‘Well, well,’ said he, ‘I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual…’
…………………….– “The Adventure of the Three Gables”
Lestrade was waiting by the phone. “That Times
reporter said she’d call about the crimes
I logged back in the early ’90s. Why
now, after all these years, they’d magnify
a few discrepancies…” He was addressing
his young wife Flora, a belated blessing
in the long afternoon of his retirement.
“Back then, to be an occasional liar meant
nothing to Holmes. He let some rogues away–
count on it, Flo. ‘Where Are They All Today?’
That’s surely better copy than the tripe
these vermin peddle. Set it up in type:
‘He who would label Scotland Yard obtuse
was sometimes given to the gross abuse
of his authority as London’s first
private detective. Nightly he immersed
himself in gaslit netherworlds.’ The thing
to ask yourself is whether parroting
street dialects and aping dissolute
characters might have marred him at the root.
Did his disguises give him sympathy
for felons he would catch and let go free?
To one who could so brutally disparage
fellow professionals, the blithe miscarriage
of justice was as rosin to his bow.
It made his caustic tune stand out, you know:
The rhapsodies he played to intellect,
chill and severe, implied that to detect
a pattern was the ultimate reward.
Small matter if he wasn’t above board
in all he told us, holding something back,
but so minute we didn’t feel the lack.
‘Enter Inspector Lestrade.’ I was the bloke
who tidied after him. No, I misspoke–
The pattern was intact and didn’t need
some gap of logic to be remedied
or even an interpreter. Instead,
a lackey or a fool was warranted.
Someone to close the files and tell the press
we’d found our man. All right, so I confess
this gradual exposure made me ask:
did I not own an enviable task?
As Watson made his flatmate’s exploits live,
so I could now control my narrative.
No longer would the Yard be called a ground
for raising mediocrities. I found
reporters quite susceptible to hints
that showed up later in the daily prints–
how Holmes, who claimed a window on the truth,
consorted with all manner of uncouth
specimen – Think of his ‘Irregulars’
and hope those wretches didn’t pick up scars
from sequestration with such a strange bird.
‘Irregular’ indeed. I’d never heard
of a grown man procuring services
from boys without immoral purposes
in mind. Why, yes – I mean just what I say.
(Flo, will you pull down the Tanqueray?)
We know already Watson had enabled
most of his vices – not so much the fabled
‘seven percent solution,’ but the zest
for treating each encounter as a test
of his deductive powers. Generalize
like that and in most prosecutors’ eyes
you’d be accused of making specious charges.
With every year, my hate for him enlarges
to an extent you won’t find credible.
(This Stilton, Flo, is scarcely edible.)
Why, who was he to annex those he saw
for only a few minutes to a law
of his abrupt devising, under which
everyone’s life was laid by in a niche
that he could label ‘solved’? No mystery
being allowed to linger, you’d say he
was thorough in some matters, yet how little
he cared to see a job through. Non-committal
in witness boxes up and down the land,
he wore an abstract stare. It stoked demand,
abetted by accounts his Boswell penned.
I was an early spotter of the trend:
Too many times Holmes shrugged and said the case,
while solved, had merited an act of grace
for the transgressor – but he never gave
such thoughts to any victim in the grave,
or toff who had been swindled, or the time
we’d wasted on dead leads. Even the Prime
Minister looked in, and looked the other way.
He hardly cared if justice had its day,
but wanted to be shown to be in thick
with London’s most beloved eccentric.
(I still gag now – or, Flo, is it the cheese?)
My own solution caught on by degrees.
I would avail of his indifference
to credit and to criminal offense.
If all he wanted was the satisfaction
of intellect, he could part with some fraction,
surely, of fame and repute. Why should I
be painted as the blunderer? Too high
for us mere mortals, Holmes couldn’t evade,
nevertheless, all that my lowly trade
could bring against him. Death by paperwork!
It happened every week I’d send a clerk
to Baker Street, to shadow his procedures.
And writers of four editorial leaders
were in my trench-coat pocket. Such attrition–
dogs at his heels – defeated his precision,
also his love for the chase. Watson, too,
began to drink and slowly shrink from view,
especially when I had planted doubt
even in him by putting it about
his ‘best and wisest man’ had not played straight.
There’s little that we Englishmen will rate
more highly, after all, than sportsmanship.
(This gin is bloody good. You’ll have a sip?)
Holmes sank into oblivion. Bees, Flo, bees!
At Sussex Downs. But those ‘discrepancies’
in my bookkeeping…. Shall we go abroad?
Ah, now she rings!
……………………………..—No, this is Sir Lestrade.”