Living in the building next door to Sherlock Holmes and being the world's other foremost consulting detective provides for fretful complications, the chief being: how to steal his clients. I am Jules Pfennig, former champion weasel warden. Truth be told, my set of vermin-snaring skills extended to all lengthy rodents be they stoats, ferrets, or martens. When I was at my post, hens in their hutches could slumber in gallinaceous glory.
Ah, but that was in my former, arcadian life. Now, as a detective-for-hire, I was short on clients and long on unpaid notes. I have not been favored with a creature such as that lickspittle Dr. Watson to promote me. What's more, I preferred that know-it-all Holmes stay unawares that I was competing with him. My dilemma could be summarized as requiring the benefits of fame while remaining unnoticed.
I puzzled over this paradox while undertaking a long trek homewards, my feet being wearied by a November evening of revelry at a dance hall by the Thames. My journey meant a three-mile hike in a not-so-greatcoat with pockets near bare of coinage. Maidens cost money. The weather spun a turn for the ill. A particularly irksome hail began pelleting like a scourge of angry hornets. All other pedestrians ducked into doorways or beneath awnings, while I, to continue my passage, signaled a passing hansom.
The cabby, a man of hirsute face and a brow as prominent as a canopy—a veritable wolf in his features—stopped for me. Hail drummed against his top hat and chips collected on the broad shoulders of his cloak.
From his seat behind the cab, he pulled a crank to open the cabin door and I virtually dove inside.
"Where it be?" he called.
"Are you familiar with the home address of Sherlock Holmes?"
"Aye, sir, indeed I am."
"Take me there."
The horses must not have enjoyed standing still in this icy scatter shot, for at once they broke into a nimble trot.
"You planning to hire the great detective?" the cabby asked.
"Oh, no. I am Sherlock Holmes," I said, a lie I employed from time to time. His laughter accompanied my ride for a full three blocks. That was unfair. Although more compact in stature, my nose and forehead could pass for the scribbled portrait of Holmes that oft appears in the dailies. "As for my whiskers," I explained, "I sometimes wear disguises." This time his mirthful outburst spanned a mere two crossroads. Even the horses brayed.
"I'm not Mr. Holmes," I said, "but I am a consulting detective," and, thank heaven, this did not elicit a laugh or I would need abandon my profession to become a dance hall comic. In the subsequent wordless moments with their clatter of hooves and hail, I had an inspiration.
"I could use your aid," I said. "I live next door to Mr. Holmes, at 223 Baker Street. Perhaps, when you pick up a fare seeking my neighbor, you might instead drop them off at my door and point the way up."
"That would be most irregular."
"You can be the first of my irregulars," I said. I recalled Mr. Holmes having irregulars, although the Watson narrative may have been speaking of his digestive tract. "I will reward you for the referral."
My last case, The Adventure of the Client Who Paid Me, netted me four quid. I could most certainly parcel out a small bit of that. Two-and-a-half shillings would make for a generous incentive. "Half a crown."
"Upon receipt of the client." I could hardly expect to have the man wait in his cab while I learned the details of the case.
"It's a deal," the cabby said. "And since we two is partnering, I am Grover Chance. Folks call me Shammy."
"I am Jules Pfennig." I did not welcome his assertion of "partners."
The carriage rounded a corner, entering a narrow lane and not proceeding in the direction of my home. The road beneath our wheels seemed to be missing every other brick and the hard rubber wheels clacked as my cab jumped. We might as well have been riding on cobblestone.
"I say!" I said.
He pulled his hansom to a halt beneath a house bridge that spanned the two sides of the back street. The darkness was sickly and fearful. No doubt, I was to be assailed and despoiled. I engaged my fists, primed to strike the first blow.