“No,” I, Jules Pfennig, told the young lady, the young lady with pouting lips and a mist in her eyes, “this is 223 Baker Street. The man you seek lives next door.” Being a gentleman, I omitted telling the woman at the doorstep to my rooming house, my profane objections to being confused with that smug sleuth.
“Ah, Mr. Holmes, I was informed you are a trying individual, and that you would wave aside most all prospective clients without mercy. You care only for the challenge of the case.”
“Madame, you have mistaken me for my neighbor,” I said offishly. “I stand a mere five-foot-eight and two-thirds inches. As for Mr. Sherlock Holmes …”
“I can pay!” she blustered, and opened her purse to reveal a five-pound note. “I can pay whatever you ask.”
That stopped me. My wallet was as empty as my belly. “As I was saying: as for Mr. Sherlock Holmes, he is standing here before you. Follow me!”
Together we walked down a dreary hallway, up the stairs with their dreary carpet, down another dreary hall, and entered my dreary flat.
“Take a seat!”
She sat on my lone cushioned chair and folded her hands over her lap.
Like many a weasel man before me, I had aspirations. I left behind my job as head of stoat control in the bucolic burgh of Dowickershire, being inexorably drawn to the sooty lanes and pungent bouquets of London metropolis. By fixing myself here, I had hoped to advance my lot in life, but, alas, as of yet, employment had eluded me. I had spent my last bobs.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
She presented a slip of paper. It read, in cramped writing: Sherlock Holmes 221 B Baker Street. The front stroke on the first B was separate from the rest of the letter so that, in sequence, the note appeared to say 221 13 Baker Street.
“I searched for Twenty-two-thousand-one-hundred-thirteen Baker Street,” she said, “goodness knows how I tried to find it—only to discover that it does not exist. So, I concluded the second “1” was a mistake and the first “1” was merely a jot attempting to cross out the second. That left 223. Voila! I am here.”
“A brilliant deduction!” I said. She heaved a sweet sigh. “Let us begin with your name.” I set two fingers against my cheekbone, puckered my lips, and squinted with concentration.
“Elizabeth Kane. You may call me Eliza.”
Her clothes were professional: somber, black, and tasteful. I surmised, in my first Holmesian feat, that she was a lady of position. “Tell me, what is your occupation?”
“I am a governess.”
“Most impressive. And what province do you govern?”
“My ward. I tutor a young child. Master James.”
“Excellent!” I stabbed the air with an index finger. “Best to start small. The hand that rocks the cradle … rocks the world.” I swished a hand back and forth to emphasize the motion.
She arched a single eyebrow.
The thin squeak of a violin wafted through the wall. I banged hard and called out, “Hey! I’m detecting here!”
When the music didn’t stop, I winced a smile and said to Eliza, “Nuisance neighbors. Have a seat.”
“I am already sitting,” she said.
“Indeed, you are. That is what is known as an observation.”
“Who is Jules Pfennig?” she asked.
I looked about to learn how she encountered this name. A framed award on the wall with my photo. Weasel Warden of the Year. My name beneath in small letters. Good eyesight.
“An alias,” I said, “one of my many nom de guerres.”
“Noms de guerre,” she corrected.
“You are less than what I expected.”
I patted my body and took a deep breath, in and out. At last, this came to mind: “I find that by lowering the estimation of my clients, they become more revealing.”
She cogitated my statement. For a moment I thought the jig was, indeed, up. However, here was a woman who had spent considerable time searching for 22113 Baker Street, an address which, by extension, must exist somewhere in Scotland.
“Ah, yes,” she decided, “that makes sense.”
This time, I sighed. “So, let’s hop to it. What quandary brings you to my doorstep? And to my chair?”
“Mr. Holmes, as I said, I am a governess.”