Harry Holmes and the Philosopher's Stone
The Private Consulting Detective
Mr Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street, London was severely displeased. He did not make the slightest attempt to hide it. On the contrary, his flatmate, friend and biographer- Dr John Watson, late of Afghanistan- was forced to endure, for the umpteenth time that month, a lecture on the laxity of the criminal classes since Mr Holmes' return from the "dead". He was not a man given to expressing his feelings with passionate speech and he would have all his acquaintance believe that he was not even capable of violence of feeling. He chose to express himself by make cutting remarks in a tone so sarcastic and with a posture so languid that it was difficult to gauge whether he was being serious or not.
"What is the point of being the foremost specialist in crime in the continent if my skills will not be put to use, I ask you, Doctor? Surely, the death of my esteemed nemesis, the late Professor Moriarty does not result in the death of crime itself?" he asked of his friend. He was draped limply over an armchair by the fire and looked at Dr Watson from half-open eyes, which gave the impression of him being half-asleep.
Dr Watson laughed. "You are too melancholy, Holmes. Crime is as rampant as it ever was. The only difference that I perceive is that there is no organisation behind it."
Holmes snorted. "It seems that I have been the cause of my own undoing."
They sat for a few minutes in amiable silence. They knew each other well, having met some ten years previous to the start of this story. Mr Sherlock Holmes was, in his own words, the world's only "private consulting detective". Prior to his having made a name for himself in the field of criminology and criminal investigation, he had been forced to take on a flatmate to cut his expenses and had thus come by Dr John Watson, a veteran. What each had intended to be a short arrangement developed into a strong and steady friendship.
Some five years previously, Dr Watson had met and fallen in love with a client- a Miss Mary Morstan. They had married within a year and were very happy. Unfortunately, Mrs Watson was sickly and weak and the Watsons could not conceive a child. They had been considering adoption when Mrs Watson developed a sudden illness and died unexpectedly. Her death pre-dated Mr Sherlock Holmes' false staging of his own death by a few months.
The year in which Dr Watson had been recently widowed and had also believed his friend to have died was the worst year of his life. To have Mr Holmes reappear had been joyous. A more resentful heart would have borne malice at the deception but Dr Watson grudgingly acknowledged that his friend had simply done what he deemed best. He had resumed his lodgings at 221B Baker Street when the affair of Professor Moriarty and Moriarty's left-hand man Sebastian Moran had been settled.
Since then, life at Baker Street had been sedate and dull. This was decidedly not to the taste of either party, though Dr Watson was not as vocal as Holmes in expressing them. Dr Watson wished for stimulation and activity to prevent him from dwelling on his late wife's passing. Holmes, on the other hand, craved it for its own sake. He was a brilliant man, wickedly intelligent, widely experienced and almost superhumanly skilled. He had trained himself to become a veritable master in the 'science of deduction', as he called it, and applied it in the field of criminal investigation, making him one of the foremost authorities on the subject.
Little did either of them guess that that day would be the beginning of a chain of events which would revolutionise their lives forever.
The first sign that something was amiss was the unusual behaviour of the owls. In broad daylight numerous owls sped overhead- far more in number than what anyone would even expect in Great Britain. The people were fascinated- many of them hadn't seen owls even in broad daylight. But the behaviour of owls- normal or peculiar- did nothing to excite either inhabitants of 221B. It was interesting enough to make a passing remark on when conversation was scarce but hardly likely to be connected to crime.
The second sign that strange happenings were taking place all over the county was a stray comment made by Mrs Hudson- their landlady- as she cleared their late breakfast.
"People are certainly behaving oddly on the streets today. Wearing strange clothes and embracing and crying all over the streets! I thought that it must be some new thing that these young people are always up to. But no! Some of them are as old as me! What is the world coming to these days?"
She tut-tutted as she left the room. Dr Watson left his place on the settee to gaze outside the window. Sure enough, he spotted one or two persons strangely clothed and behaving as though slightly inebriated. He was just making up his mind on whether to check up on them when Holmes switched on the telly and searched the various new channels. There seemed to be no reports of anything noteworthy that happened in the recent few days to cause any excitement, either in animals or humans.
The third sign was far more apparent. The telephone rang and Holmes answered it.
"Hullo!...This is he…Mr Mac!...A case…Dorset?...Godric's Hollow?... A double murder?...Watson and I will be there as soon as we can"
Holmes turned gleefully towards his friend. "It seems that D.I Alec MacDonald of New Scotland Yard- you remember him?- has been summoned in the early hours of the morning to consult on a double homicide in a little village known as Godric's Hollow in Dorset. A married couple. The house has been blown to smithereens and yet nobody can tell the police when exactly it happened. And, most fascinatingly, the police surgeon is baffled as to how they died. Not a scratch on either. Well, the monotony of our existence has been punctuated at last! Let us see what awaits us in Godric's Hollow!"
An Excerpt from the Journal of Dr J.H Watson, M.D dated 1st November 1981
We were at the village of Godric's Hollow in a matter of hours. It was a small village, clearly peaceful. The residents went about their business with a stoic determination but the fact that they were shaken was apparent even to the most casual of observers. Holmes scarcely paid them mind. He was uncharacteristically agitated and restless. His mood rubbed off on me as well and, in no time, even I was as irritable as a flea-bitten dog.
MacDonald greeted us at the scene of the crime. It was apparent that there had been a recent explosion at the house that we were standing before. It was a two-storeyed house and must have been handsome before its destruction. It was still standing but was uninhabitable for the present. I was puzzled. It was clear to me that a small bomb must have been detonated here. Yet, MacDonald had insisted that that was not what had killed the inhabitants. In fact, it was absolutely uncertain what had happened the previous night. How could the neighbours of such a small, quiet village be unaware of an explosion in their midst? I pondered on these questions as we were escorted inside.
The corpse of the man lay on the stairs. He was tall and must have been athletic in life. His body was lean and sinewy and he was mildly tanned, as one accustomed to exercise. His hair was thick, dark and unruly. His glasses were askew. I was quite shocked as we approached and got a better look at him. Shocked and saddened. This man seemed barely twenty. He was handsome, though not uncommonly so.
"As you gentlemen can see, it was not the explosion that killed him." The police surgeon indicated the cuts on the body's left hand. "These have clearly been inflicted post mortem. Also, lividity indicates that he had been in this position for some time. Perhaps, since death."
"At what time do you estimate the time of death?"
The police surgeon shook his head "I can't"
I understood the frustration and confusion of the man. But how could the time of death be unascertainable? Rigor mortis must have set by now. And the case was further complicated by the fact that the means of the killing was not apparent- there was no knife would or bullet hole. Was the victim poisoned? It seemed absurd- why should the murdered poison his victims and detonate a bomb? Surely there were other, often quieter, means of destroying evidence? But, no other explanation presented itself.
Holmes, for his part, did not seemed perturbed by this fact. I am ashamed to say that I noticed a dry glitter come into his steely grey eyes. The chase had begun and he was on the scent. Holmes bent down and examined the body cursorily. He seemed satisfied by whatever he saw as he indicated that the body should be removed for autopsy. We proceeded to the nursery on the upper floor.
"It seems, Mr Holmes-" said MacDonald, "It seems that they were preparing for a child. The nursery is fully furnished" The agitation produced by the situation made his Highland accent even more pronounced.
I did not blame the detective for his heightened emotions. The scene that met us at the nursery was truly tragic and pitiable. My heart went out to the young woman that lay lifeless before the crib. She was a truly beautiful woman- striking even in death- and clearly no older than her husband. Her dark red hair was spread like a burning halo around her. Her eyes- almond shaped and emerald green- were wide open in horror. I felt a surge of white, hot anger against her unknown killer. Who could have been monstrous enough to have done this? The thought that she could have been pregnant at the time of her death exacerbated my hatred of her assailant.
As with her husband, the police surgeon was baffled as to the time and cause of her death. But, from where they were found, it could be reasonably deduced that her husband predeceased her. Once again, Holmes bent down to examine her. Suddenly, he became alert. His gaze fixated on a stain on her sweater. He bent forward and sniffed at it. Sharply, he turned to D.I MacDonald.
"There was an infant with them. This stain here-", he indicated with his forefinger at the stain on her sweater. "This stain is baby formula that the child must have spat back."
This statement galvanized MacDonald. He barked for his constables, who came racing up the stairs. No, none of them had seen or heard about a child. MacDonald instructed them to ask around the neighbours.
Holmes straightened up after his examination of the woman. Once again, he did not seem perturbed by the mystery surrounding her death. "It seems to me, from a brief examination of the crime scene, that there are three major points of interest in this case so far. But, I should like to, with your permission, Mr Mac, take a look around the house before I give you my opinion"
Thus, we spent about an hour poking about the house. The constables returned with new intelligence- yes, there had been an infant: a little boy but the neighbours had assumed that he had died as well; no, they did not know the deceased well, as they had moved in quite recently and were very quiet and reserved; their names- the man was called James and he addressed the woman as "Lils" (which could be short for Lily, Lilith or Lillian, at the very least); surname- unknown.
Holmes and I made our way to the local pub. Holmes had purchased a notebook and several pens and sat alternatively writing and meditating as I ate my lunch. I could see that he had several ideas regarding the case at hand. But, as was his custom, he refused to speak of it till he was ready. We were joined much later by Mr MacDonald.
Holmes joined his finger-tips together and proceeded to explain his analysis of the case thus far in a brisk, business tone.
"Well, there are several features of interest in the present case: first and foremost, the method of killing. How could have it been done? It is clearly not with a knife or a gun. Two options that I can think of- poison or some form of lethal gas. I favour the latter, given the killer's seeming fondness for explosions and the expressions of horror on the faces of the victims. There is a third option, though highly unlikely, which is a cardiac arrest induced by extreme fear. But, I am more concerned with the explosions, which brings me to the second issue- why were there explosions? Clearly, it wasn't the explosions that killed them. Perhaps, it was used to destroy some sort of clue or evidence. But what sort of clue could it have been that it required an explosion as opposed to quieter alternatives. Also, why did nobody hear the explosions? There were clearly two- one to bring down the front door and a second in the nursery. If the explosions were heard- why does nobody own up to hearing them? "
MacDonald and I nodded to indicate our understanding.
"The third issue- which is by far the most troubling to me- is the absence of their infant son. Is he alive? Is he dead? What was the purpose of removing him? Is he the key to their deaths? If so, how? And if he isn't- why was he removed even before the police arrived and by whom?"
"That is troubling to me also, sir. I have constables searching everywhere. But, I suspect that the boy has been taken far before the police have been called. And- though I might be wrong in this- I venture to say that the village is shielding the person. But is the killer the same person as the one who removed the boy?"
"It is far too early to say at this juncture, Mr Mac. But, there is a fourth point that is also jarring to me- the peculiarity of the victim-couple"
"Peculiarity of the victim-couple? What do you mean, Holmes?" I asked him.
"Their hands, Watson! As you both know, I have made quite a study of people's hands and what they can tell us. It was evident that these two were in the habit of grasping something thick and cylindrical frequently. I suspect that it was those two long pieces of wood that we found in the house. But what did they do with them? Apart from this, why was this couple against modernity?"
Holmes nodded. "Did either of you gentlemen see any modern appliances? There wasn't even a telephone in the house! And the writing desk contained quills, inkwells and parchment. Who writes using such inconvenient implements when there are better, cheaper alternatives? But they weren't dressed unusually. Did you find a surname, Mr Mac?"
"From the letters received, we can assume it to be 'Potter'- Lily and James. And they are married- I saw a photograph"
Holmes stood up. "Mr Mac- I think it best if Watson and I return to London for the present. You will keep us informed of the developments of the case?"
Holmes, being a chemist of no ordinary merit, spent the next week trying to discover the substance that could have killed the Potters. Each day brought with it an increased sense of frustration- he was well and truly stumped. But this contributed to his happiness rather than diminish it.
The results of the post mortem came a week after our visit to Godric's Hollow. It was not poison, lethal gas or even a cardiac arrest. Further, apart from the fact that they were dead, the Potters were perfectly healthy. Everyone was well and truly baffled. How could two young, healthy, strong people just die like that? Nobody had come to claim the bodies as of yet. And there was still no sign of the missing child.
Holmes left the apartment and did not return till the sun had set that day. When I asked where he had been, he replied "to Somerset House and to the library"
I was surprised. "Why?"
"To trace the Potters. Do you know what I found? There is no record of a marriage between a Lily and James Potter"
I was astonished. "But the wedding bands? The photograph?"
"That wasn't all. I visited the library to study the annals of crime, in case I found a clue there. Do you know what I found? This has happened once before."
I sat up in my chair in eagerness. "When?"
"1943. The Riddles of a village known as Little Hangleton. Their gardener- one Frank Bryce- was suspected but ultimately released due to a lack of evidence"
I was about to respond when I was interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing. Holmes answered it.
"Hullo…Mr Mac? What is it?...What! How?...We'll be there at once!"
He turned to me, aghast. "The bodies of Lily and James Potter are gone."
We sped to the morgue. The receptionist at the front desk was confused as though under the influence of some intoxicating substance. The lock had not been picked. Had the thief stolen or duplicated a key? But how had he transported the corpses of two adults within a matter of minutes? The questions regarding this case increased exponentially and it seemed that we were nowhere close to answers.
The next year was spent on the trying to solve the Potter murders. In fact, for the first six months, Holmes refused to take on any other case. But eventually, he was forced to subside. This would, perhaps, be a mystery unsolved forever.
Little did we know that this case would revolutionise our lives. But it would be three years before it resurfaced again.