It was upon the morning of the seventeenth of October when I encountered my long-term friend and companion Mr. Sherlock Holmes knocking upon the door of my residence. As I opened the door, I recognized the look of subdued excitement on Holmes' face. He was obviously in the middle of a case; one of those periods where he would rush from location to location, either unaware of the effect such a schedule was having on his body or uncaring, locked as he was in the thrill of the chase.
It was highly peculiar for him to call on me, for it was often his way to send a telegram summoning me to his residence at 221B Baker Street. I voiced this concern and he looked at me with a sharp eye. "My dear Watson!" he exclaimed. "I know that if I were to send a telegram it would take at least ten minutes for it to arrive, and at least ten minutes for you to arrive at my residence! No, time is of the essence, my friend! The hunt is on!"
He led me outside to a waiting carriage, my feet carrying out the exciting routine they had gone through dozens of time before. Once we were inside, I turned to Holmes. "I trust you are on a case?" I said.
"You expect anything less of me?" He smiled. "Did you enjoy your trip to Scotland?"
I began to reply in the negative, for my wife had fallen ill on the second day of our trip, when I realized I had not told Holmes of my holiday at any point before or after the weeks trip. "I can see how you would deduce I was on a trip, considering the length of my absence," I said. "But however did you work out I went to Scotland?"
He leaned forward, as if to impart some of his usual wisdom, but instead said; "Your wife was leaning out of the window, I simply asked her! You must always be aware, my dear Watson, that before we come to the world of theories and ideas, we must first make sure to find out the facts!"
I raised a skeptical eyebrow. "This seems to be contrary to the priorities you yourself demonstrate, my friend. Oftentimes, you will have worked out the solution to the case moments after, or even before, the details of it have been imparted to you!"
He turned to me in mock anger, but his expression quickly lightened as if he was speaking to a child, as he no doubt considered himself to be. "I must not underestimate you, Watson! You saw through my ruse. Facts are cold liars. Oh, they never lie themselves, but they throw decoys, red herrings right in front of us! A theory is the lance that punches through their shield and allows us access to the truth, whether it be good or bad. You have learned a lot, Watson. Who knows, perhaps you would be the one to fool Sherlock Holmes!" He chuckled lightly, knowing that this could never happen. "Very well, enough games. I will tell you of the case.
"Two years ago, a Mr. Daniel Highman moved to London from his previous residence in America after the death of his wife. He brought with him his five year old son, Robert Highman, and seventeen year old daughter, Elizabeth Highman. He was a recluse and a tinkerer, often spending days and days experimenting with his inventions. None of them appear to have seen the light of day, so I can imagine his efforts were wasted. He does not appear to have achieved anything of much interest, and his life appears to have been dull and, regrettably, short."
"He is dead?"
"It is more often than not the case with our, well, cases, is it not, Watson? We are surrounded by death. I would lament this, but it is unwise to bite the hand that feeds us! Daniel Highman was found dead last week. His hand was missing and it appears that he had died of blood loss."
"A straight cut?" I asked. "The hand, I mean?"
"No, it had been torn off as if by some savage beast."
"Good God!" I ejaculated.
"It is a dreadful affair," Holmes agreed. "He was not a rich man, so I do not see either of the children doing it for the inheritance. I have searched his quarters before and found nothing of note. I am not willing to simply leave this case unsolved, Watson, so I have called upon you, as you often are instrumental in our cases. The police have no suspects and neither do I. Perhaps with a second search we will find something more."
It was fifteen minutes before our carriage arrived at the Highman residence. Holmes got out, leaving me to pay the driver, as was his way. Holmes knocked twice before the door opened to reveal Miss Highman, staring at us with tear-streaked eyes. "Mr. Holmes?" she cried. "You've discovered something more? Who is this man?" She turned on me, hostility clear on her expression. "Is he a suspect?!" she demanded.
Holmes lay a pacifying hand upon her shoulder. "No. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson. He is here to help me with my investigation. Can you please show us to your fathers quarters?"
"Certainly," she stuttered, leading us down the stairs. "Father was often down here for weeks. He was very absorbed in his work. He is - he was a very successful inventor," she informed us with misguided pride. "Clients would visit him often."
Given Holmes' short, cold summary of the man's life, I assumed this was a lie designed to impress myself and my companion. Holmes continued as if he had not heard her speak.
"Here we are," she said, opening the door. "Would you mind if I left you to it? I must comfort my brother."
"Not at all," replied Holmes. She left the room, her footsteps echoing.
Mr. Highman's chambers consisted of a small writing desk, a few cupboards, a wardrobe and a bed. The writing desk was covered in blank sheets of paper. The state of the bed showed that it was slept in often. I saw nothing else of interest in the cold room where the man had died, and appearances suggested that neither had Holmes. No inventions, nothing but the evidence of a broken man.
"Get searching then, Watson," said Holmes. "The game is afoot." He said these words sadly, as if utterly defeated by the lack of evidence in the room.
I approached a cupboard and yanked it open. It was full of cutlery, knives and forks simply shoved in among the plates. An untidy man, no doubt. I lifted my head to see Holmes open the wardrobe with a triumphant expression, only to resume his deflated one. And then he was triumphant again, and a few seconds later, full of sadness. My heart dropped.
"Holmes?" I asked. "Are you alright?"
He turned to me. "Watson, what are…" He blinked, as if confused. "Watson, what are…" He repeated. Stepping sideways for a better look, I noticed the glint of light reflecting off glass. Surmising that this was the cause of Holmes' confusion, I lifted my revolver and fired a single shot. The glass smashed. Water poured out of the wardrobe, followed by a small fish. Holmes came back to himself.
"A fish?" he said to himself. "Aha! A fish!"
Miss Highman came rushing into the room, obviously agitated by the loud bang. "What happened?" She gasped. "You…I thought that…the murderer!"
Holmes raised a hand to stop her. "No. No murderer. I think it is best we gathered in the dining room."
We sat there, the body of the fish in the middle of the table, the water that covered it staining the fine tablecloth. Holmes turned to me to begin the proceedings.
"You received a letter earlier?" he asked. "You have traces of envelope paper underneath your fingernails."
"Yes. It appears my wife's illness is worse than I thought. I will have to return to my home as soon as we are finished here."
He nodded. "Well, I will not keep Dr. Watson long. With the evidence we have gained, it is simply elementary. This fish is obviously the cause of your woes, Miss Highman," he said, nodding to her.
"How is that possible?" asked Miss Highman. "It is but a fish!"
"With what happened to me, Miss Highman," replied Holmes. "It is obvious that this fish somehow has the means to tamper with the memories of man. No murderer, Miss Highman. Just a fish. It is now dead, and its sinister practice is undone."
"I find this very unlikely, Holmes," I commented.
He turned to me. "What have I always told you, Watson? When you have removed the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. If you look in the fish's mouth, you will note the sharp teeth. Your father stayed in his quarters for weeks at a time. No doubt, on one of these occasions he must have been feeding the fish. Its effect caused him to put his hand in the bowl again and again, until there was nothing left of his hand and he bled to death."
"This fish was an instrument of murder?" I said. "Who would have done this?"
"Himself, I suspect. He was an eccentric man, and he would not have been able to resist a specimen such as this, and so he kept it in his quarters, studying it often."
"Nobody will believe this, Mr. Holmes," said Miss Highman.
"I do not think that's important, Miss Highman. Do you believe it?"
We walked through the park towards my home. Holmes said, "I am sure your wife will recover soon enough, and you'll be ready for another case, my friend."
I laughed. "You could do without me, Sherlock."
"Of course not, John. You have saved my life, after all."
He was a very successful inventor. Clients would visit him often.
"Many times, Holmes. I fear I do little else."
No inventions, nothing but the evidence of a broken man.
"May it never change," said Holmes, as I looked down at the hand which had saved Sherlock Holmes.
"Who knows, perhaps you would be the one to fool Sherlock Holmes!"
I shot Holmes through the back of the head.
I walked into 221B Baker Street and went up the stairs to what had been Holmes' quarters. As arranged in his letter to me, Mycroft Holmes had left the door unlocked and was sitting in Holmes' armchair, smoking a pipe.
"You did it?" asked Mycroft.
"Yes," I said. "Have you arranged the rest?"
"My men will move in and give Miss Highman and her brother the necessary amnesiacs. You have done our Foundation a great service, Dr. Watson." He said this as if I had simply delivered a letter instead of killing his brother. He saw my expression. "It had to be done, doctor. The loss of Dr. Highman was a regrettable one, but Sherlock could not be allowed to continue knowing what he knew. He isn't - wasn't as sensible as you. We're the only thing holding the world together, you know."
"Yes," I said, and I was telling the truth. "I know."
"You and your wife sail for America on Tuesday. I would pack your bags. Now we will walk onto the streets as if we were old friends, and go our separate ways. I will spread the story that Holmes was killed in Strasbourg. Are we clear?"
"Yes." My voice was a dull, quiet monotone. "We are."
Myself and Mycroft left the cold, dead room at 221B Baker Street.