"Watson, did you see this messenger?"
"Only his heels. From what little I saw, he seemed a perfectly normal fellow. A dishonest messenger might destroy the message, but why should he delay it and then deliver it? At any rate, here are the message -- " I laid it down in front of them -- "and another for your pains." Here I laid down the telegraph.
Both men gave exclamations and leaned in to examine the paper. "Well, what have you brought us?" muttered Hopkins. "A ransom note! This is infamous. It certainly gives weight to the kidnapping theory."
"I should say it proves that theory," beamed Lestrade.
"A dark business indeed. --Look here, the first words of the telegram match the words of the message that was pinned to the table. Someone wished to give you that message, but it was destroyed instead, so to-day they tried again! Why destroy it and re-send it like this?"
"Perhaps it was destroyed by accident as they carried out the deed," proposed Lestrade, "and they had not time or materials to write another. Instead, they fled to a safe place, secured their victim, and then emerged to send the telegram."
"Possible," Hopkins frowned, "though if it were destroyed, the other pieces are missing, and they could not lack materials in Holmes' study. I see this telegram was sent from Harrow -- we must make inquiries at that office. Watson, was anything unusual in how it was delivered?"
"Not a thing."
"Last night's message has nothing unusual about it. As we thought, it appears to have been written in great haste." Hopkins thought for another moment. "Well, what do you make of this, Doctor?"
"I have planned to travel to Glasgow at once. We have no other option. There I shall negotiate for the return of Holmes."
"I fear what they might do if they see police in my company."
"Then we shall shadow you in plain clothes, and out of your company."
"There must be no mistake."
"There will be none. Do not pretend that by leaving us, you will avoid risk to your unfortunate friend. If he was hot on their trail, why did they not kill him in the first place, once he was in their power? What is the guarantee that they will not do so once a ransom is in their hands Indeed, perhaps they did kill him, and want no ransom, but seek only to destroy you as well. No, we must follow you. We shall hear no objection."
"I am with Stanley in this," said Lestrade solemnly.
Their argument overcame my caution. Indeed, put this way it seemed, while still risky, the least of available evils. "Very well," I said.
"You shall give us the span of two hours to make ready, and we shall do so secretly. Be at the Victoria station at two o'clock. If you find a blue suitcase abandoned on the platform, that will be our signal that we are there and watching you. Go to Glasgow. We will follow in plain clothes,
on the next train, and stay in the hotel opposite."
"Very well. All of us, I take it, will go armed."
There was nothing more to be said. The two inspectors left at once to make their preparations. I ate a small meal, went to the station, noted the light-blue suitcase that was sitting, apparently abandoned, on the platform, and departed.
As I watched mile after mile of English and finally Scottish countryside pass away through the train windows, the day waned and the sky darkened. I fell gradually into dark, brooding speculation. What had happened to Holmes? Who had taken him? What did they want of me? Perhaps they wished me to destroy evidence held by Holmes? But then, why did they not destroy it themselves when it was within their reach at Baker Street? I asked but could not answer these questions. Beneath my mood was a steely, uncompromising resolve. I would do everything in my power to help my friend. If he proved at last to be beyond the help of any mortal, then instead I should turn all my energies to avenging him. These were my thoughts as the train entered Glasgow and I at last stepped out into the oppressive evening.
I snacked briefly in a station cafe to give the good Inspectors a chance to arrive and to begin tracing me. After the following train had come and gone, I walked directly to the prescribed hotel. Upon reaching it, I was not surprised to find an anonymous telegram awaiting me at the desk. I went to my room, gave sixpence to the bellhop, settled in, and then opened the paper in privacy.
WAIT THERE UNTIL NEXT MESSAGE
This was hardly enlightening. I gave a sigh, unpacked my luggage, and sat in my room for some time. My windows gave a view of the opposite hotel, where Lestrade and Hopkins must be staying. I resolved never to try to notice them, as doing so might lead others to notice them as well. At last I went down to dinner in a hotel cafe, then came up to my room and fell into what was to my memory a dreamless sleep.
The next day, the hot weather still had not broken, but it was now a very close heat, accompanied by a grey, overcast sky. I had the now-expected telegram under my door. It read:
CONTINUE TO WAIT
That day was a torment to me. I began it by sending my wife a telegram assuring her of my safety and telling her what little had happened. After this I retired to my room. I had brought some journals to pass the time, but I found it very difficult to concentrate on them. My thoughts were with Holmes in his degrading captivity.
I made one of my occasional attempts to apply Holmes' analytical methods to the strange circumstances of his disappearance, but they carried me to no conclusion. The bloodstain was dry, therefore it had been made some time before. It must have been made long before the window was broken. Perhaps the men had broken in silently hours earlier, and had had my friend at their mercy all that time. The thought was a horrible one. They had sat up with that candle while it had burned down. Possibly they had tormented or injured him deliberately, trying to extort from him -- what -- the location of the evidence they sought to destroy? But his iron will had held, and he had refused to answer them. At last, fearing discovery, they took him with them, and then broke the window at the very last to throw their pursuers off their scent. After they broke it, Holmes snatched at the note, or they noticed that he had done so earlier. They could not stay to replace it. They fled with their complicit cab-driver.
They took Holmes to some place and imprisoned him there. He would be a very difficult prisoner -- I allowed myself a smile of vicarious defiance -- and so they must guard him closely. One of them went out to send me the ransom telegram, while some others must remain to control Holmes. There must therefore be more than one of them. Their plan is to extort from me by threatening Holmes' life what they could not get from him by threatening his own. Why had they not merely incinerated the Baker Street apartment entirely to destroy the evidence? Such people surely would not stick at that. They could not have been sure it was there. They want to have it in their hands, to be sure of destroying it. They must therefore obtain it through me.
Indeed, I would gladly give it them. I was not bound by my friend's iron professional code, and his well-being was to me far more important than the outcome of any individual case. If these terrible events left us both alive and free, perhaps we could even then seek new evidence and at length see his kidnappers punished. If not, his murderers' capture would be but a cold comfort. The worst problem remaining was how to manage the exchange in such a way as to guarantee Holmes' safety and my own. I should have to match my every action with my words, locate the evidence, and arrange for seconds and guarantees at the moment of transfer.
And yet, this theory did not explain all the evidence. How was the workbench upset without Mrs. Hudson hearing it? How did they silence Holmes through the following hours? How did the glassware survive the workbench's upset? How could Holmes have summoned me at the very end of his ordeal, or alternately, why was his message delayed but then delivered?
Such were my thoughts for that agonizing day, exploring, questioning, and at last chasing each other in an great circle. I knew now the feelings that had passed through Holmes' mind as he had sifted repeatedly through his sheaf of papers only two days before, and I now sympathized with that frustration in a way I had been unable to at the time. Indeed, this experience only increased my admiration for my friend's astounding powers. Such speculation but exhausted me and led me to no certain answer, and yet my friend was constantly engaged in it and time after time followed it unerringly to the truth. Once he was home and safe, I would look upon him with new eyes.
After supper, as I was preparing for bed, I received another telegram.
BE READY TOMORROW
It set me in a fury of excitement. I penned and dispatched a second report to my wife, stretched myself, made sure of my revolver, and slept soundly through the night. I knew that I would need for the next day all the energy and wit that I could summon.
The next day dawned cooler, and mildly foggy. I cursed the fog for making me harder to follow. The expected telegram was waiting under my door.
COME TO BEARDED LION PUBLIC HOUSE IN DUMBARTON ROAD AT 10 SHARP
I rose, dressed, ate a small breakfast to sustain myself through any light exercise in which I might later be forced to engage, and cleaned, loaded, and pocketed my revolver. I was ready. Lastly, I penned and sent a new report to my wife.
The streets of Glasgow were lightly drizzly though still fairly warm, and sun was mixed with clouds. I looked neither to the left nor to the right for my helpful shadows as I approached my grave rendezvous. The Bearded Lion was quite near the hotel, and my umbrella handily shielded my short walk. It was a dark and dingy place, nearly empty at this bright morning hour, and the staff were at work cleaning half of it. I entered, chose a table against a far wall, and sat facing the door.
Some minutes later, Lestrade and Hopkins entered and took up similar positions at a nearby table. I hardly recognized them. Hopkins had let his stubble grow and had donned a rough workman's coat. As he sat, he called for liquor in an unfamiliar and gravelly voice. Lestrade was dressed as a cabbie, and had taken on a jerky and lighthearted demeanor entirely alien to him. I also realized that his eyebrows had changed in colour.
It proved to be a long, weary wait. Our criminals were not punctual. Two of the house's staff began to argue some triviality with each other in an intensely surly manner. I took a sweetened coffee and sat for a while to drink it. Inspector Hopkins pretended to sip at his beverage, while speaking in an animated way with Lestrade. Time continued to pass.
At some length, one of the arguing staff retired to a back room, apparently agreeing to clean some dishes, leaving us otherwise alone. The other man immediately stumped over to my table. He was burly and bald, with a fringe of red hair. Why was he here? Perhaps an emissary. I waited.
He said nothing for a moment, then, "Well, gentleman? Have you nothing to say to me?"
I knew the voice. It was -- Holmes!
In that first moment, I was struck nearly dead with the joyous shock of it, and in the next, I carefully and entirely stifled a gleeful shout. I replaced it with an incredulous whisper: "Holmes! It warms my heart to see you here! How did you escape them?"
"By the simple expedient of never entering their hands in the first place. Hush -- don't look so startled; it shall all come clear in the end. For the moment, I need you -- and " (casting a glance at the Inspectors' table) " you also, my tenacious colleagues -- to do exactly what I say."
"And a fine chase you have led us indeed, Mr. Holmes," began Hopkins in a grumbling tone.
"No time for it! I will leave this place through a back way. Inspectors, you will leave and lounge like drunkards across the street. Watson, in about twenty minutes you shall leave through the front, turn left, and proceed to Macaulay Square and then to a remote alleyway jutting from Treacle Road just next to it. It is very sheltered and is easily recognized by the thick bollards across its entrance. Inspectors, you will follow him closely in your stumbling, drunken way, but take care to remain wholly unrecognized. Any failure in this regard will place us all at risk. I, in turn, will follow you.
"Watson, you shall meet some very unsavory characters in this alley. I warn you that they are dangerous, so you must be prepared for anything. Go along with anything they say, except that you must not budge from that spot.
"Inspectors, take up a station just outside the mouth of the alley. I myself will join you there.
"At my signal, we shall all three advance, draw our weapons, and have our men. They will be nervous and jumpy but confused and unprepared. If any makes a quick move, we will kill him at once, for otherwise he should kill us. All else will become clear once we have safely taken them to the local police-station. Are you prepared?"
"In every fibre," I said.
"Very well. Till we next meet, gentlemen, and be brave and quick!" He resumed his bar-keep expression and stumped off into the back room.
I sat and stared at the Inspectors. I am very much afraid that the three of us at that moment shared a rabbitlike expression of unadulterated, stupefied amazement.
Very quickly we came to ourselves, and the Inspectors rose, cleared their throats, and swayed and staggered, singing drunkenly, out the door. When I rose and followed a few minutes later, I thought I glimpsed them lying muddily in the opposite gutter. I turned and proceeded to Macaulay Square and then to the alley adjoining it -- as Holmes had said, a grim and remote place, and one in which it would not be pleasant to be trapped among enemies.
Two men awaited me in the center of it, and I steeled myself for the confrontation. I saw to my amazement, however, that they had not noticed me and were gesturing wildly and arguing fiercely with each other, their faces filled with distrust. I did not get close enough to make out the substance of their argument, for before I was halfway to them my three companions came rushing up the alley, pistols drawn. I drew my own and leapt to the side. Our prey were caught. They stared in astonishment and then helplessly raised their hands. One was a tall, lanky man with a bushy black beard, the other a middle-aged wiry fellow with a scarred face. Lestrade and Hopkins quickly disarmed the men -- the tall fellow had a very nasty shot-gun within his coat -- and had the cuffs on them, and the four of us prodded them out of the alley and toward the police-station a mile or two away.
"Now can you tell us -- " burst out Lestrade.
"Patience, my dear friend, is a rare virtue! After depositing these friendly fellows in an appropriate strong-box, we shall all take a train back to our naitive surroundings, and then there shall be time to tell all. These are MacHugh and Wilkes, the ex-chief guard of Abbey National, by the way, and very dangerous men they are, too."
The lanky man, MacHugh, gave a snarl but said nothing.
My first action upon leaving the police-station was to send my wife a final telegram that all was well, all of us were safe, and the criminals captured; that we were immediately returning to London; and that I should see her before evening.
We stopped at my hotel to gather my things -- still giddy with delight, I absurdly overtipped the bellhop -- and went immediately to the nearby station. Once the four of us were on the train, Holmes had pulled the extra stuffing out of his clothing, and the countryside was reeling calmly by in the opposite direction, Lestrade finally said --
"Very well, Holmes, I have waited for you. Now, would you kindly care to explain the chase you have run us all? Many people were caused anxiety and grief by your apparent fate, and I should not like to think that it was for no cause."
Holmes smiled. "You don't say, my dear colleague. A month ago, I never should have guessed that you would be anything but glad to be rid of me." Lestrade looked a little sheepish.
Hopkins rumbled, "I, too, must admit that I am most curious what has really taken place -- no doubt it shall explain things better than our previous theories have."
"I am sure that your attention to detail has served you well, and that your only shortfall has been a failure to assemble the facts in the correct order. Before I tell all, may I ask what your own theories were?"
I could see from their gradually changing facial expressions that both Inspectors were appropaching exasperation beyond endurance. I hastened to fill the void of protocol too often left by my proud a capable friend.
"Holmes, with a few variations, I think you know roughly what all three of us have thought, and a very trying few days it has been because of that. In fact, were I not so indescribably pleased to see you whole after having thought you dead or injured, I should be speaking most fiercely to you just now. Even my no doubt legendary patience has limits. Perhaps you could tell us what really happened at Baker Street?"
He cocked his head, and nodded. "Very well. I see that I am in danger of pushing a joke too far. Watson, after you left me that afternoon, I received word from an informant of mine that Wilkes -- the bank-guard -- had begun to feel insecure about the evidence that was in my hands and had determined to attack me that midnight. He had not a chance of taking me -- my agents were watching his -- but I saw in this an opportunity to bag a brace of game that had been eluding me. Watson, you recall that I was at an impasse in my pursuit of MacHugh and Wilkes. This was my chance to break it.
"I waited until Mrs. Hudson had gone to bed with a headache. I sympathized with her, but this also expanded my opportunity -- she was asleep earlier than usual, and the pain-killer she takes in such cases makes her sleep somewhat less interruptible than at other times. I set about creating a scene of mayhem in my apartments.
"I took a vial of chicken's blood with which I had been testing reagents, and smeared it in a horrifying streak between the window and the table. I laid my glassware on the floor in a chaotic heap -- important these cases may be, but they were not worth destroying all my glassware -- and carefully and soundlessly tipped the workbench. A heavy job that was, too. Lastly, I penned quite a frightening ransom note addressed to the good Dr. Watson -- I hope, my friend, that you will forgive the trespass -- and pinned it startlingly to the table with a dagger of striking appearance. In fact, if you noticed, Watson? It was the murder weapon from our Harkness case in '84."
"I did not notice," I said. "The shock obscured my perception of details."
"Just so. I then lit a candle to complete the scene."
"How did it complete the scene?" interjected Hopkins. "The scene should have been just as complete without it."
Holmes smiled a bit sheepishly himself. "The dramatic effect would have been reduced -- and perhaps some of my glassware broken by earnest investigators groping for a lamp -- if the room had been left in darkness. It was also meant as a small clue to you, Hopkins. Why would I have lit it so early, and called for Watson so late?"
"Did you not fear that, in comprehending the clue, I would give up your secret?"
"If you were piercing enough to see its cause, you were also piercing enough to deduce my purpose and so would not betray me. Having arranged this scene, I waited until dark, disguised myself, and then absconded as Mrs. Hudson slept. I penned, but did not yet dispatch, the emergency message to Watson and called up an agent of mine, and the two of us lurked as drunkards across the street from my rooms.
"A little after midnight, our man Wilkes arrived in his cab, aiming, I fear, to do me some little harm. He had brought a ladder with him, and broke in through the window. He must have been shocked to discover -- as it looked to him -- that I had already been kidnapped by MacHugh! This did not improve his situation. He and MacHugh are rivals in crime. The only man who could certainly identify and hand over the evidence against him might now be made a tool of his enemy.
"He seized the note, abandoned the apartment, removed the ladder, and returned to his cab. Now that the apartment was free of further hazard, I dispatched my agent with that grim warning for you, Watson. Rather than waiting for you to arrive, I attached myself to the under-side of the cab. Its occupants were so flustered by what they had just discovered that they were not as watchful as they should have been.
"In fact, they took me directly to their new hide-out in Merton. Still palpitating with shock, they ran carelessly inside without noticing me. By the way, the cab-driver was not just bribed -- he is Wilkes' man.
"I waited until they were gone, then sprang out from under the carriage, and with the assistance of another cab made my way to Mycroft's. He is the very model of a brother. He was most interested to see me (particularly, as I was, covered with mud and stinking of gin), and we discussed the situation at some length. Eventually we retired.
"Wilkes had taken the ransom note -- I had seen it in his hand as he emerged from the window -- so I needed to send another. This I did just after breakfast. As the investigation progressed, Wilkes' contacts in the Yard -- "
"Contacts in the Yard!" exclaimed Lestrade.
"Yes -- you should do well to identify them. As yet, I have not."
"You may count on it, sir, that I shall," growled Lestrade, turning a little red. For his part, Hopkins looked very serious, and then said, "Please go on, Holmes."
"-- they confirmed to him the story that he had seen with his own eyes. I had been kidnapped by MacHugh. Hoping to recover me and through me the evidence against him, he immediately set about doing what I could not: locating MacHugh. He wanted to negotiate with him."
"Why could he succeed where you failed?" I asked Holmes.
"The man is himself a criminal. His criminal contacts are more extensive than mine. There is a limit to what one can get people to reveal if one is a well-known detective or even a harmless stranger. It seemed prudent for me to press Wilkes' network into service along with my own.
"I knew he must come to Glasgow, where MacHugh was based. I had chosen a hotel at random for you to stay in. Now I went on ahead of you and the good Inspectors, and began sending you a series of instructions to wait as I arranged matters."
"Your note said that I should not bring the Inspectors."
"I knew you would disobey it. Even if you obeyed, they would not. In Glasgow, near your hotel, I found a small public house that was in need of a barkeep and was hired there. I'm afraid that I have since proven to be a very unreliable employee. I have decided that I do not have the nature of a barkeep.
"In the meantime, I spied on the doings of Wilkes and MacHugh, to whom Wilkes had led me. I also took the opportunity to enliven their already interesting conversation by injecting forged telegrams into it. Wilkes thought MacHugh was feigning not to have me -- he was especially convinced now that you, Watson, had come to Glasgow to negotiate -- and MacHugh may have thought that Wilkes had me himself, or else was playing some deep game. At the last, I helped to organize a little tete-a-tete in which the criminals might settle their evident differences over what had become of me, and then I met the three of you just before it in the snug little Lion to set our course."
"What if their agents had followed us into the Lion?" asked Hopkins.
"I'd have taken ill and been carried to a back room, and Watson would have come to my aid. Then I'd have slipped him a note to leave for you. As it is, we met the villains and, as you saw, mastered them; and in my absence Mycroft has been directing the rounding-up of their henchmen, some of whom -- including the cab-driver -- I was able to discover while I was 'missing.' The rest are likely scattering or even struggling among themselves for position. Lestrade, Hopkins, you are like to find them fruitful game. Ah, here we are at the station."
"What shall be the official explanation for the case?" asked Lestrade.
"That the three of you boldly hunted down my kidnappers and rescued me, earning my eternal gratitude. Do not, however, bring charges against our quarry for my 'kidnapping,' as nothing of the kind took place. The evidence of their other crimes that I can offer to you when we return to Baker Street should provide ample grounds to put them away regardless."
As they went to hail a cab, I left them and returned home to seek the company of my wife. I wished to reassure her tangibly of my health and my friend's, and at that moment I felt that some days of tranquility with her and with my practice would form a fitting sequel to this nerve-wracking