Friday, 11 September 2015

Sherlock Holmes: The Case Of The Black Opal

by Anna Caldwell

It was a warm and sunny evening at 221B Baker Street on the night of the crime. Unfortunately the ceiling fans had recently stopped working and neither Holmes, Mrs.Hudson nor myself could work out why. To gain some relief from the heavy heat of the summer we had opened all of the windows. Things had been very quiet lately; somewhat worryingly quiet. Holmes and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We felt the same sense as when a tsunami hits, the tide seeps towards the horizon creating a moment of quiet calm. Then suddenly the tsunami strikes and it is larger and more horrific than anything you’ve ever seen.

The only event that had been remotely exciting was Holmes and Professor Moriarty quarrelling when they met in the street. I heard Holmes ranting about how he didn’t have ‘it’. Moriarty responded that if Holmes didn’t hand it over, he would…and then trailed off. I was troubled to over hear Mrs.Hudson’s name being used by Moriarty in a threatening tone. After the incident Holmes had not wanted to stay out of the house for more than an hour each day, which I found very peculiar. Especially because Mrs.Hudson, the landlady and housekeeper, spent most of her time inside, cooking, cleaning and resting.

As we strolled home that evening, I asked what the argument with Moriarty had been about. Holmes replied flatly, “I found a black opal, when we were solving a case a few years back, the one in South Australia. You see, black opals are extremely rare and incredibly valuable.”
“Oh yes…” I said, desperate for him to explain himself.
“And Moriarty is looking for it. It increases his power, makes him stronger.”
“So where is it?” I say in a more hushed voice.
“Under the bearskin hearthrug. He’s not going to find it even if he does get in. But he told me if I didn’t hand it over he would...” Holmes struggled to go on. “He would kill Mrs.Hudson.” I didn’t ask anymore, perhaps because I knew I was pushing Holmes, putting my nose into other people’s business or perhaps because I didn’t want to hear his response.

It was early morning when we were startled by a harsh knocking on our front door. I jumped from my chair at the breakfast table (still in my pyjamas), excited that something was finally happening. I got dressed as quickly as I could, whilst calling, “I’ll just be a minute!” and “Two seconds!” As I went to grasp the doorknob, Holmes, apparently already fed, washed and dressed, stopped me in my tracks and peered through the peephole, concerned as to who it may be.

He opened the door, revealing a young man with a strong build whom we recognised as the baker’s boy; the end of his nose and his cheeks tinted rosy red perhaps from running the whole way here. However, his clothes were slightly charred, just around the edges, but it was still noticeable. Another thing we observed was that he was not wearing a top, just a hoodie. He started speaking so rapidly neither Holmes nor myself could understand a word coming from his quivering lips. “Do come in and explain yourself” said Holmes relaxed and unfazed by this boy’s worried and somewhat disturbed manner. The boy sat down, shaking slightly.

“What is your name, boy?”
“Eric, b…but…I need your help Sir, you see…you are Sherlock Holmes aren’t you?”
“Yes I am but you need to listen to me. What is wrong? Tell me the whole story – every last detail you remember.” His tone was stern and eyebrows furrowed. I watched intently as the conversation went on.
“Last night I thought I heard a window smashing, although I don’t think anyone came in, but I was half asleep and extremely tired after a long day at the bakery. It took no longer than a minute for me to fall back into a deep sleep. Then I woke, just after sunrise this morning, only to find myself choking on thick black smoke, and someone carrying me out of my room, down the stairs and outside, to the edge of the woods. My top half was bare but I remember wearing a pyjama shirt going to bed, so my Dad gave me his hoodie. I didn’t know what was happening, but it only took me one moment to look at my home and see the flames dancing out of the windows and crawling up the house. I then got sent to come and find you Sir.” I glanced at Holmes, waiting for a response.

“Take me to the scene,” said Holmes, which was surprising because I knew he would normally ask more questions and take more time. He grabbed his violin when we left the house and as I looked at him, I could see his brain ticking away like clockwork, from the serious and concentrated expression on his face. He got out his pipe and absentmindedly lit it, whilst we followed the boy to his now charred house. I watched as Holmes locked the front door and tested the handle, intent on it being secure, even though Mrs.Hudson was still inside. As we reached the scene, Holmes’ deer hunting hat flapping as we jogged to keep up with the young man, we saw a woman knelt down on the dewy grass, cradling a man in her arms. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

When we approached the small crowd of three, Holmes surveyed the house, the people around it, and finally the ambulance, which was bumping down the rickety track. We had run through the city and had reached a more suburban area. As Holmes walked briskly towards the group of people, he interviewed them one by one, all except for the woman who had been kneeling on the floor who was obviously too upset to talk.

Holmes requested that the ambulance not take the body away. We had just been informed that the man was dead but Holmes wanted to know the cause of death. The boy who had come to see us this morning sprinted over to what must have been his Father’s dead body. We left the family after an attempt to calm them down to go and investigate. Holmes led me to a window. It was smashed. The boy was right. We checked the smoky but no longer burning house for people – we found no one.

Holmes and I observed a piece of smashed glass on the outside of the house, whilst all the others were on the inside of the window. “That’s odd,” I said, looking at Holmes for an answer. Nothing. He was obviously trying to put the pieces of the fire together. “Go and get that woman. The one who was knelt on the floor,” Holmes instructed me, and I did so. As I brought her to Holmes he looked her in the eye and said, “How did your husband die? Did you notice anything unusual about his body?”

She stumbled for words but eventually replied. “Broken glass. We found a piece of broken glass in his chest.”

Holmes and I apologised for her loss and told her we would do whatever it took to solve the crime. She stumbled away to the loving arms of the rest of her family. We climbed into the remains of the house and found a running tap. There was also a mirror which was cracked and searing hot. I couldn’t figure out what had happened, although I had a vague idea in my head, but no proof. Holmes got out his violin and started playing, not only did it help him think, but it eased my mind, listening to his beautiful music.

“I’ve got it,” said Holmes triumphantly but still not satisfied. “The murderer climbed up the pipe to the window, smashed it, and stole this sharp piece of glass. He then climbed down the pipe and positioned the glass for when the sun rose. The angle of the glass reflected the sunlight   through the window and onto the mirror, causing the fire to start. He then climbed back through the window, stole the boy’s shirt, wet it with the tap and tied it over his face so that the smoke wouldn’t harm him as much. My guess is he then got more shards of glass and stabbed the victim, then obviously escaped.”
“Brilliant.” It was all I could get out, the image in my mind came so quickly and easily that I knew he was right.
“All we need to find out now,” he continued, “is who and why.”

We thanked the family for their time and apologised for the death once more. I assured them that we would get back to them with any news and then we made our way home for the day. As we arrived back at 221B Baker Street, I took the key from Holmes to open the front door. I turned the key in the lock but before my hand reached the doorknob I noticed that the previously ajar window had now been forced wide open. All of this now made sense. The fans had been purposefully broken so that we would open the windows, making it easier for the intruder. I turned round to face Holmes. “It was a distraction,” I said, rushed and worried.

We burst in through the door, only to see the place turned upside down: cupboards and desk contents strewn across the floor, bottles smashed, chairs tipped over, a door on its hinges. The only thing untouched was the bearskin hearthrug. Thick black leather boots, of what could only be a criminal, sprinted down the old wooden stairs and into the street carrying a screaming woman.

“Mrs.Hudson!” yelled Holmes and ran after her.

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