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Case 17: The Shocking Business At The Tankerville Club (1879)

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[Narration by Doctor John Watson, M.D.]

One of the many advantages to having Holmes as a friend was that it solved one small but important societal problem for me. As a doctor who treated some of the cream of 'high society' it was considered only fitting that I should hold membership in at least one of London's top gentlemen's clubs, because the richer people that I treated expected to be able to find a smattering of 'suitable' establishments on my calling-card. Had I not been able to fulfil that societal nicety I doubt that they would have continued using my offices, such was the snobbery of those people. Which was all well and good except the fees for being a member of these were frankly eye-watering, and my already grumbling bank-manager would have had a conniption had I paid them!

Fortunately my friendship with Holmes solved that problem as his father had insisted on his having the highest class of membership at each of his six clubs clubs, and at four of them that included the right to associate membership for at least one gentleman friend. Hence I was able to have four illustrious names on my 'Doctor John Watson, M.D.' cards and to talk to my patients about them as if I did not only go to each of them once in a blue moon.

All right, I occasionally accompanied Holmes to Benfield's on a very small number of Thursdays because of the pie. But we always walked there from the house so despite what some snarky blue-eyed genius was prone to comment about my having two desserts on those days, that did not count. Besides it was pie, not dessert.

One of these days I am going to work out just how he can smirk from the other side of a closed door!

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It was shortly after our return from Cornwall and its free smirking fishermen that I was called out to old Lord Merioneth who had collapsed during a game of cards at the Tankerville Club, a very plush establishment (not one of mine I might add) on the banks of the River Thames in Chelsea. The doorman had looked at me most pityingly and had seemed quite disbelieving that I was a doctor come to treat someone in his establishment. Fortunately I was eventually admitted and Lord Merioneth needed little more than some reassurance plus some stomach powders. The place left a bad impression on me as absolutely everyone in it seemed to be looking down on me and I was frankly glad to get away from it.

I thought nothing more of the matter until two days later when Sergeant Henriksen called round. I had assumed that it was because Holmes wanted to brief him about the resolution of the Cornish case (and also because by an amazing coincidence it was Mrs. Hellingly's sponge-cake day!) but to my surprise he wanted to talk to me.

“You were seen entering the Tankerville Club, doctor”, he said.

I looked at him curiously.

“I had to treat a patient there”, I said wondering what this was all about. “Why do you ask?”

The policeman hesitated.

“It may be something or nothing”, he said, “but there's a few fellows from my own Dutch West Indies that live along the riverside in Stepney. I know Eddy, one of them; he's a copper in the area. He came to me yesterday about that club and he thinks something odd is going on there.”

I wondered as to why an East Ender would be concerned about a West End club. Indeed I sometimes thought that the two parts of London functioned almost as two quite separate cities.

“Odd how precisely?” Holmes asked, his head tilting to one side as it always did when he was puzzled.

“In the past year three of his neighbours just left without telling anyone”, Henriksen said. “And the odd thing, they were nearly all young single fellows. The only one that wasn't was Ben; he was just sixteen and his father told Eddy that he'd been offered a job at the Tankerville Club and cheap rent nearby. The house was all sold and everything proper but Eddy says that wasn't like him. But Eddy went and asked around the area – you know how rare black men are in that neck of the woods – and no-one had seen hide nor hair of him.”

“Someone is kidnapping black men from the East End?” I said dubiously. “To what end?”

“That's the weird thing”, Henriksen said scratching his gleaming bald pate (seriously, did he actually polish it?). “When I heard about you going there I thought I would take the chance to talk to Mr. Holmes about it because I felt he might take it better that the boss.”

I could sympathize with him over that. I could not imagine it being easy to explain such a nebulous matter to his boss Inspector Fraser Macdonald. Especially as it involved those weird objects that the latter regarded as utterly incomprehensible, namely human beings.

“What is the problem exactly?” Holmes asked our friend.

“Eddy was told by the local lads at Chelsea station that it was something peculiar”, the sergeant said. “For some reason they aren't allowed the place inside even if a crime has been reported there. They have to get permission first.”

“Ah”, Holmes said knowingly. I glared at him.

“Please explain”, I said not at all testily. He chuckled.

“The Tankerville Club must be the 'peculiar' that I once read existed in West London”, he said. “It is normally a church term but here it refers to a part of England that is not legally England.”

Well that cleared things up - not! He smiled at my obvious annoyance as did The Great Cake-Detector Of Old London Town.

“The Tankerville Club was founded in honour of the family of the same name”, Holmes explained. “The current earl, a Mr. Charles Bennet to give him his proper name, is descended from a family who before the Conquest used to hold lands in Tancarville which is in Normandy. Obviously at some time in the past the land where the club stands was made a possession of the family as vassals of someone other than the King of England. Their charter must never have been revoked so therefore it is legally not part of England.”

“So a part of Chelsea is French?” I asked, surprised.

“Maybe”, he said. “Its questionable legal status means that the police have to tread warily, especially given the difficult situation in France just now.”

That was all too true. It was less than a decade since enemy troops had marched through Paris and the once-mighty French nation utterly humiliated by the new power of Bismarck's Germany, losing the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to them. And the recent British purchase of a large stake in the Suez Canal in an area of the world that Paris had once considered its own had not exactly helped Anglo-French relations either.

“You think the nob himself is involved?” Henriksen asked. He had I knew a low opinion of the nobility, regarding them as merely criminals who knew how to operate above the law (in which belief he was all too right in my opinion). Holmes shook his head.

“A member of the Privy Council and a most honourable gentleman”, he said. “No, whatever is going on at the club that bears his name I am sure that he himself has no part of it. But he may be important to remedying matters if they can be remedied. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Henriksen. I shall look into it.”

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Unfortunately it was one of Those Days. Henriksen had barely left when we had a second visitor. A far less welcome one.

“Bacchus”, Holmes said coolly. “To what do we owe the 'pleasure'?”

His tone clearly implied that 'pleasure' was not involved. The lounge-lizard did not even take a seat and stared haughtily down his nose at his younger brother.

“You are making inquiries into the Tankerville Club”, he said.

“I shall be”, Holmes said.

“You must cease them.”

“Why should I?”

The sadist in me enjoyed moments like these. Mr. Bacchus Holmes was clearly used to being obeyed in everything he demanded of the people around him, and someone not jumping to do what he wanted within sixty seconds was clearly incomprehensible to him. Good.

“Two gentlemen in the Cabinet are members of that club”, he said, “as well as several Important People. You should not stick your nose in where it is not wanted.”

“I dare say that the criminals that I have helped secure convictions against felt much the same way”, Holmes said coolly. “Try again.”

“It is none of your concern”, his brother said loftily. Holmes smiled knowingly.

“Ah but you must be wrong there, my dear brother”, he said. “You would not be here so swiftly if there was not something highly irregular occurring at that establishment. And now.... I am even more curious!”

Mr. Bacchus Holmes scowled at him, then at me for some reason before huffing and making a dignified exit.

“He would not try anything against you?” I asked worriedly. Holmes shook his head.

“He would like to”, he said. “But he knows that if anything happened to me and it was over a matter that could in any way be traced back to him, then the wrath of God would be as nothing compared to the wrath of Mother!”

I smiled at that.

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I was not totally surprised when, the next day, Holmes said that he was going round to visit his mother and father. He generally avoided his family as and where possible and usually spent some days before each visit looking glum and depressed (and usually a further set of days after looking much the same, more of his mother had made him listen to one of her dreadful stories). This time however the visit came unannounced although I had wondered whether his unwelcome fraternal visit from the day before may have been behind it. He looked worried enough however and I decided that it was not my place to ask.

Holmes of course knew what I was thinking.

“You are wondering about my having to go and see Father”, he said over supper that evening.”

“It is family”, I said. “You have obligations, I suppose.”

He looked at me a little warily. He knew full well that while I missed my dear late mother, my father was both gone and (as much as was possible) best forgotten and I suppose he felt a little guilty that he still had his parents. Even if one of them was the frankly terrifying Lady Rebecca Holmes. She had, Holmes had told me, insisted on a full check of both our current and first establishments (and their landladies!) by a private investigations agency. He had not said as much but I guessed that she had had me thoroughly checked out as well. I presumed that I had been deemed 'acceptable'

“I thought that I may need Father's help in resolving this affair at the Tankerville Club”, he said. “He has certain contacts that are quite useful at times like this. He told me that the club is run by one Mr. Simeon Bennett, second cousin to Earl Charles. Mr. Simeon is not a pleasant character by all accounts.”

“A criminal?” I asked. Holmes shook his head.

“As Henriksen says, cynically if accurately, nobility like him are too wily to do what is actually criminal”, he said sounding rather sorrowful. “No, he skates around the edges of the law but does not fall in.”

“Sounds like he needs a good push!” I said trying to lighten the mood. Holmes stared at me.

“Yes”, he said slowly. “Maybe he does.”

I had the distinct impression that I had said something important, which was inevitably followed by the distinct impression that any chance of my knowing just what was so important was about as remote as the Dog Star. Again, no change there.

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