Friday, 24 August 2012

The Facebook of Sherlock Holmes (Pt 1)

The fog that had engulfed Baker Street all afternoon began to lift towards dusk; I was grateful, for it had been insidiously sulphurous, and heavy and still, and despite a jolly tune on the radio I was gripped with melancholy, and irritated by the tock, tick, tock of Holmes’ fingernails on the keys of his laptop.
“Doesn’t this weather depress you, too” I snapped, throwing the newspaper down on the hearthrug.
“You know me, Watson,” said Holmes . “Mere meteorology has no impact at all on my psyche. I might, though, be saddened if the flat burned down.” And with his toecap he nudged away a newspaper page that had fallen near coals in the grate which were spurting gassy jets of flame.
“Anyway,” Holmes continued, in an unsettlingly bright voice, “where’s it to be? Corfu, as usual? Or somewhere more adventurous? Wherever it is, do send me a postcard revealing whether Eros can still be induced to visit and excite the late middle-aged.”
“Good God, Holmes,” I cried. “You surpass yourself. You amaze even me... how on earth did you know what I was thinking?”
“Oh Watson, really. It was so simple.” He jumped up, turned off the radio, and seized his violin.
“This, I believe, was the tune being played on the wireless when your sorry train of thought began.” And he scraped a lively few notes.
“Indeed it was...”
“And these were the words of the chorus, were they not?” He began to sing in a hoarse and comical voice, tapping his boot on the fender: “‘keep young and beautiful, it’s your duty to be beautiful, keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’? At which point you began inwardly to recriminate against the depredations of time. All very for the ruddy lyricist, your inner voice snarled, to rhyme out an injunction like that – but hard to observe his prescription when legions of wrinkles have long been on the march, eh?”
“Alas, you hit the mark” I admitted. “I suddenly felt all my years upon me and the song’s theory struck me as positively fascist.”
“Precisely; and then, as these unhappy reflections began to subside, the second chorus was upon you, to wit” – he cleared his throat and croaked again: “‘Be sure and get your man, wrap your body in a coat of tan, keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’.”
I was about to interrupt, but he held up an imperious forefinger – “By the end of this quatrain the vision of you and your weary but beloved Mary on a cruise to somewhere romantic, where the warm Mediterranean sun could stroke and burnish her flesh – somewhere like, say, Corfu, with a sea-kissed strand, and then dinner by candlelight, and a glass or two of, perhaps, champagne, and then retirement hand in hand to... well, the vision was fully formed, but I draw a veil of decorum over the rest of its lineaments.”
“Extraordinary, Holmes,” I sighed.
“Commonplace, in men of your age.” But by this time his mind had leapt elsewhere, for he was staring out of the front window. “Ha!” he cried, and strode to our door.
“Mrs Hudson!”
Our admirable landlady, still in her outdoor coat and galoshes, struggled dutifully up two flights and into the room clutching her shopping bags.
“You purchased the organic broccoli from Sainsbury’s, I see, Mrs Hudson. Why, pray, was that?”
“Well, Mr Holmes, it seemed like the best bargain. And the healthiest...”
“I presume, by the way, that you did not take up your ophthalmologist’s offer of an eye-test at a reduced price, despite two years having elapsed since the last?”
“Why no, Mr Holmes, but however did you... ?”
“Know?” Holmes sighed, seized his pipe and stuffed it with tobacco. As he spoke on, he dipped a spill into the grate, and in a minute the room was filled with the familiar pungency of his shag. “I know of the ophthalmologist’s offer because I saw his card in the hallway. And I know of your negligence through the broccoli.”
“With respect, Mr Holmes, I had no difficulty seeing the broccoli,” Mrs Hudson protested.
‘Three trays of broccoli, Mrs Hudson, with a card on each. Tray one, loose broccoli; written large on a card, ‘£2’. True?”
“Yes, sir...”
“Tray two, portions of broccoli wrapped in cellophane, and written large on a card, ‘£1’. Am I right?”
“Why, yes.”
“And the third tray, the wrapped portions of organic broccoli, how was the card marked there, in large numerals?”
“£1.10,” said Mrs Hudson, “so I thought you wouldn’t mind paying the extra ten pence for the healthy benefit of it?”
“Ha,” Holmes exclaimed. “A healthy profit for Messrs Sainsbury, I fancy,”
“How so, Holmes?” I asked, inclined to defend poor Mrs Hudson, who was looking bedraggled and browbeaten. “It does seem rather the better deal. Still ninety pence cheaper than the loose stuff.”
“But Watson,” Holmes replied, as if addressing a six-year-old, “in letters and numbers so small that Mrs Hudson was unable to see them, on the loose broccoli card, beneath ‘£2’, it says ‘per kilo’. And on the wrapped broccoli, beneath ‘£1’, it says ‘£3.33 per kilo’. And our healthy chums sealed up as organic portions will turn out to be priced, if you examine the card more than casually, at £3.67 per kilo. Thank you, Mrs Hudson, you may go.”
Our poor landlady left the room, suppressing a cough and mumbling apologies. Holmes shook his head, clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth a couple of times and went back to his laptop.
“Great Scott, Holmes,” I said, “surely this is exactly the kind of swindle which your brother Mycroft, working as he does for the government...?
But my friend shushed me. Then after a brief pause he murmured abstractedly, “what are you talking about now?”
“Why, the broccoli, of course.”
“Broccoli? I haven’t got time for confabulations about green vegetables. Look at this.” He swivelled the laptop towards me. It was open at his Facebook page.
“Oh,” I observed. “Professor Moriarty has shared a photograph of a large and somewhat saturnine dog with a shiny face, I see...”
“Deuce take Moriarty, never mind him. There. Look there. At Rusbridger’s status.”
I looked. And though I’ve seen the devil warriors of Afghanistan advancing with loaded flintlocks in their fists and knives between their teeth, and naked Impi, brandishing sharpened spears, war-dancing with the blood-red rising sun of Africa behind them, what I saw, that Sunday afternoon, on that page in Facebook, truly froze my blood.
“What are you going to do, Holmes?” I asked, my throat dry.
“Going to do?” said Holmes curtly, knocking out his pipe on the chimney breast. “The game’s already afoot, Watson. I’ve commissioned our young friends in the Baker Street irregulars to begin the chase.” [TO BE CONTINUED]

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