“So, if I understand you correctly, Holmes, you are saying that Moriarty knew we would find the Duchess’ killer?” said Watson
“Of course, Watson, of course. I am, after all, the world’s greatest detective. It would be child’s play for a mastermind like our old friend Moriarty to deduce that I would soon solve so elementary as case as the Duchess’ murder. ”
“If it was so damned elementary, why did we end up having to wander through half the bogs in Scotland looking for clues?”
“Even the most elementary case has its legwork, Watson. Besides, my point is that Moriarty knew I would solve it, so it was simplicity itself for him to strew my path with false clues designed to put me onto entirely the wrong track when at last I had returned my attention to him. ”
“But how on Earth could he have known where the investigation would lead us?”
“Simple. He ordered the murder in the first place.”
“Astounding, Holmes! How could you know that? I mean, surely even a fiend like Moriarty would not stoop to… ”
“Excuse me, gentlemen… ” interrupted a strangely-garbed fat man. “First of all, it’s a real pleasure to meet you both. ”
“Of course. ” said Holmes.
“Secondly, I wonder if you could give me some idea what story this… I mean, what case you are currently working on?”
“What business is it of yours?” replied Watson stiffly.
“Well, none, really, but I would still like to know. It would help me immensely with my planning. See, I am hiding from reality in books, and I need to know if I have picked the right one. So, for instance… have you dealt with any, um, large dogs of a semi-mythical nature lately? ”
“What, you mean that nonsense out in Baskerville? That was yonks ago. ” said Watson.
“Ah, good. Can’t stand heaths. How about organizations for men of a certain hair color?”
“If you are talking about the Red-Headed League…. don’t. I consider that business closed and I do not wish to discuss it. ” said Holmes, with finality. ”
“Also good…hmmmm. I was never any good at keeping chronologies straight. Um… chased down any dastardly blackmailers?”
“If you must know, ” said Watson, ” we just finished solving the case of the Dead Duchess. ”
“Oh… I don’t know that one. And I’m sure I’ve read every single one of the stories. And what an awful title… oh my god, I’m in fan fiction. ”
“In what now?” said Watson.
“Never mind, it would take too long to explain. This was clearly a mistake. Perhaps I will have better luck in kid lit. Thank you for your time, gentlemen, and remember…. the game’s afoot!”
Watson and Holmes stared blankly at the fat man. “Is it?” inquired Watson politely.
“Oh dear… perhaps they made that up for the movies. Anyhow, farewell, gentlemen!”
And with that, the fat man disappeared into the thick London fog.
“Holmes? ” said Watson.
“Yes, Watson? ” replied Holmes.
“What does ‘dumb make brain angry’ mean? It was written on that strange man’s jumper. ”
“I don’t know. Must be some sort of secret code. Now, about Moriarty…. ”
“And who are you? ” asked Alice politely to the oddly garbed fat man at the end of the Hatter’s table.
“Oh, hell no. ” said the fat man. “I ask for kid lit and I get this? Wait a minute…. Conan Doyle, Carroll…. damn, it must go alphabetically. Well there’s no way I am staying around here. ”
“But where…. will you GO? ” said the Mad Hatter, eyes spiraling crazily.
“Oh, anywhere but here. ” said the fat man. “I always hated this scene as a kid. Just a bunch of creeps weirding out some poor little British girl and being terribly rude. Perhaps I will look for something a little more contemporary. ”
And with that, the fat man disappeared, bit by bit, until only his beard remained.
“You know… ” said Alice, “I’ve often seen a man without a beard, but that’s the first time I’ve seen… ”
“Oh shut up. ” said the Mad Hatter crossly, and drank his tea in sullen silence. ”
“Don’t try to play me like you do your senile old father, kid. ” said Hammer. “Your ‘good son’ act might cut the mustard in that mansion way up in the hills, but I see right through it ’cause I have met your type before. Sure, you’re all good breeding and perfect manners on the surface, but underneath the window dressing you’re lower than a snake’s inseam. ”
“And proud of it. ” said Harper Jennings Smythe the Fourth. “After all, my family didn’t get where it is today by playing by the rules or caring what happened to the little people. I come from a long line of cold-hearted bastards, you two-bit gumshoe, and we eat little jumped up nobodies like you for breakfast. Ask whatever you want, Hammer. I have nothing to hide from gutter trash like you. By the way, who’s that?”
Both men turned their gaze to a strangely dressed fat man who was doing his best to blend in with the wallpaper in a corner of Hammer’s cheap little office.
“Oh, don’t let me interrupt you, gentlemen. ” said the fat man. “I love this tough-guy stuff. ”
Hammer narrowed his eyes at the fat man. “Wait, don’t I know you from somewhere?”
“I can’t imagine how. ”
“Wait, now I remember…. you’re that fat guy who was sitting in the corner booth at Alice’s Place. ”
“You mean the diner? Oh right… there was that. ”
“And how did you follow us here?” demanded Hammer. “We took a crosstown cab to get here, and brother, you weren’t in it. ”
“Ah, well… ” said the fat man. “You see, the book doesn’t talk about the cab ride, so.. ”
“What book? What the hell are you talking about? Did Big Louie send you?”
“No no… look, just think of me as a background character, okay? ”
“Some background. ” said Hammer. “You’d stick out at the Macy’s parade. ”
“You’re not exactly a thin and willowy youth yourself, Hammer. ”
“Do I still need to be here for this? ” said Smythe IV.
“Hey pal, this is all muscle, every inch of it, and if you keep mouthing off like that, I’ll give you a demonstration. ”
The fat man spread his hands in surrender. “Hey, no offense intended. I’ll just get out of your hair now anyway. The diner was nice… that was a great club sandwich… but this is getting a little too heavy for me. I’m outta here. ”
“Oh yeah?” said Hammer. “Well the buses stopped running two hours ago, and you can’t get a cab in this neighborhood even when it’s the middle of the day. So where, exactly, do you think you’re going? ”
“Oh I don’t know… maybe I will try science fiction next. Either way, I am out of here. Oh, and Smythe, your secret is safe, Smythe. He doesn’t know you’re gay yet. ”
And with that, the fat man disappeared in a shaft of light accompanied by theremin noises.
Mike Hammer looked back at Smythe, a smile spreading across his face. “Mister Smythe… I think you just hired yourself a detective. One with a very generous expense account. ”
What will happen next to our mysterious fat man?
(“Don’t look at me. ” said the fat man. “My 1000 words are done for the day. I’ll know what happens next when I write it.” )
Will he find a book he can really relax in?”
(“Unlikely. It would have to be a really boring book.”)
Or will he stumble into the wrong kind of book and end up getting eaten by a Balrog?
(“God, I hope not. I can’t stand Tolkien. “)
Tune in next time for the next gripping episode of… Lost In Books!
(“I’ll be there. Will you?”)