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Authors: Jason Lethcoe

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BOOK: No Place Like Holmes
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Snodgrass grunted and turned the page of his
London Times
. “Dinner will be at six o'clock. If you are late, I won't wait for you.”

Griffin nodded, sighed, and strode from the kitchen. He walked out the front door and made sure that he was careful to close it quietly behind him
. Well, that didn't go very well
. Griffin decided to pray while he was at church that he and his uncle could find a way to get along.

Outside, Griffin signaled to one of the shiny, black hansom cabs rolling up and down Baker Street. He'd never hailed his own cab before, but had seen his father do it many times. It wasn't long before one of the cab drivers saw his outstretched hand and stopped at his uncle's stoop. The cab was pulled by a black horse with a white spot on its rump. The friendly-looking cabman smiled down at him, surprised someone so young was looking for a ride.

“What can I do for you, son?”

“I'm new to London,” Griffin said. “Would you mind taking me to the nearest Methodist church?”

“Hmmm, you'll be wanting the Wesley Chapel,” the cabman answered. “It's a bit of a ride though.”

The cabman looked down at Griffin with a doubtful expression. Griffin immediately withdrew a little of the pocket money his parents had provided for his trip.

“Will this do?” he asked.

The driver smiled and motioned away the coins. “It will, but you don't have to pay me until we get there. Hop aboard, lad.”

Griffin climbed up into the carriage. His quick eye noticed that the leather seats were well cared for, that they'd been rubbed with saddle soap and some kind of special oil. They were very soft. Griffin also noticed that the interior was spotless, and careful repairs had been made where age or wear had cracked the mahogany wood inside the cabin.

But looking down, Griffin noticed a couple of tattered bits of red paper littering the cab floor. Assuming that the last passenger had left them behind, Griffin pocketed the scraps. The driver clearly took very good care of the carriage, and Griffin wanted to help keep the man's cab clean.

The hansom cab wound its way down the cobblestone streets at a brisk trot and, as they bounced along, Griffin felt himself relax. He was enjoying watching the city pass by and looking forward to church. He had never attended services at any church other than his father's, and he was interested to see what the differences were.

He was so distracted by the scenery that he was unprepared when the horse suddenly gave a terrified whinny and the cab screeched to a halt. Griffin was thrown forward into the seat opposite him, and his elbow smashed against the door.

Outside the cab, he heard a woman shriek. The sound sent chills up and down his spine. Trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his arm, Griffin opened the hansom cab's door. When he peeked outside, he was shocked by what he saw.


terrified woman stood in front of the snorting, frightened horse. Griffin noticed right away that there was something wrong with her. She had a wild look on her face, her hair was disheveled, and he could tell that she'd dressed in a hurry, for her boots were not properly laced and one of her gloves was turned inside out.

“Oy! What're you trying to do, woman, kill somebody?” the cab driver shouted.

Seeing that the woman needed help, Griffin climbed down from the cab and rushed over to her side. “Can I help you, ma'am? Are you all right?” he asked.

Up close, Griffin could tell how disoriented and frightened she was. She had green eyes, three light wrinkles by her left eye and four on her right; her perfume, a light floral scent, was expensive, probably French; and her name was probably Sarah (a small locket around her neck bore the letter
and Sarah was the most popular name that began with that letter). He also noticed that she was married. She had a ring on the third finger of her left hand, and she clearly did a considerable amount of sewing, judging by the small calluses on her otherwise delicate hands.

The woman looked up at him with a stricken expression. “I . . . I need to find a man named Sherlock Holmes, but I don't know who he is or how to find him. It's my husband . . . he's been . . .”

And just as these words were leaving her lips, the woman fainted. Griffin stared at her, completely confused. She was obviously in bad shape, and he wasn't entirely sure that she was in her right mind. Regardless, she needed help, so Griffin called up to the cab driver.

“Sir, could you help me take her back to Baker Street? I'd be happy to pay you whatever you require for the inconvenience.”

The cab driver, who, in spite of losing his temper at the woman a few moments earlier, seemed to be a good sort of person, agreed quickly. Together, he and Griffin managed to help the unconscious woman into the cab, and soon they were racing back to the address Griffin had just left.

Griffin tried to make the woman as comfortable as possible, turning his jacket into a makeshift pillow. He'd never seen someone faint before, and if it weren't for the fact that he could see her pulse fluttering at her slim throat, he would have thought she had died. Because he was nervous, Griffin counted every address, every cab, and every person wearing a top hat on the way back to Baker Street. The woman lay motionless the entire journey, and her pale skin was clammy with sweat. He was very worried about her, and it made the trip seem twice as long.

When they finally arrived at 221 Baker Street, Griffin asked the driver to wait while he rushed up the stairs to Sherlock Holmes's apartment. His heart pounded as he knocked on Holmes's door, partly because of his fear for the woman in the carriage and partly because he was excited to meet the famous detective. But neither Sherlock Holmes nor Dr. Watson answered the door. Griffin waited anxiously, hoping that someone, even Mrs. Hudson, would appear, but nobody came.

What should I do

He bit his pinky nail while he turned over every possible solution. He could take the woman to the police, but he had no idea how far away Scotland Yard was. Besides, she hadn't asked for police help. She was looking for a private detective. Maybe she didn't want to involve the police in whatever had happened to her husband.

There was only one decent solution. But Griffin couldn't help wondering how much trouble it would get him into. His uncle had made it very clear that he was not to come back home until dinner. Then again, this woman needed help and he couldn't abandon her. His uncle claimed to be a private detective. If he really were one, then it seemed right to notify him about her situation.

When the door to his uncle's apartment opened, Griffin was so nervous about how his uncle might respond to his breaking his rules that he could hardly find the words to speak. But after a moment he gathered his courage and told his uncle about the woman he'd met in the street and who was now lying unconscious in the hansom cab.

To Griffin's surprise, Snodgrass's curiosity seemed to be piqued. “She specifically asked for Sherlock Holmes?” he asked. “But didn't know where to find him or what he looked like?”

Griffin nodded.

A crafty expression flickered over Snodgrass's features. Then the scruffy man trotted down the steps toward the waiting carriage. “We mustn't leave the poor woman unattended,” he called back to Griffin. “Tell Watts to brew some tea.”

Evidently his uncle was throwing all of the rules out the window. Griffin couldn't be more pleased. His uncle might get a case, and he was able to get a closer look at the robot.

“Right away, Uncle!” Griffin called.

Dashing back inside the musty house, Griffin didn't have to look far to find the mechanical butler. He was in the entry, holding a strange cleaning device that made a sucking sound as he dragged it over the threadbare, Persian rug.

Griffin shouted over the loud roar of the machine. “WATTS, COULD YOU PLEASE MAKE SOME TEA?”

The robot didn't seem to hear him. It continued what it was doing, oblivious to Griffin's command. Griffin moved closer to a small, protruding button on the side of its head, something he assumed might be the robot's mechanical ear, and tried again.

“Tea! TEA!”

But once again, there was no response. At that moment, Griffin's uncle appeared, red faced and puffing, as he carried the unconscious woman up the stairs and into the entryway. As he made his way past his nephew and into the cluttered parlor, he called back to Griffin, “As I told you last night, he will only take orders from me. It will only work if you start every command with ‘Rupert says.' Don't be stupid, boy.”

Griffin was offended. He was anything but stupid. It wasn't fair to expect him to know how to do something that he had never been instructed how to do.

Turning back to the robot, he pronounced loudly, “RUPERT SAYS . . . MAKE TEA FOR THREE!”

At that command the mechanical man suddenly shuddered to a stop. Then it turned off the loud cleaning device, strode over to the kitchen, and began to brew a cup of Snodgrass's weak, watery tea.

Griffin smiled. The mechanical man was marvelous! As he watched Watts brew the tea and then pour it into three chipped cups, he heard a soft moan coming from the other room. Griffin hurried into the parlor, where he saw his uncle bent over the woman, massaging her hand.

“Where am I?” she asked in sleepy, disoriented voice.

“Somewhere safe,” Snodgrass replied.

“Are . . . are you Mr. Holmes?” the woman asked.

Griffin was shocked to hear, instead of the usual, angry outburst at the mention of his nemesis's name, his uncle reply in a very sweet voice, “I'm at your service, madam.”

He had avoided answering her question directly, but his uncle was clearly trying to trick the woman. He was allowing her to believe
was the great detective so that she would hire him. Griffin couldn't let his uncle lie to that poor woman. It just wasn't right.

“Ma'am, I think what my uncle is trying to say is that while he's not actually Sherlock Holmes, he is still able to help you with your case—,” Griffin began. His uncle's glare cut him short. The woman was clearly confused, staring first at Griffin and then at his uncle. Then her expression grew frightened.

“What's going on? I demand to know where I've been taken and who you gentlemen are!”

For the first time since Griffin had seen her, the woman seemed to have fully regained her faculties. Snodgrass fumbled while trying to search for an adequate explanation. Griffin stepped in.

“Ma'am, my name is Griffin Sharpe and this is my uncle, the brilliant inventor and crime expert Rupert Snodgrass. I happened upon you after you nearly injured yourself in a collision with the hansom cab I was riding in. Before you fainted, you mentioned that you wanted to speak with Sherlock Holmes, so I instructed the driver to take us to here, to 221 Baker Street.”

Griffin hesitated before continuing. His uncle was staring at him with an unreadable expression. He knew he was on dangerous ground. But he felt that he must, no matter what the consequences, tell the truth. After taking a steadying breath, he continued, “Mr. Sherlock Holmes was not at home, and seeing no other option, I decided to alert my uncle, who is an expert in such matters, to your situation. He acted with immediate concern and brought you here, to the apartment next door.”

The woman's eyes narrowed as she absorbed the information. Griffin was pleased to notice the fear was already gone. After glancing around the room at the inventions that occupied nearly every space, she seemed to accept Griffin's explanation of things.

“You mentioned that Mr. Snodgrass here is an expert on crime”—she turned to Griffin's uncle and gave him a serious look—“and seeing that my situation is desperate, I do not care whether he is Sherlock Holmes or not. All I need is help.”

Griffin noticed a slight relaxing of his uncle's features at these words, evidently relieved that she was willing to overlook his lie. Clearly all that mattered now to his uncle was that he had a paying client. And especially that Sherlock Holmes was unable to get to her first.

The woman turned back to Griffin and spoke. “You seem like a trustworthy young man. What I have to say is quite extraordinary. Therefore I ask you to believe that what I am about to tell you is the absolute truth.”

Clearly irritated that the woman was directing her conversation at Griffin, Snodgrass interjected. “Madam, if I could have your attention, please. Simply relay the details of what is troubling you and I assure you, I will do all I can to help. My, er, nephew is newly arrived from America and has no experience in these sorts of matters. He's just a boy.” Griffin's uncle smiled in a condescending way, showing way too many teeth.

Griffin was happy to see that this did not have any effect on the woman in the least. She continued to focus her attention on Griffin. She cleared her throat, straightened her rumpled dress, and said, “My name is Sarah Dent. My husband, Frederick, is a clockmaker. Two nights ago, he told me that a client had asked him to meet him on a matter of special business. It was about a very special clock, so special, in fact, that his client refused to bring it to the shop—for fear of being followed. He insisted that they meet by the banks of the River Thames at six o'clock the following morning instead.”

BOOK: No Place Like Holmes
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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