Illustrations by JMF Casey
'Twas a clear and brightly mooned night, yet somehow Holmes seemed bothered and bewildered, as if by phanthoms themselves. The Great Deducer was not himself, indeed, and as he paced nervously forth and back on the Persian rug of his sitting room, I enquired if his famous migraines had reclaimed their perch atop his esteemed noggin.
“No, Watson,” Holmes said, “I’ve no headache, kind sir, but truly these whispers and shadows I see flitting and flashing about me are making me tetchy and concerned! I’ve an idea to consult yet again the medication you proscribed to me not but yesterday!”
As Sherlock’s private physician I had taken it upon myself to proscribe a new round of ethers and powders to soothe his consternated visage, most notably a full month’s supply of the precious cucaine, and this from a particularly pure batch as promised by my supplier, the esteemed Marks and Worthler’s Apothecary of 2—London Ln. As Holmes’s shaking hands revealed the stash from beneath his bookcase, I was gape-jawed by what I perceived.
“Holmes, you’ve been robbed!” I exclaimed.
Holmes, gripped by a suddenly agitated state, snapped back: “What is robbed of me, Watson?! Quick, sir, what is bereft? For I see nothing amiss and I am a master of perception!!”
“The cucaine!” I stammered, “’Tis less than a day since ’twas proscribed and more than a week’s proscription is already missing!”
My bewilderment only grew, for my commentary was answered by somewhat deranged laughter from Holmes. “’Tis no robbery! Lest I have robbed myself, Watson, old man! I’ve been snorting away like a crazed hog after a rich vein of truffle! Now, if you’ll chill a bit, another line I shall deprive myself of forthwith!”
At this he shnuffled up a round and hearty line of the medicant. I silently hoped it would becalm his nerves, and after his dip and snuff he grew suddenly silent, but his frame quivered and his eyes flashed open and—it seemed to me—locked as such unnaturally, seemingly unable to blink, wink, or rest. Holmes took up a position by the window, staring upon his small courtyard, perched such that he could view his garden, shared on three sides by friendly neighbours. My own eyelids were wavering, for I had had a full day of consultations and cucaine proscribing.
Noticing my weary state, Holmes proposed, “Rest thyself, Watson. I’ll stand watch here, to make sure no stranger intrudes to upset your slumber or practice vandalism upon the little walled community of this neighbour-hoode.”
This comment struck me as a trifle lunatic, as there had been no vandals or traipsers of any kind heretofore, and if there had been—perhaps a stray fellow using the courtyard as a short-path to get home from a nightly jaunt—well, it hadn’t ever made much bother. Holmes, however, was the wiser of us. I was sure of that. And recently he had apposted himself “Captain” of a self-initiated “neighbour-hoode watche,” so I happily nodded and hence drifted into a fast slumber which ended abruptly and with a start at the sound of Sherlock’s welping call-to-arms—
“Watson! Awaken, slumbering cat! A traipser! In our midst! We must ascertain his identity forthwith!”
Holmes seemed jittery as he continued in this vein. My glance told me the cucaine bag had been deprived of a noticeable amount of granules since his last snort, and yet it was only a few short hours later!
“But Holmes, what of it? A traipser in your garden? What cause of alarm is this?!” I enquired.
“I tell you I saw him!” Holmes continued. “A mysterious, hooded, harmless figure traipsed by! Right there, through our gated arena, trespassing he was! We must find him and deal with this egregious affront! Grab your coat, old man!”
I was coated and at the door in seconds, despite my confusion, but I hesitated when I saw Holmes tarrying to retrieve and load his Winchester riffle from oft the wall.
“What’s THAT for?” I pecked at him.
“That traipser may incite violents, and I want to be at the ready!” Holmes declared, as he leant down for yet another whiffle of the swiftly vanishing cucaine.
“Easy, tiger,” I niggled him. “We’ve to make it last, haven’t we?”
“What’s this ‘we’?” the great tongue lashed back. “I purchased this cucaine with my own banknotes! Monitor thine own stash! I know what I’m doing.”
And off we went into the night.
Holmes was on a tear, and I could barely keep up with the hurried pace of his feet, tongue, and mind. He narrated his thoughts to me, but they were a jumble!
“No one traipses on my garden! I will despatch with this scofflaw forthwith! Someone will eat a midnight snack of leaded pellets, I declare!”
“Holmes, who was this traipser? What should I be on the lookout for?”
“He was hooded, as I stated, wandering casually, sipping a tankard of tea, and nibbling at a small packet of colorful pastilles bought from the all-evening apothecary, no doubt! Hurry!”
“Holmes, this fellow doesn’t sound dangerous in the least! But rather some stumbling friend-fellow whose presence we should feel perfectly safe to ignore and let pass—”
But my argument was called to order by the repeated blast of the Winchester rifle in Sherlock’s knotted grasp! Ahead of us, not a brickyard away, the hooded figure collapsed; Holmes’s gunfire had done its work! Immediately we stood over the expiring figure, tea dribbling from the tankard, pastilles scattered among the roseweeds.
“What the fucke, Holmes!” I started. “The guy was just walking home! Why’d you shute him!?”
Holmes stood over the prone figger, breathing in fits, a silence in his eyes, his upper lip dusted with a white trail of cucaine. He made no response to my final query, nor to the deputies of Scotland Yard who seemed to echo my consternation. Luckily, the constable of the evening was a chum and schoolmate of Holmes’s, and the Unfortunate Traipser, being of a lesser class than our esteemed personages, did not require to him the level of investigation and prosecution that would be afforded to a peer.
And while I never worked out the why and wherefores of this most mysterious event, I chalked it down to Holmes’s intrepid inscrutability, the kind that resides in all geniuses, and, as well, he was probably just a tad cuked up.