Friday, February 29, 2008

Sherlock Holmes in "The Lost Pencil Case"

Chapter 1 - A Most Unusual Discovery

During my journies I happened across the widow McClure, a sweet Irish lass, long beyond her years and now terminally ill. Suffering from demetia, each time we met it was most similar to the first, and I found myself once again amazing her with my feats of deduction.

"On Thursday nights," I said to her, "you watch 'The Price is Right,' and you always cheer for the fat ones."

She was amazed. "Mr. Holmes, how do you know such things?"

"These mental stretching-exercises are like morning calisthenics to the student of crime. I am aware, of course, that your grandchildren always visit on Thursdays, and you have said in the past that they are uncommonly fond of television."

"I said that?"

"Indeed you did, but let's return to my monologue. In my curious daily business I am required to read all the latest periodicals, in order to keep abreast of current events which may impact my work. One such magazine which I devour from cover to cover is...'The T.V. Guide.'"

"I love that book," said the esteemed widow, the rosy blush of long-lost youth returning briefly to her aged cheeks.

I made fast my explanation, before her oncoming fit should stop it in its inevitable tracks. "It was short work to decipher the guide's Thursday night schedule, from which -- bracketed by your regular mealtime of five o'clock and your bedtime at six -- I deduced you would be watching 'The Price Is Right' on your video-telegraph machine on regular Thursday evenings." I paused for effect. "Now let me tell you about the Cottingley Fairies..."

Mrs. McClure, as always, was uncommonly amazed, and she shook my hand as best her palsy would allow. Whilst in the perpendicular position that was required to grasp her hand I noticed a most intriguing object lying atop the snow.

I did nothing to betray my knowledge at the time -- wishing not to entangle the widow in the nefarious schemes of the criminal underworld -- but after seeing her off to her daily sponge bath I returned to the sidewalk. Stooping to retrieve the singular object which I had spied, I saw immediately that it was a pencil case.

Chapter 2 - A Crime of Passion

From its position I deduced that it had been carelessly dropped, and not so recently as it was finely dusted with snow. The footprints around it had been hopelessly muddled by pedestrian traffic and by Mrs. McClure's tripedal walker, obscuring any clues as to the owner of the pencil case, or -- if they were not the same -- to the individual who had dropped it.

I turned my attention to the case itself. It contained numerous geometric tools and writing utensils, most telling of which was a gum eraser which proclaimed that somebody with the initials "P.M." had once loved somebody else "4ever," but the initials of the paramour had been cruelly defaced by what I soon determined to be a young girl's fingernail.

This discovery shone new light on the development. At first glance I had assume the pencil case to have been accidentally dropped, but the obscure gum eraser with its gouged-out initials suggested a more sinister motive: an affair of the heart, a lover spurned.

"This puts me in mind of a similar case which you may remember," I said to the stuffed and mounted figure of Dr. Watson which I carry for such purposes. "The unrequited love which John Hinkley, Jr. felt for Jodie Foster, which inspired him to steal her pencil case one night out of sheer pique, only to lose it on the day that he attempted to take the life of Ronald Reagan in a most inelegant way. I fear that the unknown figure involved in this case is similar to that of the case long past; merciless, passionate, and far beyond the bounds of common rationality. Mark my words, we face the most vicious criminal we have ever known."

Watson, choosing not to interrupt my investigation at such a crucial stage, maintained his silence and leaned increasingly a-tilt in the growing wind.

Further analysis of the pencil case presented more evidence of the seriousness of the crime, not least in the form of a passionate scribbling on the inner lid: "Jessica you are a jalous bitch :)" I also deduced, from various obscure and sundry notes contained therein that the owner of the case was a Miss P___ M___, enrolled in form eight of M_____ Public School, located as I knew on C_____ Street.

I rushed immediately to the telegraph office but was dismayed to find it inoperative. My next step -- the telephone book -- revealed many more individuals with the surname M____ than I had anticipated. Having decided to attend to the school of M_______ in person, I briefly considered the hiring of a hansom or dogcart to fetch me there, but the hired lackeys in this town refuse to admit Dr. Watson in his current condition and the only other carriage drivers -- those singularly curious members of the Mennonite religious order -- have been reticent since the disastrous resolution of "The Case of the Poisoned Strudel."

Chapter 3 - The Visit

The following morning I hied myself to M_____ Public School with the wayward pencil case in my possession. Inspector Lestrade being long since lost in his ill-fated battle with the Fiery Moria Balrog, I brought instead a collection of Street Arabs in various disguise, these "Baker Street Irregulars" serving to lighten my spirits and affirm my superiority. Having delayed for so long any explanation of my methods or purpose, however, they soon dispersed to the nearest Tim Horton's, tongues a-poke and fingers raised.

Finally, after many minutes of solitary walking, I was on my own at the school, ready to spring the net that I had been carefully weaving since the discovery of the pencil case but a day previous.

Aware that a man in possession of cocaine should not linger at the gates of a public school, I entered the singular halls of the once-great institution. I was greeted by an uncommonly beautiful matron, so pale as to be nearly luminous in the dim fluorescent lighting, a figure at once so winsome and concupiscent that I felt Watson growing singularly stiff at my side.

I bowed respectfully under her gaze. "M'lady, I bring to you a pencil case which may or may not belong to one P____ M____, a student of your singular institution. The circumstances are unparalleled in their circumstance, but I deduce that the case was lost as she found her way home across C____ street. The soft cushion of the new-fallen snow no-doubt muffled the rattle of the falling protractors and pencils, with the result that--"

"I'll make sure she gets it," said the matron, removing the object from my hands and retreating instantly down the corridor. My interview, it would seem, was over.

Chapter 4 - The Scarlet Mormon of East Pushtan

You may wonder at the resolution of this astonishing tale, so unlike any that I or my imitators have told before. I too am uncertain as to the fate of the pencil case, and the fate of the mysterious P____ M_____, whose form and circumstance remain vague in my understanding.

Surely, if Watson were still an active and mobile young man of 35, he would have stumbled upon a postscript worthy of all that preceded, a final few chapters to explain the terrible curse of the M_____ family and their ancestry in another country, another time.

But Watson is no longer the man he was, and I confess the same regarding myself. 'Tis just me and my cat at Baker Street, waiting here, wondering what next will fall from the grasp of this world's singular criminals.


JJ said...

You got the tone right! Love the bit about carry Watson around just so that Sherlock has someone to propound to and coming stiffly to attention.

Why the anti-climax? One of THE reasons Holmes stories will always remain popular is because he restores order. Pastiches, parodies, imitations or whatever, it is pretty unthinkable to end a Holmes story without a resolution. :)

But go on, do tell what you really feel about the canon!

On a side note, out here, we call such thingummies "geometry boxes" presumably because its' only real use (apart from the scale/ruler of course) is in Geometry class. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The genius of Arthur Conan Doyle WAS his ability to resolve the crazy situations, and I'm sure he worked months (if not years) on each story.

I worked on THIS story while walking home from work. I wrote it all in one go and didn't want to make it any longer than it already was. I true Holmes story would have so many things that a simple blog post never could.

Plus I killed Watson to remove back -and-forth dialogs. My real regret, looking back at what I wrote, are all the adjectives; it seems to me that 19th century fiction DOES use too many adjectives (my least favourite, of course, being "singular") but in my story it sounds amateurish.

I'm still reading the second complete volume (right now I'm in "The Last Bow") but in a nutshell I do like the stories; touches of occasional humour, lots of surprises that are suitably logical, and a great array of grotesque characters.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" is my favourite so far!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Oh, as for the "pencil case," I really DID find one and take it back to the public school. I thought I should write about it but the story wasn't very interesting -- and lacked a good ending -- so prompted by low blood sugar I decided it would fun to make a Sherlock Holmes version...which, as you pointed out, also lacks an ending. :)

BTW, endings are hard!

"Geometry boxes!" This pencil case was full of the same sorts of stuff that we had in pencil cases 25 years ago: LOTS of pencils, some pens, a calculator, some papers, that plastic triangle-shaped geometry tool with beveled edges, pencil shavings, and grime from schoolkid hands.

I got on the "Sherlock Holmes" thing because I had to figure out who it belonged to. That wasn't hard because the school was suggested in a few of the papers and her name was written everywhere. Holmes would not have found this case stimulating.

JJ said...

still reading the second complete volume (right now I'm in "The Last Bow")

and a great array of grotesque characters.

Yeah! Doyle walks the tantalizing fine line between classy ratiocination and carnographic sleaze of the streets. And I love it!

Try and read the fascimile Strand editions. They really take you back in time and make you realize just how much these stories really meant to the poor, exploited, over-worked clerks who devoured these stories.

History channel was just showing the "Final Problem", and despite knowing this was not the end, I got choked up thinking of the masses chained to their desks, with no other real escapist entertainment , faced with the prospect of 9 long years of no Holmes and reading with growing dread the following words:

"It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished."

Doyle, great as he was, was a sadist. :)

Muffy St. Bernard said...

What's the deal with the Strand editions...they're reproductions of the original magazines?

My favourite moments in all the Sherlock Holmes stories are the rare moments of humorous Holmes/Watson banter...they really break up the somewhat monotonous mood.

I just finished "The Adventure of the Dying Detective." I find that I'm getting wise to Holmes' (and Doyles') tricks. It's nice, however, that even when I've sussed the "tricky" part of the mystery -- the inverted motives, the clever ruses -- the story always has a surprise in store anyway.

JJ said...

Yup. Doyle's style - like many of my favorite authors - is unobstructive - practically invisible until he just stuns you with a sentence or para or two of surprising beauty.

You are Holmes the meddler, Holmes the busybody, Holmes the Scotland Yard Jack-in-office."

There ARE many great stories. You mentioned the Hound of Baskerville. The blue Carbuncle.
The Speckled Band. The Red-Headed League. Silver Blaze (aka the Curious incident of the dog at night. :) ), but, but, but. The vast majority are almost simple-minded in the way they unfold.

Still, they are part of a whole, and instead of being gobbled up in one marathon session I do believe they need to be rationed out over a life time. :)

JJ said...

What's the deal with the Strand editions...they're reproductions of the original magazines?

Yup. But buy ONLY if cheap. I got them for the equivalent of 8 US dollars. :)