The adventure to which I refer began on a chill evening in December 1897, when Holmes and I were, as we so often did in those days, sitting across from one another before the fire in our Baker Street rooms. Holmes was contemplating his pipe smoke as he took one slow puff after another, when a sudden cry from the street below broke the stillness of our sitting room. Leaping to my feet I dashed to the window, just in time to see and hear an altercation upon the pavement involving a group of street urchins.
“What on earth was that?” I exclaimed.
“Evidently something more substantial than anything involving those youngsters,” Holmes replied, craning his neck to see further down Baker Street. “I detect Wiggins’s particular battle cry among the din.”
“Mr. Holmes, Mr. Holmes; it’s got me by five of its arms!” cried Wiggins.
To my horror, it was a man carrying a large octopus.
“That explains the scuffle, then,” said my friend, raising an eyebrow. “No doubt, the Irregulars are fighting over who is to tell me this strange news.”
“Good Heavens,” I exclaimed, “I’ve read many a sea yarn involving such creatures but never expected to see one right outside our rooms!”
I could not even see whether the creature was alive or dead, but it crossed my mind, even in this moment of astonishment and panic, that Holmes would probably attempt to tell me its species and national origin.
“Genus octopus, of the order Octopoda, with over a hundred species recognized and growing daily through the efforts of science,” Holmes began, as expected. “Watson, have you a large bowie knife? Your revolver won’t do now.”
“I have nothing more lethal than my pen-knife,” I replied in some embarrassment, “but perhaps in any case we should descend to street level to see whether we can assist Wiggins in some way?”
Holmes stretched a long arm out for index book with the letter O on the spine as we headed for the door.
“Holmes,” I expostulated, “this is no time for research; this is the time to act!”
Just then, Wiggins himself was heard tearing up the stairs to the flat, shouting, “Mr. Holmes, I’ve got news worth half a crown or more!”
“Ha!” exclaimed Holmes, reaching into his pocket. “Here’s your half crown, but I venture I know your news already!”
“At least he appears to be free of the creature now,” I commented with some relief, “but Mrs. Hudson will be less than pleased if she finds it writhing on her doorstep.”
“No indeed, sir! The news is entirely unrelated to the creature... I think.” Wiggins, smelling of the seven seas, stopped for a moment, as if his knowledge of Holmes’s methods gave him some doubt that anything could be entirely without relation of some kind. “Mr. ’Olmes, I did just as you said and followed after that bloke on the cart.”
I need not say that this was the first I had heard of any cart, as Holmes had not taken me into his confidence about whatever affair was currently receiving his attention.
“Very good,” said Holmes. “What then? Did he have another fit?”
Just when Wiggins opened his mouth to give his report a blood-curdling scream was heard from the stairs.
“’E must be ’aving one now, sir,” Wiggins observed with a shudder. “Comes of spending all day with them octoroons, it does.”
It was the octopus, writing on the chalkboard the following words: “Beware of the one-eyed man.”
“Holmes,” said I, “there is some trick here.”
“Don’t be a sucker, Watson. Of course it is a trick. But by whom?” He turned to the lad: “I thought you said it had nothing to do with the octopus, Wiggins. Do try to be coherent.”
“It were the man that delivered the octopus to the cart driver. ’E were a peg-legged tar just as you said to keep an eye out for. But there was a problem with him...”
“But what of the one-eyed man?” said I.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, sir,” Wiggins replied hotly. “One leg, one eye, and one ear, the fellow had.”
“Perhaps he suffers from mono-mania?” I questioned. “But Holmes, to what purpose have you had Wiggins follow this man?”
“Ah, Watson,” said my friend, “at last you have stumbled upon the significant point, whereas the octopus is a mere digression. The man on the cart I knew to be a fishmonger, supplying the kitchens of the Chinese consulate. And Watson, if you will look beyond the end of your nose, you will notice that this octopus has nine legs!”
Just then, the door burst open and in stormed Mrs Hudson, waving what was left of the octopus. “Mr Holmes,” she interrupted, “what is the meaning of this disgusting object on my carpets?”
“It is a most interesting specimen, Mrs. Hudson,” my friend replied, “and — I have no doubt — very tasty if properly prepared.”
“Humph!” Mrs Hudson grunted as she turned away, “now I have seen it all! A fine kettle of fish this is!”
“The only chefs who know how to prepare a nine legged octopus work at the Chinese embassy!” I observed.
“Yes, yes,” Holmes replied, “but Watson, we are becoming ever further distracted from the matter of the one-legged fishmonger and his speechless child.”
“Mr. ’Olmes, a fishmonger is supposed to deliver, right? Well this one took the octopus from out the Chinese kitchen!” said Wiggins.
“Curious,” said Holmes, “and perhaps a clue to the trick.”
“Trick?” I asked Holmes as I noticed that Wiggins was looking a bit green around the gills from the malodorous sea creature.
“Yes, Watson. Is your pen knife at the ready?”
“I have it right here,” I replied.
“Then use your surgeon’s skill, Watson,” commanded Holmes, “and split the creature open.”
I began slicing the foul creature in a latitudinal pattern, quickly reducing it to strips of black, strong-smelling, rubbery meat. In its center I expected to find a mass of gelatinous organs, but I was mistaken. My knife hit something hard, and I found something resembling a large magnet.
Holmes ejaculated, “Just as I expected!”
“It would save all of us considerable annoyance,” I told my friend heatedly, “if you would explain, rather than dragging us from mystification to mystification! How could you possibly know that, Holmes?“
“I have been following this particular one-legged scoundrel for some days now,” said my friend. “He makes frequent trips between a laboratory and restaurant — an odd trajectory, to be sure.
“I thought at first that he was training the octopus for some nefarious purpose, but gradually it became clear that he was creating a bionic cephalopod — yes, Watson, cephalopod — to go where he, handicapped as he is, would be unable to enter. Hence the magnetic device that enabled it to write on our wall. By the by, remind me to ask Mrs. Hudson when, and why, she had that chalkboard installed.
“And speaking of Mrs. Hudson, shall we summon her and ask whether she might be able to turn these revolting scraps of octopus flesh into something that would pass for sushi?”
Copyright © Chris Redmond 2014