As I sit down to write these impressions of the case most recently concluded by my friend and colleague Mr. Sherlock Holmes, I am struck by the folly of expecting that life can be in any way predictable. Up until a month ago, I continued to struggle with the absence of Holmes from my life, having believed that he had perished in Switzerland at the hands of the villain Moriarty. Now I am back at 221b Baker Street and contending with not one Holmes, but two; my living friend, and the lifelike replica of him he had constructed to use as a decoy for a would-be assassin. After mistakenly bidding it “Good morning” on more than one occasion, I requested that he obscure the bust with a cloth, which he did.
With Holmes back in London, it took little time for clients to begin arriving at our door again. It was on a late May morning in 1894 that a man came to our abode seeking assistance in resolving a perplexing problem. It was not, however, a member of the public asking for help, but rather Inspector Tobias Gregson of Scotland Yard.
“On behalf of the entire Metropolitan force, Mr. Holmes,” he began, “let me just say that I am truly glad you’re not really dead.”
“Very generous of you and the force,” Holmes replied. “To what to I owe the pleasure of your appearance this morning?”
The inspector removed his round hat and began to pace. “She’s a right puzzler, she is,” he said.
“Rather than wear out the carpet, Gregson, perhaps you should take a seat and tell me about it.”
After settling his long, thin frame into the guest chair, the inspector said: “It won’t take long to tell, actually. A man named Francis Tovey, an architect who lives in Shepherd Market, is charged with murdering his wife. I say ‘charged’ as if there were some doubt, but the truth is I know he did it. I know it as surely as I am sitting here.”
“He has been arrested?” Holmes asked.
“Yes. At this moment he is sitting in lock-up at Brixton prison, though for how much longer, I can’t say.”
“Because he has produced an alibi. Both he and his lawyer are petitioning for his release.”
“The vast majority of criminals offer alibis. The vast majority of them are broken.”
“Right. I’ve broken a goodly number of them myself. But this one is different.”
Gregson leaned back and asked permission to light a cigar, which Holmes gave. “First, let me tell you why I know he’s the killer,” he said. “He was seen by a witness going into his house on Trebeck Street on the night of May 14th.”
“I would think that is hardly unusual,” I commented, “since it is his house.”
“Right. But some minutes later, screams were heard coming from the selfsame house. Then Tovey was seen running through the door and down the street. He was positively identified by a neighbour. An officer was summoned and upon entering the house, found the prone form of Mrs. Evangline Tovey, barely alive. Her throat had been cut.”
“Good lord,” I muttered.
“There was just enough life in her body to say, ‘He did this to me.’ ”
“He did this to me?” Holmes repeated. “Not ‘my husband,’ or ‘Francis’?”
“That’s right. But when the officer on the scene asked her if it was her husband that she meant, she nodded her head. Then she died.”
“When did you apprehend the man?”
“Two days later, as he came back to his house.”
“Returning to the scene,” I muttered.
“Right, returning to it from Blackpool.”
“After he murdered his wife, he fled to Blackpool?” Holmes asked.
“That is certainly my belief,” the inspector replied. “But he claims he was in Blackpool the entire time, and therefore could not possibly have committed the murder.”
“That’s his alibi?” I asked. “A claim that could easily be investigated?”
“Oh, there’s more,” Gregson said. “It isn’t simply a stated alibi. The man has photographic evidence that ostensibly proves he was in Blackpool at the time.”
Holmes sat up a little straighter, and said, “Photographic evidence?”