Professor Moriarty's Crowning Glory
I was lying on the sofa in 221B Baker Street that I shared with Sherlock Holmes, waiting for him to return from the courts. If he had been lucky, Professor Moriarty would be given a death sentence, if not… then I would be wishing someone would hand me a death sentence because Holmes would be like a bear with a hangover at having failed. Ordinarily I would have gone with him, but I had badly hurt my ankle in search of the evidence that Holmes was (hopefully) presenting to the court. Dr. Watson told me to wrap it and stay off it a few days. I had done that, but now I was about to go crazy from boredom.
The front door opened with a bang, and I heard someone running up the stairs.
"Damn," I said, and Holmes burst in the door. "Bad luck?"
"I got there just as they delivered the 'Not Guilty' verdict," Holmes said.
"I'm surprised you took a cab."
"You need to work more on your listening, Sherwood… that was Professor Moriarty's carriage."
"He offered me a ride back and told me something very interesting."
"That explains why you're not foaming at the mouth. What exactly did he say?" I sat up some more, keeping my ankle still elevated.
"That he is going to commit the crime of the century and retire. To be more exact, he said, 'I am going to break you, Holmes. I'm going to bring off right under your nose the most incredible crime of the century, and you'll never suspect it until it's too late. That will be the end of you Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And when I've beaten and ruined you then I can retire in peace. I'd like to retire; crime no longer amuses me. I'd like to devote my remaining years to abstract science.'"
"He's always such a charming man," I replied. "Would you get me a drink?"
"Yes, I will. Then hand me my tobacco."
We completed the exchange, and I studied the amber liquid in my glass for a minute. "Shall we drink bad health to Professor Moriarty or shall we do something more charitable?"
He laughed. "When have you ever known me to be charitable?"
"You're right. May he get the Plague."
Holmes drained his glass and picked up his violin.
Across town in his conservatory Professor Moriarty was waiting in his office for one of his lackeys, a large mustached man named Bassick. At last the big man came in, nervously twisting his hat in his hands.
"Does that bloke never stop?" He asked by way of greeting, looking at a South American man playing a flute a few feet to the professor's right. "Gives me the creeps."
"I rather like it," Moriarty smiled behind his thick silver beard, which compensated for the lack of hair on his hair. "I want you to post these two letters for me… then drive directly to your lodgings by way of Oxford Square and stay there until I send for you. You may seal the envelopes yourself. I know you're unnaturally curious."
"I just don't want to end up like Higgins," Bassick said defensively.
"Ah yes, poor Higgins. All they found of him were his boots."
"Yes. He was a good man, but he had the unfortunate habit of asking too many questions. Now all that's left of him is one boot."
"Don't get me wrong, Professor. I'll do what you say, right enough."
The Professor rose. "I know you will, Bassick. That's why I've decided to trust you and tell you my plan, though you haven't the imagination to appreciate it. It all depends of a peculiarity of Holmes' brain and its constant struggle to escape boredom."
"Always Holmes until the end. He's like a spoiled boy who takes watches apart, always eager for a new toy, and once he's finished with it, he never looks at it again. I shall present him with two toys; the first won't interest him much." He pointed at the top letter, which was addressed to Sir Ronald Ramsay in bad handwriting. "The second will intrigue him and soon he will forget all about the first."
He opened the envelope and handed Bassick a sketch of a man with a bird tied around his neck.
"Blimey, what's it mean?" Bassick asked.
Moriarty smiled again. "That is what I am counting on to tantalize Mr. Holmes' imagination while I am occupied elsewhere."
He pressed the envelopes into Bassick's hand, the letter on top.
"What's in that, Professor?"
"The crime of the century… and you're going to be part of it."
The following evening Holmes and I received a letter from a young woman named Ann Brandon, asking if she might consult us as to whether she should attend Lady Cunningham's garden party.
"What do you make of it, Sherwood?" Holmes asked.
"I've never been invited to one of Lady Cunningham's parties… she's too respectable to deal with the likes of me, but from what I've heard, her guests go away with the feeling that they haven't been anywhere."
He smiled. "Very trivial, which is what interests me."
He picked up the violin and began to play a chromatic scale.
"What are you doing?"
"I am conducting a new experiment. Do you see that fly in my glass from this afternoon? If I can find the note that annoys him…."
"You're fiddling while Rome burns, and don't try to tell me otherwise."