I don’t know why, but I was surprised when the man’s home turned out to be in a relatively upmarket part of London near Regent’s Park, and further surprised at the unkempt state of the flat given the man’s obvious capacity for ordering affairs of the mind in the abstract. Looking around there was a good deal of technical equipment that I supposed could be useful in carrying out forensic investigation, and a small amount of good quality furniture – perhaps inherited?
“221B Baker Street. I had to let the housekeeper go,” he mentioned, by way of an explanation.
It was getting dark by now in the heart of the bleak British winter, and Holmes lit the red lamp and produced the chemicals I needed to develop my film, in the course of which I had not got far before he also produced a small metal box and took out a hyperdermic needle.
“What’s that for?”
“Cocaine,” he confided, “a seven percent solution. I use it only when faced with a particularly tricky problem – a filthy habit, I know. It’s my only vice, apart from playing the violin. I’m afraid I’ve built up tolerances to the point where nothing does much good for me any more.”
“Dirty habits, indeed,” I said, fumbling with the paper in the water as the thought of the widow of M. De Nada (or whoever she was) and her incredible room full of curiosities came floating back to me. “Care for a cigarette?”
“No thank you. If we’re to catch the killer, something stronger may be required.” He lay down on the sofa and pulled a cushion over his face, as if to blot out the world so that he might think more clearly. “If we’re to work together, you should move in here with me. I have a spare room here. But you’ll have to give up smoking. I can’t stand the smell.”
“And you’ll have to give up the drugs, ” I said, surprised again that I was actually entertaining the idea: “And who says I’d be interested in living here anyway?”
“Your lodgings are clearly too far away to be practical, Doctor.” Always, in years to come, he would refer to me by my last name, but he hadn’t got into the habit as yet. “This place is my external brain. As you can see, it’s lately fallen into a state of disorder. While we work on this case I need things close at hand. Did you happen to get a shot of the portrait of the woman? I need an enlargement of that…”
Sherlock Holmes was a bachelor, and a man of taste, but as I was to learn later he had certain desires that were extremly particular.
I handed him the picture, and he seemed to be considering something for a second as he stared at it, as if considering that the artist might capture something of the soul of the person who sits as their muse.
“You’re familiar with Madame Leticia’s in Kensington?” He asked me, with no regard for social nicety. “No, of course not. A man with catholic taste such as yourself would prefer some more earthy establishment.”
“Holmes, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I protested.
“But of course,” he exclaimed, “I haven’t given you all the facts of the matter. I was contacted in the last week by a member of the House of Lords, who claimed to have been blackmailed by a man who fits the description of our victim. This blackmailer had certain compromising photographs that he wished to exchange for national secrets of the kind that might put lives at risk. Naturally, my client stalled for time rather than give in to those demands – and came to me, the world’s greatest detective, to get the photos back. Which I undoubtedly would have done – unfortunately, it seems I was too slow.”
“But – you don’t think your client murdered this man, de Nada?”
“Or had him murdered? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That is what we must ascertain. But we must tread carefully, my good Doctor.”
“I told you not to call me that. Just Watson will do.”
“We must find out the identity of this woman,” he said, and he grinned at me: “And that is where your experience in the seedier side of the London underworld will be envaluable to us, Watson.”