The envelope bore no postage. I concluded, considering that its return address was that of my next-door neighbour, that it must have been personally placed in my mail slot. Using my thumbnail, I sawed a ragged opening along the gummed seal. Inside, I encountered a single page, thin and tri-fold. The missive began properly enough:
Mr. Jules Pfennig
223 Baker Street, Second Floor
Mr. Pfennig, sir,
The author addressed me as sir! Few people who have known me have graced me with such a formal appellation—unless accompanied by a sneer. More often it has been Mr. Pfennig, you wretched cur, you upstart, dunderhead, trickster … Already, I felt encouraged! The letter continued:
I hereby compel you upon the threat of civil suit that you cease to exploit my name for any and all purposes. Most especially you may not avail yourself of my reputation to lay claim to clients who seek my services for their very real crises. They expect my quality of expertise in detection. Mr. Pfennig, I am aware of your past record as a weasel warden. Consider it most appropriate that you repair to your former vocation.
Not so faithfully yours,
221 B Baker Street
The unbridled insolence of that man! I would not object if Sherlock Holmes used my name.
The paper bore a watermark with the faint profile of the so-called master detective. I drew ink into my fountain pen and sketched a moustache on it. I was blackening an eye when I noticed someone cracking open the front door to my flat, knocking as he did. Rude.
"Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" the man asked.
"Yes!" I declared. I have bribed several of the local vendors to pass out my address as that of the other detective's.
"May I intrude?" This was merely half a request: he already stood in the wedge of the part-open door.
In form and appearance, the man was quite remarkable. He had an unnaturally straight posture as though a rod had replaced his spine. His head was the shape of a bullet cartridge with the slope of his forehead disappearing into one of those Moroccan thimble hats—fezzes, they are called. His jaw was a caricature of squareness, and his beady eyes lay fixed on me with a wild determination. His skin had that olive-gray shade of North Africans.
"Plymouth is my name," said he in perfect Queen's English, adding, "Some call me Plymmy, others, Plym."
"Good sir," I said, and he nodded to show that he appreciated the attribution, "do you seek my aid?"
He sniffed. "How do I know that you are the genuine Sherlock Holmes? I have heard there is an impostor lurking about." His smile sucked in his lips, and he eyed me askance.
"I have just finished penning this letter to such a charlatan." I showed him the letter and he squinted and blinked as he read.
"You will note my personalized stationery, and anyone can tell you it bears the true signature of Sherlock Holmes."
"Why did you draw a moustache on the watermark?" he asked.
"I am planning out disguises."
"Oh, yes, I've heard of that."
"Pray tell, how may this great detective be of aid?"
"It is I who am at your service," Plymmy said, surprising me. "I am a mere coachman." He took off his fez and planted it over his chest. His crown was mostly bald, and the brim of his hat must have served as a dam, because rivulets of sweat began trickling down: his great forehead melting. "Your brother has summoned you."
Sherlock Holmes has a brother? Surely, I, with my weasel-trap of a mind, I who have read all twenty or so of Watson's reports would have come across such a detail. This summons must be some sort of devious scheme to abduct me!