This was one of those adventures which, strictly speaking, did not really constitute a case. Yet the outcome was rather amusing, and indeed, it led to that rare thing, Sherlock telling a lie. And in the end, showing just how much he truly loved me.
I was so blest!
In July of that year we had attended a party at Sergeant Baldur's house, to celebrate our friend Henriksen's youngest son Veryan having obtained a promotion that would mean his moving to Herefordshire. Veryan's promotion party was, in a sense, a double celebration, as that same year our good friend and Henriksen's nephew Valiant had also been promoted, to chief-inspector in his case. Unfortunately that well-merited achievement had come about in rather unfortunate circumstances, namely what had been dubbed by the press as 'The Hornby Castle Affair'. The entire top ranks of the Lancashire and Cumberland & Westmorland Constabularies had been implicated in a frankly horrible scandal of which fraudulent expenses claims was the least awful part (and certain 'interesting' photographs not the worst, incredibly!), with the result that many leading policemen had been dismissed from the service. Most of the vacant positions had been taken from men moving up from other forces elsewhere in the country – indeed, one of them had been the fellow in Herefordshire whose move had opened up his former post for Veryan – but those in charge had felt that there had to be at least a degree of continuity and, although Valiant still technically had three years to serve before he would normally have been considered, he was promoted there and then. I was confident that they had made a most excellent choice.
Because of what I presume were police procedures, the new Chief-Inspector Henriksen had to attend a short course in London before he could fully take up his position, although he was entitled to call himself by his new title straight-away. It was during this time, in early August, that he paid us a visit. It was barely a month until our planned departure date for the cottage on the Downs, so I was understandably nervous that the prize of all that se.... happiness might still be snatched away from me at the last. Nevertheless, I was delighted to see our old friend, who was by this time happily married with three sons of his own. Sherlock and I had been honoured to be ask to be godfathers to his eldest son, Valdus, who was already training to be a constable in his father's constabulary.
“I feel a bit odd, having to ask you this”, our friend said, folding his muscular bulk into the famous fireside chair. “I could make inquiries of my own, but as you know, the police service frowns on such things. And it may be something or nothing.”
“Tell us about it”, Sherlock urged.
“It is my cousin Valentine, Uncle Vic's eldest”, he said. “As you know, he married a fishmonger's daughter, a Miss Mercy Waring, and moved to her village in Devonshire. Braunton, on the north coast; a wild area, so they say. Her father died some years back and she inherited the business. Val could not pick up a pen if his life depended on it, but Mercy writes to both me and Uncle Vic regular as clockwork.”
“They had two sons and two daughters. It is their youngest son that is the issue here, by name of Virbius.”
He stopped, noticing our surprised expressions.
“We have met the young gentlemen”, Sherlock said. “He approached us some eight years ago, over the matter at Yoxley Old Place'.”
I too remembered the boy, similar in appearance to the man before us but a fraction of his build, all knees and elbows as only a teenage boy can be. And of course the case, one of our more unusual ones (and there was plenty of competition for that title), after which Sherlock and I.....
Not the time, so not the time! And someone could stop smirking like that, damn him!
“That is good”, our visitor smiled, mercifully unaware of my inner turmoil. “I was going to call on him whilst I was down here, but I wondered if you gentlemen would be so good as to check something out for me first.”
“Has he developed criminal tendencies?” I asked, worried.
“I do not think so”, the chief-inspector said. “You see, it is like this. He obtained a job at Fortnum & Mason's, the department store; although I have no idea as to what he does there, I do know that it is not full-time. Last year, his father Valentine fell ill, and needed expensive hospital treatment. The family would have rallied round, of course, but Mercy was a bit surprised when Virbius insisted on paying his share. It seemed a lot for someone who worked part-time in a shop, and she wondered.... well.... she wondered just where he was getting the money.”
I winced. I could see what Mrs. Mercy Henriksen had, perhaps naturally, assumed. Sherlock asked the obvious question.
“What is he like now, this Mr. Virbius Henriksen?” he asked. “People change in eight years.”
(I would soon have cause to remember that particular statement).
“I only met him the one time, some years back”, our guest admitted, “and I think that that would have been not long after you yourselves would have seen him. He was about sixteen then; so thin that I think he would have disappeared if he had turned sideways! I would, as I said, have made some inquiries myself, but my new boss, Superintendent Worton – well, he is all right as bosses go, but he has a thing about officers doing work of a private nature. And even if the worst is true, there would still have been no crime here.”
“We would be delighted to investigate this matter for you”, Sherlock said. “We have your addresses here and in Westmorland, and shall telegraph you any news. Whatever that news may be.”
I could only hope that the news would be good. But I doubted it.
“A molly-house?” I asked, once our friend had left.
“It seems the obvious way for a young man to make lots of money”, Sherlock said ruefully. “We shall see. We shall call on our friend Mr. Trevelyan – he would surely know if the young man, as he is now, had joined 'the business' – and then repair to the great department store.”
We spent only a short time at Mr. Lowen Trevelyan's house, he having taken over Mr. Sweyn Godfreyson's 'business' some four years back. He promised that he would make inquiries, and would have a definite answer by the end of the day (I was sure that I caught him leering at Sherlock's backside again, which was off limits to everyone except me!). And someone smirked when I coughed pointedly, damn him!
“It is good to see that you are not still jealous of our Cornish friend”, Sherlock smiled once we had left.
“He does not seem to have aged much, considering he is a decade younger than us”, I groused.
“Well, in his profession one must keep young and beautiful”, Sherlock grinned. “Besides, I am already taken. Or I will be, when we get back to Baker Street!”
And now I had to go into one of the top department stores in London with a full erection! He was definitely going to pay for that later.
"And when we get there, you can help me off with these panties!"
Was he trying to kill me before we made it to the cottage?
Although the prices in this store were eye-wateringly high (and someone's constant touches on the way there were also making my eyes water!), I did on occasion grace its palatine floors, as it was one of the few places that I could be sure to obtain certain of the rarer flavours of barley-sugars that my friend loved. Sherlock could easily have bought them himself, but he knew that I enjoyed treating him to them, and he always rewarded me for my consideration....
I had to repair to the gentlemen's lavatory for a Moment.
The general manager, a tall blond fellow in his forties, was a Mr. Andrew Drake. He looked understandably nervous at our arrival to his store.
“I cannot of course divulge any details about the Very Important Case that I am undertaking”, Sherlock said loftily. “However, a description of a person who was at the scene of a crime matches some seven people, and your employee, Mr. Virbius Henriksen, is one of them. Naturally we wish to eliminate him from our enquiries if at all possible, so all I need are his regular hours of employment, and whether those have varied at all of late.”
The manager looked relieved at that.
“Mr. Henriksen works Monday to Saturday, three till eight”, he said. “He is always very punctual, and has no problem with coming in early or staying behind if asked. We are most pleased with him.”
“That definitely rules him out, then”, Sherlock said, looking relieved. “This incident took place at a quarter to six on a Thursday; seemingly I must focus my attentions on the other people involved. You say that you are happy with the gentleman's work?”
“Most definitely”, the manager said. “He works in the gentlemen's accessories department, close by the front door. He is of some physicality, which is useful as, even here, we occasionally get 'difficult' customers. He has.... helped them to leave on more than one occasion.”
I was surprised at the description of the young man. He must have filled out somewhat from the gawky teenager that we had met nearly a decade ago.
“He sounds a most positive addition to your staff”, Sherlock smiled. “Thank you for taking the time to see us today, sir.”
We returned home and, after I had made manifest my annoyance at my friend (and had a good long rest to recover from same), we had a quiet evening in as Sherlock wished to wait for our leering friend's information before going any further with the case. Mr. Trevelyan duly came through, and a telegram at just after six assured us that whatever he was up to, Mr. Virbius Henriksen was not selling his body for profit.
As it happened, it was odd that the leering Cornishman had worded his message in that particular way, because he was in fact incorrect.
The following day, Sherlock decided to pay a call on Mr. Virbius Henriksen, whose house was in Southwark, just across the river. I did not know what to expect when we set off, but Number Sixteen Nightingale Lane was not it. I stared up at the building in astonishment.
“He lives here?” I asked. This was not quite a luxury abode, but it was not far off. Sherlock smiled knowingly.
“I think that I begin to see just how Victor's grandson was able to support his sick father so well”, he said. “Thankfully, it did not involve selling his body. Or at least, not in the sense that we and his family feared.”
He knocked at the door, and it was opened by a young fellow of whom I quickly noticed three things. First, he was between twenty and twenty-five years of age, with curly chestnut locks framing a boyish face. Second (because some blue-eyed bastard insisted that I admit this), he was dazzlingly attractive, and third, he was wearing only a pair of impossibly tight underpants that.... well, that musculature extended to everywhere - and I do mean everywhere!
“My name is Mr. Sherlock Holmes”, Sherlock smiled, “and this is my friend, Doctor John Watson. We are here about Mr. Henriksen.”
Make that four things. The man's face lit up, and he promptly pulled Sherlock into an embrace!
I may have coughed pointedly – several times – before the Adonis finally let go of someone who had not exactly tried to get away from him, and smiled beatifically at us both.
“Very sorry”, he said, looking a little abashed. “But my dear mama has told me so much about you, and it is so wonderful to meet you at last!”
“Your mother?” I asked curiously.
“My mother is Mrs. Roderick West, once Miss Vittoria Vincenzo”, he explained, “whom you assisted when she worked for the circus as a belle.”
Ah yes, our fifth case from when we were in Montague Street. Back in – gulp! - 'Seventy-Six! Nearly three decades ago!
“She and my father Roderick had five children, all sons”, the young man continued. “I am the youngest, Ettore. Please to come in”
He led us inside. This was more what I had expected as the building had evidently been converted into lodgings like our own 221B; I saw a gentleman in pyjamas and a dressing-gown come out of a kitchen at the far end of the corridor, too half-asleep to even notice us and slouch into what was presumably his room. Mr. West led us through a door on the left into what was very obviously a lady's room, and bade us sit down.
“Is Rik in any trouble?” he asked.
“Not that I am aware of”, Sherlock said, looking round the room curiously. “I take it that you are his….. 'friend'?”
The Adonis looked curiously at Sherlock. I silently wished that he would put some clothes on.
“Have you spoken to him?” he asked.
“I have only met him the one time, many years ago”, Sherlock said, “although coming here today, I fully expect that situation to be remedied very soon. To answer your other question, although this is very obviously your room, there are signs that another gentleman is a frequent visitor. And that the couch is a favoured place of you both.”
“How can you know that?” he asked.
“The excellent condition of your own teeth states that you do not smoke a pipe”, Sherlock said, “but someone has knocked out old tobacco dregs into a fire, and one or two did not quite make it. I take it that your 'friend' is in the habit of collapsing onto the couch in an untidy heap to the detriment of the poor cushion, and the indentations thereon suggest that he does not always rest there unaccompanied. The markings are.... familiar.”
I blushed for some reason. So I sometimes graciously allowed Sherlock to hold me in a manly embrace on our own couch. And?
And he really needed to stop with the knowing look, damn him!
“The bookcase shows two distinct choices of literature, in both business and pleasure reading”, Sherlock said, smiling for some reason. “And the table by the window has faint sun-marks on it, which indicates that someone frequently spreads paperwork all over the place, something certain writers do far too often.”
I was a little slow, but I harrumphed indignantly. Mr. West smiled.
“Rik has always wanted to become a doctor”, he said. “In between, um, work, he studies in here of an evening. His own room at the back is poorly-lit, you see.”
I wondered at the hesitation. Why should he be ashamed of his 'friend' working at such an illustrious department store?
“And the company here is doubtless much more pleasant”, Sherlock smiled. “I assume that Mr. Henriksen is very independent-minded, and most definitely the sort of person who wishes to achieve what he does on his own merits?”
“You really know him”, he said.
“Deduction”, Sherlock said crisply. “He knew of us and our connection to his grandfather, and he would have therefore known that the doctor in particular could have helped him achieve his aims more easily, yet he chose not to take up that option. I take it that he is.... around the back?”
I wondered what he meant by that. Mr. West looked beseechingly at him.
“We both work there”, he said, confusing me still further. “You cannot tell his mother. The poor lady would be mortified!”
“I am sure that I can cobble together some sort of explanation as to her son's 'great wealth'”, Sherlock smiled. “It would not be the first time that I have spared a mother's blushes at a son's unusual career choice; indeed, the successor to the gentleman whom I helped in that case was instrumental to me in my investigations into your 'friend'. We shall allow ourselves the pleasure of seeing the man himself, and then this 'case' will be closed.”
He bowed to the handsome young gentleman and led the way out, and I knew without even asking that he would not tell me what he had meant by that last remark. I pouted.
“I still love it when you pout!” he whispered as we walked to the end of the quiet street. "And we need to find time later this week to replace those panties.
Yes, trying to kill me!
Sherlock did not, to my surprise, hail a cab, but instead led the way along Pitt Road and around into House-Martin Lane, the road which ran parallel to and behind Nightingale Lane. This too was mostly residential properties, but halfway along there was a new building which was rather too modern for my tastes. Sherlock led the way into “The Michelangelo Art Studio” (really?), and I followed.
The receptionist at the front desk was, according to her name-plate, a “Miss Q. Hanrahan”, and apparently her being not yet thirty years of age did not stop her simpering at my man. I did not growl at her, and a certain someone's smugness at my cough was not appreciated, either. As we thankfully left her behind, I remembered something that Sherlock had said back at the house.
“That was what you meant when you said that the two gentlemen worked 'around the back'?” I asked. “They both work here, and that was how they could help with the hospital bills.”
“That is sort of true”, Sherlock smiled. “I just need to see the manager of this place, and explain why two strange men are wandering around it.”
He disappeared into a small office, and I allowed myself a sigh. I supposed that this place was not so bad on the inside, all things considered. It seemed to have windows everywhere, although I had noted that the ones at the front had been covered with that modern substance which, somehow, only let light in, not out. I wondered what they had to hide in here. Perhaps it was all just cover for a high-class molly-house after all?
“It is not.”
I let out a shriek as my blue-eyed genius somehow managed to materialize right next to me, and glared at him.
“I am making you pay for that later!” I grumbled. He grinned.
“I hope so!”
“The room we want is through there”, Holmes said, gesturing to a door to our left, “but Mr. Peterson suggested that we might wish to see his students' latest works.”
I shuddered. Modern art!
Sherlock led me through the door to the right, and I looked around in surprise.
“Angels?” I said. He nodded.
“The manager said that there is a 'Castiel' in here somewhere”, he said, looking round the room. “Oh...”
He stopped. The painting of the angel Castiel was right in the centre, and was.... well, unusual. It showed a dark barn, lit up by a small figure entering in a shower of sparks. It not only looked uncannily like my friend, but was also wearing that same coat, one that had been repaired so many times that I doubted much of the original was left by now.
I stared in surprise at the picture. The drawing was of some quality; I had to look twice to see the dark wings blending into black shadows behind the advancing figure.
“Someone is shooting at him”, I said, nonplussed. “But why?”
He too seemed to find the picture confusing, and stared for some time before seeming to shake himself back to reality. He headed out of the room, and I followed him, stopping to give the picture one last look. It was ridiculous, but despite the fact I was sure that I had never been in a barn with Sherlock, and yet there was something oddly familiar about it.
My friend led me across the corridor and into a large well-lit room where about a dozen people were gathered round a daïs, which had a large and very solid pole stretching some ten foot up towards the distant ceiling. They were clearly setting up to draw something or someone, and I watched with interest. None of the gentlemen, however, looked anything like what I expected Mr. Virbius Henriksen to now look like after eight years.
“He is not here yet”, I said.
“He is”, Sherlock grinned.
I was about to reply when the model walked around from behind a screen that I had not even noticed, and walked up onto the platform. He must have been at least six foot four, was very muscular and had dark but not black skin. He was wearing a most peculiar costume; he had horns affixed to his head, black marks on his face, and was carrying a pitchfork, which he rested against the pole when he reached the daïs. I was about to ask Sherlock the obvious question when he effortlessly shed the robe. Instinctively I looked down.
Ye Gods, what was that?
“It looks like the United States Constitution is incorrect”, Sherlock muttered. “All men are not created equal.”
I was still staring at.... that. Sherlock seemed totally unruffled.
“Not envious at all, are you, John?” he grinned.
I was not. Not the least bit. No way.
Poor Mr. West!
The gentleman who met us some little time later looked almost ordinary considering how we had first seen him. Sherlock re-introduced us both, and I saw the look of horror cross his young face.
“Be not afraid”, Sherlock assured him. “Your mother was merely concerned that you were making your contribution to your father's hospital bills by selling your body in, ahem, rather less desirable ways.”
“I suppose that that is understandable”, the giant (in both senses!) conceded. “Please, sir, you cannot tell her!”
For some reason I was reminded of a small child pleading with an adult. I smiled at the image.
“I have already planned for that”, Sherlock re-assured him. “I will lay a story that, having become aware of your existence and that you were the grandson of my friend, I covertly arranged for you to obtain free lodgings at a house which had been bequeathed to an acquaintance of mine only on condition that they rent and maintain it free for twenty-one years before being allowed to sell it. Knowing that you needed extra money, I advanced your name for one of the vacancies, which is why you were able to support your father.”
The model sighed in relief.
“Thank you, sir”, he said. “It is..... well, I think my mother might be all right with this, but my father is very set in his ways, and he would be horrified!”
“I shall be sure to suggest to your mother that, if they should ever both come to visit you in the capital, it would be politic to call first”, Sherlock said smoothly. “May I ask a rather direct question?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Do you actually enjoy being a model?”
The young fellow reddened. I was reminded of his Westmorland cousin, who also blushed very easily.
“It it easy money and lots of it, just for standing there in some daft get-up”, he said. “Some of the artists, mind, they can be.... well. One woman offered to help arrange my position, and I knew full well what she meant, the hussy! And Torry just laughed when I told him! When I do get to be a doctor, I suppose that I shall have to give it up.”
“I dare say that Mr. West might take exception to the London galleries being full of naked pictures of his beloved”, Sherlock smiled, “even if he has his own alongside them. Although I doubt that the rest of the capital's female population – and, I suspect, a proportion of its male one too - would find it overly objectionable. It has been a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
I did like Mr. Virbius Henriksen, but as we journeyed back to Baker Street I could not but think of that handsome, virile young body (let alone that of his 'friend') as against my own sadly ageing one. I had passed fifty-two that year, and Sherlock was still (just) in his forties. My friend must have known that I was feeling a little down, because he said that he wanted to stop to send a telegram on the way home, and that he would do so from Trafalgar Square so we could dine at my favourite restaurant there. I loved him for doing something small yet as considerate as that.
Rather curiously, as we were being driven up Baker Street, I chanced to look across at the passing traffic and was almost sure that I saw Mr. Virbius Henriksen in a cab going the other way. Great! Now I was being not only old but delusional, to boot!
We had reached our door when Sherlock suddenly stopped.
“I have a surprise for you tonight!”
The Voice. I was short of breath at once.
“What is it?” I gasped.
“Go to your room, put on the outfit that is on your bed, wait five minutes, then come out”, he said.
Somehow I managed to stagger to my room, and opened the door to find.....
Oh come on!
If I had not thought he would come in and drag me out anyway, I would have locked the door and sulked there. But I put on the ridiculous uniform – and the horns – and came out to find.....
Sherlock was stood there, dressed in an apron – and nothing else. There, leaning against the writing-desk, was that damn pitchfork, and Sherlock had set up an easel and some chalks. Gathering what little dignity I had left – very little – I picked it up and then struck a pose.
“My own Hell's Angel!” Sherlock purred, and I could feel myself beginning to grow hard. “And all you have to do is wait for me to finish this drawing, so we can have sex.”
The bastard teased me the whole two hours it took him to make a damn fine drawing, even if there may have been a certain element of artistic license in one area of his work (work it out!). And somehow he later found a place to get it framed, so we could take it with us to our cottage that was now so close, I could almost smell the downland grass.
Two months to go.
Close, but not quite there as we had one final adventure from dear old Baker Street, in which a wife and a mistress would combine to save the man they both loved.