I have often said that nothing brings me greater pleasure than watching the deductive powers of my friend Sherlock Holmes in action; but in all the years I have known this incredible gentleman, none of his cases ever caused me greater astonishment, or wonder at his intellectual capacity, than the one I am about to recount.
I recall the incident very well. It was a winter evening in 1889, and stirring in my soul I felt the curious mix of ennui and masochism which invariably leads me to seek out Holmes’s company. Mrs. Watson beseeched me not to go, employing various arguments and womanly enticements that I should stay, but my affections for her had always been minimal. Therefore while she was out one day shopping for herbs and remedies to make her face less hideously pale, I took up my coat and hat and went out to visit my companion.
I found him reclining in his favorite chair, examining some scrap of paper, and he looked up with a modicum of interest as I entered his flat. “Werstmann, dear fellow!”
“Whatever. I have been expecting your arrival. Do come in.”
“Expecting me? But how?”
“Simplicity itself. I deduced it, of course, by the sound of your footsteps as you approached.”
“But how could you know it was me?”
“By your smell,” said Holmes. “But never mind that, Watson. Your timing is convenient. I have major news to reveal, for which you will be the perfect audience.”
I could see at once that he was in one of his rare lucid moments that occasionally came between his month-long experiments with cocaine. I took a seat by my friend and endeavored to listen as best I could.
“Well, what is your news?” said I.
“My parents have been murdered,” said he.
“Murdered!” said I. “But how awful! You have my deepest sympathies, dear chap.”
“Nothing of the sort,” said Holmes. “You are being quite absurd, Watson, as usual. You know I am utterly without sympathy for any human being (excepting myself), and naturally I am glad of a chance to practice my detective skills. Hence I am elated at my mother and father’s demise.”
“Of course it seems obvious, when you explain it. But who can the murderer be?”
A long silence followed.
“I don’t know,” said I.
“Nor should you,” said he, “as I have not yet explained. But for once I will dispense with my habitual flourishes and reveal the criminal’s identity at the outset. The murderer is none other than you, my dear Watson.”
“What!” I cried, for on the face of things, I confess it seemed quite impossible. Such was my naïveté.
“Yes, indeed!” said Holmes, smiling in amusement at my obvious surprise. “Only two days ago I travelled to Southampton to pay them a visit, and discovered them hanging by the neck from a couple of nooses in the drawing-room. You, Watson, forced their heads through the nooses and left them to die. Rather more heartless than I have come to expect from you, I daresay.” His mirth getting the better of him, he chuckled briefly. Amusement was his second-favorite emotion, I recall, just after hubris, and just before annoyance.
“But how have you deduced that I am the culprit?”
He passed me the scrap of paper he had been examining. “Tell me what conclusions your limited faculties can draw from this evidence.”
I looked it over carefully. It was a single sheet of notebook paper. On it, in black ink, was written the following:
We heard you were coming for another visit. We simply cannot abide you: your arrogance, your veiled insults, your non-veiled insults, your insufferable flatulence. As our decision to disown you and our endless entreaties to stop visiting have evidently made no impression on you, we are left with no other alternative than suicide. We can only hope that our deaths will serve as a warning to that impressionable young doctor whose name you can never remember, to cease his association with you forever.
Your former parents,
Ackerly and Elvina Holmes
“Suicide? But you said – “
“Watson,” said Holmes impatiently, “I already deduced that that side of the note is of no consequence. Can you not see I have crossed it out? Turn the paper over and look at the murderer’s note.”
I, Dr. John H. Watson, have killed the parents of Sherlock Holmes.
“But Holmes,” said I, “this is your own handwriting!”
“Not at all! Here, I will show you a sample of my own handwriting, and you shall see it looks nothing like this note.”
“But what do you mean? This is the London Times.”
“No, Watson, I have copied the London Times in my own handwriting to show you what it looks like. The fact that my handwriting looks exactly like the Times typography is only a testament to how amazing I am.”
“I see,” said I. “I must confess I never noticed it before, but your evidence admits of no other interpretation.”
“Quite,” said he. “And there is other evidence as well. There are calluses on your hands from handling the rope you used to make the nooses.”
“Actually, I have worked hard throughout my life, so it is not unnatural that I – “
“Watson,” Holmes interrupted, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution.”
Holmes said this often, and it was as relevant then as ever.
“There is only one problem with all this,” said I. “I have an alibi, you see. I have been in London for the past week. Here, this is a picture of myself standing in front of Westminster Abbey, holding a newspaper that is clearly dated – “
Holmes seized the photograph and tossed it into the fire.
“What the devil did you do that for!”
“Throw my picture in the fire!”
“Watson, I did nothing of the kind. But it should be no surprise that your memory is flawed, as you cannot remember murdering my parents either.”
“But I can still see it burning in the fire.”
Holmes seized a poker and stabbed at the photograph until it was quite indistinguishable from the rest of the ash. “And now?”
“I admit that I can no longer see the photograph, or provide any evidence that it existed.”
“Naturally,” said Holmes.
“Your argument is quite convincing. I would never have suspected myself of the murder, but then, I suppose that is what makes it such a perfect crime – a crime so perfect that only your exquisite mind could have yielded the solution! But tell me, what was my motivation?”
Holmes rolled his eyes. “Stupidity. Now, if you will excuse me, I must of course call the police to have you arrested. I hope you will not object, dear fellow?”
“Not at all,” said I. “Will you be posting bail for me?”
“Quite all right. I shall give a full account of my wrongdoings. How very remarkable that you have uncovered it all! But tell me, Holmes, when they put me in prison, who shall remain to validate your impossibly inflated ego?”
“Nonsense,” said he, but I could tell I had upset him; and as the constables dragged me away, I almost fancied that I heard, coming from the direction of his door, the sound of inconsolable tears. And indeed, it was not long before he broke me out of prison and I was free once more, a testament to his abiding friendship.
[I wrote this three years ago for a friend, after I had finished reading a bunch of Sherlock Holmes stories.]