Sherlock Holmes Story

A Sherlock Holmes genre pastiche/parody tale I wrote some time ago. Virtually no connection to 007 I suppose but I thought I'd volunteer it here anyway. Any comments/thoughts welcome..

The Adventure of the Burning Barrister

There have sometimes been occasions, during the lengthy and illustrious career of my friend Sherlock Holmes, that I have hesitated to transcribe for the public view. Not due to any inherent defect of the narrative-indeed, the matter concerning Godfrey Havelock must surely rank as one of the most fantastical escapades which my friend was called upon to investigate-but because the mystery in question does not stem from any criminal or insalubrious actions being committed. Rather, what piques the fascination of the reader in the case which I am about to relate is not the depths of human greed, or malice, or hatred-but instead the heights of duty, honour, and love. Therefore, when I questioned this account’s suitability for inclusion in that catalogue of previous reminiscences with which my audience is familiar, Holmes was silent for a second. “It is impossible, Watson,” he said, stuffing tobacco thoughtfully into his worn pipe, “to have shadows without a light to guide their formation. In a similar vein, there cannot be senseless depravity without the contrasting influence of morality, of generosity of spirit. To be sure, good defines evil. It would be a fine recommendation to find a place for the affair of Havelock in your literary efforts.” Thus, on Holmes’ instruction I take up my pen to relate the curious matter of that client, in the hope that it may reveal something of the variety of the incidents with which Holmes became entangled.

It was a long cold winter, as my notes show, and Holmes and I sat by the roaring fire in our old rooms at Baker Street. A veil of frost glazed the panes, while rounds of hail rattled at the tiles. As I recall, Holmes and I were reading through the evening newspapers, which were full of discussion on the recent engagements in the Abyssinian territories. The prosecution of the conflict caused my mind to drift languorously back through the years to my own service given in Afghanistan; the wreaths of smoke, the crack of the rifles, the awful guttural screeching of the foe charging over the low precipices to the embrace of our clattering guns. The grip of the memory was broken by Holmes’ intense gaze. “I believe we have a visitor, Watson.” he declared. “How do you know?” I asked, adding that it was surely impossible that someone would have made the journey to our lodgings in such driving weather. “No, not impossible.” Holmes replied, “not if they felt that their business was extremely urgent. Just a few moments ago, I heard a sustained knock at the door. The sound of flesh and bone against wood produces a tone of quite distinct character from the noise of hail against the roof. To sharpened senses, it is an invaluable advantage to be able to focus on the slightest change to one’s aural environment- but I see the portent of our visitor’s arrival went unnoticed by you, Watson.” I protested that my concentration lay elsewhere, and Holmes gave a derisive chuckle. “I was able to tell a number of things about our guest, purely by his knock at the door. For example, the visitor is male, over six feet tall. The volume and placement of the knock in relation to the measurements of the door makes these basic facts certain. He has walked some way to be here and is audibly a little out of breath. Thus, he does not take regular exercise. Finally, I would estimate that he hails from the upper, or at least the professional classes in standing. The reasoning is simple; though his knock has been ignored for a few minutes now, he has not raised his voice or tried to force an entrance into the room. This would point to impeccable manners, and I daresay that our visitor has some considerable social bearing.” Holmes turned to address the silent door. “Come in.” he said, and a man stepped forwards obediently.

The newcomer fitted Holmes’ physical estimates, and it was clear that he was also of the nobility. An expensive silk scarf and a gaudy waistcoat were the trappings of fashionable pretensions, and the elderly gentleman displayed a swarthy countenance that might have come from a rich diet enjoyed at the clubs around St James’. He gave a virile grin and clapped Holmes’ hand warmly. “You must be Mr. Holmes. Allow me to present my card. My name is Sir Godfrey Havelock, Queen’s Counsel. I come to you on a matter of vital importance to both my family and my professional reputation, and I trust that you will be able to deal with such a delicate and complex set of circumstances. But first, I must swear you to absolute secrecy. That goes for your colleague, also.” Havelock was grim-faced, his features transformed. “Anything you say to me, you can say to Doctor Watson. “Holmes assured, and indicated that our client ought to sit. Havelock took a large armchair, and continued his intriguing tale while Holmes refilled his pipe, lit by keen intrigue.

“My nephew, James Havelock, was a practising barrister in the Temple. As you may be able to work out, he followed me into the legal profession, encouraged by his father and myself. I, in particular, was charged with acting as his guardian and mentor in the world of English law and its specialist technicalities. The nephew had a brilliant mind and passed his exams with flying colours. It appeared that a promising career in law would follow, and after taking a year to visit the southern American continent he lodged in rooms at the Temple with a colleague, Morton. This was a year ago.” At this stage in proceedings, Holmes interjected, that great machine-like brain already whirring in anticipation of a hundred possibilities. “When did Havelock meet this colleague, Morton?”

“They met at university, while studying for the same degree. Morton and my nephew Havelock were alike in nearly every respect- they shared a particular fascination with the progress of English cricket.” Holmes appeared satisfied, and Havelock spoke again. “However, one month ago, my nephew cut off all contact with his family. He ceased sending letters to his father, while avoiding either professional or social meetings with myself. Nobody could ascertain why, and last week I decided to confront my nephew. I was unable to avoid the sense that he was hiding something- his lack of contact was notable, and we feared that he might have been suffering problems with his firm or fallen in with criminal elements. Now here I must come to the strangest point, the most baffling turn of events. On Tuesday last, three days ago, I arrived at his rooms to call upon my nephew. There was a police constable outside, who solemnly informed me that James Havelock had been pronounced dead. The circumstances were given as spontaneous combustion- a freak accident, or so I understand. I was not allowed to see my nephew’s body, and I was assured that nothing identifiable remained. I then spoke with the parents, who were grieving. However- I do not believe that my nephew’s death was accidental.” Havelock said with confidence. “In my opinion, James Havelock was murdered. He was thrown into his fireplace by disreputable characters- swindlers- blackguards. The law is fraught with opportunities for blackmail, personal risk and injury. Do you understand me, Mr. Holmes?” Nervous tension animated Havelock’s reddened features, as he waved his hands in a fit of anger.

“I quite understand, Sir Godfrey. The circumstances are indeed suspicious, and merit investigation. I would be extremely interested in taking on your case. “ Holmes said thoughtfully. “Perhaps it would be prudent to begin by visiting the scene of the crime?” I nodded in agreement, and after assuring Havelock of his sympathies Holmes and I raced to the Temple with the aid of a hansom.

We decided to call-upon the younger Havelock’s rooms, a smoky space dominated by a fine antique fireplace. As Holmes and I rushed up the stairs we were met by the redoubtable figure of Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, flushed and ferret-like. “Mr Holmes, these chambers are presently closed without exception. We are conducting a murder investigation.” With this declaration, Lestrade barred the doorway with that characteristically stolid efficiency of which he was well enamoured. Holmes peered shrewdly into the dark, unable to discern much in the gloomy rooms beyond. “That may be so, Lestrade.” Holmes addressed our occasional ally, “but it happens that I am also engaged in this terrible business on the instructions of my client.” Lestrade raised an eyebrow. “Allow us to pass, and I promise I will give you every assistance in your duties.” Holmes said courteously, and swept past Lestrade before he could protest further.

Holmes and I rushed into the well-furnished chambers of James Havelock, and immediately halted in unison. For the horrible sight which greeted us sent chill pangs of fear down my spine, so revolting was the tableau which greeted our eyes. Lying across the carpet was a man- or rather, the shadow of a man. A pale outline of smouldered ash, a silhouetted travesty of vague human limbs, sprawled across the carpet, ending abruptly at the upper torso as if decapitated by a horseman’s scimitar. Where the neck and skull should have been, there was nothing save for the quietly smouldering embers in the grate. Holmes took a moment to survey the devastation before producing a magnifying glass and kneeling by the fireplace, already engaged in the hunt for any glint of a clue in the wreckage, like a determined magpie picking for silver with its beak.

“I would very much value your professional opinion at this juncture, Watson.” Holmes was now using a glass phial to retrieve specks of ash from the ground. “Well, I would estimate that Mr. Havelock fell victim to the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.” Holmes nodded. “An extremely rare, though not unreported, occurrence. Pray continue.” With that encouragement dispensed Holmes fell back to scrabbling in the dust. Then he turned his attentions to the ash-ridden armchair that rested in one corner. “I believe,” I said, “that Havelock was sitting near the fire when the flames caused a bizarre chemical reaction. The human body is prone to the effects of extreme temperature, both heat and cold. In this instance we can surmise that some chance element- perhaps Mr. Havelock’s clothing- caught alight, which grew to consume Havelock before he could call for help.” Holmes ran a hand along the oak floorboards and about the legs of the chair. “That hypothesis may be sound, yet we must not discount the possibility- aha!” Holmes’ features lit up as he triumphantly pulled a crumpled scrap of paper from under the armchair. “Good God, Holmes!” I expostulated, as he deciphered the copperplate scrawl. “Two-hundred pounds to Waverly.” It proceeded to give an address in Charing Cross. “Waverly? The suburb of Edinburgh?” I enquired, as Holmes shook his head with a chuckle. “No, I should think not, Watson. I have gathered a few ideas now as to the meaning of these events. Tomorrow we will call on Mr. Waverly in Charing Cross, where I hope the true nature of this sordid enterprise will become clear.” With that confident prediction duly imparted, Holmes and I bid Lestrade farewell. Yet not even the terrifying circumstances that had beset our movements so far could have prepared my mind for what was fated to take place the following day.

Holmes and I located Waverly’s home with little difficulty, a grandly palatial eighteenth-century house with porticoed decoration. At twelve noon the door was answered by a butler, who presented Mr. Everett Waverly’s compliments. The great man himself soon appeared, leading the way to a parlour where it appeared that a game had been abandoned in a swift hurry; playing cards were strewn across the table in a haphazard fashion. “Please be seated, gentlemen.” Waverly clapped his hands, summoning a pitcher of brandy. He was a somewhat ordinary-looking figure, who though about middle age in bearing limped on a heavy cane towards a solid chair, a little out of breath. “Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I have the honour of your acquaintance at last.” Waverly beamed with genuine warmth as he poured drinks. “You assisted a colleague of mine in the unfortunate case of the Vanishing Lemur, I believe?” Holmes shook hands with Waverly, introducing me to one of London’s most successful surgeons. Then his face grew solemn. “I have come to make enquiries on the subject of a certain Havelock.” At this Waverly became pale. “James Havelock, I understand, was your tenant until three days ago, when the Metropolitan Police happened upon his body decomposed in his own fireplace.” Holmes spoke coldly, as Waverly gestured pathetically, as if surrendering to an armoured horde. “I am well aware of that, Mr. Holmes. I lease several rooms in the Temple, one of which was taken up by this Havelock fellow. “ Waverly’s eyes were drawn to the ceiling, yet my friend was not to be deterred. “Could you then explain, Mr. Waverly, why Havelock was two-hundred pounds in arrears to you at the time of his death?” Holmes fished out the crumpled note he had discovered. The landlord sank into his chair as if struck by an anvil, visibly struggling to maintain his composure.

“It is true. Havelock was in debt to me- badly in debt. He had fallen behind in his rent payments, and we also gambled socially from time to time. It was a most humiliating state of affairs for a promising youth.” Waverly’s voice hardened in fiercening moral condemnation, before quavering as he stammered weakly: “I d-didn’t kill him. Believe me, Mr. Holmes, that boy’s passing was a tragic accident. You can be certain I prayed for the young man’s soul that night.” Holmes held Waverly’s gaze in an intense challenging stare before eventually rising with sudden haste. “Well, Dr. Watson and I have wasted enough of your time, have we not? Give my regards to Colonel Barrow concerning the matter of the small primate. Good day.” Holmes took his cape and stalked to the door, leaving my thoughts floundering in confusion as we stepped onto the street. “But Holmes, “ I cried, “surely it is as clear as day that Waverly is guilty?” Sherlock Holmes replied patiently, “It is an interesting assumption. Waverly, of course, possesses motive, method, and opportunity. Motive- desire to recoup his debts from Havelock. Method- starting a destructive fire. Opportunity- as Havelock’s landlord, he would be ideally placed to enter his rooms without suspicion or resistance. Yet something tells me that there is a little more depth to this case than pointing the finger at Waverly. No, we will need to call upon someone else this afternoon, and they will be able to show once and for all how Havelock died.” With this cryptic pronouncement, Holmes and I took lunch in the Strand, all questions of infernal blazes forgotten.

It was getting to early evening when Holmes and I alighted from another cab in the Temple and approached a set of rooms adjacent to Havelock’s, one floor removed between them. It was strangely silent when Holmes rapped on the door. “Morton?” He called out sharply, and there was a flurry of banging and crashing from within. Immediately Holmes flung open the door to find himself facing the muzzle of a revolver, held in the shaking grip of a young man who stuttered fearfully, “Leave at once, or I shall fire upon you!” I made to tug at Holmes’ arm, while Holmes kept his eye fixed on our desperate assailant. “You are Morton, I presume?” Morton answered in the affirmative, jabbing the pistol closer to Holmes’ chest. “We are looking for James Havelock. You know him?” At this Morton gabbled wildly. “Havelock’s dead, you understand, dead and buried, and if you don’t step out then I’ll be forced to shoot-“ As Morton’s babbling reached its crescendo Holmes leapt forth, twisting the man’s fingers behind his back. The gun clattered to the floor as Holmes threw Morton bodily into the near wall. As our attacker made to flee I covered him with my Webley and he fell into a chair, glaring balefully at us. “The Japanese martial art of baritsu, my friend.” remarked Holmes with satisfaction, regarding the vanquished Morton carefully. “I hope you will forgive our rather impolite mode of entrance. We require,” Holmes began, pacing the room like an excitable terrier, “some information regarding your friend James Havelock.” Morton’s face grew shadowed with fear. “I do not know what you mean. Havelock was my dearest and best friend, but I must repeat what I have already told the police constable who visited two days ago. It grieves me to say it, and yet Havelock is dead.” I had to admit at this point in the interview that Morton did not appear in the least grieved to my medical opinion, at which stage Holmes wheeled round from the counterpane. “Exactly, Watson!” He advanced on Morton, who cowered and slunk deeper into the recesses of his chair. Holmes took on a tremendous ferocity in his voice as he spoke again, slowly enunciating every syllable for the benefit of our companion. “Where-is-Havelock?” Morton gibbered briefly before his gaze travelled inexorably to the wardrobe, which was as tall and wide as a man. “A-ha!” Holmes exclaimed, and with that James Havelock stepped from the wooden cabinet before our astonished sight.

Havelock was the mirror image of Morton; where Morton was slight, Havelock tall, and where Morton shivered Havelock’s features glowed cheerfully as he bid us take up seats. “You have caused us a great deal of exertion, young man.” Holmes said. “I apologise. However, I feel I must explain why my small deception was necessary.” Havelock said courteously, and without interruption from Holmes he launched into his tale. “I am afraid that during my studies, I managed to accrue a fair quantity of debt. Given the strains of legal casework weighing on my mind, and detaining me long into the night in the courts, I fell behind on my rent payments to my landlord, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Everett Waverly. This dreadful scenario was not aided by my habitual gambling, a most deplorable menace. I played vingt-et-un, baccarat, anything and everything so long as it involved cards and money. The affair was considerably worse, you see, because I had played on occasion with Waverly socially. In this way the deadline for the rent approached, and I owed great sums to Waverly through both avenues. This amounted to two-hundred pounds, I am sorry to say. “
At this Holmes nodded in recognition of the facts he had already collected, as Havelock continued his extraordinary narrative. “I could see no way to solve my problems. I considered borrowing funds from Morton or from my uncle, but I concluded that this would only hasten the financial demise sure to befall my unhappy soul. So in the end I decided to fake my own death. I ceased to write to my family, to make them believe I had fallen into a depressive state- and then, on the morning my rents were due, I carried out the deed. I had heard, in the press, of the rare occurrence of spontaneous combustion, and decided that this would serve my needs to perfection. There would be no body and no coroner’s report. I therefore scattered ash around the fireplace in the rough shape of a human corpse, before absconding to this temporary abode. Here I waited, hiding about the place when the police questioned Morton. My plans were to remain here until I had thought of some source of income to pay the debts. Perhaps I would leave town altogether. That is where you intervened, Mr. Holmes. Pray tell me- how did you work out that I was still alive, rather than charred to a pulp in my own furnace?” Holmes was silent for a moment.

“It is a curious thing, is it not?” He said, turning to me. “That I could tell, almost the second our researches brought us to Havelock’s residence, that whatever else had happened, he had very much not perished in a raging blaze.” Holmes’ great brain was slaving away at its maximum capacity, I could tell. “There were three pieces of evidence which discounted that possibility. First, the construction of the room. Havelock’s chamber was built using a number of oak floorboards. Why, then, did these not catch fire and gut the entire structure? Second, the position of the body. There was ash residue visible on the armchair, implying that Havelock burned to death while seated there. Yet the ash which resembled a human body was artfully strewn across the floor. In a similar vein, if some of Havelock’s injuries were suffered while sat down, why did the chair itself not catch light? We appeared to be dealing with a very fastidious type of fire, selective and refined in its’ habits. These discrepancies indicated that there was less to this case than met the eye. But the final piece of evidence which eliminated any chance that Havelock burned to death that evening, “ reasoned Holmes, “was chemical. There are hundreds of different types of ash, all dependent on the temperature of combustion and contributing fuel. In fact, I have written an extensive monograph on the subject myself. In the tests I carried out, the ash from the fireplace was as expected in terms of composition, yet the ash which supposedly formed Havelock’s deceased remains contained a high proportion of volcanic glass- and was formed at temperatures much hotter than any coal grate. I realised, therefore, that Havelock was still alive- as, indeed, you are.” At this point Havelock spoke. “You are quite correct. That peculiar ash originated-“ “from the southern Americas, I believe? Your uncle referred to your sabbatical there. The climes of Chile are known to produce volcanic fissures. That was where you collected the substance and brought It home as a souvenir, did you not?” Holmes smiled as Havelock gaped, astounded. “Absolutely correct, in every detail, Mr. Holmes.” “Thank you. Now we may proceed to the other possibilities. Having dealt with the probability of spontaneous combustion, I must confess that I briefly entertained the theory that you had been abducted and murdered by an impatient Waverly. This germ of an idea dissipated, nevertheless, upon meeting Waverly himself. While it is plausible that he might have used his familiarity with the building to enter and leave without suspicion, it soon became evident that he was seriously asthmatic and in no fit condition for a physical confrontation. You noticed as much from his cane and his cough, Dr. Watson?” I agreed with this assessment, and said as much. “This chain of logic left my investigation with only one path left to explore; that you had deliberately faked the entire mystery. Your gambling debts provided the motive, with Morton ready to act as your willing accomplice in this endeavour.”

“You are quite correct, again.” Havelock’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “So what are you going to do with me? Waverly cannot be the one to have hired you, since you claim that you suspected him initially.” Holmes raised a hand in protest. “Now your logic is at fault there, Havelock. Nobody is free from my suspicion in a case, not even my clients.” Holmes corrected, turning to the window. “Ah. Here he comes.” Holmes declared, and presently the door was opened by none other than Godfrey Havelock. “Uncle!” exclaimed the nephew, and steeled himself for admonishment. The senior Havelock, however, appeared delighted. “Sherlock Holmes has kindly informed me of your predicament, young James. It is a fool’s pastime, gambling- though that reveals something of the intelligence you have inherited from your father.” Havelock laughed amiably. “Speaking of whom, I have been in communication with your paternal estate and your father and I have agreed to make a contribution to the sum of one-hundred-and-seventy pounds. You can supply the rest, I hope?” James was in tears of joy. “Of course, uncle. I can do that.” He answered. “You owe a debt, not of money, but of gratitude, towards your friend here. He has done you a great favour.” Godfrey indicated Morton. “Yes-yes, of course.” James said. “Well, let us call on Mr. Waverly later and resolve this embarrassment once and for all. You have my gratitude, Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson.” With those closing remarks Godfrey, his nephew and Morton prepared to take their leave.

“Well, to the best of my knowledge no crime has been committed. I think we should report to Lestrade that his hunt for a murderer can be called off.” Holmes declared, collecting his cloak and cloth-cap. “And now I think we would be well advised to depart, Watson. Simpson’s does a fine dinner service at eight ‘o’ clock.”


  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 32,211Chief of Staff
    Thank you, SoD, that was very enjoyable.
  • JoshuaJoshua Posts: 1,036MI6 Agent
    Barbel wrote:
    Thank you, SoD

    There is no need for personal insults!!!! :))
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,697MI6 Agent
    :)) :))

    Very enjoyable read {[] I too recently wrote a short Sherlock story, which many have said
    was even better than the original adventures ............ well I bet they would have. ;)

    Seriously, Nicely done SpectreOfDefeat
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 32,211Chief of Staff
    Joshua wrote:
    Barbel wrote:
    Thank you, SoD

    There is no need for personal insults!!!! :))

    Quite right, this is the wrong thread for those. :007)
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 354MI6 Agent
    Thanks, Barbel and Thunderpussy. Much appreciated. -{
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