This case began, like many another, with a message from Inspector Lestrade. The messenger was a stout, puffy, red-faced but jovial constable. “Inspectors Lestrade and Gregson could use your help, Mr. Holmes. And you, too, Dr. Watson. There is a four-wheeler at the curb should it suit you to come now.”
“It does suit us, does it not, Watson? A summons from both Lestrade and Gregson can hardly be ignored.”
Our cab turned off the Strand into a small street and continued for a while before turning into a smaller street and stopping before a seedy residence. Lestrade, almost as dapper and ferret-like as ever, and Gregson were waiting outside.
“They looked stumped,” I said.
“It sometimes happens,” Holmes observed dryly. “Where?” he said to Lestrade.
“Ground floor, back room.”
Holmes strode rapidly into the old, neglected building, and thence into a large, square room, simply if tastelessly furnished. A thick layer of dust coated the floor.
My attention was centered upon the single, grim, motionless figure which lay stretched upon the boards with vacant, sightless eyes staring up at the discolored ceiling. She was a woman of about twenty-eight years of age, with crisp, curling black hair, dressed in a somewhat bohemian black and white checked skirt with red stockings which matched a red shirt. On one corner of the mantelpiece was stuck the stump of a wax candle of almost the same shade of red.
In contrast to the cheerful if exaggerated attire of the victim, her rouged rigid face presented an expression of horror and, as it seemed to me, of hatred, as if her eyes had shot daggers at her murderer in her last moments of life.
“This case will make a stir,” Lestrade remarked.
“There are no clues,” said Gregson.
“None at all,” agreed Lestrade.
Holmes approached the body and, kneeling down, examined it intently. “I hope you didn’t touch anything,” Holmes said, without looking up.
“No,” Lestrade replied on behalf of the collective force in a slightly offended voice.
“Obviously a knife wound. Where is the knife?”
Lestrade reddened, and unwrapped a piece of burlap which he took from the hands of one of the constables. He held the knife out to Holmes on the burlap with both hands, as if he were proffering it on a tray.
Holmes frowned, then said, “Next time do not touch anything.” He took the knife and inspected it under a large round magnifying glass which he whipped out of his pocket. He then took out his notebook and made an entry. “A wound to the heart. You can take her to the mortuary now. There is nothing more to be learned.”
The constables placed the woman on a stretcher. “Just a moment,” said Holmes, lifting her hand. “Hmm, an unusual ring in the shape of a small dagger. The initials ‘R’ and ‘V’ are entwined on the blade. Alright, gentlemen, you may continue.”
Holmes proceeded to examine the room. He scrutinized the lock. “The room was locked from the inside when the victim was murdered.”
Lestrade was astounded. “How do you know?”
“I am something of an expert on locks. My monograph on the subject should be read by all detectives. I assume that you broke in the door, Lestrade, with the help of Gregson.”
The two detectives looked at one another, then back at Holmes.
“It would take two men to break this lock. In addition, you both have smudges at the shoulder level.”
“We can’t figure out how the murderer managed to enter, unless through the window,” Gregson said, “but it is a small window and too hard a squeeze for someone. Perhaps the chimney.”
Holmes peered up the chimney. “A man could not descend that channel, let alone Poe’s ape.”
Lestrade started to say something but thought better of it.
Holmes next examined the window in detail. “You found the window open, Lestrade, and subsequently closed it?”
“Not me,” said Lestrade. “Mr. Gregson.”
“I thought as much. It was lowered with some force. Too much for the victim to have done so before she was killed. Next time …” Holmes said, opening it, poking his head out and looking down toward the ground. “A salient feature this open window. The fact that the sill has been rubbed clean of dust is also not without significance.”
Love locked room mysteries! And such crazy unique characters. Wonderful!
Splendidly written!! Well placed clues and storytelling!!
I enjoyed the story very much.