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The Adventure of the Broken Heart:
Whose First Installment
Was Launched Upon Friday 13th
(Later Known as "Friday The Flirteenth")
Before Valentine's Day,
In The Year Of The Great Boston Blizzards
(Adam Singer © February 13, 2015)
Sherlock Holmes by Matt Thompson
While my friend Sherlock Holmes has many admirable qualities—his brilliant deductive abilities, a keen sense of Justice, and an enviable dramatic flair which would have seen him in fine stead had he turned his prodigious energy toward the stage rather than the pursuit and destruction of the criminal element—the softer passions of mankind were always alien to his cold and lofty nature.
It is for precisely this reason that, in looking over my notes for the year '15, I have decided to forego a more detailed account of what transpired in the Ravensbruck Sanctum, and to leave the poor motlied skeleton of Fortunato shackled to the wall of the wine-cellar where he met his doom. In their stead, I have chosen to memorialize one of the few instances in which I believe Holmes followed the directive of his heart, rather than his mind.
It happened that St. Valentine's Day fell upon a Saturday in that year. In the weeks previous, the looming spectre of Love was ever-present, and Holmes missed no opportunity to lambast its gaudy spangles, transparent manipulations, and the lovey-dovey couples who thronged the streets of Boston like mushrooms after a storm.
“During the year, Watson, there is no season in which 'Love'—" in Holmes' vocabulary, this was a four-letter word of dire contempt “—is so rife in the air. This holiday puts pressure upon happy couples, and drives bachelors & maidens into fits of despair."
Having heard various iterations upon this rant several times in the course of the week, I rejoined “So, Holmes, I take it you haven't got a date?"
He responded with a more conventional four-letter word, rolled over on the couch, huddled with his knees drawn up to his chest in the peculiar manner which I had learned, from the years of our companionship, signaled his desire to be left alone to think.
“---- off, Watson," he murmured into the couch, confirming my diagnosis.
I shrugged. Holmes was moody by nature, and often it was easier to ignore his bouts of childishness than to engage in them.
For that reason, I opted to take a walk. I set out from our Baker Street lodgings in the North End, ambling with no real goal in mind. It was cool that morning--which could mean any number of things, during this bizarre season of the Snowpocalypse. Luckily, my old war-wound wasn't acting up too severely.
I passed numerous instances of the exuberant affection which Holmes so despised. Red and pink hearts were slapped on every storefront, and every street seemed cluttered with happy couples.
As a bachelor myself, I found it hard not to succumb to precisely those emotions Holmes sneered at: desire and loneliness.
Having concluded that there was little to be gained by walking alone through these throngs of lovers, I turned my steps back toward Baker Street, in the hopes that Holmes would have recovered from his funk.
Upon opening the door, a blast of hot air rushed out and over my face. With painful suddenness, I felt the phantom of Iraq eyeing me hungrily—my chilly meditation left behind in an instant for the red-hot rage that grips me upon occasion.
Alone one night in December, I walked the rainy streets of Boston, looking for something whose name escapes me. It was cold and dark, and it felt like coming home.
I struggled to unzip my coat, with the same frantic energy as a drowning man buckles his lifejacket. I felt a flush spring to my cheeks, my breath shortening. As a man of medicine (and from prior experience), I knew all this heralded a panic attack.
Stay calm. Remember, this is only a dream. Only a memory.
I closed my eyes and sat down heavily on the step. I seldom spoke of the war to Holmes (or anyone), but its ghost hangs heavy in my mind when I am troubled. After being spurned—unintentionally, I know—by my friend, I went for a walk to cool off; on the street, it seemed that everyone I passed was part of a Couple.
It hurts, sometimes—being alone, you learn to crave companionship. When you've lived with men who are ready to lay down their lives for you, men who enter your life as strangers and end as brothers, living back home feels…insubstantial.
Some days it's the guilt of being alive instead of someone because they went through that door just before you. Others it's the memory of a friend's life trickling red and hot between your fingers, as you try to stop the bleeding.
Every day, the demons come howling out of the past.
Every day, you struggle to keep them down, closed off in the hurtlocker of your mind.
I feel the prickle of desert-heat outside Fallujah on my skin.
Remember, this is only a dream.
Sudden rush of heat coming into the AptHouse. That was all. Irrational panic, and the anger with no safe outlet. Moment has passed.
I gained the stair with an effort, and began to unlayer myself as I climbed.
The Holmes who met me as I opened the door might have been another fellow altogether from the sulky misanthrope whom I had taken my leave of only an hour previous. His eyes shone, and by the nervous way in which he paced about the room, I could tell that he was deeply interested in some new puzzle.
Sherlock bounced up to the door as I entered. He didn't quite meet my eyes, though he grinned with the amiability of a spaniel scenting the Chase. “Leave your war for a while, and come help me with this problem."
I opened my mouth to reply, and then shut it. “How…could you possibly know that I was brooding on the war?"
“Well, my dear Watson," he said in the infuriatingly superior manner which he affected (or perhaps naturally gravitated towards), “when I see you enter our Apt with your coat, vest, and scarf hanging loose, yet your face still red with blood, it is obvious that you have spent some minutes composing yourself before coming upstairs. This inevitably signals some intense emotion that you needed to gain mastery over. If you were flush with success after having found a surprise date for the evening, you would have been trying to hide a grin (at my expense!). But you have been crying, and knowing you as I do, the logical conclusion was that you were suddenly troubled by some oppressive memory. Ergo: Iraq."
A long moment passed, following this speech.
“Did I miss my guess?"
“No, Holmes," I replied slowly, my mind torn between admiration for his deductive abilities and the anger still lapping at my mind—not to mention the feeling of violation, under the scrutiny of that laserlike gaze. “You were correct in every particular. Although I would appreciate it if you did not…"
Sometimes it was difficult to know where to begin with Holmes.
“Watson," he ejaculated, “I fear that I have done you some great injury." Often, he seemed oblivious to others' emotions; his piercing insight could be weirdly out of focus with the concerns of most mortals.
“No, Holmes," I said, pouring myself a brandy, “it is perfectly all right." I grit my teeth and drank my brandy.
“Oh, good then!" he said, clapping his hands in honest ignorance. “Our ennui is at an end, for THIS has just been given to me--" so saying, he produced a red heart, which fit into the palm of his hand "--by way of a mysterious gift."
ED NOTE: While the script for this Adventure has been written,
various considerations (not least including the brutal Boston winter)
have made it impossible to coordinate the schedules of all principal actors.
For this reason, we are releasing the next segment of the script
as it currently stands, with notes concerning photos that should be included.
We hope that you enjoy this backstage look at what goes into
creating one of our Fumetti Serial Adventures.
So saying, Holmes pocketed the Heart. He turned back, rummaging in the kipple of our Apt for a moment before unearthing an ordinary-looking brown cardboard box for my inspection. “What can you gather from it?"
He thrust the box into my hands, sat down across from me with his knees drawn up to his chest, and watched me with his usual hawklike stare.
I looked down at the package, determined to channel my emotions into positive mental effort.
It was an ordinary brown cardboard shipping-box, from FedEx. The return address was [Market36], and the sender one Mr. Eric Hollenberg. Inside the box, I found some crumpled green papers (evidently being used to pad the Heart while in transit).
"This was also included," Holmes said, proffering a note on creamy-white paper, with the following missive written in flowing script:
“Dear Mr. Holmes," (it ran) “For many years, I have eagerly followed your adventures through the tales of your colleague Dr. Watson. I hope you will not find me forward, sir, in sending this package as a token of affection and goodwill from a great fan of your work."
It was signed 'Affectionately, An Ardent Admirer'.
“Well, Holmes?" I asked, as I put the letter down.
“I have tried to decipher that letter, Watson, but it is in some devilishly clever code!"
[Holmes vexed at “devilishly clever code"]
“Yes, yes! If you take every third letter, beginning with 'A', then 'R', 'L', 'S'—well, suffice to say that all variations upon that approach result in worthless gibberish. However, if we assume that words such as 'token' and 'ardent' has some other significance, it is possible that the underlying—"
“Holmes!" I cried, my sides shaking with a mirth I could not have expected to feel so soon after my lonely perambulation, “have you not considered that perhaps this IS no more than it claims to be—a token of seasonal affection from someone smitten with you?"
Seldom have I seen my friend Sherlock Holmes at a loss for words. But this was indeed such a time.
At last he spoke, a single word: “Ridiculous."
He continued to rifle through the newspaper-wrappings of the package, determined to unearth some dire crime; I pulled out my phone to check Twitter.
[Watson browses Twitter]
In glancing down the current trends, my eye alighted upon #McGuffin. I scrolled through the recent tweets, but to no avail.
“Hum!" said I, “there seems to be no new progress in the matter of the Scarlet Sapphire." That gem, stolen from the jewelry-box of McGuffin, had been the source of much speculation in the past weeks.
Discovered in one of the Bradbury canals adjacent to the Fineberg Crescent segment of the Mars colony, this stone has every characteristic of the Earth-gem known as the sapphire—save its remarkable scarlet shade.
Only a dozen such stones have been imported back to Earth—and only one was known to be possessed by a private individual: the American pop-singer McGuffin, who had adopted it as a signature element of her already-distinctive onstage persona. She was instantly recognizable by her whiteface makeup and black&gray costumes; the Scarlet Sapphire—a gemstone from another planet—brought a tear-shaped droplet of color to her monochromatic palette.
McGuffin was staying at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston, and left the Scarlet Sapphire in her jewelry-box while exploring the city (this being upon the 3rd of February, eleven days ago).
Reggie Thomas, an electrician, was accused of having abstracted it from the lady's jewel-case. John Carter, upper-attendant at the hotel, gave his evidence to the effect that he had shown Thomas up to McGuffin's suite upon the day of the robbery in order that he might fix the fire-alarm, which was beeping incessantly in a most annoying manner. He had remained with Thomas some little time, but had been called away shortly afterward to deal with a complaint concerning Room 303.
On returning, he found that Thomas had disappeared, that the bureau had been forced open, and that the small turtleshell casket in which, as it afterwards transpired, McGuffin was accustomed to keep her jewel, was lying empty upon the bed. Carter instantly gave the alarm, and Thomas was arrested the same evening; but the stone could not be found either upon his person or in his rooms.
Eleanor Evans, McGuffin's tour-manager and confidante, deposed to having heard Carter's cry of dismay on discovering the robbery, and to having rushed into the room, where she found matters as described by the last witness. Inspector Sardar, C division, gave evidence as to the arrest of Thomas, who struggled frantically, and protested his innocence in the strongest terms. Upon discovering that Thomas had been previously convicted for identity-theft, he was locked up upon the instant.
“Strange," Holmes said in his abstracted fashion, “very strange…"
“What is, Holmes?" I said, pocketing my phone.
“This soap," said he with utter seriousness, hefting the heart-shaped bar of soap that had come in the Market36 package.
[Holmes feeling the Soap]
“It looks like a fine-enough bar of soap," I replied.
“Did you not notice anything odd about it, Watson?" So saying, he threw the soap to me.
I grabbed for it—too late—and dropped the soap.
I picked it back up, seeing Holmes' grin. Determined not to be the bumbling sidekick, I examined the dingus closely.
“Why, Holmes!" I cried, upon picking up the soap from the floor, “this is surely the Scarlet Sapphire!"
“Yes, Watson," he said, opening the small hunting-knife which he acquired during last year's debacle in WVirginia involving a collapsed mine, a suspicious suicide-note, and a rivalry for the affections of a beautiful woman (an adventure I have chronicled elsewhere under the heading of “The Last Note Of A Flat Miner").
“Now—" he snatched the soap back from me, and began tearing off the wrapping-plastic, “let's cut into this Heart Of Soap!"