Looking back, I remember a bizarre incident that had happened on the eighth of September, the year 1909. We were sitting in the warm, stuffy Baker Street flat on a rainy day. Holmes had gone to the kettle, and across the room he yelled, ‘Watson, black or green?’
‘Black tea for me, thank you,’ I replied. In a few short minutes, Holmes returned with two steaming mugs as we both sank into the recliners. He handed me the tea and it tasted off.
‘Sherlock…this is green tea?’
‘Yes. I’m glad you noticed. Green tea’s better at night.’
‘But I wanted black-‘
‘You were mistaken, Watson.’
We sat staring out the rain pattered window and out on the dark street, where not a soul stood. Holmes had gone for more tea, but something strange had happened. A man, half dressed, his shoes untied and dangling, holding a soaking newspaper above his head, ran through the street. He had left his yellow taxi in the road unparked. His eyes were wide and worried, and his mouth open, like he was ready to scream. He ran along Baker Street, until he came so close to 221B that he had disappeared for a moment.
Downstairs was a hurried exchange between the man and Mrs. Hudson, who, as usual, let out her disagreeing moan. The man opened our door and ran in. His hair was stringy and shiny from the rain, and he bowed down from tiredness. Holmes came out; his face turned tighter and perked down to face the kneeling man. ‘Goldberg’, he said. The man looked straight at Holmes, clutching his heart and breathing heavily. ‘Holmes,’ he let out, ‘the curtains…have closed.’
‘No! The villa? Watson, take my jacket. We must go right away!’ He ran out the door, and I followed. Goldberg started the car.
We rode in the cab. ‘Holmes?’ I said, ‘What’s happening?’
‘Didn’t you hear? The curtains have closed.’
‘Yes, but what does that mean?’
‘Oh, right, listen Watson; you must hear the whole story. I had been taking a walk in Harrow, on the East side. It had been a long walk; after a while, there started to be less and less homes. At midnight I came to a secluded villa, one surrounded by a large, empty lawn. The curtains had been closed. In the very back I saw a shadow of a man carrying a bag. A large bag, the size of a corpse, and throwing it into a hole. Five minutes passed, and the curtains had opened. The man stared at me, so I quickly turned and carried on like a passerby. I thought about the incident, and again returned a fortnight later. I kept watch by the gate. I saw the killer look out the window, surveying the landscape. He closed the curtains, but I heard the scream. Thirty minutes later, he carried a bag to the backyard.
‘Once again, the curtains then opened. This enticed me – I didn’t know the case, but I knew the connection between curtain and corpse. The midnight hour had come, and I had signaled a cab. And that was Goldberg; my driver and a Harrow native. I told him to come to me if he ever did see the curtain closed. Do you understand it all now?’ I nodded, but couldn’t think of the investigation that was to come.
The taxi had stopped in front of a black cast iron gate, through which I saw the daunting size of a two-story villa laced with a brown frame and marble steps. The lawn around it stretched as far as a football pitch. Holmes, who had very happily said his goodbye to Goldberg, climbed out of the car. The curtains were closed and the lawn bare of people, so Holmes and I stepped on the gate latch and climbed over. We came to the wall on the right side, as Sherlock stared closely at the marble. He looked through a small square window, the curtains of which he pulled aside.
‘John’ he looked at me, his voice quiet and rasp, ‘Climb in.’
Soon we found ourselves in the room, with the shut door in front and the window behind. The room had been covered in drawers, big and small, each wall shining from the glow of hundreds of handles. A reek of gone-off eggs hit my nose.
‘Ehh…W-what is this? A cupboard room? It smells of rotten eggs.’ Holmes had not answered my question. Instead he paced around the room, flicking the wood, muttering ‘maple’ under his breath, and scratching the locks, muttering ‘steel’. Finally, he crouched down on the floor, and like a snake, made his way below a small, rectangular drawer. His pointed nose leaned into the ground, and after a few seconds he turned to look at me.
‘Rotten eggs! Rotten eggs! Are you a fool?’ He pointed his index finger to the sky, smeared in something yellow, and pointed below the drawer, a whole pile of the yellow powder.
‘Sulfur mustard’, he paused, ‘or mustard gas.’
Just then the window had clicked and shut, two hands locking it. There were heavy steps behind the door, which also clicked shut. Holmes continued, ‘Sulfur mustard…under this door…’ He took out his paperclip, peering inside the lock.
‘A jimmy proof deadbolt lock’ He hurried to bend the paperclip in two, and started to unscrew its bolts. I stood silently, not knowing any way I could help him. He now tinkered with the springs, pulling some, jabbing at others with the paperclip. ‘We’ve loosened the lock, now it can be opened.’
The drawer pulled out and he looked at me with a grin.
‘I knew it’, he said, and handed me a gas mask. He pointed to the small gap under the door, to a yellow gas that started to float into our room.
‘Put it on. Quick’, he said.
By the time we had both put on the gas masks, the room had filled with the haze of deadly mustard gas, and I could barely see Sherlock through it, who sat right next to me.
Sherlock pointed at the armchair behind which we sat crouched, and we both leaned in to push it by the door. We sat behind it, motionless and soundless, for about ten minutes, when we started to hear noises behind the door.
‘Eyy. Dead already?’ The muffled voice laughed and yelled a bit louder, ‘Edgar, get the bags!’ The door creaked open, and although nothing was visible through the mist, a dark figure with a gas mask came in the room.
‘Finally got that detective. Knew he was up to no good those two times by the road.’
By the time Edgar had come back with two body bags, the dark man had started to walk through the room, looking side to side through the mist. His temper started to rise, and I heard the coarse whisper of ‘Where are they?’ come out under his breath. Sherlock nudged my shoulder, showing the door, and bending his fingers to show three, and two, and one, until we silently started to crawl out.
Holmes had made his way out first, and I followed around the corner of the step.
‘WHERE ARE THEY? WHERE’D THEY GO?’ the man yelled, and his foot flew at the armchair we had just been crouching behind.
Behind the stairwell, we spied on him as he crashed open the door, pacing through the hall. The sound of a cocked rifle flew through the cold air as he walked out with a Remington rifle and a lighted cigar dangling from his mouth.
‘Sir,’ Edgar had started, ‘I thought I told you where to smoke.’
‘Look up at the ceiling of the second floor. Notice the yellow-brain stains.’ Holmes whispered in my ear.
‘I’ll stop once we’ve gotten our detective’, the man said. The mustard gas still floated through the air, and had spread through the whole house, where very little was visible. Edgar sighed.
‘You look inside all the rooms, I’ll check the perimeter.’ Edgar paced through, checking the rooms one by one, when suddenly his gaze fixated on the stairwell.
Once again, we crouched down low, and crawled around the stairwell, the butler slowly looking around. I had rounded the corner, and even turned back to look at Holmes, who had been following me. But he wasn’t.
He had paused, scratching his finger, the one that was in sulfur mustard.
‘Holmes’, I let out through gritted teeth, but he couldn’t hear me. Edgar’s tall silhouette continued to grow bigger as he came nearer, and when he had just stood in front of Holmes, I couldn’t watch. My eyes had shut.
I had heard a piercing shriek, followed by short, heavy breaths. Edgar’s foot had stumbled over Sherlock’s bent pose, and now Holmes had bent over the fallen butler, whose arms flailed mercilessly. Holmes covered his hand over Edgar’s mouth, as he slipped of Edgar’s mask.
‘Not a peep out of you’, he said, and threw the gas mask far into the drawer room. Edgar had run off to the room as we quickly made our way up the stairs. We walked through the hall to the first door, at which Holmes took a right through a small corridor, and we had come to a stone door.
‘Watson…limited time, limited time…’ he showed me the hall, and I leaned out to keep watch. Once again he closely examined the insides of the padlock, bending the paperclip into a cross shape and slowly sliding it into the lock.
A shot rang through the house, and had hit the ceiling of the second floor. The sounds of four feet hitting the stairwell and the ravenous cries of the two men had completely worn me down.
‘Hold your breath’, he told me, as he took both of our gas masks and threw them down the hall, ‘that will stop them for the extra moment we need.’
Holmes opened the stone door, slipping the paperclip back into his pocket, and climbing out onto the balcony. We sat crouched for a moment.
‘Look! The gas masks!’ one of the voices said. ‘Another wild card…check the room at the end of the hall.’
But none of that had mattered, for Sherlock Holmes and I had already finished climbing down the ladder, and we ran through the rain and to the gate.
‘Excellent, Holmes, excellent’, I couldn’t help but let out as he signaled Goldberg’s cab. The dazing bright headlights rounded the corner from the street, and Goldberg’s wary face pulled up to the street.
We rode in the cab.
‘Yep?’ he replied.
‘Great work, but how did you know about the balcony? How did you know we could go through it?’
‘Aha, yes, you see…’ and he had started. ‘I had first noticed the smoke stains on the ceiling, those that I had shown you. They were yellow-brown. Do you remember the man when he had stepped into our room? Before all else he had turned angry. He had not seen us yet, but the yellow smoke reminded him of his smoking addiction. So he kicked the chair. We had snuck out, and then he came out with a cigar. Much to Edgar’s discontent of course, but his adrenaline had been at a high. You see, Edgar had noticed those cigar stains long ago, and so our man was forced to smoke outside. But he was too careless to go outside through the front door, since the stains came from the second floor. Hence the balcony.’
‘You saw all of that from just a few minutes? Holmes, how do you do it…’ I shook my head. There was just one last question.
‘Of course, today those curtains had closed for us. He wanted to get rid of you, Holmes. But what do we have to prove all of that. To prove this attempted homicide?’
‘Watson, Watson, think!’ out from his pocket he took out the paperclip. ‘The clip that is bent to the exact second floor entrance. There’s not a better piece of evidence than that.’
Soon after Goldberg had drove us up to 221B Baker Street, and he looked at us from the front seat with a grin.
‘If the curtains ever do close, I’ll let ya know.’
‘If they ever do…once again, thank you, Goldberg.’ Holmes said, and I shook his hand. He had been of great aid this midnight.
The door behind the house had closed, and at the sound of it Mrs. Hudson came out.
‘Oh heavens! Where have you been? Who was that? You need some tea! All wet and cold…’ she stumbled off into the kitchen, and soon Holmes and I sat in our armchairs once again, staring out the rain pattered window and onto the dark street.
Ivan Budanov lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He enjoys writing and programming, as well as playing ping pong. He has traveled all over the world, and loves exploring different cultures.