In all the years working with Inspector Lestrade, I had never seen him so giddy. The Scotland Yard inspector sat legs folded, smoking a long cigar. He slapped his knee.
“I tell you gentlemen—” he began before being interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Pardon me, Mr. Holmes,” Mrs. Hudson said. “A gentleman stopped me outside and said he’d like to see you.”
“Show him in, please.”
Our faithful landlady stepped back and in walked a well-dressed man in his mid-twenties. The glow on his clean-shaven cheeks contrasted with a thick, dark moustache. He removed a sturdy looking bowler, revealing black, medium-length hair sharply parted on the side. His suit, tie, and shirt were freshly pressed, perfectly fitting his small frame. He stood straight, barely over five-feet tall with shoulders stiff. He looked from one to the other of us. “Which one of you is Mr. Sherlock Holmes?” he asked.
“At your service,” a bowing Holmes said. “On your way to Savile Row, Mister—” Holmes let the question hang in the air.
All colour disappeared from the man’s cheeks. I detected slight knee buckling and thought for a moment he was going to faint. After steadying himself, he said, “How on earth did—”
Holmes waved him off. “It is my business to know. A dull detective I would be indeed if I didn’t recognize the particular suit you are wearing, not to mention the cut of that distinct collar. Nothing says a professional clothier more than your appearance, and as the stores open for business in …” Holmes glanced at his watch, “… a little more than an hour.” Holmes paused. “Your home is on or near Chagford Street.”
A handkerchief appeared in the man’s hand and despite the cool weather he wiped his brow. “That’s true, Mr. Holmes. I guess I can see how you deduced I’m employed by a Savile Row shop, but I can’t figure out for the life of me how you know I came from Chagford Street.”
“You can thank Mrs. Hudson,” Holmes said.
“How’s that? I don’t quite understand.”
“It’s not complicated when one reasons backward. As I know it is Mrs. Hudson’s habit to walk North on Gloucester Place every morning around this hour, and since she mentioned you ran into her, I could only assume you were walking South on Gloucester toward Savile Row.” Holmes puffed furiously, restoking his cigar.
Our guest let the words sink in. “Well, I see I came to see the right man after all,” he said. He inhaled deeply. “Ah, such a pleasant aroma. Trabucos cigars. I’ve made my love of tobacco known to everyone with whom I come in contact, but I’m forbidden from smoking on the job. The boss is allergic to tobacco. Shame.” He shrugged, then took a few steps into the room. Holmes introduced Lestrade and me. The man placed his hand into his vest pocket, pulled out a brown leather card case, extracted three cards, and handed one to each of us. It read:
James Matthew Barrie
Specializing in Collars
“As you can see, my name is James Matthew Barrie—”
“James?” asked Holmes. “Are you sure it isn’t John?”
“I don’t understand,” our visitor said.
“Never mind me,” Holmes said, a twinkle in his eye. “Pray, continue.”
The man shrugged. “As I was saying, My name is James Matthew Barrie, or more informally, J.M. Barrie. Your supposition, Mr. Holmes, that I’m currently employed at HW Clothiers is technically inaccurate. That’s what I came to speak to you about.”
“Oh? Nevertheless, you appear to be a cigar aficionado, Mr. Barrie. I’m intrigued,” Holmes said. “Would you like a cigar?”
“No thank you, Mr. Holmes. I’ll be in the store shortly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big enough fan of the tobacco leaf in all its form. In fact, I keep a journal overflowing with tobacco minutiae.” The salesman looked down. “One of these days, I’ll write a book about nicotine as a way to honor her. My lady nicotine,” he added, as if speaking to himself.
“Can I get you a drink? Brandy? Coffee?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I’ll be fine. What I have to say is rather silly, really. I know your reputation for explaining strange circumstances, Mr. Holmes. Maybe some other time. I think it best I leave now.”
“Oh? Pray continue. I assure you Inspector Lestrade and Dr. Watson are the epitome of discretion,” Holmes said.