Thursday 29 June 2023

A New Study In Scarlet - Short Story by Duane Vorhees


A New Study In Scarlet

Short Story

by Duane Vorhees 


Never had I seen Lastrade in such a state -- “2 & 8” as he would have said. A manic mathematician he was, indeed, as he strode into our flat at 221B, looking very much like a slice of whitecake a-splotch with pink icing. Though perhaps still short of the elephant’s trunk level of Brahms and Liszt, he obviously had been drinking. I trust that he came seeking Holmes’ assistance whilst not on duty; on all other occasions of our acquaintance he was the best of the professionals. As for Holmes, he was at first unusually loquacious. “Inspector, you know of course my Boswell and associate, Dr. John Watson, late of the Royal Army Medical Corps in Afghanistan?” he said, adding, “Regrettably, I have no others in the world that I would honour with the sobriquet ‘friend,’ but I am unreservedly pleased to bestow the title on this gentleman. He is the wisest and kindest and bravest human being I have ever known.” If I blushed at the accolades, Lastrade would not have noticed, as he launched immediately into his expedition of entreaty. What followed was “three weeks in jail,” a sorrowful tale of blood and ‘orror in Whitechapel into which he interspersed at-the-time-incomprehensible references to Alan Whickers and Arthur Nelly – Holmes later informed me he meant knickers and bellies -- and their unspeakable acts in such exotic locales as Bristol City, Berkshire Hunt, and the Khyber Pass -- I shall let you navigate these places on your own terms.  Weeks of shocking lemon limes (crimes, that is) had made spotted dick even the most hardened bottles and stoppers, among whose esteemed ranks Lastrade was pleased to count himself, and he admitted shamefacedly that they hadn’t a Scooby (that is, they were clueless) as to the perpetrator. To make matters worse, the bent had begun mocking them in the linen drapers, even going so far as to sign himself cheekily “the Ripper.” A slew of slags had been found, brown bread for sure but not yet taters in the mould (dead but warm still), slit from tits to clit but certainly not “ripped,” mind you, but rather sliced precisely and neat-like, like feet (plates of meat) in the Savoy kitchen. He gave me pause when he related that the reins had been carefully removed and eaten; it only later dawned on me that he referred to the kidney area, the loins. Throughout the breathless account Holmes sat stoic, as inscrutable as Mr. Babbage’s calculator, minutely tracking the recitation, my reactions, the movement of the peripatetic fly through the stuffy room… until Lastrade’s machine rattled to a stop. Like a ferret in a trap, the inspector made his final plea, “Them’s the brass tacks. ‘Ow ‘bout it, Guvnor? Will you show us the way then?” A long, uncomfortable silence ensued, broken by a query by Holmes, followed by Lastrade extracting a notebook from his pocket and reciting a schedule of dates and times, after which Lastrade shifted and twitched through another period of preternatural quiet. Holmes spoke at last, “So far as I’m concerned, Inspector, this time, for me, the game is definitely not afoot. However, I give you my apologies but also my assurances that no similar occurrences shall transpire in future.” After Lastrade’s embarrassed, befuddled departure, Holmes responded to my own quizzical look, “It took an effort on my part to weigh the duties of justice against the obligations of loyalty, but I finally decided that I could balance them both. It has been an exhausting evening, and I strongly suggest you retire…. Jack.” As he concluded his remark, I knew then that my entire situation had forever changed.

Duane Vorhees is an American poet living in Thailand. Before that, he taught University of Maryland classes in Korea and Japan. Hog Press, of Ames, Iowa, has published three of his poetry collections and is preparing a fourth.

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