I had been sitting at my desk, writing with uncommon ease, when there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said, looking up.
“Ah, you’re busy,” said Holmes.
“Not terribly. Just getting a case of yours down on paper, the business with that South African brute from a few years ago. I’m thinking about calling it ‘The Adventure of the Cycling Lady’—remember Miss Violet, the beautiful music teacher?”
“Ah, yes” said Holmes. “How about ‘The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist’? Has a nice mysterious ring to it, no?” He held up a telegram. “In any case—no pun intended—it appears more business is in the offing. Lestrade. An ‘intriguing little puzzle,’ which he has well in hand, needless to say. Do you care to come along?”
“Practically my calling—in case you hadn’t noticed. Let me just finish this paragraph, and I’ll be ready.”
A few minutes later, I had put on my shoes and donned my coat and was following Holmes down the steps of 221 Baker Street. A hansom cab stood waiting by the curb. I noticed that Holmes was holding a newspaper, but did not comment.
“I hope I didn’t break your inspiration,” he said, as we climbed aboard. “I wouldn’t like to be some kind of person from Porlock.”
“I wasn’t off in Xanadu,” I remarked as the vehicle jolted into motion. “All I do is chronicle what has transpired.”
“Well, you do embellish here and there, you will admit.”
“Once in a while, for dramatic effect. One needs to think of the reader.”
“Sometimes you will also edit a conversation or move things around a little.”
“Some legerdemain is unavoidable, Holmes! Reality can be too much of a flux. It requires an ordering hand to become a narrative. But the core of my stories is always true to the facts.”
“So you couldn’t do what those other writer fellows do, make up something from whole cloth?”
“Heavens, no! I don’t know how they do it.”
Holmes looked out at the throng of pedestrians as we rolled in the direction of Mayfair. The light of the late spring afternoon lent the scene a glow that, paradoxically, seemed to emanate from within the buildings, even from within the busy shoppers themselves rather than to be bestowed upon them—as if everything and everyone were animated by some ancient force.
“I’m only harping on this, Watson,” Holmes said, turning back to me, “because it would appear that Lestrade’s missive pertains to a practitioner of this craft.” He handed me the newspaper he was still holding. It was the afternoon edition of the Telegraph. “Right hand side, below the fold.”
I looked where Holmes had indicated and gasped.
“That’s a shame!”
“Did you know the man?”
“Not exactly. I met him once at a soiree. He was the guest of honour, read from his latest book.”
I glanced over the little box of print.
Herman Starkey Dead
Herman Starkey, enormously successful author of Knights of Glenfinnan and Anthony Gascoyne, was found dead around noon today in his Belgravia home. There appears to be some indication of foul play. Scotland Yard is investigating. Mr. Starkey was only fifty-one years old. He leaves behind neither wife nor children.
“They must have received the news shortly before going to print,” I said.
Holmes nodded. “Were they any good, his books?”
“A tad unwieldy perhaps, but the man knew his craft. People certainly love them. And he kept his audience well supplied. A book a year, reliable as the Royal Mail.”