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Authors: Barbara Hambly

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Sherlock Holmes

BOOK: Sherlock Holmes







Barbara Hambly


Published by Barbara Hambly at Smashwords

Copyright 2010 Barbara Hambly

Cover art by Eric Baldwin


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Table of Contents


Adventure of the Sinister Chinaman

About The Author







Barbara Hambly



As the reputation of Mr. Sherlock Holmes
advanced, his freedom to choose his cases – adhered to even in
early days when the pair of us were occasionally beholden to Mrs.
Hudson’s grace in the matter of rent – increased. Astute
investments by Holmes’s brother Mycroft eventually freed him from
the need to accept cases that did not present features of interest
to him which would broaden his own experience.

One exception which he made to this rule was
in the spring of 1901, when he agreed to investigate the
persecution of American railroad magnate Hollis Connington, a case
which both bored and annoyed him and which he undertook – I believe
– for the sole reason that it followed hard upon my own near-fatal
bout of pleurisy. Dr. Stamford at Bart’s was adamant in
recommending a sea voyage for my cure, and Connington’s mansion and
headquarters lay in San Francisco.

When Holmes informed Connington by telegram
that my assistance was a condition of his handling the case,
Connington – a miser who had, by Holmes’ later count, twenty-four
active candidates for the role of chief suspect in the attempts
upon his life – reluctantly agreed, but took a petty revenge. While
Holmes was lodged in the Palace Hotel in the city itself, I was put
up in a modest boarding establishment across the bay in Berkeley.
This circumstance led us both into a case which, Holmes said, made
the entire California excursion worthwhile, and introduced us to
that extraordinary madman, the balloonist and prestidigitator Oscar
Zoroaster Diggs.

Mrs. Ellen Carey’s boarding-house on
Telegraph Avenue was patronized chiefly by members of the local
theatrical profession: actors, vaudevillians, magicians, acrobats,
chorus-girls, a keeper of trained dogs, and a Central European
harpist who spoke no language intelligible to anyone in the city.
Holmes naturally found this company far more congenial than
anything on offer at the Palace Hotel, and formed the habit of
arriving for dinner – having swiftly won the approval of Mrs. Carey
- and remaining all evening to listen to the professional
small-talk in the parlor. Diggs was frequently the center of this
group, partly on account of his truly astonishing adeptness in the
arts of illusion, and partly on account of the warm friendliness of
his personality, which accepted all humanity as sisters and
brothers encountered upon a wonderful journey. He was, as Hamlet
says, “mad north north-west,” seeming perfectly sane in all
respects except for the delusion – apparently believed in firmly by
himself – that he had spent the past forty years of his life
stranded in Fairyland due to a ballooning accident. His adventures
there formed a cycle of tales that made him a great favorite with
Mrs. Carey’s four children and the assorted juvenile vaudevillians
of the household, and which, I must confess, hugely entertained me
as well.

On a certain Friday evening, Diggs had
undertaken to teach Holmes the Illusion of the Seven Knives, so
Holmes was at first vexed upon his arrival to discover that the
little wizard was not at the communal supper-table. But his
annoyance was swiftly swept away when Enzo Moretti (of the Flying
Moretti Brothers) explained, with great concern, that Diggs had
gone down to the Geary Street Precinct House in the city, to see
what could be done for the Celestial Sorcerer Li. “And he’s a
braver man than I, Mr. Holmes,” said Moretti, shaking his head.
“They arrested Li last night after the show, but when men get
drinking after work, and talking each other up in the saloons along
Market Street, there’s danger they’ll mob the jail, and lynch Li
out of hand.”

I said, “What on earth for?” and Holmes,
“Have they found some further proof?” I had spent the day walking
among the astounding beauties of the near-by California forests
with friends I had met on the voyage, while Holmes – in between
tracking down the movements of a number of Mr. Connington’s
relations – had been drinking coffee, smoking, and reading
newspapers. Of course he had already heard the story which was
related to me.

Julian Li was a young illusionist of Chinese
extraction, though both his parents had been born in California to
immigrants from the great Gold Rush of 1849. He was well-known in
the vaudeville circuits of the Western states and promised to
become one of the finest practitioners of his trade in the country.
The finale of his act involved what our table-mates referred to as
a “Magic box gag,” meaning that a member of the audience was placed
in a cabinet on one part of the stage, and “miraculously”
transported to a corresponding box on the other side of the stage –
both boxes being ostensibly suspended in mid-air. On the previous
evening, the sixth of June, at the Californian Theater in San
Francisco, the subject of this illusion had been a six-year-old
girl from the near-by community of Sausolito, Emily Redwalls. She
had entered the “magic cabinet” at one side of the stage, but after
the obligatory flash of light and puff of smoke, when the second
cabinet was opened, the child was nowhere to be seen.

Antonio Rosales, the stagehand who had helped
Li, swore that he had placed the child in the second cabinet (which
was a great deal closer to the backdrop than the illusory lighting
had led the audience to believe). The child’s parents were
distraught, and rumor had flashed through the white community that
Li had kidnapped the little girl for unspeakable purposes: “Though
surely if one were to descend to the unspeakable,” commented Holmes
drily, “even the most sinister criminal would hardly care to do so
in front of four hundred people.”

“Three hundred and eighty-seven,” corrected
Mrs. Carey, who had a very good sense of any performance’s daily

“Oz said this afternoon he’d go across and
see what could be done about posting bail,” said Mrs. Pellingham, a
diminuitive actress who specialized in ingenue roles despite the
possession of daughters almost old enough to take on such roles
themselves. “We all chipped in for bail, of course, but I told him
he’s wasting his time. A Chinese, that’s kidnapped a little white
girl? He’ll be lucky if the police don’t kill him themselves. Oz
allowed I had the right of it,” she added sadly, “but he said, he
couldn’t not go.”

Holmes glanced across at me, and within
minutes, he and I were in a cab, hastening to catch the last ferry
of the evening. The dense fog that characterizes the city was
rising from the bay by the time we arrived at the Geary Street
Station, and found, to our alarm, a considerable crowd of
rough-clothed workingmen, as Enzo Moretti had predicted, gathered
on the station-house steps, in furious altercation with the station
chief and O.Z. Diggs himself. Since a number of these men were
armed – some with the tools of various trades such as hammers and
crowbars, but several, in proper American fashion, with pistols and
rifles – I was just as happy to see they were already beginning to
disperse as Holmes and I approached: I heard one of the men on the
steps snarl, “He’s a goddam
, for Chrissakes! How do
I know why he’d do it?”

And another added as he passed me, “They
don’t think like we do,” and tapped the side of his head.
“Inscrutable. It’s like they ain’t even human—”

“And what do you call human?” I began
angrily, but Holmes took me by the elbow and propelled me up the

“Fifty years ago I heard the police in New
York say that about the Irish,” sighed Diggs, and the station-chief
– just closing the door behind us as we entered the gaslight of the
watchroom – bridled.

“That ain’t the same thing,” he objected.
“You have only to look at him—”

“Do I, sir?” retorted the little wizard. “In
my carpet-bag I have two bottles and a jar whose contents will
transform you, sir, into a Mexican or a Commanche or a Chinaman
yourself… Good Heavens, Holmes, am I glad to see you! And Dr.
Watson! Captain O’Day, allow me to present Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of
London, and Dr. Watson – gentlemen who have been retained to
investigate the circumstances of Miss Redwalls’s disappearance and
to act in Mr. Li’s defense.”

Since neither of us had spoken one word to
Diggs my surprise at this prescience must have shown on my face; as
Holmes was shaking Captain O’Day’s hand, Diggs sidled up to me and
murmured, “To the Great Oz the minds of lesser men are an open book
– particularly men with whose decency and goodness of heart he is
familiar. Why else would you have rushed from dinner to take the
last ferry over here? Thank you.”

Meanwhile Captain O’Day – a pink-faced
Hibernian to the toes of his boots – was saying doubtfully, “And
who’ll it be that’s retaining you, Mr. Holmes? There’s not a lawyer
in the city’ll touch the case.”

“A situation which may alter tomorrow,”
replied Holmes smoothly. “By which time, valuable evidence at the
scene of the disappearance may be inerradicably lost. Suffice it to
say that I am being retained—” He produced a letter of introduction
from his pocket and displayed the signature of Hollis Connington,
then slipped it away again as the Captain’s eyes widened. “—by one
who wishes, for the time being, to remain completely

“Of course, Mr. Holmes. Any way that I may be
of assistance to you—”

“First, I think,” said Holmes, “we need to
visit the Californian Theater.”

“Of course. Will you wish to see Li before
you go down?”

“When we return. Will Mr. Rosales be at the

“He should be by now, Mr. Holmes. The theater
being closed today, he and Diaz – the day man – have been there
merely as watchmen, but they may be clearing the place up for
tomorrow’s performance.”

O’Day escorted us to the theater himself – so
far did awe of Hollis Connington’s name run in California, though
as far as I knew the man himself was responsible for the deaths of
hundreds of Li’s fellow Orientals through overwork and the refusal
to implement the smallest safety precautions during the building of
his railroad lines. The Californian stood on Leavenworth Street,
halfway up one of the city’s hills, a vaudeville-house with a
seating capacity of perhaps five hundred and a truly impressive
array of backstage mirrors, hoists, electrical lights with colored
lenses, pulleys, trap-doors, and duplicate backdrops. Diaz – the
day watchman – was still there when we arrived, and Antonio Rosales
appeared a few minutes later, and repeated to us what he had told
the police last night.

“La niña, I take her out of the cabinet at
once through the false back, while the Chinaman is still showing
the audience there is no false back. Of course she all excited, to
be part of the trick. The other cabinet, he has already raise

I mounted the short flight of portable steps,
to examine the opening in the backdrop which would be opposite the
false back of the second cabinet – an opening too small for an
adult to pass through.

“I help her through, in the second where Li
set off his flash-powder—” Rosales shook his head. “I swear there
was no way out of the cabinet.”

O’Day said somberly, “They found her shoe in
that heathan cabinet, Mr. Holmes. Her
. Her poor mother
fainted when she saw it.”

Holmes opened his mouth to speak, then seemed
to think better of it, and merely said, “And all else has been left
precisely as it was?”

“The police, they come, they look around,”
provided Diaz. “Me, I stay back. Captain he say, don’t touch
nothing, and I don’t, all day I been here.”

“Excellent,” said Holmes. “Those trunks over
there--?” He nodded toward three large steamer-trunks, lichenous
with travel-stickers, brass corners winking in the gas-light

“Those’ll be the Count’s trunks – Count
Paracelcus, the other magician on the bill,” said the
police-captain. “Believe me, Mr. Holmes, that was the first place
we looked. Li had four trunks back there, where that empty space
is. They’re at the station-house now, what’s left of ‘em; we had
the false bottoms out of ‘em, false linings, everything. Not a

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