3.A Lady Without a Baby
It was not long after I had spoken with the widow Buechler and her lover – the next morning, in fact – that I was sat at the breakfast table in my dressing gown drawn and distracted thinking the case over, when my colleague and lodger at 221B Baker Street Doctor John Watson entered the room and began breezing about with that idiot grin on his face: opening the curtain, which I promptly pulled shut again, and busying himself in the kitchenette with the plates piled high up in the sink.
Watson and I had come to this domestic arrangement, regarding the lodgings, on the understanding that we both preferred the bachelor lifestyle to other alternatives, and London prices being what they were this allowed us both to pursue our business at our convenience. John Watson, being a doctor of forensics who was just then beginning his career as a writer in the field of crime, was thus often able to assist me in my work in small ways – that being the work of the world’s foremost and only “consulting detective.” However, Watson had recently brought into our home a young harpy by the name of Lucy Hudson (aged 27) who I accepted, grudgingly, on the understanding that she assist with the performance of basic housekeeping tasks around the home, vis-a-vis the cooking and cleaning.
Today Lucy was wearing one of John’s shirts, buttoned towards the waist, a pair of silk panties, and little else. I watched the hem of her garment rise and fall as she began seeking something-or-other in the lower cupboard: “up all night again, Mr Holmes?” She asked, Eliza Doolittle-like.
“Something like that.”
“Anything John or I could help you with?”
She sashayed over and began to tidy the breakfast table for me while Watson finished up and went back into his room, proclaiming it time for a nap.
Dipping a finger into the honey pot she tasted, experimentally: “Why don’t you tell me all about it later,” she whispered, taking my hand and slowly guiding my fingertip over the warm mound between her legs.
“You could bake bread,” I exclaimed, startled, the heat setting my mind aflame.
“Lucy,” Watson called, “come back to bed!”
“Perhaps you’d think more clearly if you played with your instrument,” she said, gently handing me the guitar from its stand in the corner.
“Of course,” I said.
It was, in fact, a 4-string bass of the Fender variety, not at all like a Spanish guitar that you may have imagined on hearing about it. A heavier, more esoteric instrument perhaps – the challenge being to produce something musical from within its lower registers.
Flipping on the aged hi-fi amp and jacking it in I played a couple of slap runs up and down the neck.
“Thank you Lucy,” I said. “Now I see what has to be done.”
Leaving the half-finished cup of coffee still steaming by the window I snatched up my cap and coat and hurried out into grey London Sunday.
In Covent Garden market I met and cornered Genevieve, a French girl, selling flowers from a stall.
“Genevieve, where’s Rosie?”
She turned away, and I grabbed her by the wrist and thrust a hundred pounds into the pretty manicured hand. She disappeared for a few moments across the market square and came back with a phone number written on a slip of paper.
“Thank you, Genevieve. Come see me at Baker Street later, and if this information is accurate I shall give you a proper reward.”
The flower girl told me Rosie was servicing clients out of a cheap hotel in Pimlico. I called ahead, taking care not to use my real voice on the phone. Even so, when I knocked at the door of her room I had a feeling she’d been expecting me.
She was got up in a silk negligée, red, with stocking and lace underneath. Nice – but hardly daytime wear. Ruby red lips, under auburn hair.
“I know it was you,” I said. “I’ve called Lestrade,” I said. “He’ll be here in an hour.”
“Well then, that gives us an hour,” she said.
“You knew I’d be coming for you.”
She nodded. “From the moment I resolved that I had to croak that old bent copper. I know you, Sherlock Holmes. Not much gets past you. I hoped it’d be you that came – not one of them.”
“He was blackmailing you?”
“Something like that. He wanted to pimp me out to his friends in their little club. I don’t work for no one that way.”
“But their law says that you do.”
“So I turned their law on its head. Hell hath no fury like a woman, isn’t that so?
“So the judge came after you. He was in the brotherhood, and he didn’t like losing one of their own to the likes of you. Am I right?”
“The old bugger won’t be much missed, from what I hear.”
“And the little game of dress-up?”
“I borrowed the uniform from a friend. Address wasn’t hard to come by. Or the Strychnine. Surprised that no one tumbled it sooner. Have a word with the coroner? Never thought they’d tumble it was me, though. Might of known you would get involved.”
“That’s a shame, Rosie. Because now I have to turn you in.”
“They won’t go easy on me. You know that. I killed two of their own.”
I nodded. “But why, Rosie? You should have come to me at the beginning. I could have helped you,” I heard my voice whine.
“And go to prison?” She shook her head. “I have a daughter, Holmes. She’s just a kid. I’m all she’s got.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know. No child should be deprived of her mother growing up, let alone both parents. Get out of here. I’ll tell Lestrade the place was cleared out when I got here. Make something up. I don’t know.”
“You mean it, don’t you? You silly sentimental bastard. Where will I go? You know full well if I run they’ll put a bullet in my back. These are serious people we’re fucking around with. You might as well put a target on me.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll think of something.”
“I knew you’d come and save me,” she said. She gave me a squeeze. The nightie fell to the floor: “Save me, then, Mr Holmes. Apply your famous method.”
“Let me take a look at that pretty mouth,” I said. “It may be useful in evidence, later on.”