Left To Rot- A Sherlock Holmes Adventure
By Will Barber.
They came and went, unaware of the voyeur. Perhaps it was better they did not know that I saw everything: their secrets, their lies and their sins. They need not worry though; I could not speak or point the finger for I am simply a hotel. I once was a beloved home designed by a writer for his wife but now I am just a witness – a witness to crime.
It was early evening and the mist was settling around me, I like to doze at that time as it keeps the aches away from my jambs. One of those new, smelly contraptions called motor cars awoke me and I saw him for the first time. There were two of them, middle aged men who didn’t deserve another glance, or so I thought.
The passenger alighted from the vehicle and stood in front of me, looking me up and down as if I were a swearing street girl. His manner rather annoyed me as he was not up to standard with modern dress but he had the audacity to look down his hawk like nose at a beautiful building like me. The driver stumbled from the car clumsily and stood behind his friend. He was shorter, stouter and obviously much more amiable; but I cannot trust any of them, anymore.
The stout one called the other man Holmes and asked him what they were doing here. If my first impression of Holmes was bad, it was to get worse when he produced a pipe. I despise all the people filling my insides with the dratted cigarettes and cigars but the pipe suckers are my worst enemies, as my owner smokes a pipe and they make me feel green inside.
Holmes did not answer his friend as my door opened and a hotel porter came out to carry the men’s luggage inside. The hotel chauffeur rushed out and waited for the porter to remove the luggage before he parked the car. It seemed that the two men were of the dullard variety and I was on the point of settling down again when instead of the hotel manager stepping outside, my owner appeared. What did these two men have that most of the others guests did not? Mr Henry Fitz was a man who did not sniff from his red, blotchy nostrils unless he was being hugely rewarded. He does not maintain me properly. The guests think they are staying in luxury because they are too vain to look closely into my woodwork and bricks. He is all front like his huge stomach – my public rooms are polished and varnished to perfection but behind the doors which state ‘private’ I am dirty and unkempt. That is the type of man Mr Henry Fitz is.
He stepped forward, all the time sucking on his pipe, but before he could introduce himself, the one I did not care for told my owner that he must be Mr Henry Fitz. It is not often that he is lost for words because his own voice is his favourite sound but I swear he was so taken aback, his normally ruddy complexion turned white.
Holmes sucked on his pipe for a few moments before he deigned to speak. When he did he waved his left hand about a lot as if he were swatting flies away. He told my owner that his clothes were dirty where he had been examining the scene of the crime. It was dirty because he had not allowed the cleaners anywhere near it since the dirty deed had taken place. He narrowed his eyes and stared at my owner’s pipe. He pointed out that it had his initials HF on the pipe. He waited for my owner to be suitably impressed but the dratted fellow just grunted. Holmes narrowed his eyes further and suggested that it was obvious who he was as he and his wife were the only ones who knew of their arrival due to the delicacy of the matter. Without waiting for a reply he went on to introduce both himself and his friend. I found out that the stout man was called Dr Watson and the one I did not care for had a full name of Sherlock Holmes.
There was a silence and then she joined them outside. When Fitz saw his wife standing there surveying the men, he ran like a lost lamb to its mother. Mrs Bertha Fitz took her husband’s hand and patted it. She towered over him and her huge bosom, which was constantly restrained with undergarments as strong as my foundations, tried to heave playfully. Mrs Fitz loved two things: the business she had built up over the years and the man she had carefully moulded. She does not care that my window frames are rotting at the back, I am not dear to her corseted heart but I would not cross that lady. If she got it into her mind, she would burn me to the ground without a thought.
The two men were taken into Mr Fitz’s study which he uses for entertaining and showing off. He makes sure that this part of me has the best of everything. It has the most polished wood and the richest leather. It is a room of male smells – whisky and tobacco. Along one wall is a bookcase with beautiful leather bound editions. This proves the type of man Mr Fitz is, he has never lifted a book from the shelf, let alone opened one. He sits and smokes his pipe and when he thinks that everyone has gone to bed, he pulls the painting of the late Queen Victoria forward and he trembles towards his safe. Once it is open, he removes his casket and carries it to his polished mahogany desk. He thinks that no-one watches him as he snuffles and grunts over the money and photographs, over and over. Sometimes, I fool with him and stretch myself. As my floorboards creak, his huge head swivels around and he runs like a thief to hide his possessions quickly. It does not matter how many times I do it, it always works because he is too frightened of his dirty secrets coming out.
The one called Sherlock Holmes cleared his throat. I watched his eyes; they flicker around the room missing nothing. What did my owner want with such a man? He asked Mr Fitz to tell him what had happened. As soon as he mentioned the name of Mr Jeremiah Davenport, I raised myself to my full height. I could not work out what was happening.
Mr Fitz spoke slowly as he explained that he had had a stage built some years past so that he could entertain his guests with shows and plays. It made his hotel stand out from the crowd. He then went on at great length about what a success his hotel was because he catered for his guests’ every whim. The entertainment brought so much extra business, he would probably lose the hotel if it could not continue. He sighed and said that he was probably going to be ruined anyway if news of what had happened got out. I could not understand what was going on. It was Mrs Fitz who had said all of that to him but he had not agreed. Was it true then? What would happen to me if the hotel closed down? Would I be left to rot? I listened carefully as I realised my future was at stake.
Mr Fitz expanded his barrel chest vastly as he explained to Holmes that he has a chain of theatres around the country. As he had a group of distinguished guests booked into the hotel, he decided to put Hamlet on instead of music hall.
I watched my owner shuffle uncomfortably in his chair as he got ready to tell his tale. I wondered how many more lies he would throw in. I listened with bated breath as he explained that his lead actor, Mr Jeremiah Davenport had disappeared whilst playing the role of Hamlet and reciting “to be or not to be”. I quickly looked at Dr Watson; he seemed shocked by my owner’s revelation and asked if it happened in front of the audience’s eyes. Mr Fitz shook his head sadly and explained that all the lights had gone off for a couple of minutes and that had been when Mr Davenport had disappeared. It was obvious that the two men were fools, particularly Holmes who said nothing but simply listened.
As Holmes listened intently, my owner leant forward as if offering a confidence. He assured Holmes that Mr Davenport could not have left the hotel as other actors were in the wings and there were porters and the chauffeur on the doors at all times in case guests needed assistance. He wiped his hands on the front of his jacket as he hastily assured Holmes that was the type of establishment he ran.
It seemed to me that Holmes had heard enough, he obviously knew nothing and was on the verge of leaving. He shocked me; however, by saying that there could only be one logical conclusion, Mr Davenport must still be in the hotel.
My owner gave a watery smile; it was similar to the one he gives when Mrs Fitz is paying bills and wages. Holmes stood up and asked to be taken to the scene of the crime. His friend, Watson scratched his head and scampered after the other two like a fat, Labrador puppy. Had I misjudged Mr Holmes? Surely not, the man was all pipe smoke and flannel.
As they walked along my corridors, I could hear my owner, in his breathless voice, telling Holmes that his idea was impossible. His staff had searched the place from top to bottom. It was obviously some form of magic. Did Holmes think that he was an imbecile?
I held myself stiffly in anticipation of what was to happen. Holmes pointed to the stage and announced that Davenport was still there, simply lying dead beneath the stage. He brought his cane down with a sharp thud and a small trap door opened. Holmes and Watson rushed to see what was below. My owner followed them and they all peered under the stage.
Sitting there and chained to the wall was the figure of a man with a gag around his mouth. His head lolled on his chest. When he heard voices, he slowly raised his head and looked at Holmes with pleading eyes. I was shocked by the way that Watson sprang into the hole. For a heavy man, he was far sprightlier than I could ever have imagined.
My owner pulled his kerchief from his top pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He turned to Holmes and asked him how he knew that Davenport would be there. I waited to see what he would say, wondering whether I had misjudged him, thinking that being treated badly by my owner had made me see all men in the same light.
Holmes smiled and explained that the floor was uneven – a slight dip on the stage would indicate a trap door. He turned and walked towards the door. My owner turned and ran in the opposite direction. Suddenly three men came through my corridors and surrounded him. I heaved the whole of my insides with glee as they put handcuffs on the man who had neglected me. Did he not understand his duty?
Holmes stopped short and gave that smile again. It was a smile which I was beginning to understand.
“Ah, Lestrade, you’ve arrived at last.” One of the men who had handcuffed my owner looked up at the mention of the name and frowned but did not speak. My owner was led away. Mr Davenport was carried to a bed where Dr Watson could attend to him. I could see that I hadn’t seen the goodness of the stout man at first, living with Mr and Mrs Fitz had changed my view of humanity.
Later, when Dr Watson had cared for Mr Davenport and a nurse had arrived to tend to his needs, Holmes and Watson retired to my owner’s study.
Watson scratched his nose thoughtfully and then asked Holmes how he knew Mr Davenport was under the stage. Holmes swung open the painting of our late queen and held his ears to the safe. He was in deep thought turning the dial, first one way and then another. If only I could speak, I could tell him the numbers, I have seen the safe opened so many times.
Holmes told Dr Watson that it was elementary, whatever that means. Holmes had received a letter from Mrs Fitz that an actor has disappeared whilst performing at her hotel. Mrs Fitz was the brains and the effort behind the hotel and the theatres. Fitz simply liked to count the money and pretend that he was important. In fact, he left so much to Mrs Fitz that everything was in her name. Fitz literally had to do nothing, except brag about how much he did. Holmes turned the dial slightly and the safe opened. He pulled out a box which he carried to the table. When he opened it, it was full of gold coins. He frowned, closed it again and went back to the safe. He shoved his hand inside and pulled out some photographs of young women. He handed them to Watson. Watson scratched his head and looked at Holmes for an explanation.
Holmes took a deep breath and then explained that Fitz had realised that as a theatre owner he had power over young actresses who were desperate for work. He used his power in a most ungentlemanly fashion. However, one day he became hot and bothered over a young actress called Ethel Davenport, the sister of Jeremiah Davenport. Watson looked closely at the photograph which Holmes pointed to. The siblings realised that there was money to be had when they met Mrs Fitz at the hotel. Davenport demanded a weekly fee for not telling Mrs Fitz. When his demands became too high, Fitz concocted a plan to be rid of Davenport forever. He thought he would have poor helpless Ethel at his mercy forever more. He was aware of the trapdoor as he had had the stage built; all he had to do was wait under the stage whilst the performance was on. He paid a waiter to trip the lights and when Davenport crashed through, he was ready with the chains etc. He was not manly enough to finish the poor wretch off, so he simply left him there to rot.
Watson scratched his head again and handed the photographs back to Holmes. Holmes put them in his jacket pocket. He told Watson that it was obvious that Davenport was still in the hotel, whether he was alive or dead was another question at first. When he was taken to the scene of the crime by Davenport he noticed that a line of dirt around the stage had been disturbed. Fitz only kept the areas clean where the guests went; he would not be bothered about the stage. The dip in the floor which he had pointed out earlier meant a trapdoor. The disturbed line of dirt could only mean a trapdoor, which had not been used for some time, had been disturbed. It was elementary, that Davenport had gone through that. Holmes stopped for a breath. He then suggested that when he had met Mrs Fitz, he realised what it would be like to cross such a thunderous woman. Fitz would be thrown out, she would ruin him. It was there for all to see, a desperate man prepared to do anything to keep the lifestyle he so enjoyed. Unfortunately, he was a man slack of habit and nerve. If it had been Mrs Fitz behind it, she would have made sure that Davenport would never be able to give evidence against her. Unfortunately, being weak and lazy, Fitz left Davenport, like everything else to rot. His neglect will come back to haunt him.
I watched Holmes and Watson searching my owner’s study for further evidence and I realised how wrong I had been to see all humans as capable of neglect as my owners, Mr and Mrs Fitz. Sherlock Holmes is a hero, a good man. I expect that most humans are like him and will be bound by duty to look after me. Perhaps, I will never be left to rot again. Perhaps…